Playbill Vault’s Today in Theater History: August 2

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1900 Birthday of the actor and singer Helen Morgan, who rose to fame as a nightclub performer. She has a show at Billy Rose’s Backstage Club, where crowd conditions have her perching on her accompanist’s piano, a subtle touch that quickly becomes a trademark. On Broadway, Morgan appears in Show boat (1927), in which she sings “Bill” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”. She then reprized her role for the 1936 film version.

1943 Broadway is invaded by the American army. Five one-act plays, collectively titled The Play-by-Play Army, of the Enlisted Men’s Competition are presented under the direction of John Golden at the Martin Beck Theatre. Games-Where are we going, first cousins, button your lip, call by mail, and Pack your problems— play for 40 performances and end on September 4.

1944 Mae West adds to the wartime summer heat with his bawdy comedy Katherine was great. She also plays in the room, opposite Gene Barry.

1979 At the height of his fame, Saturday Night Live actor Gilda Radner recreates some of its most popular characters in Gilda Radner – Live from New Yorkwhich plays at the Winter Garden Theatre.

1989 Joe Hartit’s people who could fly opens Off-Broadway at the South Street Theater. Designer Hart is also leading the production with a cast of 12 performers. The play, both theatrical and danced, features tales from India, Majorca, Scotland, Haiti, Japan and the pre-Civil War South. It played 41 shows and returned later that year to City Hall for nine more.

2001 Gerard Alessandrini’s comic topical rewrite of IrvingBerlinthe latest musical, Mister President, opens at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre, playing repertoire with his Forbidden Broadway 2001: A Parody Odyssey. The rewrite re-enacts the 2000 presidential election, with characters redesigned to resemble George W. Bush, Al Gore, and their families and advisers.

2009 Jason Gilkisonthe dance magazine burn the ground– featuring an eclectic mix of champion dancers – opens on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre. The production includes the team of Maksim Chmerkovsky and Karina Smiroff from the hit TV series Dancing with the stars.

2012 Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truthan autobiographical work featuring the great boxer and written by Kiki Tyson and Randy Johnson and directed by Spike Lee, opens on Broadway at Longacre.

2012 America’s Last Smoker opens Off-Broadway at the Westside Theater. Directed by Andy Sandberg, the satirical rock musical about a world where smoking is banned stars Farah Alvin, Natalie Venetia Belcon, John Bolton and Jake Boyd, with book and lyrics by Bill Russell and music by Peter Melnick.

2014 Chita Rivera stars in a new staging of the musical Kander and Ebb Visitbased on Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 play about a despised woman who returns to her impoverished town in search of the ultimate revenge. John Doyle directs the 95-minute simplified version of the musical at the Williamstown Theater Festival. The production moved to Broadway the following year.

More birthdays from today: Earle Larimore (1899-1947). Myrna Loy (1905–1993). Ruth Nelson (1905–1992). James Baldwin (1924-1987). Carroll O’Connor (1924–2001). Antoine Crivello (born in 1955). Marie-Louise Parker (born in 1964).

Watch highlights from the 2015 Broadway production of Visit, with Chita Rivera:


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