Friday, May 18, 2012

The Past Week In Theatre History (May 14 – 18)

PLAYBILL VAULT'S Today in Theatre History: MAY 14–18
By Ernio Hernandez, Anne Bradley
Doug Nevins, and Robert Viagas

1894     Birthday of Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981), orchestrator of Broadway classics including the original Sunny; Show Boat; Anything Goes; Oklahoma!; Annie Get Your Gun; Kiss Me, Kate; The King and I, My Fair Lady, Camelot and The Sound of Music. He was honored with a special Tony Award on the anniversary of his birthday in 2008.

1907     The new Hippodrome Theatre opens in Portsmouth, England.

1920     Future composer-lyricist Bob Merrill is born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He will write Take Me Along, New Girl in Town and Carnival!, as well as the timeless lyrics to Funny Girl with Jule Styne.

1923     Sweet Nell of Old Drury runs beyond the season at the 48th Street Theatre in New York. Alfred Lunt stars as Charles II and Laurette Taylor is his mistress Nell Gwynne. Lynn Fontanne and Howard Lindsay are in the cast. J. Hartley Manners stages.

1926     Among The Great Temptations are Jack Benny, Hazel Dawn, and Billy Van. This revue of comic monologues and show parodies will run at the Winter Garden in New York for six months.

1929     American actress Mary Shaw died today in New York City. She played supporting roles to Helena Modjeska, Julia Marlowe, and Mrs. Fiske. She was 75 years old.

1931     Playwright, producer David Belasco dies today in New York City. He began his theatrical life as a child actor in California and started writing plays in his twenties. He adapted the John Luther Long story into the play Madame Butterfly in 1900. In 1905 he wrote, directed, and produced The Girl of the Golden West. In 1906 he built the Stuyvesant Theatre which is now Broadway's Belasco Theater. Belasco liked to shave six years off his age, but it's generally assumed he was 78 at the time of his death. According to Broadway legend, his ghost haunts the apartment where he lived above the theatre that bears his name.

1937     In protest of cuts in the Federal Theatre budget, the Federal Theatre Project's Dance Unit currently performing a double-bill of Candide and How Long Brethern urges the audience to join them in a sit-down strike. The audience acquiesces.

1946     "No you can't get a man with a gun," but when you're Ethel Merman you can sure try. She's the star of Rodgers & Hammerstein's production of Annie Get Your Gun. (You read that right; R&H were the producers, not the composers.) Irving Berlin supplies the words and music for this book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields. Ray Middleton costars as Frank Butler, the fellow sharpshooter Annie gets in the end. There will be 1,147 performances. Bernadette Peters and Tom Wopat will costar in a 1999 Broadway revival.

1951     Actress-singer Barbara Cook makes her debut as Sandy in E.Y. Harburg's Flahooley. This musical will run for 5 weeks at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway.

1952     Among the New Faces of 1952, a revue staged by John Murray Anderson, are Eartha Kitt, Ronny Graham, Alice Ghostley, and Carol Lawrence. The will be 365 performances at Broadway's Royale Theatre.

1956     Peter Ustinov writes and is featured in Romanoff and Juliet. This comedy will play at London's Piccadilly Theatre for 47 weeks.

1961     Bye Bye Birdie opens at London's Her Majesty's Theater. Chita Rivera, the star of the original Broadway production, reprises her role opposite Marty Wilde, Peter Marshall and Angela Baddeley. The West End staging of the Charles Strouse-Lee Adams musical will last 268 performances.

1962     At New York City Center Jean Dalrymple begins a program of musical revivals. Tonight's opening is Can-Can.

1965     The East-West Players, formed to "truthfully express Asian Pacific American thought and depict on stage Asian Pacific American life...", open in Los Angeles. The first performance is Rashomon.

1965     Legendary theatre is made when the husband-and-wife team of Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy open in The Cherry Orchard at the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Variety hails this latest production as "the outstanding presentation of the Chekhov classic in a lifetime of theatregoing and would be a credit to any company." Cronyn and Tandy will continue to grace the stage together for many years to come in such productions as Foxfire and The Gin Game.

1966     The New York Shakespeare Summer Festival is under way as Central Park's Delacorte Theater opens for its summer season. Among this year's productions: All's Well That Ends Well and Richard III, featuring such talents as Christopher Walken, Barbara Barrie, and Richard Jordan.

1969     Sir Lewis Casson, actor-director-producer died today at the age of 93. He was the husband of Dame Sybil Thorndike.

1970     Actress Billie Burke dies today in Los Angeles. She made her stage debut in London in The School Girl in 1903. Her Broadway debut occurred in 1907 in My Wife; producer Florenz Ziegfeld called her that in 1914. Burke was immortalized on screen as the good witch in the film The Wizard of Oz She was 84 years old.

1970     The Me Nobody Knows, based Stephen M. Joseph's book of the writings of inner-city children, is adapted and staged by Robert H. Livingston. Will Holt and Gary William Friedman provide the songs. It will move to the Helen Hayes Theatre on December 18; the combined run will be 586 performances

1971     Stephen Schwartz's musical Godspell opens Off Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre tonight. Three months later, it moves to the Promenade Theatre. All told, the show, which stars Lamar Alford as the up-to-date son of God, plays 2,124 performances. Godspell will also reach Broadway in 1976.

1980     The life and loves of Frank Harris are set to music in the musical Fearless Frank which opens at the Princess Theatre tonight. The short-lived homage runs only 12 performances.

1981     Caryl Churchill's gender-bending race-reversal play, Cloud 9, opens at the Theatre de Lys Off-Broadway. Jeffrey Jones and Concetta Tomei star in the production under the direction of Tommy Tune.

1983     Samuel Beckett is examined in three parts as his Ohio Impromptu, Catastrophe and What Where are presented Off Broadway at the Harold Clurman Theatre. The evening of one-acts will run 350 performances until it closes April 15, 1984. Alan Schneider directs a cast that features David Warrilow, Rand Mitchell, Donald Davis, Daniel Wirth and Margaret Reed.

1985     Jerry Zaks directs Christopher Durang's The Marriage of Bette and Boo at Off-Broadway's The Public/Newman Theatre. Joan Allen, Mercedes Ruehl and Olympia Dukakis star in this dysfunctional matrimony comedy in which Durang himself appears.

1985     Librettist and director Abram Solman Borowitz, better known as Abe Burrows, dies today at the age of 74. Best known for his work with composer-lyricist Frank Loesser on Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, he also penned the books for Silk Stockings and Can-Can.

1995     Michael John LaChiusa makes his Broadway debut writing additional music to Bob Telson's score to Chronicle of A Death Foretold, a musical directed by Graciela Daniele, based on the novel by Gabriel García Márquez. It runs just 37 performances, but gets nominated for Best Musical in the 1996 Tony Awards.

1999     Stephen Sondheim's long-unproduced 1954 musical, Saturday Night, sees the stage as it starts previews in Chicago, sporting two new songs and an edited script. The musical, about pals in 1929 Brooklyn, was to have been Sondheim's professional debut in the mid-1950s, but a production was thwarted by the death of the producer. The musical will make its New York premiere Off-Broadway at Second Stage Feb. 14 the following year.

1999     Rebecca Gilman's new play, Spinning Into Butter, opens at Chicago's Goodman Studio tonight. After extending three times, the play will move on to Lincoln Center Theater's Off-Broadway venue, the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, June 29, 2000 and officially open July 26 for a run through Sept. 16.

2000     The Laramie Project, based on research and on-site interviews by Moisés Kaufman's Tectonic Theater Project that focus on the aftermath of the 1998 beating death of gay college student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, WY, opens at the Union Square Theatre Off-Broadway. The play will run 126 performance and 23 previews before closing Sept. 2.

2001     Hours after struggling musical Jane Eyre announces its closing, singer Alanis Morrissette steps forward and writes a check to keep the show open, in hopes that it will win some life-saving awards to buck the Producers tide. Star Marla Schaffel wins the Drama Desk Award as Best Actress in a Musical a few days later, but when the show gets shut out of the Tony Awards, it plays its final performance June 10.

2002     Robert Whitehead, who, over a 50-year career produced landmark stagings of everything from Arthur Miller to Euripides to Terrence McNally, dies at age 86, just two weeks after receiving a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.

2003     Les Misérables passes into the history books when the French-written, British-refined musical plays its 6,680th and final Broadway performance after 16 years. It was, for a time, the second-longest running show in Broadway history.

2003     After touring North America consistently since 1988, the third national company of Les Misérables, the Cameron Mackintosh-produced musical, takes a summer hiatus after its Utah engagement ends today.

2004     Actor and producer Tony Randall dies today at age 84. He starred in string of 1950s Doris Day films and the 1970s TV sitcom, "The Odd Couple," as well as the Broadway musical, Oh Captain!. Late in life he realized a dream by founding the National Actors Theatre, which presented revivals of classic comedies and dramas, some of them starring Randall.

2005     Frank Gorshin, 72, the actor, comedian and impressionist known for playing the frisky Riddler in the 1960s TV series "Batman," and George Burns in the solo play Say Goodnight, Gracie (for which he won the Outer Critics Circle Award), dies after a battle with lung cancer, emphysema and pneumonia. He also starred on Broadway in the short-lived musical Jimmy, about NY Mayor Jimmy Walker.

2006     Cy Feuer, the legendary Broadway producer and director whose credits, with late partner Ernest H. Martin, included Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying dies at home in Manhattan at age 95.

2011     Randall L. Wreghitt, a theatrical producer known for bringing innovative dramatic work to Broadway and Off-Broadway stages, dies at age 55. His Broadway productions included Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Lonesome West and The Lieutenant of Inishmore; Mary Zimmerman's adaptation of Metamorphoses; and the musical Grey Gardens.

More of This Week's Birthdays Julian Eltinge 1881. Mickey Katz 1909. Alvin Epstein 1925. Bobo Lewis 1926. Eric Morecambe 1926. Sian Phillips 1933. Herb Foster 1936. Laurie Anderson 1947. Mark Blum 1950.Julie Hagerty 1955. Polly Draper 1956. Helen Hunt 1963. Neil Patrick Harris 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


Post a Comment

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More