Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: August 2

Playbill Vault   Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: August 2
Chita Rivera, Tom Nelis, Chris Newcomer and Matthew Deming in The Visit.
Chita Rivera, Tom Nelis, Chris Newcomer and Matthew Deming in The Visit. T. Charles Erickson

1900 Birthday of actress and singer Helen Morgan, who rose to fame as a nightclub performer. She had a show at Billy Rose's Backstage Club, where the crowded conditions made her perch on her accompanist's piano, a subtle touch that soon became a trademark. On Broadway, Morgan appeared in Show Boat (1927), in which she was a smash singing "Bill" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man." She then reprised her role for the 1936 film version.

1943 Broadway is invaded by the US Army. Five one-act plays, collectively titled The Army Play-by-Play, from the Enlisted Men’s Contest are presented under the supervision of John Golden at the Martin Beck Theatre. The plays — Where E’er We Go, First Cousins, Button Your Lip, Mail Call, and Pack Your Troubles — will play for 40 performances and close September 4.

1944 Mae West adds to the wartime summer heat with her bawdy comedy Catherine Was Great, which co-stars West and Gene Barry. The play will run 191 performances.

1979 At the peak of her fame, "Saturday Night Live" comedienne Gilda Radner recreates some of her most popular characters in Gilda Radner - Live from New York, which plays 51 performances at the Winter Garden Theatre.

1989 Joe Hart's The People Who Could Fly opens Off-Broadway at the South Street Theater. Conceiver Hart also directs the production with a cast of 12 performers. The piece, both theatre and dance, presents tales from India, Majorca, Scotland, Haiti, Japan, and the pre-Civil War South. It will play 41 shows and return later in the year to Town Hall for nine more.

2000 Kristine Nielsen and Marian Seldes span the centuries in the Williamstown Theatre Festival production of Thornton Wilder's Skin of Our Teeth starting tonight. Darko Tresnjak directs the slightly absurb fable of human existence and endurance.

2001 Gerard Alessandrini's topically comic rewrite of Irving Berlin's last musical, Mr. President, opens at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre, playing in repertory with his Forbidden Broadway 2001: A Spoof Odyssey. The rewrite replayed the 2000 presidential election, with characters reconceived to resemble George W. Bush, Al Gore and their families and advisors.

2001 Rita Gardner, Off-Broadway's first Luisa in The Fantasticks, stars as Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, a new musical based on Charles Dickens' novel, presented at Goodspeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT.

2009 Jason Gilkison's dance revue Burn the Floor — boasting an eclectic mix of champion dancers — officially opens on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre. The production includes the team of Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff of the hit TV show "Dancing with the Stars."

2014 Chita Rivera stars in a new staging of the Kander and Ebb musical The Visit, based on Friedrich Dürrenmatt's 1956 play about a scorned woman who returns to her impoverished town seeking the ultimate revenge. Opening tonight at Williamstown, the newly streamlined 95-minute version of the musical is directed by John DoyleThe production will transfer to Broadway the following year.

More of Todays' Birthdays: Earle Larimore 1899. Myrna Loy 1905. Ruth Nelson 1905. James Baldwin 1924. Carroll O'Connor 1924. Anthony Crivello 1955. Mary-Louise Parker 1964.

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