A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM

There’s a new kid on the Garry Marshall Theatre block from now through December 10 as stage-screen-recording star Joey McIntyre takes on the lead in the Marshall’s deliciously entertaining, ingeniously streamlined staging of the farcical delight that is A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.

Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart’s rib-tickling book takes us back to Ancient Rome circa 200 BC where three families go about living their lives as next-door neighbors.

In the center house resides the lecherous, henpecked Senex (Kevin Symons), husband to a harpy named Domina (Candi Milo) and father to handsome hunk Hero (Michael Thomas Grant), whose personal slave Pseudolus (McIntyre) labors loyally alongside the appropriately dubbed Hysterium (Ethan Cohn).

To their right lives Marcus Lycus (E.K. Dagenfield), a well-to-do businessman who deals in the buying and selling of beautiful ladies of pleasure.

To the left lives Erronius (Dagenfield again), an elderly gent whose infant children were long ago stolen by pirates.

With Senex and Domina out of town, Hero confides to Pseudolus his love for Philia (Nicole Kaplan), the most beauteous (and virginal) of Marcus Lycus’s rentgirls. Unfortunately for Hero, Philia’s owner has already promised her to the always victorious warrior Miles Gloriosus (Clayton Snyder), on his way back from battle to claim his bride-to-be.

 And so Pseudolus makes a deal with his young master. If he can help Hero win girl-next-door’s love, master will grant slave his freedom.

Now it’s up to Pseudolus to come up with a plan to ensure Hero’s happiness and his own future as a free man as well.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there will be complications aplenty on the road to liberty and bliss along with puns galore, plenty of mistaken identities, and Sondheim gems like “Comedy Tonight,” “Lovely,” “Pretty Little Picture,” and “Everybody Ought To Have A Maid,” each of which belies the composer’s reputation for “tunelessness.”

Director Joseph Leo Bwarie ingeniously trims the original Broadway cast of seventeen down to eleven, with Shamicka Benn, Liz Bustle, and Vanessa Nichole embodying slave girls, assorted citizens, and soldiers alike.

There’s not a hint of the decidedly not teen-idol-licious Zero Mostel (Broadway’s original Pseudolus) in McIntyre’s thoroughly winning slave-next-door reimagining of the role, the New Kid proving himself a master of the ad-lib, a crackerjack comedian, and (no surprise here) one heck of a singer.

The gloriously voiced Grant is not only dreamy as all get-out, but with a much younger-than-usual Pseudolus by Hero’s side, it’s easy to imagine these two as best buds in a fairer world, and Kaplan is as absolutely lovely as the endearingly clueless Philia declares herself to be.

Cohn is a hysterical hoot as Hysterium, Milo has her battleaxe down to perfection, stopping the show with the ode to love-hate relationships that is “That Dirty Old Man,” and Symons plays her harried hubby like nobody’s business.

Dagenfield does delightful double duty as both Marcus Lycus and Erronius, the latter of whom earns among the evening’s biggest laughs simply for walking across the stage.

Benn, Bustle, and dance captain Nichole are all three as gorgeous as they are glamorous and as fabulous as they are fit, and never more so than when executing Becca Sweitzer’s imaginative choreography.

And speaking of fit and fabulous, Snyder (who’s got his own teen idol creds as Lizzie McGuire’s Ethan), makes muscular marvel Miles Gloriosus the evening’s most glorious scene-stealer.

Musical director/keyboard master Brent Crayon conducts Forum’s terrific backstage band with able support from Gene Burkert, Dana Decker, and Nick Stone, sound designer Robert Arturo Ramirez providing an expert mix of amped vocals and instrumentals.

The three distinct, colorful, side-by-side Roman domiciles that make up Fred Kinney’s set look even more splendid as decorated by properties designer John McElveney and lit to Technicolor perfection by François-Pierre Couture, there’s not a one of Jessica Champagne-Hansen’s fanciful period costumes that doesn’t delight, and Jessica Mills scores high marks for the ladies’ wigs.

Christine Lakin is assistant director. Marcedes Clanton is production stage manager and Toran X. Moore is assistant stage manager. Casting is by Jami Rudofsky. Lucas Coleman, assistant choreographer Brooke Engen, Caitlyn Gallogly, Anthony Gruppuso, and Philip Dean Lightstone are understudies. Paul C. Vogt resumes the role of Pseudolus on December 14.

As he did on Broadway in Wicked (and on the Falcon Theatre stage as Happy Days’ Fonzie), Joey McIntyre once again proves there is life beyond boy band stardom. NKOTB fans will likely fill Garry Marshall seats from now through December 10, but even if you’ve not heard a single one of their million-seller hits, check out how a New Kid from Needham, Mass, can make an already fanatabulous Forum extra-specially fresh and new.

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Garry Marshall Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank. Through December 31. Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00. Saturdays at 2:00 and 8:00. Sundays at 3:00. Also Wednesday December 27 at 8:00. Reservations: 818 955-8101
www.GarryMarshallTheatre.org

–Steven Stanley
November 22, 2017
Photos: Chelsea Sutton

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