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Maybe you’re not smiling over your snow plowing bills, but here’s a mid-winter treat that will keep you laughing despite the white stuff: One of the most successful musical comedies in Broadway history is currently running at the St. Lawrence Arts Center. Good Theater’s professional production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is full of belly-busting laughter and fine tunes.
Another hot choice for a cold winter is Daniel Bernard Roumain, a cutting-edge violinist-composer whose shtick is fusing classical and contemporary aesthetics. Roumain and his string quartet – the SQ Unit – will play in Portland Feb. 6 under the auspices of PCA Great Performances.
One Longfellow Square hosts a remarkable acapella quintet Feb. 4. The Persuasions began in 1962 as a group of teens singing for friends and families in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of New York City.
SUBHED-‘A Funny Thing Happened’
A riotously funny romp in an ancient Roman setting is the best short description of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” the enduring 1962 Broadway musical comedy that’s currently running at Portland’s Good Theater.
Emphasize the word comedy. Thanks to the brilliantly funny script by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, “Forum” is a laugher all the way from prologue to denouement. The musical score, by Stephen Sondheim, is delightful, but distinctly secondary in this show’s overall scheme.
Despite its ancient setting and other classical Roman trappings, there’s never a doubt that “Forum” is a modern Broadway production, a point that its three principal creators worked very consciously to emphasize. Indeed, part of the charm of “Forum” is the realization that basic human characters and comic situations remain remarkably constant over vast spans of time.
The twisted plot is centered on Pseudolus us, a slave in a Roman household, who bargains with Hero, his master, to win his freedom. If Pseudolus can hook up Hero with his beloved Philia, the slave will earn his freedom.
Hero is a bumbling young man, while Philia is the archetype of the clueless bimbo-blonde. And accomplishing their liaison involves fooling everybody in Hero’s household and foiling a romantic assignation with a great and glorious Roman warrior. Plus there are long-lost children, two befuddled fathers and a host of other characters.
Expect a farce, with lots of slamming doors, disguises and mistaken identities. Good Theater’s outstanding professional (non-Equity) production certainly shows why “Forum” holds its own year after year.
Starring Chris Reiling and Annie Unnold as the romantic couple, audiences are treated to several outstanding performances in lesser roles, including Steve Underwood as Hero’s hen-pecked father and Denise Poirier as his domineering mother. Cathy Counts, playing the proprietress of a Roman whorehouse, is the comic gem of the show, while Bill Ellis draws lots of laughs as Miles Gloriosus, the vainglorious warrior.
Catch performances at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. in Portland (top of Munjoy Hill). Show times are 7:30 Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Plus there’s a special Feb. 14 matinee at 3 p.m. Call Good Theater at 885-5883.
SUBHED-Daniel Bernard Roumain
Daniel Bernard Roumain is a violinist, composer and band leader who fuses funk, rock, hip-hop and classical music into a new and creative vision. Catch an earful of his music and catch a glimpse of the vision Feb. 6 when he visits Hannaford Hall at the University of Southern Maine in Portland under the auspices of PCA Great Performances.
Born in Haiti and living in New York City, DBR – he likes to go by his initials – is a classical-urban ambassador for the next generation and growing audiences of all ages. His dramatic, soul-inspiring pieces range from orchestral scores to energetic chamber works to rock songs and electronica – a vision that embraces a multi-colored spectrum of popular music.
The DBR act has several modes of operation, ranging up to the violinist himself and a nine-piece band that has appeared with symphony orchestras around the country, including Seattle and Buffalo. For his Portland appearance, DBR is bringing the SQ Unit string quartet and his program features a series of original works that honor American civil rights leaders.
DBR composed his music around actual recorded voices of four iconic figures from the 1960s through 1970s. String Quartet No. 1 recalls Brother Malcolm X, while Martin Luther King is the focus of No. 2. The series continues with a composition inspired by Adam Clayton Powell and wraps up with a work that celebrates the life and words of poet Maya Angelou.
Don’t expect the usual hagiographies. In “X,” DBR relates the struggles of the provocative American to those of European composer Bela Bartok. “I wanted this quartet to change my world,” DBR writes. “I ended up combining the best of Bartok’s motifs with my own developing sense of funk.”
And he composed the King piece from a rather unexpected angle. “This quartet is inspired by the controversial phone tapes and other information found on Dr. Martin Luther King’s adulterous affairs,” he writes. “The music illuminates the pillow talk that might have occurred and what influence these women might have had on him, and consequently, on the entire Civic Rights movement.”
Catch Daniel Bernard Roumain and the SQ Unit Feb. 6 at 8 p.m. at Hannaford Hall on Bedford St. in Portland. Call PortTix at 842-0800.
Back in 1962, when the Civic Rights movement was at its apex, five black teenagers from the Bedford Stuyvesant section of New York City got together to sing. They called themselves the Persuasions, and each boasted a personal history and spiritual background in church-based gospel music – augmented with a major measure of soul plus a dose of pop.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of teen musical groups have been formed over the years in this country. But what’s truly remarkable is that the Persuasions are still going strong nearly five decades later. And unlike some similar situations, today’s Persuasions comprise only the five original members.
The Persuasions’ ladder of success started on street corners, then moved into clubs and concert halls. Along the way, the quintet has performed around the world and recorded 19 albums. On Feb. 4 the Persuasions move into One Longfellow Square in Portland for an 8 p.m. performance. Call OLS at 761-1757.
Craig Robinson photo
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” the classic Broadway musical farce from 1962, is currently running at Portland’s Good Theater. Chris Reiling is Hero and Annie Unnold is Philia.