Playbill Vault’s Today in Theater History: December 31

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1879 World premiere of WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan The Penzance Pirates at the Fifth Avenue Theater in New York, with Alice Barnett as Ruth.

1905 Birthday of Jule Styne, composer of Broadway scores Gypsy, funny girl, Peter Pan, Men prefer blondes, Bells are ringingand much more.

1906 Brewster’s Millions is the story of a lucky young man who has to spend a million dollars to make another million. Adapted from George Barr McCutcheonthe story of Winchell-Smith and Byron Ongleythe show has a cast that includes John Drew Devereaux and the fictional actor’s debut Georges Spevin. Spelvin, a favorite of author Smith, would be employed whenever a name is needed for a corpse on stage, a doll used as a baby in arms, or when an actor “doubles” roles.

1917 J. Hartley Manners writes for and directs his wife Laurette Taylor in Joy. This comedy runs at the Criterion Theater in New York for 136 performances.

1923 The man who sings and dances is, unsurprisingly, George M. Cohan, who also wrote and produced the comedy at the Hudson Theater. The story highlights the redemption of an unemployed artist who turned to theft [instead of waiting tables].

1925 Playwright Lilian Hellman marry a writer Arthur Kober.

1996 Andrew Lloyd Webber becomes Lord. The composer of hit musicals such as Avoided, Catsand The Phantom of the Opera is knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in the annual ceremony.

1999 Usually a big night on Broadway, this New Year’s Eve sees many shows cancel performances due to expected large crowds ushering in the 2000s.

2005 Broadway trade group, the League of American Theaters and Producers, reports that Broadway had its most successful year ever, taking in $825 million, up 10% from the previous year.

2011 The West End production of Priscilla, queen of the desert ends after a run of over 1,000 performances at the Palace Theatre. The musical about the adventures of a trio of drag queens who cross the Australian Outback opened in London on March 23, 2009.

2014 Kelli O’Hara made his Metropolitan Opera debut in the Franz Lehar operetta The Merry Widow, playing the role of Valencienne. Directed and choreographed by Susan Stromanproduction stars Renee Fleming in the title role. Fleming made his Broadway debut a few months later in the short-lived comedy Live on love.

More birthdays from today: Jason Robards, Sr. (1892-1963). Richard Kollmar (1910-1971). Joan McCracken (1917-1961). Anthony Hopkins (born in 1937). Bebe Neuwirth (born in 1958). Val Kilmer (born in 1959). Joey McIntyre (born in 1972). Andy Grotelueschen (born in 1979). Adam Chanler-Berat (born in 1986). Micah Stock (born in 1988). Denée Benton (born in 1991).

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Tribute to Bebe Neuwirth on stage


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