(Hedy Weiss’s article appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, 4/22.)
Porchlight Music Theatre’s all-Sondheim season began with tragedy (“Sweeney Todd”), moved on to autobiography (“Sondheim on Sondheim”), and is now drawing to a close with “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” the zany 1962 “comedy tonight” romp that marked the first time the Broadway master created both the music and lyrics for a show. (He had earlier written the lyrics only for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.”) As if any further proof were needed, this lineup has demonstrated Sondheim’s brilliance at capturing the distinctive “voice” of myriad theatrical styles.
With a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart — who took their inspiration from the farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus, but infused it with all-American vaudevillian hijinks — “A Funny Thing Happened” conjures chaos out of the fervent dream of a clever, ever-endangered slave, Pseudolus, to win his freedom. Pseudolus’ pursuit of that dream depends on his helping his virginal young master, Hero, woo the equally virginal Philia — a newbie courtesan who already has been promised to the macho general, Miles Gloriosus, and also is being hotly pursued by Hero’s father, Senex.
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