Friday, December 2, 2011

The Past Week In Theatre History (Nov. 28-Dec. 2)

Today In Theatre History: NOVEMBER 28 - December 2
By David Gewirtzman
and Robert Viagas, Steve Luber, Anne Bradley and Sam Maher

1895 Birthday of legendary film choreographer Busby Berkeley (1895-1976), whose career will be launched with a 12-show burst of creativity on Broadway between the end of 1926 and the beginning of 1930 (including A Connecticut Yankee and Good Boy) before being whisked off to Hollywood to do films like the original 42nd Street. His Broadway swan song was 1971's No, No, Nanette.

1926 Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II's The Desert Song, one of the last of the blockbuster operettas, opens. The mysterious and romantic Red Shadow and his rebel band ride over the dunes of North Africa in this musical, which runs 471 performances at the Casino Theatre and tours for much of the next two generations.

1929 In London, actors and actresses vote unanimously to form the British Actors Equity Association. Rules and the constitution will be adopted in May of the following year.

1932 Fred Astaire has his final Broadway opening night in Cole Porter's Gay Divorce, which bows at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre and lasts 248 performances. When it is filmed, the Hollywood Hayes Office rules that divorce can not be gay (as in cheerful)... so the title is changed to Gay Divorcee.

1947 Birthday of playwright David Mamet, who will write hard-bitten plays that capture the unique rhythms of speech of working people, including real estate salesmen (Pulitzer-winner Glengarry Glen Ross), movie makers (Speed-the-Plow), academics and feminists (Oleanna) and small-time thieves (American Buffalo).

1951 John Van Druten's play I Am a Camera stages the story of Sally Bowles, the Berlin cabaret singer first introduced in Christopher Isherwood's stories, and who would later be musicalized in Cabaret. Julie Harris stars as Sally in this non-musical drama which runs 214 performances at the Empire Theatre.

1952 Birthday of fierce actor Mandy Patinkin who will create a series of intense characters in musicals Evita, The Secret Garden, Sunday in the Park With George and The Knife before turning to TV, and a concert and recording career.

1957 Anthony Perkins plays the sensitive young man in Ketti Frings' Look Homeward, Angel, which opens today at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, and runs 564 performances.

1968 Morning, Noon, and Night, three avant-garde plays by Israel Horvitz, Terrence McNally, and Leonard Melfi respectively, opens at the Henry Miller Theatre. Theodore Mann directs what will be 52 performances. The cast includes Robert Klein and Sorrell Booke.

1972 Via Galactica opens at the new Uris Theatre with a $900,000 price tag. Peter Hall directs, Galt McDermot provides the score for what will be a run of seven performances.

1979 Martin Sherman’s play about homosexuals in the Nazi concentration camps, Bent, opens at the New Apollo Theatre. Richard Gere stars as a gay man who is also a Jew. Other cast members include David Marshall Grant and David Dukes. The show will run for 240 performances.

1985 The Mystery of Edwin Drood, adapted from the Charles Dickens novel by Rupert Holmes, opens on Broadway tonight at the Imperial Theatre. The show ran for free in Central Park over the previous summer. Dickens never wrote an ending to his novel, and because of this, the responsibility of choosing an ending falls to the audience each night. The cast included Betty Buckley, George Rose, Donna Murphy and George N. Martin.

1987 The Ritz (now the Walter Kerr) Theatre plays host to Penn Jillette and Ray Teller, whose Penn & Teller opens tonight and will go on to run for 130 performances.

1997 Lyric Opera of Chicago presents the world premiere of Amistad, by composer Anthony Davis, opening tonight. George C. Wolfe, producer of The Joseph Papp Public Theatre/New York Shakespeare Festival and famed director, will direct the opera; the cast includes Mark S. Doss and Thomas Young. The opera, based on an 1839 slave uprising aboard a Cuban chartered ship, will precede Steven Spielberg's film version of the same story (also titled "Amistad"), which is set to open Dec. 10.

2000 In a collaboration, Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project travel to Wyoming and interview folks about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. The show created, The Laramie Project, will be presented in Laramie, opening tonight. Gay university student Shepard was beaten to death on the outskirts of town. The crime sparked outrage, debate and mourning around the world. This  will be the first time the documentary-like staging has played Laramie. Many residents are represented in the show and are expected to show up to see how Kaufman, his co-writers and actors present them.

More Birthdays: Louisa May Alcott 1832. Mark Twain 1835. John Willard 1885. Mary Martin 1913. Ray Walston 1914. Adolph Green 1915. Ezra Stone 1917. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. 1923. Jonathan Frid 1924. Woody Allen 1935. Robert Guillaume 1937. Bette Midler 1945. Ed Harris 1950. Treat Williams 1951.S. Epatha Merkerson 1952. Hinton Battle 1956.

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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