PLAYBILL VAULT'S Today in Theatre History: SEPTEMBER 15

By David Gewirtzman
and Ernio Hernandez, Robert Viagas and Sam Maher
September 15, 2013

1889 Robert Benchley, the acclaimed actor, critic, and humorist of the early Twentieth Century, is born today. Benchley will marry Gertrude Darling and make his stage debut in this month in 1923. An example of his wit can be seen in his 1926 review of Jean Bart's The Squall, which is about a gypsy woman who leaves her people to satisfy her lusts with an outsider. Included in the dialogue is: "Me Nubi. Nubi good girl. Nubi stay." Responding in his review, Benchley states, "Me Benchley. Benchley bad boy. Benchley go." Tallulah Bankhead, who was a friend of his, called him "as gay and thirsty a gentleman as I ever encountered."



1925 Michael Arlen's romantic drama The Green Hat opens today at the Broadhurst Theatre. Katharine Cornell stars as Iris March, a character who would come to be described by Alexander Woollcott as a "shameful, shameless lady." Leslie Howard co-stars.

1938 Thornton Wilder performs today as the Stage Manager in Our Town on Broadway. Although he is the author, he is filling in for the vacationing Frank Craven. Since the playwright was performing, he took the liberty of putting back in some of his own words that producer Jed Harris had cut for the run. During this run, Wilder's acting is reported by John Mason Brown, a critic of the time, as better than Sinclair Lewis' performance in the dramatization of his own novel, "It Can't Happen Here."

1972 After 1,847 performances Off-Broadway, the hit revue Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris transfers to Broadway's Royale Theatre and closes after just 51 more performances, despite the presence of Joe Masiell and George Ball in the cast.

1976 Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf opens on Broadway at the Booth Theatre following a run at the Public Theatre. The drama, featuring seven female characters represented by colors of the rainbow, combines poetry and dance to explore the plight of women. Shange herself is in the cast of the production, which runs 742 performances.

2000 The Denver Center Theatre Company, in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company, unleash Peter Hall's staging of Tantalus at their Stage Theater in Colorado. The large-scale, 10 play production performed in three parts ran for approximately 10 hours. The cast of 29 — made up of U.S., British, European and Asian-born performers — includes principals Alyssa Bresnahan, Alan Dobie, Greg Hicks, Annalee Jeffries, Ann Mitchell, Robert Petkoff, David Ryall and Mia Yoo.

2004 Three notable musicals begin their journeys today. Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Woman in White opens in London. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels begins its pre-Broadway tryout in San Diego. And the stage adaptation of the Disney film musical Mary Poppins has its world premiere in Bristol, England.

2010 As the man once wrote, "Light the lights!" Composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim, a writer who changed the face of musical theatre, sees the first official lighting of the marquee of the newly named Stephen Sondheim Theatre (formerly the Henry Miller's Theatre) at a special ceremony.

More of Today's Birthdays: Agatha Christie 1890. Fay Wray 1907. Penny Singleton 1908. Jackie Cooper 1921. Tommy Lee Jones 1946.