Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: August 20

Playbill Vault   Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: August 20
Keala Settle, Jessie Mueller, and Jeanna de Waal in Waitress at A.R.T.
Keala Settle, Jessie Mueller, and Jeanna de Waal in Waitress at A.R.T. Evgenia Eliseeva

1884 Julia Sanderson, one of musical theatre's leading ladies during the first decades of the 20th century, is born as Julia Sackett. Her Broadway appearances include The Siren (1911), Rambler Rose (1917), and Oh, Kay! (1928). Although she lives until 1975, Sanderson leaves the showbiz hustle and bustle by the 1930s.

1885 Broadway premiere of the hit London operetta The Mikado by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, at the Fifth Avenue Theatre.

1924 Victor Herbert's operetta The Dream Girl opens at the Ambassador Theatre, starring Fay Bainter and George LeMaire. It runs 117 performances.

1934 Playwright Sidney Kingsley has a hit with a stage adaptation of Sinclair Lewis's novel Dodsworth, starring Walter Huston, Fay Bainter, and the ever-mysterious Georgette Spelvin. Having originally opened at the Shubert Theatre on February 24, 1934, the production returns today following a summer hiatus.

1956 Future stage and film actor Joan Allen is born in Rochelle, Illinois. Allen has several great successes on the Broadway stage, winning the Tony Award for her performance in Burn This and a nomination for her performance of the title role in Wendy Wasserstein's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Heidi Chronicles. In filmdom, Allen receives Academy Award nominations as Best Supporting Actress for 1995's Nixon and 1996's The Crucible, and a nomination for Best Actress for 2000's The Contender. Other film credits include Searching for Bobby Fisher, Face/Off, and Peggy Sue Got Married.

1957 Two months after being forced out of the 85th Street Playhouse when the theatre was closed for violating fire department regulations and operating without a license, Langston Hughes and David Martin's musical Simply Heavenly re-opens on Broadway at the Playhouse Theatre. The production is once again directed by Joshua Shelley, and stars Claudia McNeil, Melvin Stewart, Anna English, John Bouie, and Marilyn Berry.

1987 Frank Langella and Donal Donnelly star as Holmes and Watson in Charles Marowitz's Sherlock's Last Case, which begins a 124-performance run on Broadway.

1998 Returning to Off-Broadway, where she originated the role of Li'l Bit in Paula Vogel's How I Learned To Drive in 1997, film and stage actor Mary-Louise Parker stars in Alan Ayckbourn's Communicating Doors. The comedy-thriller opens tonight at the Variety Arts Theatre. Two years later, Parker originates the role of Catherine in David Auburn's Proof at Manhattan Theatre Club and wins the Tony Award for Best Actress when it transfers to Broadway.

2001 The box office opens officially at the Winter Garden Theatre for Mamma Mia!, but it's just a formality. Internet and telephone advance sales have already sold-out the middle orchestra seats until February 2002.

2004 Angels in America star Kathleen Chalfant heads the Off-Broadway cast of Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom. The documentary drama is based on testimony of British prisoners detained by American forces at the Guantanamo military base under suspicion of terrorist activities.

2012 Phyllis Diller, the outrageous stand-up comic who was one of the first women to find wide success in her field, dies at age 95. Diller entered the comedy world in the late '50s, and won audiences over with a machine-gun routine of one-liners that sent up her looks, her fictitious husband Fang, and her supposedly abysmal performance as a spouse and housewife. In theatre, she appeared in many stock and touring productions, and starred on Broadway as Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! in late 1969 and early 1970.

2015 The musical Waitress, featuring a score by Sara Bareilles, opens its pre-Broadway run at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Jessie Mueller stars as waitress and pie maker Jenna. The production opens at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre less than a year later.

2017 Comedian, actor, singer, author, philanthropist, and filmmaker Jerry Lewis dies at age 91. Lewis made his Broadway debut in 1957 with Jerry Lewis at the Palace, and in 1995, he starred in a Broadway revival of Damn Yankees, later repeating his performance on tour and in the U.K.

2018 Producer Craig Zadan dies at age 69 following complications from shoulder surgery. Zadan and his longtime producing partner Neil Meron created a film and television musical renaissance, first with the Academy Award-winning 2002 film adaptation of Chicago, and then with an annual offering of live TV musicals that began in 2013 with The Sound of Music Live! on NBC.

2018 Actor and director Brian Murray, who had a 40-plus year career on Broadway, dies at age 80. He received Tony nominations for his performances as Rosencrantz in the original Broadway production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Benjamin Hubbard in the 1997 revival of The Little Foxes, and Deputy-Governor Danforth in the 2002 revival of The Crucible. He also appeared in the original Broadway casts of Da and Noises Off, and directed a number of revivals including The Waltz of the Toreadors (1973), Hay Fever (1985), and Arsenic and Old Lace (1986).

More of Today's Birthdays: Jacqueline Susann 1918. Regina Resnik 1922. Andrew Garfield 1983.

Watch highlights from the 2016 Broadway production of Waitress, starring Jessie Mueller:

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