Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, A

Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, based on the plays of Plautus. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The original Broadway production opened on 8 May 1962 and was directed by George Abbott, with choreography by Jack Cole, running for 964 performances.

Synopsis and Musical Numbers

Ancient Rome, 200 BC. The thespian Prologus bids us welcome to his temple – wherein are worshipped the gods of tragedy and comedy. Alas, tragedy will have to wait, for there will be a COMEDY TONIGHT. The play centres on the slave, Pseudolus, and his adventures in and around the adjoining houses of Erronius, Senex and Lycus.

Senex and Domina are off to the country, leaving Hysterium in charge of the moral welfare of their son, Hero. But Hero is advanced for his years and is feeling strange (LOVE, I HEAR). The object of his affection is a courtesan at the house of Lycus, but, sadly, Hero has no convertible assets apart from his slippery slave. Pseudolus proposes that if he engineers the young lovebirds’ union, Hero should set him FREE.

At THE HOUSE OF MARCUS LYCUS, Pseudolus asks the procurer if they can see his stock. Their charms are laid before slave and master but Hero’s heart’s desire is out of bounds. Philia is a virgin from Crete, pre-sold to the legendary warmonger Captain Miles Gloriosus, who has paid extra for her virginity. Pseudolus makes up a highly contagious plague currently raging in Crete and sportingly agrees to take Philia off Lycus’ hands and thereby prevent her infecting the rest of the merchandise. So Philia and Hero meet at last. She cannot sew, cook, read or write; she has but one talent – being LOVELY. But she’s happy being lovely because it is a gift that she can give to Hero, if only she could remember his name. Already, though, Pseudolus is making plans: there’s a boat anchored in the Tiber just made for two (PRETTY LITTLE PICTURE). But Philia says she has to wait for her new owner, the captain, and Pseudolus realises he will have to trick her onto the boat with a sleeping potion. Unfortunately, the recipe requires one ingredient he doesn’t have: mare’s sweat.

In the slave’s absence, Senex returns and is greeted by Philia, who has confused the head of the household with her captain. In the nick of time, Pseudolus arrives having found his mare sweat and explains that Philia is the new maid (EVERYBODY OUGHT TO HAVE A MAID). With Philia’s new employer eager to conduct an exhaustive “job interview”, Pseudolus takes drastic action. He empties his cup of mare’s sweat on Senex’s toga, forcing the old man to postpone his liaison for a bath. Events are now spinning out of control: Senex is performing his toilet in the house of the wandering Erronius and Pseudolus details Hysterium to detain him within, but then Erronius himself returns and has to be tricked into walking round the seven hills of Rome seven times to banish the evil spirits from his house. Hysterium is hysterical (I’M CALM). Senex and Hero, by this stage, are both beginning to notice the way the other is looking at Philia (IMPOSSIBLE). Meanwhile, Philia’s rightful owner, Miles Gloriosus, arrives (BRING ME MY BRIDE).

By now, even Pseudolus is having difficulty following the plot: Miles is being entertained in Senex’s house (which he thinks is the house of Marcus Lycus), Senex is waiting in Erronius’ house for Philia, Philia is refusing to drink Pseudolus’ potion and Domina has returned in pursuit of THAT DIRTY OLD MAN OF MINE, convinced he’s up to no good. Still under the impression that Senex is Miles, Philia reassures Hero that, whenever she makes love to her new husband, she’ll really be making love to her true Hero – so she’ll make love all the more intensely (THAT’LL SHOW HIM). Hero doesn’t find this much consolation. Moreover, there is now a second Philia: Hysterium has been dressed as a golden-tressed courtesan and told to play dead and look LOVELY (REPRISE). Miles is distraught: his bride is deceased, but the least he can do is build a pyre for a FUNERAL SEQUENCE. Soon, the stage is filled with Philias, fake and genuine, on the run from the menfolk – until the happy ending arrives: Philia is the long-lost daughter of Erronius and Miles the long-lost son; that makes them brother and sister, leaving Philia free to wed Hero and Pseudolus free (FINALE).

Songs cut from this show include: LOVE IS IN THE AIR, LOVE STORY (YOUR EYES ARE BLUE), ECHO SONG and I DO LIKE YOU. The 1972 revival added a new song for Domina called FAREWELL and restored Hero and Phillia’s ECHO SONG, but cut PRETTY LITTLE PICTURE and I’LL SHOW HIM. The 1996 revival also cut PRETTY LITTLE PICTURE.

Mini Gallery

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Purchases from

From left to right above: 1. A Funny Thing Happened… Forum 1962 Original Broadway Cast CD. 2. A Funny Thing Happened… Forum 1966 Film Soundtrack CD. 3. A Funny Thing Happened… Forum 1996 Broadway Revival Cast CD. 4. A Celebration at Carnegie Hall 1992 Concert Cast CD with songs from A Funny Thing Happened… Forum. 5. A Funny Thing Happened… Forum DVD.

From left to right above: 1. A Funny Thing Happened… Forum Complete Book and Lyrics. 2. Four by Sondheim complete book and lyrics (and much more) including A Funny Thing Happened… Forum. 3. Stephen Sondheim: a Casebook includes a chapter on A Funny Thing Happened… Forum. 4. A Funny Thing Happened… Forum Vocal Selections. 5. A Funny Thing Happened… Forum Vocal Score.


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