Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Tuesday, May 8

Sondheim at the Forum?

Synopsis

Stephen Sondheim was 32 years old when his musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” opened on Broadway on today’s date in 1962.

The best seats in the house at New York’s Alvin Theater on West 52nd Street would have cost you $8.60, but decent seats were to be had for three bucks in those pre-inflationary days. And, much to Sondheim’s relief, New Yorkers snapped up those tickets in short order.

The trial run of “Forum” in Washington DC had been a near disaster, and, as this was the first major musical for which Sondheim wrote both the lyrics and the music, he had a lot riding on the show’s success.

Audiences and critics alike loved the over-the-top fusion of an ancient Roman comedy by Plautus with the kick-in-the-pants conventions of American Vaudeville, spiced up with a liberal dash of Burlesque beauties in skimpy Roman costumes. As the NY Times review put it, the cast included six courtesans who “are not obliged to DO much, but have a great deal to SHOW.”

“Forum” won several Tony Awards in 1962, including “Best Musical.” Even so, while Sondheim’s lyrics were praised as being very clever, his music was barely mentioned, and his skill as a composer not yet fully appreciated. That would occur several years – and several shows – later.

Music Played in Today's Program

Stephen Sondheim (b. 1930) A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum 1996 Broadway Cast Angel 52223

Additional Information

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