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Playbill Vault’s Today in Theatre History: December 31

1879 World premiere of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan‘s The Pirates of Penzance at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York, with Alice Barnett as Ruth.

1905 Birthday of Jule Styne, who composes the scores for Broadway’s Gypsy, Funny Girl, Peter Pan, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Bells Are Ringing, and many more.

1906 Brewster’s Millions is the tale of a lucky young man who must spend a million dollars in order to earn another million. Adapted from George Barr McCutcheon‘s story by Winchell Smith and Byron Ongley, the show has a cast that includes John Drew Devereaux and the debut of the fictitious actor George Spelvin. Spelvin, a favorite of author Smith, would be employed whenever a name is needed for a dead body on stage, a doll used as a babe-in arms, or when an actor is ‘doubling’ parts.

1917 J. Hartley Manners writes for and directs his wife Laurette Taylor in Happiness. This comedy runs at the Criterion Theatre in New York for 136 performances.

1923 The Song and Dance Man is, not surprisingly, George M. Cohan, who also wrote and produced the comedy at the Hudson Theatre. The story highlights the redemption of an unemployed entertainer who turned to robbery [instead of waiting tables].

1925 Playwright Lillian Hellman marries writer Arthur Kober.

1996 Andrew Lloyd Webber becomes a Lord. The composer of such hit musicals as Evita, Cats, and The Phantom of the Opera is knighted by Queen Elizabeth II at the annual ceremony.

1999 Usually a big night on Broadway, this New Year’s Eve sees many shows canceling performances owing to the size of expected crowds ushering in the 2000’s.

2005 The Broadway trade group the League of American Theatres and Producers announces that Broadway has enjoyed its most prosperous year ever, taking in $825 million, up ten percent from the previous year.

2011 The West End production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert closes after a run of over 1,000 performances at the Palace Theatre. The musical about the adventures of a trio of drag queens who journey across the Australian Outback, opened in London on March 23, 2009.

2014 Kelli O’Hara makes her Metropolitan Opera debut in the Franz Lehár operetta The Merry Widow, playing the role of Valencienne. Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, the production stars Renée Fleming in the title role. Fleming makes her Broadway debut a few months later in the short-lived comedy Living on Love.

More of Today’s Birthdays: Jason Robards, Sr. (1892-1963). Richard Kollmar (1910-1971). Joan McCracken (1917-1961). Anthony Hopkins (b. 1937). Bebe Neuwirth (b. 1958). Val Kilmer (b. 1959). Joey McIntyre (b. 1972). Andy Grotelueschen (b. 1979). Adam Chanler-Berat (b. 1986). Micah Stock (b. 1988). Denée Benton (b. 1991).

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