Friday, January 6, 2012

The Past Week In Theatre History (Jan. 2 - 6)

The Past Week In Theatre History: January 2 -6

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

1768 Birthday of John Durang (1768-1816), identified by scholars as one of the first American-born professional dancers and actors. Known for his "Dwarf Dance," "Sailor's Hornpipe" and circus appearances, as well as acting roles in Philadelphia (then the American theatre capital), New York and on tour throughout the early United States. Also a puppeteer, clown, singer and rope-dancer. A distant ancestor of author and performer Christopher Durang.

1905 Quivery-voiced actor Sterling Holloway (1905-1992) is born today in Cedartown, GA. He will become a fixture of Broadway's Garrick Gaieties revues of the 1920s and '30s, and will achieve a kind of immortality providing the voice for Disney's Winnie the Pooh in cartoons starting in the 1960s.

1909 Birthday of Victor Borge (1909-2000), pianist and comedian whose 1953 Comedy in Music ran 888 performances, the longest run ever for a solo musical on Broadway. He followed it with Comedy in Music, Opus 2 in 1964 and Comedy With Music in 1977, but did not achieve another long run.

1921 Birthday of Swiss playwright Friedrich Duerrenmatt (1921-1990), whose best-known work, The Visit will be produced on Broadway in 1958 with Lunt and Fontanne, and subsequently adapted as a musical by Kander and Ebb.

1922 Someone's getting away with Lawful Larceny at the Republic Theatre in New York. Margaret Lawrence stars in this Samuel Shipman play about a wife whose husband is seduced by another woman and pays for it by being robbed in a gambling saloon. This comedy will run beyond the season, to the bewilderment of the critics.

1925 James Gleason and Richard Taber ask Is Zat So? at the 39th Street Theatre. These co-authors star as a down-and out boxer and manager who disguise themselves as servants to help a wealthy young man expose his corrupt brother-in-law. This comedy will run for 618 performances.

1934 Billie Burke produces the first Ziegfeld Follies after the death of founder Flo Ziegfeld. The Follies of 1934 features Fanny Brice, Eve Arden, Buddy and Vilma Ebsen, Jane Froman, Eugene and Willie Howard ,and the music of Vernon Duke. It runs 122 performances at the Winter Garden.

1938 A dramatic night on Broadway as the Mercury Theatre presents Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock at the Windsor Theatre after the original production was shut down by the WPA for its attack on capitalism. Will Geer plays Mr. Mister. It runs 108 performances.

1945 Richard Basehart is the lead in The Hasty Heart. This John Patrick drama at the Hudson Theatre, about patients in a military hospital in Southeast Asia, will run 207 performances.

1949 Birthday of iconoclastic playwright Christopher Durang, who will write Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You, Beyond Therapy, The Marriage of Bette and Boo, A History of the American Film, Sex and Longing, When Dinah Shore Ruled the Earth and many more.

1950 Burgess Meredith stars in the opening night of the musical fantasy Happy as Larry, which had been a major hit in London but suffers a three-performance flop on Broadway.

1952 Twelve years after it was critically slammed, the hard-bitten musical Pal Joey gets a revival that becomes one of Rodgers and Hart's longest: 540 performances for a show whose cast includes Harold Lang, Helen Gallagher, Elaine Stritch and, recreating her original role, Vivienne Segal. During the run of this production, Lang will be replaced by his understudy, Bob Fosse -- his first Broadway lead.

1954 Twelfth Night directed by Denis Carey is at London's Old Vic. The cast includes John Neville, Claire Bloom, and Richard Burton.

1956 The Great Sebastians are Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, a pair of fraudulent performers with a mind-reading act. This comedy by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse is staged by Bretaigne Windust at ANTA.

1965 T.S. Eliot is dead in London at the age of 77. He is credited with the revival of poetic drama after penning Murder in the Cathedral in 1935. He also wrote The Cocktail Party, The Family Reunion, and The Confidential Clerk. His book of poems, "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," will be the inspiration for the musical Cats opening in 1982.

1968 The Negro Ensemble Company presents Peter Weiss' Song of the Lusitanian Bogey, its first production, at St. Mark's Playhouse in Greenwich Village. Rosalind Cash and Moses Gunn star in the drama about Portuguese colonialism in Africa.

1969 Untamed sexual desire in the suburbs is the subject of the musical comedy The Fig Leaves Are Falling, which managed only a 4-performance run despite music by Albert Hague, lyrics by "Hello Muddah" writer Allan Sherman, a leading performance by Dorothy Loudon, and a supporting cast that included David Cassidy and Jenny O'Hara.

1972 Fun City, a sarcastic-titled revue poking fun at New York in some of its darkest days, opens a 9-performance run at the Morosco Theatre with a cast that includes Joan Rivers, Rose Marie, Paul Ford, Pierre Epstein and Louis Zorich.

1975 The Wiz, Charlie Smalls' adaption of The Wizard of Oz opens today at the Majestic Theatre and proves to be a sleeper hit, eventually running 1672 performances and winning the Tony Award as Best Musical. The score includes "If You Believe," "Be a Lion" and the disco hit, "Ease on Down the Road." Cast with black actors and set in an African-American mileu, the show proves a springboard for the career of Stephanie Mills as Dorothy, and features Tiger Haynes, Hinton Battle, Ted Ross, Andre de Shields and Dee Dee Bridgewater is supporting roles. A film version will star Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.

1976 Yul Brynner stars in the first and only performance of Home Sweet Homer, a musical based on final chapters of The Odyssey, from Mitch Leigh, composer of Man of La Mancha. Despite the presence of La Mancha star Joen Diener, the show closes on opening night.

1984 Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close star in Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing at the Plymouth Theater. The play also stars Christine Baranski and Kenneth Welch. The Real Thing will win 1984's Tony Award for Best Play, as well as acting awards for Irons, Close, and Baranski, as well as an award for director, Mike Nichols.

1990 Arthur Kennedy, who appeared in the original companies of Arthur Miller's Ally My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and The Price, dies today.

1990 Michael Shawn, choreographer for Legs Diamond, is awarded a $175,000 settlement from the Nederlanders today. Shawn claimed he was fired because he tested positive for the AIDS virus.

2003 Playwright Jean Kerr dies at age 80. Her comedy, Mary Mary, is one of Broadway's longest-running non-musicals ever, at 1572 performances. She had a best-seller (later adapted as a film and TV series) with "Please Don't Eat the Daisies," a book about her life in Larchmont, NY, with her husband, New York Times theatre critic Walter Kerr.

2004 Director Sam Mendes, choreographer Rob Marshall and former cast members attend the 2,378th and final performance of the 1998 Tony-winning Cabaret revival, which closes at Studio 54.

2005 Richard Foreman, the respected downtown Manhattan theatre auteur, unveil his latest cerebral vaudeville, The Gods Are Pounding My Head (Lumberjack Messiahs) at the Off-Off-Broadway Ontological Theatre. The theatre says it's to be the last in a series that goes back to the 1960s.

2009 Pat Hingle, the character actor whose career stretched back to the 1940s and whose credits encompassed many roles in theatre, film and television, dies at age 84.

2011 Pete Postlethwaite, an English character actor who brought an unmistakeable voice and face to his many performances on stage and screen, dies at age 64 after a battle with cancer. A veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company, his theatre credits included the title role in a 2008 production of King Lear at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, and a touring a 90-minute one-man play called Scaramouche Jones.

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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