Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Past Week In Theatre History (Dec. 26- 30)

The Past Week In Theatre History: December 26 -30

By Robert Viagas, David Gewirtzman, Sam Maher
Christopher Reichheld and Anne Bradley
1904 Maude Adams returns to Broadway with a revival of J.M. Barrie's The Little Minister which will run for just 73 performances. A year later she'll be back with a better Barrie play, the original Peter Pan.

1919 The Lafayette Players of New York, a black troupe, opens the newest theatre in Philadelphia, the Dunbar (named for poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar) seats 1,400 and devotes itself to black productions for black audiences. The name will later be changed to the Lincoln Theatre and produce plays until the 1950s.

1920 Brock Pemberton's Miss Lulu Bett opens today at the Belmont Theatre. It will run 198 performances and win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

1924 London drama critic-playwright William Archer dies today. He contributed to Figaro,the World, Tribune, and the Nation. His translations of Henrik Ibsen were produced in the 1890s. In 1923 his melodrama, The Green Goddess, was produced at St. James' Theatre.

1925 Walter Hampden and Ethel Barrymore appear in The Merchant of Venice at Hampden's Theatre in New York. It will run less than seven weeks.

1925 Queenie Smith is featured in Tip Toes, the George and Ira Gershwin musical about a vaudeville trio stranded in Florida. It introduces the song "Sweet and Low Down, and runs 192 performances at the Liberty Theatre.

1926 With pressure from both New York Governor Alfred E. Smith and Mayor James Walker regarding a reformation by theatre owners of the moral quality of certain productions, a committee is formed to view "morally questionable" shows. Made up of actors, authors and producers, the committee surveys current shows and comes up with the NY District Attorney's list of such titles. Some of the winners are Sex, The Virgin Man and the less obviously titled An American Tragedy.

1926 Chicago, Maurine Dallas Watkins' tale of a fast-living woman who shoots her husband will run at the Music Box Theatre for 22 weeks. George Abbott and Francine Larrimore are in the cast. Forty-nine years later Bob Fosse will set this story to the music of Kander and Ebb. In 1996 the newest incarnation began its smash run.

Rodgers and Hart's Peggy-Ann opens today at the Vanderbilt Theatre. Despite its 333-performance run, it is one of most rarely revived of the team's musicals. Twenty-four hours after opening the hit, Peggy-Ann, Rodgers and Hart have one of their biggest flops with the musical Betsy, a vehicle for vaudeville performer Belle Baker, which bows tonight at the New Amsterdam Theatre, and creeps out again 39 performances later. Producer Florenz Ziegfeld reportedly didn't like his own show, and expressed his opinion of the score by interpolating an Irving Berlin tune that became a standard: "Blue Skies."
1926 Devil in the Cheese (yes, it's a comedy), written by Tom Cushing, features Bela Lugosi as a Greek priest. An archaeologist eats some ancient cheese and suddenly understands his lovesick daughter. The Charles Hopkins Theatre in NY hosts the engagement.

1927 The intricate lives of people living on a Show Boat come to life at the Ziegfeld Theatre. Adapted by Oscar Hammerstein II from Edna Ferber's novel, with music composed by Jerome Kern including what will become classics, "Ol' Man River" and "Make Believe." The cast includes Helen Morgan, Norma Terris, Charles Winninger, and Jules Bledsoe.

1931 George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind create Wintergreen, the presidential candidate running on a platform of love [sounds painfully familiar]. Of Thee I Sing, the Pulitzer Prize winning musical with music and lyrics by the Gershwins, stars William Gaxton, Grace Brinkley, and Victor Moore. The campaign runs for 441 performances at the Music Box Theatre.

1934 Birthday of actress Maggie Smith, who will bring a majestic presence to stage and film roles on both sides of the Atlantic. Her Broadway experience begins with New Faces of 1956 and will include Private Lives, Night and Day and Lettice and Lovage the latter of which won her the Tony Award as Best Actress in a Play. She will be given a title by Queen Elizabeth II, and will sometimes be referred to as Dame Maggie Smith.

1938 Thornton Wilder has a flop with his comedy The Merchant of Yonkers, which closes after just 39 performances. He'll have more success with the revised version, retitled The Matchmaker in 1955, and even more success when the latter becomes a musical, Hello, Dolly! in 1964.

1948 U.S. premiere of Jean Giradoux's fantasy allegory The Madwoman of Chaillot at the Belasco Theatre, starring Martita Hunt as Countess Aurelia. It will run 368 performances and later be adapted as the musical Dear World.

1954 Clifford Odets paints a comic picture of the Biblical Noah (of Ark fame) and his wife and kids as a bickering middle-class Jewish family. Menasha Skulnik plays Noah. It will run 135 performances at the Belasco Theatre and be adapted as the musical Two by Two by Martin Charnin and Richard Rodgers. It's Odet's final Broadway play.

1960 Phil Silvers stars as a guy who's latest get-rich-quick scheme involves jukeboxes in the musical Do Re Mi from Jule Styne, Garson Kanin, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Nancy Walker plays Silvers' long-suffering wife, who stops the show with the song, "Adventure." It runs 400 performances and introduces the standar, "Make Someone Happy."

1965 Broadway is mesmerized and scandalized by Peter Brook's staging of Peter Weiss' long-titled drama, The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, also known as Marat/Sade, one of the first plays on the American stage to offer full frontal nudity. It will win the Tony Award as Best Play, and runs 145 performances at the Martin Beck Theatre.

1966 The most historic thing about today is what didn't happen. Producer David Merrick closes the musical Breakfast at Tiffany's in previews just before tonight's scheduled opening. Richard Chamberlain doesn't get to open as Jeff, and Mary Tyler Moore doesn't get to make her Broadway debut as Holly Golightly.

1969 James Coco is the Last of the Red Hot Lovers. Neil Simon's comedy exposes a married man worrying that the sexual revolution is happening without him. It will run for 706 performances.

1973 Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst star in a revival of O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten at the Morosco Theatre. it runs 313 performances and the performances become definitive for a generation.

1979 Richard Rodgers, who collaborated with Lorenz Hart on such shows as Babes in Arms, The Boys From Syracuse, and Pal Joey; with Oscar Hammerstein II on shows including Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The Sound of Music and The King and I; and Stephen Sondheim on the musical Do I Hear a Waltz? dies today at age 77.

1979 The life of Piaf takes the stage at London's Aldwych Theatre. Pam Gems scripted this Royal Shakespeare production about the French chanteuse Edith Piaf. Jane Lapotaire stars.

1998 The Broadway-bound revival of Annie Get Your Gun, starring Bernadette Peters and Tom Wopat, begins performances tonight at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The Kennedy Center engagement is the production's only pre-Broadway stop. Annie Get Your Gun will go on to win two Tony Awards and run for more than 1,000 performances.

1999 Broadway's long-running Phantom of the Opera celebrates an impressive 5,000 performances on this date in 1999, on its way to becoming the longest-running Broadway show ever.

2002 The film adaptation of Kander & Ebb's Chicago opens in major markets today. Rob Marshall directed the film version of the 1975 musical, which will go on to win the 2003 Academy Award for Best Picture -- the first musical to do so since Oliver! in 1968.

2003 Isabelle Stevenson, chair of the American Theatre Wing and a tireless champion of Broadway, the theatre in general, and the Tony Awards in particular, dies at age 90.

2004 Susan Sontag , 71, renowned American intellectual and essayist, and an occasional playwright and theatre director, dies today of acute myelogenous leukemia at New York City's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

2004 Jerry Orbach, the Tony Award-winning star of Promises, Promises and other musicals, dies at age 69. Widely known as gruff detective Lennie Briscoe on TV's "Law & Order," he created many famous roles in stage musicals, starting as the original El Gallo in The Fantasticks. Other roles would include Billy Flynn in the 1975 Chicago and Julian Marsh in the original 42nd Street.

2004 Sylvia Herscher, 91, Broadway agent, general manager, music publisher and producer, who received a special 2000 Tony Award honor for her life's work, dies today in New York.

More Birthdays This Week: Dion Boucicault 1822. Sydney Greenstreet 1879. Charles Dingle 1887. Milton Shubert 1901. Marlene Dietrich 1901. Oscar Levant 1906. Lou Jacobi 1913. Richard Widmark 1914. Hildegarde Neff 1925. Tommy Rall 1929. Donald Moffat 1930. Mabel King 1932. Tovah Feldshuh 1952. Denzel Washington 1954. Tracey Ullman 1959. Joe Mantello 1962. Malcolm Gets 1963.

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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