1889 Robert Benchley, the acclaimed actor, critic, and humorist of the early twentieth century, is born. An example of his wit can be seen in his 1926 review of Jean Bart’s The Squall, which is about a gypsy woman who leaves her people to satisfy her lusts with an outsider. Included in the dialogue is: “Me Nubi. Nubi good girl. Nubi stay.” Responding in his review, Benchley states, “Me Benchley. Benchley bad boy. Benchley go.” Tallulah Bankhead, who was a friend of his, called him “as gay and thirsty a gentleman as I ever encountered.”
1925 Michael Arlen‘s romantic drama The Green Hat opens at the Broadhurst Theatre. Katharine Cornell stars as Iris March, a character who is described by Alexander Woollcott as a “shameful, shameless lady.” Leslie Howard co-stars.
1938 Thornton Wilder performs as the Stage Manager in Our Town on Broadway. Although he is the author, he is filling in for the vacationing Frank Craven. Since the playwright is performing, he takes the liberty of putting back in some of his own words that producer Jed Harris had cut. During the run, Wilder’s acting is reported by John Mason Brown, a critic of the time, as better than Sinclair Lewis‘ performance in the dramatization of his own novel, It Can’t Happen Here.
1972 After 1,847 performances Off-Broadway, the hit revue Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris transfers to Broadway’s Royale Theatre—and closes after just 51 more performances, despite the presence of Joe Masiell and George Ball in the cast.
1976 Ntozake Shange‘s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf opens on Broadway at the Booth Theatre following a run at The Public Theater. The drama, featuring seven female characters represented by colors of the rainbow, combines poetry and dance to explore the plight of women. Shange herself is in the cast of the production, which runs 742 performances.
2000 The Denver Center Theatre Company, in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company, unleashes Peter Hall‘s staging of Tantalus at the Stage Theater in Colorado. The large-scale, 10 play production is performed in three parts and runs for approximately 10 hours. The cast of 29—made up of U.S., British, European, and Asian-born performers—includes principals Alyssa Bresnahan, Alan Dobie, Greg Hicks, Annalee Jeffries, Ann Mitchell, Robert Petkoff, David Ryall, and Mia Yoo.
2004 Three notable musicals begin their journeys: Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s The Woman in White opens in London; Dirty Rotten Scoundrels begins its pre-Broadway tryout in San Diego; and the stage adaptation of the Disney film musical Mary Poppins has its world premiere in Bristol, England.
2010 As the man once wrote, “Light the lights!” Composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim, a writer who changed the face of musical theatre, sees the first official lighting of the marquee of the newly named Stephen Sondheim Theatre (formerly the Henry Miller’s Theatre) at a special ceremony.
2019 Derren Brown: Secret, the acclaimed stage production from the two-time Olivier Award-winning illusionist and mentalist, opens on Broadway at the Cort Theatre. The production returns to New York after premiering in a sold-out run at the Atlantic Theater Company Off-Broadway in 2017. Brown collaborated on the show with co-writers Andy Nyman and Andrew O’Connor, who also co-directed.
More of Today’s Birthdays: Agatha Christie (1890–1976). Fay Wray (1907–2004). Penny Singleton (1908–2003). Jackie Cooper (1921–2011). Dick Latessa (1929–2016). Tommy Lee Jones (b. 1946). Carole Shorenstein Hays (b. 1948). Deidre Goodwin (b. 1969).