PLAYBILL VAULT'S Today in Theatre History: SEPTEMBER 27

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and Robert Viagas and Ernio Hernandez
27 Sep 2013

1898 Birthday of Vincent Youmans (1898-1946), one of the iconic Broadway composers of the 1920s, whose career will go into a nosedive after that bubbly decade ends. His scores will include No, No, Nanette, Two Little Girls in Blue, Hit the Deck and Wildflower. His classic showtune is "Tea for Two."



1932 Milton Berle gets his Broadway break today in Earl Carroll's Vanities of 1932, which opens tonight at the Broadway Theatre. The former Vaudeville star gets to sing the popular song, "I Got a Right to Sing the Blues" by Harold Arlen in this production, which is staged by Vincente Minnelli. The show will run for 11 weeks only, racking up 87 performances.

1942 Today is the wedding day for two famous couples, both very significant in the theatre world. Jessica Tandy marries Hume Cronyn, starting a relationship that would blossom on stage as well as off, since they often worked together. They will star in Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance in 1966, as well as The Gin Game by D.L. Coburn on Broadway in 1977 and the films "Foxfire" and "Batteries Not Included." Stella Adler and Harold Clurman are also married today. Both were founders of the Group Theatre, a socially-conscious troupe that became one of the most influential theatre companies of the century.

1966 The Actors Studio announces today that it will cancel its season due to a funding shortage. The Three Sisters was the last production, having taken place in 1964, and the profits left the company with just enough money to retain an infrastructure.

1972 The first graduating class of the Drama Division at the Juilliard School (referred to as "Group I") is directed by John Houseman in a production of School for Scandal. It's the first production of the City Center Acting Company and takes place at the Good Shepherd-Faith Church at Lincoln Center. Kevin Kline, playing Charles Surface, gets rave reviews from The New Yorker ("handsome," "rollicking"), but Patti LuPone's Lady Teazle does not get such great notices. She "has not yet the stage presence or dignity" for the role, but "she is appropriately merry and sly."

1977 Estelle Parsons turns a whole Broadway theatre into her classroom and the audience into her unruly students in her tour-de-force solo show, Miss Margarida's Way, which opens today at the Ambassador Theatre, and later earns her a Tony nomination as Best Actress in a Play.

1999 The season at Chicago's Victory Gardens Theatre kicks off tonight with Bluff, a new comedy-drama by playwright Jeffrey Sweet. Directed by Sandy Shinner, Bluff will star Jon Cryer known for his work in film, such as "Pretty In Pink." The play tells of a young couple coping with family baggage.

2003 A sad day for theatre fans, with the deaths of two titans. Elia Kazan, the influential and controversial stage and film director who had a critical impact on post-World War II American theatre, dies at his New York home at age 94. He created the original stagings of Arthur Miller's two first major plays, All My Sons and Death of a Salesman, his efforts going a long way toward establishing Miller as a leading American playwright. He was also a force in the career of Tennessee Williams, directing A Streetcar Named Desire, Sweet Bird of Youth, Camino Real and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Mr. Kazan also directed the original productions of such important works as The Skin of Our Teeth, Tea and Sympathy, J.B., One Touch of Venus and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, but was ostracized by many of his contemporaries after he cooperated with the House Un-American Activities Committee during the anti-communist McCarthy-era "witch hunts" of the 1950s.

2003 Also today, Donald O'Connor, who appeared in a few Broadway musicals late in his career but is remembered by millions for his breezy, comic footwork in films like Singin' in the Rain, dies in California at age 78. Many critics consider his slapstick masterpiece "Make 'Em Laugh" the highlight of that film and one of the most sublimely perfect moments in movie musical history. On Broadway, he was Cap'n Andy in the 1983 revival of Show Boat. Two years earlier, he toplined the very short-lived Bring Back Birdie.

2004 Val Kilmer warbles the phrase "Let my people go..." in song as Moses in The Ten Commandments: The Spectacle Musical, which opens today at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles.

2009 Peter Sellars' contemporary take on William Shakespeare's Othello, which aims to shed new light on race and power in modern politics, opens at the NYU Skirball Center. The co-production between the Public Theater and LAByrinth Theater Company stars John Ortiz in the title role opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman as Iago.

2012 Manhattan Theatre Club's revival of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, adapted by British dramatist Rebecca Lenkiewicz and directed by Doug Hughes, opens on Broadway at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Boyd Gaines plays the righteous title character, with Richard Thomas as his mayor-brother.

More of Today's Birthdays: Joseph McCarthy 1885. Jayne Meadows 1920. Stephen Douglass 1921. Mary McCarty 1923. Sada Thompson 1929. Meat Loaf 1947.