Know what they found on the way to the forum? Burlesque, vaudeville and a cornucopia of mad, comic hokum.
The phrase for the title of the new musical comedy … might be, caveat emptor. "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" indeed! No one gets to the forum; no one even starts for it. And nothing really happens that isn't older than the forum, more ancient than the agora in Athens. But somehow you keep laughing as if the old sight and sound gags were as good as new.
Heed the Roman warning. Let the buyer beware if he knew burlesque and vaudeville and the old comic hokum and found nothing funny in it. For him the knockabout routines … will be noisy and dreary….
For the rest of us who were young and risible in the days when comedians were hearty and comedy was rough and tumble and for the new generations who knew not the untamed gusto of this ancient and honorable style of fooling, it will be thumbs up for this uninhibited romp….
[Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart's book] resorts to outrageous puns and to lines that ought to make you cringe. Like having a slave of slaves remark, "I live to grovel."…
Say all the unkind and truthful things you wish about "A Funny Thing." It's noisy, coarse, blue and obvious like the putty nose on a burlesque comedian. Resist these slickly paced old comic routines, if you can.
Howard Taubman, "Theatre: 'A Funny Thing Happened …'," in The New York Times (© 1962 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 9, 1962 (and reprinted in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews, Vol. XXIII, No. 12, May 14-21, 1962, p. 293).