PLAYBILL VAULT'S Today in Theatre History: AUGUST 20

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and Ernio Hernandez, Robert Viagas
20 Aug 2014

1884 Actress Julia Sanderson, one of musical theatre's leading ladies during the first decades of the 20th century, is born today as Julia Sackett. Shows in which she starred included The Siren (1911), Rambler Rose (1917), and Oh, Kay! (1928). Although she lived until 1975, Sanderson would leave showbiz hustle and bustle by the 1930's.



1885 Broadway premiere of the hit London operetta The Mikado by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, at the Fifth Avenue Theatre.

1924 Victor Herbert's operetta The Dream Girl opens at the Ambassador Theatre, starring Fay Bainter and George LeMaire. It will run 117 performances.

1934 Playwright Sidney Kingsley has a hit with a stage adaptation of Sinclair Lewis's novel Dodsworth, starring Walter Huston, Fay Bainter and the ever-mysterious Georgette Spelvin. Having originally opened at the Shubert Theatre on Feb. 24, 1934, the production returns today following a summer hiatus.

1956 Future stage and film actress Joan Allen is born today in Rochelle, Illinois. Allen will have several great successes on the Broadway stage, winning the Tony Award for her performance in Burn This and another nomination for her performance of the title role in Wendy Wasserstein's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Heidi Chronicles. In filmdom, Allen will receive Academy Award nominations as best supporting actress for 1995's "Nixon" and 1996's "The Crucible." Other film credits include "Searching for Bobby Fisher," "Face/Off," and "Peggy Sue Got Married."

1957 Two months after being forced out of the 85th Street Playhouse when the theatre was closed for violating fire department regulations and operating without a license, Langston Hughes and David Martin's musical Simply Heavenly re-opens on Broadway at the Playhouse Theatre. The production is once again directed by Joshua Shelley, and stars Claudia McNeil, Melvin Stewart, Anna English, John Bouie and Marilyn Berry.

1987 Frank Langella and Donal Donnelly star as Holmes and Watson in Charles Marowitz's Sherlock's Last Case, which begins a 124-performance run on Broadway today.

1998 Returning to Off-Broadway, where she originated the role of Li'l Bit in Paula Vogel's How I Learned To Drive in 1997, film and stage actress Mary-Louise Parker stars in Alan Ayckbourn's Communicating Doors. The comedy thriller opens tonight at OB's Variety Arts Theatre. The actress will go on to originate the role of Catherine in the David Auburn's Proof at Manhattan Theatre Club and win the Tony Award for Best Actress when it transfers to Broadway.

2001 The box office opens officially at the Winter Garden Theatre for Mamma Mia!, but it's just a formality. Internet and telephone advance sales have already sold-out the middle orchestra seats until February 2002.

2004 Angels in America star Kathleen Chalfant heads the Off-Broadway cast of the London stage show Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom. The documentary drama is based on testimony of British prisoners detained by American forces at the Guantanamo military base under suspicion of terrorist activities.

2012 Phyllis Diller, the outrageous stand-up comic who was one of the first women to find wide success in her field, dies at age 95. Ms. Diller entered the comedy world in the late '50s, and won audiences over with a machine-gun routine of one-liners that sent up her looks, her fictitious husband Fang, and her supposedly abysmal performance as a spouse and housewife. In theatre, she appeared in many stock and touring productions, and starred on Broadway as Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! in late 1969 and early 1970.

More of Today's Birthdays: Jacqueline Susann 1918. Regina Resnik 1922. Andrew Garfield 1983.