In 1925, Sweet Charity and Chicago star Gwen Verdon is born.
1925 Birthday of one of Broadway’s all-time greatest leading ladies, Gwen Verdon. She is nominated for the Tony Award as Best Actress or Featured Actress in a Musical six times, and wins four times, for Can-Can, Damn Yankees, New Girl in Town, and Redhead. She rises to stardom in a featured role in Cole Porter‘s Can-Can and later creates the title role of Sweet Charity and originates the role of Roxie Hart in Chicago. A dancer all her life, she marries choreographer Bob Fosse in 1960. Her final Broadway credit is as artistic adviser on the Tony-winning revue of his work, Fosse. She introduces several Broadway standards, including “Whatever Lola Wants” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now.”
1941 Irish nationalist, poet, and dramatist James Joyce dies in Zurich at age 59. Always interested in Henrik Ibsen, one of Joyce’s earliest publications was an essay on the playwright titled “Ibsen’s New Drama.” Included among Joyce’s many works is one play, Exiles, which he wrote in 1918. In 1959 (Off-Broadway) and 1974 (on Broadway) Zero Mostel plays Leopold Bloom in Ulysses in Nighttown, an adaptation of Joyce’s Ulysses by Marjorie Barkentin. In 2000, James Joyce’s The Dead, a musical adaptation of Joyce’s short story “The Dead,” plays Broadway’s Belasco Theatre.
1951 Claude Rains heads the cast of Darkness at Noon at the Alvin Theatre. Adapted by Sidney Kingsley from Arthur Koestler‘s novel, the drama, depicting the Stalinist purges, wins the Drama Critics’ Circle Award.
1976 English actor Margaret Leighton dies at the age of 53. She played a variety of classic roles and starred in the London production of The Philadelphia Story. In 1962, she won the Tony Award for her portrayal of Hannah Jelkes in The Night of the Iguana.
1984 Brooks Atkinson, longtime drama critic for The New York Times, dies at age 89. Atkinson was the first critic in recorded history to have a theatre named after him.
2002 The Fantasticks, the world’s longest-running musical, ends its landmark run at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York’s Greenwich Village after more than 41 years. The final tally: 17,162 performances.
2011 Brian Bedford both directs and stars as Lady Bracknell in a Broadway revival of Oscar Wilde‘s The Importance of Being Earnest, opening at the American Airlines Theatre. The 1895 comedy is produced by Roundabout Theatre Company, borrowing some elements from Bedford’s 2009 production at Ontario’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival. The cast also includes Dana Ivey, Santino Fontana, and David Furr.
2011 Ellen Stewart, the powerhouse impresario who, as the founder of the downtown Manhattan theatre complex La MaMa, E.T.C. (short for Experimental Theatre Club), was one of the central figures in the creation of the Off-Off-Broadway movement, dies at age 91. Stewart founded La MaMa in 1961, and remained its director until her death.
2013 A revival of Picnic, William Inge‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama of small-town women yearning for what’s beyond, opens at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre. Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Marvel, Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Grace, and Madeleine Martin star as some of the women aroused by the arrival of the sexy stranger played by Sebastian Stan.
2015 Screen stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson make their Broadway debuts in Nick Payne’s two-hander Constellations, which opens today at Broadway’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club. The metaphysical play centers on Roland and Marianne, one relationship with infinite possibilities across countless timelines.
More of Today’s Birthdays: Harry Ellerbe (1905-1992). Ruth Taylor (1908-1984). Robert Stack (1919-2003). Roland Petit (1924-2011). Frances Sternhagen (b. 1930). Charles Nelson Reilly (1931-2007). Rip Taylor (1934-2019). Matthew Bourne (b. 1960). Kevin Anderson (b. 1960). Shonda Rhimes (b. 1970). Orlando Bloom (b. 1977). Ruth Wilson (b. 1982).