This is the fourth recording of A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, following the 1962 original Broadway cast album, the 1963 original London cast album, and the 1966 soundtrack album. Two of those three earlier recordings starred Zero Mostel as Pseudolus, the Roman slave who longs to be free, and though other performers have played the part, Mostel's remains the defining portrayal. This revival cast is led by Nathan Lane, and the differences between him and Mostel highlight the differences between the revival and the original. Mostel was a scenery-chewing ham with a tragic edge -- there was an element of self-abasement in his humor that made you uncomfortable even as you laughed all the harder. He came out of a vaudeville and Yiddish theater tradition that added depth to every line. Lane is closer to the Catskills than the Lower East Side, and more a creature of the post-'60s smirking humor of David Letterman than either. His Pseudolus is light and elegant, where Mostel was earthy and almost vulgar. A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum is nearly bulletproof in terms of performance; it's hard to do it badly. Lane and the revival cast perform it efficiently and with flair, but theirs is an anachronistic style grafted onto the original's knowing crudeness. Fans of Stephen Sondheim and of the show will have to have this, of course, but if you have room for only one Forum on your shelf, stick to the original.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
|A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum|