Friday, October 21, 2011

The Past Week In Theatre History (Oct. 17-21)

1858 Our American Cousin, Tom Taylor's comedy about the difference in manners between the English and the Americans, debuts in New York today, and proves an enduring hit, touring and being revived around the U.S. It will go down in history April 14, 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln, seeking to lift his spirits after the end of the Civil War just days previously, takes in a performance at Ford's Theatre in Washington DC — and is assassinated by actor John Wilkes Booth. Booth knew just when the laughs would be loud enough — on the line "You sockdologizing old mantrap!" — to distract from the sound of his entering the president's box.

1882 Birthday of Bela Lugosi, Hungarian-born actor who plays a variety of character roles before landing the part that will make him an icon, the title role in Dracula, first on Broadway (in 1927), then on film. He lives to 1956.

1915 Arthur Miller born today. The multiple Tony- and Pulitzer-winner becomes one of the foremost American playwrights of the post-WWII era, with dramas like All My Sons, The Crucible and his magnum opus Death of a Salesman, that look deeply into the nation's soul.

1923 Opening night of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1923, at 333 performances one of the longest-running of the series, featuring Fanny Brice, Bert Wheeler and the Paul White Orchestra. The score features music by Victor Herbert and Rudolf Friml.

1944 Marlon Brando makes his Broadway debut tonight only three years before he is to win critical acclaim in 1947's A Streetcar Named Desire. He is featured in I Remember Mama, the John Van Druten comedy produced by Rodgers and Hammerstein, which opens tonight at the Music Box Theatre. Brando is reported in the Playbill as having "served his apprenticeship at the New School...Born in Calcutta, India, he came to this country when he was six months old." The truth is that Brando was born in Omaha, Nebraska. According to the New York Journal-American, "Brando's Nels is, if he doesn't mind me saying so, charming." Mady Christians and Oscar Homolka are the stars in this production, which is the basis for the 1949 hit television show of the same name. This original production will run 714 performances.

1945 Birth of future Tony-winning star John Lithgow, whose Broadway credits include Dirty Rotten Soundrels, The Changing Room, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Sweet Smell of Success and Retreat From Moscow.

1946 Birth in Scotland of mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh whose four giant international hits, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon and longrun champ Cats make him the richest and most successful stage producer ever.

1977 A host of future female stars make up the cast of Wendy Wasserstein's Uncommon Women and Others, which opens tonight at the Marymount Manhattan Theatre, housed within Marymount Manhattan College on the Upper East Side. Jill Eikenberry, Glenn Close and Swoosie Kurtz play a group of women recalling their college days in this production, which will run only 22 performances. Although reviews are only lukewarm, Ms. Kurtz will go on to win an Obie for her role.

1982 A revival of Sam Shepard's True West opens at the Cherry Lane Theatre tonight. Gary Sinise (Steppenwolf's A Streetcar Named Desire and the film "Forrest Gump") directs and stars in this show, which runs 762 performances. Co-stars are John Malkovich, Sam Schacht and Margaret Thomson. Although the original production at the Public Theater in 1980 was repudiated by its author, he says he appreciates this new version, as do critics and theatregoers, who will come to regard this mounting as a landmark. True West will finally reached Broadway in 2000, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly alternating roles at Circle in the Square

2001 The blockbuster musical Mamma Mia! opens on Broadway with a record advance sale. Built around 1970s disco hits by the rock band ABBA, the show makes a star of Louise Pitre.

2010 Lombardi, Eric Simonson's biographical sports play that takes audiences to the living room, locker room and gridiron of football coach Vince Lombardi, opens at Broadway's Circle in the Square Theatre. Dan Lauria stars as coach Lombardi, with Judith Light as his wife, and Keith Nobbs as a young reporter who comes to stay for a week.

More of the weeks Birthdays: Jelly Roll Morton 1890, Edith Piaf 1915, Rita Hayworth 1918, Montgomery Clift 1920, Tom Poston 1921, George C. Scott 1927, Mary Bryant 1932, Wendy Wassterstein 1950, Jennifer Holliday 1960


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