June 25th – TKTS

1973

Today in 1973, the Theatre Development Fund (a non-profit organisation designed to aid the struggling New York theatre business) opening the first discount ticket booth in New York City.

The First TKTS booth in NYC

The First TKTS booth in NYC

Broadway was a very different place in the 1960s and 1970s. Musicals were losing popularity, fewer people could afford the legitimate theatre and the area around Times Square saw more cheap cinemas and sex shops than long-running extravaganzas. In the 1920’s there were 70-80 theatres in the Broadway area, by 1969 there were just 36.

In the historic Duffy Square, part of the Times Square district, the TKTS booth opened after being built with a budget of just $5000, offering same day tickets discounted by up to 50%

Forty years later they have sold over 58 million tickets to theatregoers and recently underwent a major renovation and rebuild, this time costing closer to $19 million.

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March 29th – Brynner and the King

1951

Today marked the opening of the new Broadway musical adapted from the 1944 novel by Margaret Landon, “The King and I”.

Yul Brynner & Gertrude Lawrence in the original 1951 production of The King & I

Yul Brynner & Gertrude Lawrence in the original 1951 production of The King & I

Starring theatrical icon Gertrude Lawrence, whose health was already deteriorating (she would die less than 18 months later of cancer), and a less well known theatre actor named Yul Brynner.

Composer Richard Rodgers described Brynner’s audition:

“He came out…and sat cross-legged on the stage. He had a guitar and he hit his guitar one whack and gave out with this unearthly yell and sang some heathenish sort of thing, and Oscar and I looked at each other and said, “Well, that’s it.”

Brynner was horrified at being instructed to shave his already thinning hair but this quickly became his trademark look for the rest of his life.

He went on to play the role of King Mongkut no less than 4625 times with many different Anna’s until 1985 and on film with Deborah Kerr.

April 6 – The Birth of the Tonys

Tony Award

Tony Award

1947

Today marked the very first American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards ceremony.

On the evening of Easter Sunday 1947 in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria in New York, the American Theatre Wing established an awards program to celebrate excellence in the theatre in an evening of dinner, dancing and entertainment by some of the best in the business.

They were named for the dynamic war time leader of the Wing, actress, director and producer Antoinette Perry and the evening was presided over by her successor Vera Allen Perry. Eleven Tonys were presented and there were eight special awards, including one for Vincent Sardi, proprietor of the famous theatrical haunt on West 44th Street. Among the winners that night were José Ferrer, Arthur Miller, Ingrid Bergman and Agnes de Mille.

The idea took off and this year will be the 68th annual awards.

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.