1900 One of the most famous of all stage performers, Helen Hayes, is born (as Helen Hayes Brown) today. She will make her stage debut at age five and star in such Broadway hits as To The Ladies, Victoria Regina and Mary of Scotland. In 1958 she stars in Eugene O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet at what had been the Fulton Theatre but was newly christened "The Helen Hayes Theatre." That theatre is destroyed in 1982 to make way for the Marriot Marquis Hotel. The old Little/Winthrop Ames Theatre on West 44th Street is re-christened the Helen Hayes.
1927 Also tonight, Dorothy Heyward and DuBose Heyward open their drama Porgy, about a crippled beggar who finds love. It will serve as the basis of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess, opening precisely eight years later.
1930 Birthday of British dramatist Harold Pinter, who would go on to write The Caretaker, Betrayal, The Birthday Party, No Man's Land, The Homecoming and other plays. 1935 George and Ira Gershwin collaborate with DuBose Heyward on the opera Porgy and Bess, which runs just 124 performance on Broadway, but goes on to a long life in revivals, repertory and film. Todd Duncan and Anne Wiggins Brown play the original title characters. In supporting roles are Ford L. Buck and John W. Bubbles, the onetime Vaudeville team of Buck and Bubbles.
1947 Today is the opening of a groundbreaking musical at the Majestic Theatre: Allegro, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Agnes de Mille staged this production, which starred Lisa Kirk, John Battles, and Roberta Jonay. The most highly anticipated musical of the 1940s, Allegro sold 250,000 tickets and had $750,000 in the box office before it even opened. The sets were abstract and minimalist, the chorus served the same dramatic purpose as the Greek equivalent (comment and interpretation), and a symphony orchestra provided much of the music. Using such non-traditional measures to achieve a dramatic effect was not common for a Broadway show at the time, so the devices provided a rare outlet for less realistic and naturalistic theatre. Although some reviewers thought the work unclear, several critics were fascinated. Robert Coleman of the Daily Mirror stated that "Perfection and great are not words that are to be lightly used...but Allegro is perfection, great." He also called it a "stunning blend of beauty, integrity, intelligence, imagination, taste, and skill." The show ran 315 performances. Future note: Hammerstein's gofer on the production was a teen-aged family friend by the name of Stephen Sondheim. On this night, at the opening, he met another ambitious young talent, Harold Prince, with whom he would later create Company, Follies, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music and other shows.
1961 Composer Jerry Herman makes his Broadway debut tonight with the musical Milk and Honey, set in Israel. It runs 543 performances, and earns Herman his first Tony nomination. Before the decade is out, he'll add Hello, Dolly! and Mame to his resume.
1962 The Alley Theatre of Houston gets a grant of $2,100,000 today. It is the biggest amount of money given by the Ford Foundation in its grant program of money going to regional theatres. The commitment is for $6.1 million to nine different companies.
1965 Twelve days before she will appear on the cover of Life for doing so, Mary Martin will begin a 10-day tour of U.S. Military installations in Vietnam at the Bien Hoa air base, performing with the touring company of Hello, Dolly!, with herself in the title role. General William Westmoreland and South Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky are in the audience.
1985 Yul Brynner, the man responsible for making the King of Siam famous in The King and I dies today. Brynner's work in the stage version of that show is known around the world, having racked up over 4,000 performances, starting in 1951 and not ending until June 1985 — only two months before his death. Brynner will also be remembered for the 1956 movie version of "The King and I" and also the films "Anastasia" in 1956 and "The Magnificent Seven" in 1960.
1985 Also on this date, Orson Welles passes away. Welles will be remembered for his Academy Award winning work as a director, writer, actor and producer, and especially for the 1941 classic, "Citizen Kane," which some call the best movie ever made. Welles' theatre work included shows with The Mercury Theatre and the Federal Theatre Project, directing and starring in such plays as Dr. Faustus and Julius Caesar. He also directed the 1956 production of King Lear in New York and appeared for the first time in London in 1951, playing the title character in Othello. He was 70 years old.
1986 A revival of Pierre Augustin Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro, as adapted and translated by Richard Nelson, opens on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre. Andrei Serban directs a cast that includes Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Christopher Reeve and Dana Ivey. The production lasts 77 performances before closing Dec. 15.
1996 Ten years after opening in the Broadway revival of The Marriage of Figaro, Dana Ivey co-stars with Sigourney Weaver in Christopher Durang's Broadway play Sex and Longing, which opens at the Cort Theatre under the auspices of Lincoln Center Theater. Critics react with disgust at the black comedy in which a woman has her hands dismembered. The production will play out its limited run of 45 performances.
2002 Opening night for Off-Broadway's The Exonerated, penned by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, drawn from interviews of forty former death row inmates who were later found not guilty and released. It will run 608 performances and tour.
2002 Also today, the first performance of A Man of No Importance, a musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, whose previous work includes Ragtime and Seussical. The show completes its limited run through the end of the year at Lincoln Center Theater, and is recorded.
2003 Goodspeed Musicals revives A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the rarely-seen 1951 Dorothy Fields- Arthur Schwartz musical based on the Betty Smith novel of love and life in the working class, with the George Abbott and Betty Smith libretto revised by director Elinor Renfield. Two songs are added to the score: "Tuscaloosa" (cut from the show before it arrived on Broadway) and "I'm Proud of You" (a Schwartz-Fields trunk song).
2013 Randy Johnson's A Night with Janis Joplin, starring Mary Bridget Davies as the late rock singer, opens on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre. It will run for 140 performances, and earn Davies a Tony nomination.