Were it not for “The Late Late Show,” James Corden apparently would have returned to Broadway this season in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which has not been seen in New York since the acclaimed 1996 production with Nathan Lane.
But those anxious to revisit this 1962 musical comedy masterpiece (with a pleasing score by Stephen Sondheim and an unequaled book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart) can head down to Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey, which is presenting an unusual, drag show-style revival with an entirely male cast.
Christopher Fitzgerald, who was most recently on Broadway in “An Act of God” and will return shortly in the new musical “Waitress,” plays Pseudolus, the crafty Roman slave who plots to win his freedom by securing for his young master the gorgeous girl next door, who is already promised to a boastful military captain. The production is directed by Jessica Stone, who is Fitzgerald’s wife.
Having men play the various female characters (all of whom are broadly-drawn stereotypes) sounds like a great match for the topsy-turvy world of “Forum.” But on a practical level, the concept proves to be too self-conscious and vocally problematic. The sex appeal (a vital ingredient of burlesque comedy) also gets lost in the process.
The cast also relies too heavily on added-on bathroom humor. Do they not realize that they are already working with the funniest dialogue ever written for a musical?
Fitzgerald is a likable, nimble performer, but he doesn’t have the rarely-seen, larger-than-life presence required to excel as Pseudolus (a role originated by Zero Mostel). He is better suited to play Pseudolus’ stressed-out companion Hysterium, although that part is ably portrayed here by Michael Urie.
Of course, that’s not to say you can’t have a good deal of fun at this production, especially if you’ve never seen the musical before, but this is not the “Forum” many of us have been waiting for.
If you go: “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” plays at Two River Theater through Dec. 13. 21 Bridge Ave., Red Bank, New Jersey, tworivertheater.org.