Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: August 17

Playbill Vault   Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: August 17
George Abbott, Mary Martin, Helen Hayes, Heller Halliday, and Don Murrary in The Skin of Our Teeth.
George Abbott, Mary Martin, Helen Hayes, Heller Halliday, and Don Murrary in The Skin of Our Teeth.

1871 Birthday of Playwright Jesse Lynch Williams. During the 1917–1918 theatre season, Williams' play, Why Marry, wins the first-ever Pulitzer Prize for drama.

1893 Mae West is born. While best remembered as a film star from the 1930s, West started out in vaudeville, later becoming a Broadway stage actor and playwright. On stage West appeared in many plays she also wrote. Among these were Diamond Lil (1928), Pleasure Man (1928), and The Constant Sinner (1931). At the curtain speech of her 1944 play Catherine Was Great, West explained that "Catherine had 300 lovers. I did the best I could in a couple of hours."

1955 A stellar Broadway revival of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth stars George Abbott and Helen Hayes as Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus, and Mary Martin as Sabina. The production, originally staged in Paris as part of the "Salute to France" project, runs for a limited engagement of 22 performances.

1983 Ira Gershwin, the lyricist brother of composer George Gershwin, dies at the age of 87. Among his collaborations with George were Funny Face and Porgy and Bess. Following George's death in 1937, Ira collaborated with Kurt Weill on Lady in the Dark and Harold Arlen on the film A Star Is Born. Gershwin published his "Lyrics on Several Occasions," featuring many of his lyrics as well as annotations and anecdotes, in 1959.

1999 The Provincetown Repertory Theatre presents the world premiere play by macabre illustrator and author Edward Gorey, titled Goreyphobia. Tony Award-winning conductor and orchestrator Peter Matz composed the music, with Daniel Levans directing. The play by the "Master of the Macabre", known for his dark drawings, develops into Gorey Details, which opens Off-Broadway October 16, 2000.

2006 Martin Short stars in "an improbable musical version of his life story" as Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me opens on Broadway at the Jacobs Theatre. Conceived by Short and Hairspray songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the cast also includes Brooks Ashmanskas, Mary Birdsong, Capathia Jenkins, and Nicole Parker.

More of Today's Birthdays Sidney Michaels 1927. Robert De Niro 1943. Julian Fellowes 1949. Sean Penn 1960.

Watch highlights from the 2012 Broadway production of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, starring Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis:

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