July 22, 1996 12:00 PM

Various Artists

There has never been a more giddy call to theater than “Comedy Tonight,” the opening salvo of silliness and salaciousness that is Forum (Broadway Angel). And let us just say that Stephen Sondheim was in rare, uh, forum when he wrote the score for the 1962 show, his first shot at supplying the music as well as the lyrics. Those who say he isn’t tuneful need only tune in to “Love, I Hear” and the gentle ballad “Lovely.” Of course, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that Sondheim has no peer when it comes to witty wordplay, but with all due respect to his later, more heralded shows, he’s never been quite so deliciously, so unself-consciously sharp as in Forum. (Consider “Impossible,” a duet by a father and son who each suspect they’re after the same girl: “The situation’s fraught/Fraughter than I thought.”) Tony Award-winner Nathan Lane and Mark Linn-Baker are up against fans’ memories of original-cast giants like Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford. Not to worry; the new guys are funny and fine.

If Forum represents Sondheim a good bit before he became—trumpets, please—SONDHEIM, State Fair (DRG) is Rodgers & Hammerstein after they had become musical theater force majeures. But the workmanlike score, commissioned for the 1945 movie of the same name, is second-tier R&H, save for the wistful ballad “It Might as Well Be Spring.” The stage version has been enriched by songs from other, lesser known Rodgers & Hammerstein shows, notably the haunting “So Far,” from Allegro, and Pipe Dream’s “The Next Time It Happens,” very effectively sung by Andrea McArdle. Hers, quite frankly, is the best voice on the midway.

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