Playbill Vault’s Today in Theatre History: May 21 | Playbill

Playbill Vault Playbill Vault’s Today in Theatre History: May 21 Gypsy, starring Ethel Merman, opens on Broadway in 1959.
Ethel Merman (center) in Gypsy. Friedman-Abeles / The New York Public Library

1929 Highlights of A Night in Venice include Ted Healy wrestling bears and the choreography of Busby Berkeley. The revue runs on Broadway for 22 weeks.

1952 Stage and screen actor John Garfield dies in New York. Lee Strasberg directed him in the 1949 production of The Big Knife by Clifford Odets. He was 39 years old.

1959 Ethel Merman is indomitable stage mother Rose in the original Broadway production of Gypsy. Arthur Laurents based his book on the memoirs of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, with a score by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Jerome Robbins stages the 702-performance run. Future Broadway mountings star Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Linda Lavin, Bernadette Peters, and Patti LuPone.

1977 Are you a Gemini? Albert Innaurato’s play about a Harvard student unsure of his sexuality and relationship with his family, runs at Broadway’s Little Theatre for 1,789 performances. Robert Picardo stars.

1998 British playwright Jonathan Harvey sees the American premiere of his potent drama Beautiful Thing at Chicago‘s Famous Door Theatre. The play, which first saw the stage at London‘s Bush Theatre, transfers to Off-Broadway’s Cherry Lane Theatre the following year for a 152-performance run.

1998 Former Chicago improv rivals Elaine May and Alan Arkin begin previews in Power Plays, a trio of one-act plays (with two works by May and one by Arkin) at Off-Broadway’s Promenade Theatre. Two years later, Arkin directs May’s Taller Than a Dwarf on Broadway.

2001 The inaugural National Broadway Theatre Awards, honoring national touring productions across the United States, go to Ragtime (Best Musical), Dame Edna: The Royal Tour (Best Play), Barry Humphries (Best Actor in a Play), and Louise Pitre (Best Actress in a Musical), among others.

2011 A revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s Follies, featuring some of the biggest talents on both sides of the Atlantic, opens at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The company is headed by Bernadette Peters as Sally Durant Plummer, Jan Maxwell as Phyllis Rogers Stone, Danny Burstein as Buddy Plummer, Ron Raines as Benjamin Stone, and Elaine Paige as Carlotta Campion. The production transfers to Broadway a few months later.

2014 Miss Saigon, which premiered at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1989—where it ran for over 10 years—returns to the West End in a new 25th anniversary production. Opening at the Prince Edward Theatre, it stars Eva Noblezada as Kim, Alistair Brammer as Chris, and Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer. The production transfers to Broadway three years later.

Today’s Birthdays: Mabel Taliaferro (1887–1979). Thomas "Fats" Waller (1904–1943). Peggy Cass (1924–1999). Alice Drummond (1928–2016). Mark Jacoby (b. 1947). Paolo Montalban (b. 1973). Da’Vine Joy Randolph (b. 1986).

Look Back at the Original Production of Gypsy Starring Ethel Merman

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