PLAYBILL VAULT'S Today in Theatre History: SEPTEMBER 26

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and Ernio Hernandez, Robert Viagas and Sam Maher
26 Sep 2013

1898 Composer George Gershwin is born in New York. He'll go on to write Porgy and Bess, "Rhapsody in Blue," Girl Crazy and the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, Of Thee I Sing, among many other shows and songs.



1911 William Brady's Playhouse hosts the opening tonight for Bought and Paid For, a new play by George Broadhurst about a wealthy man who eventually wins the love of his wife. During the show's 431 performances, an actor in the show, Frank Craven, is elevated to stardom. Craven will go on to play the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder's Our Town in 1938. Brooks Atkinson once commented that Craven was "[t]he best pipe and pants-pocket actor in the business."

1933 The first major success of the Group Theatre, Men in White, opens tonight at the Broadhurst Theatre. The show, written by Sidney Kingsley, is about a doctor who has to deal with decisions regarding love vs. duty. Issues included abortion and social reform -- the theatre style for which the Group Theatre would became known. Lee Strasberg directs a cast of what will become a group of very influential people in the theatre: Luther Adler, Clifford Odets, J. Edward Bromberg, and Ruth Nelson. Elia Kazan had only one line, "Hello, sweetheart." It wins the 1934 Pulitzer Prize for drama and serves as the model for all the hospital dramas to come.

1957 "It all began tonight" at the Winter Garden Theatre as West Side Story opens. The Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents classic is based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but has New York teenage gangs pitted against each other instead of Verona's dueling families. It includes such classic songs as "I Feel Pretty" and "Somewhere." The show is choreographed and staged by Peter Gennaro and Jerome Robbins, who came up with the show's original 1949 concept: "East Side Story." The piece evolved, with new music, a new location and a new ethnicity to become what it is tonight. Larry Kert, Carol Lawrence and Chita Rivera star. A film version starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer and George Chakiris (who was a member of the original London cast) was released in 1961.

1968 Robert Shaw's drama The Man in the Glass Booth opens, beginning a six-month run that will earn it 1969 Tony Award nominations for Best Play, Best Directing (Harold Pinter) and Best Actor in a Play for Donald Pleasance, who plays a Nazi war criminal on trial.

1968 Also today, Julian Beck and Judith Malina are arrested tonight in New Haven for marching out into the street virtually undressed. The two co- founders of the Living Theatre have brought their theatre company to the Yale School of Drama for productions of Frankenstein and Paradise Now. The local police chief says, "All the rest of the world may be a stage, but not the corner of York and Chapel." The couple is later acquitted of indecent exposure charges.

1985 Lily Tomlin stars in Jane Wagner's solo play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, opening tonight at the Plymouth Theatre for a 391 performance run. Tomlin's performance will earn her the 1986 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. A revival of the production, once again starring Tomlin, will play the Booth Theatre beginning in November 2000.

1998 Matthew Bourne's newly choreographed theatrical version of the ballet Swan Lake, a hit both in London and Los Angeles, begins its run on Broadway tonight at Neil Simon Theatre. The dance/theatre show, with men dancing the swan roles usually assigned to ballerinas, is co-produced by Cameron Mackintosh and Katharine Doré. Bourne will win two Tony Awards for the show (for Director of a Musical and Choreographer of a Musical) despite the show's ineligibility as a musical. "I am absolutely astonished," said Bourne in his acceptance speech. "Best director of a musical that's not even a musical."

More of Today's Birthdays: T.S. Eliot 1888. Philip Bosco 1930. Mary Beth Hurt 1946.