PLAYBILL VAULT'S Today In Theatre History: OCTOBER 17

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and Robert Viagas, Sam Maher and Steve Luber
17 Oct 2014

1888 Broadway premiere of the W. S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan operetta The Yeomen of the Guard.



1915 Arthur Miller born today. The multiple Tony- and Pulitzer-winner becomes one of the foremost American playwrights of the post-WWII era, with dramas like All My Sons, The Crucible and his magnum opus Death of a Salesman, that look deeply into the nation's soul.

1946 Birth in Scotland of mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh whose four giant international hits, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Miss Saigon and Cats make him the richest and most successful stage producer ever.

1951 Today is Walter Kerr's first day as "guest critic" at the Herald-Tribune. He will end up staying for 15 years, leaving only because of the demise of the paper. In his first review, he classifies the show A Sleep of Prisoners by Christopher Fry as "vigorous, dignified and overly intellectualized." Kerr is best known for his work at the New York Times, whose staff he joined in 1966. The Ritz Theatre was renamed in his honor in 1990.

1954 Birth of Susan Stroman, who dominated Broadway at the turn of the 21st century with productions including The Producers, Contact, Crazy for You and Show Boat, putting her at the forefront of her generation of choreographer-directors.

1960 Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick follow their Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Fiorello! with Tenderloin, opening today at the 46th Street Theatre for a 216 performance run. Maurice Evans stars as Reverand Brock, a preacher who is determined to rid 1890s New York City of its red-light district. The score includes the song "Artifical Flowers," which will become a popular hit when recorded by Bobby Darrin.

1965 Barbara Harris and John Cullum star in the reincarnation musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, with music by Burton Lane and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. A revised version of the musical, starring Harry Connick, Jr., David Turner and Jessie Mueller, will open on Broadway in 2011.

1966 La MaMa Experimental Theatre Company is the subject of headlines today as artistic director Ellen Stewart threatens to close the theatre because of Actors' Equity Association's refusal to allow her actors to work below scale. Her 74-seat theatre prevents her company from making enough money to pay her actors the minimum wage required by Equity. After a month, Equity concedes and allows her actors to work below scale.

1973 A family's wedding preparations are the subject of David Storey's play The Contractor, which opens tonight at the Chelsea Manhattan Theatre. Joseph Maher is in the cast, along with Reid Shelton and Lynn Ann Leveridge. The show will run only 72 performances.

1982 A revival of Sam Shepard's True West opens at the Cherry Lane Theatre tonight. Gary Sinise directs and stars in this show, which runs 762 performances. Co-stars are John Malkovich, Sam Schacht and Margaret Thomson. Although the original production at the Public Theater in 1980 was repudiated by its author, he says he appreciates this new version, as do critics and theatregoers, who will come to regard this mounting as a landmark. True West will finally reach Broadway in 2000, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly alternating roles at Circle in the Square.

1999 "Hello, my little possums!" is the rallying cry on Broadway as Dame Edna Everage (a.k.a. Barry Humphries) opens The Royal Tour on Broadway today. Dame Edna charms U.S. audiences in her talk-show-esque performance in which she uses her wit and presence to rant and lecture on just about anything. The show will run 297 performances.

2001 Andrew Lloyd Webber's By Jeeves begins Broadway previews — 26 years after it debuted under the title Jeeves in London. The musical will have a 10-week run, ALW's shortest on Broadway.

2002 A revival of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's Flower Drum Song opens on Broadway today, with a new book by Tony-winning playwright David Henry Hwang, who addresses what he calls long-standing ethnic sensitivities about the show. Hwang says he has tried to write the libretto Hammerstein would have written had he been Asian-American.

2003 Janice Rule, the actress who played pretty sister Madge in Broadway's Picnic, opposite a young Paul Newman in the early 1950s, dies at her home in Manhattan at age 72. Rule's Broadway credits include playing Diana in The Happiest Girl in the World, a musical version of Lysistrata; The Night Circus (1958); Clifford Odets' The Flowering Peach (1954); and the Irving Berlin musical, Miss Liberty (1949).

2012 Future Tony Award-winning musical Kinky Boots opens its world premiere engagement at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre. With music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein, the production will open on Broadway the following April.

2013 Roger Rees stars in the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Terence Rattigan's classic drama about family loyalty, The Winslow Boy, opening at the American Airlines Theatre. Lindsay Posner directs a cast that also features Michael Cumpsty, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Alessandro Nivola.

More of Today's Birthdays: Jean Arthur 1900. Irene Ryan 1902. Montgomery Clift 1920. Tom Poston 1921. Mary Bryant 1932. Gretchen Cryer 1935. Patti Cohenour 1952. Rob Marshall 1960. David Cromer 1964.