By Amy Patton
When in Rome…well, do as the Romans do…giggle your way down the path to the Forum.
A packed house Saturday evening at Sag Harbor’s crown jewel of live entertainment — the Bay Street Theatre — greeted the opening night production of an oldie but decidedly goodie: the funny, silly and guffaw-inducing “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
The show is expertly helmed under the laser precision direction and choreography of Marcia Milgrom Dodge and powered by its star cast of Peter Scolari, Conrad John Schuck and Jackie Hoffman, among other talented stage players in the production. The musical comedy of “Forum” was originally penned by writers Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, scored by Stephen Sondheim, for Broadway exactly half a century ago and is experiencing a popular revival at Bay Street as the tail end of the theater’s trifecta collection of lively comedy, music and farcical offerings for its summer season.
“Forum” is what can easily be called the very definition of farce: With talent to burn, Scolari is the slave Pseudolus in ancient Rome who attempts to win his freedom by hooking up a love connection for his master Senex’s teenage son, Hero. In those roles at Bay Street are, respectively, Schuck and Nick Verina. As it is, when done right with comedic farce, timing is everything; and this cast and crew does not disappoint with its excess of door-slamming scenes, pratfalls, wordplay and puns, accompanied by the backdrop of Sondheim’s freshman Broadway entry in 1962 that easily proved the composer’s ability to lyrically pair song with story.
One Sondheim standout in the production is the impossibly silly tune, “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid.”
Speaking of the show’s score, kudos must be awarded to “Forum’s” musical director and pianist Ethyl Will who is accompanied by fellow band members Ed Chiarello, Dan Yager, Mark Verdino and Joel Levy.
Cast standouts in the production’s supporting roles include Tom Deckman, who portrays the goofy, hyper-kinetic slave Hysterium. Deckman is hilariously entertaining in his gender-bending role that includes a cross-dressing foray as stand-in for the virgin and most-sought-after beautiful Philia (Lora Lee Gayer), the object of Hero’s desire.
“I’m Calm,” Hysterium’s big musical solo number in “Forum,” brought much laughter and applause from the Bay Street audience Saturday night.
The statuesque Gymnasia (Terry Lavell), one in the collection of courtesans who hang at the house next to Senex and Domina’s Roman abode also garnered her share of giggles. Hoffman as Domina lives up to her character’s name by dominating the stage with her powerful comedic – and hysterical – presence. Schuck (Senex), who plays Hero’s father, also charms the stage production with his portrayal of a self-professed “dirty old man.”
Obviously under careful curating this year, it appears the Sag Harbor venue’s star has never shone brighter than the current 2013 season with its trio of winning, comedic offerings. “Lend Me a Tenor” primed the way earlier in the spring. “The Mystery of Irma Vep,” a comedy/mystery followed in July and now with “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” take some incredibly sound advice: run, don’t walk, to Bay Street Theatre and experience this thoroughly enjoyable show — before Sag Harbor’s summer is over and out.
To score tickets to “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” which is currently on stage and will run through September 1, and for comedy and additional show information, call the Bay Street Theatre at 725-9500 or visit baystreet.org to purchase tickets online.