The introduction to Stephen Sondheim’s 1962 “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” — “something appealing, something appalling, something for everyone, a comedy tonight!” — is a promise made good by 42nd Street Moon.
Although there have been big Broadway productions of Sondheim’s first produced musical, this small and intimate presentation of the mildly bawdy and hilarious physical comedy about goings-on in ancient Rome is perhaps how the show was meant to be staged.
When cast members line up downstage, they have to squeeze not to bump into the wings (or, rather, where the wings should be). To the glory of 42nd Street Moon, there is no amplification in the Eureka Theatre — even with unusually small voices this time, every word is conveyed.
The delightful romp of a production is sparked by Megan Cavanagh in the trouser lead role of Pseudolus, the clever slave who improvises, lies and cheats his way through in his quest to become a free Roman.
Yet, it’s not a star-dominated show, as was the case with Zero Mostel, Nathan Lane and Whoopi Goldberg in Broadway productions.
This remarkable ensemble production is expertly directed by company founder Greg MacKellan and choreographed with minimalist excellence by Tom Segal. Dance captain Rudy Guerrero shines in the role of Marcus Lycus, proprietor of the best little whorehouse near the Forum of old.</p>
So much is accomplished with so little — an orchestra of two (musical director Dave Dobrusky on piano and Nick di Scala on reeds) and one singer with a strong voice (Michael Rhone as Hysterium), but everybody works hard and gets through the demanding show with honors.
In addition to Meghan Ihle’s Philia (“I’m lovely / All I am is lovely / Lovely is the one thing I can do”) and the equally self-adoring Miles Gloriosus (Rob Hatzenbeller), other favorites include the all-purpose Proteans, playing soldiers and eunuchs, among other characters.
Unlike 42nd Street Moon’s best shows, “Forum” bogs down at times, but that is partially due to the material, which has somewhat faded with age.
Still, the cast and the audience have a good time with the show, which offers these heady counsels: “Never fall in love during a total eclipse” and “Everybody ought to have a maid / Everybody ought to have a menial / Consistently congenial.”
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Presented by 42nd Street Moon
Where: Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 6 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 24
Tickets: $24 to $44
Contact: (415) 255-8207, www.42ndstmoon.org