Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Not Done till It's Overdone

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Not Done till It's Overdone

Article excerpt

Jungle Theater's Forum lingers in the memory

Stephen Sondheim lets directors and theatres know exactly what he expects from a production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The checklist is right there in the opening number, "Comedy Tonight": Something familiar. Something peculiar. Something for everyone.

Those assorted tumblers, grumblers, bumblers and fumblers can generally be found working in theatres large enough to accommodate Forum's gleeful larger-than-life-ness. But in the Twin Cities, the first significant production of Forum in more than a decade took place in the intimate confines of Minneapolis's Jungle Theater (June 10-July 24, 2011), a 150-seat jewel box with a short track record in musical theatre.

But this was no slimmed-down Forum: Director-choreographer John Command's cast numbered 20, a company whose sheer size sometimes created challenging logistics on the stage. During the opening and closing numbers, for instance, when the entire cast assembled for the obligatory kick-line, some of the players found themselves pushed behind the proscenium arch.

But this it's-not-done-till-it's-overdone aesthetic is a signature for Command, a longtime presence on the Twin Cities theatre scene with an affection for old-style musical-theatre stylings. Never afraid to affectionately borrow (certain choreographic flourishes in this staging have been thieved from the 1996 Broadway revival), a Command-helmed production is seldom revelatory but always glossy and never lacking for energy.

That's actually a pretty good toolkit for staging Forum, a show that, for all its tunefulness and witty, winking lyricism, doesn't exactly require a Ph.D. in dramaturgy to comprehend. A riff on the Plautus stock-character-filled comedies of ancient Rome, the story centers on the efforts of Pseudolus, a fast-talking slave, to earn his freedom by fixing up his young master, Hero, with a virginal courtesan who has already been bought. Though over-populated for the space, Command's breezy production - executed on set designer Bain Boehlke's brightly colored comic-book of a set - seldom slogged.

Any successful production of Forum rests on the comic timing and ringmaster abilities of Pseudolus, a role originated on Broadway by Zero Mostel and played over the years by the likes of Phil Silvers, Mickey Rooney and Nathan Lane. In the Jungle production, Christopher Teipner stepped into those big sandals, and if he didn't completely fill them, he offered a hardworking, light-footed take on the role. …

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