Playbill Vault’s Today in Theater History: October 20


1882 Birthday of Bela Lugosi, Hungarian-born actor who played a variety of character roles before landing the role that made him an icon, the title role in Dracula, first on Broadway (in 1927)then to the cinema.

1889 Birthday of Marguerite DumontBroadway actor in the fan and The Rise of Rosie O’Reillywho is best known as a comedic foil for The Marx Brothers on Broadway and in the movies.

1894 Birthday of Oliver Thomasa girl from Ziegfeld and a pin-up girl from Vargas who makes only one appearance on Broadway, in the Ziegfeld Folies of 1915. She died in 1920, possibly by suicide, and her spirit is thought to haunt the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway, with sightings reported in the 21st century.

1904 Opening night of Higgledy-Piggledya musical review with Mary Dressler, Anna outfit, Joseph Weber, and other period stars. His success of 185 performances helps to inspire the producer Florenz Ziegfeld to attempt a more sophisticated review three years later, which he baptized his Follies.

1908 Little Nemocomposer Victor Herbertthe musical adaptation of the popular comic book of the same name, opens on Broadway for a run of 111 performances.

1923 Opening night of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1923at 233 performances, one of the longest in the series, featuring Fanny Brice, Bert Wheelerand Paul Whiteman Orchestra. The score includes music by Victor Herbert and Rudolf Friml.

1935 Date of birth of Jerry Orbach, TV star Law and orderwho has a long career in musicals, originating the roles of El Gallo in The FantasticBilly Flynn in ChicagoJulian Marsh in 42nd streetand Chuck Baxter in promises, promises.

1947 The National Theater hosts the opening of Robinson Jeffers‘ interpretation of the Greek classic Medea by Euripides. John Gielgud directs and stars in the production, as well as Judith Anderson and Marianne Seldes (making its Broadway debut). Anderson’s portrayal of the titular character is “a searing performance in a wild part”, according to Brooks Atkinson. He says she “understands the character more thoroughly than Medea, Euripides or the scholars, and it would be pointless now for anyone else to attempt the part”. The show has 214 performances.

1954 Musical comedy Peter Pan shows audiences just how much fun it is to be a kid when it opens at the Winter Garden Theater. The show is based on the 1904 fantasy of James M. Barrie and includes a score of Betty Comden, Adolf Green, Jule Styne, Caroline Leighand Marc Charlap. Mary Martin in title role wins critical acclaim as she stars with her 12-year-old daughter Heller Halliday (playing Liza, the maid) and Cyril Ritchard threatening Captain Hook. Walter Kerr reports that he “don’t know what it is. I always knew Mary Martin could fly.” Although very well received by critics and an audience too large to imagine, the original production only ran for 152 performances. Sandy Duncan (1979) and Cathy Rigby (1990, 1991, 1998, 1999) are the stars of future Broadway revivals.

1955 Ira Levinthe comedy No time for sergeants opens at the Alvin Theater, making a star of Andy Griffith. It has 796 performances.

1962 Musical comedy Mister President opens on Broadway and turns out to be the composer’s swan song IrvingBerlinwho then retired at age 74. He lives to be 101 years old.

1964 Sammy Davis, Jr. stars in the musical golden boy, opening at the Majestic Theatre. Based on Clifford Odets’ play about a black boxer who falls in love with his manager’s white girlfriend, it features songs by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse. It has 568 performances.

1977 David Mametvalentines day on stage, A life in the theater, opens Off-Broadway at the Théâtre De Lys. This comedy isn’t just about two actors but also about mentors in general and the rites of passage between masters and disciples. Ellis Rabb and Peter Evans star in the production, which has 288 performances. The play was made into a TV movie in 1993 with Jack Lemon and Matthew Broderickand made his Broadway debut in 2010 with patrick stuart and Knight TR.

1977 Frank Langelle and Edouard Goreythe sets of are the stars of Dracula, Hamilton Dean and John L. Balderstonadaptation of bram stokeris the novel. The show ran for 925 performances and won the Tony Award for Most Innovative Production of a Revival.

1988 Cocktail hour by AR Gurney begins its run of 350 shows at the Promenade Theatre. Nancy Merchant plays a woman whose son, played by Bruce Davisonwrote a play about his family.

1992 Larry Kramer continues his AIDS drama The normal heart with the fate of me at the Lucille Lortel Theater. Future Hedwig and the Angry Thumb star and creator John Cameron Mitchell stars in the production, which received mixed reviews. Piper Laurie and Jonathan Hadary are also in the cast. The show has 175 performances.

2002 Popular French composer Michael Legrand made his Broadway debut with the musical Loveadapted from his Parisian hit The Wall Pass, about a shy man who gains the magical ability to walk through walls. Malcolm Gets and Melissa Errico star. The show was deemed too light for Broadway and ended after only three weeks.

2005 Joe Brooks‘ musical In my life opens on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre. In the show, an androgynous angel-like character flies through the sky and plots “God’s reality opera,” which features a singer-songwriter with Tourette syndrome. It also includes a band of pirates, dancing skeletons, and celestial inhabitants singing jingles about Dr Pepper and Volkswagen. Jessica Boevers, Christopher J. Hankeand David Turn star. Baffling critics and audiences, In my life closes after 61 performances. One of the actors making his Broadway debut in the production is Swing and Dance Captain Jonathan Groffwho returns to Broadway a year later to star in the musical spring awakening.

2011 Relatively speakingan evening of one-act comedies written by Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Woody Allenopens on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. John Turturro leads a cast that includes Marlo Thomas, Steve Guttenberg, Danny Hoc, Julie Kavner, Ari Graynorand Mark LinnBaker.

2015 The world premiere of David Lindsay-Abaire Ripcord opens Off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theater Club. Holland Taylor and Marylouise Burke star in the comedy about two roommates who clash at an assisted living facility.

2016 A revival of The first page, the classic 1928 comedy from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur set in the world of Chicago newspapers, opens at the Broadhurst Theatre. The star-studded company includes Nathan Lane, John Slattery, John Goodman, Jefferson Mays, Sherie Rene Scott, Holland Taylor and Robert Morse.

2019 American utopia, the theatrical concert by former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, officially opens on Broadway at the Hudson Theatre. A filmed version, directed by Spike Lee, debuted on HBO the following year.

More birthdays from today: Edgar Selwyn (1875-1944). Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941). Morrie Ryskind (1895-1985). Arlene Francois (1907-2001). Dan Foger (born in 1976.).


Production photos: American Utopia by David Byrne on Broadway

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