• U.S.

Theater: Bawdy Beautiful

2 minute read

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a good clean dirty show. It stands for something. It is pro mammal. It is pro burlesque. It is pro the golden corn of vaudeville, flawlessly husked by Zero Mostel, David Burns, Jack Gilford and John Carradine. What Forum brings back to Broadway is good for high, low, middle, and knitted brows—the belly laugh.

This musical comedy is set in pagan Rome and is lewdly adapted from the plays of Plautus, who should really have been named Sub-Plautus. He was a genius at inventing endless slapsticky plot complications. The story is that Pseudolus (Zero Mostel), a slave, will be granted his freedom if he can secure as his master’s bride a dumb blonde virgin (Preshy Marker) who has completed her basic training as a courtesan. After a dilatory start, George Abbott’s pell-mell direction crosscuts from the chaste to the chase. Pseudolus must foil all the males who are panting after dumb blonde virgins. Sharing the frantic antics are eunuchs, panderers, aging lechers, vainglorious soldiers, and defrocked vestals. For most of them, the stage-right bawdyhouse is home.

Lust makes this particular world go round, and Zero Mostel is its comic axis. Seemingly composed of double chins that reach to his knees, Mostel is a paradoxically dainty and light-footed man whose humors merge the ballet with the pratfall. Whether he is rolling his eyes like berserk marbles, mincing archly in his tunic, or playing tick tack toe on the bare midriff of Lucienne Bridou (the nubilest Roman of them all), Mostel tickles playgoers into eruptive laughter. The show’s music lacks distinction, but no one will seriously think of humming once the cast’s six girls undulate onstage. Costumer Tony Walton wisely lets nature take top billing: these are girls for whom clothes would do nothing.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com