Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: October 18

Playbill Vault   Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: October 18
Karen Mason, Louise Pitre and Judy Kaye in Mamma Mia!
Karen Mason, Louise Pitre and Judy Kaye in Mamma Mia! Joan Marcus

1858 Our American Cousin, Tom Taylor's comedy about the difference in manners between the English and the Americans, debuts in New York today, and proves an enduring hit, touring and being revived around the U.S. It will go down in history April 14, 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln, seeking to lift his spirits after the end of the Civil War just days previously, takes in a performance at Ford's Theatre in Washington DC — and is assassinated by actor John Wilkes Booth. Booth knew just when the laughs would be loud enough — on the line "You sockdologizing old mantrap!" — to distract from the sound of his entering the president's box.

1898 Birthday of actress and singer Lotte Lenya, who starred in Berlin musicals by her husband, composer Kurt Weill, and fled with him to France and then the U.S. after the rise of Hitler. She later appeared in the long-running Off-Broadway revival of Weill's The Threepenny Opera in 1955, and in the musical Cabaret in 1966.

1950 Variety reports today that the standout feature in Guys and Dolls, which is having a tryout in Philadelphia, is Abe Burrows' book. Usually a score is most anticipated, but "the Frank Loesser score is likely to come into its rightful prominence when it has been reorchestrated to give greater emphasis to melody," says Variety. The Guys and Dolls book and score will win over the critics when it opens on Broadway on November 24 of this year.

1964 New Yorkers can either head downtown to the Sullivan Street Playhouse to see tonight's production of The Fantasticks, or they can stay home and watch the broadcast on the NBC television network. The Off-Broadway production has the honor of being the only one ever to compete directly with a televised broadcast of itself.

1966 Barbara Harris, Alan Alda and Larry Blyden star in The Apple Tree — three one-act musicals about men, women and temptation, based on stories by Mark Twain, Frank R. Stockton and Jules Feiffer — opening on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre. Written by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, and directed by Mike Nichols, it will run for 463 performances. In 2006, the Roundabout Theatre Company will revive The Apple Tree on Broadway with Kristin Chenoweth, Brian d'Arcy James and Marc Kudisch in the lead roles.

1990 Once on This Island opens on Broadway tonight at the Booth Theatre. LaChanze, Jerry Dixon and Kecia Lewis-Evans star in this musical about Caribbean fairy tales and the collision of two cultures as a young, French Antillean woman (LaChanze) falls in love with an American aristocrat (Dixon). The show, which transferred from Playwrights Horizons, runs 469 performances.

2000 Gwen Verdon, born January 13, 1925, one of the quintessential Broadway musical stars of the 20th century, died in her sleep while visiting her daughter, Nicole Greiner. Verdon won four Tony Awards over her three-decade stage career, for Can-Can in 1954; Damn Yankees in 1956; New Girl in Town in 1958 (in a tie with Thelma Ritter); and 1959 for Redhead. She was also nominated for her portrayals in Sweet Charity and Chicago.

2001 The blockbuster musical Mamma Mia! opens on Broadway with a record advance sale. Built around 1970s disco hits by the rock band ABBA, it will run for almost 14 years.

2015 The world premiere of Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Sherman Yellen's Rothschild & Sons opens Off-Broadway at the York Theatre Company. The musical was originally presented on Broadway in 1970 as The Rothschilds, but this new version condenses the story into one act, and includes several new songs. Robert Cuccioli stars as patriarch Mayer Rothschild.

More of Today's Birthdays: Miriam Hopkins 1902. Sidney Kingsley 1906. Gabriel Dell 1919. George C. Scott 1927. Gary Geld 1935. Ntozake Shange 1948. Wendy Wasserstein 1950.

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