Friday, June 29, 2012

The Past Week In Theatre History (June 25 – June 29)

The Past Week In Theatre History (June 25 – June 29)
By David Gewirtzman, Robert Viagas,
Ernio Hernandez, and Doug Nevins

1887 Birthday of legendary director George Abbott (1887-1995) whose long life (107 years) and colossal catalog (more than 110 Broadway shows, sometimes also as producer, writer or even actor) remains unparalleled. Among his projects were original productions of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, On the Town, Wonderful Town, Once Upon a Mattress, Fiorello!, Damn Yankees, On Your Toes, The Pajama Game, Where's Charley?, Pal Joey and literally dozens more.

1888 Birthday of Antoinette Perry (1888-1946), an actress and groundbreaking woman stage director who will help found the American Theatre Wing. In gratitude, the Wing will name its annual theatre awards after her, now known by their nickname, The Tony Awards.

1894 (probably) Actress Jeanne Eagels, best known for playing Miss Thompson in Rain, is born today.

1902 Birthday of Richard Rodgers (1902-1979), one of the most prolific and successful Broadway composers. His greatest successes came in partnership with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II (Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, The Sound of Music, etc.) and Lorenz Hart (On Your Toes, Babes in Arms, Pal Joey, A Connecticut Yankee, By Jupiter etc.).

1911 Irving Berlin makes his Broadway debut with the fifth edition of the Ziegfeld Follies. His songs include "Woodman, Woodman, Spare That Tree" and "You've Built a Fire Down in My Heart."

1926 Birthday of funnyman Mel Brooks, who will go on to write for TV's "Your Show of Shows" and Broadway musicals Shinbone Alley and All American before departing for a long career in Hollywood. He will return to Broadway in trumph in 2001 with a musical adaptation of his Broadway satire, The Producers.

1946 Actress Antoinette Perry dies today at age 58. An actress during her lifetime, Perry's name will become immortalized when the Theatre Wing's Antoinette Perry Awards for excellence on Broadway, known more commonly as the Tonys, are founded in her memory.

1950 Censorship will prove to be a problem when Michael Todd's Peep Show opens at New York's Winter Garden Theatre. The legendary producer of the title will soon be forced to tone down the revue as a result of talks with the city's Commissioner of Licenses.

1951 Amidst the red scare of the Cold War era, actor J. Edward Bromberg refuses to answer questions at a hearing before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. A member of the Group Theatre, Bromberg's acting credits include Awake and Sing! and The Big Knife.

1952 Harold Rome's musical Wish You Were Here, set in the world of mountain summer resorts, opens a 598-performance run at the Imperial Theatre, starring Jack Cassidy, Larry Blyden and Sheila Bond, who will win a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a Musical. The show is memorable for featuring a swimming pool on stage.

1954 A star is born as Carol Haney's understudy in The Pajama Game goes on in place of the ailing actress and is discovered by theatre critic George Freedly. Writes Freedly in his review of the musical: "The night I saw the show, Miss Haney was sick and her understudy Shirley MacLaine took over. It was one of the most accomplished and completely professional performances I have had the pleasure of enjoying." It will not be long at all before the future Academy Award winner MacLaine will come to Hollywood's attention.

1970 Tom Eyen's The Dirtiest Show in Town comes to Off-Broadway at the Astor Palace Theatre. Bare flesh and simulated sex run rampant in the show that plays 509 performances.

1973 The Theater Development Fund TKTS booth opens for (discount) business at Broadway and 47th street. The booth will prove a landmark of the New York theatre world by providing same-day tickets to audiences to many performances, both on Broadway and off, at discounted prices.

1975 George C. Scott stars as Arthur Miller's tragic hero Willy Loman in a revival of Death of a Salesman at Circle in the Square on Broadway. The play, directed by Scott, also features Teresa Wright, Harvey Keitel and James Farentino as the Loman family.

1980 Gus Weil's play, To Bury a Cousin, originally saw the stage in 1967. The play now receives an Off-Broadway revival at the Cherry Lane Theatre, where it is directed by Phillip Oesterman and features Harry Goz and Diane Tarleton.

1982 Theatre marries music as legendary stage and film director Elia Kazan ties the knot with Frances Rudge, former wife of the manager of The Rolling Stones. The controversial director's many credits include the original Broadway outings of Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire, as well as such classic films as "On The Waterfront" and the film version of "Streetcar."

1983 Broadway's Alvin Theatre, home of the original Broadway production of Annie, is renamed in honor of celebrated American playwright Neil Simon. The Neil Simon Theatre will go on to house many Broadway smashes, including revivals of The King and I and The Music Man, and the original production of Hairspray.

1990 Robert Louis Stevenson is rocking and rolling Off-Broadway as his Jekyll and Hyde is turned into a rock musical, courtesy of composer Michael Skloff with book and lyrics by the team of David Crane and Marta Kauffman. Seven years later, Frank Wildhorn will try his hand at the dual-personality drama on Broadway.

1990 William Finn follows up his In Trousers and March of the Falsettos with the final of the "Marvin Trilogy," Falsettoland. This all-sung musical starring Michael Rupert, Chip Zien, and Faith Prince throws AIDS into the mix of the already complex issue of sexual identity. The production, which opens tonight at Playwrights Horizons, will later transfer to the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

1991 Two couples find themselves celebrating the Fourth of July on Fire Island together when Terrence McNally's play, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, opens today at the Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center. The play stars Nathan Lane and Swoosie Kurtz, and Christine Baranski and Anthony Heald, as the two married pairs. Following a succesful engagement here, the production will transfer to Off-Broadway's Lucille Lortel Theatre for a commercial run in January 1992.

1991 George Bernard Shaw's Getting Married is revived on Broadway at Circle in the Square. Stephen Porter directs a cast that includes Elizabeth Franz, Patrick Tull, Simon Jones, Madeleine Potter and Walter Bobbie. The production will play 70 performances and close Aug. 25.

1993 Americans discover a benign Indian elephant God in Terrence McNally's play, A Perfect Ganesh, opening today at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Among the cast of discoverers are Zoe Caldwell, Frances Sternhagen and Fisher Stevens.

1993 Howard Crabtree's Whoop-Dee-Doo!, the musical revue conceived, created and developed by Charles Catanese, Phillip George, Peter Morris, Dick Gallagher, Mark Waldrop and its namesake, Howard Crabtree, opens at the Actors' Playhouse. The latter three would later collaborate on When Pigs Fly, but Crabtree will fall ill due to complications of AIDS and die June 28, 1996 before the show opened on Aug. 14.

1994 Former Miss America Vanessa Williams makes her Broadway debut today when she replaces Tony Award winner Chita Rivera in Kiss of the Spider Woman. With weekly box office attendance floating around the 70 percent mark, Williams' entrance will bring a much-needed boost to the show's box office business. By August, the John Kander-Fred Ebb musical will find itself playing to standing room audiences on many nights.

1998 Warren Leight's play Side Man opens tonight at the Roundabout Theater's Stage Right Auditorium as a last minute replacement production. Under the direction of Michael Mayer is a cast including Frank Wood, Wendy Makkena, and Robert Sella. Upon its closing at the Roundabout, the jazz-themed comedy drama will take up shop for an open-ended commercial run at Broadway's John Golden Theater, with movie star Christian Slater replacing Sella as the narrator, Clifford. Come June, the play, by now having been cited as a Pulitzer Prize finalist, will win Tony Awards for best play and best featured actor for Wood, as the side man himself.

1999 27 years after it premiered Off-Broadway at the Truck and Warehouse Theatre, Tennessee Williams' Small Craft Warnings will see the New York stage again when Worth Street Theater Company stages the lyrical drama. Based on an earlier Williams one-act, Confessional, from 1969, the play is set in a bar in a Southern California coastal town.

1999 Al Pacino reprises his Broadway role in Eugene O'Neill's Hughie at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum. He directs the production and stars in it, as he did in 1996 at the Circle in the Square. As he did in the Broadway production, Paul Benedict plays opposite Pacino.

2000 Thrice extended at Chicago's Goodman Studio Theatre, Rebecca Gilman's comedy Spinning Into Butter now gets to melt the hearts of New Yorkers. Directed by Daniel Sullivan, the show arrives at Lincoln Center Theater's Off- Broadway venue, the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre.

2001 Urinetown, which began life at the New York Fringe Festival, ends its run at a tiny Off-Broadway Theatre en route to what seemed at the time a highly dubious transfer to Broadway. The show will become a hit, win Tony Awards for Best Book and Score, run 965 performances.

2001 Luke Perry, star of TV's "Beverly Hills 90210," joins the cast of Broadway's The Rocky Horror Show.

2002 Dolores Gray, sultry-voiced Tony-winning actress (Carnival in Flanders) who starred on Broadway in Two on the Aisle, Destry Rides Again and 42nd Street, dies today in New York. Her birth year has been variously reported as 1924 and 1930.

2002 Ira Eaker, co-founder and co-publisher of the entertainment trade paper Back Stage, dies in Tamarac, Florida, at age 80.

2002 To celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of composer Richard Rodgers, Broadway stars gathers for a concert at the Gershwin Theatre. Aptly titled "Something Good: A Broadway Salute to Richard Rodgers on His 100th Birthday," the concert features performances by Sutton Foster, Hunter Foster, Lea Salonga, Patrick Wilson, Shuler Hensley, Laura Benanti, John Bucchino, Barbara Cook, John Cullum, Erin Dilly, Marin Mazzie (accompanied by Stephen Flaherty), Howard McGillin, Lauren Mitchell, Louise Pitre, Billy Stritch, Mary Testa and the chorus of Oklahoma!.

2003 Katharine Hepburn, the legendary Oscar-winning actress whose heart always remained close to the live theatre, dies at age 96 at her home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, a few miles from the Ivoryton Playhouse where she played early stage roles. Among her stage roles was Coco Chanel in a 1970 musical, Coco, and in Broadway's The West Side Waltz, by Ernest Thompson, author of "On Golden Pond" (one of Hepburn's film hits). Her early Broadway triumphs included the original production of Philip Barry's The Philadelphia Story. She won four Leading Actress Academy Awards in her lifetime and was nominated 12 times in the category.

2004 Musical Theatre Works, the not-for-profit Off-Broadway company that created and developed new musicals for 21 years, announces that it has run out of money and will shutter immediately.

2006 Lloyd Richards dies at 87. The groundbreaking, Tony Award-winning, African-American director shepherded the work of black playwrights Lorraine Hansberry and August Wilson and served as the artistic director of the National Playwrights Conference — the O'Neill Center's founding program — for 32 years. He also served throughout the 1980s as dean of the Yale School of Drama and artistic director of Yale Repertory Theatre.

2008 Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy, the family-friendly theatrical, acrobatic and musical adventure that evokes the exotica of untamed places, opens at the Broadway Theatre for a ten week run.

2009 A music-filled Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night, starring Raúl Esparza, Anne Hathaway, Audra McDonald and Stark Sands, opens at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Directed by Daniel Sullivan, it features an original score by Brooklyn-based folk-rock band Hem.

2011 Alice Playten, who lent her quirky persona and comic voice to a memorable string of Broadway and Off-Broadway musical performances from the 1960s onward, dies at age 63. Her Broadway credits included the original productions of Gypsy, Oliver!, Hello, Dolly! and Henry, Sweet Henry.

More of This Week's Birthdays: Luigi Pirandello 1867.  John Golden 1874.  Reginald Mason 1875.   H. H. Frazee 1880.  Charlotte Greenwood 1890.  Sidney Howard 1891.  Max Gordon 1892. Frank Loesser 1910.  Ruth Warrick 1915.  Peter Lind Hayes 1915.   A. E. Hotchner 1920.  I.A.L. Diamond 1920.  Ralph Burns 1922.  Mel Brooks 1928.  Joyce Ebert 1933.  Sidney Lumet 1924.  John Tillinger 1938.  Mary Beth Peil 1940.  Gilda Radner 1946.  Bruce Davison 1946.  Kathy Bates 1948.  Lee Wilkof 1951.  Kevin Adams 1962.  Michael Ball 1962.  Jessica Hecht 1965.  Mary Stuart Masterson 1966.  Danielle Brisebois 1969.  Hunter Foster 1969.  Emily Skinner 1970.  Chris O'Donnell 1970.


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