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Playbill Vault’s Today in Theatre History: August 31

1897 John Drew and Billie Burke (in her Broadway debut) are the stars of the new play, My Wife, opening at the Empire Theatre. There are 129 performances.

1897 Actor Fredric March is born. He creates many memorable stage roles in landmark plays, notably Mr. Antrobus in The Skin of Our Teeth and James Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

1899 Playwright Lynn Riggs is born in—where else?—Oklahoma. His plays like Roadside, Big Lake, Russet Mantle, and Green Grow the Lilacs, capture the simple life on what used to be frontier America. Green Grow the Lilacs is adapted by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II as one of the greatest hits of the American musical theatre, Oklahoma!.

1916 It’s opening night for one of the biggest hits in the history of Broadway’s huge Hippodrome Theatre. The extravaganza The Big Show opens a 425-performance run featuring Dixie Gerard, Dippy Diers, and The Metzetti Brothers.

1918 Alan Jay Lerner, son of the founder of Lerner stores, is born in New York City. Lerner becomes a Broadway lyricist and collaborates with Frederick Loewe on such Broadway classics as Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, and Camelot. Together they also write the score for the Academy Award-winning film Gigi.

1942 Alec Coppel’s I Killed the Count opens at the Cort Theatre. The production is staged by Frank Carrington and Agnes Morgan.

1953 A revival of Oklahoma! opens at City Center, bringing the number of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals running simultaneously on Broadway to four. To celebrate the occasion, New York Mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri designates August 31 to September 6 as “Rodgers and Hammerstein Week.” The other three Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals also on Broadway at the time are the original productions of The King and I, Me and Juliet, and South Pacific. The cast for the five-week limited engagement of Oklahoma! includes Florence Henderson as Laurey and Barbara Cook as Ado Annie.

1998 Boys’ Life, the play that gave playwright Howard Korder a name in the field when it was produced in 1988 at Lincoln Center, receives a 10th anniversary revival at Off-Broadway’s Judith Anderson Theatre. The drama, which was nominated for the 1988 Pulitzer Prize, examines three friends on the verge of adulthood as they maneuver their way through the sexual mores of 1980s America.

1999 After they “brought in” ‘da Noise and ‘da Funk, the bucket drummers of the 1996 Broadway musical return to the New York stage to Keep Bangin’. The new show at Off-Broadway’s Players Theatre features the urban percussionists from Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk once again in collaboration with the show’s star, Savion Glover. However, this time Glover takes the helm as director.

2011 A revised staging of George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, Dorothy Heyward, and DuBose Heyward‘s American folk opera Porgy and Bess—starring Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis—opens at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The production later transfers to Broadway and wins Tony Awards for Best Actress in a Musical (McDonald) and Best Revival of a Musical.

2019 Performances begin at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park for the Public Theater’s Public Works’ musical adaptation of Hercules, with Jelani Alladin in the title role. Krysta Rodriguez co-stars as Meg with Roger Bart as Hades plus memorable turns by Jeff Hiller, James Monroe Iglehart, Ramona Keller, Tamika Lawrence, and Rema Webb. The production, directed by Lear deBessonet, also featured over 200 New Yorkers from all five boroughs. Using Disney film’s beloved score—as well as five new songs—by the film’s composer Alan Menken and lyricist David Zippel, Hercules featured a new book by Kristoffer Diaz and choreography by Chase Brock.

More of Today’s Birthdays: DuBose Heyward (1885–1940), Dore Schary (1905–1980), Sanford Meisner (1905–1997), William Saroyan (1908–1981), Richard Basehart (1914–1984), Buddy Hackett (1924–2003), Thomas L. Miller (1940–2020), Timothy Meyers (1945–1989), Richard Gere (b. 1949), Stephen McKinley Henderson (b. 1949), Jonathan Cake (b. 1967), Deborah Gibson (b. 1970), Sara Ramirez (b. 1975).

Watch highlights from Hercules, starring Jelani Alladin and Krysta Rodriguez:

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