Playbill Vault’s Today in Theatre History: December 28

playbill-vault’s-today-in-theatre-history:-december-28

In 1944, the original production of On the Town opens on Broadway.

1925 Queenie Smith is featured in Tip-Toes, the George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin musical about a vaudeville trio stranded in Florida. It introduces the song “Sweet and Low Down,” and runs at the Liberty Theatre.

1926 Twenty-four hours after opening the hit Peggy-Ann, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart open their musical Betsy, a vehicle for vaudeville performer Belle Baker, which bows at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Producer Florenz Ziegfeld reportedly didn’t like his own show, and expressed his opinion of the score by interpolating an Irving Berlin tune that became a standard: “Blue Skies.”

1927 George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber‘s comedy The Royal Family opens at the Selwyn Theatre. It’s a thinly disguised portrait of the Barrymore acting dynasty.

1934 Birthday of Maggie Smith, who brings a majestic presence to stage and film roles on both sides of the Atlantic. Her Broadway experience begins with New Faces of 1956, and includes Private Lives, Night and Day, and Lettice and Lovage, the last of which wins her the Tony Award as Best Actress in a Play. She is given a title by Queen Elizabeth II, and is sometimes referred to as Dame Maggie Smith.

1938 Thornton Wilder debuts his comedy The Merchant of Yonkers. He has more success with the revised version, retitled The Matchmaker in 1955, and even more success when it becomes the musical Hello, Dolly! in 1964.

1944 Three sailors on shore leave in New York City during World War II find romance and adventure in Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green‘s musical On the Town. Opening at the Adelphi Theatre, it runs for 462 performances.

1954 Clifford Odets paints a comic picture of the Biblical Noah (of Ark fame) and his wife and kids as a bickering middle-class Jewish family in The Flowering Peach. Menasha Skulnik plays Noah. It runs at the Belasco Theatre, and is later adapted as the musical Two by Two by Martin Charnin and Richard Rodgers. It is Odets’ final Broadway play.

1961 Bette Davis, Margaret Leighton, and Patrick O’Neal star in the Broadway premiere of Tennessee WilliamsThe Night of the Iguana. It runs at the Royale Theatre.

1969 James Coco is the Last of the Red Hot Lovers. Neil Simon‘s comedy exposes a married man worrying that the sexual revolution is happening without him.

1970 Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen, but no audience. John Patrick‘s musical adaptation of his play based on Vern Sneider‘s novel Teahouse of the August Moon runs two weeks.

1976 Fiddler on the Roof is revived on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre. Zero Mostel recreates his role as Tevye.

1979 The life of Piaf takes the stage at London’s Aldwych Theatre. Pam Gems scripted the Royal Shakespeare Company production about the French chanteuse Edith Piaf. Jane Lapotaire stars. Gems has another critical hit in 1997 with Stanley, starring Antony Sher, at Circle in the Square.

1978 Eugene O’Neill‘s A Touch of the Poet is revived at the Helen Hayes Theatre with Jason Robards, Jr. and Geraldine Fitzgerald.

2015 Gotta Dance, a musical based on the 2008 documentary about professional basketball’s first-ever 60-and-older dance team, opens at Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre. It features a book by Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin, music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Nell Benjamin, and additional music by the late Marvin Hamlisch. The cast includes Stefanie Powers, André De Shields, Georgia Engel, and Lillias White.

More of Today’s Birthdays: Charles Dingle (1887–1956), Lou Jacobi (1913–2009). Hildegarde Neff (1925–2002), Herb Gardner (1934–2003), Alan Wasser (1948–2019), Denzel Washington (b. 1954), Malcolm Gets (b. 1964), Heidi Blickenstaff (b. 1971), John Legend (b. 1978), André Holland (b. 1979),

Watch highlights from the 2015 Chicago production of Gotta Dance:

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