1921 Lisping comedian Ed Wynn earns a nickname with the musical comedy The Perfect Fool, written by and starring himself, which begins a 275-performance run at the Cohan Theatre. Wynn will star in many Broadway productions and films, but is perhaps best known to modern audiences as the giggling Uncle Albert who hosts the tea party on the ceiling in Disney's film "Mary Poppins".
1922 Jeanne Engels creates the role of Sadie Thompson, a prostitute at odds with a jungle missionary, in Rain, based on a W. Somerset Maugham short story. It begins a 256-performance run at Maxine Elliott's Theatre. Joan Crawford will immortalize the role on film in 1932.
1934 Opening night of Dark Victory, one of the great weepers in Broadway history, and endlessly imitated. Tallulah Bankhead stars at the Plymouth Theatre as a spoiled heiress who discovers she has just months to live, and must mend her evil ways, live life to the fullest and make peace with the world before she departs. Bette Davis will take the role in the 1939 film version.
1956 Long Day's Journey Into Night opens tonight (although against late playwright Eugene O'Neill’s wishes) at the Helen Hayes Theatre. The cast included Jason Robards, Jr., Fredric March, and Florence Eldridge, all directed by Jose Quintero. Variety reports that this play is “a monumental, overwhelming drama, terrible in its ruthlessness, searing in its self-revelation, exalting in its pity and shattering in its impact.” Brooks Atkinson declares that this production helps “acquire size and stature” for the American theatre. The show runs for 390 performances.
1958 The Quare Fellow opens Off-Broadway tonight at the Circle in the Square Theatre. The show, whose title is slang for “condemned man,” is written by Brendan Behan and starrs Liam Clancy. The show will run for 126 performances.
1968 Lee J. Cobb stars in King Lear at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. The supporting cast is a who's who of future stars: Stacy Keach, Philip Bosco, Paul Rudd, Charles Cioffi, Rene Auberjonois, and others.
1971 Sticks and Bones, the David Rabe play, opens tonight at the Public Theater. The show concerns a Vietnam vet’s return to America as a living nightmare and starred David Selby. The Golden Theatre hosts the move to Broadway of this show in 1972, with Santo Loquasto getting his first opportunity to design a Broadway set. It will run for 121 performances Off-Broadway, and then 246 performances on Broadway.
1996 The Santaland Diaries opens tonight at the Atlantic Theater Company. The play, adapted from David Sedaris' book, "Barrel Fever," features two stories: "Season's Greetings to Our Friends and Family," about a housewife who finds her husband's illegitimate daughter on her doorstep, and "The Santaland Diaries," describing the experience of working as a Christmas elf at Macy's. The show will run 63 performances.
2001 Elaine Stritch's one-woman show, Elaine Stritch: At Liberty, debuts at the Public Theater to rave reviews. The production will move to Broadway later in the season and wins a Tony Award for Special Theatrical Event.
2003 The song catalog of rocker Rod Stewart forms the basis of a new musical, Tonight's the Night, which opens today in London.
2004 Howard Keel, 85, the handsome high baritone who sang musical theatre's great roles in the film versions of Show Boat, Annie Get Your Gun, Kismet and Kiss Me, Kate (and appeared in stock and in the Broadway musical Saratoga), dies of colon cancer in Palm Desert, CA.
2011 The first Broadway revival of Godspell — Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak's 1971 rock musical that retells "The Gospel According to St. Matthew" with singing, clowning, improvisation and numerous topical references — opens at the Circle in the Square Theatre. Daniel Goldstein directs a cast featuring Hunter Parrish, Telly Leung, Lindsay Mendez and Nick Blaemire.