1900 One of the most famous of all stage performers, Helen Hayes, was born (as Helen Hayes Brown) today. She made her stage debut at age five and starred in such Broadway hits as To The Ladies, Victoria Regina and Mary of Scotland. In 1958 she starred in Eugene O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet at what had been the Fulton Theatre but was newly christened "The Helen Hayes Theatre." That theatre was destroyed in 1982 to make way for the Marriot Marquis Hotel, and a neighboring theatre on West 44th Street was re-named the Helen Hayes.
1947 Today is the opening of a groundbreaking musical at the Majestic Theatre: Allegro, by Rodgers & Hammerstein. Agnes DeMille staged this production, which starred Lisa Kirk, John Battles, and Roberta Jonay. The most highly anticipated musical of the 1940s, Allegro sold 250,000 tickets and had $750,000 in the box office before it even opened. The sets were abstract and minimalist, the chorus served the same dramatic purpose as the Greek equivalent (comment and interpretation), and a symphony orchestra provided much of the music. Using such non-traditional measures to achieve a dramatic effect was not common for a Broadway show at the time, so the devices provided a rare outlet for less realistic and naturalistic theatre. Although some reviewers thought the work unclear, several critics were fascinated. Robert Coleman of the Daily Mirror stated that "Perfection and great are not words that are to be lightly used...but Allegro is perfection, great." He also called it a "stunning blend of beauty, integrity, intelligence, imagination, taste, and skill." The show ran 315 performances.
1962 The Alley Theatre of Houston gets a grant of $2,100,000 today. It is the biggest amount of money given by the Ford Foundation in its grant program of money going to regional theatres. The commitment is for $6.1 million to nine different companies.
1965 Twelve days before she will appear on the cover of Life for doing so, Mary Martin will begin a 10-day tour of U.S. Military installations in Vietnam at the Bien Hoa air base, performing with the touring company of Hello, Dolly!, herself in the title role. General William Westmoreland and South Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky are in the audience.
1985 Yul Brynner, the man responsible for making the King of Siam famous in The King and I dies today. Brynner's work in the stage version of that show is known around the world, having racked up over 4,000 performances, starting in 1951 and not ending until June 1985 -- only two months before his death. Brynner will also be remembered for the 1956 movie version of "The King and I" and also the films "Anastasia" in1956 and "The Magnificent Seven" in 1960. Also on this date, Orson Welles passed away. Welles will be remembered for his Academy Award winning work as a director, writer, actor and producer, and especially for the 1941 classic, "Citizen Kane," which some call the best movie ever made. Welles' theatre work included shows with the Federal Theatre Project, directing and starring in such plays as Macbeth (1936) and Dr. Faustus (1937). He also directed the 1956 production of King Lear in New York and appeared for the first time in London in 1951, playing the title character in Othello. He was 70 years old. 1986 A revival of Pierre Augustin Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro, as adapted and translated by Richard Nelson, opens on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre. Andrei Serban directs a cast that includes Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Christopher Reeve and Dana Ivey. The production lasts 77 performances before closing Dec. 15.
1996 Ten years after opening in the Broadway revival of The Marriage of Figaro, Dana Ivey co-stars with Sigourney Weaver in Christopher Durang's Sex and Longing which opens at Lincoln Center Theatre's Cort Theatre. The production will play a limited run of 45 performances.
-- By Sam Maher and Ernio Hernandez