“Comedy Tonight.” And Riverside Theatre’s brilliant artistic team delivers it big time, from beginning to end in a thoroughly professional production.
This is led by director James Brennan, whose credits include Broadway, Off-Broadway, Paper Mill Playhouse, Goodspeed and more. Inspired by the show’s name, Brennan embroiders Riverside’s production with rich vaudeville schtick delivered by one of the best casts you will ever see assembled on stage at one time — whether it’s in these latitudes or on Broadway.
Set one day in ancient Rome, the storyline revolves around the conniving slave Pseudolus. In order to win his freedom, Pseudolus plots to bring together Hero, his master’s son, and the virgin next door, Philia. However, the house next door is a brothel and Philia has been promised to victorious Roman soldier, Miles Gloriosus.
Giving birth to this face-paced musical comedy was the great team of librettists Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart and composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim. After its 1962 Broadway debut, the show has had two Broadway revivals — 1972 and 1996.
Riverside’s cast lives up well to the storied history of comic actors who have brought this show to life, including Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Dick Shawn, Jack Gilford and Nathan Lane.
Here, it is led by Dana Snyder, who was Max Bialystock in Riverside’s production of “The Producers” earlier this season. Although Snyder has his own understated, droll style (and, oh my what a rim-shot funny fake death scene), you can’t help but think Phil Silvers when watching his Pseudolus. In a way, his is a delicious homage to theater legend which has that Silvers turned down the role of Pseudolus for the original Broadway production because of his glasses. (Later, Silvers was Pseudolus for the 1972 production but was replaced after suffering a stroke.)
While Snyder has the lead, there is no one star in this production. Each member of this professional cast, many with Broadway and off-Broadway credits, shines brilliantly.
Stephen Berger breathes fun and exquisite timing into hen-pecked husband Senex. Riverside veteran Ron Wisniski brings his trademark double-take high energy and comic know-how to his portrayal of brothel owner Marcus Lycus. And what a find in Patrick Richwood, who, as head slave Hysterium, reveals uncommon talent and skill in physical comedy. This threesome, along with Snyder, serve up a great treat in the number “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid.”
Skyler Adams and Kimberly Doreen Burns as Hero and Philia score big in their duet, “Lovely,” in which Philia sings how she can do nothing but be lovely.
Director Brennan adds to broad comedy with his three Proteans — Nikko Kimzin, Xander Chauney and Ryan Dietz. They are the comic trio backing up the action. At one point, they are squealing Eunuchs and another, bumbling Roman Soldiers. They also support the prologue in the funniest opening number this reviewer has ever seen.
As Senex’s overbearing wife, Domina, you’ll see stage power in Karen Murphy (the understudy for Angela Lansbury in Broadway’s “A Little Night Music”).
Jarid Faubel hits the right pompous notes as Miles Gloriosus and veteran actor Chet Carlin is probably the goofiest Eronius you’ll ever see. Carlin’s walk-ons are the stuff that others will want to imitate.
The sexy courtesans fleshing out the comedy include Purdie Baumann, Jessica Bircann, Judy Cornell, Bethany Flora, Caitlin McGinty and Kelly Sheerins.
With both large gesture and smart attention to detail, scenic designer Ray Klausen, provides a perfect setting for all the fun. Klausen has impressive credits including Broadway, television, and even designing for the Tony Awards show.
Lighting designer Eric Haugen is known primarily by Central Florida theater goers as the artist behind Orlando Shakespeare Theatre’s gorgeous lighting designs. Here, his lighting design breathes and works in smart concert with Klausen’s scenic design.
Musical director Ken Clifton leads a flawless orchestra. He leads both his players and the cast in music that lingers with you days later.
Woah. Wait a minute. This is Vero Beach? I thought I was just getting a slice at Times Square. There are so many pros in this show you’ll feel transported. This is, simply, one of the funniest and best-produced musical comedies this reviewer has ever seen. It’s designed and served up by pros with extensive experience and know-how. These guys have been around the block, more than once. And it shows. Big time.
Photo by Rob Downey. Left to right, Dana Snyder, Chet Carlin and Patrick Richwood.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” runs through May 6 at Riverside Theatre, 3250 Riverside Park Drive, Vero Beach. Curtain times vary. Call 772-231-6990 or visit www.riversidetheatre.com.