PLAYBILL VAULT'S Today in Theatre History: AUGUST 23

By Robert Viagas
and Doug Nevin
23 Aug 2013

1852 Broadway premiere of Uncle Tom's Cabin, based on the novel about slavery by Harriet Beecher Stowe.



1920 The Bat, the hugely popular thriller by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood, opens at the Morosco Theatre and goes on to run 867 performances.

1926 George Burns and Gracie Allen make their vaudeville bow at the Palace in New York.

1928 Birthday of actress Marian Seldes who has appeared in nearly two dozen Broadway plays including Deathtrap, Equus, The Chalk Garden, The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore and several plays by Edward Albee, including Tiny Alice and A Delicate Balance. The latter won her the 1967 Tony Award as Best Feature Actress in a Play.

1937 Eva Le Gallienne is Hamlet in a new production of Shakespeare's tragedy, opening tonight at the Cape Playhouse in Massachusetts. Le Gallienne, while an obviously odd choice to play the Danish prince, is not the first female to take on the role. Sarah Bernhardt had done it as well. Also in the cast is future stage legend Uta Hagen, making her professional debut as Ophelia.

1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning stage and screen writer Sidney Howard is killed today in a tractor accident. Howard, approximately 48 years old, won the Pulitzer for his 1924 play, They Knew What They Wanted. That play would later be made into the Frank Loesser musical, The Most Happy Fella. Just before his death, Howard had completed the screenplay for the film, "Gone With the Wind."

1960 Broadway loses a Great today as Oscar Hammerstein II dies at age 65, his final musical, The Sound of Music having recently opened. Besides the aforementioned work, Hammerstein collaborated with composer Richard Rodgers on such other musicals as Oklahoma!, Carousel, the Pulitzer-winning South Pacific, and The King and I. Before he joined forces with Rodgers, Hammerstein worked successfully with several other composers. The most popular of these earlier works and collaborations is his 1927 musical with Jerome Kern, Show Boat. On August 31, for the first time since World War II, all lights in and around Times Square and the theatre district will be turned off for one minute in honor of this Broadway legend.

1996 Landmark New York theatre company Circle in the Square declares bankruptcy and goes through years of legal wrangling before reopening in 1999 with the rediscovered, and critically lauded, Tennessee Williams drama, Not About Nightingales.

1999 Ten years and 10 Phantoms down as Howard McGillin becomes Broadway's 11th The Phantom of the Opera tonight. Hugh Panaro, the preceding Phantom, exits to take the title role in Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg's Martin Guerre. The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, which opened at the Majestic Theatre in 1988, has also featured Michael Crawford, the originator of the role, Kevin Gray, Mark Jacoby and Davis Gaines.

Today's Birthdays: Rags Ragland 1905. Gene Kelly 1912. Charles Busch 1954. Andrew Rannells 1978.