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Broadway Anniversaries and Milestones

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    Jeffrey Kare
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    On this day in 1970, the original production of Stephen Sondheim & George Furth’s Company opened at the Alvin (now Neil Simon) Theatre on Broadway. Directed by the late Hal Prince with musical staging by Michael Bennett, the show was groundbreaking as it was among the first musicals to deal with adult themes and relationships. The production ended up winning 6 Tony Awards (including Best Musical), and earned Stephen Sondheim his very first accolades from the American Theatre Wing. Company has gone on to receive two Broadway revivals, and a third that was supposed to open on Sondheim’s 90th birthday, but performances have been put on hold due to the covid-19 crisis.

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    Jeffrey Kare
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    On this day in 1980, the original production of Barnum starring Jim Dale & Glenn Close opened at the St. James Theatre on Broadway. Long before there was ever a movie musical about a fictionalized version of showman P.T. Barnum titled The Greatest Showman, there was this Broadway musical with a book by 42nd Street scribe Mark Bramble, music by Sweet Charity composer Cy Coleman, and lyrics by Hello, Dolly! scribe Michael Stewart. The story of Barnum’s rise to fame was told within the framework of a three-ring circus. The show utilized this setting as a metaphor for the risks that come with success, walking that proverbial tightrope known as “life”. While Barnum was likely overshadowed that season by a little known show called Evita, the production still ended up being a success in its own right by winning 3 Tony Awards (including Best Lead Actor in a Musical for Jim Dale) and a respectable run of 854 performances after two years on the boards. Notable performers who made their Broadway debuts in the original cast were future Tony nominees Terrence Mann (who through his co-star, Dirk Lumbard, learned about two roles that later became associated with his career – The Rum Tum Tugger in Cats and Javert in Les Misérables) as well as Mary Testa.

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    Jeffrey Kare
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    On this day in 1955, the original production of Damn Yankees opened at the 46th Street (now Richard Rodgers) Theatre on Broadway. Directed by George Abbott and choreographed by Bob Fosse, the original cast included Stephen Douglass, Gwen Verdon, Ray Walston, and Jean Stapleton. The production ended up winning 7 Tony Awards the following year (including Best Musical), and was adapted for the big screen in 1958 directed by George Abbott and Stanley Donen with every single original cast member (with the exception of Stephen Douglass, who was replaced by Tab Hunter) reprising their roles. The Broadway production was also where future married couple Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon first met, which was depicted in last year’s Emmy-winning miniseries, Fosse/Verdon.

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    Jeffrey Kare
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    On this day in 1975, the original production of John Kander & Fred Ebb’s Chicago opened at the 46th Street (now Richard Rodgers) Theatre on Broadway. Directed & choreographed by Bob Fosse, the original cast included Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera, and Jerry Orbach. Shortly after opening, Chicago was on the verge of closing when Verdon had to have surgery on nodes in her throat after inhaling a feather during the show’s finale. Yet, a replacement quietly stepped in to play Roxie Hart during her absence. When audiences came to see the show from August 8th-September 13th, they were disappointed at first to hear that Gwen Verdon was out, but immediately felt better when it was revealed that Liza Minnelli would be going on for her. That publicity stunt helped boost Chicago‘s popularity until Verdon recuperated and returned to the show. The following year, the production received 11 Tony Award nominations (including Best Musical), but unfortunately ended up going home empty handed as it suffered from opening in the same season as a little known show called A Chorus Line. Nonetheless, Chicago ended up running for 936 performances after closing on August 27th, 1977.

    In May of 1996, New York City Center presented a concert staging of Chicago as part of their Encores! series, which is dedicated to performing rarely heard American musicals with their original orchestrations. The production was so successful, that producers Fran & Barry Weissler ended up buying the rights to bring it to Broadway. The revival directed by Walter Bobbie starring Ann Reinking (who also choreographed), Bebe Neuwirth, James Naughton, Marcia Lewis, and Joel Grey opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre (the musical’s original home) on November 14th, 1996. The stripped-down presentation was not only met with critical acclaim, but also became a huge commercial hit. The following year, the production ended up winning 6 Tony Awards (including Best Revival of a Musical), and has continued to run all over the world to this day.

    In 2002, a long-gestating film adaptation directed & choreographed by Rob Marshall starring Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, and Christine Baranski was released in theaters. The movie not only became a sensation as well, but it was also among a few titles in the early 2000s that marked the beginning of a resurgence of Hollywood musicals on the big screen. The film not only ended up winning 6 Academy Awards, but also became the first movie musical since 1968’s Oliver! to win the Oscar for Best Picture (as well as the most recent).

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    Awardsfan1990
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    Speaking of Chicago, one of the revival’s former cast members, Donna Marie Asbury, has just officially made the Guinness Book of World Records for her 20-year portrayal of June, which means she has played the same character in the same show longer than any other Broadway performer in history. https://www.broadway.com/buzz/199398/donna-marie-asbury-makes-the-guinness-book-of-world-records-for-her-time-in-chicago/

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    Jeffrey Kare
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    On this day in 1975, the original production of A Chorus Line opened at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway. Directed, (co-)choreographed, & conceived by Michael Bennett, the original cast included Kelly Bishop, Wayne Cilento, Baayork Lee, Priscilla Lopez, Robert LuPone, Donna McKechnie, and Sammy Williams. The show immediately took the world by storm, becoming an unprecedented box office and critical hit. A Chorus Line also went on to win 9 Tony Awards (including Best Musical), the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, spawned many successful productions around the world, and ran for 6,137 performances after closing on April 28th, 1990 after a record-breaking fifteen year-long run.

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    Jeffrey Kare
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    Today marks the 5 year anniversary of Hamilton opening at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway. While the New York production sadly can’t be able to celebrate with a performance for a paying audience tonight, everyone in the world can be able to watch the original cast in the recently released taping on Disney+.

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