1925 Birthday of one of Broadway's all-time greatest leading ladies, Gwen Verdon (1925-2000). She was nominated for the Tony Award as Best Actress or Featured Actress in a Musical six times, and won four times, for Can-Can, Damn Yankees, New Girl in Town, and Redhead. She rose to stardom in a featured role in Cole Porter's Can-Can and later created the title role of Sweet Charity and originated the role of Roxie Hart in Chicago. A dancer all her life, she married choreographer Bob Fosse in 1960 and was at his side when he collapsed and died in 1987. Their daughter is Nicole Fosse. Her final Broadway credit was as artistic advisor on the Tony-winning revue of his work, Fosse. She introduced several Broadway standards, including "Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets" 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, this 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 today. 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 A new Broadway production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest opens at the American Airlines Theatre. Directed by and starring Brian Bedford, the 1895 comedy is produced by Roundabout Theatre Company, borrowing some elements from Bedford's 2009 production at Ontario's Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
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.
2016 Brian Bedford, the British-born performer who was one of the great stage actors of his generation, with a peculiar affinity for the classics, and a particular association with Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival, dies at age 80. He received Tony nominations for his performances in Two Shakespearean Actors, Timon of Athens, The Moliére Comedies, London Assurance, Tartuffe, and The Importance of Being Earnest, and won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for The School for Wives.
More of Today's Birthdays: Harry Ellerbe 1905. Ruth Taylor 1908. Robert Stack 1919. Roland Petit 1924. Frances Sternhagen 1930. Charles Nelson Reilly 1931. Rip Taylor 1934. Matthew Bourne 1960. Kevin Anderson 1960. Ruth Wilson 1982.
Watch highlights from the 2011 Broadway revival of The Importance of Being Earnest, starring Brian Bedford: