Playbill Vault’s Today in Theater History: May 14

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1931 Playwright and producer David Belasco dies in New York. He began his theatrical life as a child actor in California and began writing plays in his twenties. He adapted the story of John Luther Long into the play Lady Butterfly in 1900. In 1905, he wrote, directed and produced The Girl from the Golden West. In 1906 he built the Stuyvesant Theater which is now the Belasco Theater on Broadway. Belasco liked to shave from six years old, but it is generally assumed that he was 78 at the time of his death. According to Broadway legend, his ghost haunts the apartment where he lived above the theater that bears his name.

1951 Barbara Cook makes her Broadway debut in EY Harbourg, Samy Fain, and Fred Saidyit is Flahooley. The cast of the musical also includes Irwin Corey, Peruvian singer Yma Sumac, and Bil Baird’s puppets. It runs for 40 performances at the Broadhurst Theatre.

1957 Gwen Verdon and Thelma Ritter star in New girl in town, the musical adaptation of Eugene O’Neill by George Abbott and Bob Merrill Anna Christie. It organizes 431 performances at the 46th Street Theater. At the 1958 Tony Awards, Verdon and Ritter tied for Best Actress in a Musical, the first tie in Tony history.

1965 The East-West Players, formed to “faithfully express Asian-Pacific American thought and portray Asian-Pacific American life on stage…”, open in Los Angeles. The first performance is Rashomon.

1970 Actor Billie Burke dies in Los Angeles. She made her stage debut in London in The schoolgirl in 1903. His Broadway debut was in 1907 in My woman; producer Florenz Ziegfeld called her that in 1914. Burke was immortalized on screen as Glinda the Good Witch of the North in the film The Wizard of Oz. She was 84 years old.

1978 Job, a musical revue conceived and directed by Stephane Schwartz, based on the oral history of the working class by Studs Terkel, opens at the 46th Street Theater. It features songs from a variety of writers, from Schwartz to Mary Rodgers to Micki Grant to James Taylor.

1986 Craig + Craig = 3. Playwright Craig Lucas and composer-lyricist Craig Cornelia create the musical Three postcards which opens Off-Broadway to Playwrights’ horizons. The show, about three friends who have their own reunion, is directed by Rene Norman.

1999 Stephen Sondheimthe long-unproduced 1954 musical, Saturday night, sees the stage as it begins previews in Chicago, sporting two new songs and an edited script. The musical, about Friends in 1929 Brooklyn, was supposed to be Sondheim’s professional debut in the mid-1950s, but a production was thwarted by the producer’s death. The musical makes its New York Off-Broadway premiere at Second Stage Theater February 14 of the following year.

Today’s birthdays: Julien Eltinge 1881. Alvin Epstein 1925. Bobo Lewis 1926. Eric Morecambe 1926. Sian Phillips 1933. Favor herbs 1936. Marc Blum 1950. Cate Blanchett 1969.

Browse photos from Barbara Cook’s Broadway career, starting with Flahooley in 1951:

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From The Music Man to She Loves Me: A look back at Barbara Cook on Broadway


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