Playbill Vault’s Today in Theater History: May 21


1929 Highlights of A night in Venice include Ted Healy’s wrestling bears and Busby Berkeley’s choreography. The revue takes place on Broadway for 22 weeks.

1952 Theater and film actor John Garfield dies in New York. Lee Strasberg directed him in the 1949 production of The big knife by Clifford Odet. He was 39 years old.

1959 Ethel Triton is the indomitable stage mother Rose in the original Broadway production of Gypsy. Arthur Laurents based his book on the stripper’s memoir Gypsy Rose Leewith a score of Jule Styne and the words of Stephen Sondheim. Jerome Robbins stages the race of 702 performances. Future star of Broadway montages Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Linda Lavine, Bernadette Petersand Patti LuPone.

1977 are you a Gemini? Albert InauratoThe play about a Harvard student unsure of his sexuality and his relationship with his family, runs at the Little Theater on Broadway for 1,789 performances. Robert Picardo stars.

1998 British playwright Jonathan Harvey attends the US premiere of his powerful drama Beautiful thing at the famous Door Theater in Chicago. The play, which first saw the stage at the Bush Theater in London, moved to Off-Broadway’s Cherry Lane Theater the following year for a run of 152 performances.

1998 Former Chicago Improv Rivals Elaine May and Alan Arkin start previews in Power games, a trio of one-act plays (with two works by May and one by Arkin) at Off-Broadway’s Promenade Theater. Two years later, Arkin directs May’s Bigger than a dwarf on Broadway.

2001 The inaugural National Broadway Theater Awards, which recognize national productions touring across the United States, go to Ragtime (Best Musical), Lady Edna: The Royal Tour (Best game), Barry Humphries (Best Actor in a Play), and Louise Pitre (Best Actress in a Musical), among others.

2011 A revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldmanit is Follies, featuring some of the greatest talent from both sides of the Atlantic, opens at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The company is managed by Bernadette Peters like Sally Durant Plummer, Jan Maxwell as Phyllis Rogers Stone, Danny Burstein as Buddy Plummer, Ron Raines like Benjamin Stone, and Elaine Paige like Carlotta Campion. The production Broadway transfers a few months later.

2014 Miss Saigon, which premiered at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane in 1989 – where it ran for over 10 years – returns to the West End in a new 25th anniversary production. Opening at the Prince Edward Theatre, it stars Eva Noblezada as Kim, Alistair Brammer as Chris and Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer. The production moved to Broadway three years later.

Today’s birthdays: Mabel Taliaferro (1887-1979). Thomas “Fats” Waller (1904–1943). Peggy Cass (1924–1999). Alice Drummond (1928-2016). Marc Jacoby (born in 1947). Paolo Montalban (born in 1973). Da’Vine Joy Randolph (born in 1986).


A look back at the original production of Gypsy with Ethel Merman

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