This Week in Theatre History: JULY 30 – August 3
By David Gewirtzman, Doug Nevin
Ernio Hernandez, and Robert Viagas
1900 Birthday of actress and singer Helen Morgan, who rose to fame as a nightclub performer. She had a show at Billy Rose's Backstage Club, where the crowded conditions made her perch on her accompanist's piano, a subtle touch that soon became a trademark. On Broadway, Morgan appeared in Show Boat (1927), in which she was a smash singing "Bill" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man." She then reprised her role for the 1936 film version.
1921 Composer Richard Adler is born today. Along with Jerry Ross he will go on to write two of the most influential musicals of the 1950s: The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. The successful partnership will be short-lived, however, as Ross will die tragically in 1956 at the age of 29.
1921 Opening night of the popular farce Getting Gertie's Garter about a man who gives a young woman a jeweled garter, then schemes to get it back before his fiance finds out.
1922 Stage veteran Arthur Hill is born today in Canada. After appearing in several productions on the West End, Hill will make his Broadway debut in the 1955 production of The Matchmaker. He will go on to appear in the Broadway productions of Look Homeward, Angel, All the Way Home, and as George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf??, winning a Tony Award for that performance.
1929 Michael Stewart is born today. He will write the books of several classic musicals, including Bye Bye Birdie, Hello, Dolly! and Mack & Mabel. Late in his career he took up work as a lyricist on Cy Coleman musicals I Love My Wife and Barnum.
1943 by-Play, from the Enlisted Men’s Contest are presented under the supervision of John Golden at the Martin Beck Theatre. The plays -- Where E’er We Go, First Cousins, Button Your Lip, Mail Call, and Pack Your Troubles -- will play for 40 performances and close September 4.
1944 Mae West adds to the wartime summer heat with her bawdy comedy Catherine Was Great, which co-stars West and Gene Barry. The play will run 191 performances.
1969 Talk about a writer's revenge! Josef Bush, who has adapted De Sade Illustrated at Off-Broadway's Bouwerie Theatre, wreaks havoc on the set, spreading white paint all over it. His reason: a nude scene he doesn't approve of has been added.
1973 In one of the greatest disasters in Off-Broadway history, the 1870-vintage Broadway Central Hotel at 240 Mercer Street collapses today, taking with it the honeycomb of eight OB and OOB theatre spaces known as the Mercer Arts Center. Among the shows left homeless by the collapse are the long-running One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Proposition and El Coca Cola Grande.
1977 Alfred Lunt dies today at age 84. One the most celebrated stage actors of his time, Lunt was best known for his many performances opposite wife and stage partner Lynn Fontanne. Together they appeared in productions of such plays as The Seagull, The Visit, Design for Living and I Know My Love. A theatre saluting the memory of the legendary pair stands on 46th Street near Broadway in New York City.
1978 Sammy Davis, Jr. makes his final Broadway appearance, playing Littlechap in a revival of the Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley musical Stop the World - I Want to Get Off. It runs 30 performances.
1979 At the peak of her fame, "Saturday Night Live" comedienne Gilda Radner recreates some of her most popular characters in Gilda Radner - Live from New York, which plays 51 performances at the Winter Garden Theatre.
1979 Brenda Braxton, Cleavant Derricks, Reginald Vel Johnson, and Lynn Thigpen are among the denizens of Wonderland in But Never Jam Today, Vinnette Carroll's all-black adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic "Alice in Wonderland." It will run 8 performances at the Longacre Theatre.
1981 Paddy Chayefsky dies at age 58. Born in New York and starting as a writer for television dramas, Chayefsky would pen such Broadway plays as Middle of the Night and The Tenth Man. Other notable Chayefsky works are screenplays for the films "Marty" and "Network."
1983 Broadway lyricist Howard Dietz dies today at age 87. With composer Arthur Schwartz, Dietz wrote the score for The Band Wagon. Other songs by the duo include "Dancing in the Dark," "You and the Night and the Music" and "That's Entertainment!".
1985 Sam Shepard's Curse of the Starving Class transfers from Off-Off-Broadway to open tonight at Off-Broadway's Promenade Theatre. The play starring Bradley Whitford and Kathy Bates runs 267 performances, outlasting its OB predecessor by 205 shows. It will end its run Feb. 16 of the following year.
1985 A revised version of the musical revue What's a Nice Country Like You...Doing in a State Like This? runs at Off-Broadway's Actors' Playhouse. Missy Baldino, Jane Brucker, Steve Mulch, Hugh Panaro, Rob Resnick sing music by Cary Hoffman and lyrics by Ira Gasman. The show plays 252 performances before closing Feb. 9.
1986 The producers of the Broadway production of The Little Prince and the Aviator are awarded $1 million in the New York State Supreme Court today, as result of a suit they filed against the Nederlander Organization. The jury has decided that the Organization acted unreasonably when they posted their own closing notice outside the Alvin Theatre, although the producers of the show had never made any decision to close.
1989 Joe Hart's The People Who Could Fly opens Off-Broadway at the South Street Theater. Conceiver Hart also directs the production with a cast of 12 performers. The piece, both theatre and dance, presents tales from India, Majorca, Scotland, Haiti, Japan, and the pre-Civil War South. It will play 41 shows and return later in the year to Town Hall for nine more.
1996 Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts team up to bring I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, to Off-Broadway’s Westside Theatre. The show that explores the entire spectrum of male-female relationships, from dating to in-laws, will become OB’s longest-running musical revue Jan. 7, 2001, breaking the record formerly held by Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.
1997 Scott Wise, a Tony winner for Jerome Robbins' Broadway, heads a cast that includes Marla Schaffel and Patrick Wilson in Lucky in the Rain, opening tonight at Goodspeed Opera House. The show's music and lyrics are taken from the songbook of the late Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson. Sherman Yellen wrote the book for the musical about the romantic entanglements of two American journalists living in 1920s Paris.
1998 For the first time since a Times Square construction accident shut down business July 21, the Off-Broadway musical Smoke On The Mountain performed. The production, first produced OB in 1990 at the Lamb's Theatre, returns to its home, this time on the upstairs mainstage. Connie Ray and Alan Bailey's musical starring Robert Olsen tells of a humble, religious family who make music for local church groups and socials.
2000 Kristine Nielsen and Marian Seldes span the centuries in the Williamstown Theatre Festival production of Thornton Wilder's Skin of Our Teeth starting tonight. Darko Tresnjak directs the slightly absurb fable of human existence and endurance.
2001 Gerard Alessandrini's topically comic rewrite of Irving Berlin's last musical, Mr. President, opens at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre, playing in repertory with his Forbidden Broadway 2001: A Spoof Odyssey. The rewrite replayed the 2000 presidential election, with characters reconceived to resemble George W. Bush, Al Gore and their families and advisors.
2001 Rita Gardner, Off-Broadway's first Luisa in The Fantasticks, stars as Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, a new musical based on Charles Dickens' novel, presented at Goodspeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT.
2002 Avenue Q is presented as one of three in-development musicals at Eugene O’Neill Theater Center's Music Theater Conference in Connecticut. Within a year it will get an Off-Broadway production that will lead to a Broadway transfer and the Tony Award as Best Musical.
2002 Director and writer Phillip Oesterman dies today of a heart attack at age 64. He had a long collaboration with Tommy Tune on projects including The Will Rogers Follies, My One and Only, Grand Hotel and Tommy Tune Tonite! At the time of his death, Oesterman was serving as co-librettist and director of the Broadway-bound musical, Urban Cowboy. Lonny Price would later take over as director and guide the show to its spring 2003 opening, followed by a brief Broadway run.
2003 A musical in which puppets are the main characters? It may sound crazy, but the PG-13-rated musical, Avenue Q, opens today at the Golden Theatre, confounding skeptics with an eyebrow-raising run that will bring it the 2004 Tony Award as Best Musical,
2004 On the Record, a revue featuring songs from classic Disney films and Disney's Broadway outings, closes in Denver after an eight-month tour. It's the first Disney legit show not to play on Broadway.
2009 Sheryl Lee Ralph, Barbara Walsh and Karen Ziemba sing new songs by the legendary team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland at the opening night of the new musical The First Wives Club. Playing at The Old Globe in San Diego, CA, the musical inspired by the novel and film of the same name is directed by Francesca Zambello, and features a libretto by Rupert Holmes.
2009 Jason Gilkison's dance revue Burn the Floor — boasting an eclectic mix of champion dancers — officially opens on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre. The production includes the team of Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff of the hit TV show "Dancing with the Stars."
2010 After a hiatus of several weeks, Tony-winning theatre favorites Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch reopen the acclaimed, Tony-nominated revival of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's A Little Night Music at the Walter Kerr Theatre. Peters and Stritch succeed Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury, respectively, in the roles of actress Desirée Armfeldt and her worldly-wise mother Madame Armfeldt.
2010 Will Chase, Adam Heller, Jeffrey Schechter, Eric Schneider, Amy Spanger and Kelly Sullivan are among troupers in the world premiere stage musical Robin and the 7 Hoods – A New Musical at The Old Globe in San Diego. Inspired by the Frank Sinatra movie of the same name, the production — with book by Rupert Holmes and songs by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen — is directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw.
More of This Week's Birthdays: Francis Byrne 1876. Earle Larimore 1899. Myrna Loy 1905. Composer Jerome Moross 1913. A. Larry Haines 1918. Maria Karnilova 1920. James Baldwin 1924. Carroll O'Connor 1924. Tony Bennett 1926. Don Murray 1929. Director/writer Julie Bovasso 1930. Composer Lionel Bart 1930. Choreographer/actor Geoffrey Holder 1930. Comedian Dom DeLuise 1933. Martin Sheen 1940. Sab Shimono 1943. Geraldine Chaplin 1944. Frances de la Tour 1944. Richard Griffiths 1947. William Atherton 1947. Vernel Bagneris 1949. Anthony Crivello 1955. Delta Burke 1956. Laurence Fishburne 1961. Wesley Snipes 1962. Mary-Louise Parker 1964. Director Sam Mendes 1965. Eve Best 1971. Daniel Evans 1973.