Friday, December 16, 2011

The Past Week In Theatre History (Dec. 12 - 16)

The Past Week In Theatre History: December 12 -16

By Robert Viagas, David Gewirtzman, Sam Maher
Christopher Reichheld and Anne Bradley

1885 Birthday of Brock Pemberton (1885-1950), producer of many Broadway plays and comedies during a 30-year career, including the original Harvey, Miss Lulu Bett, Six Characters in Search of an Author, The Ladder and Janie.

1899 Noel Coward is born. He authored plays such as Hay Fever, Design for Living and Private Lives, many of which he performed in; scripts for the films "Brief Encounter" and "This Happy Breed," and more than 500 songs, including "Mad Dogs and Englishmen." Coward made his Broadway debut in 1925 in his own The Vortex. A first-time Broadway mounting of Waiting in the Wings, starring Lauren Bacall, marked the 100 year anniversary of Coward's birth when it opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre, Dec. 16, 1999.   (More On This Show Below)

1925 Birthday in West Plains, MO, of actor Dick Van Dyke, who will appear on Broadway in Bye Bye Birdie and The Girls Against the Boys, and create memorable TV and film roles in "The Dick Van Dyke Show," Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

1927 Birthday of Christopher Plummer, star of Broadway's J.B., The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Cyrano, Arturo Ui, Othello, Barrymore and King Lear, and memorably on film as Capt. Von Trapp in The Sound of Music.

1932 Birthday of George Furth, author of librettos to musicals Company, The Act, Hot Spot and Merrily We Roll Along, and of his own plays, including Twigs.

1932 Eva Le Gallienne stages a landmark adaptation of Alice in Wonderland at the Civic Repertory Theatre with Burgess Meredith, Joseph Schildkraut, and Le Gallienne herself as the White Queen. Lavishly designed by Irene Sharaff based on Tenniel's illustrations, the production runs 127 performances.

1934 Opening night of musical revue Calling All Stars, featuring Mitzi Mayfair, Phil Baker and, in her Broadway debut, comedienne Martha Raye.

1954 Agatha Christie returns to Broadway with her third, and most successful, thriller: Witness for the Prosecution, about an attorney who has survived a near-fatal heart attack only to take on a murder case that turns up the pressure when his client's wife becomes a witness against him. It runs 645 performances at Henry Miller's Theatre. Francis L. Sullivan plays the stressed-out attorney.

1970 Maureen Stapleton is The Gingerbread Lady in Neil Simon's first drama. This story of an alcoholic singer's decline is staged by Robert Moore at the Plymouth Theatre. The production will run for 193 performances.

1972 Julie Harris plays the emotionally fragile First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln in James Prideaux's The Last of Mrs. Lincoln. It will run 63 performances at the ANTA Theatre, and earn Harris the fourth of her five Tony Awards as Best Actress in a Play.

1979 The Negro Ensemble Company presents Home by Samm-Art Williams, who is also in the cast. This show, about a young black man's resistance to fight in the Vietnam war, plays as the St. Marks Playhouse for 82 performances.

1985 The long-running off-Broadway hit, Nunsense, opens tonight at the Cherry Lane Theatre.  Nuns and priests comprise a large part of the audience tonight as this Dan Goggin-directed (and composed) musical makes its debut.  Sister Mary Amnesia is played by Semina De Laurentis. This production will run a whopping 3,672 performances.

1987 Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, a program designed to help fight the threat of the AIDS virus, is launched on this day.

1989 Jay Allen's Tru, which recounts the life of Truman Capote in his own words, opens tonight at the Booth Theatre. The writer is played Robert Morse, who will win a Tony Award. This production will run 295 performances.

1994 Slavs! opens at New York Theatre Workshop tonight. This Tony Kushner play is the self-proclaimed "coda" to his Broadway successes, Angels in America I & II. This production starred Marisa Tomei and Joseph Wiseman and ran 64 performances.

1997 Livent producer Garth Drabinsky invites a host of performers, designers, and writers to the official christening of the new Ford Center for the Performing Arts tonight. Ragtime begins previews at the theatre on Dec. 26.

1998 Nicole Kidman makes her Broadway debut in David Hare's The Blue Room, a transfer from London's Donmar Warehouse. Though nudity is brief for her and co-star Iain Glen, UK critics panted over the production's sexual wattage, one scribe going so far as to call the show, "pure theatrical Viagra."

1999 Noel Coward's Waiting in the Wings gets its posthumous Broadway debut, with a cast of great doyennes, including Rosemary Harris, Lauren Bacall, Dana Ivey, Elizabeth Wilson, and many more. Sadly, it's also the last of more than 100 Broadway shows produced by titan Alexander H. Cohen, who dies the following April while the show is still running. It ends up playing 198 performances.

1999 Screen star Ally Sheedy takes over the role of Hedwig Schmidt in the Off- Broadway rock musical about a sex-change operation gone wrong, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Sheedy's portrayal of Hedwig is the first and last time a woman plays the title role in the OB production. Sheedy remained with the show for only a few stormy weeks, until Matt McGrath assumes the role on Jan. 6.

2004 Disney and Cameron Mackintosh join forces to present a stage adaptation of the film classic Mary Poppins, which opens in London today. Laura Michelle Kelly stars as the magical nanny.

2006 Taliep Pietersen, 56, a successful South African producer and writer of musicals whose Kat and the Kings was seen on Broadway, is killed in a robbery at his home in Athlone township outside Cape Town.

2008 DreamWorks Pictures makes its first foray into Broadway producing as the stage adaptation of its popular animated film "Shrek" opens at the Broadway Theatre. Shrek The Musical stars Brian d’Arcy James as the green ogre of the title, Sutton Foster as the princess he saves, and Daniel Breaker as his donkey sidekick. Jason Moore directs the show, which has music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire.

2009 Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's A Little Night Music returns to Broadway with Catherine Zeta-Jones making her Broadway debut as Desirée Armfeldt, and Angela Lansbury as her mother Madame Armfeldt. Directed by Trevor Nunn, the production was previously seen at London's Menier Chocolate Factory and in the West End.

This Week's Birthdays: Edward G. Robinson 1893. Van Heflin 1910. Nancy Andrews 1920. George Schaefer 1920. John Osborne 1929. Lee Remick 1935. Liv Ullmann 1939. John Davidson 1941. Patty Duke 1946. John Du Prez 1946. Robert Lindsay 1949. Cathy Rigby 1952. Alice Ripley 1963. Anne Marie Bobby 1967. Tammy Blanchard 1976.

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 "Today in Theatre History" blog posts on


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