Thursday, December 13, 2012


Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart

Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, until 6th January 2013

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

What a great holiday treat this deliciously wicked production of one of Stephen Sondheim’s earliest musicals proves to be.   First presented on Broadway in 1963, “A Funny Thing on the Way to the Forum” still sparkles brighter than Christmas lights in a production brimming with clever performances and delightful directorial flourishes.  

Taking advantage of a twelve-week window-of-opportunity in Geoffrey Rush’s availability, John Frost has mounted an affectionate, stylish production which allows Rush plenty of opportunity to flash his renowned theatrical brilliance. From the moment he hits the stage in “A Comedy Tonight”  Geoffrey Rush happily grasps every one of those opportunities to deliver a performance which is not only excruciatingly funny but also technically brilliant.

As the wily slave, Pseudolus, who attempts to win his freedom by helping his young master woo the girl next door, Rush utilises his scrawny physique to great comic effect, effortlessly dashing off Andrew Hallsworth’s tricky choreography, extracting every nuance from Sondheim’s witty lyrics, and flashing his underpants at every opportunity. His comic timing is masterly as he revels in the bawdiness of his character, expending an incredible amount of energy along the way, but finishing the show looking as fresh as he began it.

As good as he is Geoffrey Rush is not the only reason to see this production. Director Simon Phillips has pulled out every trick in the bag to insure that the wonderfully convoluted plot, crammed with all the classic elements of good farce;  puns, slamming doors, mistaken identity, malapropisms, and mad chases, hurtles along.  Phillips teams again with Gabriela Tylesova, fresh from her dazzling success with the design of “Love Never Dies”, who has again come up with beautiful, witty costumes and a set which is cheeky, clever and picture-book pretty, especially as lit by lighting designer Nick Schlieper. Guy Simpson has also gilded the lilly with some fresh new musical arrangements.
Geoffrey Rush and Mitchell Butel
Photo: Jeff Busby

Typically, Phillips has meticulously cast the show and every person on stage knows exactly why they are there. Helpmann Award winner, Mitchell Butel chews up the scenery as  Hysterium, the head slave in the house of Senex,  providing an excellent foil for Rush,  especially in their act-two duet, “I’m Lovely”,  where their inventive stage business has the audience gurgling with deligh

Christie Whelan-Browne and Hugh Sheridan
Photo: Jeff Busby

Hugh Sheridan displays a fine singing voice and plays the handsome Hero with just the right degree of bemused earnestness. Christie Whelan-Browne as Philia the virgin courtesan and the object of his affections, is drop-dead gorgeous and deliciously ditsy. Together they are an attractive pair.

Shane Bourne plays an opportunistic Roman nobleman,  Senex, whose absence at war provides that catalyst for Pseudolus to create havoc, and although she doesn’t have a lot to do,  Magda Szubanski as his imposing wife,Domina,  makes the most of every stage moment.   

Gerry Connolly is gloriously sleazy as Marcus Lycus, the buyer and seller of beautiful women, while Adam Murphy is impressive as the impossibly fierce and funny warrior, Miles Gloriosus.

Bob Hornery as Erronius
Photo: Jeff Busby

A special delight is the presence in the cast of veteran actor, Bob Hornery, who played Marcus Lycus in the original 1964 J.C.Williamsons production, and who in this production plays the gullible Erronius, demonstrating  that he has lost known of his stage skills,and  managing to garner a round of applause every time he trots across the stage.

A bevy of long-legged, beautiful courtesans inhabit the house of Marcus Lycus, and three very funny Proteans, who all double hilariously in a number of roles, each more ridiculous than the last, round out a brilliant cast.

It’s a shame that this production will only be seen in Melbourne, but if you’re looking for an excuse for a trip to Melbourne before the 6th January. This is it.