Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: August 21

Playbill Vault   Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: August 21
George Hearn and Gene Barry with the cast of La Cage aux Folles.
George Hearn and Gene Barry with the cast of La Cage aux Folles. Martha Swope / The New York Public Library

1944 Robert Wright and George Forrest put words to classical themes by Edvard Grieg to create the operetta Song of Norway, based on Grieg's life. It runs 860 performances at the Imperial Theatre, helped by George Balanchine's choreography, and the success of the song "Strange Music."

1983 The Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein musical La Cage Aux Folles opens at Broadway's Palace Theatre. George Hearn and Gene Barry star in the adaptation of the classic French play and film about a middle-aged homosexual couple who are forced to hide their sexual orientation in order to meet the fiancée of one of the men's sons, and her family. In pure musical comedy fashion, mayhem pursues. In a time when homosexuality had yet to become the basis of a big Broadway musical, La Cage proved to be a raging success, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical, and racking up 1,761 performances. Over the course of the run other actors to play either Albin or George include Larry Kert, Jamie Ross, Walter Charles, and Keith Michell. A 1996 non-musical film version of the same story called The Birdcage stars Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Calista Flockhart, and Nathan Lane.

1986 A lot of major Broadway talent converges on the musical Rags, an original musical about immigrants on New York's Lower East Side, which opens a disappointing 4-performance run. Music is by Charles Strouse, lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz (returning to Broadway for the first time since Working), and libretto is by Joseph Stein. Opera star Teresa Stratas leads a cast that includes Larry Kert, Judy Kuhn, Dick Latessa, and Lonny Price.

1990 A revival of Moss Hart's Light Up the Sky opens Off-Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre Company. Elaine Bromka, Charles Keating, and Betsy Joslyn are featured in the cast under the direction of Larry Carpenter. A week following the opening, Jason Alexander replaces cast member Bruce Weitz.

1999 Off-Off-Broadway's Jean Cocteau Repertory Theatre begins its 2000 season with On the Razzle, Tom Stoppard's take on Viennese playwright Johann Nestroy's Einen Jux will er sich machen. The play is the same source that inspired Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, which in turn inspired Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! Cocteau Rep is no stranger to Stoppard works, as they have previously produced Travesties, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and Rough Crossing.

2001 Signature Theatre's "environmental" staging of the musical Grand Hotel—spilling from the stage to the seating and out into the lobby—begins previews in Arlington, Virginia.

2002 Master dancer-choreographer Savion Glover and director George C. Wolfe's song-and-dance revue Bring in 'da Noise/Bring in 'da Funk begins a revival tour with original cast members Glover and Lynette DuPree at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre Company. After the Atlanta run ends September 29, a new national tour kicks off, stopping in major U.S. cities including Boston; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; and Los Angeles; as well as short runs on college campuses throughout the U.S.

2017 Three-time Tony Award winner Thomas Meehan, who wrote the books for the musicals Annie, The Producers, and Hairspray, dies at age 88. Meehan's writing also included the books for I Remember Mama, Ain't Broadway Grand, Young Frankenstein, Cry-Baby, and Elf.

2018 Barbara Harris, the Broadway and film actor who starred in the original Broadway productions of the musicals On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and The Apple Tree—a performance that brought her the 1967 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical—dies at the age of 83.

Today's Birthdays: Jack Weston 1924. Carolyn Leigh 1926. Melvin Van Peebles 1932. Loretta Devine 1949. Kim Cattrall 1956. Robin De Jesús 1984.

Watch highlights from the 2010 Tony Award-winning revival of La Cage aux Folles, starring Douglas Hodge and Kelsey Grammer:

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