Friday, December 9, 2011

The Past Week In Theatre History (Dec. 5 - 9)

The Past Week In Theatre History: December 5 -9

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

1896 Birthday of Ira Gershwin (1896-1983), one of Broadway's most sterling lyricists, mainly in collaboration with his brother George. Ira's musicals will include Porgy and Bess; Of Thee I Sing; Lady, Be Good; Funny Face; Oh. Kay!, Girl Crazy, Lady in the Dark and in adaptations after his death, My One and Only, Crazy for You and Never Gonna Dance.

1902 Birthday of actress Margaret Hamilton, who will appear on Broadway in plays including The Farmer Takes a Wife, The Dark Tower, Goldilocks and a revival of Our Town, but who will forever be remembered as The Wicked Witch of the West in the MGM film The Wizard of Oz.

1903 U.S. premiere of George Bernard Shaw's drama of the Life Force, Candida, starring Dorothy Donnelly and Arnold Daly at the Princess Theatre.

1911 Birthday of actor Lee J. Cobb (1911-1976), who will create many memorable roles in the 1930s to 1950s, most notably Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman.

1918 It's a Scandal at London's Strand Theatre. This Cosmo Hamilton comedy exposes a woman pretending to be married to a gentleman. Kyrle Bellew and Noel Coward star.

1925 "Why a duck?" The ineffable question is first asked on Broadway today, the opening night of the George S. Kaufman/Irving Berlin musical The Cocoanuts at the Lyric Theatre with four young stars who overshadowed even the august writing team: The Marx Brothers, Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo. The anarchic nonsense about the Florida land rush runs 377 performances and is made into a classic film (minus most of the songs).

1925 Also: Birthday of entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990), who will begin in small clubs and rise to become a Las Vegas headliner, film star and member of the "Rat Pack" of 1950s swingers. His Broadway work will include starring roles in Mr. Wonderful and the musical Golden Boy.

1930 Cole Porter scandalizes Broadway with the streetwalker's lament, "Love For Sale," in the musical The New Yorkers, which opens tonight at B.S. Moss's Broadway Theatre for a run of 168 performances. Included in the huge cast are Jimmy Durante and Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians.

1931 Birthday of Ellen Stewart, whose LaMama Experimental Theatre Club will serve as one of the cornerstones of the Off-Off-Broadway movement.

1946 Laurette Taylor dies today. Her career spanned almost 40 years. Two of her more memorable performances were in Peg O' My Heart, created by her husband J. Hartley Manners; and Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie.

1949 Carol Channing blinks her big round eyes and warbles "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" on the opening night of the musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at the Ziegfeld Theatre. It will run 740 performances and make Channing into an icon.

1979 Today's Saturday matinee of Grease is the 3,243 performance, making it the longest running show in Broadway history to that point. Grease passes Fiddler on the Roof, which had overtaken Life With Father in 1972, when this production of Grease was 128 performances into its pre-Broadway run. The long-run title is now held by Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera.

1996 The epic musical Ragtime, with a book by Terrence McNally and a score by Ahrens & Flaherty, has its world premiere in Toronto. Reviews are strong for the show's subsequent Broadway mounting, but the show's high cost, coupled with other financial woes, would eventually wreck its producing organization, Livent. SFX Productions would buy what remained of the company, only to be taken over itself by Clear Channel.

1999 Ann Hampton Callaway, Everett Bradley and Laura Benanti star in Swing!, a musical revue featuring swing music by various composers such as Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. The lively show opens tonight and will go on to run for a substantial 461 performances and receive six 2000 Tony Award nominations including one for Best Musical.

2001 Less than three months after the 9/11 attacks, the downtown Manhattan Bat Theatre Company opens a new play about a fire chief trying to compose eulogies for his dead men. The Guys will become a long-running hit, and be adapted for film.

2001 Also: A little-heralded in-development new musical called Hairspray begins open casting calls in -- where else? -- Baltimore. It will go on to win the 2003 Tony Award as Best Musical.

2002 Baz Luhrmann's staging of the opera La Boheme opens on Broadway today, with a directorial concept that makes it resemble a Broadway musical. The show will run 228 performances and win a special Tony honor for its three rotating casts of leads.

2002 Also: One of the most memorable flops of the new century opens at the Minskoff Theatre: Dance of the Vampires, a campy musical about vampires stalking the European village of Lower Belabartokovich. Jim Steinman, who wrote many songs for rocker Meat Loaf, rolls out his first full Broadway score. The production had been a long-running hit in Austria and Germany, but after six weeks of previews on Broadway it will stagger on for 56 performances after critics hammer stakes into its heart. The show marks the (brief) return to Broadway of Phantom of the Opera star Michael Crawford as the bloodthirsty Count von Krolock.

2007 Mark Twain's 1890's farce Is He Dead? gets its LONG-delayed Broadway debut after the manuscript is rediscovered by a researcher, and playwright David Ives does a contemporary adaptation. Norbert Leo Butz, Jenn Gambatese, Byron Jennings, Michael McGrath and John McMartin are featured in the cast.

2008 The Olivier Award-winning Slava's Snowshow, already an Off-Broadway hit known for its climactic blizzard and its wordless clowns who roam a wintry landscape, opens at the Helen Hayes Theatre. The show features a cast of ten, including creator Slava Polunin.

2009 Playwright David Mamet confronts the issue of racial prejudice in America with his drama Race, which opens on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. James Spader, David Alan Grier, Kerry Washington and Richard Thomas star in the play about a law firm with one white partner and one black partner who take the case of a white man charged with a sex crime against a black woman.

More Birthdays: William S. Hart 1864. Lynn Fontanne 1887. Agnes Moorehead 1900. Quentin Crisp 1908. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. 1909. Broderick Crawford 1911. Wally Cox 1924. Dina Merrill 1925. Dick Van Patten 1928. Bobby Van 1928. Eli Wallach 1931. Ellen Burstyn 1932. David Carradine 1936. Buck Henry 1939. Judi Dench 1934. A.J. Antoon 1944. Michael Nouri 1945. James Naughton 1945. John Rubinstein 1946. John Malkovich 1953. Donny Osmond 1957. Mario Cantone 1959.

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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