Friday, November 18, 2011

The Past Week In Theatre History (Nov. 14-18)

This week in Theatre History: NOVEMBER 14-18

Gathered for by: David Gewirtzman, Robert Viagas, Sam Maher, Steve Luber and Anne Bradley

1836 Birthday of satirist William S. Gilbert, later to achieve immortality as the lyricist half of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta-writing team that produced The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance, H.M.S. Pinafore and other staples of the genre.

1875 British comic operetta titans Gilbert & Sullivan make their U.S. debut today with Trial by Jury at the Eagle Variety Theatre, where it runs 8 performances.

1889 Playwright and director George S. Kaufman (1889-1961) is born (11/16) in Pittsburgh. He will win the Pulitzer Prize twice, for his work on Of Thee I Sing and You Can't Take It With You, and will win his only Tony Award for directing the original Guys and Dolls. His plays include The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers (both for the Marx Brothers), The Royal Family, Once in a Lifetime, Dinner at Eight, Merrily We Roll Along and The Man Who Came to Dinner.

1901 Birthday of actor/director/producer/teacher/acting coach Lee Strasberg (1901-1982) in Austria-Hungary. As a founder of the Group Theatre and Artistic Director of the Actors Studio, he will serve as the godfather of the "Method" acting style, and influence actors in the second half of the 20th century.

1908 Birth of actor Burgess Meredith (1908-1997), whose long Broadway career included original productions of Liliom, High Tor, Winterset, The Barretts of Wimpole Street and The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker. He created two memorable screen roles as well: the umbrella-wielding villain The Penguin in TV's "Batman," and the hard-bitten boxing coach who literally eggs Sylvester Stallone on to glory in Rocky.

1921 In addition to his popular Follies, Florenz Ziegfeld opens the somewhat naughtier Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic at the New Amsterdam Roof Theatre, which he rechristens the Danse de Follies. It stars Leon Erroll, Will Rogers and the dance team of Carlos and Inez.

1932 Elia Kazan makes his Broadway debut in Chrysalis, a short-lived drama with Humphrey Bogart and Maragaret Sullavan at the Martin Beck Theatre. As a director and advocate of the Method acting technique, Kazan will stage several landmark Broadway plays of the midcentury, including A Streetcar Named Desire and Death of a Salesman.

1933 Bob Hope has his first featured role on Broadway as the wise-cracking Huckleberry Haines in Jerome Kern's Roberta, also starring Lyda Roberti, Fay Templeton, Tamara, George Murphy and Sydney Greenstreet. 

1942 An ice age, a hurricane and the possible end of the world are visited upon the Antrobus family of New Jersey in The Skin of Our Teeth, Thornton Wilder's surreal parable about the survival of man against all odds. The opening night cast features Fredric March, Florence Eldridge and Tallulah Bankhead. The show will win the Pulitzer Prize and run 359 performances. 

1954 Lionel Barrymore dies at age 76. He made his stage debut at the age of fifteen. His film career ranged from "Grand Hotel", "Treasure Island", a series of Dr. Kildare films and the perennial "It's a Wonderful Life." He also published an autobiography, titled "We Barrymores."

1956 Dogpatch comes to life as Li'l Abner is staged at the St. James Theatre. Melvin Frank and Norman Panama adapted the Al Capp comic-strip, with songs by Johnny Mercer and Gene dePaul. The cast includes Tina Louise and Stubby Kaye dancing to Michael Kidd choreography.

1959 The Sound of Music tonight opens at the Lunt Fontanne Theatre. Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel star in this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, with book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. The story follows the Von Trapp family and the appearance of their new governess, who helps the family gain courage in a time of insurmountable challenges. The show will run a whopping 1,443 performances and include the classics "Do-Re-Mi," "My Favorite Things" and "Edelweiss." This original production ties for the 1960 Best Musical Tony Award with Fiorello!

1962 Sid Caesar stars in Little Me, a parody of an ambitious poor girl's memoirs by Patrick Dennis, adapted for the stage by Neil Simon, songs by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, choreography by Bob Fosse.  The show runs 257 performances. The Roundabout Theatre revives Little Me in 1998 with Martin Short and Faith Prince in featured roles.

1971 Just a year after they worked together on Company, playwright George Furth and director Michael Bennett team up for Twigs, a program of one-act plays featuring Sada Thompson. It opens at the Broadhurst Theatre and runs 289 performances, winning Thompson a 1972 Tony Award as Best Actress in a Play.

1989 The military courtroom drama A Few Good Men by Aaron Sorkin opens tonight at the Music Box Theatre. The cast is headed by Tom Hulce, known for his roles in the 1984 film "Amadeus" and 1990's "Parenthood." The show will be made into a movie in 1992 after its 497-performance run on Broadway. The show catapults the writing career of Sorkin, who later creates the TV series "The West Wing."

1991 The wide-eyed, blue-faced madness begins tonight as The Blue Man Group: Tubes opens tonight at the Astor Place Theatre. The show features stunts, comic skits, and loud music of the Blue Man's own creation. Described by Variety as "Mummenschanz on acid," the show draws wide acclaim and sold-out audiences. Now with shows going on in Boston, Chicago and Las Vegas, they are still going strong on Astor Place.

1993 Robert Schenkkan's The Kentucky Cycle, three plays tracing the place of Kentucky in American history opens at the Royale Theatre. One of the few plays to win the Pulitzer Prize before it opened in New York, audiences in New York did not take to it. Despite the presence of Stacy Keach in major roles, it closes after just 33 performances.

1994 Calista Flockhart wins a Theatre World Award for her performance as Laura in Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of The Glass Menagerie. She is quickly snapped up by TV, eventually landing the title role in the "Ally McBeal" TV series.

1994 Glenn Close gets rave reviews in Sunset Boulevard, the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical opening tonight at the Minskoff Theatre. She plays the forgotten movie star Norma Desmond as she lives her later life. The show will close in 1997 after 977 performances, owing to the expense of running the show and a lack of performers who can handle the demands of the role of Norma Desmond.

1996 The spirit of Bob Fosse infuses a bare-bones revival of Kander & Ebb's Chicago that would become the runaway smash of the season. Director Walter Bobbie, choreographer Ann Reinking staging the show "in the style of Bob Fosse," and actors James Naughton and Bebe Neuwirth, all took home Tonys, as did the show itself. By fall 2003, the show had hit the 2,900-performance mark and a film adaptation won the 2003 Oscar for Best Picture.

1999 Broadway brushed up its Shakespeare tonight, as Kiss Me Kate opened for the first time since 1965. It starred Marin Mazzie and budding actor Brian Stokes Mitchell as the famous leading duo and runs to this day, racking up over 800 performances since.

2000 The Rocky Horror Show, Richard O'Brien's camp science-fiction/horror/musical, gets a Broadway revival starring Daphne Rubin-Vega, Lea DeLaria, Alice Ripley, rock star Joan Jett, and, as the Narrator, onetime talk show host Dick Cavett. It runs 437 performances at the Circle in the Square Theatre. The British import was a 45-performance flop in its original 1975 production, but a movie adaptation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show attracted a devoted cult. In accord with that, audiences for the Broadway revival are issued sacks with newspapers (to use as rain hats) and rice (to throw in the wedding scene), along with other wacky interactive goodies.

2002 "I want to hear a poem," 1999 Fresh Poet of the Year Steve Colman says as Russell Simmon's Def Poetry Jam opens on Broadway, featuring the contemporary urban slam-style poetry pioneered on his HBO show of the same name. The production will run 198 performances at the Longacre Theatre, and win the 2003 Tony Award as Best Special Theatrical Event.

2002 Mark Linn-Baker and Jay Goede pla the title roles in the children's musical, A Year With Frog and Toad, opening today at the New Victory Theare in Times Square. The unlikely hit will go over so well that it will move to Broadway and be nominated for a Tony Award as Best Musical in 2003.

2003 Dorothy Loudon, who created one of the more indelible portraits in musical comedy history with her tony-winning portrayal of the orphan-hating Miss Hannigan in the original Annie, dies on Nov. 14 at age 70. Other credits included starring in the original Broadway production of Noises Off as Dotty Otley/Mrs. Clackett in 1983. Both roles would be portraed by Carol Burnett in the film adaptations of the two shows.

2004 Cy Coleman falls ill at the cast party for Democracy and is rushed to the hospital where he dies of a heart attack at age 75. Coleman won Best Score Tony Awards for his work on The Will Roges Follies, City of Angels and On the 20th Century. His other scores include Sweet Charity, The Life, Seesaw, Little Me, Wildcat and Barnum.

2005 Maria Friedman recreates her London performance in the leading role of the gothic musical The Woman in White, with a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Zippel. The groundbreaking computerized set projections are by William Dudley. The show will run 109 performances at the Marquis Theatre.

2006 The Broadway revival of Chicago celebrates its tenth anniversary with a special benefit performance that brings together some three dozen stars who appeared in the show over the years, playing each scene with multiple actors.

More Birthdays: The Fairbanks Twins (Madeleine and Marion) 1900. Imogene Coca 1908. Johnny Mercer 1909. Edward Asner 1929. Petula Clark 1932. Peter Cook 1937. Sam Waterston 1940. Elizabeth Perkins 1960.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of everything that happen this week in theatre history, that post would be WAY longer than this one. To see more check out the blog on in their news feed.


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