The Past Week In Theatre History: February 6 - 10
By Robert Viagas, David Gewirtzman,
Ernio Hernandez and Anne Bradley
1812 Birthday of author Charles Dickens (1812-1870), whose "A Christmas Carol" has been adapted to the stage dozens of times and provides a durable annuity for theatre troupes everywhere. Among other major stage hits adapted from his work: The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Pickwick and Oliver!
1865 Birthday of actress Beatrice Stella Tanner, better known by her stage name, Mrs. Patrick Campbell (1865-1940). She had a long correspondence with playwright George Bernard Shaw, and appeared in many of his plays, creating the role of Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion.
1883 Birthday of composer Eubie Blake (1883-1983), one of the first black composers to write a Broadway musical. His scores will include Shuffle Along, Lew Leslie's Blackbirds and Swing It. His life and songs will be the subject of the hit 1978 revue Eubie!.
1893 Birthday of Jimmy "Schnozzola" Durante (1893-1980), big-nosed comedian who would star on Broadway in Show Girl, The New Yorkers and Strike Me Pink. Catchphrases included "I got a million of 'em! [Jokes.]" "Everybody wants to get into the act!" "Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, whereever you are," and, when comically caught stealing a pachyderm in Jumbo memorably stood in front of it and asked his pursuers, "What elephant?"
1907 Ray Middleton is born in Chicago, Illinois today. In 1946 he will star opposite Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun, and in 1965 be featured in Man of La Mancha.
1914 Composer Sigmund Romberg makes his Broadway debut with The Whirl of the World. The hit musical will run 161 performances, and starts Romberg on a 40-year career that will include Maytime, Blossom Time, The Desert Song and The New Moon.
1926 Charles MacArthur and Edward Sheldon have a hit with the campy potboiler Lulu Belle, about a Mississippi nightclub singer who ruins the life of a rising young attorney who falls for her, but realizes in the end that she loves him, too. It runs 461 performances at the Belasco Theatre, and is made into a film with Dorothy Lamour.
1931 The romance between poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett is dramatized in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, which stars Katharine Cornell and Brian Aherne. The production runs 370 performances at the Empire Theatre.
1946 Mary Martin and Yul Brynner play a Chinese couple who separate when the husband goes off on a quest in Lute Song. Raymond Scott composed the score, and Sidney Howard and Will Irwin wrote the libretto based on a Chinese folktale. It will run for 18 weeks at the Plymouth Theatre in New York.
1949 Willy Loman knows his territory and wants to make a sale. His big pitch happens tonight with Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, starring Lee J. Cobb. Fifty years to the day later, Robert Falls directs a 1999 revival starring Brian Dennehy, Elizabeth Franz and Kevin Anderson at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre.
1954 The Immoralist stars James Dean as an Arab boy attempting a seductive blackmail. Louis Jourdan and Geraldine Page are the couple he may ensnare. Based on Andre Gide's novel, Ruth and Augustus Goetz's play will run for three months at the Royale Theatre.
1955 Paul Newman, Karl Malden, and Nancy Coleman fill The Desperate Hours. Joseph Hayes' thriller about a family held hostage by escaped convicts will run at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre for 212 performances.
1956 Paddy Chayevsky's drama Middle of the Night plays at ANTA. Edward G. Robinson and Gena Rowlands play an older man and younger woman who fall in love. Joshua Logan provides the direction.
1957 Cyril Ritchard plays a strange visitor to a Virginia home who claims to be an alien passing judgement on the Earth in Gore Vidal's Visitor to a Small Planet. The comedy runs 388 performances a the Booth Theatre.
1959 First play reading at Joe Cino's Caffe Cino in New York's Greenwich Village. The space had opened as a bar in December 1958, but under Cino's flamboyant stewardship, it will grow into the cradle of the Off-Off-Broadway movement, providing a launching pad for the earliest works of Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, Jean Claude van Itallie, Tom Eyen, and many other playwrights. Its productions will examine subjects no commercial producer of the time would touch, especially those with gay themes. After Cino's suicide in 1967, his circle of theatre artists would found Off-Broadway's Circle Rep.
1965 Albarwild Theatre Arts, a new producing team consisting of Edward Albee, Richard Barr and Clinton Wilder, open their first New Playwrights Series at the Cherry Lane Theatre. The opening bill showcases three budding playwrights, Lanford Wilson, Sam Shepard and Paul Foster, two of whom would go on to win Pulitzer Prizes and change the course of 20th century theatre. In the next few years,m Albarwild would provide a commercial creative engine for the Off-Off-Broadway movement.
1966 Broadway impressario Billy Rose dies. The dynamo behind such spectacles as Jumbo, and the 1939 World's Fair Aquacade was also the owner of the Ziegfeld Theatre. He was 66 years old.
1966 Also this week, Singer-entertainer Sophie Tucker dies. She appeared in numerous revues, including Ziegfeld Follies of 1909 and the Earl Carroll Vanities in 1924. She was 82 years old.
1972 British actor-director Robert Atkins dies today. He performed in and directed many Shakespearean productions for the Old Vic. He was 85 years old.
1976 Philadelphia's Shubert Theatre, acquired by The Academy of Music in 1972 and refurbished, re-opens with a revival of My Fair Lady.
1979 Tommy plays at the Queen's Theatre in London. Music is provided by Pete Townshend and The Who, with direction by Paul Tomlinson and John Hole. Allan Love stars. The show will play 118 times. In 1994, Townshend, director Des McAnuff and choreographer Wayne Cilento will turn Tommy into a full-fledged Broadway musical.
1984 Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli play mother and daughter in The Rink, Kander & Ebb's musical about a family that runs a roller-skating rink. After five nominations, Rivera will win her first Tony Award for the role. The show will run 204 performances at the Martin Beck Theatre.
1988 Kate Nelligan and Alec Baldwin star in Serious Money, Caryl Churchill's drama about greed in the Reagan/Thatcher era. It runs just 15 performances at the Royale Theatre.
1998 The 100th anniversary of Bertolt Brecht's birth is celebrated at California's Brecht Centennial. Play readings, performances, cabarets and seminars honored the father of Epic Theatre, whose works included Caucasian Chalk Circle, Mother Courage and Her Children and The Good Person of Setzuan.
2002 Film star Kevin Bacon stars on Broadway as a former minister suffering a crisis of faith in An Almost Holy Picture.
2002 Elaine Stritch's sold-out Public Theatre solo show, Elaine Stritch: At Liberty moves to Broadway. It will go on to win the 2002 Tony Award for Best Special Event.
2003 Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg stars with Charles S. "Roc" Dutton in a Broadway revival of August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. The opening comes after a disastrous preview period in which three actors were replaced, an actor suffered a burst blood vessel in his leg, and director Marion McClinton was hospitalized with kidney and blood pressure problems. The revival winds up lasting just 69 performances.
2004 Taboo, which marked the debut of famed talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell as Broadway producer, closes after just 100 performances. The musical also served as the Broadway debut for its composer-lyricist and co star, George O'Dowd (a.k.a. Boy George). Also featured in the cast: Euan Morton, Sarah Uriarte Berry, Raúl Esparza and Liz McCartney.
2005 Arthur Miller, 89, the morally-sensitive author of the landmark drama Death of Salesman—as well as The Crucible, A View From the Bridge, After the Fall, Incident at Vichy, The Price and All My Sons—and widely regarded as America's greatest living playwright, dies of cancer, pneumonia and a heart condition at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. His last Broadway production had been a 2004 revival of After the Fall, a parable about his failed marriage to actress Marilyn Monroe.
2007 Ian Richardson, 73, the British stage actor known for the BBC's 1990 drama series "House of Cards" who played Jean-Paul Marat in Marat/Sade on Broadway and Henry Higgins in the 1976 Broadway revival of My Fair Lady, dies at his London home.
2008 The original cast recording of Spring Awakening wins the Grammy Award as Best Musical Show Album.
2009 James Whitmore, the Tony Award-winning and Oscar-nominated character actor, dies at age 87. Mr. Whitmore was widely respected for the one-man plays that he starred in on Broadway and around the country, including Give 'Em Hell, Harry, Bully and Will Rogers' USA.
2011 Keira Knightley and Elisabeth Moss star in a new production of Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour at the Comedy Theatre in London. Knightley plays Karen Wright, and Moss plays Martha Dobie, who together run a girls’ boarding school in 1930s New England, where they become entangled in a story of deceit, shame and courage when a schoolgirl's whispers spread, triggering a chain of events with extraordinary consequences.
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 Playbill.com.