June 23rd – London Assures

1970

As the story goes, Trevor Nunn spotted two young lovers among a cast of actors getting off a plane returning from Australia.

He liked the look of them so much that he cast them as the romantic leads in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s revival of Dion Boucicault’s “London Assurance” which opened today in 1970 at the Aldwych Theatre.

The show itself, directed by Ronald Eyre, was a huge success – transferring first to the New Theatre and then Broadway’s Palace Theatre.

And the young lovers?  Judi Dench and Michael Williams, who got married eight months later in February 1971.

Judi Dench & Michael Williams in the 1970 production of London Assurance

Judi Dench & Michael Williams in the 1970 production of London Assurance

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May 15th – The New Covent Garden Opens

1858

The new building which still forms the nucleus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, but at the time was still the Covent Garden Theatre, reopened after being destroyed by fire two years earlier.

The first performance on May 15th was Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots which was an extremely popular work at the time and was performed to an overflowing house, reportedly with at least 300 more patrons than the seating could hold.

E M Barry's 1858 facade as it looks today

E M Barry’s 1858 facade as it looks today

The new theatre was said to be the same size as La Scala in Milan which was at the time the largest theatre in Europe. Designed by architect E. M. Barry, the grand new building sat next to the Floral Hall, and faced onto Bow Street and Hart Street. The costs went over budget, coming in at £70,000 which had been raised by loans from the great and good including the Duke of Bedford and even Barry himself.

Until the 1840s, Her Majestys Theatre in the Haymarket had been the centre of ballet and opera but after some management disputes, the conductor and his company transferred their allegiance to Covent Garden. In 1858, the Royal English Opera Company also transferred from Drury Lane to Covent Garden and in 1892 the theatre official became the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

March 23rd – Wyndham

1837

Charles Wyndham aged 22 as US Army Surgeon

Charles Wyndham aged 22 as US Army Surgeon

Today, born to Liverpool doctor Robert James Culverwell, a son Charles.

Despite being educated for a medical career, young Charles was to ultimately change his surname to Wyndham and become one of the best known actor-managers in British theatre history.

Lured to the stage by performing in local amateur dramatics, he made his professional debut alongside Ellen Terry in 1862. After moving to America he struggled to find work and returned to medicine. With America in the throes of the Civil War, surgeons were heavily in demand and he served in several of the major battles.

The stage however was too strong a draw and he returned to England to develop a solid career in the popular comedies and melodramas of the mid-late 19th century. He was best known for his roles as Charles Surface in Sheridan’s “School for Scandal” and in James Albery’s “Pink Dominoes” .

In 1876 he took over the Criterion Theatre to much success and in 1899 built his own, the Wyndham’s Theatre. In 1903 his New Theatre completed the trio.

In 1916 after the death of his first wife he married his leading lady and business partner of 30 years, Mary Moore, and is buried with them both in Hampstead Cemetery.

Wyndham's Theatre

Wyndham’s Theatre

February 24th – Drury Lane Burns

1809

 

Drury Lane Theatre which perished after only 15 years

Drury Lane Theatre which perished after only 15 years

Today the new Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, which had been rebuilt just 15 years earlier at a cost of £80,000, burnt to the ground.

The old theatre had been demolished in 1791, with the company which included such luminaries as Sarah Siddons, John Philip Kemble, Dora Jordan and Eliza Farren, relocating temporarily to the Haymarket.

The theatre had been reborn as a vast “wilderness of a place” accommodating more than 3600 spectators. Problems arose when the actors on stage could no longer be heard in the cavernous space. Productions gave way to more and more elaborate spectacle on stage to compensate for the loss of connection between actor and audience which had been such a key feature of theatre at that time.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Productions became more and more expensive and increased ticket sales failed to cover the costs. The playwright Richard Brindsley Sheridan who owned and managed the theatre was already heavily in debt and when this massive building burned down in 1809, Sheridan was ruined.

He was famously reported to have been found sipping wine outside the burning wreckage and quoted to say “A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.”

February 20th – No Sex Please..

New York Playbill for "No Sex Please, We're British"

New York Playbill for “No Sex Please, We’re British”

1973

The hit British comedy farce “No Sex Please, We’re British” opened in New York at the Ritz Theatre on West 48th Street, only to close just 12 days later after 16 performances.

It was a monumental flop, panned by critics and audiences alike, highlighting the sometimes un-bridgeable gap between American and British humour.

The London show however ran for 6,761 performances making it the longest running comedy ever.

In 1973 a film version was made starring Ronnie Corbett. However there were so many alterations to the script, characters and plot that stars such as Michael Crawford who created the role of Brian Runnicles on stage, declined to take part.

January 30th – A Prince Among Men

1928Image

Today Hal Prince, legendary theatre director, producer and performer was born in New York. He was adopted by stockbroker Milton A. Prince and Blanche Stern

Starting out as an errand boy for Broadway producer George Abbot, he was drafted into the US Army in 1950, before returning to stage manage “Wonderful Town” in 1954.  He went on to produce and direct over 50 stage productions and has won an astonishing 21 Tony Awards. In 2006 he was given the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.

His producing debut was for The Pajama Game in 1954 and his shows include West Side Story, Damn Yankees, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Cabaret, Follies, Company, A Little Night Music, Candide, Fiddler On The Roof, Sweeney Todd, The Phantom Of The Opera and Evita.

Prince collaborated with rising young composers including Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber and has been both celebrated and criticised for daring subject matter and his unconventional treatment of it.

All you need as a young person is one person who you respect to say: “You can do this. Do it”. ~ Hal Prince.

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January 23rd – After The Fall

1964

Arthur Miller & Marilyn Monroe

Arthur Miller & Marilyn Monroe

Today Arthur Miller’s new autobiographical play, “After The Fall”, exploring his life and failed marriage with Marilyn Monroe opens at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre on West 4th St, New York.

Starring Jason Robards Jnr and Barbara Loden and directed by Elia Kazan, it ran for 208 performances and won Barbara Loden a Theatre World award and a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play, as well as a Tony nomination for Jason Robards Jnr.

The play takes place inside the mind of Quentin, a New York intellectual who tries to decide whether to marry his latest love by re-examining his past. It was unpopular with critics for its non-linear format and for the all too accurate portrayal of the character Maggie’s suicide, uncomfortably similar to Monroe’s.  Miller even fell out of favour with one of his biggest admirers, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, who found his lack of loyalty to Marilyn’s memory highly distasteful.