A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was the first musical by Stephen Sondheim for which he composed the music as well as wrote the lyrics. Originally receiving a lukewarm response, the show enlisted the help of Jerome Robbins and Hal Prince to become a hit. Despite transferring between three Broadway venues in 1962-63, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum ran for almost 1000 successful performances. As Sondheim’s first musical, the production is a very traditional book musical, unlike his later, more complicated operettas. Enjoying numerous major revivals across the US and London’s West End, the role of Pseudolus is unusually acclaimed, with every actor on Broadway winning a Tony for portraying the role.
Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart
Inspired by the farces from Ancient Roman playwright Plautus (251-183 BC)
Melvin Frank and Michael Pertwee
Various Productions: George Abbott, Burt Shevelove
Original Broadway Production
Alvin Theatre, Mark Hellinger Theatre, Majestic Theatre - Opened 8 May 1962, closed 29 Aug 1964, 964 performances
Cast: Zero Mostel (Pseudolus), David Burns (Senex), John Carradine (Marcus Lycus), Brian Davies (Hero), Jack Gilford (Hysterium), Ron Holgate (Miles Gloriosus), Ruth Kobart (Domina), Preshy Marker (Philia), Raymond Walburn (Erronius)
Original London Production
Strand Theatre - Opened 3 Oct 1963, closed 31 Jul 1965, 762 performances
Cast: Frankie Howard (Pseudolus), Eddie Gray (Senex), Jon Pertwee (Marcus Lycus), John Rye (Hero), Kenneth Connor (Hysterium), Leon Greene (Miles Gloriosus), Linda Gray (Domina), Isla Blair (Philia), Robertson Hare (Erronius)
Broadway Revival (1972)
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre - Opened 4 Apr 1972, closed 12 Aug 1972, 156 performances
Cast: Phil Silvers (Pseudolus), Lew Parker (Senex), Carl Ballantine (Marcus Lycus), John Hansen (Hero), Larry Blyden (Hysterium), Carl Lindstrom (Miles Gloriosus), Lizabeth Pritchett (Domina), Pamela Hall (Philia), Reginald Owen (Erronius) Replacements: John Bentley, Tom Poston (Pseudolus), Mort Marshall (Senex)
London Revival (1986)
Piccadilly Theatre - Opened 14 Nov 1986, closed 2 Jan 1987, 49 performances
Cast: Frankie Howard (Pseudolus), Patrick Cargill (Senex), Fred Evans (Marcus Lycus), Graeme Smith (Hero), Ronnie Stevens (Hysterium), Leon Greene (Miles Gloriosus), Betty Benfield (Domina), Lydia Watson (Philia), Derek Royle (Erronius)
Broadway Revival (1996)
St. James Theatre - Opened 18 Apr 1996, closed 4 Jan 1998, 715 performances
Cast: Nathan Lane (Pseudolus), Lewis J. Stradlen (Senex), Ernie Sabella (Marcus Lycus), Jim Stanek (Hero), Mark Linn-Baker (Hysterium), Cris Groenendaal (Miles Gloriosus), May Testa (Domina), Jessica Boevers (Philia), William Duell (Erronius) Replacements: Whoopi Goldberg, David Alan Grier (Pseudolus)
London Revival (1999)
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre - Opened 23 Jul 1999, closed 31 Aug 1999
Cast: Roy Hudd (Pseudolus), Michael Tudor Barnes (Senex), Peter Forbes (Marcus Lycus), Rhashan Stone (Hero), Gavin Muir (Hysterium), Peter Gallagher (Miles Gloriosus), Susie Blake (Domina), Claire Carrie (Philia), Ken Wynne (Erronius)
London Revival (2004)
National Theatre - Opened 9 Jul 2004, closed 2 Nov 2004, 66 performances
Cast: Desmond Barrit (Pseudolus), Sam Kelly (Senex), David Schneider (Marcus Lycus), Vince Leigh (Hero), Hamish McColl (Hysterium), Philip Quast (Miles Gloriosus), Isla Blair (Domina), Caroline Sheen (Philia), Harry Towb (Erronius)
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A hugely ridiculous Farce that follows slave Pseudolus as he attempts to match his owner Hero with his love Philia! Chaos ensues!
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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is set in Ancient Rome and follows a group of unlikely neighbours. At the centre is Senex, who resides with his wife Domina, son Hero and their slaves, including Pseudolus. Next door is the house of Marcus Lycus, who spends his time buying and selling women, with Erronius neighbouring on the other side, who is abroad searching for his stolen children. Pseudolus is the slave of Hero and wants above anything to be free.
As Senex and Domina go travelling, Pseudolus is told by Hero that he is in love with Philia, and Pseudolus agrees to help him if in return he can be free. Sadly for Hero, Philia is betrothed to Gloriosus, and despite wanting to marry Hero, cannot go against her father’s wishes. Pseudolus constructs a plan to convince her father that Phillia is sick in order to stop her meeting Gloriosus. He promises to give her a sleeping potion to pretend she has died from plague, allowing her and Hero time to escape to Greece. He tells her that the captain will knock three times before entering her room and goes off to find the ingredients for the potion.
Senex arrives early from his voyage and knocks three times on his door, leading Philia to believe he is Gloriosus and she offers herself to him. Pseudolus returns and convinces him that Philia is the new maid, and sprinkles mare’s sweat onto him prompting him to take a bath. He leads him to the unoccupied house of Erronius. Erronius returns home having called off his search, and Hysterium is left to convince him that his house is now haunted and cannot be accessed. Pseudolus acts as a soothsayer and tells him that the only way to exorcise the spirit is by running around the seven hills of Rome.
Meanwhile Gloriosus arrives to claim his wife and Pseudolus hides Philia on the roof of Senex’s house. He tells Gloriosus that Philia has vanished and as the soldiers follow them onto the streets to ‘look’ for her, they manage to get ahead.
Domina also returns home early, intent on catching Senex up to no good. She disguises herself in white robes and a veil, ending up looking remarkably like Philia. Pseudolus convinces Hysterium to dress in drag and pretend to be Philia to divert attention, resulting in a mad chase across the city as Gloriosus returns, determined to find his bride. The courtesans from the house of Lycus also escape, followed by the eunuchs, adding to the never-ending disaster.
As the Captain and his troops round everyone up, Erronius jogs past, completing his cycle of Rome. He discovers that both Gloriosus and Philia are wearing a ring that marks them out as his long lost son and daughter, making their betrothal obviously void. Philia is then free to marry Hero, and it is a happy ending for all as Pseudolus is set free.
- “Comedy Tonight” — Pseudolus and Company
- “Love, I Hear” — Hero
- “Free” — Pseudolus and Hero
- “The House of Marcus Lycus” — Lycus and Pseudolus
- “Lovely” — Philia and Hero
- “Pretty Little Picture” — Pseudolus, Hero and Philia
- “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” — Senex, Pseudolus, Hysterium and Lycus
- “I’m Calm” — Hysterium
- “Impossible” — Senex and Hero
- “Bring Me My Bride” — Miles Gloriosus and Company
- “That Dirty Old Man” — Domina
- “That’ll Show Him” — Philia
- “Lovely (Reprise)” — Pseudolus and Hysterium
- “Funeral Sequence” — Pseudolus, Miles Gloriosus and Company
- “Finale” — Company
1963 Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Author of a Musical (Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart), Best Actor in a Musical (Zero Mostel), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (David Burns), Best Direction of a Musical (George Abbott), Best Producer of a Musical (Hal Prince)
1972 Tony Awards: Best Actor in a Musical (Phil Silvers), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Larry Blyden), Best Direction of a Musical (Burt Shevelove)
1996 Tony Awards: Best Actor in a Musical (Nathan Lane)
1996 Drama Desk Awards: Outstanding Actor in a Musical (Nathan Lane), Outstanding Musical Revival
UK: Josef Weinberger
USA: Musical Theatre International