Toby Simkin presents Theatre History Timeline - Theatrical History

Broadway & Global Theatre History

A theatre timeline featuring major events in theatre history

I originally published this timeline in October 1995, often copied on the net, this is the original theatre history timeline, and growing since with major events. In addition I recommend you visit my Theatre Superstitions & Oddities. enjoy! If you think I’m missing something contact me.


2000 BCE The earliest recorded quasi-theatrical yet dramatic production dates back to 2000 BCE with the “passion plays” of Ancient Egypt. This story of the god Osiris was performed annually at festivals throughout the civilization. The acting of those days was extremely realistic as Greek historians tell us that many actors died of the wounds received in the ‘play’ battles between the enemies of Osiris and the forces led by his son, Ap-uat.
1500 BCE The earliest references to theatrical entertainment in China as early as 1500 BCE during the Shang Dynasty; they often involved music, clowning & acrobatic displays.
1200 BCE Around 1200 BC, in Thrace (in northern Greece), the Cult of Dionysus arose, in worship of of the god Dionysus (god of wine and fertility). Ancient Greek theatrical-style, religious-based events grew out of sporadic festivals in worship of Dionysus. The ceremonies were a measured frenzy; chaos with a purpose. The Dionysians practiced ritualistic celebrations that included intoxication, orgies, human and animal sacrifices, and hysterical rampages by women called the maenads. However, over the next 6 centuries, the cult spread across Greece, growing steadily more mainstream and civilized.
1149 BCE Depending on how we define ‘theatre’, in Egyptian culture from the reign of Ramses V (1149 ~ 1145 BCE). One such play was Contendings of Horus and Seth – while it didn’t have a “proper” theatrical venue, was peppered with off-color jokes and outright bawdiness, making it perhaps the “first written play comedy”
~700 BCE Around 700 BCE, at the same time ancient Athens rose to political and military power, Greece became the word’s cultural center with festival entertainments – the most important of which was the “Dionysus Festival“. Honoring the gods and goddesses was now more civilized. Citizens would gather to watch more, rather than participate. From these festival entertainments, developed 3 dramatic genres: tragedy in the late 6th century BCE, the satyr play in 500 BCE and lastly comedy in 486 BCE.
~700 BCE The first form of a permanent theatre building was a Chinese theatre, established by the Emperor about 700 BCE so writers could apply themselves to the development of a poetic drama.
625 BCE Arion, of Methymna is possibly the worlds first director. It is likely he invented the tragic mode (tragikou tropou) and the first to make the chorus stationary and to sing dithyramb and to give a name to what was sung by the chorus, and to introduce satyrs speaking in verse at Corinth.
~600 BCE Dithyranbous evolution by Arion of Methemna. The first theatrical-style production of sorts as we know it began in ancient Greece began when Cleisthenes, tyrant of Sicyon, transfers “tragic choruses” to Dionysus for a religious ceremony called Dithyramb in which a chorus of 50 men dressed as satyrs in goat skins, with protruding phalluses, would sing and danced in honor of Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility. Ancient Greeks laid out the criteria of the dithyramb as follows:

  • special rhythm
  • aulos (musical instrument) accompaniment in Phrygian (harmonic) mode
  • enriching text
  • considerable narrative content
  • originally antistrophic (a kind of ancient dance) character.


6th Century BCE The word ‘theatre‘ comes from a Greek word “theatron,” meaning meaning “to behold” “a place for seeing”. Prior to 342 BCE, theatres were temporary wooden structure built for the Dionysus Festival (in the City Dionysia) and dismantled when the celebration was concluded. The audience probably sat on wooden benches (theatron) and the actors and chorus performed on a flat, roughly circular 85′ diameter dirt floored acting area (orchestra).
6th Century BCE The word ‘tragedy‘ comes from Greek words tragos and ode, which roughly translates as “goat song“. The invention of Greek tragedy was generally ascribed to the first actor, Thespis of Icaria and propagated by the playwright Aeschylus.
532 BCE The first known actor/singer was Thespis of Icaria (Dionysos, Greece) became the first person to speak and sing individual lines in the Dithyramb in March, 532 at the Dionysus Festival. He is credited with introducing a new style in which a singer or actor performed the words of individual characters in the stories. He added narration and acted out dramatic episodes, thus the beginnings of modern theatre were born. Thespis is the first known actor in written plays. Thespis was so influential that we still call actors Thespians.
534 BCE The world’s first award-winning actor, was Thespis of Attica, wins the first annual Dionysian Festival dramatic competition on November 23, 534 BCE. His prize was a goat and a basket of figs.
6th Century BCE In ancient Greece the ‘orchestra’ was the circular acting area at the foot of the hill, where the chorus (and actors) performed. In the center of the orchestra there was often was an alter (or thymele). It was located directly in front of the theatron (seating area).
523 BCE Aeschylus (523 BCE – 456 BCE) who is often described as the father of tragedy is born.
~500 BCE Pratinus of Phlius introduces the Satyr play to Athens where satyric drama is born. Pratinas participated in the tragic Dionysus Festival contest with a satyric drama, which punctuated their tragedies, and were designed to lighten the mood. Costumes were Goatskin loincloth with phallus in front and tail in back. They used phallic props, and featured mock drunkenness, sexuality, pranks and physical comedy. They date back at least to 500 BCE. Only one complete script remains: Cyclops. is an adventurous comedy by Euripides.
499 BCE Aeschylus’ began competing at Dionysus Festival in 449 BCE. Most of his plays were part of trilogies; the only extant Greek trilogy is The Orestia.
496 BCE Playwright Sophocles is born in Colonus, a village near Athens in 496 BCE. Later in his career, at the Dionysus Festival, he won 24 contests, never lower than 2nd place; and is believed to have introduced the 3rd actor; reducing the chorus to 15 (from 50)
~490 BCE Ancient Greek theatre masks had cork mouth pieces that acted like megaphones which would help amplify the actors’ voices to the back of the theatre. Some Greek theatres had a capacity over 14,000, so large masks made it clear for the people furthest away which character was which and what they were feeling. The materials used to create the masks were made out light weight, organic materials such as stiffened linen, leather, wood or cork.
486 BCE The word “comedy” comes from the Ancient Greek (kamaida) derives from the words for ‘revel’ and ‘song’ (kamos & ada) According to Aristotle, comic drama actually developed from song, and that comedy was slow to gain official acceptance because nobody took it seriously. The first ‘official’ comedy was staged in 486 BCE at the Dionysus Festival and originates from Dionysian cult and more specifically from the hymns devoted to Dionysus, called “phallic hymns“.
485 BCE Playwright Euripides is born (480-406 BCE) was very popular in later Greek times, little appreciated during his life sometimes known as “the father of melodrama“.
~475 BCE First outwardly gay theatrical person? Ancient sources mention Sophocles’ homosexuality. The Greek rhetorician Athenaios reported that Sophocles loved boys like Euripides loved women. The poet Ion of Chios relates an anecdote involving Sophocles seducing a serving boy at a symposium, and Athenaios one in which Sophocles is tricked by a male hustler.
472 BCE A 2nd actor is introduced by Aeschylus. The oldest play still in existence is The Persians by Aeschylus (523 – 456 BCE) who is described as the father of tragedy. The play was written in 472 BCE. Aeschylus wrote at least 90 plays, but only 7 have survived the ravages of time
458 BCE The earliest reference to “walking a red carpet” is from the Greek father of tragedy Aeschylus, whose play Agamemnon in 458 BCE, had the title character (and hero) greeted by his vengeful wife Clytemnestra, and invites him to walk a “crimson path” to his house and eventual doom (stabbed to death by her in their bathtub because of his adultery).
~450 BCE The skene, a tent or small wooden hut was probably added in the middle of the 5th century. (the source of term scene) Located at the rear of the acting space (upstage wall of stage) It probably did not exist for Aeschylus’ early tragedies. It had at least one, and perhaps as many as three openings (possible doors) which could be used as entrances.
449 BCE Playwrights cast themselves in their plays till 449 BCE, with the growth of the contests, the main actors were chosen by lot, and the others by the main actors and the playwright. Actors were semi-professional, at best & were paid by the State.
446 BCE Playwright Aristophanesis was born in 446. He later became a comic playwright of ancient Athens. 11 of his 40 plays survive virtually complete. These provide the only examples of a genre of comic drama known as Old Comedy. Known as the Father of Comedy, Aristophanes has been said to recreate the life of ancient Athens more convincingly than any other author. With a career of fighting accusations of slander, and many of his plays denounced, in 424 BCE, The Knights, the first of many plays that he directed himself, he says through the Chorus in that play “In my opinion, the author-director of comedies has the hardest job of all.
~442 BCE A 3rd actor and a chorus of 15 is introduced by Sophocles. All performers were males actors, singers & dancers and used masks (supported with costume pieces) to portray the variety of characters. The actors – 1 protagonist (the star) and 2 other actors performed all of the speaking parts. These restrictions were to ensure equality in competition and keep costs low for the state funding the actors. The Chorus, costumes, musicians, and rehearsal time were funded by an appointed private citizen, a khorÄ“gos, which was a role carrying great prestige.
5th Century BCE Theatre was so important in Ancient Greece that the state would pay for poor people to attend performances.
430 BCE Sophocles’s Oedipus, entered at the Dionysus Festival and comes 2nd.
5th Century BCE Ancient Greek audiences stamped their feet rather than clapping their hands to applaud.
5th Century BCE In Ancient Greek Theatre, characters did not die onstage. If a character needed to be killed they would go offstage and their body would be displayed on the ekkyklema, a platform that could be wheeled on through sliding doors in the skene. (Sophocles’s play Ajax is an exception)
427 BCE Aristophanes (446 – 386 BCE) is known as the Father of Comedy where 11 of his 40 plays survive and provide the only real examples of a genre of comic drama known as old comedy, and are used to define it. Aristophanes won second prize at the Dionysus Festival in 427 BCE with his first comedy play The Banqueters. His other better known plays are: Wasps, The Frogs, The Acharnians, Clouds, Birds, Ecclesiazusae, Peace, The Wasps, and Lysistrata.
5th Century BCE The Greek Tragedy and Comedy masks were created in the 5th Century BCE. Both daughters of the god Zeus, the comedy mask is known as Thalia, who in Greek mythology is the Muse of Comedy and Idyllic Poetry. Thalia is depicted with the comedy mask in one hand, and a trumpet or bulge in the other. The tragedy mask is known as Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy. Melpomene is depicted with the tragedy mask in one hand, and a knife or a club in the other.
406 BCE Famous Greek tragedian playwright Euripides (480 – 406 BCE) of Athens dies. In his career, he served for a short time as both dancer and torch-bearer before pioneering theatrical innovations as a playwright that profoundly influenced drama, especially in the representation of heroes as ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances – this allowed future writers to adapt to the first theatrical comedy.
405 BCE Sophocles for over 60 years until his death in 405 BCE aged 91), was the most successful playwright of ancient Greece, entering his tragedies in 30 competitions, winning 18 first prizes (and never judged lower than 2md place) at the City of Dionysia in 30 years. Only 7 of his 120 plays remain, of which was Oedipus Rex and Antigone are the most famous.
~360 BCE According to the philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE), the plot is the most important feature of a dramatic performance. Aristotle taught that tragedy is composed of six elements: plot-structure, character, style, thought, spectacle, and lyric poetry. The characters in a tragedy are merely a means of driving the story; and the plot, not the characters, is the chief focus of tragedy.
~342 BCE The outdoor Theatre of Dionysus in Ancient Athens was the oldest theatre. This permanent Greek theatre was built around 342 BCE. With an estimated capacity of up to 17,000 people, with 78 stone rows built up a slope overlooking the stage. Remodeled to fit the Roman ideal during the reign of Nero (61 BCE), and last used for a theatrical performance during the 4th century CE.
~340 BCE The Great Theatre of Epidaurus was built, by architect Polykleitos in 340 BCE. Among all the ancient theatres, Epidaurus theatre is the most beautiful and best preserved ancient theatres. The auditorium was carved into the side of Mount Kynortio. It had a capacity of 13,000, divided into 2 parts: 21-rows of seats aimed for the citizens and 34-rows of seats aimed for the priests and rulers. The theatre remained in use for nearly 1000 years. The theatre was the inspiration for London’s Olivier Theatre which opened in 1976.
~340 BCE Now with permanent theatre structures, within 200 years after the start of the Greek theatres, the first stage machinery and scenery were added to the shows. They used a system of revolving upright prisms, much like the system used in modern rotating billboards, to show a change of location. These were called Periaktoi. They used mechanical trap doors and the machina: a crane for winching gods on and off the stage (‘Deus ex machina’).
4th Century BCE In ancient Greece the proskenion (from which we get proscenium) was a long shallow area that we would recognize as a stage. The skene was a walled area with 3 doors at the back of the proskenion (upstage), on which scenery could be painted and actors could hide behind.
~340 BCE Aristotle wrote a chronological statement of the steps in the evolution of theatre:

  1. Aeschylus added the 2nd actor,
  2. & Diminished the parts of the Chorus,
  3. & Gave prominence to the text;
  4. Sophocles added the 3rd actor,
  5. & added scene-painting,
  6. & made longer plots;
  7. & became dignified by eliminating grotesque diction by Satyric drama and
  8. & changed metre from tetrameter to Iambic.
~300 BCE The first actors union “The Artists of Dionysus” to protect the rights of performers was started in Greece in the 4th century BCE, by traveling companies of actors who traveled around the Mediterranean during the Hellenistic period. This included the right to be excluded from military service and the right to travel through enemy territories, without hindrance, in order to give performances.


4th Century BCE Romans first experienced theatre in the 4th century BCE, with a performance by Etruscan actors. The theatre of ancient Rome was a thriving and diverse art form, ranging from festival performances of street theatre, nude dancing, and acrobatics, to the staging of Plautus’s broadly appealing situation comedies, to the high-style, verbally elaborate tragedies of Seneca.
3rd Century BCE Western theatre developed and expanded considerably under the Romans.
284 BCE Lucius Livius Andronicuswas born in 284 BCE. He went on to write works for the stage – both tragedies and comedies – which are regarded as the first dramatic works written in the Latin language of ancient Rome. His comedies were based on Greek New Comedy and featured characters in Greek costume, he is regarded as the father of Roman drama and of Latin literature in general. he died in 204 BC
240 BCE Roman drama began in 240 BC with the plays of Livius Andronicus.
185 BCE Publius Terentius Afer (known as Terence) was born in Carthage around 185 BCE as a slave. Terentius Lucanus, a Roman Republic senator, brought Terence to Rome as a slave, educated him, impressed by his abilities as a playwright, freed him. His comedies were performed for the first time around 170/160 BC. All of the 6 plays Terence wrote have survived. When he was 25, Terence traveled to Greece died in 159 BCE during the journey. Over 2,000 years later, US President John Adams wrote “Terence is remarkable, for good morals, good taste, and good Latin… His language has simplicity and an elegance that make him proper to be accurately studied as a model.
184 BCE Roman comedy playwright Titus Plautus dies. (254 to 184 BCE). Plautus is remembered for his farcical comedies. Only 21 of the more than 100 plays he wrote survive today. Most of his plays were based on New Greek Comedy. Twin Menaechmi, or simply The Twins, is the story of twin brothers who are separated at birth. One travels with his father to Syracuse, the other with his mother to Epidemus. After his 21st birthday, the Syracuse boy sets out in search of his long lost brother. They finally meet after mistaken identity. Shakespeare “borrowed” plots and characters from Plautus’ comedy for his The Comedy of Errors, a version of which became the Broadway musical, The Boys from Syracuse by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart.
~ 120 BCE The Large Theatre of Pompeii opens with a seating capacity of 5,000 and was used for various kinds of shows. Plays performed probably included the comedies of Plautus and Terentius. Shows were announced on hand painted posters. A natural recess in the hillside was used to create the horseshoe-shaped seating, which had an average 40cm space per person, plus larger VIP seats for senators etc.. The outdoor theatre was covered by a retractable canopy of colored cloths to protect spectators from the sun & rain. During intermissions, spectators were sprinkled with scented water. Close to the theatre, a space enclosed by portico’s on all four sides was used as a foyer. The theatre was refurbished in 62 AD after an earthquake. The theatre was buried by the eruption of the Vesuvius in 79 AD.
1st Century BCE The Romans changed the basic design structure of the Greek theatres by

  • cutting the orchestra in half, from a circle to a semi-circle;
  • added a narrow stage which was attached to the flat part of the orchestra (typically between 60′ and 100′ long & about 20′ feet deep)
  • changed the Scaena (skene) to include 3 entrances along the back (upstage) wall,
  • added an entrance on each side wall (wings).
  • entrances became ornate arches framing painted street scenes behind.
1st Century BCE The earliest Indian Sanskrit theatre emerged sometime between the 2nd century BCE and the 1st century which was a period of relative peace in the history of India during which hundreds of plays were written. With the Islamic conquests theatre was discouraged or forbidden entirely.
1st Century BCE At a time during the first century, the European and British church actually opposed theatre. This even included religious plays.
70 BCE The earliest stone amphitheatre is the 20,000 seat Amphitheatre of Pompeii which was built of stone, and is the oldest surviving Roman amphitheatre. The dedicatory inscription refers to it as the “spectacula“. Located in Pompeii, it was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79. Around 59, a deadly brawl occurred between Pompeiians and residents of Nuceria during gladiatorial games in the amphitheatre, resulting in Emperor Nero placing a 10-year ban on such events.
50 BCE The Romans build their first permanent theatre structure in 50 BCE. The large stone theatre seated thousands of Romans. There was no front curtain nor were performances done in the orchestra pit (unlike Greek plays). The audiences sat on temporary wooden benches where there was room; ushers would direct the patrons all throughout the performance
~40 BCE In the early Roman Republic (before Julius Caesar), women did not enter the profession; it was considered inappropriate for them. Romans allowed women to appear in plays in the Imperial period, a number of women became famous actresses, and earned reputations as infamous as their male counterparts. Indeed, one of the Emperor Nero’s concubines, Acte, was an actress.
19 BCE The Roman philosopher Horace (65 to 8 BCE) argued that comedy and tragedy should be distinct forms; that tragedy should draw its characters from the noble class while comedies should deal with the middle class; and that the function of drama was not only to entertain but to teach a moral lesson. His ideas will be incorporated into the NeoClassical Rules during the Renaissance.
12 BCE The seating capacity of Rome’s Teatro Marcello, the largest theatre in the Roman Empire, was approximately 12,000. The cavea (the semi-circular bank of seats) would hold another 2,000 standees, bringing the total to about 14,000. The theatre was begun in 46 BCE under the reign of Julius Caesar and dedicated to Claudius Marcello by Augustus Caesar between 13 and 11 BCE. The theatre, which still exists, became a fortress during the middle ages, the Pallazo Savelli during the Renaissance, and is presently an upscale apartment complex.
4 BCE Lucius Annaeus Seneca, known simply as Seneca was born in 4 BCE in Spain ~AD 65) He became an important Roman dramatist writing 9 tragedies, and a satire. The tragedies of Seneca have been successfully staged in modern times. He was a tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero. He was forced to commit suicide for alleged complicity plotting to kill Nero, by taking poison and severing several veins in a warm bath in order to bleed to death in 65.


30 The third largest amphitheatre in Italy, capable of holding 30,000 spectators when it was built in 30 CE is the Arena di Verona. Unlike the Roman Colosseum which is primarily a tourist attraction, the arena in Verona is still used as a performing space. During the summer it is the home of the Verona Opera Festival.
65 Lucius Seneca dies, a tutor and advisor to Nero, was the major playwright of the Roman Empire. Nine of his tragedies have survived but were probably not staged during his lifetime.
80 The largest and most famous amphitheatre in the Roman Empire was Rome’s Anfiteatro di Flavio (Amphitheatre of Flavius) which was completed in 80 CE with 87,000 seats and is more commonly known as the Colosseo (Colosseum).
426 The Ancient Greek Epidaurus Theatre closed in 426 A.D. that Theodosius the Great banned all activities at the Sanctuary, which saw the theatre fall into disrepair. The auditorium, however, was preserved under a layer of earth.
~450 Decline of Roman Theatre. The hostility of the Christian church meant that theatre was considered the shrine of Venus (a Roman god). By the fifth century (the 400s) actors were excommunicated. This ruling held in parts of Europe until the 18th century.
533 The last Roman Theatre performance was in 533 CE — 1066 years after Thespis won the first Greek Tragedy Contest.
~730 The Pear Garden (梨园­) was the first acting and musical theatre training academy established in China founded during the Tang dynasty by Emperor Xuanzong (712-755) in Chang’an (Xi’an) for music, dancing, and acting. 300 musicians and performers were trained annually under the supervision of the emperor, who sometimes joined in the training as well as the performances. Actors are commonly called “Children of the Pear Garden”.
~730 The Chinese Tang Dynasty (sometimes known as ‘The Age of 1,000 Entertainments’) was a golden age for the arts in imperial China and the theatre was no exception. In the 8th century, Emperor Xuanzong formed the first national opera troupe which primarily performed for the Emperor’s pleasure. Music flourished and the theatrical arts evolved towards their present forms.
~1000 Zaju (mixed drama / play), was the major and earliest form of Chinese drama. The style originated as a short variety play in North China during the Northern Song dynasty (960 to 1127), & developed into a mature 4-act dramatic form, in which songs alternate with dialogue.
~1250 The medieval Christian church is credited with the rebirth of western theatre. Based on stories from the bible priests would verbally perform tropes (sung or chanted) inside churches. As the play-lets were extended and additional scenes were added it became more and more difficult to stage them in the churches. Some were also considered too violent, too non-Christian, to be presented within the church. When the dramatic production moved out doors, the plays were presented (spoken, not sung) by laymen. Although the dramas were still religious, they were no longer a part of worship. Medieval unions of trade guilds provided the money and personal needed to present the plays. The church continued to provide the scripts and directorial leadership.
14th Century Medieval plays now emerged into 3 distinct classifications:

  • Mystery play: The plot and characters were drawn from the books of the Bible. It was the major form of Medieval drama.
  • Miracle play: Built its plot around the lives and the works of the saints. They were usually performed on the saint’s feast day. Some of the scripts were biblical, others were not.
  • Morality play: These dramas were based on the spiritual trials of the average man. They formed a bridge between the Medieval religious plays and the secular dramas of the Renaissance.
14th Century During the 14th century, there were small companies of actors in Japan who performed short, sometimes vulgar comedies called Noh.
1400 Medieval ‘Morality plays‘ emerged as a distinct dramatic form around 1400 and flourished until 1550. The most interesting morality play is The Castle of Perseverance which depicts mankind’s progress from birth to death. However, the most famous morality play and perhaps best known medieval drama is Everyman.
1558 With the weakening power of the Catholic Church, the Protestant Reformation and the banning of religious plays in many countries, Queen Elizabeth I banned all religious plays in 1558 bringing an end to medieval drama.
1564 Although 23rd April, 1564 is recognized as Shakespeare’s birthday (May 3 in todays calendar), the only proof we have is that he was baptized on 26th April, 1564. He died on 23rd April, 1616 (May 3 in todays calendar) in Stratford-upon-Avon, UK at age 52.
1560 Commedia dell’arte originated in Italy in the 1560s – an actor-centered theatre, requiring little scenery & very few props. Plays did not originate from written drama but from scenarios called lazzi, which were loose frameworks that provided the situations, complications, and outcome of the action, around which the actors would improvise.
1570 The term “slapstick” comes from an object used in 16th century Italian commedia dell’arte. The Slap Stick is merely two thin slats of wood made from splitting a single long stick, which makes a ‘slap’ when striking another actor, with little force needed to make a loud – and comical – sound.


1572 A 1572 British law eliminated professional theatrical companies lacking formal patronage by labeling them vagabonds. Theatres then sprang up in suburbs, especially London’s Southwark, across the Thames and beyond the authority’s control. (future home of Shakespeare and his Globe theatre)
1576 James Burbage built the very first London theatre in 1576 at Finsbury Fields, Shoreditch with his brother-in-law John Brayne, appropriately named ‘The Theatre’. James Burbage died in February 1597.
1585 After 5 years in construction, the theatre Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, Italy hosted its first performance with Sophocles’s Oedipus the King. The Teatro Olimpico is now the oldest surviving enclosed theatre in the world. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
1587 The Rose Theatre was built in 1587, the first of several theatres to be situated in Southwark near the shore of the River Thames. The area was known for its leisure attractions such as bear/bull-baitings, gaming dens and brothels. It was located outside the jurisdiction of the City of London’s civic authorities.
1590 From 1590 to 1681, Spain saw a monumental increase in the production of live theatre as well as the in importance of theatre within Spanish society — the Spanish called this “the Golden Age”
1590 Theatre in the USA started as ritual performance by Native Americans and then, upon the arrival of the first white, Spanish settlers, became another sort of ritual, based on medieval European Christian morality plays.
1593 Outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague (The Black Death) in the early 17th-century forced the Globe Theatre in London to close, as it was feared that when full it had a capacity of 3,000 — it would speed up the spread of the disease. The audiences only dropped during outbreaks of the bubonic plague, which happened in 1593, 1603 and finally in 1608 when all Elizabethan theatres were closed. 16th-century officials placed restrictions on performances out of fear that they would become hotbeds of infection, closing them down once infection rates reached a certain level. The Plague eventually died out in 1608, which experts generally attribute to strict quarantines and people living in greater isolation.
1595 Elizabethan audiences were known to bang their chairs on the ground to show appreciation.
1595 Shakespeare did not come up with most of his plots. Many were already well known stories, plays or histories. Shakespeare’s characters refer to love 2,259 times. They refer to hate only 183 times.
1599 Disputes over the lease forced James Burbages’s sons to lease land in Southwark (near the Rose theatre), demolished ‘The Theatre’ and carried its timbers over the river. To cover the cost, James Burbage’s sons sold shares in the building. Shakespeare was one of 4 actors who bought a share. By early 1599 the original Globe theatre opened.
1599 The first theatre marquee advertising could be considered the flags hanging outside the Globe Theatre in London which were flown to let people know what type of play was being performed. A white flag meant it was a comedy, a red flag was a history and a black flag signified a tragedy.
1599 The motto for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was “Totus mundus agit histrionem” which roughly translates as “All the world’s a stage“.
1600 Leading the acting troupe called the King’s Men, Shakespeare’s friend, actor Richard Burbage first performs HAMLET at the Globe Theatre in London.
1603 Japanese Kabuki was originally performed by Izumo no Okuni (the originator of kabuki theatre), and her troupe of female outcasts, before women were banned from performing in 1629 due to public outcry for moral reform. Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu forbade women from performing in kabuki and replaced with young men. Kabuki was a common form of entertainment, including erotic titillation, to the point where the (female & later male) performers were available for hire as prostitutes after the show.
1605 First known literary use of the word assassin is in Shakespeare’s Macbeth written in 1605.
1605 In 1605, Ben Jonson was arrested and threatened with having his nose and ears cut off, for writing jokes of an anti-Scottish nature.
1606 William Shakespeare once had to play Lady Macbeth in the Scottish plays first performance on 7 August 1606, when the 13 year old boy playing Lady Macbeth, named Hal Berridge, became ill and couldn’t perform . Berridge reportedly died of his illness.
1612 William Shakespeare once lived in a house on the present day site of The Barbican Centre at the corner of Monkwell Street and Silver Street, Cripplegate in London. He lodged with a French Huguenot family called Mountjoy.
17th Century The word “Auditorium” comes from the Latin for “a place for hearing.”
1613 On June 29, 1613, the first Globe Theatre in London burned down when a prop cannon being used in a performance of Henry VIII ignited the thatched roof and set the building alight. It took only two hours for the entire structure to be destroyed but no one was hurt.
1614 Shakespeare and his company built 2 Globe Theatres. The Globe theatre, Bankside in Southwark, London was built in 1597 -1598 holding several thousand patrons. The Globe was only in use until 1613, when it burned to the ground. In 1614 the Globe Theatre was rebuilt (with a tiled roof) and survived until 1642 when it was closed when theatre was outlawed. In 1644 it was demolished by the Puritans.
1616 On April 23, William Shakespeare dies.  In his last will and testament signed on 25 March 1616, just under a month before his death, the only thing he left to his wife was his ‘second best bed’.
1622 No one knows really what Shakespeare looked like. No written description of Shakespeare’s physical appearance survives, and no evidence suggests that he ever commissioned a portrait, so the ‘Droeshout engraving’ (used in the First Folio), which writer Ben Jonson approved of as a good likeness.
1623 Shakespeare never actually published any of his plays. They are known today only because two of his fellow actors, John Hemminges and Henry Condell, recorded and published 36 of them posthumously under the name ‘The First Folio‘, which is the source of all Shakespeare books published.
1623 The complete works of William Shakespeare uses a vocabulary of 17,677 words. About 1,700 of these are words believed to have been invented by Shakespeare. The First Folio is the first collected edition of William Shakespeare’s plays, collated and published in 1623, seven years after his death.
1624 Broadway is the oldest street in Manhattan, and began as an Algonquin trade route called the Wiechquaekeck Trail. Named Heere Straat (High Street) by the Dutch, it was one of two main roads leading north and became an important route linking NY Harbor with upstate NY.
1637 Playwright Ben Jonson died on August 6, 1637 and was buried in an upright position in the north aisle of the nave in Westminster Abbey, London as an indication of his reduced circumstances at the time of his death.
1642 In England, during the reign of Oliver Cromwell (1642-1660), at the outbreak of the English Civil War, the authorities banned the performance of all plays within the city limits of London . Theatre was outlawed, but music was not, so many playwrights started writing libretto for opera.
1643 Moliere” was in reality only the stage name assumed when, as a young man, Jean Baptiste Poquelin (born in Paris, France in 1622) joined a group of strolling players. So famous did he make it, that few of us today recognize the surname “Poquelin.”
1647 In Cromwell’s reign, between 1647 & 1660 a British law was passed officially classifying actors as rogues.


1660 After public stage performances had been banned for 18 years by the Puritan regime, with the restoration of the monarch, theatres re-opened in 1660 signaling the restoration of theatre. English comedies written and performed in the Restoration period from 1660 to 1710 are collectively called “Restoration comedy” notorious for their sexual explicitness, a quality encouraged by King Charles II.
1660 The first professional stage actress was Margaret Hughes (1643-1719) who appeared as Desdemona in Thomas Killigrews version of Othello, The Moor of Venice on 3 December 1660, at a converted tennis court called the Vere St. Theatre, London.
1661 King Charles II, the so-called ‘Merry Monarch’ not only licensed two acting companies, he legalized the profession for women; bringing England up to speed with its European counterparts in allowing women on the stage.
1663 There has been a theatre on the site of Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London since 1663. The current building is the 4th theatre, after 2 fires and 1 demolition.
1665 In Colonial USA days, theatre was looked down upon by many of the Puritanical white settlers, so it was not until 1665 that the first play performed in English in the USA was recorded. Ye Bare and Ye Cub was performed by three men in Accomack County, Virginia.
1666 Shakespeare’s Globe is the only building in London allowed to have a thatched roof since the Great Fire in 1666.
1668 An underground tunnel in London exists between Theatre Royal Drury Lane and The Nell pub (originally called the Lamb). It is believed Charles II used it to visit Nell Gwynne, the bawdy Restoration era orange seller-turned-actress who enjoyed a position as a favorite mistress to the king for nearly 20 years.
1668 The royal box may have been invented because Charles II liked to watch plays from the wings. This got him conveniently out of the way.
1673 Jean Baptiste Moliere, who suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis, was in the midst of a stage performance while performing in the last play he’d written, when he burst a blood vessel in a fit of coughing and hemorrhaging. Moliere insisted on completing his performance. He died a few hours later in Paris, France in 1673 at age of 51. Under French law at the time, actors were not allowed to be buried in the sacred ground of a cemetery. However, Moliere’s widow, Armande, asked the King if her spouse could be granted a normal funeral at night. The King agreed and Moliere’s body was buried in the part of the cemetery reserved for unbaptized infants.
1677 The British and the vast majority of the English speaking world pronounce “z”, “zed”, owing to the origin of the letter “z”, the Greek letter “Zeta”. The first known instance of “zee” being recorded as the correct pronunciation of the letter “z” was in Lye’s New Spelling Book, published in 1677. In the USA “zee” firmly establishing itself thanks to Noah Webster putting his seal of approval on it in 1827, and, of course, the Alphabet song copyrighted in 1835, rhyming “z” with “me”.
1683 Sadler’s Wells in London is so called because of natural springs found during the theatre’s construction. Richard Sadler opened a “Musick House” in 1683, the second public theatre newly opened in London after the Restoration, the first being the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The name Sadler’s Wells originates from his name and the discovery of the springs.
1714 Her Majesty’s Theatre on Haymarket in the City of Westminster, London changes its name with the sex of the monarch. It first became the King’s Theatre in 1714 on the accession of George I. It was renamed Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1837. His Majesty’s Theatre from 1901 to 1952, and it became Her Majesty’s on the accession of Elizabeth II.
1716 The first U.S. theatre was built in Virginia in 1716, 60 years before the Declaration of Independence.
1728 Jukebox musicals aren’t a new concept. In 1728 John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera recycled popular songs of the day, with new satirical lyrics.
1732 The first true performance space in New York was the Theatre on Nassau Street, which was located just east of Broadway was built in 1732 and run by actor-managers Walter Murray and Thomas Kean until it was torn down and replaced by a church in 1754.
1736 At Edial Hall School in London, David Garrick was a pupil and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson, the writer of the dictionary (A Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755).
1737 Parliament passed the Stage Licensing Act of 1737 which introduced state censorship of public performances and limited the number of theatres in London to 2.
1741 David Garrick made his debut as a professional actor on a summer tour to Ipswich with Giffard’s group in 1741, where he played Aboan in Oroonoko, a play by the British dramatist Thomas Southerne. He appeared under the stage name Lyddal to avoid the consternation of his family.
1750 New York’s first musical production The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay opened on December 3, 1750, at the Theatre on Nassau Street.
1751 We celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday as 23rd April, coinciding with St. George’s day. However, he was born under the Julian calender. The Gregorian calender which we use today was not adopted in Britain until 1751. What was April 23rd in 1564 would be May 3rd using today’s calendar.
1753 Lewis Hallam built the first NYC playhouse in 1753 in lower Manhattan, between Beaver and Exchange Place to showcase restoration drama, farce, and operetta. However, the first play recorded in New York was 18 years prior to that.
1764 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart once lived in a house on the present site of the Prince Edward Theatre’s stage door at 20 Frith Street.
1767 The first professionally acted American play was The Prince of Parthia by Thomas Godfrey, 24 Apr 1767.
1775 In 1775, theatre was banned in the USA by the Continental Congress.
1775 Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals was first performed at Covent Garden, London, on 17 January 1775. It was roundly vilified by both the public and the critics for its length and bawdiness, so he rewrote it in just 11 days the play reopened on 28 January to significant acclaim. Indeed, it became a favorite of the royal family, receiving 5 command performances in 10 years, and is now considered to be one of Sheridan’s masterpieces.
1779 David Garrick died on 20 January 1779, and was the first actor to be granted the honor of being buried in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey, next to the monument to William Shakespeare. Later, Henry Irving, the first actor to be knighted, was buried beside him on the same spot. Laurence Olivier was the third to be given that honor, in 1989.
1787 On April 16, 1787, the first comedy play written by a US citizen,The Contrast” by Royal Tyler, was staged in New York City.
1791 Dublin theatre manager James Daly allegedly invented the word “quiz” on a bet that he could introduce a new word into the English language.
1792 Opened in 1792, Theatre Royal Dumfries is the oldest working theatre in Scotland.
1794 The first iron safety curtain in a theatre was installed at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London in 1794.
1806 Edwin Forrest, often considered the first American theatre star, is born in Philadelphia. By the age of 20, Forrest will perform Othello at the Bowery Theatre in New York City, establishing his passionate acting style. In 1837, The New York Mirror will write that, despite the performer’s young age, his acting possesses “a brilliancy of genius, a depth of feeling, and acquaintance with the workings of the human soul; and a grasp of intellect, which already rank him among the greatest.” Though Forrest will later spark the Astor Place Riots in 1849, he will continue to perform in New York until his death in 1872.
1809 The most famous theatrical riots were the ‘old price riots‘ of 1809. After the Covent Garden theatre burnt down the management decided to raise the prices from 6 shillings to 7 shillings for the boxes and 2&6 to 4 shillings for the pit and the third tier. After the singing of the national anthem on the first night, the audience began shouts of ‘Old Prices! Old Prices!‘. This continued with cat-calling throughout the performance of Macbeth and the noise was so bad that soldiers were sent up to the gallery to restore order. This rioting continued every night. The audiences carried banners, pigs, rattles, trumpets, bells and whistles into the theatre. Some wore false noses wore drag. After 3 months of rioting the manager John Philip Kemble accepted the demands of the rioters and made a public apology from the stage.
1809 The Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, founded in 1809, is the oldest continuously operating theatre in the English-speaking world.
1814 The popular actor Edmund Kean made his Drury Lane debut as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice in 1814. Kean was one of the few actors who could fill the vast Drury Lane theatre to its capacity of 3,000. Kean’s private life was full of scandal and heavy drinking. He was the father of actor-manager Charles Kean and died shortly after they had appeared together on stage as Othello (Edmund) and Iago (Charles) in 1833.
1818 The Royal Coburg Theatre today known as ‘The Old Vic’ opens in London in 1818 on the corner of The Cut and Waterloo Road. The original theatre managers secured the patronage of Princess Charlotte and her husband Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg naming the theatre the Royal Coburg. The theatre was a “minor” theatre and was thus forbidden to show serious drama. It was renamed in 1833 the ‘Royal Victoria Theatre’, in 1871 it was rebuilt as the ‘Royal Victoria Palace’. It was taken over by Emma Cons in 1880 and renamed the ‘Royal Victoria Hall’, although by this time it was already known as the “Old Vic”. The building was damaged in 1940 during WWII air raids and reopened in 1951.
1821 In Georgetown, South Carolina, a ceremonial red carpet was purportedly first ever rolled out – for President James Monroe when he disembarked from a riverboat in 1821.
1828 Henrik Ibsen was born in Norway in 1828. He wrote twenty-five plays, the most famous of which are A Doll’s House (1879), Ghosts (1881), The Wild Duck (1884), and Hedda Gabler (1890), and is widely considered the “father” of realist and modern drama.
1834 Niblo’s Garden was a New York theatre on Broadway, covered the block bounded by Prince, Houston, Broadway and Crosby Streets. It was established in 1823 as “Columbia Garden”. The large 3,000 seat Niblo’s Theatre was built in 1834, was twice burned and rebuilt. In 1835, Niblo’s Garden hosted P. T. Barnum’s first ever exhibition, marking his entry into show business. The first theatre at Niblo’s Garden was destroyed by a fire on September 18, 1846.
1837 Theatrical clown Joseph Grimaldi dies in England. He was so scared of being buried alive that he insisted in his will that his head be cut off before burial.
1837 Henry Lovell Goldsworthy Gurney invents the “Limelight,” which is also known as “calcium light,” used as stage lighting. Today it means “at the centre of attention,” but back in the day “in the limelight” meant, well, being in the limelight. Limelight was first used in a public theatre in 1837, where the technology was employed at Covent Garden in London.
1838 American actor John Wilkes Booth is born. Son of actor Junius Brutus Booth, and brother to actors Junius Brutus Jr. and Edwin, John Wilkes will make his New York acting debut in Shakespeare’s Richard III. Killed by investigators after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, he will live on as an infamous historical figure and a character in the musical Assassins.
1842 There are over 80 spelling variations of the name Shakespeare. The most bizarre possibly being “Shaxberd”. The spelling of his surname wasn’t really standardized until ~ 1842. The bard wrote his name several ways but never as “William Shakespeare”.
1843 British theatres with the name Theatre Royal were the only 18th century venues permitted to show “legitimate drama” without music. In the 1830s J R Planche, a writer of burlesque and later Pantomime writer, created a sketch starring the characters of Mother Drama, and her two sons, Legitimate Drama and Illegitimate Drama. This challenged the Licensing Act and coined the terms ‘legitimate’ (today abbreviated to “Legit“) and ‘illegitimate’ drama. In 1843 the Licensing Act was dropped enabling other theatres to present plays.
1846 Future U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant almost plays Desdemona in an adaptation of Othello in the inaugural performance at a theatre in Corpus Christie, Texas. In rehearsal, the lead performer finds Grant’s performance inadequate and refuses to play opposite him. The company, made up of military personnel who painted the scenery and double as performers, decides to hire a professional actress from New Orleans.
1846 The large 3,000 seat Niblo’s Theatre within Niblo’s Garden in New York City was was destroyed by a fire on September 18, 1846.
1848 Plans to open the Britain’s National Theatre started in 1848. The complex on Southbank in London didn’t open until 1976!
1849 The re-built replacement 3,200 seat Niblo’s Theatre within Niblo’s Garden in New York City was opened in the summer of 1849 with the best-equipped stage in the city. Italian opera began to be produced there around 1850. Seats were sold at $2 each. Niblo’s began to draw the most popular actors and plays.
1850 There is a theory that The Lyceum Theatre in London is haunted by Madame Marie Tussaud, who held her first London waxworks exhibit there in conjunction with Paul Philidor, a magic lantern and ‘phantasmagoria’ pioneer. She did not fare particularly well financially, with Philidor taking half of her profits from the exhibit. Madame Tussaud died in her sleep in London on 16 April 1850 at the age of 88.
1855 Before his infamy as Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth was a successful actor, acclaimed by audience and critics alike. He was characterized as acrobatic, intensely physical, often leaping upon the stage and gesturing with passion. Booth made his stage debut at age 17 on August 14, 1855 in the supporting role of the Earl of Richmond in Richard III at Baltimore’s Charles Street Theatre. Some critics called Booth “the handsomest man in America” and a “natural genius”.
1856 The U.S. introduces the first copyright protection for playwrights, thanks to efforts led by Irish dramatist Dion Boucicault. The legislation gives authors of plays “along with the sole right to print and publish the said composition, the sole right also to act, perform, or represent the same.”
1856 George Bernard Shaw was born July 26, 1856 at 3 Upper Synge St., Portobello, Dublin, Ireland. Beginning with Caesar and Cleopatra (written in 1898), Shaw’s writing came into its own, In 1903, Shaw wrote Man and Superman, whose third act, “Don Juan in Hell,” achieved a status larger than the play itself and is often staged as a separate play entirely. While Shaw would write plays for the next 50 years, the plays written in the 20 years after Man and Superman would become his most famous works such as Major Barbara (1905), The Doctor’s Dilemma (1906), Pygmalion (1912), Androcles and the Lion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923) all firmly established Shaw as the leading dramatist of his time. Pygmalion went on to further fame when it was adapted into a musical and became a hit, first on the Broadway stage as My Fair Lady (1956). In 1925, Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Shaw died in 1950 at age 94.
1864 The actor Edwin Booth (brother to Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth) saved Lincoln’s son Robert Lincoln from being crushed under a train at a platform in Jersey City, NJ in 1864. The fact that he had saved the life of Abraham Lincoln’s son was said to have been of some comfort to Edwin Booth following his brother’s assassination of the president.
1865 The first purpose-built theatrical venue in Brisbane, Australia was the Victoria Theatre on Elizabeth Street, which opened in 1865. The theatre was successful and was entirely rebuilt in 1881 to increase the seating capacity to 1,350 and renamed the Theatre Royal. Much more about the history of Brisbane theatre can be found here.


1866 Niblo’s Theatre inside Niblo’s Garden on Broadway mounted The Black Crook opened on September 12, 1866, considered to be the first book musical and ran for a record-breaking 474 performances prior to closing at Niblo’s on Jan 4, 1868, prior to touring extensively for decades. The 4 act, 17 scene The Black Crook is set in the time of 1600 in the Harz Mountains of Germany. It returned to Broadway’s Niblo’s again for a run from Dec 12, 1870 to Apr 8, 1871, and a 3rd return at Niblo’s from Dec 18, 1871 to Feb 24, 1872. With music by Thomas Baker book by Charles M. Barras and lyrics by Theodore Kennick, this production gave America claim to having originated the musical. The Black Crook is considered a prototype of the modern musical in that its popular songs and dances are interspersed throughout a unifying play and performed by the actors.
1872 The British production of The Black Crook, opened at the Alhambra Theatre on December 23, 1872.
1872 By 1872, the area now known as Times Square, had become the center of New York’s horse carriage industry. The city authorities called it Longacre Square after Long Acre in London, where the horse and carriage trade in that city was centered. John Jacob Astor, owned much of the countryside around 43rd St, made a second fortune selling off lots to hotels and other real estate concerns as the city rapidly spread uptown. Long Acre Square became nicknamed the Thieves Lair for its rollicking reputation as a low entertainment district.
1872 The 2nd replacement 3,200 seat Niblo’s Theatre within Niblo’s Garden in New York City was again destroyed by a fire in 1872. It was again rebuilt by the department-store magnate A. T. Stewart. The final performance at Niblo’s Garden was given on March 23, 1895. A few weeks later the building was demolished to make way for a large office building.
1873 Theatre Royal Haymarket was the first London theatre to implement matinee performances in 1873.
1875 When Edison patented the incandescent light-bulb in America; Broadway theatres converted to incandescently lit stages making them a much less hazardous venture (the use of gas lights on the stages was tricky, and only thin wooden boxes, tin blinders, or glass panes protected a wooden stage from each gas light’s open flame). theatre owners around the world followed, and by the 1890s, the gas lamps that had lit most New York stages had been replaced by the new incandescent lighting systems.
1878 George Michael Cohan was born July 3, 1878, known professionally as George M. Cohan, was an American entertainer, playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer & producer. Beginning with Little Johnny Jones in 1904, he wrote, composed, produced, and appeared in more than 30 Broadway musicals. Cohan published more than 300 songs during his lifetime, including the standards “Over There“, “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “The Yankee Doodle Boy“. Known in the decade before World War I as “the man who owned Broadway“, he is considered the father of American musical comedy. He died on November 5, 1942. His life and music were depicted in the Academy Award-winning film Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). A statue of Cohan is in the centre of Times Square.
1880 The oldest theatrical trade-paper is The Stage, launched on 1 February 1880 in England initially as a 12-page monthly, priced at 3d (then U.S.$0.06). The current managing director is Catherine Comerford, the great granddaughter of its founder.
1881 The Savoy Theatre in London opened on 10 October 1881and was the first public building in the world to be lit throughout by electricity built by Richard D’Oyly Carte for the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. Sir Joseph Swan, inventor of the incandescent light bulb, supplied about 1,200 Swan incandescent lamps, and the lights were powered by a 120-horsepower (89 kW) generator on open land near the theatre. The stage was lit by gas until 28 December 1881. At that performance, Carte stepped onstage and broke a glowing light-bulb before the audience to demonstrate the safety of the new technology.
1883 Broadway theatres were among the first to wow crowds by using electric bulbs on signs when the New York theatre owner Adolf Zukor, used approximately 1,000 bulbs above his theatre to spell out ‘Crystal Palace’. In competition for the same theatregoers and eyeballs, other theatres rapidly followed suit. One theory is that the bright lighting earned Broadway the nickname, “The Great White Way.”
1883 The theatre club at Cambridge University, England, Cambridge Footlights, formed in 1883, is rumored to be the only Cambridge club big and profitable enough to pay corporation tax
1884 The Lyceum Theatre School, founded in New York City in 1884 and renamed the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1892. The American Academy of Dramatic Arts remains perhaps the most prestigious acting school in the country.
1884 Playbill was first printed in 1884 for a single theatre on 21st Street in New York City. The magazine is now used at nearly every Broadway theatre, as well as many Off-Broadway productions.
1886 The “Theatrical Protective Union of New York”, stagehands went on strike in NYC. After producers filled the positions of strikers with less skilled strikebreakers, actors refused to work due to sets falling apart. When a poorly-placed flat toppled over on the great actor Louis James, the story is that he refused to continue until the striking stagehands were rehired.
1887 George Francis Abbott was born on June 25, 1887 became a legendary American theatre producer, director, playwright, screenwriter & film director/ producer whose career spanned 9 decades until his death on January 31, 1995 aged 107. Among those who crossed paths with Abbott in their careers are Desi Arnaz, Betty Comden, Hal Prince, Adolph Green, Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne, Bob Fosse, Ethel Merman, Stephen Sondheim, Chita Rivera, Elaine Stritch, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Carol Burnett & Liza Minnelli.
1888 Born on October 16, 1888, in a New York City hotel room, writer Eugene Gladstone O’Neill was one of the most admired playwrights of all time. His masterpiece, Long Day’s Journey into Night (produced posthumously 1957), is at the apex of a long string of great plays, including Beyond the Horizon (1920), Anna Christie (1922), Strange Interlude (1928) ,Ah! Wilderness (1933) and The Iceman Cometh (1946). O’Neill died on November 27, 1953, in Boston, Massachusetts.
1888 By 1888, it was estimated that there were more than 2,400 professional actors in the United States.
1889 Building of the Garrick Theatre was especially difficult as it had an underground river running beneath it. was financed in 1889 by the playwright W. S. Gilbert, the author of over 75 plays, including the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas.
1889 The first theatre to be named after an actor was The Garrick Theatre in London, which was opened in 1889 and named after the actor David Garrick (1717-1779).
19th Century The word “audition” originally referred to a trial in the legal sense. It wasn’t until late 19th century that “audition” began being used for an entertainer’s trial performance didn’t appear on the English language stage until the mid-20th century.
1891 American composer and songwriter Cole Albert Porter is born on June 9, 1891. In the 1920s, and by the 1930s he was one of the major songwriters for the Broadway musical stage. Unlike many successful Broadway composers, Porter wrote the lyrics, as well as the music, for his songs. His most successful musical, Kiss Me, Kate opened in 1948. Amongst many other musicals highlights include Fifty Million Frenchmen, DuBarry Was a Lady, Anything Goes, Can-Can and Silk Stockings. Porter maintained a luxury apartment in Paris, where he entertained lavishly. His parties were extravagant and scandalous, with “much gay activity, Italian nobility, cross-dressing, international musicians and a large surplus of recreational drugs” Porter died of kidney failure on October 15, 1964, in Santa Monica, California, at the age of 73.
1891 Two seats are permanently bolted open at the Palace Theatre in the West End for the theatre ghosts to sit in
1892 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker debuted at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia on December 18, 1892, the critics ruthlessly panned the ballet’s choreography and storyline.
1892 The world’s first electrically lit large commercial billboard was erected over Madison Square in 1892. It read: “BUY HOMES ON LONG ISLAND/SWEPT BY OCEAN BREEZES,” and was paid for by the Long Island Rail Road. The sign disappeared from the New York skyline by 1895.
1893 The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) was formed on July 17, 1893 when stagehands working met in Elks Hall (27th St. & Broadway, NYC) and pledged to support each other establishing fair wages & working conditions.
1893 The Empire Theatre opened in 1893 with a performance of The Girl I Left Behind Me by David Belasco. It was the first theatre to open in the Theatre District of Broadway as we know it today. The Empire was the first theatre to have electricity and was said to be thoroughly fireproof. The theatre was sold in 1948 to the Astor estate and in 1953 it was torn down to make way for an office tower.
1894 On October 3, 1884 the American Academy of Dramatic Arts first opened its doors at The Lyceum Theatre in Manhattan. 118 students would soon become The Academy’s first graduating class.
1894 Every business owner on Broadway within Longacre Square at W 42nd, Broadway & 7th Avenue (later to become Times Square) advertised using electrically lit large commercial billboard with the new “spectaculars,” so called because of their large, complex light displays and intricate designs – some flashed, and some even had animated sections that moved.
1895 The Olympia Theatre (1514-16 Broadway at 44th St), also known as Hammerstein’s Olympia, was the 2nd theatre built in what is today’s Broadway theatre district. The theatre complex built by impresario Oscar Hammerstein I in Longacre Square (later Times Square), New York, opening on November 25, 1895. It consisted of a theatre, a music hall, a concert hall, and a roof garden. It was later named the New York Theatre and Loew’s New York.
1895 Lorenz Milton Hart was born on May 2, 1895, in New York City best known for his collaborations with Richard Rodgers, including “My Funny Valentine” and “Blue Moon.”. The duo went on writing scores popular Broadway musicals including Jumbo (1935), On Your Toes (1936), Babes in Arms (1937), The Boys From Syracuse (1939), Pal Joey (1940), By Jupiter (1942) and A Connecticut Yankee (1943).
1895 Oscar Hammerstein II was born in New York City on July 12, 1895, into a theatrical family, and would go on to be become the famous and most prominent American Musical Theatre lyricist, re-creating the musical art form and establishing himself clearly as the father of Broadway’s Golden Age.
1895 Henry Irving (1838-1905) was the first theatre actor to be knighted in May 1895. Making his London stage debut in 1866 in The Belles Strategem, he scored his greatest triumph at the Lyceum, London, in November 1871 as a guilt stricken Alsatian burgomaster in The Bells: a role he was to perform over 800 times. He took over as manager of the Lyceum in 1878 and introduced the blackout during which scenery could be changed unseen by the audience. He died penniless having earned over £2 million during his career.
1896 The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) was formed in Indianapolis in 1896 as the successor to the “National League of Musicians,” as a labor union representing professional musicians in the USA & Canada.
1898 George Gershwin was born on September 26, 1898 and his future widely known compositions spanned both popular and classical genres. Among his best-known works are Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928) and Porgy and Bess (1935). He died on July 11, 1937 from a malignant brain tumor aged 38.
1898 Vincent Millie Youmans was born on September 27, 1898 went onto become a leading Broadway composer of his day, collaborating with virtually all the greatest Broadway lyricists: Ira Gershwin, Otto Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein II, Irving Caesar, Leo Robin, Howard Dietz and Billy Rose. He died on April 5, 1946
1900 A wit to the the very end, shortly before his death Oscar Wilde was quoted to have said “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go.
1900 Sam and Lee Shubert, followed later by Jacob J. Shubert, moved to New York City and began rapidly acquiring theatres and producing shows.
1902 In 1902, New York Central Railroad used plush crimson carpets as part of the first class service on the luxury train the 20th Century Limited train which operated nightly from New York to Chicago from 1938 until 1968. Passengers on the 20th Century Limited entered the train after following a path made by the plush, football field length, vibrantly red rug that spanned the length of the train- from the engine to the observation car. The combination of luxury and the striking pathway is generally credited as cementing the phrase “red carpet treatment.
1902 Sir Ralph David Richardson is born 19 December 1902 who dominated the British stage of the mid-20th century. Richardson had no thought of a stage career until a production of Hamlet in Brighton inspired him to become an actor. In 1931 he joined the Old Vic, playing mostly Shakespearean roles. He led the company the following season, succeeding John Gielgud. After he left the company, a series of leading roles took him to stardom in the West End and Broadway. In the 1940s was the co-director of the Old Vic company. He and Laurence Olivier led the company to Europe and Broadway in 1945 and 1946, before their success provoked resentment among the governing board of the Old Vic, leading to their dismissal from the company in 1947. Throughout his career, and increasingly in later years, Richardson was known for his eccentric behavior on and off stage. He died on 10 October 1983
1902 Prolific composer Richard Charles Rodgers was born on June 28, 1902. He could play the piano as a toddler. He went on to define the quintessential American musical, integrating stories from books and plays and creating seamless storytelling from speech to song. He innovated the business end of show business, allowing writers to keep control of their creations. Rodgers won every major award possible in his field.
1903 The original production of The Wizard of Oz, based on the 1900 novel by L. Frank Baum, was the premier performance at the Majestic Theatre on January 21, 1903; it ran for 293 performances.
1904 Sir Arthur John Gielgud OM CH was born on 14 April 1904 was an English actor and theatre director whose career spanned eight decades. With Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier, he was one of the trinity of actors who dominated the British stage for much of the 20th century. Although indifferent to awards, Gielgud had the rare distinction of winning an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and a Tony. Among his honors, he was knighted in 1953 (in the 1953 Coronation honors) and the Gielgud Theatre was named after him. He died on 21 May 2000.
1904 Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, the leading actor manager of the day, establishes Academy of Dramatic Art (later to become the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) at His Majesty’s Theatre in the Haymarket, London. The following year the Academy moves to 62 Gower St. (where it remains today), when Sir James Barrie joins the managing council.
1904 Formerly Longacre Square, Times Square was renamed in 1904 after The New York Times moved its headquarters to the newly erected Times Building, the site of the annual ball drop which began on December 31, 1907, and continues today, attracting over a million visitors to Times Square every New Year’s Eve.
1905 Over 1,700 theatres throughout the USA were available to touring productions in 1905, as part of a syndicate (Theatrical Trust) led by a group of booking agents and managers
1905 In 1905, after Sam Shubert died tragically in a railroad accident, his brothers, Lee and J.J., continued to operate the business on an increasingly lavish scale.
1905 Julius Kerwin Stein – Jule Styne was born on December 31, 1905, He would go on to be a composer of especially famous Broadway musicals, which include very well known and frequently revived shows. In 1947, Styne wrote his first score for a Broadway musical, High Button Shoes and others, most notably Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Peter Pan, Bells Are Ringing, Gypsy, Do Re Mi, Funny Girl, Sugar and Hallelujah, Baby! Styne died on September 20, 1994 of heart failure in New York City at the age of 88.
1907 Laurence Kerr Olivier was born on 22 May 1907 became an English actor who dominated the British stage and film. Laurence Olivier’s family nicknamed him Kim. Considered possibly the most internationally famous Actor-Manager is the 20th Century, Olivier’s honors included a knighthood (1947), a life peerage (1970) and the Order of Merit (1981). The National Theatre’s largest auditorium is named in his honor, and he is commemorated in the Laurence Olivier Awards. He was married 3 times, to the actresses Jill Esmond from 1930 to 1940, Vivien Leigh from 1940 to 1960, and Joan Plowright from 1961 until his death on 11 July 1989.
1907 The longest career as an actress is 86 years and was achieved by Dercy Goncalves (Brazil, b. 26 June 1907) who ran away from home and joined a traveling theatre in 1922 and acted on stage, TV and film until 2008 at the age of 101 when she died on 19 July 2008. Despite being just 4 ft 11 in height she had a reputation for causing a big scene.
1908 The Society of London Theatre (previously The Society of West End Theatre) is an umbrella organization for West End theatre in London founded in 1908 by actor and theatre manager Sir Charles Wyndham. SOLT provides a collective for theatre owners, producers & managers of all major theatres in London.
1908 Ethel Agnes Zimmermann (later to become Ethel Merman) was born on January 16, 1908 in Astoria, Queens, NY. Ethel Merman openly lied about her age during her lifetime, and her birth year is listed in reference books as being anywhere between 1906 and 1912.
1908 In early 20th century Hollywood it was not unusual to see hotels and houses with the sign “No Dogs & No Actors“.
1910 William Henry Vanderbilt owned and ran the American Horse Exchange in Longacre Square which in 1910 became the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway.
1910 At one point the London Palladium had its own telephone system for patrons to make calls between boxes
1911 On Mar 20, 1911, Al Jolson first performed on Broadway in the musical revue La Belle Paree as Erastus Sparkler at the Winter Garden Theatre greatly helping to launch his career as a singer. Born in Lithuania on May 26, 1886, at the peak of his career, he was dubbed “The World’s Greatest Entertainer
1911 On January 9, 1911, legendary striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee was born as Rose Louise Hovick in Seattle, Washington. One of the most popular performers of the 1940s and 1950s, Gypsy was much more than a pretty girl who provocatively removed clothing. A brainy businesswoman, appeared in films, writing books, and traveled to Vietnam to entertain the troops. In the end, she died of lung cancer in April of 1970 at the age of 59.
1911 Mae West began her career in vaudeville at the age of 14 under the name Baby Mae. Her first appearance on Broadway was four years later at the age of 18, in 1911, in A La Broadway.
1911 Starting when he was 25, Al Jolson was known for fighting against black discrimination on Broadway by insisting on the hiring and fair treatment of black people at a time when this was an outlandish concept to many in America. (at the time the KKK accounted for about 15% of the US’s voting-age population.) Through his very controversial portrayals, and advocating for black performers, Jolson helped pave the way for the success of such legends as Louis Armstrong, Ethyl Waters, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. Almost single-handedly, Jolson helped introduce African-American musical innovations like jazz, ragtime and the blues to white audiences.
1911 David Merrick was born on November 27, 1911 as David Lee Margulois in St. Louis, Missouri. He became a prolific Tony Award-winning American theatrical producer known for his love of publicity stunts. Highlights of his Broadway shows include, Fanny (1954), Look Back in Anger (1957), Gypsy (1959), A Taste of Honey (1960), Becket (1960), Do Re Mi, Carnival, Oliver!, Hello, Dolly! (1964), Oh What a Lovely War! (1964), Cactus Flower (1965), Marat/Sade (1965), Promises, Promises, Sugar, Mack & Mabel, Play It Again, Sam (1969), 42nd Street (1980), and Loot (1986). Merrick was married 6 times. Merrick suffered a stroke in 1983, after which he spent most of his time in a wheelchair until his death on April 25, 2000 in London.
1912 When the Titanic sank in 1912 there were some 8,000 theatres in the USA.
1912 The “Authors’ League of America” was formed by some 350 book and magazine authors, as well as dramatists, later to become the “Dramatists Guild of America” in 1921.
1912 Jolson opened and starred in his 3rd Broadway musical which opened Mar 05, 1912, The Whirl of Society, propelling his career on Broadway to new heights. During his time at the Winter Garden Theatre, Jolson would tell the audience, “You ain’t heard nothing yet” before performing additional songs. In the play, Jolson debuted his signature black-face character, “Gus”.
1912 In 1912, Eugene O’Neill battled tuberculosis. While recuperating from his illness, he found his calling as a playwright, finding inspiration from European dramatist August Strindberg.
1912 Prior to Actors’ Equity’s formation, actors were charged penalty fees for a slew of minor offenses, including $5 fines for bad behavior, loud talking, lateness to rehearsal, liquor – or even laughter – in the dressing room, disrespect of the stage manager, and “hanging about” in the lobby; the forfeiture of a week’s pay for being seen drunk in a bar or missing a performance; a $2 fine for talking in the wings; and a $1 fine for the use of profanity. The vague charge of “conduct unbecoming ladies and gentlemen” could result in forfeiture of the fee for the entire engagement. They also had their pay cut in half if rehearsing or performing on holidays.
1913 On May 26, 1913, 112 actors met at the Pabst Grand Circle Hotel and formed Actors Equity Association, to demand demand equity. Today, that hotel is now Columbus Circle’s Museum of Arts and Design. On June 19, Equity met with the Twelfth Night Club to invite women to join. Mrs. Thomas Whiffen, 68, was elected the first female member.
1913 Broadway’s Booth Theatre opened on October 16, 1913, named in memory of one of America’s greatest 19th century classical and Shakespearean actors, Edwin Booth (brother of Abraham Lincoln assassin, John Wilkes Booth) who died on June 7, 1893 (aged 59). In 1864-65 he set a record by giving 100 performances as Hamlet. The Booth Theatre was the first, and remains the oldest, Broadway theatre to be named in honor of an actor.
1913 Ivor Novello, a gay Welsh composer and actor lived in a flat above the Novello Theatre in the West End for nearly 40 years from 1913 until his death on March 6, 1951.
1914 Charlie Chaplin first put on his baggy pants and bowler hat on January 9, 1914 for Keystone Studios after years working as a stage actor and comedian. He died in Switzerland on Christmas day, 1977 aged 88.
1914 The first theatrical degree program offered in the U.S. was not until 1914.
1914 Adolph Green was born on December 2, 1914 who, with long-time collaborator Betty Comden, penned the lyrics for some of the most beloved musicals. Many people thought the pair were married; they were not, but they shared a unique comic genius and sophisticated wit that enabled them to forge a six-decade-long partnership that produced some of Broadway’s greatest hits. He died on October 23, 2002.
1915 Oscar Hammerstein II starts working on Broadway, as an Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) for his uncle Arthur (a successful producer of Broadway musicals).
1915 Arthur Miller was born in Harlem, New York on October 17, 1915 to an immigrant family of Polish and Jewish descent.
1916 In 1916, Will Rogers made his Broadway debut in “The Wall Street Girl“. It was a great success but with the advent of the talking picture- a better medium for displaying his wit- he raced off to Hollywood to become a national phenomenon.
1916 In the summer of 1916, Richard Rodgers wrote his first songs at Camp Wigwam, Maine: Dear Old Wigwam and Camp-Fire Days. He was 14 years old.
1917 Betty Comden was born on May 3, 1917 who with writing partner Adolf Green, provided lyrics to some of the most beloved Broadway shows of the mid-20th century. Her writing partnership with Adolph Green, called “the longest running creative partnership in theatre history“, lasted for six decades, during which time they collaborated with other leading entertainment figures such Jule Styne and Leonard Bernstein. She died died of heart failure on November 23, 2006 aged 89.
1917 Records show that Cole Porter served in the French Foreign Legion. The Foreign Legion backs his claim to have served, and a portrait of Porter hangs in the Foreign Legion’s museum at Aubagne, France.
1917 Arthur Laurents was born on July 14, 1917, He changed his last name from Levine to the less Jewish-sounding Laurents, “to get a job.”) An American playwright and stage director. Openly gay Laurents writing for Broadway includes West Side Story (1957), Gypsy (1959), and Hallelujah, Baby! (1967), and directing some of his own shows and other Broadway productions. In 1962, Laurents directed I Can Get It for You Wholesale, which helped to turn then-unknown Barbra Streisand into a star. In 1983, he directed La Cage Aux Folles (1983). He died on May 5, 2011.
1917 On the eve of America’s entry into the WWI in 1917, seven ladies of theatre formed The Stage Women’s War Relief to aid in war relief. This went on in June 1940 to become the American Theatre Wing.
1917 In 1917, Richard Rodgers’ first complete score One Minute, Please premiered for a one-night run at the Plaza Hotel Grand Ballroom.
1918 In 1918, Al Jolson‘s acting career would be pushed even further after he starred in the hit musical Sinbad which opened on Feb 14, 1918. It became the most successful Broadway musical of 1918 and 1919.
1918 Leonard Bernstein was born on August 25, 1918, in Lawrence, Massachusetts. His birth name was Louis. Openly bisexual, he composed the score for the musicals Candide and West Side Story. After battling emphysema, he died at the age of 72 on October 14, 1990
1918 The Spanish flu, the 1918 pandemic, caused most theatres to shutter throughout the USA, but not in New York City, where health commissioner Royal S. Copeland chose not to close most theaters. Instead, Copeland insisted that they remain open, undergo thorough cleaning, sanitation, stagger curtain times to avoid public congestion, isolation of infected people, and make onstage announcements about how to limit the spread of influenza and safeguard the public. By October 1918, worldwide fatalities had mushroomed to 50-100 million, and the US had seen 670,000 deaths.
1918 Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz (decades later legally changing his name) Jerome Robbins was born on October 11, 1918 in NY. Robbins went on to serve as choreographer and/or director in Broadway productions including Billion Dollar Baby (1945), High Button Shoes (1947, for which Robbins won his first Tony), Miss Liberty (1949), The King and I (1951), The Pajama Game (1954), Peter Pan (1954) and Gypsy(1959). In 1957 Robbins Broadway directorial debut was West Side Story, and later Fiddler on the Roof (1964). He died on July 29, 1998 at the age of 79.
1918 A friend of Richard Rogers’s elder brother, Mortimer, introduced Richard Rogers to both Oscar Hammerstein II and Lorenz Hart, the latter of whom he developed an instant partnership that would last until Hart’s death in 1943, and with Oscar, the famed partnership to Oscar’s death 1960.
1919 In 1919 George Gershwin scored his first big national hit with his song, “Swanee, with words by Irving Caesar. Al Jolson, heard Gershwin perform “Swanee” at a party and decided to sing it add it into his show Sinbad.
1919 Al Jolson also added another song, “My Mammy” to the Broadway production of Sinbad.
1919 Gower Carlyle Champion was born on June 22, 1919 who became an American actor, theatre director, choreographer, and dancer of a string of Broadway classics including Bye Bye Birdie, Carnival!, Hello, Dolly! and I Do! I Do!, launching the careers of Chita Rivera and Dick Van Dyke. He died on the morning of the opening night of his greatest success, 42nd Street, on August 25, 1980
1919 In 1919, Oscar Hammerstein II is promoted by his uncle Arthur to Production Stage Manager (PSM). Hammerstein wrote his own play, called The Light, which his uncle produced. Despite the plays failure, Hammerstein forged ahead with his writing.
1919 In 1919, former dancer Lillian Russell donated $100,000 to allow the “Follies” chorus girls to join together and form Chorus Equity; they would go on to merge with Actors’ Equity in 1955.
1919 Actors’ Equity joined the American Federation of Labor in 1919, and held the first strike on Broadway seeking recognition of the association as a labor union. The strike resolution was passed at the Hotel Astor ballroom on August 7 without a single dissenting vote and by 7 p.m., the strike was in effect. The strike increased membership from under 3,000 to approximately 14,000. Producers lost $3 million ($40 million today). Theatres closed in D.C., Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Providence and St. Louis. The strike was settled on September 3. Actors’ Equity did not strike again until 1960.
1919 During the month long Actors Equity Broadway strike, one actor stood solidly in opposition to Equity: George M. Cohan. He was a true phenomenon – star, writer, director and producer of most of his shows. His “Over There” had become the anthem of World War I. The strike had shuttered his hit, The Royal Vagabond. His refusal to join in the struggle became instantly infamous: “Before I will ever do business with the Actors’ Equity Association, I will lose every dollar I have, even if I have to run an elevator to make a living.” Soon after, a sign appeared in Times Square: “Elevator Operator Wanted: George M. Cohan need not apply.
1919 In 1919, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart copyrighted their first professional collaboration, the song “Any Old Place With You”” from A Lonely Romeo.
1920 By 1920, Jolson had become the biggest star on Broadway. During his Broadway appearances, Jolson would often stop the show in the middle and say to the audience, “Hey folks, do you wanna hear the rest of the show or do you want to hear Jolie sing?
1920 The Academy of Dramatic Art is granted Royal Charter and becomes the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in England. by now, W.S. Gilbert and George Bernard Shaw are also on the managing council.
1920 Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote their first professional score together, completing the show Poor Little Ritz Girl, which opened at the Central Theatre in 1920.
1921 The Colored Actors’ Legion, a union for black stage performers, is founded in Cincinnati, while Actors’ Equity Association has only two known African-American members. Soon after, the legion merged with the Washington, D.C. based Colored Actors’ Union.
1921 The Dramatists Guild of America was formed for playwrights, composers, lyricists and librettists, when it split from the “Authors’ League of America”.
1921 Broadway’s Music Box Theatre (239 West 45th St. on George Abbott Way) opened in September 1921 was constructed by composer Irving Berlin and producer Sam H. Harris to house Irving Berlin’s famed Music Box Revues. It hosted a new musical production every year until 1925, when it presented its first play, Cradle Snatchers, starring Humphrey Bogart. The following year, Chicago, the Maurine Dallas Watkins play that served as the basis for the hit musical, opened here. With a seating capacity of 860, the theatre was co-owned by Berlin’s estate and the Shubert Organization until the latter assumed full ownership in 2007.
1921 Carol Channing was born on January 31, 1921. Later to become one of the most phenomenal success’s on Broadway, film and TV.
1921 Lee Shubert of the Shubert Organization, renamed his newly built Broadway theatre, which was across from Central Park at 932 7th Avenue at W 58th St, as Jolson’s 59th Street Theatre. Aged 35, Jolson became the youngest man in American history to have a theatre named after him. At it’s opening night of Bombo by Sigmund Romberg on October 6, 1921, after bouts of serious stage fright he took 37 curtain calls.
1922 Judy Garland‘s real name was Frances Ethel Gumm, born on June 10, 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, U.S. She died June 22, 1969 (aged 47) in Chelsea, England of a Barbiturate overdose. She had 3 children… Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft and Joey Luft.
1922 In 1922, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II worked with Herbert Fields and Lorenz Hart on a never-produced musical called Winkle Town. All 4 Columbia boys would go on to lasting musical theatre fame.
1922 Co-opting the cachet and opulence of the red carpet, showman and theatre magnate Sid Grauman (of the now famous Chinese theatre in front of which celebrities still place their hands in wet cement) is widely credited with introducing the Red Carpet Treatment to Los Angeles when he had a red carpet placed for the stars to follow at the premier of Robin Hood at his Egyptian Theatre in 1922.
1923 Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1st successful musical and Vincent Youmans’ 2nd show Wildflower, a collaboration with Otto Harbach produced by his uncle Arthur Hammerstein it opened at the Casino Theatre on February 7, 1923 and ran for 477 performances, closing on March 29, 1924, and was one of the biggest successes of the 20’s
1925 Broadway’s legendary red-headed dancer, singer, actor and Fosse partner, Gwen Verdon (born Gwyneth Evelyn Verdon on January 13, 1925 in Culver City, California) had rickets as a child which left her legs so badly misshapen she was called “Gimpy” by other children and spent her early years in orthopedic boots and rigid leg braces. Her mother put the three-year-old in dance classes.
1925 Elaine Stritch was born on February 2, 1925 in Detroit. She would have a successful Broadway career, earning Tony nods for roles in Bus Stop and Sail Away. Her role as Joanne in Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 production Company allowed her to shine in her trademark tune “The Ladies Who Lunch.” She continued to star in an array of Broadway productions, receiving a Tony for the one-woman Elaine Stritch at Liberty, as well as many film and TV projects, winning multiple Emmys.
1925 Ethel Agnes Zimmerman began appearing in nightclubs, first hired by Jimmy Durante’s partner Lou Clayton when she decided the name Zimmermann was too long for a theatre marquee. She considered combining Ethel with Gardner or Hunter (her grandmother’s maiden name) but her German ire worked up. Finally, she abbreviated Zimmermann to Merman to appease her father. Ethel Merman would go on to become the undisputed First Lady of the musical comedy stage.
1925 As a young actor, John Gielgud understudied Noel Coward in The Vortex. For the last month of the West End run Gielgud took over Coward’s role of Nicky Lancaster, the drug-addicted son of a nymphomaniac mother.
1925 Actress Angela Lansbury was born on October 16, 1925, in London. Lansbury is regarded as one of the most iconic stage performers of all time. She made her Broadway debut in 1957 with the play Hotel Paradiso. A powerhouse vocalist, she starred in n Mame (1966), Dear World (1969), Gypsy (1974) and Sweeney Todd (1979). Lansbury won Tony Awards for all 4 of these productions. In 2009, she appeared again on Broadway in a revival of Blithe Spirit earned Lansbury another Tony award in 2009 for Featured Actress.
1925 Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II teamed up to write Show Boat. Jerome Kern was impressed by Edna Ferber’s novel and, hoping to adapt it as a musical, met her the intermission of Kern’s latest musical, Criss Cross. Ferber was shocked they wanted to adapt Show Boat as a musical. After being assured by Kern that he did not want to adapt it as the typical frivolous “girlie” show of the 1920s, she granted him and Oscar Hammerstein II the rights.
1925 Rodgers and Hart first breakthrough song hit was “Manhattan with Richard Rodgers as composer and Lorenz Hart as lyricist. Scores of other songs yielded many of today’s standards, including “Blue Moon” (1934), “My Funny Valentine” (1937), “Isn’t It Romantic?” (1932) and “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” (1940). Together, Rodgers and Hart wrote the music and lyrics for 26 Broadway musicals.
1926 After composing most of the first-act songs for Show Boat, Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II auditioned their material for producer Florenz Ziegfeld, Ziegfeld anticipated opening his new 1,638 seat Ziegfeld Theatre at 1341 6th Ave at 54th St. with Show Boat, but the epic nature of the show required extensive changes during out-of-town tryouts. Impatient with Kern & Hammerstein and worried about their keeping too serious tone (Ziegfeld strongly disliked the song “Ol’ Man River“), Ziegfeld decided to open his theatre on February 2, 1927 with Rio Rita, a musical by Kern’s other collaborator Guy Bolton instead.
1926 Harry Houdini was at The Garrick Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on October 22, 1926, with a fever of about 102-104°F. 2 days prior in Montreal, he had encouraged a student to punch him in the stomach to show how strong he was. He made it only through the first act before going to hospital, where he died on Halloween at age 52. He had peritonitis due to a ruptured appendix
1927 Mae West’s 1926 play Sex, the story of a Montreal prostitute, ran for a year before New York’s deputy police commissioner charged the theatre company with lewdness and the corruption of youth. when on April 19, 1927, Mae West was sentenced to 10 days in jail and a $500 fine, charged with “obscenity and corrupting the morals of youth” for writing, under the pen name Jane Mast, directing, and performing in the play. Before the show was raided in February of 1927 around 325,000 people had come through the turnstiles.
1927 Robert Louis “Bob” Fosse was born on June 23, 1927 in Chicago. Fosse was an innovative choreographer and had multiple achievements in his life. During rehearsals for The Conquering Hero in 1961, it became known that Fosse had epilepsy, when he suffered a seizure onstage.
1927 With music written by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart, and book by Herbert Fields, dances by Busby Berkeley, A Connecticut Yankee opened on Broadway on November 3, 1927 at the Vanderbilt Theatre (demolished in 1954) and closed on October 27, 1928, running for 421 performances.
1927 The successful musical Rio Rita playing at the New Ziegfeld Theatre caused Show Boat‘s intended Broadway opening to be delayed until Ziegfeld could move Rio Rita to another theatre, which he did on December 25, 1927. Rio Rita re-opened the next day at the Lyric Theatre on December 26, 1927 making way for Show Boat to use the theatre…


1927 A radical departure in musical storytelling, marrying spectacle with seriousness, A completely new genre was born – the first musical play – with complete integration of song, humor and production numbers into a single and inextricable artistic show started with Show Boat with book & lyrics by “Oscar Hammerstein 2nd” (as he was billed then) & music by Jerome Kern, which opened on Broadway at the Ziegfeld theatre, on December 27, 1927, only 30 hour after getting access to the theatre, presented by Florenz Ziegfeld. The successful musical ran for 572 performances.
1928 Good friends with Republican Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt, Will Rogers ran for President in 1928 as a member of his own ‘Anti-Bunk Party’, promising that if elected, his first act would be to resign. The campaign was used as a platform for illustrating the various absurdities in the way candidates campaigned.
1928 Composer Charles Strouse was born on June 7, 1928 in NYC. Amongst others, he would go on to write: Bye Bye Birdie (1960), Golden Boy (1964), It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman (1966), Applause (1970), Annie (1977), Rags (1986), Nick & Nora (1993), Annie Warbucks (1993) and Minsky’s (2009)
1929 Composer Cy Coleman was born in NY on June 14, 1929, and in later life collaborated with such songwriters as Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden, Bob Fosse and Neil Simon to produce hit songs and scores for several landmark Broadway musicals, including Wildcat (1960), Sweet Charity (1966), Little Me (1963), On the Twentieth Century (1978), Barnum(1980), City of Angels (1990) and The Will Rogers Follies (1991). He died in NY on November 18, 2004. (incidentally, the author of this, Toby Simkin, rented Cy’s office space (amongst others) at 226 W 47th in the Theatre Guild building )
1929 The Old Vic Company was established in 1929, based at the The Old Vic theatre, and led by Sir John Gielgud. In 1963, the Old Vic company was dissolved & re-formed as the National Theatre of Great Britain, under Laurence Olivier. The National Theatre remained at the Old Vic until new premises were constructed on the South Bank, London, opening in 1976.
1929 Arthur Miller lost almost everything in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and had to move from Manhattan to Flatbush, Brooklyn.
1929 You can fit the entire Fortune Theatre (opened 8 November 1924) on the stage of the Dominion Theatre (opened October 1929) within the West End of London.
1930 Set up in 1930 by a group of artists the British Actors’ Equity Association (now known as ‘Equity’), is the UK trade union for professional performers and creative practitioners.
1930 On March 22, 1930, Stephen Sondheim was born in New York. A legendary musical theatre composer & lyricist, he would go on to write West Side Story, Gypsy, Into The Woods and Sweeney Todd amongst others.
1930 The “League of New York Theatres and Producers” was founded in 1930 by Broadway theatre operators to further common interests, with the main purpose of fighting ticket speculation and scalping
1930 Ethel Merman made her stage debut in Girl Crazy which opened at the Alvin Theatre on October 14, 1930 with music by George Gershwin. The following day, while reading the rave reviews together, Gershwin begged Merman never to take a singling lesson. Her natural range, crystal clear enunciation & power became legendary. The musical also turned Ginger Rogers into an overnight star. The opening night pit orchestra, was composed of many well-known jazz musicians, including Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Jimmy Dorsey. It was conducted on opening night by George Gershwin himself.
21st Century Producers and insurance companies adored Ethel Merman. Her poor understudies, she never missed a show. She demanded a big salary, but once the contract had been signed, she was utterly reliable and professional.
1930 The Intimate Review holds the record for the shortest run in West End history, closing before the end of its first performance at the Duchess Theatre.
1932 Before Benito Mussolini was infamous as a dictator, he wrote a play called Napoleon which played in London’s West End at the New Theatre ( now the Noel Coward Theatre) in 1932.
1934 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker was first performed outside of Russia in England in 1934
1934 Dame Judith Olivia “Judi” Dench, CH, DBE, FRSA was born on 9 December 1934 in Heworth, North Riding of Yorkshire. Dench made her professional debut in 1957 with the Old Vic Company. Dench established herself as one of the most significant British theatre performers, working for the National Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Over the following few years she performed in several of Shakespeare’s plays in such roles as Ophelia in Hamlet, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth. She drew strong reviews for her leading role in the musical Cabaret in 1968
1935 Born on October 1, 1935 at Walton-on-Thames, England, Singer and actress Julie Andrews came from a musical family. Her mother was a pianist, and her stepfather (who gave her the surname Andrews) sang in music halls
1935 Will Rogers and aviator Wiley Post, headed to Alaska where shortly after landing in bad weather to get their bearings, they took back off only to have their engine fail almost immediately resulting in them crashing in a lagoon near Point Barrow Alaska on August 15, 1935, killing both men. Hi untimely death at the height of his fame and influence adhered credo of “It’s the fellow who knows when to quit that the audience wants more of.”
1936 Eugene O’Neill became the first American playwright to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was given this honor “for the power, honesty and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which embody an original concept of tragedy,”
1937 In 1937, Cole Porter was in a riding accident; his horse fell on top of him, crushing both of his legs. The aftereffects of his injuries would force Porter to endure more than 30 operations and years of pain.
1938 With the outbreak of the WWII Noel Coward abandoned the theatre trained at a secret base in Bletchly Park with 007 James Bond author Ian Fleming.
1938 Sir Derek George Jacobi CBE was born on 22 October 1938 in Leytonstone, London who became one of the world’s most respected and beloved actors with a “forceful, commanding stage presence”. In his teens at Leyton Sixth Form College he starred in a production of Hamlet, which went to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. At 18 at the University of Cambridge, younger members of the university included Ian McKellen (who had a crush on him “a passion that was undeclared and unrequited”, as McKellen relates it) & Trevor Nunn. Laurence Olivier, invited him to be one of the founding members of the National Theatre where he played Laertes in inaugural production of Hamlet opposite Peter O’Toole in 1963. His breakthrough came in 1976 when he played the title role in the BBC’s series I, Claudius. He became 1 of only 2 actors ever to receive 2 Knighthoods. Jacobi is openly gay. In March 2006 (4 months after becoming legal), Jacobi registered his civil partnership with fellow actor Richard Clifford, partnered since 1979. They live in Primrose Hill, north London.
1938 In 1938, the League of New York Theatres and Producers became the official collective bargaining unit representing the theatre owners and producers on Broadway to negotiate labor agreements with unions such as Actors’ Equity.
1939 On behalf of British intelligence Noel Coward ran the British propaganda office in Paris, Describing himself as the “perfect silly ass,” where he concluded that “if the policy of His Majesty’s Government is to bore the Germans to death I don’t think we have time“.
1940 Composer Irving Berlin, despite living to the age of 101, never learned to read music, playing his songs entirely by ear in the key of F-sharp (keeping all five notes of the pentatonic scale on the “black keys”), employing his “trick piano” to do the work as necessary. Built in built in 1940 by Weser Bros. in NY, it’s now in the Smithsonian
1940 In January 1940, Ms. Crothers (original founder of the The Stage Women’s War Relief), along with Antoinette Perry, formed the American Theatre Wing. The Wing established 8 Stage Door Canteens in the USA, London & Paris which entertained soldiers. With the royalties from the movie Stage Door Canteen, the Wing gave $75,000 to the USO to inaugurate legitimate drama as entertainment for soldiers overseas. When the WWII ended, the Wing changed its focus to both the welfare of the theatre itself and and education.
1940 Had the Germans invaded Britain, Noel Coward was scheduled to be arrested and killed, as he was in The Black Book (the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B., the list of British residents to be arrested upon the successful invasion of Britain by Nazi Germany in 1940. The list contained the names of 2,820 people including Virginia Woolf, Paul Robeson and H. G. Wells.
1940 John Gielgud became the fire warden for Theatre Royal Haymarket in London during the Blitz of WWII
1940 Stage magician Jasper Maskelyne was recruited by spy organization MI9 in England during WW2 to use his skills in trickery and conjuring as a camouflage expert. Maskelyne joined the Royal Engineers when the Second World War broke out, thinking that his skills could be used in camouflage. He convinced skeptical officers by creating the illusion of a German warship on London’s Thames using mirrors and a model.
1940 When Stephen Sondheim was ten years old, he became friends with James Hammerstein, son of Oscar Hammerstein II. The elder Hammerstein became Sondheim’s surrogate father, influencing him profoundly and developing his love of musical theatre.
21st Century Oscar Hammerstein II came from a family of theatre veterans, including father William Hammerstein (manager of the Victoria Theatre) uncle Arthur Hammerstein (Broadway producer) and of grandfather Oscar Hammerstein I, theatre builder & impresario of the Manhattan Opera House.
1941 Al Jolson, was the first performer to entertain American troops in WWII (before Bob Hope). A few years later, he did the same during the Korean War.
1941 Carol Channing was an understudy in Broadway’s Let’s Face It (1941)
1941 During WWII, Actors’ Equity members created the Stage Door Canteen, a private club for servicemen and women in the middle of Times Square where they would receive food, dance with Broadway beauties, and watch world-class entertainment, all free of charge.
1942 Roald Dahl, the genius behind Charlie and the Chocolate Factory worked as a spy during World War II, Dahl had been a “flying ace” level fighter pilot who rose to the rank of wing commander for the British. A severe crash resulted in him taking a diplomatic position with the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. in 1942, Dahl quickly became popular with the wealthy wives of powerful men who ran Washington. He recruited to help a secret British effort to surreptitiously bring the United States further into the war.
1942 Richard Rodgers’s collaboration with Oscar Hammerstein II began in 1942, when Lorenz Hart became too ill to write.
1942 In 1942 George VI wished to award Noel Coward a knighthood for his efforts, but was dissuaded by Winston Churchill. Mindful of the public view of Noel Coward’s ‘flamboyant’ lifestyle, Churchill used, as his reason for withholding the honor, Coward’s £200 fine for contravening currency regulations in 1941.
1942 With the construction of the East Wing in the White House, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had an East Terrace cloakroom converted into a movie theatre. It has 42 seats in tiered rows. Concert style versions of hit Broadway shows, with the stars, are often presented in the East Room.
21st Century Most New York City Broadway theatres omit the row “I” in their seating to avoid confusion with the number one.
1943 Making her informal debut as a singer at age eight during World War II. While hunkered down in air raid shelters, Julie Andrews would lead sing-a longs with her neighbors providing a welcome distraction to the threat of enemy bombs.


1943 Oklahoma! had been a struggle to finance and produce. Trying to raise the $75,000 required to produce the show, Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers met weekly in 1943 with ‘The Theatre Guild’, the producers of the blockbuster musical, who were pushing them to consider developing a musical based on Ferenc Molnár’s 1909 play Liliom, instead (this became their second show, Carousel). (incidentally, the author of this, Toby Simkin, rented the Theatre Guild offices from 1996 until 2000)
1943 The mid-WWII period saw the development of the American musical, starting with Oklahoma which opening on Broadway on March 31, 1943 at the St. James Theatre, written by Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II. It was an unprecedented critical & popular success and a box-office smash and ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances commencing Broadway’s Golden Age. Oklahoma finally closed on May 29, 1948.
1943 In the autumn of 1943, the Rodgers & Hart partnership’s final collaboration was a revival of A Connecticut Yankee, featuring 6 new songs including Hart’s final lyric, “To Keep My Love Alive” which opened on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre (now the Al Hirschfeld Theatre) on November 17, 1943. On the opening night, Lorenz Hart crashed his own show without a ticket, causing a public spectacle in his drunken stupor where ha had to removed from the theatre.
1943 Lorenz Hart suffered from alcoholism and became increasingly unstable. He was known to disappear for days on end, during which times he was typically in a serious alcoholic haze. Days after the the opening of A Connecticut Yankee, Lorenz Hart developed pneumonia and died from complications of his illness on November 22, 1943, in NY.
1944 The Windmill Theatre & Open Air Theatre were the only theatres in London to remain open throughout World War II.
1944 Elaine Stritch attended the New School, having as her classmates fellow thespians like Walter Matthau and Marlon Brando, with Stritch and Brando dating for a time.
1944 Future EGOT winner Audrey Hepburn was born on May 4, 1929, in Brussels. In 1939, shortly after the start of WWII, Hepburn’s mother moved the family to the Netherlands which was occupied by the Germans in 1940. By 1944, they had executed her uncle, one of her brothers was in a labor camp, and the other had gone into hiding. Audrey Hepburn helped the Dutch resistance. An accomplished ballerina by age 14, she started out helping the Dutch resistance by dancing in secret productions to raise money for the resistance and carried secret messages in her ballet shoes. Hepburn suffered from respiratory illness, edema, and anemia during the Dutch Famine of 1944.
1944 On the Town premiered on Broadway at the Adelphi Theatre on December 28, 1944 with music by Leonard Bernstein and book & lyrics by Betty Comden & Adolph Green, based on Jerome Robbins’ idea for his 1944 ballet Fancy Free. It closed on February 2, 1946, after 462 performances.
1944 Their Broadway production of On the Town marked the first success for Comden and Green, who went on to have the longest running creative partnership in theatre history, including Two on the Aisle (1951), Wonderful Town (1953), Peter Pan (1954), Bells Are Ringing (1956), Say, Darling (1958), Do Re Mi (1960), Subways Are for Sleeping (1961), Fade Out–Fade In (1964), Hallelujah, Baby! (1967), Applause (1970), Lorelei (1974) On the Twentieth Century (1978), A Doll’s Life (1982) and The Will Rogers Follies (1991).
1945 Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 2nd musical “Carousel” opened for tryouts in New Haven, Connecticut on March 22, 1945. The first act was well-received; the second act was not. The second act finished about 1:30 a.m. The team sat down for a 2-hour conference. 5 scenes, 1/2 the ballet, and 2 songs were cut from the show as the result. Choreographer Agnes De Mille said “We cut and cut and cut and then we went to bed.” By the time the company left New Haven, de Mille’s ballet was down to 40 minutes. 3 weeks of additional tryouts in Boston followed the brief New Haven run.
1945 Stephen Sondheim attended the George School in Newtown, Pennsylvania, where he wrote his first musical at the age of 15, By George. He showed the script to his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II, who pronounced it the worst thing he had ever read. The show was performed at the George School on May 25, 1946.
1945 Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 2nd musical “Carousel” opens at the Majestic Theatre on April 19, 1945. Richard Rodgers had injured his back the previous week, and he watched the opening night sedated with morphine from a stretcher propped in a box behind the curtain. Richard Rodgers’ daughter Mary Rodgers caught sight of her friend, Stephen Sondheim, both teenagers then, across several rows; both had eyes wet with tears. The original production ran for 890 performances, closing on May 24, 1947.
1945 Both Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II married women named Dorothy, and both had fathers named William? This last fact lead Rodgers & Hammerstein to name their music publishing company Williamson Music Company when they founded it in 1945.
1946 On June 28, 1946, one day before her 58th birthday, Antoinette Perry had a fatal heart attack. She had done so much to lead the American Theatre, and for the Broadway community as a whole, Brock Pemberton proposed the Antoinette Perry Award be established in her honor to recognize achievement on Broadway. At the initial event in 1947, when he presented an award, he called it a ‘Tony‘. Today, the American Theatre Wing still presents the Tony Awards in her honor.
1946 Sir Cameron Anthony Mackintosh was born on 17 October 1946 in London, England. A British theatrical producer notable for his association Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Mary Poppins, Oliver!, Miss Saigon and Cats.. At the height of his success in 1990, he was described as being “the most successful, influential and powerful theatrical producer in the world
21st Century The term Off-Broadway isn’t geographical. Broadway theatres have 500 seats, off-Broadway have 100-499 seats, off-off-Broadway have less than 100 seats
1947 The first Tony Awards ceremony in 1947 began with supper at 9:00 p.m. at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Tickets cost $7. Entertainment and dancing continued until midnight, at which time the awards were announced live over the radio.
1947 By age 12, Julie Andrews was singing in London’s West End and was the youngest singer to appear before a British monarch at a Royal Command Performance when she sang an aria from Mignon for King George VI.
1947 In 1947, Oklahoma! celebrated its 2,000th performance on Broadway. Composer Richard Rodgers conducted the 2nd act.
1947 Playwright Eugene O’Neill learned that he had Parkinson’s disease, and found it impossible to write due to the tremors in his hands.
1947 On December 3, 1947, a young Marlon Brando first delivered the anguished cry “Stella” across the Ethel Barrymore Theatre during the debut performance of Tennessee Williams’ drama A Streetcar Named Desire.
1948 Bernadette Lazzara – Bernadette Peters is born on February 28, 1948, in Ozone Park, Queens, NY, a Tony Award-winning actress who made her Broadway debut at age 11 in Most Happy Fella. Peters is best known for her comedic musical performances, finding particular success with period roles. In 1966, Peters received critical acclaim in Dames at Sea, starred in 1969’s George M. and in 1968’s Mack and Mabel. After a string of film roles in Hollywood, in the 1980s, returned to Broadway reclaiming her prominence in musicals Sunday in the Park With George, Song and Dance, Into the Woods and a revival of Gypsy.
1948 With Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and other singers on the scene, in 1948 Al Jolson was voted America’s “Most Popular Male Singer.”
1948 In 1948, Audrey Hepburn made her stage debut as a chorus girl in the musical High Button Shoes in London. More parts on the British stage followed. She was a chorus girl in Sauce Tartare (1949), but was moved to a featured player in Sauce Piquante (1950).
1949 In 1949, a comedy Clutterbuck was running out of steam, but along with discount tickets, the Producer, David Merrick, as a way of generating name recognition for his production, paged hotel bars and restaurants around Manhattan during cocktail hour for a “fictive Mr. Clutterbuck” , and it helped his show keep alive for another few months
1949 Sondheim first met Hal Prince, who would direct many of his shows, at the opening night of South Pacific, in 1949.
1949 Working in a small studio (more like a garden shed) that he built in Roxbury, Connecticut, Arthur Miller wrote the first act of Death of a Salesman in less than a day. The play, directed by Elia Kazan, opened on February 10, 1949 at the Morosco Theatre, and was adored by nearly everyone, becoming an iconic stage work. (incidentally, the author of this, Toby Simkin, was a co-producer of Death of a Salesman revivals on Broadway and the West End)
1949 The original concept for West Side Story was East Side Story. Jerome Robbins had at first envisioned Juliet as a Jewish girl and Romeo as an Italian Catholic. The action, set during the Easter-Passover season, was to have occurred on the Lower East Side of New York City. Hence the title might have been East Side Story. (Another working title was Gangway!). 6 years later, Arthur Laurents & Leonard Bernstein conferred on the aborted project at the Chateau Marmont’s pool in Hollywood. The news was filled with reports of street riots by Chicano Americans in Los Angeles. Those headlines turned the trick, triggering the imaginations of the collaborators. The locale swiftly shifted to New York’s West Side, and in 1957 West Side Story opened.
1949 Carol Channing made a name for herself years in 1949 when she starred as Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and immortalized the anthem “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” She lost the Lorelei Lee part to Marilyn Monroe in the comedy’s 1953 film version.
1950 In 1950, theatrical attorney Fanny Holtzmann was looking for a part for her client, Gertrude Lawrence. Holtzmann thought that a musical based on Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon would be ideal, and purchased the rights to adapt the novel for the stage. Lawrence committed to remaining in the show until June 1, 1953, and waived the star’s usual veto rights over cast & director, leaving control in the hands of the authors. Holtzmann wanted Cole Porter to write The King and I, but he declined. She was going to approach Noel Coward next, but met Dorothy Hammerstein (Oscar’s wife) in Manhattan. Rodgers & Hammerstein had disliked Landon’s novel, but still agreed to do it.
1950 After being summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee, with the McCarran Internal Security Act passing, prohibiting individuals suspected of engaging in subversive activities from obtaining a passport, was passed in 1950, Arthur Laurents and his boyfriend Farley Granger immediately got passports and left for Paris, where they stayed for about 18 months, returned to the USA briefly, when it was confirmed Laurents was on the blacklist, so they immediately returned to Paris, only to find while en-route, the blacklist had ended, so they returned back to the USA.
1950 George Bernard Shaw dies on November 2, 1950 of renal failure precipitated by injuries incurred when falling while pruning a tree, at age 94 and leaves 1/3rd of all his royalties to RADA (The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art). He is recognized as 2nd only to Shakespeare in the British theatre… the proponent of the theatre of ideas who struck a death-blow to 19th-century melodrama.
1950 In 1950, chorus girl Florence Baum inadvertently created the “Gypsy Robe,” a rite of passage that would become one of Broadway’s favorite traditions. On opening night of a Broadway musical, the robe is bestowed upon the chorus member with the most Broadway credits. After a ritualistic circling of the stage and dressing rooms, the shows costume department adds a small and durable memento. Once robes are entirely covered with Broadway artifacts, they are retired; past robes can be found at the Smithsonian..
1951 For the part of the King in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s, The King and I , they wanted Rex Harrison, but he was booked, as was Noel Coward. Alfred Drake, made demands deemed too high. A short time before rehearsals began, Mary Martin suggested Yul Brynner.
1951 The 5th musical from Rodgers & Hammerstein, The King and I opened on Broadway on March 29, 1951 at the St. James Theatre. It ran nearly 3 years with 1,246 performances. Margaret Landon, author of the book on which the musical was based, was not invited to opening night. The show was budgeted at $250,000 (US$2,280,000 today) making it the most expensive Rodgers & Hammerstein production to that point. During the run, Gertrude Lawrence died on September 6, 1952, aged 54, unexpectedly of liver cancer.
1951 At age 22, Audrey Hepburn starred in Broadway’s Gigi. 3 years later, she goes on to star in the Broadway play Ondine, for which she won the Tony Award. She later goes onto win the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony).
21st Century If a West End actor or creative does not want to be credited, the traditional pseudonym used in the program is Walter Plinge. A Sir Walter Plinge is also the resident ghost of Imperial College Union’s Concert Hall, and is regularly thanked in programs by the ICU Dramatic Society (DramSoc) for watching over them. The name Alan Smithee is used in Hollywood. The name George Spelvin is used in American Theatre.
1952 Composer Lionel Bart changed his name to Bart, (real name Lionel Begleiter) when he passed by St. Bart’s hospital on the top deck of a bus after he had completed his National Service with the Royal Air Force. In 1960 he went on to write the book, music & lyrics for Oliver! which became the first modern British musical to be transferred to Broadway.
1952 Agatha Christie’s murder-mystery play titled The Mousetrap” premiered at the Ambassadors Theatre in London with the actor Richard Attenborough and his wife Sheila Sim in the lead roles and opened for an audience of about 453 people. It ran for almost 9,000 shows until 1974, after which the play was moved to St. Martin’s Theatre, where it still runs today. It is considered the longest continuously-running play in history. Over 300 actors and actresses have appeared in the roles of the eight characters, with actor David Raven even making it into the “Guinness Book Of World Records” as the world’s most durable actor, for the 4,575 performances he did as “Major Metcalf” in the play.
1953 Dolores Gray performed the shortest-lived Tony Award-winning role. She won a Tony Award for her performance in Carnival in Flanders (1953), a musical that ran only 6 performances.
1953 The title song from Oklahoma became the official state song of Oklahoma state in 1953.
1953 In the summer of 1953, the U.S. State Department put Oscar Hammerstein II on a restricted passport because of concerns about alleged communist activity.
1953 On the evening of 20 October 1953, British actor John Gielgud was arrested in Chelsea for cruising in a public lavatory. (until the 1960s sexual activity of any kind between men was illegal in Britain). Gielgud thought this would end his career. When the news broke he was in Liverpool in A Day by the Sea. When Gielgud was so paralyzed by nerves that the prospect of going onstage. co-star, Sybil Thorndike, encouraged him saying “Come on, John darling, they won’t boo me“, and led him firmly onto the stage. The audience gave him a standing ovation. They cheered, they applauded, they shouted. The message was clear – the English public didn’t care what he had done in his private life. His career was safe, but it affected Gielgud’s health; he suffered a nervous breakdown months afterwards. Privately he made donations to gay campaign groups. In his later years he said to actor Simon Callow, “I do admire people like you and Ian McKellen for coming out, but I can’t be doing with that myself.” (incidentally, the author of this, Toby Simkin, was having lunch with director James Roose-Evans at the Garrick Club in London in 1990, when Sir John Gielgud (a friend of Jimmy’s) joined the table, and was quite open about being gay.)
1953 Eugene O’Neill died of bronchial pneumonia on November 27, 1953, at the age of 65, in Boston, Massachusetts, leaving behind a tremendous literary legacy of more than 50 plays. O’Neill completed Long Day’s Journey Into Night in the early 1940s, but he refused to have this autobiographical play produced until long after his death. In 1957, Long Day’s Journey Into Night was first performed on Broadway to rave reviews. (incidentally, the author of this, Toby Simkin, was a co-producer of Long Day’s Journey Into Night revival on Broadway)
1954 Cameron Mackintosh first knew he wanted to be a producer when he saw Julian Slade’s Salad Days when he was 8 years old.
21st Century Ethel Merman never read a book, & did her own bookkeeping & accounted for every dime. Her first agent, Lou Irwin said: “3 things are important to Ethel, the first is money, and the second is money and the third is money.“ After getting surgery in 1929, her Tonsillitis improved her voice. She disliked travel & once said that her idea of exercise was sunbathing. She loved dirty jokes and had a mouth like a sailor’s.
1955 Arthur Laurents originally intended James Dean for the lead role of Tony in West Side Story, but the actor had recently died. Stephen Sondheim found Larry Kert and Chita Rivera, who created the roles of Tony and Anita, respectively.
1955 Leonard Bernstein had decided he needed to concentrate solely on the music for West Side Story, and invited Betty Comden and Adolph Green to write the lyrics, but the team opted to work on Peter Pan instead. Arthur Laurents went to an opening night party for Island of Goats on Oct 04, 1955, and met Stephen Sondheim. Laurents asked Sondheim if he would be interested. Initially he resisted, but Oscar Hammerstein II convinced Sondheim that he would benefit from the experience, and he accepted.
1956 Bernstein composed West Side Story and Candide concurrently, which led to some switches of material between the two works. Tony and Maria’s duet, “One Hand, One Heart”, was originally intended for Cunegonde in Candide. The music of “Gee, Officer Krupke” was pulled from the Venice scene in Candide.
1956 Arthur Miller married actress and Hollywood sex symbol Marilyn Monroe, whom he’d first met in 1951 at a Hollywood party. At the time, Monroe was dating Elia Kazan, who had directed Miller’s After the Fall, All My Sons, as well as Death of a Salesman. When Kazan asked Miller to keep Monroe company while he dated another actress, Miller and Monroe struck up a friendship that turned into a romance.
1956 Later in 1956, the House of Un-American Activities Committee refused to renew Arthur Miller’s passport, and called him in to appear before the committee. His 1953 play, The Crucible, a dramatization of the Salem witch trials of 1692 and an allegory of McCarthyism, was believed to be why Miller came under the committee’s scrutiny. Miller refused to comply with the committee’s demands to “out” people who had been active in certain political activities and was thus cited in contempt of Congress. The contempt ruling was overturned 2 years later. (incidentally, the author of this, Toby Simkin, was a co-producer of The Crucible revival on Broadway)
1955 The Chorus Equity Association merged with Actors’ Equity Association in 1955.
1956 Born Joseph Lane on February 3, 1956, in Jersey City, NJ, Nathan Lane’s career includes a bail interviewer, telemarketer & singing messenger, while trying to land acting jobs in New York City. As there was another Joe Lane in Actors’ Equity, Lane took the first name of Nathan Detroit, a character he had played in a dinner theatre production of Guys and Dolls. The talented Nathan Lane avoided being typecast as a gay actor who only plays gay characters. Most famous roles include Guys and Dolls (1992),A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1996) and The Producers (2001).
1956 My Fair Lady opened March 15, 1956, at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on Broadway produced by CBS, which put up $360,000 and closed September 29, 1962, after 2,717 performances.
1957 The original producer Cheryl Crawford pulled out of West Side Story, after a bad backers audition failed to raise any money, just 6 weeks prior to rehearsals beginning. Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins and Arthur Laurents headed for a bar, but could not get served because Laurents was not wearing a tie.
1957 Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a suite of 6 pieces at the age of 9. His aunt Viola, an actress, took him to see many of her shows and through the stage door into the world of the theatre.
1957 West Side Story made its out of town debut in Washington, D.C. in August 1957. The show sold out, but overshadowed by Bernstein’s name, Stephen Sondheim was not mentioned in the reviews, prompting Bernstein to remove his name as co-lyricist. The authors were also shaken when the director, Jerome Robbins, took on a “conceived by” credit that splashed across posters and programs. By opening night, Robbins’ partners were barely speaking to him.
1957 In 1957 Rodgers & Hammerstein’s only musical for television, Cinderella, was broadcast live on CBS-TV before an estimated audience of 107 million. Julie Andrews starred in the role of Cinderella.
1958 In 1958, due to his accident, Cole Porter had to have his right leg amputated. Cole Porter stopped writing songs and withdrew from public life, telling friends, “I am only half a man now.”
1958 Born July 13, 1940, the actor Patrick Stewart, lost his hair at age 18
1959 John Kander was the rehearsal pianist for Gypsy in 1959. He came from a rich Jewish family in Kansas City, along with Fred Ebb, he would go on to become one of the most influential Broadway composers.
1959 Jule Styne & Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy opened on May 21, 1959, at The Broadway Theatre starring Ethel Merman in possibly her best-remembered performance. Merman lost the Tony Award to her close friend Mary Martin in The Sound of Music
1959 The “Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers”, is established, later to become known as, “Stage Directors and Choreographers Society” (SDC).
1959 Mary Martin (born December 1, 1913) was 45 when she created the role of 22 year old Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music opening on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on November 16, 1959, and stayed in the show until October 1961. Mary Martin beat her friend Ethel Merman for the Tony Award that year. The Sound of Music was the last musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, closing on June 15, 1963, after 1,443 performances.
21st Century The reason new songs are often added to film adaptations of musicals is to qualify for a Best Original Song Academy Award nomination.
1960 Actors’ Equity went on strike on Broadway, which resulted in health and pension plans for actors & stage managers.
1960 At the 1960 Tony Awards Mary Rodgers musical Once Upon a Mattress competed against her fathers show (Richard Rodgers) The Sound of Music – for Best Musical
1960 While still in his professional prime, Oscar Hammerstein II died on August 23, 1960 after loosing his battle with stomach cancer in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
1961 The Broadway production of Gypsy closed on March 25, 1961. Throughout the 702-performance run of Gypsy, Mervyn LeRoy repeatedly assured that he would cast Ethel Merman in the Gypsy film adaption. However, Rosalind Russell was signed to star, instead. Russell’s husband, theatre producer Frederick Brisson (whom Merman later called “the lizard of Roz“), had sold the screen rights to Warner Bros. with the stipulation his wife, Rosalind Russell would star. Merman was devastated at this turn of events and called the loss of the role, “The greatest professional disappointment of my life.”
1961 The poorly reviewed 1961 musical Subways Are For Sleeping. David Merrick found 7 New Yorkers who had the same names as the city’s 7 leading theatre critics and invited the namesakes to the musical, securing their permission to use their names and pictures in an advertisement alongside quotes such as “One of the few great musical comedies of the last thirty years” and “A fabulous musical. I love it.” Merrick ran a newspaper ad featuring the namesakes’ rave reviews under the heading 7 Out of 7 Are Ecstatically Unanimous About Subways Are For Sleeping. One newspaper, the New York Herald Tribune, published the ad, and only in one edition; however, the publicity that the ad garnered helped the musical remain open for 205 performances (almost 6 months). Merrick later revealed that he had conceived the ad years previously, but had not been able to execute it until Brooks Atkinson retired as the New York Times theatre critic in 1960 since he could not find anyone with the same name.
1961 New York City’s TKTS booth first opened (sells Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music, and dance events at discounts of 20-50% off the face value).
1961 13 year-old Andrew Lloyd Webber attended the opening of The Sound of Music on Broadway at the Palace Theatre, London in 1961, because of a fan letter he had written to Richard Rodgers.
1961 Dustin Hoffman made his Broadway debut in 1961 in A Cook for Mr. General. He studied to become a concert pianist before pursuing a career in theatre. In NYC he shared an apartment with Gene Hackman and studied at the Actor’s Studio while working as a janitor and an attendant in a mental hospital.
1962 Noel Coward once said that if Peter O’Toole had been any prettier, they would have had to call the film “Florence of Arabia“.
1962 Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a farce based on comedies by ancient playwright Plautus, and starring Zero Mostel opened on Broadway in 1962, ran for nearly 1,000 performances and won a Tony Award
1962 The PEGOT is when someone has won all five of the entertainment industry’s top competitive honors: Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar & Tony Awards. Only a 2 artists have achieved this. Composer Richard Rodgers was the first, in 1962, it took him 17 years to complete it.
World Theatre Day
The first annual World Theatre Day was held on March 27, 1962 when it was the opening day of the “Theatre of Nations” season in Paris. It is now a global annual occasion every March 27.
1962 Ethel Merman, Mary Martin and Nancy Walker turn down the starring role in Hello, Dolly!. The part goes to Carol Channing. Director Gower Champion was not David Merrick’s first choice, as Hal Prince, Jerome Robbins, Joe Layton and others all turned down the job of directing the musical.
1963 David Clurman opened public hearings on Broadway’s financial practices on December 10, 1963. The attorney general estimated that corrupt box office practices each year on Broadway collected at least $10 million ($75 million today) in Ice (ticket corruption). A function of supply & demand, if a show’s a hit, the show is sold out, but usually a ticket broker, for a price higher than the face value of the ticket to get that ticket. The broker typically would bribe the box office – the difference between the face value of the ticket and the amount the broker paid, is the “ice”.
1963 On December 26, 1963, J. J. Shubert, the last of the three brothers who built the Shubert empire, died of a cerebral hemorrhage in his penthouse on the 11th floor of the Sardi Building. He was 86. On Broadway they called him the ‘Phantom’, as no one had seen him in years.
1963 Andrew Lloyd Webber had originally set music to Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats at the age of 15 – a precursor to Cats.
1964 Originally entitled Dolly, A Damned Exasperating Woman and Call on DollyHello, Dolly! opened on Broadway on January 16, 1964, at the St. James Theatre, produced by David Merrick, winning a record 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, a record held for 37 years. The show has become one of the most iconic and enduring musical theatre hits. Carol Channing starred as Dolly who beat out Barbra Streisand’s Funny Girl that year to win the Tony Award, but Carol Channing forfeited the on-screen role to Barbra Streisand in the film Hello, Dolly!.
1964 Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway and ran for 3,242 performances from 1964 to 1972.
1964 Ethel Merman marries Ernest Borgnine in a marriage that lasts 32 days. Her 1972 memoir Merman includes a chapter entitled “My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine” that consists of nothing more than a single blank page.
1964 At 73, Cole Porter dies in Santa Monica, California, on October 15, 1964.
1965 Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice first collaboration was The Likes of Us, a musical based on the true story of Thomas John Barnardo . It was not publicly performed however until 40 years later, in 2005, when a production was staged at Lloyd Webber’s Sydmonton Festival.
1965 Andrew Lloyd Webber was a Queen’s Scholar at Westminster School and studied history for a term at Magdalen College, Oxford, although he abandoned the course in Winter 1965 to study at the Royal College of Music and pursue his interest in musical theatre. His favorite key is D flat major.
1966 The Tony Award-winning play with the longest title was The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (1966). That’s 151 letters, 26 words, 44 syllables (and 4 Tony’s). It was known as Marat/Sade for short.
1966 Hal Prince acquired the rights to I Am a Camera, a 1951 play based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel “Goodbye to Berlin”. Given the cabaret setting, Prince thought the material could be adapted as a musical. He hired Joe Masteroff to write the book, and John Kander and Fred Ebb to do the score. Cabaret opened on November 20, 1966, at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway and shocked audiences.
1966 In Jacqueline Susann’s bestselling masterpiece (selling more than 30 million copies), the character Helen Lawson in Valley of the Dolls” is based on Ethel Merman whom Susann had known personally and the pair were rumored to have a bi-sexual relationship.
1966 The League of Resident Theatres (LORT) is established in order to negotiate with Actors’ Equity Association to form a standard contract for performers appearing at resident companies. Until this point, resident theatres worked out actor contracts on a case-by-case basis, often adapting commercial theatre agreements.
1967 British Actors’ Equity Association incorporated the Variety Artistes’ Federation into it’s union.


1967 Morgan Freeman was in the original all-black Broadway cast of Hello, Dolly! playing ‘Rudolf’, starting Nov 12, 1967 at the St. James Theatre, starring Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway.
1968 In The Producers the line “Don’t be stupid be a smarty come and join the Nazi party” is always mimed to a recording by Mel Brooks.
1968 Making her musical theatre debut, Dame Judi Dench played cabaret singer, Sally Bowles, in the West End production of Cabaret which opened on February 28, 1968 at the Palace Theatre and ran for 336 performances.
1968 Hair began at the Public theatre, Joseph Papp’s Off-Broadway theatre on Lafayette St., but none of the big Broadway producers wanted to touch it, and Shuberts would not provide a theatre, since its rock music style coupled with its brief nude scene at the end of Act I was too risky. So, Hair was produced by Michael Butler, a rich Chicago businessman who campaigned against the Vietnam War, and opened it in 1968 at the Biltmore Theatre, where it ran 1750 performances until closing on July 1, 1972, making it the first nude Broadway musical, albeit with only 20 seconds of nudity.
1968 Censorship of the content of plays in England by the Lord Chamberlain under Robert Walpole’s Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737 was repealed on July 26, 1968 by The Theatres Act 1968 that abolished censorship of the stage. The musical Hair opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London on September 27, 1968, delaying the opening night until the abolition of theatre censorship so that the show could include nudity and profanity.
1969 The 2nd nude Broadway musical Oh, Calcutta! debuted on Broadway. In 1976, a revival of Oh, Calcutta! lasted 13 years, briefly becoming the longest running play in Broadway history, running 5959 performances.
1970 In January of 1970 at the Crawford Livingston Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota, actor George Ostroska suffered a heart attack, collapsed on stage and died while playing the lead role in Macbeth.
1970 The Broadway production of Applause, starring Lauren Bacall, opened on March 30, 1970 at the Palace Theatre, and closed on July 27, 1972, after 896 performances and 4 previews. With a book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse. The musical was based on the 1950 film All About Eve
1970 Carol Channing was the first celebrity to perform at a Super Bowl halftime.
1970 Producer David Merrick encouraged Jerry Herman to compose Hello, Dolly! specifically for Ethel Merman’s vocal range, but when he offered her the role, she declined it. She finally joined the cast on March 28, 1970, six years after the production opened. On Merman’s opening night, her performance was continually brought to a halt by prolonged standing ovations and the critics unanimously heralded her return to the New York stage.
1970 After it’s Boston tryouts receiving mixed reviews, Company opened on Broadway on April 26, 1970, at the Alvin Theatre, where it ran for 705 performances. The musical was about marriage. With music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, who was openly gay, never married, and never having has serious relationship, researched it by chatting with his friend Mary Rodgers, whom he asked to talk about her 2 marriages, and began taking notes. It was nominated for a record-setting 14 Tony Awards and won 6.
1970 The first theatrical Lord was the most famous English actor of his time, Laurence Olivier (1907 – 1989) who was created a Baron in 1970.
1970 Hello, Dolly! closed on Broadway in December 27, 1970, after 2,844 performances. After Carol Channing left the show, Merrick employed a string of stars to play Dolly on Broadway including Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Pearl Bailey (in an all-black version), Phyllis Diller and Ethel Merman.
1971 Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar opened on Broadway in 1971, marking the beginning of the “British Invasion” of musicals on Broadway.
1972 Broadway ticket sales across the industry plummeted.

  • 1968: 9.5 million drops to
  • 1970: 7.4 million drops to
  • 1972: 5.4 million

In the 1971-72 season, the Shubert theatres lost $2 million. During the post-WWII boom on Broadway, the Shubert empire was valued at more than $400 million. By 1972, its value had fallen to between $60 million and $100 million.

1972 At around 10:45am on July 7, 1972 long-time Shubert lawyers Gerry Schoenfeld and Bernie Jacobs take control of the Shubert Organization, ousting Lawrence (Larry) Shubert, the last remaining family member. The New York Times reported “the Shubert organization, the largest theatrical empire in the world, will be operated by men not in the Shubert family. In a drastic reorganization.”
1972 The Broadway musical Pippin broke new ground when it became the first show to actively show footage of the production in a TV commercial, a move that took Broadway by storm, and changed how marketing would work forever. The 60 second commercial ended with a voice over: “You can see the other 119 minutes of Pippin live at the Imperial Theatre, without commercial interruption.” Bob Fosse’s production originally opened on 23 October 1972, and ran for 1,944 performances, earning $3.5 million before closing on 12 June 1977.
1973 Choreographer Bob Fosse, the inventor of jazz dancing on Broadway was the first person to win a Tony, Oscar and Emmy Award in the same year – 1973
1973 Jorn Utzon, the architect of the iconic Sydney Opera House, never visited the finished venue owing to a disagreement with the managers. The Opera House, identified as one of the 20th century’s most distinctive buildings started construction on March 2, 1959 and opened on October 20, 1973.
1973 The musical Hair in the West End was forced to close in 1973 when the roof of the Shaftesbury Theatre collapsed.
1973 In 1973, it came to light during the Watergate hearings that Carol Channing was on a master list of Nixon’s political opponents, informally known as Nixon’s “enemies list”. She has subsequently said that her appearance on this list was the highest honor in her career.
1970’s Body microphones came into widespread use in the 1970’s, and today, any actor who has a speaking or singing solo part will have a body mike. This means that on some shows, anywhere from 15 to 30 wireless microphones on separate frequencies will be used in a single performance. Electronic special effects also began to be developed at this time, so that through a single keyboard many different sounds can be duplicated on stage.
1974 A Chorus Line was formed from several taped workshop sessions with Broadway dancers, known as “gypsies,” including 8 who eventually appeared in the original cast. The sessions were originally hosted by dancers Michon Peacock and Tony Stevens. The first taped session occurred at the Nickolaus Exercise Center on E 23rd St at midnight on January 18, 1974 and a 2nd session on February 18. They hoped that they would form a professional dance company to make workshops for Broadway dancers.
1974 Grace Kelly’s uncle, George Kelly (a famous dramatist and screenwriter, winning a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1926 for his play Craig’s Wife), died on 18 June 1974 (aged 87). He had been ostracized from the family for being gay . At his funeral, the Kelly family did not invite George Kelly’s life-partner, William Weagley, with whom he had maintained a 55 year relationship. Weagley, however, appeared at the funeral after it had already started, slipping in and sitting in one of the seats in the back row. Amongst his many plays, The Torch-Bearers (1923), was the basis for the 1935 motion picture Doubting Thomas and the 1939 movie Too Busy to Work.
1974 When Stephen Sondheim writes, he often does so under the influence of alcohol, “because it loosens you up”. The only score he ever wrote completely sober was for the French film, Stavisky.
1974 Metromedia sold ‘Playbill’ Magazine, at the time loosing money, to Arthur Birsh on a deal of future payments. After A Chorus Line, the new found ad revenues made ‘Playbill’ a success.
1975 A Chorus Line played its first preview Off Broadway at The Public theatre on April 16, 1975 in front of an audience of 299. At the time, the Public did not have enough money to finance the production so it borrowed money from the Shubert Organization (and others) to produce the show. Advance word had created such a demand for tickets that the entire run sold out immediately. Over the course of its run in globally, it earn $40 million for the Public.
1975 On July 25, 1975, A Chorus Line opened on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre, Produced by Joseph Papp and the Shubert Organization, where it ran for 15 years (6,137 performances) until April 28, 1990. becoming the longest-running production in Broadway history until surpassed by Cats in 1997. A Chorus Line is considered the single show that began reviving the struggling Broadway industry.
1975 The most prolific theatre producer is Howard E. Pechet (Canada) who has produced 485 plays at 10 different venues across Canada, between January 1975 and July 2008. Most of the productions were under the banner of ‘Stage West’.
1976 London’s 1,160 seat Olivier Theatre in the Royal National Theatre opens alongside the 890 seat Lyttelton (named after Oliver Lyttelton, the National Theatre’s first board chairman) and the 400 seat Dorfman theatre. Named after the theatre’s first artistic director, Laurence Olivier, the Olivier Theatre is modeled on the Ancient Greek amphitheatre in Epidaurus. In 2013 a redevelopment of the National Theatre complex with a cost about £80m commenced.
1976 The Olivier Awards first awards ceremony took place in December 1976 at the Cafe Royal. Now presented annually.
1976 While performing at the Young Vic Theatre playing Lady Macbeth in Macbeth back in 1976, finding the old dressing rooms had no windows, Judi Dench painted windows onto the wall of her dressing room.
1976 Ralph Carpenter first started popularizing a well know theatrical expression when giving a report on The Dallas Morning News in March 1976 Despite his allegiance to the ‘Red Raiders’, Texas Tech sports info director Ralph Carpenter showed objectivity when the ‘Aggies’ rallied for a 72-72 tie late in the SWC tournament finals. “Hey, Ralph,” said Bill Morgan (Southwest Conference info director), “this’is going to be a tight one after all.” Ralph replied “Right, the opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.
1977 The Donmar Warehouse in London takes its name from Donald Albery & Margot Fonteyn who initially owned the warehouse as rehearsal space.
1977 Starting with her work in Hollywood on The Jerk, in which she plays the long-suffering wife of Steve Martin, in real life, Bernadette Peters was romantically involved with co-star Steve Martin for several years.
1978 The Tony Award-winning play with the shortest title was Da (1978).
1978 Les Miserables was inspired by the musical Oliver! French songwriter Alain Boublil had the idea to adapt Victor Hugo’s novel into a musical while at a performance of the musical Oliver! in London. “As soon as the Artful Dodger came onstage, Gavroche came to mind. It was like a blow to the solar plexus. I started seeing all the characters of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables – Valjean, Javert, Gavroche, Cosette, Marius, and Eponine – in my mind’s eye, laughing, crying, and singing onstage.” Alain Boublil pitched the ides to Claude-Michel Schonberg, and they both started writing what would become one of the most successful musicals in history.
1979 Richard Rodgers triumphed over cancer of the jaw in 1955 and a laryngectomy in 1974 before Richard Rodgers died at his home in New York City on December 30, 1979. Richard Rodgers is credited with writing between 900 and 1,500 songs, an estimated 85 of which are considered standards. To date, 19 film versions of his musicals have been made. The musical gene proved to run in the family, with his daughter Mary composing Once Upon a Mattress and his grandson, Adam Guettel (with Peter Melnick), composing the Tony Award-winning Light in the Piazza.
1980 Studio 54 Theatre in New York was an infamously decadent disco night club called Studio 54 in the 1970s and 80’s.
1980 London’s TKTS was formerly known as the Half-Price Ticket Booth is operated by The Society of London Theatre who licensed the TKTS trademark from the Theatre Development Fund in NYC, but the two organizations are otherwise unrelated. It first opened in 1980, located in Leicester Square in the Clock-tower building, selling half price and discounted West End theatre tickets.
1980 Mae West died in 1980 at the age of 87 after suffering from two strokes. She still was performing up to a few years from her death, with her last major production being the 1978 Sextette musical. She was reportedly a 38-24-38. At the age of 63, she still maintained a good figure, at a 39-27-39.
1980 Gower Champion died at 10:00 am on August 25, 1980 only ten hours before the opening-night curtain of 42nd Street, the Broadway musical he directed. It would be his greatest success, running 9 years. Producer David Merrick kept the news secret from everyone, including the show’s cast. During the enthusiastic curtain calls, Merrick came onstage and dramatically made the shocking announcement over the applause. “No, no. This is tragic. You don’t understand. Gower Champion died this morning.”
1980 On September 17, 1980, a stage version in French of Les Miserables debuted at the Palais des Sports in Paris. Les Miserables was a success, with 105 performances seen by over 500,000 people. Closing as scheduled, on December 14, 1980.
1981 Judi Dench, one of Britain’s finest post-war actresses had agreed to play the key role of Grizabella in Cats, but an injury to her Achilles tendon meant Judi Dench was replaced by Elaine Paige in Cats who stepped in with just three days left before previews began.
1981 Cats opened in the West End at the New London Theatre on 11 May 1981 and it turned into one of the greatest show business success stories. It played a total of 8,949 performances in London. The total budget was ~£900,000. Its final performance in London’s West End was on its 21st birthday, 11 May 2002
1981 “Opening Doors” from Merrily We Roll Along is the only autobiographical song Stephen Sondheim ever wrote. The tune is inspired by his struggle in the ’50s knocking on doors of producers and trying to get heard.
1982 Prior to becoming Pope, Pope John Paul II wrote a play called The Jeweller’s Shop which played the Westminster Theatre in the West End of London in 1982
1983 American playwright Tennessee Williams died on February 25, 1983 is buried in St Louis, Missouri, despite his own wishes to be buried at sea.
1982 Cats makes its debut on Broadway on 7 October 1982, at the Winter Garden Theatre with the same production team as the prior West End show. It closed on 10 September 2000, after a total of 7,485 performances. Lloyd Webber stated that when the original show was produced in London, it cost ~£900,000, but on Broadway, it cost $5,000,000
1983 Arthur Miller went to Beijing to direct a production of Death of a Salesman, with a Chinese cast speaking in Mandarin. He had 48 days of rehearsals in which to direct his play, from first rehearsal on March 21, 1983, through the opening night on May 7.
1983 Early copies of the album Under A Blood Red Sky by U2 contain a snippet from Sondheim’s Send In The Clowns. It was edited from further copies.
1983 With a book by Harvey Fierstein and lyrics and music by Jerry Herman, La Cage aux Folles, and first gay-themed musical opened on Broadway at the Palace Theatre on August 21, 1983.
1983 In the West End stage production of Singin’ in the Rain at the London Palladium, Tommy Steele had to mime the title song as the rain was too noisy and would have damaged the microphone.
1984 On February 15, 1984, 10 months after she was diagnosed with brain cancer, Ethel Merman dies at her home in Manhattan at the age of 76. The 56th Academy Awards, held on held a month later on April 2, ended with a performance of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” in tribute to Merman.
1984 Before 1984 the Olivier Awards were known as the Urnies as the prize was a small blue Wedgwood urn.
1984 Andrew Lloyd Webber contacted Cameron Mackintosh, the co-producer of Cats, to propose a new musical. After approaching Ken Hill who had written his own The Phantom of the Opera musical about producing it in London, they decided there was little more than could be done with it. They screened both the 1925 Lon Chaney & the 1943 Claude Rains film versions, but neither saw a way to make the leap from film to stage. Lloyd Webber found a copy of the original Gaston Leroux novel, which supplied the inspiration to develop The Phantom of the Opera.
1985 Andrew Lloyd Webber & Cameron Mackintosh first approached Jim Sharmen to compose and direct it, but he suggested Lloyd Webber do it himself. Looking for writing partner, Lloyd Webber asked to Jim Steinman, but he declined; Alan Jay Lerner was then recruited, but he became ill after joining and was forced to withdraw; Richard Stilgoe, the lyricist for Starlight Express, wrote most of the original lyrics for the production. Charles Hart, a young and then-relatively unknown lyricist, later rewrote many of the lyrics. The Phantom of the Opera previewed its first act at Sydmonton in 1985, starring Colm Wilkinson. It opened in London’s West End in 1986, and on Broadway in 1988. The rest is history.
1985 The Phantom of the Opera re-defines theatrical spectacle. This fully-automated show with state-of-the-art computerized light & sound boards, travels in 21 trucks (over 27 tons of scenery, 470 lights, curtains and equipment), with 130 company members, and engages another 100 staff locally.

  • Each performance has 230 costumes, 14 dressers, 200 different wigs (most of human hair), 120 automated cues, 22 scene changes, pyrotechnics, and uses 250 kg of dry ice and 10 fog and smoke machines;
  • A 1,200-pound, 10-foot high chandelier has 6,000 beads and falls at 2.5 metres per second;
  • 2,230 metres of fabric are used for the drapes, the tasseled fringes of the drapes alone measure 226 metres, made up of 250 kilos of dyed wool interwoven with 5,000 wooden beads;
  • A travelator (moves both vertically & horizontally allowing cast to travel on various levels, similar to a bridge suspended between two towers);
  • A 1.5 ton retractable staircase and 28 hanging drops;
  • 141 candles rise via computer control from 102 trapdoors in a 10-inch high custom stage deck;
  • Guided by infrared beams of light the head propman with a radio-controlled until on his waist operates a joystick to drive the Venetian gondola between the floor candle traps. The drive mechanism and battery is hidden below the pillows of the gondola.
  • The Phantom’s make-up takes 2 hours to put on. The face is moisturized, shaved and then prosthetics are fitted, before 2 wigs, 2 radio microphones and 2 contact lenses (one white & one clouded) are placed.
1985 Cats launches Toronto’s commercial theatre boom when it opened at The Elgin Theatre and ran for about five years, including the Canadian tour and Massey Hall run. Producers had never previously licensed a show while it was playing on Broadway.
1985 The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to George and Ira Gershwin in 1985. Only three other songwriters, George M. Cohan, Harry Chapin and Irving Berlin, have had the honor of receiving this award
1985 The first production of Les Miserables in English opened on 8 October 1985 (five years after the original Paris production) at the Barbican Arts Centre, London to mostly negative reviews. On 4 December 1985, the show transferred to the Palace Theatre in the West End and moved again on 3 April 2004, to the Queen’s Theatre, with some revisions of staging and where, as of August 2015, it was still playing. The famous Les Miserables barricade moves a total distance of 19.5 metres during each performance.
1985 World’s longest running live comedy show first opened at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, UK, on 18 August 1979, NewsRevue has continued its’ run in London, UK, at the Kings Head Theatre (1979), Gate Theatre (1980-85) and the Canal Cafe Theatre (1985 to present). The cast, director and musical director change every 6 weeks and the show is up-dated on a weekly basis by the writing team, some of whom have been with the show since the start.
1986 Edith Webster left her mark in history with her bizarre on stage death. During The Drunkard, which was being performed in Baltimore, the 60-year-old Edith Webster was playing the role of the grandmother. According to the plot, during the 2nd act, just before the end, the grandmother had to sing “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone,” after which she was to slump dead onto the floor. She had been playing this role for 8 years when, on November 24, 1986, after singing the song, she fell to the floor, dead.
1986 There are only 4 theatres actually situated on Broadway: The Palace (47th Street), The Winter Garden (50th Street), The Broadway (53rd Street) and The Marquis (46th Street) which opened in 1986.
1986 The United States Institute for Theatre Technology publishes the DMX512 dimmer protocol standard. The introduction of this protocol marks a landmark moment in computerized lighting technology, since equipment often wasn’t interchangeable; DMX512 will ensure that all lighting consoles, dimmers, and other devices speak the same language.
1987 The longest theatre performance by an individual lasted 110 hr 46 min and was achieved by Adrian Hilton when he recited the complete works of Shakespeare in a ‘Bardathon’ at the Shakespeare Festival, South Bank, London between 16-21 July 1987.
1987 On September 23, 1987, Bob Fosse died from a heart attack at George Washington University Hospital, while the revival of Sweet Charity was opening at the nearby National Theatre
1989 Irving Berlin lived so long until he died in his bedroom at 17 Beekman Place, NY on September 22, 1989 (at age 101) composed many of his most important works in the 1920s through the 1940s. He saw several of these works pass out of copyright and into the public domain.
1988 The Ancient Greek Epidaurus Theatre (closed since 426) final wave of restoration was completed in 1988 and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
1989 San Francisco’s Ethel Merman Memorial Choir, consisting entirely of Merman impersonators (both male drag and female) first performs “Everything’s Coming Up Roses
1989 Miss Saigon was indirectly based on the life of a Scotsman who founded the Mitsubishi corporation. Miss Saigon was based on Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which was based on David Belasco’s Madame Butterfly, which was based on Pierre Loti’s novel Madame Chrysantheme. This was in part inspired by the life of Thomas Blake Glover, the Scot who founded the Japanese Navy and the Mitsubishi Co. as well as having a well publicized affair with a geisha girl.
1989 The Broadway industry, launched onto the internet, in part with the support of the ‘League of American Theatres & Producers’ and ‘The American Theatre Wing’, had the first internet service via a direct dial-up BBS (Bulletin Board System) called ShowCall which went live on June 3rd, 1989, the night before that years Tony Awards. ShowCall moved to the world wide web in April 1993. (incidentally, the author of this, Toby Simkin, was the creator of ShowCall and the first Broadway website)
1990 After battling emphysema, Leonard Bernstein dies at the age of 72 on October 14, 1990
1990 In 1990, the State of New York took possession of 6 of the 9 historic theatres on 42nd Street, and the New 42nd Street non-profit organization was appointed to oversee their restoration and maintenance. The theatres underwent renovation for Broadway shows, conversion for commercial purposes, or demolition.
1990 While he was the 1st President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel’s play Temptation opened on the West End at the Westminster Theatre in London in 1990, starring Countess Rula Lenska, Dr. Who’s Sylvester McCoy, Frank Middlemass & directed by James Roose-Evans. (incidentally, the author of this, Toby Simkin, was the Company & Stage Manager of this production)
1991 Now both openly gay, Dramatist Peter Jones moves in with Stephen Sondheim (now aged 61). Among the many shows for which Sondheim wrote are Into the Woods (1987), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), Sweeney Todd (1979), A Little Night Music (1973), Anyone Can Whistle (1964) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Company (1970), Follies (1971) and Pacific Overtures (1976), along with 5 anthologies of his works: Side by Side by Sondheim (1976), Marry Me a Little (1981), You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow (1983), Putting It Together (1993/99) and Sondheim on Sondheim (2010). Additionally he wrote the lyrics for West Side Story (1957) and Gypsy (1959).
1991 Theatrical producer and director Joseph Papp dies On October 31. He established The Public Theater and founded Shakespeare in the Park, helped to develop other off-Broadway theatres and worked to preserve the historic Broadway Theatre District.
1992 Under the pseudonym Doctor Spin, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber released a top 10 single in 1992 called “Tetris”
1992 The first theatrical website, the WorldWide Entertainment Network (WEN) went live on October 19, 1992 to officially launch in April 1993, shortly after the release of the first public web browser, Mosaic, under “” and “” then shortly after, “” (Headquarters Entertainment). URL’s. Later consolidated and rebranded as The websites showcased currently running shows in NY and major tours, photos of newspaper clipping, official press photos and had theatre information for industry touring staff an early version of what would become ‘Stage Specs‘ In late 1993, BuyBroadway started maintaining forums on Prodigy, CompuServe and AOL services.
1993 Times Square is the only neighborhood with zoning ordinances requiring building owners to display illuminated signs. The neighborhood actually has a minimum limit for lighting instead of the standard maximum limit and are called “spectaculars” – the largest of them are called “jumbotrons” in accordance with guidelines set in a revitalization program that New York implemented in 1993.
1993 The musical Rent by Jonathan Larson was first seen in a workshop production at New York Theatre Workshop in 1993.


1994 Walt Disney Theatrical Productions was formed on February 8, 1993 to produce Beauty and the Beast which opened on April 18, 1994 at the Palace Theatre on Broadway.
1994 Nancy Seabrooke holds the record for understudying. She understudied on The Mousetrap in London for over 15 years before she finally retired at the age of 79. She began her role in 1979, and was called upon to actually perform it 72 times over the fifteen years and 6240 performances of her tenure. The Mousetrap continues to this day, now in its 62nd year.
1994 Jule Styne died on September 20, 1994 of heart failure in New York City at the age of 88. He composed some of the most loved and most revived Broadway musicals, most notably Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Peter Pan, Bells Are Ringing, Gypsy, Do Re Mi, High Button Shoes, Funny Girl, Sugar and Hallelujah, Baby! (incidentally, the author of this, Toby Simkin, was a consultant to the Jule Styne’s estate, working with his widow Margaret Styne on cataloging and archiving his documents and files)
1994 The second major theatrical website,, launched in November 1994. They went on to create an AOL forum in June 1995, which they shut down in September 1997, when BuyBroadway was announced by AOL as their exclusive content provider.
1995 The first website for a Broadway show, VICTOR/VICTORIA starring Julie Andrews came online, initially from a desire to sell tickets to overseas tourists (particular the Japanese who loved Julie, traveled extensively, and adored Broadway), at a time when Ticketmaster did not have any online presence, and no ability to handle foreign credit card transactions. The site additionally included the first ever theatre-related video clip streaming over the internet with Julie Andrews performing the film version of “Le Jazz Hot“, produced in conjunction with Microsoft Netshow (precursor to Windows Media Player) albeit the size of a postage stamp, but at the time, shockingly exciting on the internet. (incidentally, the author of this, Toby Simkin, was a co-producer of the show, and was the creator of the site)
1995 Winning his 4th Emmy award in 1995 for music direction of a Barbra Streisand TV special, Marvin Hamlisch becomes the 2nd person in history to achieve the PEGOT (Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar & Tony). The other was Richard Rodgers.
1995 Composer Alan Menken has won 8 Academy Awards for his scores and songs for Disney musical films.
1996 On July 1, Shakespeare’s Globe opened on the South Bank after actor Sam Wanamaker set up the Shakespeare Globe Trust in 1949, with the aim of reconstructing Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. The Trust spent the following 23 years extensively researching the original Globe’s architecture. Other than complying with current fire regulations such as additional exits, illuminated signage and fire retardant materials, the Globe is as accurate a reconstruction of the 1599 Globe as was possible. In 1993 the building plot was secured on the South Bank. The Festival of Firsts begins on June 7, 1997, marking the official opening of the new Globe theatre. On June 12, Her Majesty the Queen, inaugurates the Globe.
1996 The musical Rent returns to the Off-Broadway New York Theatre Workshop. Early morning on January 25, 1996, after the musicals final dress rehearsal before its first off-Broadway preview, Rent’s composer Jonathan Larson died from an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm. The preview was canceled and instead, friends and family gathered at the theatre where the actors performed a sing-through of Rent in Larson’s memory.
1996 The musical Rent transfered to Broadway‘s Nederlander Theatre on April 29, 1996. On Broadway, Rent gained critical acclaim and won a Tony Award for Best Musical among other awards. The Broadway production closed on September 7, 2008 after a 12-year run of 5,123 performances.
1997 The Lion King debuted July 8, 1997, in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the Orpheum Theatre, before The Lion King opened on Broadway at the New Amsterdam theatre on October 15, 1997 in previews with the official opening on November 13, 1997. On June 13, 2006, the Broadway production moved to the Minskoff Theatre.
1998 One of the 20th century’s most popular ballet and Broadway musical choreographers, Jerome Robbins dies on July 29, 1998 at the age of 79 after suffering a stroke, leaving behind a monumental legacy.
1999 A Mandarin language production of the musical Beauty and the Beast opened at the Guilun Xinxing Art Centre in Beijing, China on October 22, 1999 and played over 60 performances, making it the first Broadway style musical in China. Chinese actors with stage props & costumes imported from Japan’s Shiki (Four Seasons) and co-directed by Japanese Isamu Furusawa & Chinese Zhou Qixun at a production cost of around $2.4 million. It was a highlight of cultural events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.
2000 David Merrick suffered a stroke in 1983, after which he spent most of his time in a wheelchair until David Merrick died in London on April 25, 2000.
2001 The British Actors’ Equity Association changes it’s name to Equity.
2001 The New York Times proclaims Andrew Lloyd Webber as “the most commercially successful composer in history.”
2002 Longest theatrical run of a musical was the off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, opened on 3 May 1960 and finally closed on 13 January 2002 having been performed a record 17,162 times at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, Greenwich Village, New York.
2002 Most expensive prop from a theatre show was for the musical stage version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which opened on 16 April 2002 at the London Palladium, London, UK, the magical flying car of the title cost an estimated £750,000 (US$1.07 million) to make.
2003 Broadway musicians strike in 2003 as the Local 802 of AFM, the union representing the musicians on Broadway, entered into a strike in March 2003 and was joined by other Broadway unions such as AEA and IATSE. The strike lasted from Friday, March 7, 2003 to early Tuesday morning, March 11, 2003. The focus of the negotiation was the minimum number of musicians required to be employed in Broadway theatres. The labor agreement required 24 to 25 musicians to be employed in largest theatres, regardless of the needs of the actual productions presented. Under the new agreement, the minimums were reduced to 18 to 19.
2003 Located on the 42nd floor of the Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai. The 10,000 sqft, multi level theatre located on the 42nd floor of the Shangri-La Hotel in Dubai, called ‘The Act’, is the highest theatre venue in the world.
2003 Most theatrical members of a family to appear on stage with a total of 24 direct members of the Hurst family (ages ranged from 63 to 1), performed at the Kenton Theatre, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, UK in a production of Puss In Boots from 19-20 December 2003.
2003 The character of Elphaba in Wicked was named after the author of The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum, from the phonetic pronunciation of Baum’s initials L.F.B. in both adaptations.
2003 The most complete costume changes demanded for a lead theatrical role are 29 achieved by Michael Jibson during his performance of ‘Joe Casey’ in the West End musical Our House, directed by Matthew Warchus at the Cambridge Theatre, London, from 28 October 2002 – 16 August 2003. The quick-change costumes and illusion effects were designed to allow the fastest change to take just 4 seconds on stage.
2004 Linda Green holds the record for longest career as a showgirl in the same production. She spent 23 years in Jubilee! at Bally’s, Las Vegas, since July 30, 1981. Green performed in over 13,800 shows. In 2004, Green said goodbye to Jubilee! at the age of 51.
2005 Legendary playwright Arthur Miller died of heart failure, after battling cancer and pneumonia, at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut on February 10, 2005, which happened to be the 56th anniversary of Death of a Salesman‘s Broadway debut. He was 89 years old. (incidentally, the author of this, Toby Simkin, was a co-producer of The Crucible and The Price revivals on Broadway and of Death of a Salesman on both Broadway and the West End)
2005 Luo Pinchao was the oldest Opera singer in the world. He was still performing professional opera in China at the age of 93! Luo died in Guangzhou on July 15, 2010, at age 98.
2005 Walt Disney World, Florida, has a record 1.2 million costumes in its theatrical wardrobes. Once stored in the Utilidors, in 2005 they were moved to a large facility near cast member parking. 32,000 costumes are laundered each day at Walt Disney World.
2006 Director/producer Hal Prince holds the record for most Tony Awards won by an individual. He has 21, including 8 for directing, 8 for producing, 2 as producer of the year’s Best Musical, and 3 special Tony Awards.
2006 The record for most Laurence Olivier awards won by an actor is held by Sir Ian McKellen. He has 6, including the Society’s Special Award bestowed in 2006.
2006 The tallest proscenium arch in a theatre was measured at 11.95m in the Siam Niramit (Ratachada Theatre), Bangkok, Thailand on 31 July 2006
2007 The most siblings to play the same role in a musical are 4 of the Nolan Sisters – Bernie, Denise, Linda and Maureen (all Ireland) – who have all played the lead role of Mrs Johnstone in Willy Russell’s musical Blood Brothers at the Phoenix Theatre, London, between 1998 and 2007. In 1998, Bernie took on the role touring for two years. In 2000 her sister Linda took over at the Phoenix Theatre. Their sister Denise was then chosen for the UK tour of the show and finally, Maureen who joined the London cast on 11 April 2005 and finished in 2007. (incidentally, the author of this, Toby Simkin, was the Production Supervisor for Blood Brothers for it’s Liverpool, Toronto, Broadway transfer in the early 1990’s)
2007 Broadway Stagehands Strike in November 2007, when the Broadway League and the stagehands union, Local 1 of the IATSE, failed agree. 27 shows on Broadway were shut down. The main conflict in the negotiation was the work rules regarding load-ins. The new contract set the daily minimum during the load-in to 17 stagehands, allowing producers to hire stagehands based on daily workload. The strike lasted for 19 days, recording the longest strike on Broadway since 1975. The economic impact of the strike spread beyond the Broadway shows, to nearby restaurants, hotels, gift shops, and bars. According to the New York City comptroller’s office, the strike resulted in $40 million in lost revenue in addition to the lost ticket sales.
2007 On December 18, 2007 the “League of American Theatres and Producers” changed its name to “The Broadway League” to better reflect the memberships composition of Broadway presenters, general managers and other Broadway industry professionals
2008 Polish composer & pianist, Andre Tchaikowsky died of colon cancer at the age of 46 in Oxford on June 26, 1982 and he left his body to medical research and bequeathed his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) asking that it be used as a prop on stage. For many years, no actor or director felt comfortable using a real skull in performances, although it was occasionally used in rehearsals. In 2008, the skull was finally held by David Tennant to play the poor Yorick in the 2008 production of Hamlet at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon and throughout the production’s West End run, and in a subsequent TV broadcast.
2008 Osaka University in Japan presented Hataraku Watashi (I, Worker) written by Oriza Hirata, the play features 2 robots in leading roles. The 20 minute play was rehearsed by the Mitsubishi robots for 2 months.
2008 The new TKTS booth opened for business on October 16, 2008 on a renovated Duffy Square. The booth is wedge-shaped, with wide, bleacher-like stairs covering the roof, allowing pedestrians to sit down or climb the steps for a panoramic, unobstructed view of Times Square. According to the theatre Development Fund, the final cost of the new booth was $19 million.
2008 In 2008, the Center for Intelligent Robots at National Taiwan University of Science and Technology in Taiwan there was a public performance on December 27 of several scenes of The Phantom of the Opera starring theatrical robots actors ‘Thomas’ & ‘Janet’. The performance wasn’t perfect – in addition to unexpected malfunction of motors, the network controlling robots was interfered with by signals from walkie-talkies used by the stage staff. Taiwan Tech aims to develop well-trained versatile performers that can perform plays, sing songs, and interact with real persons.
2008 Stephen Sondheim has received 8 Tony Awards, more than any other composer. He has won 7 times: Best Music and Best Lyrics for Company (1971); and Best Score for Follies (1972), A Little Night Music (1973), Sweeney Todd (1979), Into the Woods (1988) and Passion (1994). His 8th honor was for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre.
2009 Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the musical Hamilton over the course of six years. The hip-hop-infused musical song, “Alexander Hamilton”, was first performed at the White House on May 12, 2009. It took Miranda another year to craft Hamilton’s anthem, “My Shot.” “Every couplet needed to be the best couplet I ever wrote”, Miranda told 60 Minutes. Conversely, he wrote Aaron Burr’s song, “Wait for It” on the train home from a party in Brooklyn.
2010 Andrew Lloyd Webber tune for the title song of Love Never Dies was originally used in The Beautiful Game as a song called “Our Kind Of Love”.
2010 Angela Lansbury has has hosted or co-hosted more Tony Awards telecasts than any other individual, with six telecasts in 1968, 1971, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 2010.
2010 The longest continuous dramatic performance was 23 hr 33 min 54 sec achieved by the 27 O’Clock Players in New Jersey, U.S.A, on July 27, 2010 – they performed The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionescu, a play written in a continuous loop and said to be totally pointless and plot-less.
2010 The most visitors to a musical in a single theatre are 13,044,148 for the musical “Starlight Express” in Bochum, Germany as of 8 March 2010. The musical is staged in the same location since 1988.
2011 Arthur Laurents died at the age of 93 at his home in Manhattan on May 5, 2011 of pneumonia complications. In his memoirs, Laurents discusses his many gay affairs and relationships, including those with Farley Granger & Tom Hatcher. (Gore Vidal suggested Laurents seek him out at the Beverly Hills men’s clothing store). The couple remained together for 52 years until Hatcher’s death on October 26, 2006
2011 The Phantom of the Opera is the most financially successful entertainment event to date with total estimated worldwide gross receipts of over $5.6 billion (the highest in history) and total Broadway gross of $845 million. By 2011, it had been seen by over 130 million people in 145 cities across 27 countries, and continues to play worldwide.
2011 The most expensive theatre production Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was a Broadway musical which as of 14 June 2011, the shows record cost climbed to $75 million, the largest investment for any stage production anywhere in the world.
2012 Nimax Theatres acquire the Palace Theatre from Andrew Lloyd Webber for an undisclosed sum on April 12. The decision was made by Lloyd Webber in order to finance the refurbishment of his other venue, the London Palladium.
2012 The longest career as a theatre director (and Producer) of the same production is 40 years 7 months and was achieved by Vado Souza (Brazil) in his one-man show “O Navio Negreiro” from 23 October 1971 to May 2012.
2012 The longest-running Broadway musical is The Phantom of the Opera having performed it’s 10,000 performance at the Majestic Theatre in New York City on 11 February 2012.
2012 The roof of London’s National Theatre is home to 60,000 bees. In early 2012 the National Theatre approached Bee Urban about setting up an apiary on it’s roof top space and by the summer there were 3 hives in place. The honey is sold in the National Theatre shop.
21st Century The only composers to have had 4 musicals playing simultaneously in the West End are Noel Gay and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
2013 Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s musical Stephen Ward was the first score he has orchestrated entirely by himself since Cats in 1981.
2013 Times Square is the most visited place globally with 360,000 pedestrian visitors a day, amounting to over 131 million a year. As of 2013, it has a greater attendance than do all the Disney theme parks worldwide, with 128,794,000 visitors between March 2012 and February 2013.
2013 Most Laurence Olivier awards wins by a show is shared between The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which won a total of 7 Olivier awards on 29 April 2013. The National Theatre production equaled the record set by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda the Musical in 2012.
2013 On 4th of May 2013, Helen Mirren, while dressed as the queen, left the Gielgud Theatre to shout at drummers outside disturbing the play. The play was The Audience by Peter Morgan.
2013 The 2013 production of Merrily We Roll Along at the Harold Pinter Theatre holds the record for most 5 star reviews ever awarded to a musical in the West End.
2013 In 2013, Forced Entertainment’s 24-hour edition of their improvisation Quizoola! at the Barbican, London, ran for 24 hours from 11.59 pm 12 April to 11.59 pm 13 April, with no audience breaks.
2013 On December 19, the Apollo Theatre roof collapses on audience members during a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. 58 people were hospitalized but there were no fatalities. After an investigation it was understood that the collapse occurred owing to weak and old materials.
2014 New York City houses the greatest number of theatres, as well as number of seats per capita within the U.S.A.
2014 Most filmed author is William Shakespeare’s works which have been adapted into 420 feature film and TV-movie versions. Hamlet has appealed most to film makers with 79 versions.
2014 Robert Lopez (born 1975), wins an Oscar to complete his grand slam EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, & Tony), and is the youngest winner to receive all four awards in competitive categories . The other EGOT winners include (in order of their winning) Richard Rodgers, Helen Hayes, Rita Moreno, John Gielgud, Audrey Hepburn, Marvin Hamlisch, Jonathan Tunick, Mel Brooks, Mike Nichols & Whoopi Goldberg. (Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, James Earl Jones, Alan Menken & Harry Belafonte have also achieve EGOT status, but at least 1 of their awards was an honorary award).
2014 The longest theatre performance by a team lasted for 76 hr 18 min 25 sec and was achieved by Lamb’s Players Theatre (USA) in Coronado, California, U.S.A, from 8-11 May 2014.
2014 Sir Cameron Mackintosh buys the the Victoria Palace Theatre and the Ambassadors Theatre from Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen on May 23. A year long refurbishment is planned for the Victoria Palace Theatre to extend its stage. Mackintosh announces the Ambassadors Theatre will be renamed to the Sondheim Theatre in honour of the famous composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
2014 Tourists are the lifeblood of Broadway. In 2013-2014, 70% of Broadway tickets were bought by tourists. 68% of Broadway audiences are women.
2014 Elaine Stritch dies at 89 on July 17, 2014 at her home in Birmingham, Michigan. In her career, she understudied for the inimitable Ethel Merman in 1950’s Call Me Madam. Highlights of Broadway shows included Loco (1946), Pal Joey (1952), Bus Stop (1955), Noel Coward’s Sail Away (1961), and took over the Uta Hagen role in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), Company (1970), Show Boat (1994) and Elaine Stritch at Liberty (2002) and A Little Night Music (2010), in which she spoke poignantly about her alcohol addictions and life experiences.
2014 The 1996 Broadway revival of Chicago becomes the second longest-running Broadway show, behind only The Phantom of the Opera. Chicago surpassed Cats on November 23, 2014, when it played its 7,486th performance.
2014 There are now over 5,000 books on the subject of the disputed authorship of Shakespeare’s works. There are many theories that suggest that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays attributed to him. Some believe he had help, some believe he only wrote some of his plays and some surmise he didn’t write them at all. Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Irons, Michael York and Mark Rylance are doubters.
2015 The musical Hamilton made its Off-Broadway debut at The Public theatre with previews starting on January 20, 2015 and officially opening on February 17, where its engagement was sold out. The $12.5 million show transferred to Broadway commencing previews on July 13, 2015, and opened on August 6, at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. On Broadway, it received enthusiastic critical acclaim and unprecedented advance box office sales.
2015 British actor Brian Blessed OBE (born 9 October 1936) has survived a plane crash, had a boxing match with the Dalai Lama, has attempted to climb Mount Everest 3 times, is the oldest man to have trekked to the North Pole on foot and Blessed has completed 800 hours of space training at Star City in Russia. On 19 January 2015, Blessed collapsed on stage during a performance of King Lear with the Guildford Shakespeare Company, in which his daughter Rosalind was also acting. He received medical attention from a doctor in the audience and returned, 20 minutes later, to the stage to complete the play.
2015 While inspecting fragments excavated from Shakespeare’s garden, researchers found traces of cannabis, Peruvian cocaine and myristic acid in Shakespeare’s pipe in 2015. The Peruvian cocaine likely sourced by his ‘dealer’, Sir Francis Drake who brought coca leaves to England after his visit to Peru in 1597, and was often at Queen Elizabeth’s court with Shakespeare. Shakespeare preferred Cannabis as a stimulant which had mind-stimulating properties.
2016 The average salary of a stagehand at Carnegie Hall is more than the salary of the President of the United States.
2016 Best-selling playwright is William Shakespeare with sales of his plays and poetry believed to have achieved in excess of 4 billion copies in the 400 years since his death. He is also the 3rd most translated author in history.
2016 One of the highest profile plays opens in the West End on June 7.  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opens had sold 175,000 tickets within 8 hours of going on sale.
2016 In 2016, the musical Hamilton was nominated for a record-setting 16 Tony Awards, winning 11. Advance ticket sales for “Hamilton” totaled $82 million in early February, which translated to about 400 sold-out shows, and is generating about $500,000 in profit each week.
2018 Barrons Magazine reports that former Wall Street trader Jim Freydberg invested $500,000 in The Phantom of the Opera and has since earned a $15 million profit from the New York show since it opened on Broadway in 1988.
2018 Harry Potter and the Cursed Child set a new Broadway record for weekly ticket sales for a play, reporting a gross of $2,277,446 for the week ending June 17, 2018.
2018 Russian Oligarch Len Blavatnik’s Access Entertainment bought the 67-year lease remaining on the 3rd oldest theater in London’s West End, the Theatre Royal Haymarket, for about £45 million making it the biggest deal for a British theatre, overshadowing the £26 million ($41.1 million) sale of the Victoria Palace to producer Cameron Mackintosh in 2014.
2019 Ali Stroker became the first Actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award for her debut as Ado Annie in the 2019 revival of Oklahoma!. Previously in 2015, Stroker made history as the first actor in a wheelchair ever to perform on Broadway as part of the cast of the Deaf West revival of Spring Awakening.
2019 On January 15, the larger-than-life Broadway star Carol Channing dies aged 97 of natural causes at Rancho Mirage, California. Ms. Channing originated the role of Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi in the Broadway musical Hello, Dolly! in 1964 as well as Lorelie Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She was Oscar nominated for her performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie.
2019 On February 7, actor Albert Finney dies at 82. A 5-time Academy Award nominee for Best Actor, Mr. Finney appeared on Broadway twice in the 1960s, in John Osborne’s 1964 drama Luther, and in Peter Nichols’ A Day in the Death of Joe Egg in 1968. He was Tony-nominated for both. He portrayed Oliver Warbucks in the 1982 screen adaptation of the Broadway musical Annie.
2019 On July 6, Martin Charnin dies at 84. The Tony-Winning Annie Lyricist passed away in White Plains New York hospital after suffering a minor heart attack days earlier.
2019 On July 31, famed theatrical producer and director Harold Prince dies at 91 in Keflavik, Iceland. Mr. Prince, known as Hal in the theatre trade, remains represented on Broadway with his long-running production of The Phantom of the Opera. But his singular artistic achievement was the groundbreaking string of Stephen Sondheim musicals he staged in the 1970s including Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, and Sweeney Todd, each widely considered to be among the most significant landmarks of musical theatre.
2019 On December 26, the prolific hit Broadway composer of golden age standards such as Hello, Dolly!, MAME and La Cage aux FollesJerry Herman dies aged 88 in Miami, Florida of pulmonary complications.
2020 Beginning in China in January 2020, theatres around the world temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, for health and safety of theatrical companies and audiences alike. On March 12, 2020, all Broadway theatres closed. On March 16, 2020, all West End theatres closed. Closings around the world were announced in stepped conditions, to allow for ticket-buyers to obtain refunds or credits. The expectation is the that theatres within regions that had effective country governance including border shut downs, flight stoppages, mandated quarantines and strictly enforced isolation will reopen in 2020. Theatres in countries that delayed health and safety measures, or whose residents ignored these measures, will likely not begin a phased re-opening until fall 2021.
2020 On March 24, the prolific theatrical writer of gay life, Terrence McNally dies aged 81 in Sarasota, Florida, the first known high-profile theatrical victim of COVID-19. His legacy includes the musicals Ragtime, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The VisitAnastasia and The Full Monty, along with plays such as Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class.
2020 Brian Dennehy dies on April 15, 2020, of cardiac arrest due to sepsis at his home in New Haven, Connecticut. Dennehy won Tony’s for his performances in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in 1999 and Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night in 2003.
2020 In May 2020, The Shanghai Ballet returns to working inside theatres for rehearsals, with expectation to open in late summer, which establishes the global expectation for live theatre. South Korean theatres re-open. Small plays will likely recommence in certain Asian regions in 2020 with advance ticket holder medical screening procedures in place, foyer bottleneck issues sorted, checkerboard seating established, solutions to air-conditioning circulation, theatre disinfecting routines established, and financial viability worked out. If successful, larger plays will follow, and finally musicals and opera, once a proven vaccine in place, domestic consumer safety is at a high level, and international tourists return.


2021 Exciting and fabulous things to come….  since August, South Korea, mainland of China, New Zealand and Queensland, Australia leading the way in recovery with performances returning at 100% occupancy, over a year ahead of the USA and UK.
2021 The Canadian-born Shakespearean actor Christopher Plummer dies on February 5, 2021, He won Tony Awards for his performances in Cyrano and Barrymore, and starred as Captain Von Trapp in the 1965 film adaptation of The Sound of Music.
2021 In May, the New York Governor announced Broadway can be permitted to return with 100% occupancy by mid May.  The Broadway industry is gearing up for a phased Broadway re-opening commencing in mid September with many shows announcing re-opening dates, and advance ticket sales selling fast.  Broadway road tours will also be returning.
2021 In August, the West End partially reopens, with some shows opening and then pausing again, due to COVID-19 issues.
2021 A Tony-winning producer with a taste for serious drama, Elizabeth I. McCann dies on September 9 at age 90 of cancer at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx. Liz produced such works as The Elephant Man; ‘night, Mother; Three Tall Women, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Dresser, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby and Amadeus.
2021 In September, Broadway partially reopens, with some shows opening while some Off-Broadway and touring shows open and pause, due to COVID-19 issues
2021 The Oscar-winning writer Leslie Bricusse dies on October 19. He wrote lyrics for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Victor/Victoria, Jekyll & Hyde, The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, and Stop the World – I Want to Get Off.
2021 The theatre’s most revered and influential Tony and Pulitzer-winning composer-lyricist, Stephen Sondheim dies on November 26 age 91 at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. He changed the face of musical theatre with such works as West Side Story, Gypsy, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park With George, Into the Woods, Assassins, and more.
2021 The 1996 Broadway revival of Chicago holds the record as the longest-running musical revival and the longest-running American musical in Broadway history.
2021 The all-important Christmas and New Year’s weeks, generated just $40 million, down from $99 million before the pandemic.
2022 During the week that ended January 9, only 62% of seats on Broadway were occupied, the lowest attendance since 2003 when musicians went on strike, and a huge drop from January before the pandemic, when 94% of seats were filled during the first week after the holidays.
2022 Tony Award–Winning Set and Costume Designer, Tony Walton dies on March 2 at 87 years old. Ex-husband of Julie Andrews, Mr. Walton’s designs were featured in Broadway productions of Pippin, Chicago, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the ForumAnnie Get Your Gun, Guys and Dolls, and more.
2022 How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying star Robert Morse dies on April 20 at age 90, He was a two-time Tony winner and found later success on TV’s Mad Men.
2022 Legendary star of the stage and the screen, Angela Lansbury passed away at the age of 96 on October 11. The six-time Tony honoree starred on Broadway in Mame, Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, and more.
2023 Raquel Welch dies February 15 at the age of 82. An international sex symbol and film star, she appeared on Broadway in Woman of the Year and Victor/Victoria.
2023 Veteran stage and screen actor who delighted audiences as Tevye in Fiddler on the RoofChaim Topol dies at 87 on March 9. Over the course of his career, Topol appeared, to his estimate, in more than 3,500 Fiddler on the Roof performances from the 1960s to 2009.
2023 The final curtain came down as The Phantom of the Opera closes on April 16, ending Broadway’s longest-running show with gold and silver confetti bursting from its famous chandelier after 13,981 shows since its debut at the Majestic Theatre in 1988.
2023 Australian comedian behind Dame Edna Everage, Barry Humphries, dies at 89 on April 22 in Sydney. Mr. Humphries won a Special Tony Award in 2000 for his Broadway comedy, Dame Edna: The Royal Tour

I originally published in October 1995, now often copied on the net, this is my original theatre history timeline, and growing since with major events.  If you think I’m missing something contact me.

Also see my related pages on Theatre Superstitions, and Brisbane Theatre History.

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