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Playbill Vault’s Today in Theatre History: September 21

1896 Florenz Ziegfeld makes his debut as a Broadway producer. The Parlor March opens at the Herald Square Theatre, starring Anna Held (his mistress and later wife). Ziegfeld’s specialty will be “glorifying the American girl” in huge Broadway spectaculars throughout the early 20th century.

1917 Variety reports that producer George Tyler has found the new star for his upcoming production of Pollyanna in Rochester, New York. It is Helen Hayes. The headline reads, “Tyler’s 17-Year-Old ‘Find'” and the article states that, “[h]er present manager proclaims her as one of the stars within a very few seasons.”

1938 George Kelly‘s Reflected Glory begins performances at the Morosco Theatre, where it stays for 127 performances. Tallulah Bankhead stars as an actor torn between her desire for a career and her desire for marriage.

1938 In mid-September 1999, New York experiences the effect of a hurricane on Broadway. Ethel Barrymore has a similar experience in 1938 on this date. It takes her 45 minutes to get from her hotel to the theatre, which is only seven blocks away, because of the great New England hurricane. She is performing in Whiteoaks at the Plymouth Theatre in Boston. Even after her unsteady arrival, the show is still delayed for an hour because there is a gap on the roof from where the skylight has blown off that has to be covered. The Producer’s Credo, “The show must go on!” (which, by the way, belongs solely to the producer, not to the actor as history has it) probably didn’t ring any more true than on this date in theatre history.

1966 A Hand Is on the Gate, billed as “an evening of poetry and music by American Negroes,” opens on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre. The cast of eight includes Leon Bibb, James Earl Jones, and Cicely Tyson.

1966 Following a hit run at the New York State Theater and a national tour, Ethel Merman returns to Broadway as Annie Oakley in a revival of Annie Get Your Gun, playing the same role she originated 20 years earlier. In honor of the revival, composer Irving Berlin writes a new song for the musical called “Old Fashioned Wedding,” and according to the New York Times, it stops the show with Merman having to do “a minimum of four encores of the song at each performance.”

1999 The United States Postal Service honors nine Broadway composers and/or lyricists by unveiling the Broadway Songwriters postage stamp series at the Broadhurst Theatre. The six stamp designs include composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II (pictured together), lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe (together), composer George Gershwin and lyricist Ira Gershwin (together), lyricist Lorenz Hart, composer-lyricist Meredith Willson, and composer-lyricist Frank Loesser.

2001 The Kander & Ebb musical The Visit opens a tryout at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, starring Chita Rivera and John McMartin. The show finally arrives on Broadway 14 years later, with Rivera starring opposite Roger Rees.

Today’s Birthdays: Maurice Barrymore 1847. Frederick Jackson 1886. Larry Hagman 1931. Marsha Norman 1947. Billy Porter 1969.

Watch highlights from the 2015 Broadway production of The Visit, starring Chita Rivera and Roger Rees:

United Solo, World’s Largest Solo Theatre Festival, Opens in NYC September 19

The 10th anniversary of United Solo, the largest solo theatre festival of its kind, kicks off at Off-Broadway’s Theatre Row September 19. Featuring over 130 productions from around the world, the festival offers up to five monologue performances each day through November 24.

In celebration of its decade-long run, this year’s United Solo includes a “Best Of” category, featuring award-winning artists and companies invited by the United Solo Academy to return for the 10th anniversary season. Among the shows featured in “Best Of” are Vivian Nesbitt’s story about family alcoholism and depression, The Bark & The Tree; Janis Brenner’s poetic dance-opera-play Inheritance: A Litany; and Meirav Zur’s Inconceivable: The Totally True One-Woman Semi-Fertile Quasi-”Musical,” about modern fertility.

The larger United Solo lineup includes Seeing Stars, a musical show by Ellen Gould in which she weaves her personal experience with juvenile macular degeneration to tell a story about “seeing differently”; and Bridget Kelly’s Divining Bernhardt, inspired by the life of the legendary Sarah Bernhardt.

In addition to performances, United Solo also offers Master Classes with a lineup of instructors that includes actor-director Austin Pendleton.

For tickets and more information visit Unitedsolo.org.

MCC Theater Gets $1 Million Gift for New Musical Development From the Platt Family

A $1 million gift from the Platt family to MCC Theater has launched a new initiative to support the development and production of new musicals at the Off-Broadway company.

Formed by producer Marc Platt, his wife Julie, and their family (including Tony-winning son Ben Platt), the Gary Platt Musical Initiative honors the memory of their relative (Marc’s uncle), a lifelong fan of musical theatre.

Ben Platt and Marc Platt
Ben Platt and Marc Platt Bruce Glikas

The initiative was announced as MCC kicks off the 2019–2020 season with the new musical The Wrong Man, which begins previews September 18. The entire season will be staged at MCC’s permanent home, The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space (the new musical Alice By Heart was a part of the venue’s inaugural lineup.

Both the initiative and new venue aim to increase the number of annual productions, expand its programming, and deepen the company’s commitment to provoking conversations and the exchange of ideas.

READ: MCC’s 2019–2020 Season Taps Jocelyn Bioh’s Nollywood Dreams, Ross Golan Musical, and More

“Beyond being my beloved uncle, Gary introduced generations to the world of musical theatre,” said Tony-winning producer Marc Platt (The Band’s Visit). “An initiative that encourages new playwrights and songwriters to reach their potential is a legacy he would be so proud of and a beautiful reflection of his life.”

Alex Jennings and Solea Pfeiffer Join Renee Fleming in THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA in Chicago

Alex Jennings Netflix’s The Crown and Solea Pfeiffer Almost Famous, Hamilton will join Rene Fleming in the limited Chicago presentation of The Light in the Piazza, for ten performances only, December 14-29, 2019, at Lyric Opera House press opening Saturday, Dec. 14. Tickets start at 49 and are on sale now. The Chicago engagement follows the production’s acclaimed run at the Royal Festival Hall in London this summer.

SPRING AWAKENING, SHINKA & More Win Off-Off-Broadway IT Awards

On Monday, September 16, 2019, The New York Innovative Theatre Foundation announced the 2019 recipients at the annual Off-Off-Broadway IT Awards. For the past 15 years, the It Awards have celebrated the vibrant and creative indie theatre community under the dedicated leadership of Executive Directors Shay Gines and Nick Micozzi who are stepping down and at the ceremony introduced new leadership for the organization Cat Parker, Artistic Director of Articulate Theatre Company Ariel Estrada, Producing Artistic Director of Leviathan Lab Projects and Jazmyn Arroyo, Co-Founding Artistic Director of Step 1 Theatre Project will join Akia Squiteri, Artistic Director of Rising Sun Performance Company as Directors of the organization.

Little Shop of Horrors Returns Off-Broadway Starring Jonathan Groff, Tammy Blanchard, Christian Borle

Performances begin September 17 at the Westside Theatre for the Off-Broadway revival of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s Little Shop of Horrors, directed by Tony winner Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch).

The cast features Tony nominee Jonathan Groff (Hamilton, Mindhunter) as Seymour, Emmy winner Tammy Blanchard (Life with Judy Garland, Gypsy) as Audrey, Tony winner Christian Borle (Something Rotten!, Falsettos) as Orin Scrivello, D.D.S., and Kingsley Leggs as The Voice of Audrey II.

In Little Shop, Seymour discovers a mysterious—and voracious—plant that suddenly thrusts him into an epic battle that will determine the fate of the entire human race.

Salome Smith, Joy Woods, and Ari Groover Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The cast of the revival, which is scheduled through January 2020, also includes Tom Alan Robbins as Mushnik, Ari Groover as Ronnette, Salome Smith as Crystal, Joy Woods as Chiffon, Stephen Berger, Chris Dwan, Kris Roberts, Chelsea Turbin, Eric Wright, and Teddy Yudain.

Tony nominee Gideon Glick (To Kill a Mockingbird, Significant Other) will play Seymour for two weeks, November 5–17, while Groff is on a scheduled leave.

READ: What’s Coming to Off-Broadway Fall 2019?

Rounding out the creative team are choreographer Ellenore Scott (Head Over Heels associate), Tony-nominated scenic designer Julian Crouch (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), two-time Tony-winning lighting designer Bradley King (Hadestown), Emmy-winning costume designer Tom Broecker (Everyday Rapture), Tony-winning sound designer Jessica Paz (Hadestown), Emmy-nominated puppet designer Nicholas Mahon (Pyeongchang Olympics Opening Ceremony), puppets by Monkey Boys Productions, and music supervisor, orchestrator, and arranger Will Van Dyke (Pretty Woman).

Little Shop is produced by Tom Kirdahy, Robert Ahrens, Hunter Arnold, Mickey Liddell, Caiola Productions, Curt Cronin, John Joseph, DDM Productions, Desantis-Baugh Productions, Elizabeth Dewberry & Ali Ahmet Kocabiyik, Wendy Federman, Roy Furman, Deborah Green, Kayla Greenspan, Marguerite Hoffman, Sally Cade Holmes, Latitude Link, Seriff Productions, Silva Theatrical Group, and Eric Gelb/Oliver Roth.

Casting is by Jim Carnahan, CSA, and general management is by Live Wire Theatrical/Chris Aniello.