Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: October 10

Playbill Vault   Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: October 10
 
A scene from Allegro.
A scene from Allegro.

1730 Birthday of Oliver Goldsmith, British author of She Stoops to Conquer.

1900 One of the most famous of all stage performers, Helen Hayes, is born (as Helen Hayes Brown). She makes her stage debut at age five and stars in such Broadway hits as To The Ladies, Victoria Regina, and Mary of Scotland. In 1958 she stars in Eugene O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet at what had been the Fulton Theatre but was newly christened "The Helen Hayes Theatre." That theatre is destroyed in 1982 to make way for the Marriot Marquis Hotel. The old Little/Winthrop Ames Theatre on West 44th Street is re-christened the Helen Hayes.

1927 Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar, and Guy Bolton open their musical The Five O'Clock Girl at the 44th Street Theatre. It stays for 280 performances.

1927 Also tonight, Dorothy Heyward and DuBose Heyward open their drama Porgy, about a crippled beggar who finds love. It serves as the basis of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess, opening precisely eight years later.

1927 And yet again on this busy night, Tamara Geva stars in the Gallic Broadway revue Chauve-Souris.

1930 Birthday of British dramatist Harold Pinter, who writes The Caretaker, Betrayal, The Birthday Party, No Man's Land, The Homecoming, and other plays.

1935 George and Ira Gershwin collaborate with DuBose Heyward on the opera Porgy and Bess, which runs just 124 performance on Broadway, but goes on to a long life in revivals, repertory, and film. Todd Duncan and Anne Wiggins Brown play the original title characters. In supporting roles are Ford L. Buck and John W. Bubbles, the onetime Vaudeville team of Buck and Bubbles.

1946 Birthday of Ben Vereen, featured in Broadway's Pippin, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Grind, among other projects.

1947 A groundbreaking musical opens at the Majestic Theatre: Allegro, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Agnes de Mille stages the production, which stars Lisa Kirk, John Battles, and Roberta Jonay. The most highly anticipated musical of the 1940s, Allegro sells 250,000 tickets and has $750,000 in the box office before it even opens. The sets are abstract and minimalist, the chorus serves the same dramatic purpose as the Greek equivalent (comment and interpretation), and a symphony orchestra provides much of the music. Using such non-traditional measures to achieve a dramatic effect is not common for a Broadway show at the time, so the devices provide a rare outlet for less realistic and naturalistic theatre. Although some reviewers think the work unclear, several critics are fascinated. Robert Coleman of the Daily Mirror states that "Perfection and great are not words that are to be lightly used...but Allegro is perfection, great." He also calls it a "stunning blend of beauty, integrity, intelligence, imagination, taste, and skill." The show runs 315 performances. Future note: Hammerstein's gofer on the production is a teen-aged family friend by the name of Stephen Sondheim. On this night, at the opening, he meets another ambitious young talent, Harold Prince, with whom he later creates Company, Follies, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, and other shows.

1961 Composer Jerry Herman makes his Broadway debut with the musical Milk and Honey, set in Israel. It runs 543 performances, and earns Herman his first Tony nomination. Before the decade is out, he adds Hello, Dolly! and Mame to his resume.

1962 The Alley Theatre of Houston gets a grant of $2,100,000. It is the biggest amount of money given by the Ford Foundation in its grant program of money going to regional theatres. The commitment is for $6.1 million to nine different companies.

1965 Twelve days before she appears on the cover of Life for doing so, Mary Martin begins a 10-day tour of U.S. Military installations in Vietnam at the Bien Hoa air base, performing with the touring company of Hello, Dolly!, with herself in the title role. General William Westmoreland and South Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky are in the audience.

1985 Yul Brynner, the man responsible for making the King of Siam famous in The King and I dies at age 65. Brynner's work in the stage version of that show is known around the world, having racked up over 4,000 performances, starting in 1951 and not ending until June 1985—only two months before his death. Brynner also appeared in films, including the 1956 movie version of The King and I, Anastasia in 1956, and The Magnificent Seven in 1960.

1985 Orson Welles passes away at age 70. Welles is remembered for his Academy Award winning work as a director, writer, actor, and producer, and especially for the 1941 classic, Citizen Kane, which some call the best movie ever made. Welles' theatre work included shows with The Mercury Theatre and the Federal Theatre Project, directing and starring in such plays as Dr. Faustus and Julius Caesar. He also directed the 1956 production of King Lear in New York and appeared for the first time in London in 1951, playing the title character in Othello.

1986 A revival of Pierre Augustin Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro, as adapted and translated by Richard Nelson, opens on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre. Andrei Serban directs a cast that includes Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Christopher Reeve, and Dana Ivey. The production lasts 77 performances before closing December 15.

1996 Ten years after opening in the Broadway revival of The Marriage of Figaro, Dana Ivey co-stars with Sigourney Weaver in Christopher Durang's Broadway play Sex and Longing, which opens at the Cort Theatre under the auspices of Lincoln Center Theater. Critics react with disgust at the black comedy in which a woman has her hands dismembered. The production plays out its limited run of 45 performances.

2002 Opening night for Off-Broadway's The Exonerated, penned by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, drawn from interviews of forty former death row inmates who were later found not guilty and released. It runs 608 performances and tours.

2002 The first performance of A Man of No Importance, a musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, whose previous work includes Ragtime and Seussical. Roger Rees stars as bus conductor and amateur theatre director Alfie Byrne, opposite Faith Prince, Jessica Molaskey, and Steven Pasquale. The show completes its limited run through the end of the year at Lincoln Center Theater, and is recorded.

2003 Goodspeed Musicals revives A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the rarely-seen 1951 Dorothy Fields-Arthur Schwartz musical based on the Betty Smith novel of love and life in the working class, with the George Abbott and Betty Smith libretto revised by director Elinor Renfield. Two songs are added to the score: "Tuscaloosa" (cut from the show before it arrived on Broadway) and "I'm Proud of You" (a Schwartz-Fields trunk song).

2013 Randy Johnson's A Night with Janis Joplin, starring Mary Bridget Davies as the late rock singer, opens on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre. It runs 140 performances, and earns Davies a Tony nomination.

2016 Comedians Nick Kroll and John Mulaney bring their alter egos, 70-something native New Yorkers Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, to Broadway in Oh, Hello at the Lyceum Theatre. The comedy runs for a limited engagement of 120 performances.

More of Today's Birthdays: Giuseppe Verdi 1813. Vernon Duke 1903. Daniel Massey 1933. Gary Beach 1947. Victoria Clark 1959. Julia Sweeney 1961. Jodi Benson 1961. Jeffrey Kuhn 1969.

Watch highlights from the 2016 Broadway production of Oh, Hello:

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