AMERICAN THEATER | This Month in Theater History

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The cast of “Godspell” in Toronto in 1972: Avril Chown, Victor Garber, Valda Aviks (front), Gilda Radner, Gerry Salsberg, Martin Short, Eugene Levy and Rudy Webb. (Photo credit: North American Podcast)

September 1752 (270 years ago)

Large sheet of Hallam’s 1972 production of “Merchant of Venice”. (Photo credit: Dr. Jack Hrkach)

Lewis Hallam’s theatrical company, transplanted from England in 1752, staged a performance of Shakespeare Merchant of Venice in Williamsburg, Virginia on September 15, 1752. The arrival of Hallam’s company heralds the beginning of professional theatrical performance in the early United States. Lewis Hallam, born into a family of theatrical performers, struggled to gain a foothold on English stages and crossed the pond to seek his fortune in the fertile colonies. Despite early colonial social and political resistance to the theater—the Continental Congress would ban theatrical performances in 1774—the Hallam Company, later called the American and Old American Company, would continue to monopolize theatrical performances in the young nation. Lewis Hallam Jr. and the American Company staged the first play in New York by a local playwright, 1767 The Prince of Parthiawritten by Thomas Godfrey of Philadelphia.

September 1917 (105 years ago)

The opening 1917 production of George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Misalliance’ at the Broadhurst Theater in New York. (Photo credit: Theater Magazine, December 1917)

Following the opening of the Stand and Shubert theaters in 1913, theater producers/entrepreneurs Lee and Jacob Shubert opened the Broadhurst at 235 West 44th Street in Manhattan on September 27, 1917, with George Bernard Shaw’s Misalliance. The theater was first rented to the Shuberts by theater producer and playwright George Broadhurst as a space to stage his own works; the theater bears the name of its first tenant. The Broadhurst became one of the first jewels in the theatrical crown of the Shubert family, which would quickly monopolize theatrical space in New York and beyond, owning 86 theaters and operating or managing more than 1,000 theaters nationwide in the 1920s. In 1929 the Shuberts took over Broadhurst Theater and have operated it ever since.

September 1967 (55 years ago)

Ingrid Bergman in the 1967 production of ‘More Stately Mansions’ at the Ahmonson Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Center Theater Group)

Under the founding artistic direction of Gordon Davidson, Center Theater Group opened the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles with Eugene O’Neill’s unfinished play More stately homes. This American premiere of the play was directed by José Quintero and starred Ingrid Bergman, Arthur Hill and Colleen Dewhurst. O’Neill had begun writing the work as a follow-up to his 1942 play A poet’s touch, and both were part of a larger nine-game cycle called A story of self-dispossessed possessors. Despite his demands that More stately homes never published or performed, his widow, Carlotta Monterey, authorized the production of the work just nine years after her death. The Center Theater Group production then opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theater in November 1967 and ran for 142 performances.

September 1992 (30 years ago)

A special concert called Friends of Gilda was staged at the Elgin Theater in Toronto on September 26 and filmed by the Canadian Broadcast Company for later broadcast. The event served as a tribute to the late Gilda Radner of Saturday Night Live and was a fundraiser for research and prevention of ovarian cancer, which had cut Gilda’s life short in 1989. Friends of Gilda assembled a now legendary cast divine spell, who had first taken the stage together 30 years earlier in April 1972 at the Royal Alexandra Theater in Toronto. The young cast had included Victor Garber as Jesus, Eugene Levy as Herb, Andrea Martin as Robin, Gilda Radner as Gilmer, Martin Short as Jeffrey, with musical direction by Paul Schaffer and direction by John-Michael Tebelak. Friends of Gilda included the surviving reunited cast singing songs from the show and reminiscing about actor and comedian Radner’s short but bright light.

September 2017 (5 years ago)

“Amarillo”, Teatro Linea de Sombra at The Yard at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. (Photo by Sophie Garcia for Chicago Latino Theater Alliance)

The Alliance of Latin Theaters of Chicago inaugurated destinationsthe first Chicago International Latino Theater Festival on September 29. The CLTA, under co-founder and executive director Myrna Salazar, brought together 11 productions, staged at various locations in Chicago, from Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theater at Victory Gardens and the National Museum of Mexican Art. The Alliance aimed to showcase the work of Latin artists, who, as Salazar noted, are often “relegated to the background” in Chicago’s theatrical fabric. Destinos continued and will present 13 productions at this year’s festival. Salazar died in August of this year.

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