`Forum' mixes ancient play with Sondheim lyrics, score

Show: Bowie company's version of 1962 musical, with hits like `Comedy Tonight,' to run for four weekends in park theater.

June 03, 1999|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Instead of looking ahead to 2000 and its pesky Y2K problems, 2nd Star Production Company of Bowie has decided to look back about 2,000 years to 250 B.C. and take us for a romp through ancient Rome.

This was the time of playwright Titus Maccius Plautus, who created domestic comedy and who inspired Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart in 1962 to interpret his work for Broadway in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. 2nd Star's version will open tomorrow and run for four weekends through June.

Basing their characters on those found in the 27 surviving plays of Plautus, Shevelove and Gelbart wrote "Forum," joined by Sondheim in his debut as both composer and lyricist. By 1962, not much comedy remained in musical comedy, but Sondheim brought it back with his witty lyrics, marvelously exemplified in the show's opening and closing number, "Comedy Tonight." Who doesn't love the lines, "Nothing for kings, nothing for crowns. Bring on the lovers, liars and clowns. Old situations, new complications. Nothing portentous or polite. Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight."

Sondheim's score also includes the fantastic "Lovely," "I'm Calm," "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid," "Free" and "Love I Hear." Perhaps the most literate of today's composers, Sondheim invests his lyrics with a fresh and witty quality that withstands the test of time, 37 years in this case.

Not only did comedy return to musical comedy with "Forum," but the ancient Roman panderers and philanderers found a new home in a vaudeville-like setting, with hilarious plots and subplots created by Shevelove and Gelbart. Plautus' 2,200-year-old characters are timeless -- the crafty slave Pseudolus; the self-absorbed warrior Miles Gloriosus; the senile Erronius; the henpecked husband Senex and his wife, Domina; their dim-witted son, Hero; and Philia, virginal in body and unused mind.

In 2nd Star's production, the leading role of Pseudolus is played by veteran actor Chuck Richards, alternating in the role with Dan Lang. Dan Lang also plays Senex; Heidi Gwinn is Domina, and Bill Edwards is their son, Hero, who falls in love with Philia, played by Victoria Wiser. Slave to Senex and Domina is the nervous Hysterium, played by Jim Reiter.

Arthur Anker is old, doddering Erronius; David O'Brien is warrior Miles Gloriosus; Jason Kimmell is Lycus, buyer and seller of courtesans.

An evening of theater at 2nd Stage includes the additional fun of going to the charming Bowie Theatre, off Route 3 south of Route 450. Hidden in the woods of White Marsh Park, it's a delightful theater with a large stage and comfortable seating for 150 people.

"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" runs at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays. General admission is $15; admission for students and seniors (over age 55) is $12. Tickets may be ordered by calling 301-205-0502 or 410-798-7001.

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