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Playbill Vault’s Today in Theatre History: May 31

1946 Orson Welles circumnavigates the stage in Around the World, a musical he adapted from Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days. Cole Porter wrote the music and lyrics for the production, mounted at the Adelphi Theatre.

1978 Waiting for Godot is produced at the Lepercq Space of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Playwright Samuel Beckett has his assistant, German director Walter D. Asmus, recreate Beckett’s 1975 staging at the Schiller Theater in Berlin. Sam Waterston and Austin Pendleton star as Vladimir and Estragon, respectively.

1979 Liv Ullmann won’t be forgotten as she headlines the musical I Remember Mama at the Majestic Theatre. Cy Feuer directs the adaptation of John Van Druten’s 1944 play, with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and book by Thomas Meehan. The cast plays 108 performances.

1984 John Malkovich and the Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago bring Lanford Wilson’s Balm in Gilead to New York City at the Circle Repertory. Under the direction of Malkovich, Terry Kinney, Tanya Berezin, Gary Sinise, and Glenne Headly star in the play set in a Broadway coffee shop.

1998 Natalie Portman, who made her stage debut as the star of the Broadway revival of The Diary of Anne Frank, leaves the production at the Music Box Theatre to resume her movie career and be immortalized as Princess Leia’s mother in the Star Wars prequel films. Nathalie Paulding replaces her as Anne.

2002 Bombay Dreams begins performances in London. The musical, set in the world of Indian cinema, is composed by A.R. Rahman and produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The production opens on Broadway two years later.

2003 Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel’s musical The Light in the Piazza makes its world premiere at Seattle’s Intiman Theatre. The cast includes Victoria Clark as Margaret, Celia Keenan-Bolger as Clara, and Steven Pasquale as Fabrizio. The musical opens on Broadway in spring 2005 and wins six Tony Awards, including Best Actress in a Musical for Victoria Clark and Best Score.

2013 Jean Stapleton, a seasoned stage and film actor who found lasting fame as the dimwitted and big-hearted wife of Archie Bunker on the 1970’s social sitcom All in the Family, dies at age 90. Stapleton’s Broadway appearances included roles in the original productions of Damn Yankees, Bells Are Ringing, Juno, and Funny Girl.

2015 The world premiere of Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich’s musical Ever After, based on the 1998 film, opens at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey. Kathleen Marshall directs a cast that includes Christine Ebersole, Tony Sheldon, James Snyder, and Margo Seibert.

2018 Mart Crowley’s groundbreaking 1968 play The Boys in the Band makes it Broadway debut at the Booth Theatre. Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, and Andrew Rannells star in the show about a group of gay men who gather in a New York City apartment for a friend’s birthday party. Joe Mantello directs the limited engagement.

Today’s Birthdays: Margalo Gillmore (1897–1986); Don Ameche (1908–1993); Brooke Shields (b. 1965); Matt Cavenaugh (b. 1978).

Watch highlights from the 2015 musical Ever After:

Playbill Vault’s Today in Theatre History: May 29

1951 Performer Fanny Brice dies in Hollywood at age 60. Her showbiz career began with wins in a series of amateur nights at vaudeville theatres in Brooklyn, before a foray into burlesque as a Yiddish-dialect comedian. She was the first female comic hired by Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. for his legendary Follies series. She made her debut in 1910 and became one of the Follies’ signature acts. She starred in her first film in 1928, but did not pursue a movie career. She created the character Baby Snooks on stage, and it later became the centerpiece of her long-running radio show. Her life was immortalized in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, starring Barbra Streisand.

1951 Oklahoma! returns to New York, exactly three years after its original production closed on Broadway. The national tour of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, which visited 114 cities since its start in 1943, opens a limited 100-performance engagement at the Broadway Theatre.

1959 Comedian-singer Max Bygraves spends 328 performances Swinging Down the Lane at London’s Palladium Theatre.

1963 Bob Fosse stars in the New York City Center Light Opera Company’s revival of Pal Joey, presented as part of the company’s spring season dedicated to the musicals of Richard Rodgers. The cast also includes Viveca Lindfors as Vera Simpson, Jack Durant as Ludlow Lowell (re-creating the role he played in the musical’s original Broadway production), Elaine Dunn as Gladys Bumps, and Rita Gardner as Linda English. The New York Times hails Kay Medford, writing that in the role of reporter Melba Snyder she “brings down the house” with her performance of the song “Zip.”

1998 Kevin Knight, who directed the London premiere of Birdy, brings the American premiere to the Philadelphia Theatre Company. Naomi Wallace’s adaptation of William Wharton’s novel is set in Philadelphia just after World War II, and examines the friendship between the sensitive, bird-obsessed Birdy and body building-obsessed Al and their struggle with identity.

Today’s Birthdays: Beatrice Lillie (1894–1989). Bob Hope (1903–2003). Kevin Conway (1942–2020). Annette Bening (b. 1958). Rupert Everett (b. 1959). Anthony Azizi (b. 1969). Mel B. (b. 1975). David Burtka (b. 1975). Rachel Tucker (b. 1981).

Blithe Spirit, Starring Jennifer Saunders, Will Return to the West End This Fall

The Noël Coward comedy Blithe Spirit will return to London’s West End this fall, with Jennifer Saunders confirmed to reprise her role as the outrageous clairvoyant Madame Arcati. Performances are set to begin September 16 at the Harold Pinter Theatre.

The production played the Duke of York’s Theatre in March 2020 before the theatre shutdown cut a limited run short. Additional returning cast members will include Geoffrey Streatfeild as Charles Condomine, Lisa Dillon as Ruth Condomine, Simon Coates as Dr Bradman, Lucy Robinson as Mrs Bradman, and Rose Wardlaw as Edith.

The comedy follows novelist Charles Condomine and his second wife Ruth as they are haunted by a past relationship when an eccentric medium inadvertently conjures up the ghost of his first wife, Elvira, at a seance. When she appears, visible only to Charles and determined to sabotage his current marriage, life—and the afterlife—get complicated.

The Richard Eyre-helmed production features set and costume design by Anthony Ward, lighting by Howard Harrison, sound by John Leonard, and illusions by Paul Kieve.

The play is presented by Theatre Royal Bath Productions, Lee Dean and Jonathan Church Theatre Productions.

Playbill Vault’s Today in Theatre History: May 27

1953 John Mills is The Uninvited Guest at London’s St. James’ Theatre. Written by his wife, Mary Hayley Bell, and co-starring Cathleen Nesbitt and Joan Greenwood, the story of a man who returns home after spending 20 years in a mental institution plays just 21 performances.

1974 Derek Jacobi stars in William Shakespeare’s Pericles at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. Toby Robertson stages the production.

1982 Well, the title was catchy: Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?. But the musical by John R. Powers (book), James Quinn, and Alaric Jans (score) shines for only five performances at the Alvin Theatre.

1984 Holly Hunter is crowned a winner in The Miss Firecracker Contest at Off-Broadway’s Manhattan Theatre Club. The play’s plot centers around a small-town family wrapped up in winning a beauty pageant. Stephen Tobolowsky directs. Hunter stars in the 1989 film version.

1998 Austin Pendleton directs a new Tom Stoppard translation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, opening Off-Broadway at Theatre Four. The cast includes Angie Phillips, Mark Blum, Maria Tucci, and Greg Naughton.

2003 After development at regional theatres, Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife premieres Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. The play transfers to Broadway in November and wins the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play.

2011 Zoë Wanamaker and David Suchet open in a West End revival of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at the Apollo Theatre. The drama is directed by Howard Davies, who previously directed an award-winning production of the play at the National Theatre in 2000.

2016 Ragtime creators Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, and Terrence McNally reunite for the world premiere musical Anastasia, opening at Hartford Stage. Based on the 1997 animated film musical, it stars Christy Altomare in the title role. The production transfers to Broadway the following year.

Today’s Birthdays: Lucile Watson (1879–1962); Harold Rome (1908–1993); Richard Waring (1910–1993); Vincent Price (1911–1993); Herman Wouk (1915–2019); Louis Gossett, Jr. (b. 1936); Richard Schiff (b. 1955).

Watch highlights from the 2017 Broadway production of Anastasia: