Playbill Vault’s Today in Theater History: November 16

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1889 Playwright and director George S. Kaufman was born in Pittsburgh. Former journalist, Kaufman makes his mark with comedy Dulcy in 1921, and continued to write dozens of comedies, dramas and musicals, two or three a year until the 1940s, often in collaboration with Moss Hart and Edna Ferber. He won the Pulitzer Prize twice, for his work on Of you I sing and You can’t take it with you and won his only Tony Award for directing the original guys and dolls. His pieces include Coconuts and animal crackers (both for the Marx Brothers), Merton from the Movies, The Royal Family, I’d Rather Be Right, Once in a Lifetime, Dinner at Eight, and The man who came to dinner.

1908 Actor’s birthday Burgess Meredith, whose long Broadway career includes the original productions of High Tor, winter sunset, She don’t love me, and The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker. He also created two memorable on-screen roles: the umbrella-wielding villain, The Penguin in TV’s Batman, and the hardened boxing trainer who literally eggs Sylvester Stallone to glory in Rocky.

1922 A revival of Hamlet opens at the Sam Harris Theater. John Barrymore in the title role is “the new and enduring Hamlet”, says the New York Times. The production, which was produced and directed by Arthur Hopkins with sets by Robert Edmond Jones—performs 101 performances, breaking Edwin Booththe long-standing record of 100 performances.

1931 Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne have one of their greatest hits in The Theater Guild’s production of Robert E. Sherwoodromantic comedy Meeting in Vienna. The story of former royals now forced to work as taxi drivers and such runs 268 performances in the depths of the Depression at the Martin Beck TheatreMouseclick- and goes on European tour.

1935 Giant wood in the transformed racecourse. Billy Rose paid $340,000 for a circus pattern and live acts to fill the stage. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur write the book, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart lyrics and music, Jimmy Durante stars, but the race only pays back half of the investment. Durante delivers one of his most memorable lines: When the police catch the big-nosed comic trying to smuggle the main character out of the circus, they demand to know where he thinks he’s going with the elephant. Durante stands in front of the huge pachyderm and innocently replies: “What elephant?”

1959 The hills of the theater district come alive with The sound of music, as the musical opens at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater. Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel star in Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II classic, with book of Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse. The story follows the Von Trapp family and the appearance of their new governess, who helps the family gain courage in a time of insurmountable challenges. The show has 1,443 performances and includes the classics “Do-Re-Mi”, “My Favorite Things” and “Edelweiss”. The production is tied for the Tony Award for Best Musical of 1960 with Fiorello! In 1965, Julie Andrews starred in a film adaptation that won the Best Picture Oscar.

1964 A musical version of 19th century melodrama The drunkard, renamed The capricious way, opens at The New Lyric, Hammersmith. Jim Dale is in the casting.

1968 Opening night of Zorba, John Kander and Fred Ebmusical adaptation of Zorba the Greek. Once fiddler on the roof tracks Herschel Bernardi and Maria Karnilov reteam for the musical, which plays the Imperial Theatre.

nineteen eighty one Stephen Sondheim and George Furthit’s music We ride happily opens on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre. Directed by Harold Prince, he stars Jim Walton like Franklin, Anne Morrison like Mary, Lonny Price like Charlie, Jason Alexander like Joe, Terry Finn like Gussie, and Sally Klein like Beth. In the following years, We ride happily is revised several times for regional, Off-Broadway and London productions.

1989 A revival of Gypsy, featuring Tyne Daly as Rose, opens at the St. James Theatre. The show, which co-stars Krista Moore as Louise, is Frank Rich from The New York Times’ favorite musical, so a review of him includes the words “pourings of laughter and spine-chilling tears”. Other reviews were lukewarm, but Daly won a Tony for his performance, and the show played a return engagement at the Marquis Theater.

2000 British actress Janie Dee makes her New York stage debut in the role that won her Olivier, Evening Standard and London Critics Circle awards, playing a futuristic robot actor in Alan Ayckbournblack comedy, comic potential, Off-Broadway opening at Manhattan Drama Club. The play, taking place in the future, proposes a world where actors and “actoids” are indistinguishable. An aspiring screenwriter gets more than he bargained for when he finds himself smitten with his almost human lead wife.

2003 Priscilla Lopez, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Jimmy Smits star in Nilo Cruz Anna in the tropics at the Royal Theater. The production earned Tony nominations for Best Play and Best Featured Actress for Lopez, and won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

2006 Mary Poppins, the musical about a magical flying nanny who forever changes the lives of a family named Banks, opens on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theater. Ashley Brown plays the title role immortalized on screen by Julie Andrews. The stage adaptation includes both the original songs from the 1964 Disney film, with music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, as well as new songs by george stiles and Anthony Drew. The production ran for 2,619 performances.

2014 Hugh Jackman returns to Broadway in Jez Butterworth River, opening at Circle in the Square. Laura Donnelly and Cush Jumbo co-star in the mystery drama about a man who brings his new girlfriend to a remote cabin for a night of trout fishing.

2017 The MCC Theater celebrates the opening of the play by Jocelyn Bioh schoolgirls; Or, African nasty girls play Off Broadway. The world premiere, directed by Tony winner Rebecca Taichman, marks the professional playwriting debut of playwright and actor Bioh. schoolgirls takes place in an exclusive boarding school in Ghana, where Paulina is the queen bee, and explores themes of beauty, colorism and adolescence. The MCC also presented a return engagement of the Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk award-winning play in 2018.

More birthdays from today: Halliwell Hobbes (1887-1962), Donna McKechnie (born in 1940), Paula Vogel (born in 1951), Elizabeth Perkins (born in 1960), Michele Pawk (born in 1961), Martha Plimpton (born in 1970).

Learn more about the history of The sound of music:


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