Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: December 28

Playbill Vault   Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: December 28
A scene from On the Town.
A scene from On the Town. Vandamm Studio / The New York Public LIbrary

1925 Queenie Smith is featured in Tip-Toes, the George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin musical about a vaudeville trio stranded in Florida. It introduces the song "Sweet and Low Down," and runs 192 performances at the Liberty Theatre.

1926 Twenty-four hours after opening the hit Peggy-Ann, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart have one of their biggest flops with the musical Betsy, a vehicle for vaudeville performer Belle Baker, which bows at the New Amsterdam Theatre, and creeps out again 39 performances later. Producer Florenz Ziegfeld reportedly didn't like his own show, and expressed his opinion of the score by interpolating an Irving Berlin tune that became a standard: "Blue Skies."

1927 George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's comedy The Royal Family opens at the Selwyn Theatre and runs for 196 performances. It's a thinly disguised portrait of the Barrymore acting dynasty.

1934 Birthday of Maggie Smith, who brings a majestic presence to stage and film roles on both sides of the Atlantic. Her Broadway experience begins with New Faces of 1956, and includes Private Lives, Night and Day, and Lettice and Lovage, the last of which wins her the Tony Award as Best Actress in a Play. She is given a title by Queen Elizabeth II, and is sometimes referred to as Dame Maggie Smith.

1938 Thornton Wilder has a flop with his comedy The Merchant of Yonkers, which closes after just 39 performances. He has more success with the revised version, retitled The Matchmaker in 1955, and even more success when it becomes the musical Hello, Dolly! in 1964.

1944 Three sailors on shore leave in New York City during World War II find romance and adventure in Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green's musical On the Town. Opening at the Adelphi Theatre, it runs for 462 performances.

1954 Clifford Odets paints a comic picture of the Biblical Noah (of Ark fame) and his wife and kids as a bickering middle-class Jewish family in The Flowering Peach. Menasha Skulnik plays Noah. It runs 135 performances at the Belasco Theatre, and is later adapted as the musical Two by Two by Martin Charnin and Richard Rodgers. It is Odets' final Broadway play.

1961 Bette Davis, Margaret Leighton, and Patrick O'Neal star in the Broadway premiere of Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana. It runs 316 performances at the Royale Theatre.

1969 James Coco is the Last of the Red Hot Lovers. Neil Simon's comedy exposes a married man worrying that the sexual revolution is happening without him. It runs for 706 performances.

1970 Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen, but no audience. John Patrick's musical adaptation of his play based on Vern Sneider's novel Teahouse of the August Moon runs two weeks.

1976 Fiddler on the Roof is revived on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre. Zero Mostel recreates his role as Tevye.

1979 The life of Piaf takes the stage at London's Aldwych Theatre. Pam Gems scripted the Royal Shakespeare Company production about the French chanteuse Edith Piaf. Jane Lapotaire stars. Gems has another critical hit in 1997 with Stanley, starring Antony Sher, at Circle in the Square.

1978 Eugene O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet is revived at the Helen Hayes Theatre with Jason Robards, Jr. and Geraldine Fitzgerald.

2003 Isabelle Stevenson, chair of the American Theatre Wing and a tireless champion of Broadway, the theatre in general, and the Tony Awards in particular, dies at age 90.

2004 Jerry Orbach, the Tony Award-winning star of Promises, Promises and other musicals, dies at age 69. Widely known as gruff detective Lennie Briscoe on TV's Law & Order, he created many famous roles in stage musicals, starting as the original El Gallo in The Fantasticks. Other roles include Billy Flynn in the 1975 Chicago and Julian Marsh in the original 42nd Street.

2015 Gotta Dance, a musical based on the 2008 documentary about professional basketball’s first-ever 60-and-older dance team, opens at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre. It features a book by Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin, music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Nell Benjamin, and additional music by the late Marvin Hamlisch. The cast includes Stefanie Powers, André De Shields, Georgia Engel, and Lillias White,

2016 Legendary star of stage and screen Debbie Reynolds—one of the last of the great MGM musical stars—dies just a day after the passing of her daughter, actor and writer Carrie Fisher. Reynolds' film roles included Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain and the title role of The Unsinkable Molly Brown. On Broadway, she starred in Irene, Woman of the Year, and a revue of musical highlights from her career, Debbie.

More of Today's Birthdays: Charles Dingle 1887. Lou Jacobi 1913. Hildegarde Neff 1925. Denzel Washington 1954. Malcolm Gets 1964.

Watch highlights from the 2015 Chicago production of Gotta Dance:

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