Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Daddy D’s ‘Forum’ a load of comedic fun

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_A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum__-1217496838330561610

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Daddy D Productions’ version of the musical, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” is like the guy in the image above. He’s taking on a big task and having fun doing it, even though the column that he’s hefting is bit crumbly going from Point A to Point B.

For comedic firepower, the show is a success. It’s end-to-end comedy to start with. And then it puts two of the region’s top comedic performers toe-to-toe in the show’s most outrageous scene. At Wednesday night’s opening performance, there were people in the audience who could barely contain the laughter wracking their bodies. It’s that funny when Parker Drew as a conniving slave sets up Darren Johnson as the by-the-book chief slave to pretend he is the pretty, prettily dressed – and dead – virgin bride-to-be of a vain-glorious Roman war hero (Mark A. Jackson, who’s into the larger-than-life part to the hilt).

Two more performances remain, today and Friday, Feb. 19-20, at the Riverside Ballroom. Info: www.daddydproductions.com.

***

Creative: Music and lyrics – Stephen Sondheim; book – Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart; director – Peggy Anderson; music director – Barb Hinnendael; producer – Darren Johnson; sound engineer – Dan Collins; costumes and sewing – Marilyn Johnson; set construction – Bob Bowers; orchestra – Barb Hinnendael, keyboards, and Jeff Hinnnendael, drums/percussion.

Cast: Pseudolus – Parker Drew; Hysterium – Darren Johnson; Philia – Maria Sausen; Hero – Everette John Berchmans; Senex – Doug Dachelet; Domina – Sarah Butzen-Fairchild; Erronius – Charlie Hagen; Miles Gloriosus – Mark A. Jackson; Marcus Lycus – Matt Beyer; Proteans – Linda Kozlowski, Sam VanBeek, Ian Wisneski; Courtesans – Shelly Emmer, Ruby Stardust, Sue Strauss, Ivy Scarlette, “Phoenix.”

Songs

Act I

“Comedy Tonight” – Pseudolus and Company

“Love, I Hear” – Hero

“Free” – Pseudolus and Hero

“The House of Marcus Lycus” – Lycus and Pseudolus

“Lovely” – Philia and Hero

“Pretty Little Picture” – Pseudolus, Hero and Philia

“Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” – Senex, Pseudolus, Hysterium and Lycus

“I’m Calm” – Hysterium

“Impossible” – Senex and Hero

“Bring Me My Bride” – Miles Gloriosus and Company

Act II

“That Dirty Old Man” – Domina

“That’ll Show Him” – Philia

“Lovely” (reprise) – Pseudolus and Hysterium

“Funeral Sequence” – Pseudolus, Miles Gloriosus and Company

“Finale” – Company

***

The Riverside has been the site of a whole lot of performances in its nearly 80 years, and this production may be a first – a musical with Broadway roots done by area talent. Daddy D Productions, led by Darren Johnson, normally makes up revues around a theme; this is the Green Bay show troupe’s first scripted musical.

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is Broadway giant Stephen Sondheim at his most accessible, with quips/flavorings/witticisms/one-liners rippling through the show with all the signs of Larry Gelbart (of TV’s “M*A*S*H” fame) all over them.

The show is a case of rolling farce, double-entendre meanings, slapstick, buffoonery, knowing wit and plays on words. It takes history – ancient Rome, with its class system and decadence – and mashes into a source of mirth.

In production values, there’s a let’s-put-on-a-show aura. This is not Broadway Across America – the kind of high-level production that plays major performing arts centers. The orchestra is little and the set and costumes do the job. Performance counts most in this not-a-ton-of-money production. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is filled with character singing as opposed to knock-out voice requirements (color flashes in songs of Maria Sausen as the silly virgin girl and Sarah Butzen-Fairchild as a patrician’s voluble wife). And Daddy D certainly delivers the characters.

In this version of team comedy, Parker Drew is the quarterback who runs the show as the narrator character. He knows how to lead, when to hand off and when to launch a comedic TD bomb. At the end, he might as well do Aaron Rodgers’ belt maneuver. Darren Johnson is a franchise player, a nimble-footed linebacker who tackles big-voice songs and comic capers like so many sudden-sacks. Doug Dachelet is the go-to guy for deadpan humor as an almost-over-the-love-hill patrician, assisted in a key play by Everette John Berchmans as his naïve son. Mark A. Jackson and Sarah Butzen-Fairchild are the specialty players, there when you need them to get clutch first downs. There’s even bump-and-run in the Proteans, a goofus trio played by Linda Kozlowski, Sam VanBeek and Ian Wisneski.

Darren Johnson also is the GM, the guy who put this squad together and convinced director Peggy Anderson and music director Barb Hinnendael that, “Gee, this is a good idea, so come on on board with your skills, it’ll be a great experience.” And, in ways, it is.

Back to that outrageous scene and the team-comedy thought: Think Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, Martin & Lewis – the comedic pairs of yore, the masters of timing. That’s the kind of humor available in this show from Drew & Johnson. 

AHEAD: “Daddy D Country Jubilee,” March 19-21, 26; “Top 10 Billboard Hits,” April 23-25, 30-May 1; “Broadway ‘One Night Only’,” Aug. 21; “Bye, Bye American Pie,” Sept. 17-18, 24-25; “The Nifty Fifties,” Oct. 22-24, 29-30; “Daddy D’s Christmas Review,” Dec. 9-19 (two locations).

THE VENUE: The spacious Riverside Ballroom Crystal Ballroom is the heart of the 1936 Art Moderne building on Green Bay’s east side. The performance of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is mostly on the raised stage on which rock ‘n’ roll legends Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper performed a famed concert. Seating is at round tables on the ballroom floor; there is a dinner option. The ballroom features high, sweeping, laminated wood beams with streamlined, curved decoration at the base of each beam. Hanging from the ceiling are Czechoslovakian crystal chandeliers. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Imagine the Green Bay Packers holding practice inside the ballroom. That happened a few times, according to a Packers Heritage Trail plaque outside. Nearby flows the East River, thus the Riverside Ballroom.

Because I review a broad range of performances, professional and amateur, and because of the tremendous range of production budgets, I have decided to forego putting star ratings on performances. You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air segments on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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