Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: August 2

Playbill Vault   Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: August 2
Chita Rivera, Tom Nelis, Chris Newcomer, and Matthew Deming in The Visit.
Chita Rivera, Tom Nelis, Chris Newcomer, and Matthew Deming in The Visit. T. Charles Erickson

1900 Birthday of actor and singer Helen Morgan, who rises to fame as a nightclub performer. She has a show at Billy Rose's Backstage Club, where the crowded conditions make her perch on her accompanist's piano, a subtle touch that soon becomes a trademark. On Broadway, Morgan appears in Show Boat (1927), in which she is a smash singing "Bill" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man." She then reprises her role for the 1936 film version.

1943 Broadway is invaded by the US Army. Five one-act plays, collectively titled The Army Play-by-Play, from the Enlisted Men’s Contest are presented under the supervision of John Golden at the Martin Beck Theatre. The plays—Where E’er We Go, First Cousins, Button Your Lip, Mail Call, and Pack Your Troubles—play for 40 performances and close September 4.

1944 Mae West adds to the wartime summer heat with her bawdy comedy Catherine Was Great. She also stars in the play, opposite Gene Barry. It runs 191 performances.

1979 At the peak of her fame, Saturday Night Live comedian Gilda Radner recreates some of her most popular characters in Gilda Radner - Live from New York, which plays 51 performances at the Winter Garden Theatre.

1989 Joe Hart's The People Who Could Fly opens Off-Broadway at the South Street Theater. Conceiver Hart also directs the production with a cast of 12 performers. The piece, both theatre and dance, presents tales from India, Majorca, Scotland, Haiti, Japan, and the pre-Civil War South. It plays 41 shows and returns later in the year to Town Hall for nine more.

2000 Kristine Nielsen and Marian Seldes span the centuries in the Williamstown Theatre Festival production of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth. Darko Tresnjak directs the slightly absurd fable of human existence and endurance.

2001 Gerard Alessandrini's topically comic rewrite of Irving Berlin's last musical, Mr. President, opens at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre, playing in repertory with his Forbidden Broadway 2001: A Spoof Odyssey. The rewrite replays the 2000 presidential election, with characters reconceived to resemble George W. Bush, Al Gore, and their families and advisers.

2001 Rita Gardner, Off-Broadway's first Luisa in The Fantasticks, stars as Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, a new musical based on Charles Dickens' novel, presented at Goodspeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, Connecticut.

2009 Jason Gilkison's dance revue Burn the Floor—boasting an eclectic mix of champion dancers—opens on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre. The production includes the team of Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff of the hit TV show Dancing with the Stars.

2014 Chita Rivera stars in a new staging of the Kander and Ebb musical The Visit, based on Friedrich Dürrenmatt's 1956 play about a scorned woman who returns to her impoverished town seeking the ultimate revenge. John Doyle directs the streamlined 95-minute version of the musical at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. The production transfers to Broadway the following year.

2016 James Houghton, who transformed the New York theatre scene and gave birth to the Signature Theatre Company—a mighty nonprofit company with the simple notion of dedicating a troupe’s energies to the work of a single playwright—dies at age 57.

More of Todays' Birthdays: Earle Larimore 1899. Myrna Loy 1905. Ruth Nelson 1905. James Baldwin 1924. Carroll O'Connor 1924. Anthony Crivello 1955. Mary-Louise Parker 1964.

Watch highlights from the 2015 Broadway production of The Visit, starring Chita Rivera:

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