PLAYBILL VAULT'S Today in Theatre History: OCTOBER 20

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

1882 Birthday of Bela Lugosi, Hungarian-born actor who plays a variety of character roles before landing the part that will make him an icon, the title role in Dracula, first on Broadway (in 1927), then on film. He lives to 1956.



1889 Birthday of Margaret Dumont, Broadway actress in The Fan and The Rise of Rosie O'Reilly, who is best known as a comic foil for The Marx Brothers on Broadway and in film. She will live to 1965.

1894 Birthday of Olive Thomas, a Ziegfeld girl and Vargas pinup who made only one Broadway appearance, in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1915, but who died, possibly of suicide, in 1920 and whose spirit is believed to haunt Broadway's New Amsterdam Theatre, with sightings reported into the 21st century.

1904 Opening night of Higgledy-Piggledy, a musical revue with Marie Dressler, Anna Held, Joseph Weber and other period stars. Its 185-performance success helps inspire producer Florenz Ziegfeld to try three years later for a more sophisticated revue, which he will dub his Follies.

1908 Little Nemo, composer Victor Herbert's musical adaptation of the popular comic strip of the same name, opens on Broadway for a 111-performance run.

1923 Opening night of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1923, at 233 performances one of the longest-running of the series, featuring Fanny Brice, Bert Wheeler and Paul Whiteman's Orchestra. The score features music by Victor Herbert and Rudolf Friml.

1935 Birth date of Jerry Orbach, crusty, macho star of TV's "Law & Order," who will have a long career in musicals, originating the roles of El Gallo in The Fantasticks, Billy Flynn in Chicago, Julian Marsh in 42nd Street and Chuck Baxter in Promises, Promises.

1947 The National Theatre is host tonight for the opening of Robinson Jeffers' rendition of the Greek classic Medea by Euripides. John Gielgud directs and also stars in this production, along with Judith Anderson and Marian Seldes (making her Broadway debut). Anderson's portrayal of the title character is "a burning performance in a savage part," according to Brooks Atkinson. He says that she "understands the character more thoroughly than Medea, Euripides or the scholars, and it would be useless now for anyone else to attempt the part." The show will run 214 performances.

1954 The musical Peter Pan shows audiences how fun it is to be a kid as it opens tonight at the Winter Garden Theatre. The show is based on the 1904 fantasy by James M. Barrie and features a score by Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Jule Styne, Carolyn Leigh and Mark Charlap. Mary Martin in the title role wins critical acclaim as she performs with her 12-year-old daughter Heller Halliday (playing Liza, the maidservant) and Cyril Ritchard as menacing Captain Hook. Walter Kerr reports that he "doesn't know what all the fuss is about. I always knew Mary Martin could fly." Although very well received by critics and a following that is too big to imagine, the original production runs only 152 performances.

1955 Ira Levin's comedy No Time for Sergeants opens at the Alvin Theatre, making a star of country bumpkin Andy Griffith. It runs 796 performances.

1962 The musical Mr. President opens on Broadway and proves to be the swan song for composer Irving Berlin, who subsequently retires at age 74. He lives on to be 101.

1977 David Mamet's valentine to the stage, A Life in the Theatre, opens tonight at the Theatre De Lys. This comedy is not only about two actors but also about mentors in general and the rites of passage between teachers and disciples. Ellis Rabb and Peter Evans star in this production, which will run 288 performances. The play will be turned into a made-for-TV film in 1993 with Jack Lemmon and Matthew Broderick, and the play will make its Broadway debut in 2010 in a production starring Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight.

1977 Frank Langella and Edward Gorey's sets are the stars of Dracula, Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston's adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel. The show will run for 925 performances. Coincidentally, this is also the birthday of Bela Lugosi, who made the role famous in the 1927-28 season, as well as later on film.

1988 The Cocktail Hour by A.R. Gurney begins its 350-show run at the Promenade Theatre tonight. Nancy Marchand plays a woman whose son, played by Bruce Davison, has written a play about his family.

1992 Larry Kramer continues his AIDS drama The Normal Heart with The Destiny of Me at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Future Hedwig and the Angry Inch star and creator John Cameron Mitchell stars tonight in this production, whose reviews will be mixed. Piper Laurie and Jonathan Hadary are also in the cast. The show will run 175 performances.

2002 Popular French composer Michel Legrand makes his Broadway debut with the musical Amour, adapted from his Paris hit Le Passe Muraille, about a mousy man who acquires the magical ability to walk through walls. It is judged too slight for Broadway and closes after just a three-week run.

2005 Joe Brooks' musical In My Life opens on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre. In the show, an androgynous angel-like character flies through heaven and plots "God's reality opera," which stars a singer-songwriter who has Tourette Syndrome. It also includes a band of pirates, dancing skeletons, and heavenly denizens singing jingles about Dr. Pepper and Volkswagen. Jessica Boevers, Christopher J. Hanke, and David Turner star. Baffling critics and audiences alike, In My Life closes after 61 performances. The show's swing Jonathan Groff, who made his Broadway debut in the production, will return to Broadway a year later as one of the stars of Spring Awakening.

2011 Relatively Speaking, an evening of one-act comedies written by Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Woody Allen, opens on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. John Turturro directs a cast that includes Marlo Thomas, Steve Guttenberg, Danny Hoch, Julie Kavner, Ari Graynor and Mark Linn-Baker.

More of Today's Birthdays: Edgar Selwyn 1875. Jelly Roll Morton 1890. Morrie Ryskind 1895. Arlene Francis 1908.