PLAYBILL VAULT'S Today In Theatre History: NOVEMBER 24

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and Robert Viagas, Anne Bradley, Steve Luber and Sam Maher
24 Nov 2014

1849 Birthday of author Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924), author of several Broadway plays in the early the 20th century, including Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Little Princess, The Pretty Sister of Jose and That Man and I. Her novel "The Secret Garden" was adapted as a musical in 1991.

1924 Opening night at the Garrick Theatre for Sidney Howard's drama They Knew What They Wanted, about an elderly winegrower who tries to fool a mail-order bride by sending her the photo of his handsome young foreman. It wins the Pulitzer Prize, runs 414 performances, and will be adapted as the musical The Most Happy Fella in 1956.

1929 Actor Raymond Hitchcock dies. He made his first lead appearance in The Yankee Consul at the Tremont Theatre in Boston. He also appeared in Hitchy-Koo, The Sap, and Raymond Hitchcock's Pinwheel.

1934 Birthday of actor, lyricist and director Martin Charnin, a late-career collaborator of Richard Rodgers on the musicals Two by Two and I Remember Mama. His other works will include Annie, Upstairs at O'Neals, Hot Spot and The First. He will begin his career as one of the original Jets in West Side Story.

1936 Opening night of Noel Coward's play Tonight at 8:30, consisting of three one-acts, The Astonished Heart, Hands Across the Sea and Red Peppers. Coward stars with Gertrude Lawrence. The production runs 118 performances at the National Theatre.



1938 Clifford Odets writes about a dentist in the throes of what will later be called a midlife crisis in the drama Rocket to the Moon. It runs 131 performances at the Belasco and Windsor Theatres.

1940 This is the first date many legitimate theatres begin Sunday performances. In the past, the Winter Garden, the Selwyn and the Century had presented Sunday evening variety shows, but these were special vaudeville programs.

1942 Eleven years after creating the role, Paul Muni again is the Counsellor-at-Law. Elmer Rice wrote and stages this play, which will run more than 32 weeks.

1950 "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" as Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls opens at the Forty-sixth Street Theatre. George S. Kaufman directs and Michael Kidd choreographs this Abe Burrows, Jo Swerling and Loesser musical based on Damon Runyan's stories. Sam Levene is Nathan Detroit, co-starring with Robert Alda (father of Alan Alda), Isabel Bigley, Vivian Blaine and Stubby Kaye. The show gets rave reviews and runs for a total of 1,200 performances.

1951 Audrey Hepburn stars in Anita Loos' adaptation of Colette's Gigi, about the training of a beautiful young courtesan. The show will run 219 performances at the Fulton Theatre, and be adapted as a film musical of the same title in 1958, with Leslie Caron in Hepburn's role.

1961 Actress Ruth Chatterton dies at age 67. Her stage appearances include The Changelings and Mary Rose.

1975 Richard Peaslee writes the score to a musical adaptation of Giovanni Boccaccio's "The Decameron", called, for some reason, #Boccaccio. It runs just 7 performances at the Edison Theatre, despite the presence of Armand Assante as Masetto.

1986 Smile, a musical adaptation of the film about backstage emotions at a beauty pageant, opens at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Partly owing to the presence of Marvin Hamlisch as composer and Howard Ashman as lyricist-librettist, the TV series "60 Minutes" chronicles its tryouts, previews and opening night. Unfortunately, the production is slammed by critics and closes after just 48 performances. Happy ending: Ashman likes leading lady Jodi Benson so much, he helps her get the role of Ariel the Mermaid in the Disney animated film blockbuster "The Little Mermaid", for which he supplies lyrics.

1994 With a stroke of the keyboard, Broadway enters the internet age as Playbill On-Line launches its new online theatre news service.

1996 Opening night for the Broadway production of Juan Darien, with music by Elliot Goldenthal, which had previously been done Off-Off-Broadway and Off-Broadway. The production also marks the Broadway debut of director/designer Julie Taymor whose masks, puppets and innovative stage business are a sensation, even if the show itself runs just 49 performances at the Beaumont Theatre. In less than a year, Taymor will take Broadway by storm with her The Lion King, using many of the same techniques.

1997 In a one-man show written and directed by Charles Messina, Paul Goncalves portrays Queen rocker Freddie Mercury awakening from death with a new lease on life at the Sanford Meisner Theatre. In Mercury: The Afterlife And Times Of A Rock God, the singer struggles to make sense of his fate and realizes that fame, fortune and talent aren't enough for true peace of mind. "Beyond the darkness of his fear," reads the press release, "shines a light far brighter than the star he was on earth." It will run 216 performances.

2011 The West End transfer of the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Matilda — The Musical, first seen at Stratford-upon-Avon in November 2010, opens at the Cambridge Theatre. Based on the Roald Dahl novel, the musical features a book by playwright Dennis Kelly; music and lyrics by Australian comedian, musician and composer Tim Minchin; and direction by Matthew Warchus. The production will go on to win a record seven Olivier Awards, including Best Actor in a Musical for Bertie Carvel's performance as Miss Trunchbull, and Best Actress in a Musical for the four girls who share the title role. Matilda will open on Broadway in 2013.

2013 Repertory productions of Harold Pinter's No Man's Land and Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, open on Broadway at the Cort Theatre. Directed by Sean Mathias, the cast also includes Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley.

More of Today's Birthdays: Cathleen Nesbitt 1889. Garson Kanin 1912. Geraldine Fitzgerald 1913.