Britain’s National Theatre has forged a reputation for producing American musicals with style. It’s a tradition that started with Richard Eyre’s Guys and Dolls and continued through Oklahoma!, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, South Pacific, Lady in the Dark and My Fair Lady. Although Nicholas Hytner’s regime is less focused on the genre than was Trevor Nunn’s (Hytner has vowed to concentrate on finding new musical theatre talent), the NT is gearing up for its first U.S. songfest since Hytner took over. Though it’s Edward Hall, not Hytner, who directs the show.
RSC regular Desmond Barrit — one of the English stage’s most admired comic actors, though recently he’s been taking on heavier roles, such as Shylock at the Chichester Festival — plays Pseudolus, the witty Roman slave played in the original stage show and in the film version by Zero Mostel. Also in the cast is Hamish McColl, half of the comic duo The Right Size (who had a big London hit recently with the Morecambe and Wise tribute The Play What I Wrote, which also visited Broadway). Television satirist David Schneider and TV sitcom star Sam Kelly (“Porridge,” “Allo Allo”) join the line-up. And multi-Olivier Award winner Philip Quast, who won his last Olivier in the NT’s South Pacific, is also back at the venue, which has showcased him in fare from musicals to Shakespeare.
Less famous but also in the cast is Jane Fowler, who was in the company’s production of Love’s Labours Lost, also in the Olivier.
Edward Hall directs, with set designs by Julian Crouch and costume designs by Kevin Pollard. Paul Anderson designs the lighting, Rob Ashford choreographs, and Paul Groothuis supplies the sound. Orchestrations are by Michael Starobin, with Martin Lowe as music supervisor and director.
Forum remains one of Sondheim’s most popular musicals, helped by the knockabout movie and by one of the composer’s most enduring songs, “Comedy Tonight.” It was successfully revived in New York in 1996, in a production starring Nathan Lane.