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Ripples From the Musical Wave

The blitz of "tuners" will stir things up on Broadway, where too many shows may be vying for too few stages. That would mirror this summer's movie situation, when so many would-be blockbusters poured out of Hollywood that pictures with lackluster openings often found themselves squeezed off the most desirable screens.

Even high-profile hits will face increased pressure as the Broadway season shifts into high gear. An example is "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," the perennially popular show about a Roman slave who tries to win his freedom by juggling the romantic affairs of various love-struck acquaintances. The comedy is more hysterical than historical, but a talented cast can make it a crowd-pleaser. Its current production has fared nicely, most recently with Whoopi Goldberg in the lead.

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Goldberg left in mid-July, though, and the "Forum" producers knew they needed another high-energy entertainer to shore up the show before autumn competition gets hot. They found a winner in David Alan Grier, not a star of Goldberg's magnitude - few people are - but a gifted comedian with sharp timing and a spicy singing voice. As an African-American performer, like Goldberg, he also contributes an ironic undertone to the show: A story about a Roman slave acquires pointed American meanings when the leading player is black.

Already celebrated for his work on the TV show "In Living Color," the multitalented Grier also counts a Tony nomination and many movie roles among his credits. His abilities aren't enough to make the irrepressibly vulgar "Forum" into a thoughtful evening of theater, but its frivolities seem a little less foolish when he's on the stage. It isn't clear whether the musical will survive after fall's tidal wave hits - ticket sales have reportedly slumped since Goldberg's departure - but if it does, Grier will be the first person the producers should thank.

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