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A Funny Thing...

Happened on the Way to the Forum tonight and April 22, 26-29 in the Leverett House Old Library Theatre

By Elizabeth Samuels

AS 2000 PEOPLE in Sanders Theater voted to strike against the war and the PALC continued its occupation of Massachusetts Hall. A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to The Forum previewed at Leverett House Thursday night. This musical, though, has no redeeming social value; the mask it puts on is tunefully announced in the opening song: "Weighty affairs will just have to wait... Tragedy tomorrow, Comedy tonight!" Imperialism enters into the story just once: when the comically vainglorious captain, Miles Glorious, calls for the funeral of his apparently dead bride, he is asked, "But sir, do you have time? Isn't there a war somewhere?"

A Funny Thing (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) was first performed on Broadway ten years ago, and is right now enjoying a deleriously successful revival in New York. A light-hearted, bawdy affair, replete with slapstick routines and terrible puns, you know it works if you have to strain to hear the dialogue under the audience guffaws. The production at Leverett House is a mixed bag, but the book and the performances generate a lot of laughs.

A young Roman, Hero, loves a pretty virgin, Philia, who, alas, is sold to an army captain. The job of finagling her away falls to the young man's personal slave who hopes to gain his freedom by getting the girl. Boisterous Psuedolus does his best for his master Hero in the face of inumerable obstacles--Hero's horny but performance-conscious father, the virgin's scruples about... wine, the bumbling transvestitism of a slave in cahoots. His retreat-ridden advance to freedom is the center of the musical.

The adept burlesque performances of several cast members make the show. Though not the evening's best, Kenneth Kanter's Pseudolus is engagingly energetic. With girth rivalling that of the man who made the part famous, he successfully imitates some of Zero Mostel's protean expressions and lascivious gestures. He does not do as well vocally. As the starry-eyed lovers, John Lundeen and Lisa Landis--he callow, she nubile--are, appropriately, vacuously charming. But the real delight comes from the supporting cast. In the role of chief slave, Hysterium, at the beleagured household, Thomas Hann clowns in an epicene manner with impressive grace. Raymond Huessey and Mace Rosenstein are both excellent in their respective roles of the father, Senex, and the money-loving procuror, Marcus Lycus. As the self-admiring captain hot for his expensive virgin, Nicholas Weyman well strikes an extravagantly pompus mien. (The talents of the procuror's wares are best judged by the individual spectator.)

The set is a good one-bright and simple--but it is not used to good advantage by the largely unimaginative staging. The blocking constrains the actors like ill-fitting clothes. On the other hand, the frenetic chase scene in which all the characters find their true identities and their happy ending works very well. Like the staging of director Ruth Berger, the music the orchestra blares throughout the evening is not always an asset to the show. Neither are a few of the vocal performances, nor the erratic lighting.

Faults notwithstanding, Leverett House's A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to The Forum is fun to watch. With morality and social consciousness out of mind--where they should be occasionally--the musical provides a pleasant evening.

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