Friday, February 3, 2012

The Past Week In Theatre History (Jan. 30 - Feb 3)

1860 Birthday of Victor Herbert (1860-1924), Broadway's operetta king, composer of Babes in Toyland, The Red Mill, Mlle. Modiste, Naughty Marietta, Sweethearts and numerous editions of the Ziegfeld Follies.

1903 Future actress Tallulah Bankhead, who can count two U.S. Senators and a Congressman in her family, is born today.

1911 Hugh Herbert Hipple is born today in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After dropping two H's, he will become suave actor Hugh Marlowe. In 1940 he will appear in Elmer Rice's Flight To the West.

1912 Birthday of composer Burton Lane (1912-1997), who will go on to write On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Hold on to Your Hats, Laffing Room Only and his great hit, Finian's Rainbow.

1917 Joe Darion, lyricist of Man of La Mancha, was born. Darion also wrote lyrics for Shinbone Alley and Illya Darling.

1920 Eugene O'Neill's first full-length drama, Beyond the Horizon, plays at the Morosco Theatre. This drama of the Mayo brothers and the woman they both love stars Richard Bennett, Robert Kelly, and Elsie Rizer. It will go on to win the Pulitzer Prize.

1921 Carol Channing is born today. The saucer-eyed actress will achieve stardom as Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but her greatest role will be the original Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly!.

1922 The Czarina is Catherine the Great. Her story is told through the eyes of her lover Count Czerny. Doris Keane and Basil Rathbone star. This comedy will run at the Empire Theatre in New York for 136 performances.

1925 Tony-winning performer Elaine Stritch is born today in Detroit. She'll star in Sail Away, Company, Pal Joey and her solo show, Elaine Stritch: At Liberty.

1926 James Rennie is The Great Gatsby at the Ambassador Theatre. Also starring Florence Eldridge and Elliot Cabot, this adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel by Owen Davis will run 14 weeks. George Cukor provides the direction.

1927 Opening night of Ziegfeld's first non-revue musical, Rio Rita, by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson. It's the inaugural production at the new Ziegfeld Theatre, and runs 494 performances.

1928 It all becomes a Strange Interlude at the Golden Theatre. Eugene O'Neill's nine-act saga of Nina Leeds and the men in her life stars Lynn Fontanne. It will run 426 performances and go on to win the Pulitzer Prize.

1928 Also this week, producer/director Harold Prince is born. He will win a record 20 Tony awards (as of 2005) and will serve as producer and/or director of Broadway classics Fiddler on the Roof, Phantom of the Opera, Sweeney Todd, Evita, Cabaret, Damn Yankees, Follies, A Little Night Music, Company, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and many more.

1928 Also born this week: Mitch Leigh, composer of Man of La Mancha.

1935 Opening night for George Abbott's long-running gambling comedy, Three Men on a Horse starring Garson Kanin, Shirley Booth, Sam Leven and Teddy Hart. It will run 835 performances.

1936 Picking up where her late husband, Florenz Ziegfeld, left off, Billy Burke produces the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 with Bob Hope, Fanny Brice, Josephine Baker, Eve Arden and Judy Canova. It runs 115 performances at the Winter Garden.

1938 When a grandfather holds off Death (by chasing him up a tree) so he can be sure his grandson will be taken care of, he's working On Borrowed Time. This comedy was adapted by Paul Osborn from Lawrence Watkin's novel of the same title. Dudley Diggs stars as Gramps, Peter Holden is his grandson, and Frank Conroy is the Grim Reaper.

1942 Of V We Sing, the V stands for victory in World War II. Co-produced by Alex Cohen and the American Youth Theatre, this timely show hosts songs and sketches and some lively jitterbugging. The cast includes Betty Garrett, Phil Leeds, and Daniel Nagrin. It will run nearly 10 weeks.

1956 Broadway musical comedy leading man Nathan Lane is born today in Jersey City, NJ. He will star in Broadway productions of The Producers, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Guys and Dolls, The Odd Couple, On Borrowed Time, Love! Valour! Compassion! and other shows. He will also collaborate with Stephen Sondheim on the musical The Frogs, a lend his voice to Timon the Meerkat in Disney's The Lion King.

1958 Franklin Roosevelt's life at the family retreat of Campobello Island, Maine, is dramatized in Dore Schary's Sunrise at Campobello, which will run 556 performances at the Cort Theatre. Ralph Bellamy plays FDR. Also in the cast in a minor role: James Earl Jones.

1960 The Wrong Side of the Park might also be the wrong side of marriage in this John Mortimer drama. Staged by Peter Hall at London's Cambridge Theatre, Margaret Leighton stars as a neurotic wife tormenting her husband (Richard Johnson) with a fantasy of her deceased first spouse. It will run nearly 22 weeks.

1966 Opening night of Frederick Knott's murder mystery Wait Until Dark, about a blind woman stalked by a killer. It runs 374 performances and becomes a staple in stock.

1967 The Deer Park Norman Mailer's adaptation of his novel stars Rip Torn, Gene Lindsey and Marsha Mason. Leo Garen directs the 128 performances at Theatre de Lys.

1969 Boris Karloff, who came to life on film as Frankenstein's monster, dies today at 82 in Sussex, England. He made his first stage appearance in 1910. In 1941 he appeared in the comedy Arsenic and Old Lace at the Fulton Theatre in New York.

1976 Opening night for A Matter of Gravity starring Katharine Helpburn and Christopher Reeve. Enid Bagnold's drama will run just 79 performances at the Broadhurst Theatre.

1985 The story of 19th century acting team Ned Harrigan and Tony Hart gets the musical treatment in Harrigan 'n Hart, which gets acclaim as the first musical developed at Goodspeed Opera House's Norma Terris Theatre, but lasts only 4 performances after its transfer to Broadway. Harry Groener stars with Mark Hammill.

1986 The Steppenwolf Theater Company's production of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker opens tonight and will run 45 performances at the Circle in the Square. The cast features Gary Sinise, Jeff Perry, and Alan Wilder.

2000 Boston's Shear Madness turns 20 years old today. It is the longest-running non-musical play in the history of American theatre. The play is a comedy in which a murder occurs in the Shear Madness Hair Styling Salon and it is up to the audience to vote on who is guilty of the crime.

2002 Hildegard Knef, 76, the husky-voiced singer and actress who sang the role of Communist official Ninotchka in Cole Porter's Silk Stockings dies in a Berlin hospital, after a long illness.

2004 Film star Isabella Rossellini stars with Richard Thomas in the world premiere of Terrence McNally's The Stendhal Syndrome, which begins performances at Off-Broadway's Primary Stages' new home, 59E59 theatre complex.

2004 Also this week, Jason Raize Rothenberg, who created the role of Simba in Broadway's The Lion King, is found dead today of an apparent suicide at age 28, in Yass, Australia.

2005 Pulitzer-winner Donald Margulies opens his latest play, Brooklyn Boy, at Manhattan Theatre Club. Adam Arkin, Polly Draper and Ari Graynor are featured in the drama about a man who returns to his childhood neighborhood after becoming a famous novelist.

2006 Wendy Wasserstein, who dramatized the progress of her generation of women through a series of comic and rueful plays, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Heidi Chronicles, dies of lymphoma at age 55.

2011 Tennessee Williams' The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, a rarely seen title about a wealthy, aging Southern eccentric barking her memoirs to a secretary as a harbinger of death climbs up the hill, opens Off-Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels Theatre. Olympia Dukakis stars as widow Flora Goforth.

More of this week's Birthdays: Fritz Leiber 1882.  James Joyce 1882.  Eddie Cantor 1892.  Clark Gable 1901.  Langston Hughes 1902.  Ayn Rand 1905.  James A. Michener 1907.  Bibi Osterwald 1920.  Mario Lanza 1921.  Bernard Gersten 1923.  Liz Smith 1923.  Elaine Stritch 1925.  Ruth Brown 1928.  Gene Hackman  1930.  Richard Clarke 1933.  Tammy Grimes 1934.  Suzanne Pleshette 1937.  Garrett Morris 1937. Vanessa Redgrave 1937.  Sherman Hemsley 1938.  Blythe Danner 1943.  Leo Burmester 1944.  Brent Spiner 1949.  Charles S. Dutton 1951.  Anthony LaPaglia 1959.  Linda Eder 1961.  Cady Huffman 1965.  Jennifer Westfeldt 1971.  Marisa Jaret Winokur 1973.

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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