1939 Actor James Barton, star of the Broadway hit Tobacco Road, returns to the show after being fired in February for quarreling with his co-stars backstage. Box office grosses had reportedly dropped since Barton’s departure and his return is intended to boost ticket sales.
1940 The American Negro Theatre is founded in Harlem by writer Abram Hill and actor Frederick O’Neal. Before it closed in 1949, the group produced 19 plays in Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. And it’s Studio Theatre training program for beginning actors, launched in 1942, kickstarts the careers of actors such as Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte, and Sidney Poitier.
1980 A short-lived revival of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man opens at City Center. The musical—starring Dick Van Dyke as con artist Harold Hill, and a young Christian Slater as Winthrop—runs 21 performances before closing June 22.
1984 Peter Sellars is appointed artistic director of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Sellars is known for his avant-garde directing methods, such as having the Don in Don Giovanni eat a Big Mac during the banquet scene.
1991 Actor Larry Kert dies of AIDS-related complications in New York. Kert is best remembered for originating the role of Tony in the original Broadway production of the Leonard Bernstein–Stephen Sondheim–Arthur Laurents musical West Side Story.
1997 Moisés Kaufman’s Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde transfers from Off-Off-Broadway to open at Off-Broadway’s Minetta Lane Theatre. Michael Emerson stars as the playwright alongside Bill Dawes, Robert Blumfield, Trevor Anthony, John McAdams, Andy Paris, Greg Pierotti, Troy Sostillio, and Greg Steinbruner.
2001 Chita Rivera launches a national tour of the musical Casper, about the friendly ghost of cartoon fame, but the show does not continue on to Broadway.
2008 A portrait of the late, legendary artist Louise Nevelson is created by her longtime friend Edward Albee in the world premiere of Occupant, starring Larry Bryggman and Mercedes Ruehl, at Off-Broadway’s Signature Theatre Company. This isn’t the first time Signature tried to shape the play; Neal Huff and Anne Bancroft created the roles in previews for an earlier 2002 production that shut down when Bancroft fell ill.
2011 Lysistrata Jones, the Douglas Carter Beane–Lewis Flinn musical that rips a page out of Aristophanes’ ancient comedy about women withholding sex in protest of war, bounds onto a Greenwich Village basketball court, opening at the Judson Memorial Church Gymnasium. The production transfers to Broadway later that year.
2011, Signature Theatre Company’s production of Tony Kushner’s The Illusion opens at the Peter Norton Space. Michael Mayer directs the Off-Broadway staging based on a play by 17th-century tragic playwright Pierre Corneille. The cast features Peter Bartlett, Lois Smith, David Margulies, Sean Dugan, Amanda Quaid, Henry Stram, Merritt Wever, and Finn Wittrock.
2014 Kenneth Branagh makes his New York stage debut in an immersive production of Macbeth, opening at the Park Avenue Armory. Directed by Branagh and Rob Ashford, the production was first seen at the Manchester International Festival in 2013. Alex Kingston, also making her New York stage debut in the production, co-stars as Lady Macbeth.
More of Today’s Birthdays: Robert Lansing (1928–1994). Tony Richardson (1928–1991). Spalding Gray (1941–2004). Colm Wilkinson (b. 1944). David Hare (b. 1947). Ellen Foley (b. 1951). Mark Harelik (b. 1951). Michael K. Lee (b. 1973). Ana Villafañe (b. 1989).