A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
a musical farce in 2 acts.
Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, based on the plays of Plautus. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
Opened 8 May 1962 at the Alvin Theatre, moved 9 March 1964 to the Mark Hellinger Theatre, moved 12 May 1964 to the Majestic Theatre, and closed 29 August 1964 after 964 performances
Strand Theatre, London, 3 October 1963
Produced at the Alvin Theatre, New York, 8 May 1962 with Zero Mostel (Pseudolus), Jack Gilford (Hysterium), David Burns (Senex) and Ruth Kobart (Domina). Produced at the Strand Theatre, London, 3 October 1963 with Frankie Howerd, Kenneth Connor, "Monsewer" Eddie Gray and Linda Gray. A film version was released by United Artists in 1966 with Mostel, Gilford, Michael Hordern, Patricia Jessel, Phil Silvers (Lycus), Buster Keaton (Erronius) and Michael Crawford (Hero).
A spring evening in Ancient Rome, circa 200 years before the Christian era, and, as is his wont, 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 it is Comedy Tonight. "Raise the curtain!" he cries, and promptly it falls to the floor, revealing the set on which tonight's entertainment will be played - the adjoining houses of Erronius, Senex and Lycus. But Prologus seems more taken by the character of Senex's son's slave Pseudolus: "a role of enormous variety and nuance, and played by an actor of such . . ." - in other words, his own part.
As the play begins, Senex and Domina are off to the country, leaving their slave Hysterium in charge of the moral welfare of their son, Hero. But Hero is advanced for his years and feeling strange. The reason? "Love, I Hear," he confides to the audience: what else makes you sigh, and hum a lot, too? 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. Maybe, figures Pseudolus, if he could engineer the young lovebirds' union, Hero would let him go Free. Free! A free man, free to write free verse, he muses.
Pseudolus asks the procurer if they can see his stock. The charms of The House of Marcus Lycus are laid before slave and master, but Hero's heart's desire is, it seems, out of bounds. Philia is a virgin from Crete, pre-sold to the legendary warmonger Captain Miles Gloriosus, who has paid extra for virginity. Such a pity, tuts Pseudolus, about the highly contagious plague currently raging in Crete. Sportingly, he agrees to take her 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 - what a 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 with an ecstatic gasp of "Take me", Philia having confused the head of the household with her captain. In the nick of time, Pseudolus arrives ("Would you believe it? There was a mare sweating not two streets from here') and explains that Philia is the new maid. What a brilliant notion, Senex enthuses, Everybody Ought to Have a Maid. With Philia's new employer eager to conduct an exhaustive job "interview", Pseudolus takes drastic action, emptying his cup of mare's sweat on Senex's toga and 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. "I'm Calm," the put-upon Hysterium tries to convince himself. Senex and Hero, by this stage, are both beginning to notice the way the other is looking at Philia. A beauty like that falling for a callow youth? A beauty like that falling for a gouty, gassy asthmatic? Impossible. But the rightful owner has arrived: Bring Me My Bride," roars Miles Gloriosus. Pseudolus is condemned to death by Miles, but begs to be allowed a word, just one word. Intermission.
By now, even Pseudolus is having difficulty following the plot: Miles is being entertained in Senex's house (which he thinks is 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 rival Philia: Hysterium has been dressed as a golden-tressed courtesan and told to play dead and look Lovely. Miles is distraught: his bride is deceased, but the least he can do is build a pyre for her Funeral. 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. It has, indeed, been a Comedy Tonight.
- Comedy, Tonight - Prologus, the Proteans, Company
- Love, I Hear - Hero
- Free - Pseudolus Hero
- The House of Marcus Lycus - Lycus, Pseudolus Courtesans
- Lovely - Hero, Phylia
- Pretty Little Picture - Pseudolus Hero, Phylia
- Everybody Ought To Have a Maid - Senex, Pseudolus Hysterium, Lycus
- I'm Calm - Hysterium
- Impossible - Senex, Hero
- Bring Me My Bride - Miles Gloriosus, Pseudolus Courtesans, Proteans
- That Dirty Old Man - Domina
- That'll Show Him - Phylia
- Lovely (reprise) - Pseudolus Hysterium
- Funeral Sequence and Dance (Dirge) - Pseudolus Miles Gloriosus, Courtesans, Proteans
- Comedy Tonight (reprise) - The Company
- PROLOGUS - An actor who also plays: -
PSEUDOLUS - Slave to Hero, but with dreams of freedom.
- HERO - The teenage son of Senex, he has already found true love.
- SENEX - An old man, reluctantly dragged along to visit his mother-in-law.
- DOMINA - The aptly-named wife of Senex.
- HYSTERIUM - Also aptly-named, the slave of Senex and Domina.
- ERRONIUS - The befuddled neighbour of Senex, he is abroad in search of his long-lost children, seized in infancy by pirates.
- MILES GLORIOSUS - A great warrior, slaughterer of thousands, oppressor of the meek and sacker of shrines.
- PHILIA - A Cretan virgin, sold for 500 minae to Miles Gloriosus.
- LYCUS - A trader in the flesh of women.
- Lycus' courtesans.
- GYMNASIA and
- THE GEMINAE
- THE PROTEANS - An enterprising trio who play such other characters as are required.
REED I - Flute, Alto Sax, Clarinet
REED II - Alto Sax, Clarinet
REED III - Tenor Sax, Clarinet
REED IV - Baritone Sax, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet
REED V - Flute, Clarinet
Scenes and Settings
The time is two hundred years before the Christian era, a day in spring. The place is a street in Rome in front of houses of Erronius, Senex and Lycus.
Listen to the Music (You will need to have Real Player installed and Java Script enabled - Real Player can be downloaded from here also)