PLAYBILL VAULT'S Today In Theatre History: DECEMBER 8

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and Robert Viagas, Christopher Reichheld, Sam Maher and Anne Bradley
08 Dec 2013

1903 Mam'selle Napoleon is Anna Held in this musical at the Knickerbocker Theatre. Produced by Held's husband Florenz Ziegfeld, with a score by Gustav Luders, this show will have a 43-performance run.

1911 Birthday of actor Lee J. Cobb (1911-1976), who will create many memorable roles in the 1930s to 1950s, most notably Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman.

1925 "Why a duck?" The ineffable question is first asked on Broadway today, the opening night of the George S. Kaufman/Irving Berlin musical The Cocoanuts at the Lyric Theatre with four young stars who overshadowed even the august writing team: The Marx Brothers, Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo. The anarchic nonsense about the Florida land rush runs 377 performances and is made into a classic film (minus most of the songs).

1925 Also today: birthday of entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990), who will begin in small clubs and rise to become a Las Vegas headliner, film star and member of the "Rat Pack" of 1950s swingers. His Broadway work will include starring roles in Mr. Wonderful and the musical Golden Boy.

1930 Cole Porter scandalizes Broadway with the streetwalker's lament, "Love For Sale," in the musical The New Yorkers, which opens tonight at B.S. Moss's Broadway Theatre for a run of 168 performances. Included in the huge cast are Jimmy Durante and Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians.



1937 It's a short Siege at the Longacre Theatre. This Irwin Shaw drama about a group of Spanish Loyalists will last only five performances.

1943 John Van Druten's romantic comedy The Voice of the Turtle opens today at the Morosco Theatre, and goes on to a remarkable 1,557-performance run.

1948 Rex Harrison is Henry VIII and Joyce Redman is Anne of the Thousand Days, by Maxwell Anderson. This drama dealing with the King's betrothal and marriage to Anne Boleyn will run 286 performances.

1949 Carol Channing blinks her big round eyes and warbles "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" on the opening night of the musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at the Ziegfeld Theatre. It will run 740 performances and make Channing into an icon.

1965 Lauren Bacall and Barry Nelson star in Cactus Flower. Abe Burrows directs and also adapted this work from Fleur de Cactus by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy. It will run 1,234 performances.

1979 Today's Saturday matinee of Grease is the 3,243 performance, making it the longest running show in Broadway history to that point. Grease passes Fiddler on the Roof, which had overtaken Life With Father in 1972, when this production of Grease was 128 performances into its pre-Broadway run. The long-run title is now held by Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera.

1991 One of the biggest musical flops of the 1990s, Nick & Nora, opens tonight at the Marquis Theatre — and closes 9 performances later, despite a book by Arthur Laurents, score by Charles Strouse and Richard Maltby, Jr., and performances by Joanna Gleason, Barry Bostwick and Faith Prince.

1994 Not a good date for Faith Prince, who opens on Broadway playing a dead housewife who returns to life in Donald Margulies' What's Wrong With This Picture?. It runs 12 performances at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.

1996 The epic musical Ragtime, with a book by Terrence McNally and a score by Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty, has its world premiere in Toronto. Reviews are strong for the show's subsequent Broadway mounting, but the show's high cost, coupled with other financial woes, would eventually wreck its producing organization, Livent, Inc. SFX Productions would buy what remained of the company, only to be taken over itself by Clear Channel.

1999 Liza Minnelli opens her new show, Minnelli on Minnelli, tonight at the site of her mother's triumphant stage appearance decades earlier: The Palace Theatre. Minnelli on Minnelli is a musical tribute to Vincente Minnelli, featuring songs from movies that had been directed by Minnelli, sung by his daughter, Liza, such as "The Boy Next Door" from "Meet Me in St. Louis" and "I Got Rhythm" from "An American in Paris."

2002 Baz Luhrmann's staging of the opera La Boheme opens on Broadway today, with a directorial concept that makes it resemble a Broadway musical. The show will run 228 performances and win a special Tony honor for its three rotating casts of leads.

2011 The LeVay family of Lydia R. Diamond's Stick Fly gather at their plush Martha's Vineyard home for a summer weekend of scrabble and secrets. Tony winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Dule Hill, Mekhi Phifer and Tracie Thoms star in the comedy that opens on Broadway at the Cort Theatre.

More of Today's Birthdays: Georges Feydeau 1862. James Thurber 1894. Maximilian Schell 1930. Herb Gardner 1934. David Carradine 1936. Graciela Daniele 1939. John Rubinstein 1946.