Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tour De Farce

Don't ask my why, but I was reading a review of an old Washington, D.C. production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Forum.  It's by Sophie Gilbert, a Londoner who's written for Slate among other places. A couple of excerpts:

Ignore the hoary old plot, so dated even Pliny the Elder might turn up his distinctly Roman nose, and focus on the [Stephen Sondheim] songs, which are [...] just lovely.

In the season of festive frivolity, you could do worse than snigger at [Burt] Shevelove and [Larry] Gelbart’s gags, even if they’re older than Rome itself.

So the writing is old and tired?  Shevelove and Gelbert don't try to hide the inspiration of Plautus, and they take basic characters and situations from Roman farce, but the gags are theirs and the plot is far more involved than any ancient (and most modern) farce. If the show is so tired, why was it a big hit on Broadway and why has it been such a popular show since? (And how many revivals of Plautus has Gilbert seen?)

She does praise the songs.  After all, it's Sondheim and critics know what they're supposed to say. But there was a time they didn't know they had to love Sondheim--this was his first full score whent he show opened. Originally the critics were drawn to Forum's hilarious libretto, but generally didn't think much of the music.  In fact, at the 1963 Tony Awards, the show won Best Musical, Best Producer, Best Script, Best Lead Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Direction.  Not only didn't it win best score, Sondheim wasn't even nominated.  How the tables have turned.

PS  Pliny the Elder lived two centuries after Plautus, so maybe Plautus was old hat to him. I still think he'd have liked this show.

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