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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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

May 30th – Murder in Deptford

1593

Tonight in a drinking house owned by a widow Eleanor Bull in Deptford , three miles from London, four men are spending the evening.

A witness would later testify that an argument broke out between two of the men over payment of the bill. One man grabbed a dagger and attacked the other giving him two head wounds. In retaliation the injured man stabbed the other straight through the right eye killing him instantly.

When the authorities arrived, the dead man was identified as the famous actor and playwright Christopher Marlowe.

An anonymous portrait in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, believed to show Christopher Marlowe

An anonymous portrait in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, believed to show Christopher Marlowe

Marlowe was hugely admired by his colleagues and critics alike, penning such long-standing works as Dr Faustus and The Jew of Malta, and was a contemporary and friend of Shakespeare.

Conspiracy theories still abound about his death, including that it might have been over a woman. It seems highly likely that Marlowe had been recruited by Elizabeth I’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham to join his immense and complex network bent on protecting the Queen and her church from heresy and attack.

Marlowe was known to have a volatile temper and many of his escapades, including the production of counterfeit coins, had been brushed under the carpet or somehow “absolved” by the government.

A few weeks before his death he had even been arrested himself for possessing a heretical tract however he was murdered before any action was taken against him.

His body was buried in an unmarked grave in the church of St Nicholas in Deptford. In 2002 the Marlowe Society gifted a memorial window to be placed in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.

 

May 23rd – Larson’s Legacy

2002

At tonight’s Outer Critics Circle Awards, the musical “tick..tick..Boom!” written by Jonathan Larson wins for Outstanding Off Broadway Musical, eight years after his death.

Jonathan Larson who died in 1996, aged 35

Jonathan Larson who died in 1996, aged 35

Larson, noted for writing about social issues such as homophobia, racism and addition, was the genius behind the musical phenomenon “Rent”, a modern re-working of “La Boheme” set in New York.

“tick…tick…Boom!” is largely autobiographical and Larson started performing it as a solo piece in 1990. He died on the morning that “Rent” was to open off-Broadway in 1996 and shortly afterwards it was revised by playwright David Auburn as a three-hander and premiered in 2001.

It has since been performed all over the US and in London.

Larson has posthumously received three Tony Awards, two Drama Desk awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

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.

May 19th – All the Kings Men

1603

Today a royal patent was issued by James I of England naming his official licenced troupe of actors, The Kings Men.

The company included such popular actors as “Richard Burbage, William Shakespeare, Augustine Phillips, John Heminges, Henry Condell, William Sly, Robert Armin, Richard Cowley… and the rest of their associates”.

The nine honoured names became Grooms of the Chambers and were presented with four and a half yards of red cloth each to wear for the Coronation procession the following year.

globe-theatre-london-mapAll players had to be licenced following a proclamation from Elizabeth I in 1559 and the groups of informal travelling players were replaced by official touring companies.

Shakespeare belonged to one or other of these troupes through most of his career, acting and writing at the Globe and the Rose theatres.

The Kings Men were a big hit working gruelling schedules in their first two seasons after which they had to take on more actors.

In 1642 during the Civil War, all the play houses were closed and the Kings Men disbanded. An attempt was made to reform after the Restoration but times had changed. Women were on the stage, open air theatres were out of fashion and the old ways and old actors were no longer needed.

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.