Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: September 26

Playbill Vault   Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: September 26
 
Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert in a promotional photo for West Side Story.
Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert in a promotional photo for West Side Story.

1898 Composer George Gershwin is born in New York. He writes Porgy and Bess, "Rhapsody in Blue," Girl Crazy, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, Of Thee I Sing, among many other shows and songs.

1911 William Brady's Playhouse hosts the opening for Bought and Paid For, a new play by George Broadhurst about a wealthy man who eventually wins the love of his wife. During the show's 431 performances, an actor in the show, Frank Craven, is elevated to stardom. Craven goes on to play the Stage Manager in the original 1938 Broadway production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. Brooks Atkinson once commented that Craven was "[t]he best pipe and pants-pocket actor in the business."

1933 The first major success of the Group Theatre, Men in White, opens at the Broadhurst Theatre. The show, written by Sidney Kingsley, is about a doctor who has to deal with decisions regarding love vs. duty. Issues include abortion and social reform—the theatre style for which the Group Theatre becomes known. Lee Strasberg directs a cast of what will become a group of very influential people in the theatre: Luther Adler, Clifford Odets, J. Edward Bromberg, and Ruth Nelson. Elia Kazan has only one line, "Hello, sweetheart." It wins the 1934 Pulitzer Prize for drama and serves as the model for all the hospital dramas to come.

1957 "It all began tonight" at the Winter Garden Theatre as West Side Story opens. The Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents musical is based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but has New York teenage gangs pitted against each other instead of Verona's dueling families. It includes such classic songs as "I Feel Pretty" and "Somewhere." The show is choreographed and staged by Peter Gennaro and Jerome Robbins, who came up with the show's original 1949 concept: "East Side Story." The piece evolved, with new music, a new location, and a new ethnicity to become what it is tonight. Larry Kert, Carol Lawrence, and Chita Rivera star. A film version starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, and George Chakiris (who was a member of the original London cast) is released in 1961.

1968 Robert Shaw's drama The Man in the Glass Booth opens, beginning a six-month run that earns it 1969 Tony Award nominations for Best Play, Best Directing (Harold Pinter), and Best Actor in a Play for Donald Pleasance, who plays a Nazi war criminal on trial.

1968 Julian Beck and Judith Malina are arrested in New Haven for marching out into the street virtually undressed. The two co-founders of the Living Theatre brought their theatre company to the Yale School of Drama for productions of Frankenstein and Paradise Now. The local police chief says, "All the rest of the world may be a stage, but not the corner of York and Chapel." The couple is later acquitted of indecent exposure charges.

1985 Lily Tomlin stars in Jane Wagner's solo play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, opening at the Plymouth Theatre for a 391 performance run. Tomlin's performance earns her the 1986 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. A revival of the production, once again starring Tomlin, plays the Booth Theatre beginning in November 2000.

1998 Matthew Bourne's newly choreographed theatrical version of the ballet Swan Lake, a hit both in London and Los Angeles, begins its run on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre. The dance/theatre show, with men dancing the swan roles usually assigned to ballerinas, is co-produced by Cameron Mackintosh and Katharine Doré. Bourne wins two Tony Awards for the show (for Director of a Musical and Choreographer of a Musical) despite the show's ineligibility as a musical. "I am absolutely astonished," said Bourne in his acceptance speech. "Best director of a musical that's not even a musical."

2013 Cherry Jones, Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Zachary Quinto are a family adrift in a sea of memory in a Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' acclaimed 1945 drama The Glass Menagerie, opening at the Booth Theatre. The critically acclaimed production is directed by John Tiffany.

2015 In Your Arms, a "dance-theatre musical" with a score by Ragtime and Seussical composer Stephen Flaherty, opens at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California. The show is made up of ten vignettes written by Douglas Carter Beane, Nilo Cruz, Christopher Durang, Carrie Fisher, David Henry Hwang, Rajiv Joseph, Terrence McNally, Marsha Norman, Lynn Nottage, and Alfred Uhry.

More of Today's Birthdays: T.S. Eliot 1888. Philip Bosco 1930. Mary Beth Hurt 1946.

Watch highlights from the 2009 Broadway revival of West Side Story, directed by Arthur Laurents:

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