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Broadway Anniversaries and Milestones

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    Jeffrey Kare
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    On this day in 2001, The Producers opened at the St. James Theatre on Broadway. Adapted from Mel Brooks’ 1968 Academy Award-winning film of the same name, he collaborated on the musical version with book writer Thomas Meehan and director/choreographer Susan Stroman with an original cast that was led by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. Shortly after opening, The Producers broke the record for the largest single day box office ticket sales in theatre history, taking in more than $3,000,000. The Broadway production also went on to win a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards (including Best Musical), setting an all time record as the most awarded production in the history of the American Theatre Wing, and the 2002 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. Since then, the musical spawned multiple productions that played all over the world as well as a 2005 film adaptation directed by Susan Stroman with four of the six original principal cast members (including Lane and Broderick) reprising their roles. The Producers ended up running on Broadway for 2,502 performances after closing on April 22nd, 2007.

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    Jeffrey Kare
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    On this day in 1991, The Secret Garden opened at the St. James Theatre on Broadway. Adapted from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 novel of the same name, the musical was created by composer Lucy Simon (who is the older sister of singer/songwriter Carly Simon) and book writer/lyricist Marsha Norman in collaboration with director Susan H. Schulman. The original cast included Daisy Eagan, Mandy Patinkin, Rebecca Luker, Robert Westenberg, Alison Fraser, and John Cameron Mitchell. The production received 7 Tony Award nominations (including Best Musical), and ended up winning 3 accolades for Daisy Eagan’s performance as Mary Lennox, Marsha Norman’s book, and Heidi Landesman’s sets. In fact, someone who made her main stem debut as a replacement during the run was a young black girl who would later become a force to be reckoned with on the boards named Audra McDonald. The Secret Garden ended up running for almost 2 years and 709 performances on Broadway after closing on January 3rd, 1993.

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    Jeffrey Kare
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    On this day in 1996, Rent opened at the Nederlander Theatre on Broadway. Loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera, La bohème, this musical was a passion project for its creator Jonathan Larson, who had wanted to write a show that would bring the MTV generation and the musical theatre world together. The original cast included Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Jesse L. Martin, Wilson Jermaine Hereda, Idina Menzel, Fredi Walker, and Taye Diggs. Hours before the first preview at Off-Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop, Jonathan Larson sadly died at his home from an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm (which was believed to have resulted from Marfan syndrome). Later that night, the show went on, but as a sing-through of the musical dedicated to him. By the end of the performance, everyone in the audience gave an immediate standing ovation, sat back down, and did not move until a voice came out saying “Thank you Jonathan Larson”. Rent went on to premiere as planned and quickly gained popularity fueled by enthusiastic critical reviews as well as attention from the recent death of its creator. It proved to be extremely successful during its Off-Broadway run, selling out all its shows at the 150-seat New York Theater Workshop, and had several extensions during the run. The show also ended up becoming the seventh musical in history to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, which was accepted by Jonathan’s parents, Al & Nan Larson, on his behalf. Due to such overwhelming popularity, Rent ended up moving to Broadway with everything completely intact, such as the material, the cast, the staging, the choreography, and the designs. The show not only became the biggest hit Broadway had seen in years, but also a cultural phenomenon. The musical’s controversial topics and innovative pricing, (which included same day-of-performance $20 tickets) helped increase the popularity of musical theater among the younger generation. Rent went on to win 4 Tony Awards (including Best Musical), and ended up running for 12 years and 5,123 performances on Broadway after closing on September 7th, 2008.

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