Book by Burt Shevelove & Larry Gelbart
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
adapted from the plays of Plautus

INFO:

Opened at the Alvin Theater   May 8, 1962   964 performances
Original Director: George Abbott (Uncredited assist by Jerome Robbins)
Original Choreographer: Jack Cole
Original Producer: Harold Prince
Original Leads: Pseudolus: Zero Mostel   Hysterium: Jack Gilford   Senex: David Burns
Cast Size: Male: 7    Female: 2    Ensemble: 3 m – 3-5 fm (must dance)    Total Cast Size: 15-17
Orchestra: About 20. Can be done with piano, bass, drums and perhaps a trumpet and violin.  Maybe 5-7.  Not as wonderful, though.
Published Script: Applause ISBN 1557830649
Production Rights: MTI (Music Theater International)
Recordings: The original Broadway is very good, starring Mostel, 1962. Nathan Lane starred in a very good revival, in 1996. Skip the movie, it’s missing numerous songs, among other problems.
Film: Not very good, not true to the musical play. Directed by Richard Lester, 1976, starring Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford, Phil Silvers. I don’t really recommend it. I heard they’re about to do a new film of it (2013 or soon.) Let’s hope they get it right.
Other shows by the authors: Sondheim: West Side Story, Gypsy, Anyone Can Whistle, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Pacific Overtures, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday In The Park With George, Into The Woods, Passion, Assassins
Awards: The original Broadway production won many Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Actor (Mostel), Best Supporting Actor (Burns), Best Book (Shevelove and Gelbart), Best Director (Abbott). Sondheim’s contribution, outrageously, was not even granted a nomination, one of the Tony Award’s blindest moments. It’s a great score!

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

Strangely, for a show that feels “big”, Forum is not that large. It has only one set, and that set does not need to be complicated or expensive. The costumes are, well, largely togas and flimsy scarves. Not expensive or particularly difficult. The choreographic and vocal demands are, again, unexpectedly simple, overall. Yes, you must get the casting of the leads right, but outside of Pseudolus and perhaps Hysterium and Senex, this isn’t all that hard. The show can be done with a smaller orchestra, perhaps even the minimal piano/bass/drums. (It’s not optimum, however, as the complexity, fun, and richness of the score will largely flatten out.) In other words, compared to most big Broadway musicals, this one is a piece of cake on a technical level, and is relatively inexpensive.

That said, the direction needs to be strong. In Forum, timing IS everything. The show is a masterful series of sight gags and laugh lines punctuated by songs that are generally intended to give the audience a bit of a break from the hilarity (though they’re funny, too), all motivated by the character’s various needs and wants. The director should be experienced and successful with farce, comedy, and also good at developing interesting and driven characters. (And a director should always remember that the show’s theme deals not so much with licentiousness, but rather, with freedom. The desire to be free to act as one wishes is at the core of the action. This fact helps the show remain relevant.)

Forum will work for many colleges and universities, dinner theaters (almost perfect for this show, I would think, so long as your audience isn’t crazy-eyed conservative), many little theater groups, summer stock, and pro productions at just about every level. Matter of fact, I’m more than a little surprised that it isn’t done far more often, it’s a big-time crowd-pleaser.

Be Warned:

Forum is flat-out funny. But it’s funny with a kind of dirty leer. It is not a show for kids. The subject matter deals often and hilariously with lust. Sex is on every character’s mind, pretty much, except for the female ingenue, Philia- and the debate rages whether or not she has a mind. There are courtesans in Forum, they dress revealingly as they dance. An example-when the lead, Pseudolus, places several courtesans into position to show them off, he says “You, over there. You, over there. There’s so much of you over there.” You get the idea. Forum is an adult show for adults to perform and to watch. High Schools MAY be able to get away with it, depending on how “open-minded” people in the neighborhood happen to be, but I doubt it.

Forum has a Sondheim score, with his famously complex music. The vocal ranges for this show are not extraordinarily large, though, as he’s writing for character actors rather than singers. The exceptions include the two young lovers. Philia needs to be a pure, fairly legit soprano, and Hero, a clean tenor. Miles Gloriosus, the braggart soldier, must be a legit baritone with a big instrument. Domina, the dominating middle-aged wife, must have a legit, nearly operatic alto range, a big voice. When you listen to the original Broadway, you’ll hear the other character actors make their way through the songs with a minimum of vocal technique, and that’s fine for his show. So you’re looking for four legit voices, and then some great mature character actors who can sing a bit. If you don’t think you have these available, along with an experienced director of farce and comedy, this is probably not a good show for your group.

By the way, I did this while in High School.  You can do – skip the courtesans dances or clean them up, or make (properly) a joke of their sexuality.  The show is very funny, and can work for a gifted High School cast.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: (Okay, there’s a lot of plot. This is a farce. Buckle your seat belt.) Pseudolus introduces the show to the audience, letting us now that there will be a “COMEDY TONIGHT.” We see three houses on a street in ancient Rome. To the left, the house of Erronious, an ancient, doddering man currently in search of his lost daughter and son, stolen by pirates long ago. The middle house, the house of Senex, a middle-aged Roman citizen, with a dominating wife, Domina, and a virginal son, Hero. He has two important slaves, Pseudolus, who longs to be free and never stop scheming, and Hysterium, who longs to grovel. The house to the right, the House of Lycus, fortuitously riddled with courtesans.

Domina departs on a journey, leaving her innocent son more-or-less untended. He has fallen in love with Philia (“LOVE, I HEAR”), a virgin in the House of Lycus who has been sold to a great Captain, Miles Gloriosus, due any day to pick up his bride. Hero catches Pseudolus gambling (um…cheating…), and the slave says he only did it for the money. He’s saving money to buy his own freedom. Seeing the boy pine for Philia, Pseudolus makes a deal with Hero. Pseudolus will win Hero the girl, and Hero will free Pseudolus from slavery. (“FREE”)

Marcus Lycus, procurer of courtesans, steps onto the street. Hero quickly produces money, and representing his master, Pseudolus claims that he’s in the market for a courtesan. Lycus trots out his wares, each one dancing more seductively than the last. Pseudolus cannot understand why any one of them wouldn’t be perfect, but Hero wants Philia. They discover that Philia has been sold for a great sum, to Captain Miles Gloriosus. Pseudolus thinks fast, and invents a plague. Philia is from the island of Crete, and Pseudolus describes a terrible fictitious plague that has just arrived from Crete. Lycus cannot give a Captain a diseased virgin – not good for business. Hero offers to hide the poor girl until the Captain leaves town.

Alone with Philia at last, Hero tries to speak of love. But Philia has the I.Q. of a geranium, and doesn’t quite understand. She does understand it when he calls her “LOVELY”, and repeats the sentiment to him. They kiss, and it is Hero’s first. Hysterium discovers Hero with a courtesan (Philia) and freaks out, but Pseudolus arrives and claims Philia is (ridiculously enough) his own daughter. When Hysterium fails to believe it, Pseudolus claims Philia is his own sister. Hysterium threatens to tell his mistress, when Pseudolus blackmails the chief slave, revealing that he knows about Hysterium’s enormous collection of erotic Roman pottery. For the lovers, Pseudolus paints a picture of future bliss. (“PRETTY LITTLE PICTURE”) But Philia is honorable, and she understands that Gloriosus has purchased her, so she cannot run away with Hero.

Pseudolus needs a plan! To win his freedom, he must keep the kids together. He places Philia in a room, telling her that her man will claim her soon, knocking on the door three times. Stealing Hysterium’s book of potions, Pseudolus plans to put Philia to sleep, claim she’s died of the plague, and then place her on a boat with Hero. They’re lacking one ingredient, mare’s sweat, which Pseudolus determines to locate while Hero goes to the harbor to buy passage for two. They depart just as Senex arrives prematurely home. The door is locked. He knocks three times, Philia opens the door and demands that Senex take her. Confused but thankful, Senex clutches her as Pseudolus reenters. He claims Philia is a new maid. Senex, Pseudolus, and entering into the lie, Hysterium and then Marcus Lycus, celebrate maids. (“EVERYBODY OUGHT TO HAVE A MAID”) Senex decides to break in the new maid. Thinking fast, Pseudolus informs his master that he needs to clean up from his travels. Senex decides to use his long absent neighbor’s house for privacy, and heads there to wash up. Hysterium starts to panic, but Pseudolus tells him to just keep Senex in Erronius’ house, and departs. Hysterium panics. (“I’M CALM”) Senex calls for Hysterium, and Hysterium enters the house. For a brief moment, the street is empty.

Erronious, ancient, doddering, nearly blind, enters slowly from his long, fruitless search for his children, home at last. He mistakes Hysterium for a woman. They hear Senex singing, and Erronius believes his house is haunted. Pseudolus arrives and, pretending to be a soothsayer, tells Erronius he must walk seven times around the seven hills of Rome, and the ghosts in his house will have departed. Erronius sets off on his new quest. Senex tells Hysterium to prepare his bath. He waves to Philia, seen on a balcony, as does Senex. Father and son spot each other and each suspects the worst. But him? No, it’s “IMPOSSIBLE.” Father heads off to his bath after sending his son to the Roman baths.

Lycus approaches Pseudolus to find out if Philia has died of the plague. Soldiers follow, looking for their Captain’s bride. Desperate pandemonium ensues as Pseudolus hurries to give Philia the sleeping potion so she will appear dead. Terrified, Lycus gives Pseudolus the right to pretend to be him before the Captain, including power over the courtesans. The soldiers demand the virgin for their captain. Hysterium tells Pseudolus he will go get her, but Pseudolus explains that he’s pretending to be Lycus. The courtesans are trotted out as distractions. Just then, Erronius enters, having completed his first circle of Rome. Everything stops as he enters, and slowly exits on his second journey around the hills. Enter Gloriosus, grandly, loudly, prepared to take his lucky, unworthy bride between brutal military conquests. (“BRING ME MY BRIDE”) But Hysterium informs Pseudolus that Philia refuses to drink the potion, on religious grounds. So she does not appear dead at all. Psuedolus claims that the virgin has run away, so the Captain does not need to pay. The Captain informs him he’s already paid Lycus. Afraid now, Pseudolus tries to make it clear that Lycus is Lycus, but Lycus pretends to be a leper. Gloriosus sentences Pseudolus to death. Pseudolus asks for one last word, and it’s granted. The last word? “Intermission.” The curtain mercifully drops.

ACT TWO: (As is the case with many well-written Broadway musicals, the second act is far shorter than the first, in this case, about half as long.) Pseudolus begs Gloriosus not to kill him, and claims the virgin is nearby, and so beautiful that she is as if Gloriosus himself had been born a woman. This impresses the Captain. Gloriosus states he’ll wait in Senex’ house (thinking it’s Lycus’ house) until the girl is found, to Hysterium’s great fear. Everything stops a moment as Erronius enters, announces “second time around,” and departs slowly, even as Hysterium hides Philia on the rood of Senex’ house. His soldiers track Pseudolus as Gloriosus enters Senex house with the other courtesans to entertain him. Then, Senex calls for Hysterium, ready for his tryst. Pseudolus goes in search of a body he can pawn off as Philia’s corpse. Domina arrives prematurely. She grabs the sleeping potion from Hysterium, parched, and drinks. Then she announces that she believes her husband, Senex, is having an affair. (“THAT DIRTY OLD MAN”) She discovers Gloriosus in her house – and he believes her to be a mean-spirited, elderly, unappealing courtesan. Pseudolus drags Hysterium inside, with a plan.

Senex steps from the house, calls for Philia, who answers from the roof. He asks her to join him in Erronius’ house, and enters it. Hero intercepts Philia, who tells him that though the Captain can ravish her body over and over, he will never have her heart. (“THAT’LL SHOW HIM”) Pseudolus arrives and sends Philia back to the roof. Unable to secure a body, Pseudolus has dressed Hysterium in a wedding dress, so he can pretend to be the dead virgin, wrapped in white. He convinces Hysterium that he’ll make a “LOVELY” corpse. He introduces the Captain to his “deceased bride.” The Captain’s sorrow is overwhelming (“FUNERAL”), and he demands the body be burned. When he discovers she “died” from a plague on Crete, he knows he’s being lied to, because there is no plague – he was just there. Pandemonium ensues as Hysterium leaps up to escape, and the soldiers follow variously various courtesans. Senex spots Hysterium in wedding dress and, assuming it’s Philia, calls her inside for their tryst. A mass chase filled with mistaken identities follows. Somehow, Senex ends up with his wife, also in disguise, to his sorrow.

Erronius enters, third time around, and spots Hysterium in the dress. The old man believes Hysterium to be his long-lost daughter. Gloriosus enters and, believing Hysterium to be his virgin, demands her. Senex also enters, still interested. Hysterium is surrounded by suitors. Finally, Pseudolus is caught and threatened with death for everything confusing that has occurred. But Philia – the real virgin – is revealed, Lycus unmasks himself and hands her to Gloriosus. The Captain is thrilled. But it is at that moment that Erronius spots his family ring on both the hands of Gloriosus and Philia!! They are his children, brother and sister! Hero ends up with Philia, and all ends almost happily.

THE SONGS:

“Comedy Tonight”; “Love, I Hear”; “Free”; “The House Of Marcus Lycus”; “Lovely”; “Pretty Little Picture”; “Everybody Ought To Have A Maid”; “I’m Calm”; “Impossible”; “Bring Me My Bride”; “That Dirty Old Man”; “That’ll Show Him”; “Lovely (reprise)”; “Funeral”; “Finale”

Hits include “Comedy, Tonight”

MY OPINIONS:

You can, as always, elect to ignore my comments and the rating I assign the show.  But don’t be surprised if your trip to the forum doesn’t turn out to be all that, um, funny.

Forum is the funniest musical ever written. Forum is adapted from the Roman farces of Plautus. It uses elements of modern Musical Comedy, Burlesque, and Vaudeville. When it was originally authored, talent was available to perform Forum who had also experienced some version of Burlesque and Vaudeville. Today, 50 years later, this simply isn’t the case. That means, to get an understanding of how to play the comedy in Forum, you may need to do some serious homework. Fortunately, there’s a lot of film from the 30s and 4os available that show off these forms.

Forum has a very unusual structure for a musical. Usually in a musical, a scene starts and build up to the musical number. The musical number is the “climax” or high point of the scene in terms of drama. But in Forum, though the numbers are themselves funny enough, they are not as funny as the dialogue. In fact, the numbers in Forum allow the audience a chance to stop laughing their guts out for a few moments, a respite from the merciless, ceaseless comedy of the book.

Again, this is not to say that the numbers should not entertain, they must. The numbers ARE funny. They’re just not exhaustively funny, as the book is. It’s important that everyone working on your production understand this reversal of standard musical comedy practice. If the actors don’t get this, they will wonder why the songs don’t get a “bigger” reaction, and they’ll push for it, at which point, they’ll get even less of the reaction they desire. The same goes for the director and choreographer. Execute the numbers cleverly, entertain, get a few laughs where it’s possible to do so. But let the book do most of the heavy lifting in the comedy department. The book is masterful, the best example of a farce in musical theater form that I can think of.

One note about the more salacious elements of Forum. Musical Comedy has a long and illustrious track record of sexual hijinks. It first made its reputation with the common working stiff in New York, by presenting long lines of leggy girls in literally every musical, in the 1920s and 1930s. While it’s true that romance has often been at the core of musicals, so has sex. Musicals from the thirties and even earlier usually had a lead pair of ingenues who were “in love” – and a second plot with another couple with lower aspirations. Vaudeville shows invariably had a few ladies to show off. Burlesque made its living with strippers and dancers. Into the 1940s and 1950s, the subplots of musical comedies rarely did not include sex as a driving factor. Forum, first produced in 1962, simply continued an extremely well-established trend. As they say in Hollywood, “Sex Sells.” That does not mean that the show is necessarily a good pick for your group. Your audience, your performers, your agenda will determine whether or not this kind of show will work for you. But I do not want you to think this show is abnormal in this regard. Far from it.

MY RATING: ** (An excellent show, well worth considering.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:
It’s Sondheim, but not quite the Sondheim of the 70s and beyond. Here, he was writing for established stars, character actors with limited ranges and musical acumen. Though the score is rich with interesting musical ideas, it is not all that difficult to execute. (The same could not be said for Sondheim’s later scores.)

Your romantic leads must have legit voices, Philia a soprano, Hero a tenor with some bottom range. Miles Gloriosus, the Roman General, must have a big, booming baritone voice, legit. The role of Domina requires a legit mezzo-alto with a large, nearly operatic voice. That’s four real voices you’re going to need to find. The character roles that carry most of the show all must sing enough to carry a tune, even a simple harmony. More importantly, they must be able to get a lyric clearly and distinctly out to the audience, as that is where most of the laughs are.

The old man, Erronious, does not sing at all. There is ensemble signing in “Comedy Tonight”, “Bring Me My Bride”, and “Funeral”, but it isn’t hard, and is a lot of “oohs” and “ahhs”, for the most part. The ensemble in this show is not as busy as in many other shows.

One very good thing about this score – it doesn’t “date” or become antiquated. (The same is true of the book.) Sondheim didn’t place it in a period, and it doesn’t reek of the 60s, as say the Burt Bacharach score for Promises Promises does. Forum’s score definitely feels “Broadway”, with lots of brass and catchy songs, but it could have been written today.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:
There isn’t that much dance in Forum. The courtesans do four brief numbers, allowing these five women to show off some terpsichorean skills and feminine wiles. (Two of the courtesans are twins, thus four brief dances instead of five…but who’s complaining?) There is no big group number outside of “Comedy Tonight”, “Funeral” and “Bring Me My Bride”, and these three can be staged by an experienced director without choreographic assistance. Forum is very light on choreography, especially for the period and the “big” feel of the show. I’ve seen situations where the Courtesans staged their own numbers, in which case, Forum can pretty much do without a choreographer, assuming the Director is comfortable staging simple movement into musical numbers. This is very unusual for a Broadway musical.

CASTING CONCERNS:
Pseudolus is the star, and make no mistake, Forum is entirely a star vehicle. He’s on stage nearly the entire evening between his chores as a kind of narrator, and as the hyperactive slave to the House of Senex. The role requires an experienced, oversized comic personality, and if you don’t have the right actor, do another show! He must be able to mug, to double takes, prat falls, and all the standard legerdemain of farce. He must sing reasonably well, but always in character rather than as a “singer.” Usually cast as a lyric baritone, middle-aged, with commanding comic presence. Should move well. (Counter-intuitive: The role has been played by a woman, most notably Whoopie Goldberg. Something to consider. If you go that route, you may want to also play Hysterium as a woman, but that would not be necessary.) Another note – pretty much every actor given the role of Pseudolus on Broadway won a Tony for their performance. It’s a great role!

Hysterium is the comic, very nervous sidekick. Uptight, anxious, seeing doom around every corner, he is a bundle of energy and comic emotion. Again, the role requires a talented and preferably experienced farceur. (If you don’t know what a “farceur” is, you probably shouldn’t do Forum.) Usually middle-aged, tenor or lyric baritone with some high notes. Should move well.

Hero and Philia are the young lovers, and the more physically beautiful they are, the better. They must sing very well (soprano, tenor), and well together. They must “fit”. You’ll need a particularly strong actress for Philia, as she must really play dumb throughout at a highly comic level. Some movement required, but not much.

Senex is middle-aged, irascible, energetic, unhappily married and longs for an encounter of the sexual kind. He does some singing, two songs he shares, and must be comfortable enough to carry his parts, though they are of limited range and can almost be talk-sung. Mostly, you’re going to want a talented middle-aged actor with a gift for comedy. Some movement required.

Domina is Senex’ wife. Middle-aged, stately, humorless, dark, grim, foreboding, every married man’s worst nightmare. The actress must be a gifted comedienne, with a truly legit, almost operatic mezzo-alto range, a big instrument. No dance required.

Miles Gloriosus must be a God among men, large, dark, fearsome, in his prime, a force. Bearded, a Roman General, he has the highest possible opinion of himself. (To quote him, “I am my ideal.”) Must be a gifted comic actor with great bluster and muscle, and a big, strong, well-modulated bass-baritone voice. No dance required.

The other character roles (Marcus Lycus, Erronious) should be strong comic actors of middle age (Lycus) or ancient (Erronious, at least able to APPEAR ancient). Singing is not important in these roles. No dance.

The Proteans should be gifted physical comic actors, and if they can sing, too, so much the better.

The Courtesans must, well, look great, dance well, and if they sing well, great. Gymnasia should be very tall and shapely. You’ll need two girls who can pass as twins.

SETS:
There’s only one set, a street in Rome. It consists of three Roman houses, usually each two stories so that there are lots of windows and doors for people to appear and disappear from. They are set next to each other. They are false fronts, almost always flats, painted with black lines on a white or off-white background. (Off-white is better, as it reflects less light and is less likely to blind the audience.) The painting of the houses with black lines illustrates (it is comic illustration and not literal presentation) Roman columns, doorways, flourishes. But usually, it’s all flat and cartoonish. Of course, BEHIND the flats must be an easily climbed and descended stair system of some sort, so the actors can move quickly AND SAFELY from one entrance to another. The behind-the-set design will probably take more work than what the audience is going to see.

All in all, inexpensive and not very complicated.

COSTUMES:
Again, the requirements are low compared to many other shows. Each character essentially should have a single costume, though Philia and Hysterium will need matching wedding gowns. (Read the plot, I’m not going to explain it again.) Miles Gloriosus will need to be decked out as a Roman general, and the Proteans will need a few costume changes, as they must be ensemble, and Roman soldiers. You’ll need to do some research on Roman soldiery, Roman slaves, Roman courtesans, and Roman Citizens, as each is different from the others. Various Hollywood spectacles have done much of your homework for you, such as “Spartacus” and the like, and you could save yourself some headaches by taking a look.

And remember, this is a farce, almost a cartoon, so you do not need to get very literal. It’s far more important that the audience have fun, than that they be given some sort of history lesson. This isn’t the show for that.
Pseudolus is going to be doing a lot of running around, in particular. It’s a good idea to provide him a costume that will breathe, and move easily with him.  By the way, Marcus Lycus is a Roman pimp. Some slight comic allusion to modern pimps, in an appropriately Roman milieu, would be pretty funny.  Watch for too much white in the togas and such! White reflects a lot of light, and you’ll be making a problem for the lighting designer.

PROPS:
When in Rome…make your props at least look Roman. Well, the cartoon version of Rome, anyway, sort of like Mr. Peabody and Sherman’s version of Rome. The props should be simple, cartoonish rather than realistic. Making them slightly larger than life, white with black drawing on them to represent what they are will match them up with the set design (an example), and keep things presentational. There are bound to be some specialized, goofy props in Forum. A bra or two, flowered drawers, a rubber chicken would not be entirely out of place, depending on what the director does with the show. The soldiers will need “Roman” shields and swords, maybe a spear or two. (There are only going to be 3 soldiers, total, they are the Proteans.) The shields can be drawn on, in the manner described. The Courtesans may need props to dance with, and these could range from feathers to a snake, ‘ala Burlesque. Again, the director and choreographer will have something to say about this. All in all, though, Forum doesn’t have tons of props, and they’re not particularly difficult props to build or secure.

LIGHTING:
Forum is straight musical comedy. It is not moody at all. Bright, eye-popping set-ups for numbers, even scenes, will be the most likely directorial demand. You may need something romantic for “LOVELY” (the first time around”, something dramatic and potentially fiery for the funeral. But this is a show that is likely to demand fewer cues and changes than most shows. I would think that a follow spot would be a must for “EVERYBODY OUGHT TO HAVE A MAID”, and ‘LOVELY (reprise)”, at the very least. But all in all, not a very demanding show if you understand how to light up-beat Musical Comedy.

One thought. Togas tend to be white, though you should coordinate with the costumer in this regard. White reflects a lot of light. A lot of white on stage can be hard to look at, accordingly. The houses are likely to be off-white already, and white togas may well vanish into them visually.

MAKE-UP:
If cast correctly, you’re likely to be doing make-up for a number of older actors, an art unto itself. You must not hide their age. In fact, Erronious must be made to look absolutely ancient. As the sets are cartoons, you might be tempted to go that route with the make-up, but I would not. We have to look at these people, laugh with them and at them. Given the wildness of the farcical action, it is important that the characters be recognizably human. Emphasis of eyes, lips, standard features in make-up is pretty much as far as it should go, except for a few characters. Domina should be grandly, overly-made up, as she would attempt to hide her age, and create an imposing effect on others. You can have some fun there. And Erronious should be about to keel over before our eyes.

Then there’s the Courtesans. You’ll want to find exotic ways to emphasize their feminine qualities, and to make them each different. Wigs, falls would not be out of the question. Plan to make-up their decolletage while you’re at it. And as to the hair of the male characters, look at statues of Roman men, and movies made of the period that attempt to be reasonably life-like. The hair is short.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):
Pseudolus, Director, Music Director

MY THOUGHTS:

Forum is one of the best adaptations of source material ever written. Shevelove and Gelbart, both masters of comedy, amply proved their ability here. Most musicals are adapted from existing material, be it from a play, movie, novel, poem, you name it. Forum is adapted from numerous plays by one of the very few extant Roman playwrights, Plautus. His plays were written to be performed on street corners, without much in the way of production values. Forum, perhaps in spite of itself, maintained some of that quality, and so it is a relatively inexpensive and simple physical production. This is a blessing from a Producer’s perspective.

Sondheim writes shows for adults. Forum is no exception. It is tremendous fun to be involved in for most of the talent. But there are people who are almost certainly going to find it offensive. I’m never sure why such people go to theaters or movies, but sometimes they do. So if a few people per performance leave at Intermission, live with it. (Sondheim himself said that walk-outs during Intermission is very common for his shows.) The pleasure received by the vast majority will make it worth it.

And by the way, I was told long ago by one of the original Warner Brothers animators that their characters were based on Plautus’s characters! Bugs Bunny is Pseudolus, Daffy Duck is Hysterium, Elmer Fudd is Senex, and so on. Food for thought.