Magazine article The Sondheim Review

A Promise Fulfilled

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

A Promise Fulfilled

Article excerpt

Inspired casting choices render success for all-male Forum

When artistic director Nicholas Martin cancelled his production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum midway through the Huntington Theatre's 2005-2006 season (due to actor scheduling problems), he promised that Forum would be back. That didn't happen before his tenure in Boston ended, but from June 30 to July 11, 2010, he made good on that promise - at the other end of the state. Martin kicked off his final season as artistic director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival (at Williams College, Sondheim's alma mater) with this classic musical with a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

The original Pseudolus proposed for Boston was Brooks Ashmanskas, busy on Broadway in Promises, Promises, so Martin turned to Christopher Fitzgerald (the Tony-nominated leprechaun from the recent Finian's Rainbow revival) who also happened to be a 10-year Williamstown veteran and good friend. He was an inspired choice. Fitzgerald's take on the role set the tone for the production - think Robin Williams, not Phil Silvers. A well-trained actor with impeccable musical theatre chops and roots more in the modern comic/clown tradition than in vaudeville, he knows how to turn on the charm.

But the biggest surprise was that Martin handed the directing reins to Fitzgerald's wife, actress Jessica Stone, for her directing debut. She's also a longtime Williamstown veteran who has worked with Martin many times. This turned out to be a very good idea, because Stone also had some tricks up her sleeve. She convinced Martin that she should "do as the Romans did" and use an all-male east. Martin was sold, as long as Stone promised not to make it "campy," and Sondheim's permission was obtained.

To live up to her part of the bargain, Stone did some spot-on easting. David Turner (Philia) was totally convincing as the vapid virgin who's the love of young Hero's life, and Chivas Michael (Domina) was the oppressive wife, the bane of Senex's existence. They sang in their natural voices, played the character's intentions exactly as written and were ultimately endearing.

The other key to pulling this off was Josh Grisetti as Hysterium, the beleaguered servant forced by Pseudolus to masquerade as the dead virgin to save the day. …

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