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Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum by Citadel Theatre

Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum by Citadel Theatre

Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim2015-forum

Directed by Robert D Estrin

Produced by Citadel Theatre

Frolicking in the Forum

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is about as improbable and outrageous as any of this year’s Presidential candidates but not nearly as frightening.  It is as lewd, crude and ribald as anything The Three Stooges, Marx Brothers or unrelated burlesque comics could come up with and as true to the classic mold of farce as Plautus devised.  The 1962 Broadway musical was crafted by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, the latter now best remembered as the director, producer and writer of the beloved television series “M*A*S*H”. 


“Forum” also featured a delightful score by an up and coming young composer and lyricist named Stephen Sondheim in a far lighter and brighter key than most of his later and darker creations.  One can still catch a whiff of the maestro’s gleefully manic wordplay in “Pretty Little Picture,” and even the subversive innuendo that would find its way into Sweeney’s “A Little Priest” in “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid”.  “Forum” would go down in history as one of Sondheim’s most commercially successful, accessible and easily revivable hits.

The starring role of Pseudolus has been played on Broadway by everyone from Zero Mostel and Phil Silvers to Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg and David Alan Grier.  So it is not surprising that the musical comedy continues to be a popular staple in high schools, colleges and community theatres.  It is a safe, entertaining and harmless trifle about as far away from high art as yesterday’s banana peel is from the full banana split.  That is not to say Citadel Theatre is not having a grand time with the comical mayhem and merriment.


Even if Director Robert D. Estrin’s solid but unexceptional production reminds one more of community theatre than this esteemed troupe’s potential would indicate, it is all quite playful and palatable.  Some of the cast members, including Citadel’s talented co-founder Ellen Phelps, take scenery chewing to such levels it is a wonder anything remains of Tianyu Qiu’s flimsy-looking set.  Phelps, by the way, is the single Equity contract holder here in Citadel’s attempt to increase its professional profile.  Having enjoyed this creative company’s efforts for years in its more modest roots, I can vouch for both their professional artistry and ambition.


I can also tip my hat to Citadel’s current leading man, Tim Walsh, who thoroughly embodies all of the timing, rubber face expressions and comedic zeal of a seasoned burlesque Top Banana.  Walsh has a tall order of keeping all of the plot machinations with its myriad of courtesans, soldiers, eunuchs, lovers, letches and company spinning within his control, and it is a heroic effort.  Walsh plays the conniving Roman slave Pseudolus, whose quest for freedom drives every gear of the vehicle.  Walsh is a nimble entertainer, light on his feet, tuneful and deft in negotiating Mr. Sondheim’s tricky lyrics.  He leads an altogether capable company through the mindless antics and lunacy.  And while it poses no serious artistic challenges, Citadel’s “Forum” is an audience pleasing diversion.   


Joe Stead

Date Reviewed: April 23, 2016

At Citadel Theatre, 300 S Waukegan Rd, Lake Forest, IL, call 847-735-8554 x 1,  Tickets are $35 to $37.50, Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm.  Running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through May 22, 2016.