Show History



A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is based off of the farce comedies of the ancient Roman playwright, Plautus. The plot for the musical takes from several of Plautus' plays, namely Pseudolus, Miles Gloriosus and Mostellaria. Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart's book displays many classic elements of farce, including: puns, the slamming of doors, no change in set, cases of mistaken identity and satirical comments on social classes. The title of the musical is based on a popular line, "A funny thing happened on the way to the theatre," which vaudeville comedians would often use to begin stories.

In the out-of-town pre-Broadway tryouts, the show was not playing well and got very little attention. The producers and director came to famed Broadway director/choreographer, Jerome Robbins, for advice, and Robbins changed the aim of the show. The change of tone inspired Stephen Sondheim to scrap his original opening song and replace it with the now famous 'Comedy Tonight.'


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, with book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, opened on Broadway on May 8, 1962, at the Alvin Theatre. It eventually transferred to the Mark Hellinger Theatre and Majestic Theatre, where it closed on August 29, 1964. The original cast included such theatre notables as Zero Mostel, David Burns and John Carradine.

In 1972, Burt Shevelove directed a revival on Broadway with sitcom star, Phil Silvers, as Pseudlous. Two songs were dropped from the show, and Sondheim added in two new songs. The production ran 156 performances, but had to close soon after Silvers suffered a stroke. In 1996, another revival hit Broadway with Nathan Lane as Pseudolus. More recently, the Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts produced a limited-run revival in January 2008.

The musical has received significant play in other countries. In London, it enjoyed three different productions in 1963, 1986 and 2004. In 2009, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada, mounted the stage musical and, in October 2012, an Australian production opened in Melbourne.

Cultural Influence

  • Many episode titles for various television shows have made popular use of the musical over the years. Characters in shows like "Mad Men" and "Glee" have directly mentioned A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum itself.
  • Shortly after closing on Broadway, a film adaptation of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was released in 1966. Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford and Leon Greene all reprised their roles from the stage show. The film is notable for being Buster Keaton's final appearance on camera.
  • The musical was translated into Cantonese and performed at the Chung Ying Theatre in Hong Kong in 2009.


  • This musical is notable for being the first Broadway show for which Stephen Sondheim wrote both the music and lyrics. His work on previous shows had only been lyrics.
  • The part of Pseudolus was originally written for Phil Silvers. Both he and Milton Berle turned down the role, leaving Zero Mostel to create one of the most legendary characters in musical comedy.

  • Every actor who has ever played Pseudolus on Broadway (not counting replacements) has won a Tony Award. The lucky winners are Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers and Nathan Lane.

  • Harold Prince has won more Tony Awards than anyone else (20): eight for directing, eight for producing, two as producer of the year's Best Musical and two special Tony Awards.