Friday, January 13, 2012

The Past Week In Theatre History (Jan. 9 - 13)

The Past Week In Theatre History: January 9 -13

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

1820 Birthday of Louisa Lane Drew, matriarch of the Drew and Barrymore acting dynasty that would eventually include John Drew, Ethel Barrymore, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore and today's Drew Barrymore.

1878 Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar (1878-1952) is born today in Budapest. Among his many works he will write Liliom which will be adapted as the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel.

1890 Playwright Karel Capek (1890-1938) is born today in Bohemia. His 1920's play R.U.R. will introduce the word "robot" (from the Czech word for worker) and show robots for the first time in popular culture.

1899 Eva Le Gallienne born in London . Her determination and drive will lead her to a stage debut in Monna Vanna at the Queen's Theatre in London in 1914; her Broadway debut will take place one year later in the comedy Mrs. Boltay's Daughters. 1937 will see her play Hamlet with Uta Hagen as her Ophelia.

1904 Ray Bolger is born today. This triple threat will appear in numerous shows and in 1948 star in Where's Charley?, the musical version of Charley's Aunt. A yellow brick road will stretch out before him in Hollywood.

1905 U.S. premiere of George Bernard Shaw's You Never Can Tell, which goes on to a 129-performance run at the Garrick Theatre.

1911 Sigmund Romberg writes his first complete Broadway score for The Whirl of the World, which opens today at the Winter Garden. A brochure describes it thus: "An Isle of Gorgeousness, Fun and Music, Entirely Surrounded by Girls." The formula proves a winner, running 161 performances.

1925 Birthday of one of Broadway's all-time greatest leading ladies, Gwen Verdon (1925-2000). She was nominated for the Tony Award as Best Actress or Featured Actress in a Musical six times, and won four times, including three years in a row, for Damn Yankees, New Girl in Town and Redhead in 1956, 1957 and 1958. She rose to stardom in a featured role in Cole Porter's Can-Can and later created the title role of Sweet Charity and originated the role of Roxie Hart in Chicago. A dancer all her life, she married choreographer Bob Fosse in 1960 with whom she had one daughter, Nicole.

1932 Leslie Howard stars and co-produces with Gilbert Miller, The Animal Kingdom. Philip Barry's comedy about a man whose wife has sapped his vitality will run a lively 23 weeks at the Broadhust Theatre.

1936 English actor-producer-playwrite Ian Robertson dies at the age of 76.

1937 Maxwell Anderson's verse play High Tor opens at the Martin Beck Theatre, starring Burgess Meredith. The production wins the New York Drama Critics Award for Best Show, and runs 171 performances.

1940 James Thurber makes his Broadway debut as a playright with The Male Animal, co-written with Eliott Nugent. Starring Gene Tierney, it runs 243 performances at the Cort Theatre.

1941 Irish nationalist, poet, and dramatist James Joyce dies in Zurich at age 59. Included among Joyce's many works is Exiles, which he wrote in 1918. In 1959 Zero Mostel will play Leopold Bloom in Ulysses in Nighttown, an adaptation of Joyce's Ulysses by Marjorie Barkentin. In 2000, a musical adaptation of Joyce's short story, The Dead, would come to Broadway's Belasco Theater.

1941 Two sweet little old ladies help nudge melancholy people off to a better world in the macabre comedy Arsenic and Old Lace which opens its 1444-performance run today at the Fulton Theatre. Jean Adair and Josephine Hull play the sisters and Boris Karloff plays their nephew.

1947 Ella Logan and Albert Sharpe look to the rainbow in Fred Saidy and Yip Harburg's Finian's Rainbow, about a leprechaun who turns human when his crock of gold is stolen and buried near Fort Knox. The show opens a 725-performance run tonight. David Wayne and Michael Kidd will go on to win the very first Tony Awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Choreographer, respectively.

1947 Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes collaborate on an operatic adaptation of Elmer Rice's drama, Street Scene, also using that same title. It's a slice of life in a tenement tenement filled with striving immigrants. It runs 148 performances at the Adelphi Theatre, and wins Weill the very first Tony Award ever given for Best Composer.

1951 Claude Rains heads the cast of Darkness at Noon at the Alvin Theatre. Adapted by Sidney Kingsley from Arthur Koestler's novelabout the Stalinist purges will go on to win the Drama Critics' Circle Award.

1952 John Gielgud directs and stars in Much Ado About Nothing at London's Phoenix
Theatre. It will have a seven-month run.

1961 Zero Mostel gradually transforms from a man into a beast in Eugene Ionesco's absurdist classic, Rhinoceros, also featuring Eli Wallach and Morris Carnovsky. It will run 256 performances at the Longacre Theatre, and Mostel will win the Tony Award as Best Actor in a Play.

1962 Romulus, satirizing the end of the Roman Empire, will have a much shorter life than its subject, with just 69 performances to its calender. Gore Vidal adapted this Friedrich Duerrenmatt work. Cyril Ritchard stars.

1968 Some of first openly gay characters seen on the Broadway stage are played by Milo O'Shea and Eli Wallach in Charles Dyer's The Staircase, which runs 61 performances at the Biltmore Theatre.

1976 English actress Margaret Leighton dies today at the age of 53. She played a variety of classic roles and starred in the London production of The Philadelphia Story. In 1962, she won the Tony award for her portrayal of Hannah Jelkes in The Night of the Iguana.

1984 Brooks Atkinson, longtime drama critic for The New York Times, dies today. Atkinson was the first critic in recorded history to have a theatre named after him. Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theater has, in recent years, housed productions of Noises Off, Jane Eyre, On The
Waterfront, and She Loves Me.

1986 Terrence McNally's new farce, It's Only a Play, opens at the Manhattan Theater Club. It stars Joanna Gleason, David Garrison, Christine Baranski, and Paul Benedict.

1987 The Broadway Theatre box office begins to sell tickets for Les Miserables. During the first week, the show sets a new record by taking in a total of $1,721,098. Les Miserables begins previews at the Broadway Theatre on Feb. 28. It will eventually become the third-longest running show in Broadway history.

2000 Broadway's Belasco Theater welcomes the transfer of James Joyce's The Dead from Off Broadway. The show boasts a book by Richard Nelson (who won a Tony for it), music by Shaun Davey, and lyrics adapted by Shaun Davey and Richard Nelson. Featured in the cast are Christopher Walken, Blair Brown, Emily Skinner, Alice Ripley and Stephen Spinella.

2002 The Fantasticks, the world's longest-running musical, ends its landmark run at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York's Greenwich Village after more than 41 years. The final tally: 17,162 performances. The show will enjoy a revival in 2006.

2004 Obie-winning monologuist Spalding Gray, author of Swimming to Cambodia, Sex and Death to Age 14, Monster in a Box and Gray's Anatomy, disappears after leaving his home in the TriBeCa section of Manhattan. He is later ruled a suicide.

2006 The Phantom of the Opera plays its 7,486th performance, surpassing Cats to become the longest-running show in Broadway history.

2009 Tom O'Horgan, the Drama Desk Award-winning, Tony-nominated director who brought a downtown ethic to his Broadway projects, including the original Broadway productions of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, dies at age 84.

2011 Ellen Stewart, the powerhouse impresario who, as the founder of the downtown Manhattan theatre complex La MaMa, E.T.C. (short for Experimental Theatre Club), was one of the central figures in the creation of the Off-Off-Broadway movement, dies at age 91.

More of This Week’s Birthdays: Tex Ritter 1905. Ruth Taylor 1908. Jose Limon 1908. Patsy Kelly 1910. Luise Rainer 1910. Ruth Goetz 1912.  Polly Rowles 1914. Fernando Lamas 1915. David Brooks 1916. Robert Stack 1919. Roland Petit 1924. Brian Friel 1929. Ulu Grosbard 1929. Frances Sternhagen 1930. Charles Nelson Reilly 1931. Rip Taylor 1934. Bob Denver 1935. Sal Mineo 1939. Joel Zwick 1942. Andre De Shields 1946. Stanley Tucci 1960. Matthew Bourne 1960. Kevin Anderson 1960. Simon Russell Beale 1961.

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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