Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Past Week In Theatre History (Dec. 19 - 23)

The Past Week In Theatre History: December 19 -23

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

1858 Birthday of Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), Italian composer whose works include La Bohème, Tosca and Madame Butterfly, including several based on the plays of American David Belasco.

1893 Birthday of dancer Ann Pennington (1893-1971), who would display her fabled dimpled knee in many editions of The Ziegfeld Follies and George White's Scandals from 1913 to 1928.

1902 Actor Ralph Richardson is born today in Gloucestershire, England. He will make his stage debut in 1921 as Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice, and go on to become one of the major actors of Great Britain in the post-World War II period.

1909 On the opening night of Clyde Fitch's play The City, the author (or someone closely resembling him) startles the opening night audience by coming on the stage and taking a bow. Why is the audience startled? Because Fitch had died some three months earlier. It goes down as one of the best-documented apparent mass ghost sightings in Broadway history. It isn't the first shock the audience gets that night. The play's themes of drugs, incest, and corruption don't cause the biggest stir; it's the line "You're a goddamn liar!" When the play tried out in New Haven, two women fainted upon hearing it.

1910 Jean Genet, a male prostitute and thief who turned to writing plays and novels about society's outcasts is born today. His works include The Maids, The Balcony, The Screens and The Blacks, the latter of which had a long Off-Broadway run in the 1950s. He lives until 1986.

1934 Katharine Cornell produces a starry Romeo and Juliet at the Martin Beck Theatre. She stars alongside Basil Rathbone, Orson Welles, Brian Aherne and Edith Evans. It runs 77 performances.

1942 Katharine Cornell opens a wartime revival of Chekhov's Three Sisters with herself as Masha, Judith Anderson and Olga, and Ruth Gordon as Natalya. Making his Broadway debut in the tiny role of The Orderly is future Hollywood star Kirk Douglas.

1951 Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh have a high-profile flop with Shakespeare's Caesar and Cleopatra at the Ziegfeld Theatre for 67 performances.

1957 Robert Preston and Barbara Cook make musical theatre history in The Music Man which opens today at the Majestic Theatre. Meredith Willson triple headers writing the book, lyrics and score from a story he and Frank Lacey devised. It marches on for 1,375 performances.

1968 Bernadette Peters and Tamara Long are Dames at Sea at the Bouwerie Lane Theatre. George Haimsohn and Robin Miller's book and lyrics spoof old musical films. Jim Wise provides the score.

1974 David Mamet, Patricia Cox, Steven Schachter, and W.H. Macy found the St. Nicholas Theatre in Chicago. The christening show is the wold premiere production of Mamet's American Buffalo.

1979 Gregory Hines plays a Harlem Ebenezer Scrooge in the musical Comin' Uptown!. It runs 64 performances at the Winter Garden.

1981 Michael Bennett's Dreamgirls opens on this date. With book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger, the production will serve as a star vehicle for Jennifer Holliday, whose legendary performance of Effie won her a Tony Award. The musical will run more than 1500 performances.

1989 Dustin Hoffman plays Shylock in a major revival of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Notable moment, one of Shylock's tormentors spits on him full in the face.

1991 Patrick Stewart introduces his one-man holiday reading/performance of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, in which Stewart plays all the parts.

1997 Marie Osmond makes her Broadway debut tonight as Mrs. Anna in The King & I. Osmond is replacing Faith Prince, who was the first replacement after the original Anna, the Tony Award-winning Donna Murphy.

2001 Barely three months after the 9/11 attacks, Pulitzer-winner Tony Kushner opens his play about Afghani politics and terrorism, Homebody/Kabul Off-Broadway.

2007 Michael Kidd, the stage and film choreographer and director who won five Tony Awards and an Honorary Academy Award and whose choreography credits include Guys and Dolls on stage and screen, dies of cancer at 92 at his home in Los Angeles.

2008 Dale Wasserman, who wrote the book for the 1966 Tony Award-winning musical Man of La Mancha, dies of heart failure at age 94. Mr. Wasserman also penned the stage version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which was based on the novel by Ken Kesey.

2010 Marcia Lewis, the brassy and beloved musical star of hit Broadway revivals of Grease! ("Miss Lynch") and Chicago ("Matron 'Mama' Morton"), dies in Nashville, where she lived, at age 72. Additional Broadway credit included the comically evil Miss Hannigan in the original run of Annie.

This Week’s Birthdays: Elsie DeWolfe, 1865. Irene Dunne Frances Goodrich 1890. 1898. George Roy Hill 1921. Mark "Moose" Charlap 1928. Mel Gussow 1933. Jane Fonda 1937. Larry Bryggman 1938. Elaine Joyce 1945. Lynn Thigpen 1948. Ralph Fiennes 1962.

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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