Friday, August 24, 2012

The Past Week In Theatre History (Aug 20 – Aug 24)

PLAYBILL VAULT'S Today in Theatre History: AUGUST 20-24
By Ernio Hernandez, David Gewirtzman
and Robert Viagas, Doug Nevin

1852    Broadway premiere of Uncle Tom's Cabin, based on the novel about slavery by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

1884    Actress Julia Sanderson, one of musical theatre's leading ladies during the first decades of the 20th century, is born today as Julia Sackett. Shows in which she starred included The Siren (1911), Rambler Rose (1917), and Oh, Kay! (1928). Although she lived until 1975, Sanderson would leave showbiz hustle and bustle by the 1930's.

1885    Broadway premiere of the hit London operetta The Mikado by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, at the Fifth Avenue Theatre.

1920    The Bat, the hugely popular thriller by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood, opens at the Morosco Theatre and goes on to run 867 performances.

1922    Theoni V. Aldredge, one of Broadway's foremost costume designers of the late 20th century, is born today in Greece. Included among her dozens of Broadway projects will be A Chorus Line, Annie, Ballroom, 42nd Street, Barnum, Dreamgirls and La Cage aux Folles.

1924    Victor Herbert's operetta The Dream Girl opens at the Ambassador Theatre, starring Fay Bainter and George LeMaire. It will run 117 performances.

1926    George Burns and Gracie Allen make their vaudeville bow at the Palace in New York.

1928    Birthday of actress Marian Seldes who has appeared in nearly two dozen Broadway plays including Deathtrap, Equus, The Chalk Garden, The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore and several plays by Edward Albee, including Tiny Alice and A Delicate Balance. The latter won her the 1967 Tony Award as Best Feature Actress in a Play.

1934    Playwright Sidney Kingsley has a hit with a stage adaptation of Sinclair Lewis's novel Dodsworth, starring Walter Huston, Fay Bainter and the ever-mysterious Georgette Spelvin.

1937    Eva Le Galliene is Hamlet in a new production of Shakespeare's tragedy, opening tonight at the Cape Playhouse in Massachusetts. Le Galliene, while an obviously odd choice to play the Danish prince, is not the first female to take on the role. Sarah Bernhardt had done it as well. Also in the cast is future stage legend Uta Hagen, making her professional debut as Ophelia.

1939    Pulitzer Prize-winning stage and screen writer Sidney Howard is killed today in a tractor accident. Howard, approximately 48 years old, won the Pulitzer for his 1924 play, They Knew What They Wanted. That play would later be made into the Frank Loesser musical, The Most Happy Fella. Just before his death, Howard had completed the screenplay for the film, "Gone With the Wind."

1944    Robert Wright and George Forrest put words to classical themes by Edvard Grieg to create the operetta Song of Norway, based on Grieg's life. It opens an 860-performance run today at the Imperial Theatre, helped by George Balanchine's choreography, and the success of the song "Strange Music."

1956    Future stage and film actress Joan Allen is born today in Rochelle, Illinois. Allen will have several great successes on the Broadway stage, winning the Tony Award for her performance in Burn This and another nomination for her performance of the title role in Wendy Wasserstein's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Heidi Chronicles. In filmdom, Allen will receive Academy Award nominations as best supporting actress for 1995's "Nixon" and 1996's "The Crucible." Other film credits include "Searching for Bobby Fisher," "Face/Off," and "Peggy Sue Got Married."

1960    Broadway loses a Great today as Oscar Hammerstein II dies at age 65, his final musical, The Sound of Music having recently opened. Besides the aforementioned work, Hammerstein collaborated with composer Richard Rodgers on such other musicals as Oklahoma!, Carousel, the Pulitzer-winning South Pacific, and The King and I. Before he joined forces with Rodgers, Hammerstein worked successfully with several other composers. The most popular of these earlier works and collaborations is his 1927 musical with Jerome Kern, Show Boat. On August 31, for the first time since World War II, all lights in and around Times Square and the theatre district will be turned off for one minute in honor of this Broadway legend.

1983    Cicely Tyson stars with Peter Gallagher as a tutor in rural Wales in a revival of Emlyn Williams' The Corn Is Green at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.

1983    The Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein musical La Cage aux Folles opens tonight at Broadway's Palace Theatre. George Hearn and Gene Barry star in this adaptation of the classic French play and film about a middle-aged homosexual couple who are forced to hide their sexual orientation in order to meet the fiancee of one of the men's sons, and her family. In pure musical comedy fashion, mayhem pursues. In a time when homosexuality had yet to become the basis of a big Broadway musical, La Cage proved to be a raging success, winning the Tony Award for best musical, and racking up 1,761 performances. Over the course of the run other actors who would play either Albin or George were Larry Kert, Jamie Ross, Walter Charles and Keith Michell. A 1996 non-musical film version of the same story called "The Birdcage" will star Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Calista Flockhart and Nathan Lane.

1985    Morrie Ryskind dies in his home in Washington, DC. The playwright who collaborated with George S. Kaufman, Ira Gershwin, and George Gershwin on three musicals, Strike Up the Band, Let 'Em Eat Cake and Of Thee I Sing. The latter garnered Ryskind and cohorts the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He was 89 years old at the time of his death.

1986    A lot of major Broadway talent converges on the musical Rags, an original musical about immigrants on New York's lower east side, which opens a 4-performance flop run today. Music is by Charles Strouse, lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz (returning to Broadway for the first time since Working), libretto is by Joseph Stein. Opera star Teresa Stratas leads a cast that includes Larry Kert, Judy Kuhn, Dick Latessa and Lonny Price.

1987    Frank Langella and Donal Donnelly star as Holmes and Watson in Charles Marowitz's Sherlock's Last Case, which begins a 124-performance run on Broadway today.

1988    Stage and film actor Leonard Frey, who appeared in the original production of Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band, dies today of AIDS. Frey also appeared as Mendel, the Rabbi's son, in the original 1964 production of Fiddler on the Roof, and received an Oscar nomination for his performance as Motel, the tailor, in the 1971 film version.

1989    A.R. Gurney's play, Love Letters, opens today at the Promenade Theatre Off-Broadway. A series of love letters between one Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and one Melissa Gardner from the time of their childhood up to her death, the play would eventually transfer to the Edison Theatre on Broadway. Due to the simplicity in the staging of the peace (two actors sitting at tables reading letters back and forth), the cast changed from one set of stars to another, week by week. This first week, John Rubinstein is Andrew and Stockard Channing is Melissa. Other pairings during this initial run are George Segal and Dana Ivey, Treat Williams and Kate Nelligan, Timothy Hutton and Elizabeth McGovern, and Jason Robards and Elaine Stritch.

1989    A British Military Entertainment troupe circa the late 1940s parks into the Roundabout Theatre for a 64-performance run with Privates on Parade. The cast includes Jim Dale, Donna Murphy and a female impersonator.

1990    A revival of Moss Hart's Light Up the Sky opens Off-Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre Company. Elaine Bromka, Charles Keating, and Betsy Joslyn are featured in the cast under the direction of Larry Carpenter. The original production of the show was produced on Broadway in 1948 for 214 performances. A week following the opening, Jason Alexander replaces cast member Bruce Weitz.

1991    Actress Colleen Dewhurst dies today of cancer at the age of 67. The thespian of stage and screen starred in such productions as Great Day in the Morning, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, More Stately Mansions, All Over, Mourning Becomes Electra, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf??, All the Way Home and A Moon for the Misbegotten, winning Tony Awards for the latter two.

1994    The first day of business at Playbill On-Line. This new theatre website will "go live" Nov. 22, 1994.

1996    Al Pacino directs himself in Eugene O'Neill's Hughie at the Circle in the Square Theatre. The revival featuring the director-actor will run 56 performances. Pacino, perhaps best known for his work in films like "The Godfather," is no stranger to the stage; he was also featured in The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, Salome and Chinese Coffee.

1996    Landmark New York theatre company Circle in the Square declares bankruptcy and goes through years of legal wrangling before reopening in 1999 with the rediscovered, and critically lauded, Tennessee Williams drama, Not About Nightingales.

1998    Returning to Off-Broadway, where she originated the role of Li'l Bit in Paula Vogel's How I Learned To Drive in 1997, film and stage actress Mary-Louise Parker stars in Alan Ayckbourn's Communicating Doors. The comedy thriller opens tonight at OB's Variety Arts Theatre. The actress will go on to originate the role of Catherine in the David Auburn's Proof at Manhattan Theatre Club and win the Tony Award for Best Actress when it transfers to Broadway.

1999    Ten years and 10 Phantoms down as Howard McGillin becomes Broadway's 11th The Phantom of the Opera tonight. Hugh Panaro, the preceding Phantom, exits to take the title role in Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg's Martin Guerre. The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, which opened at the Majestic Theatre in 1988, has also featured Michael Crawford, the originator of the role, Kevin Gray, Mark Jacoby and Davis Gaines.

1999    Off-Off-Broadway's Jean Cocteau Repertory Theatre begins its 2000 season with On the Razzle, Tom Stoppard's take on Viennese playwright Johann Nestroy's Einen Jux will er sich machen. The play is the same source that inspired Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, which in turn inspired Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly!. Cocteau Rep is no stranger to Stoppard works, as they have previously produced Travesties, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Rough Crossing.

2001    Signature Theatre's "environmental" staging of the musical Grand Hotel — spilling from the stage to the seating and out into the lobby — begins previews in Arlington, VA.

2001    The box office opens officially at the Winter Garden Theatre for Mamma Mia!, but it's just a formality. Internet and telephone advance sales have already sold-out the middle orchestra seats until February 2002.

2002    Master dancer-choreographer Savion Glover and director George C. Wolfe's Bring in 'da Noise/Bring in 'da Funk song-and-dance revue begins a revival tour with original cast members Glover and Lynette DuPree at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre Company. After the Atlanta run ends Sept. 29, a new national tour will kick off, stopping in major US cities including Boston, Chicago, Washington, DC and Los Angeles, as well as short runs on college campuses throughout the U.S.

2004    Angels in America star Kathleen Chalfant heads the Off-Broadway cast of the London stage show Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom. The documentary drama is based on testimony of British prisoners detained by American forces at the Guantanamo military base under suspicion of terrorist activities.

2004    Charles Eaton, one of two surviving members of a once famous family of stage performers, dies at age 94. He was the most important performing male member of the clan once referred to as "The Seven Little Eatons," veterans of the Ziegfeld Follies. His sister, dancer Doris Eaton Travis (a highlight of Broadway's annual "Easter Bonnet" competitions) — the only remaining survivor — died in 2010.

2008    The Phantom of the Opera puts down his mask for four performances starting today at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway while technicians invade his lair and upgrade the sound system. Producers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh take the unusual step of temporarily closing down the longest-running show in Broadway history "to bring the production's sound design technology into the 21st century."

2011    Simon Russell Beale returns to the New York stage in the U.S. premiere of Simon Stephens' Bluebird, in which he plays a London cabbie listening to the woes of his eclectic passengers. Presented by the Atlantic Theater Company at its intimate Atlantic Stage 2, the cast also includes Michael Countryman, Charlotte Parry, John Sharian, Kate Blumberg, Mary McCann, Tobias Segal and Todd Weeks.

More of This Week’s Birthdays: Max Beerbohm 1872.  Nedda  Harrigan Logan 1899.  Rags Ragland 1905.  Gene Kelly 1912.  Durward Kirby 1912.  Jacqueline Susann 1918.  Jack Weston 1924.  Carolyn Leigh 1926.  Melvin Van Peebles 1932.  Charles Busch 1954.  Jessica Boevers 1972.  Andrew Rannells 1978.  Andrew Garfield 1983.



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