Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic

Forum at SBMT

It's a small world. The first show I was in after moving to CA was the Hayward Area Recreation District (HARD) [Now called The Douglas Morrisson Theatre] production of Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (aka Forum). It was a ton of fun, our leading man (Pseudolus) was the incredibly talented Michael Johnson. Michael was also Sancho in Saratoga Drama Group's Man of La Mancha, in which I played the Governor/Innkeeper in 2008. SDG changed its name to South Bay Musical Theater, and last night I went to see their production of Forum. Michael was not in it, but it was directed by Walter Mayes, who had played Don Quixote in La Mancha.

For a number of reasons, among which was not being considered for either of the two parts I auditioned for and having been offered the chance to be called back for the one non-singing role in the musical, I was hoping to see a flop. Or at least something mediocre.

That did not happen.

Walter has put together one of the most innovative and enjoyable productions of Forum ever.

Alex Martin starts off the fun with a pre-show juggling act. His style makes one think we're about to see some poor excuse for a juggler who has learned all he knows from Juggling For Dummies, but somewhere between the hacky sacks and the swords the light dawns that he's the real deal.

Joe Colletti as Pseudolus is no Michael Johnson, but he does a pretty good Nathan Lane imitation, and while I'm no fan of Nathan Lane,  Joe holds his own in a very demanding part. He was quick with some funny ad libs, and moved the show along at a rapid pace.

Dave Leon as Senex was okay, but (IMHO) not as good as I would have been, and his fright wig hair style was a total FAIL. Chuck Manthe is a little too chunky for Hysterium, but he brought a lot of acting skill to the part. A drama teacher, he was helped a bit by a large group of his toga-clad students in the audience.  Nicholas Adams as Hero was impressive. Great voice, he does lovestruck like a pro. Rachel Roberts as Philia looks perfect, is lovely, and my only complaint is her singing voice seemed a little weak. Or maybe some of the part was at the edges of her range. Or the audio operator was asleep.

Three of my La Mancha cohorts were in the show: Melinda Beason once again brought out her major league belly dance skills as Tintinabula. Jeffrey Henson took that non-singing part Erronius in a completely different direction from the usual 100-year-old-man, which did not work for me but got a lot of laughs so it worked well enough. Tim Reynolds was completely mis-cast as Miles Gloriosus, manly Roman army captain. "Stand aside - I take large steps!" Not that Tim isn't manly, but he isn't built like Arnold either. And he's more of a tenor than the baritone which the part calls for. But this was overcome by making him a comic character, and after I figured that out it was a lot of fun.

The courtesans were a mixed group. I was especially taken with the graceful Katie Dostalek as Vibrata, an obviously well-trained dancer with a very toned body which looked great in the leopard print bikini-like costume. She did the feline character beautifully, complete with matching makeup. Sarah B. Griner as Panacea displayed some of her gymnastic skills and looked beautiful in a period white two-piece outfit. When Elizabeth Brenna made her first appearance as the Amazonian-proportioned Gymnasia, I had my doubts, but she worked the black-leather-with-whip part like a trouper. I especially liked some of her ad libs - watch her when she's on stage but not the center of attention.

And then there are the Proteans -  Shawn Miller, David Mister (who was in PA Players Jekyll & Hyde with me) and Braden Taylor. Walter really kept them hopping. They are high-energy, and perform some marvelous feats of coordinated mayhem. I think the hopping was over the top (and that includes the leap frog bit) but it amused the lower classes. :-)

In addition to stage direction, Walter was also vocal director. The chorus numbers were awesome, especially the finale. Beautiful big sound.

Moving right along, costumes were superb. P.J. Simmons did a great job. Except for Senex's toga - deep purple is not his color, and I had to look closely to see the tassels on the throw - which should have been a full costume change.  In the program it says producer Jay Steele's gowns were by Hillary Beanbrook of East Hampton, but Jay wasn't wearing a gown last night. He did, however, put together the program, which is well worth reading from cover to cover.

The set is beautiful. Simple design by Stephen C. Wathen with lots of levels and stunning art work. Having a revolving door on the House of Marcus Lycus is kinda of cute, and the fact that the set doesn't even flinch when it was used says volumes about the set construction. I'm not sure how I feel about the  automatic doors on Senex's house, but again it shows excellent construction. The show starts with a gorgeous drop of a map of Rome. Sort of. When you see this show, be sure to read the map, and compare the names on the places with names in the program. Lighting for this show must have been a bitch, but Michael Glenn Muñoz did a splendid design and David Yoder's programming was spot on, pun intended.  Speaking of which, Bob Martin and Melissa Palmieri  ran the follow spots flawlessly.

And then there is the orchestra. I am so glad they did not put it in the wings like they did with La Mancha. Conductor Dan Singletary put together a professional sounding group, and they were a joy to listen to. Every now and then the volume was a bit high for the tour de force numbers, but that could also be blamed on the audio operator, since all the cast wore mikes. Lots of people stayed through the exit music and gave the orchestra a standing ovation.

Bottom line:
See this show! You will enjoy yourself a lot. Wear a toga.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum runs through Feb. 19 at the Saratoga Civic Theater, and tickets can be purchased online at SBMT's web site.
Tags: review, theater

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