Saturday, June 12, 2010

Atlanta Lyric Theatre Does Sondheim Musical: It's a Hit!

(reflections on A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Produced by the Atlanta Lyric Theatre at the Strand Theatre in Marietta, GA.  Production directed by Alan Kilpatrick.)

What more is there to say about this exemplar of musical comedy?  Since 1962, after a rough period of gestation that required the help of "show doctor" Jerome Robbins,  A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM has worked, even when production values were lacking.  I know, because production values have always lacked in every production I've seen, until now.

At the Strand, a refurbished old movie theatre on Marietta's refurbished 19th century town square, a peppy and precise band played the delightful Overture.  Rotund and cherubic-faced Glenn Rainey took the stage and promised "Comedy Tonight."  The audience was charmed right away.  When the curtain rose on three distinct Roman houses squashed together on the very narrow but tall stage, the audience applauded. The song got laughs for the antics of the "Proteans" and for the entrance of each character.  Every joke and every song landed.   Every actor seemed perfectly suited to the part.  Of course the characters are stereotypes -- those haven't changed in the 2000 years since the source material for this play premiered in ancient Rome -- but these actors made the characters feel like old friends.   I don't recall other actors I've seen in the roles of Hysterium, Senex, Lycus, or Domina, but young Chase Todd, Robert Wayne, Brad Raymond and Ingrid Cole made strong impressions. 

Sondheim's music and lyrics were overlooked in 1964.  How?   Every one of them contains polished gems of verbal playfulness (my companion especially liked, "The situation's fraught, / Fraughter than I thought..." and I've always been partial to "Today I woke, too weak to walk").  The music serves the actors their comic effects on a silver platter, the pauses and punchlines accented by the accompaniment.

Mr. Sondheim, if you happen to Google yourself and see this, you will be gratified to know that a companion, seeing the show for the first time, commented how the tunes were so "hummable," and the nine-year-old girl on our row, also seeing it for the first time, was actually humming along.

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