Opening Night – A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

North Coast Rep is closing out their 36th season with its biggest production. With a fine cast and able musical accompaniment, David Ellenstein has directed a great production of this classic musical. Composer Stephen Sondheim worked with a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, and the result won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 1962.

NCR’s cast includes the versatile Omri Schein, playing the befuddled yet scheming slave Pseudolus. Schein ably channels Nathan Lane and Zero Mostel, who famously assayed the role on Broadway in years past. Schein puts his own spin on Pseudolus, leaving the crowd in stitches for most of the production. He has trod the NCR boards before, and looks right at home.

In fact, several notable actors in the large cast are NCR veterans: John Greenleaf (Erronius), Melinda Gilb (Domina), Andrew Ableson (Senex), Luke H. Jacobs (Protean/Eunuch) and Noelle Marion (Philia) to name a few.

L-R : Missy Marion, Luke H. Jacobs; Amy Perkins, photo by Aaron Rumley

Jason Maddy; Melinda Gilb – photo by Aaron Rumley

Noelle Marion; Chris M. Kauffmann – photo by Aaron Rumley

Jason Maddy, Omri Schein & Amy Perkins; Back: Missy Marion & Luke H. Jacobs, photo by Aaron Rumley

The play is inspired by the farces of the ancient Roman playwright T. M. Plautus, generally acknowledged as the progenitor of theatrical comedy. A direct line can be drawn from his work through Shakespeare, commedia dell’arte, stand up, sitcom, circus and vaudeville. Hence, puns, slamming doors, mistaken identity and satire are in the stew.

With the setting in ancient Rome (and having been written in 1962), the play allows the audience to overlook various politically incorrect motifs and instead roll with the punches. The laughs come fast and frequently.

In the second half, the pace of the action quickens as the knot into which Pseudolus has wound the cast requires sharp timing, with rapid entrances and exits.

Fortunately, Colleen Kollar Smith’s choreography in the dance numbers limbers up the cast for the fast action. As music director, Ron Councell leads his ensemble through the catchy Sondheim songs. Especially effective are “Comedy Tonight,” “Lovely” and “Everyone Ought to Have a Maid.”

Marty Burnett leverages his 26 years of versatility with NCR to transform the stage to a colorful ancient Roman street. 

This is a fine evening of laughs and songs, don’t miss it. It rounds out NCR’s great season, and sets the stage for a great lineup next season.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.