Playbill Vault’s Today in Theatre History: September 17

1879 The Daly’s Theatre opens at Broadway and Thirtieth Street in New York City.

1894 Arms and the Man opens at the Herald Square Theatre. It stars Richard Mansfield, who himself describes the play as a “little satirical comedy of no great weight.” This is the first American production of a George Bernard Shaw play. The New York Dramatic Mirror proclaims that although the audience enjoyed it on press night, the language may be “too ironic for it to ever become popular with the average theatregoer.”

1900 The Garden Theatre plays host to the opening of Hamlet. The production stars one of the up-and-coming Shakespeare stars of the era, E. H. Sothern, in the title role. His wife, Virginia Harned, co-stars as Ophelia.

1917 Playwright George S. Kaufman becomes the newest member of the drama department at The New York Times. His beginning salary is $36 a week.

1917 George Arliss and Mary Hamlin‘s drama Hamilton opens at the Knickerbocker Theatre, starring Arliss as founding father Alexander Hamilton. Almost a century later, Lin-Manuel Miranda uses the same title for his Pulitzer Prize-winning musical about the founding father. Read more about the two different versions of Hamilton.

1951 The Yiddish comedy revue Borscht Capades opens at the Royale Theatre, featuring Mickey Katz and his son Joel Kaye. Kaye, who makes his Broadway debut in the production, later changes his name to Joel Grey.

1959 John Gielgud directs and stars in Much Ado About Nothing on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, for a limited engagement of 58 performances. Having appeared as Benedick in the Shakespeare comedy many times since his 1931 premiere in the role at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Gielgud announces that this production will be his last in the role. Starring opposite Gielgud is Margaret Leighton, who is nominated for a Tony Award for her performance as Beatrice.

1978 Stage favorite Nick Cordero is born in Hamilton, Canada. After making his Broadway debut in Rock of Ages, he earns a Tony nomination for his second Main Stem outing: the musical adaptation of Bullets Over Broadway. He’d go on to appear in Waitress and A Bronx Tale. Cordero died July 5, 2020, after a lengthy battle with COVID-19. In the months prior to his passing, his family, the Broadway community, fans, and people across the country rallied for his recovery with nightly virtual dances to his song “Live Your Life.”

2000 The first Broadway revival of Gore Vidal‘s 1960 political drama The Best Man opens at the Virginia Theatre. The production, which stars Charles Durning, Spalding Gray, Chris Noth, Elizabeth Ashley, and Christine Ebersole, plays a limited run through December 31, closing after 121 performances. The production is memorable for setting up a voting booth in the lobby and letting ticket holders “vote” for the president. Vice President Al Gore beats Gov. George W. Bush decisively, but the November general election has a surprise in store.

2002 Seussical, the 2000–01 Broadway show that, in one season, became a critic’s favorite target, a musical theatre fan’s heartbreak, and a child’s dream come true, went back to the drawing board for the national tour that launches today. Co-librettists Lynn Ahrens (also the lyricist) and Stephen Flaherty (also the composer) team with director Christopher Ashley for the touring version, which stars Cathy Rigby as The Cat in the Hat.

2013 Anna Nicole, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Richard Thomas’ opera about late tabloid and reality star Anna Nicole Smith, receives its U.S. debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The cast features a mix of classical and Broadway performers including Sarah Joy Miller as Anna Nicole, James Barbour as Daddy Hogan, Ben Davis as Billy, Robert Brubaker as Old Man Marshall, and Mary Testa as Aunt Kaye. A co-production with New York City Opera, it is City Opera’s final production before filing for bankruptcy (it returned to the stage three years later).

Today’s Birthdays: Roddy McDowall (1928–1998). Anne Bancroft (1931–2005). Dorothy Loudon (1933–2003). Ken Kesey (1935–2001). John Ritter (1948–2003). Rita Rudner (b. 1955). Baz Luhrmann (b. 1962). Constantine Maroulis (b. 1975). Danielle Brooks (b. 1989). Melanie Moore (b. 1991).

Watch highlights from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton:

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