July 12, 1993 on the West End stage: Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard is a musical with book and lyrics by Don Black, Christopher Hampton (with additional lyrics by Amy Powers) and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Based on Billy Wilder‘s Academy Award-winning 1950 film of the same title, the plot revolves around Norma Desmond, a faded star of the silent screen era, living in the past in her decaying mansion on the fabled Los Angeles street. When young screenwriter Joe Gillis accidentally crosses her path, she sees in him an opportunity to make her comeback to the big screen. Romance and tragedy follow.

The musical has had several long runs internationally and also enjoyed extensive tours. However, it has been the subject of several legal battles and it ultimately lost money due to its extraordinary running costs.

The original West End production, directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Bob Avian, with costumes from Anthony Powell, opened on 12 July 1993 at the Adelphi Theatre. The cast featured Patti LuPone as Norma Desmond, Kevin Anderson as Joe Gillis, Meredith Braun as Betty Schaefer, and Daniel Benzali as Norma’s ex-husband, Max.

Billy Wilder and his wife Audrey were joined by Nancy Olson, who had played Betty Schaefer in the original film, at the opening night performance. Of it, Wilder observed, “The best thing they did was leave the script alone,” and of Patti LuPone he exclaimed, “She’s a star from the moment she walks on stage”.

The show closed for three weeks, re-opening on 19 April 1994, revamped to follow the Los Angeles production, with a second official “opening”. The revamped musical had a new song, “Every Movie’s A Circus”, a new set, and new stars, Betty Buckley and John Barrowman. Michael Bauer, who had originally played DeMille, replaced Benzali as Max, a role he played until the end of the London run (and subsequently on the UK tour and in the BBC concert). Buckley and the production garnered rave reviews. David Lister of The Independent, for example wrote: “The show looked an improvement on the one that got decidedly mixed reviews last summer.” [Wikipedia]

July 7, 1947: West End debut for ‘Annie Get Your Gun’

Annie Get Your Gun is a musical with lyrics and music by Irving Berlin and a book by Dorothy Fields and her brother Herbert Fields. The story is a fictionalized version of the life of Annie Oakley (1860–1926), a sharpshooter who starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, and her romance with sharpshooter Frank E. Butler (1847–1926).

The show premiered on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre on May 16, 1946 and ran for 1,147 performances. It starred Ethel Merman as Annie, Ray Middleton as Frank Butler, Lea Penman as Dolly Tate, Art Bernett as Foster Wilson, Harry Bellaver as Chief Sitting Bull, Kenneth Bowers as Tommy Keeler, Marty May as Charlie Davenport and William O’Neal as Buffalo Bill.

Its West End premiere, on June 7, 1947, was at the London Coliseum where it ran for 1,304 performances. Dolores Gray played Annie with Bill Johnson as Frank.

n 1986, a David Gilmore Chichester Festival Theatre production, with American rock star Suzi Quatro as Annie and Eric Flynn as Frank, opened at the Chichester Festival Theatre. It moved to the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, and then to the Aldwych Theatre in London’s West End where it played from July 29 to October 4. The cast recorded an album and Quatro’s songs “I Got Lost in His Arms”/”You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” were released as a single.

May 3, 1978: Little orphan Annie appears on the West End stage

Annie is a Broadway musical based upon the popular Harold Gray comic strip Little Orphan Annie, with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and book by Thomas Meehan. The original Broadway production opened in 1977 and ran for nearly six years, setting a record for the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon Theatre). It spawned numerous productions in many countries, as well as national tours, and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. The musical’s songs “Tomorrow” and “It’s the Hard Knock Life” are among its most popular musical numbers.

Annie-1978The musical premiered in the West End at the Victoria Palace Theatre. Andrea McArdle, the original Broadway Annie, played the title role for 40 performances. British 12-year-old Ann Marie Gwatkin was also cast in the title role and appeared on the Original London cast recording. The Opening night cast and the original sound track of children were Claire Hood, Jane Collins, Dawn Napier, Annette Mason, Helen Stephenson, Jackie Ekers and Linda Brewis. Ann Marie Gwatkin alternated with Christine Hyland and four other Annies were cast at this point: Anne O’Rourke, Jacinta Whyte, Helen Thorne, Rosa Michelle who were to play the role over the next year. Following this Ann Marie Gwatkin and Jackie Ekers shared the title role followed by many other casts of Annie. Miss Hannigan was originally played by Sheila Hancock, and later by Maria Charles and Stella Moray; Daddy Warbucks was played by Stratford Johns and later by Charles West, with Deborah Clarke playing Pepper in the first year and Melanie Grant playing Molly.

Annie closed on 28 November 1981, after 1,485 performances.

The musical transferred to the Bristol Hippodrome for a special Christmas season before touring Britain. Because of strict British employment laws for juvenile actors, a succession of actresses took on the lead role every four months. One of the last girls to perform the role at the Victoria Palace before the show went on tour was 10-year-old Claudia Bradley from Leeds who was featured on a 1981 BBC programme called Fame.

The show was revived at the Victoria Palace, running from 30 September 1998 to 28 February 1999. It starred Lesley Joseph and then Lily Savage (the female alter ego of comedian Paul O’Grady) as Miss Hannigan and Kevin Colson as Warbucks. The young girls who played Annie were Charlene Barton, Tasha Gold, Libby Gore and Sophie McShera. [Wikipedia]

April 30, 1958: My Fair Lady comes to London

My_Fair_Lady-1958-progMy Fair Lady is a musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The story concerns Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from professor Henry Higgins, a phoneticist, so that she may pass as a lady. The original Broadway, London and film versions all starred Rex Harrison.

The musical’s 1956 Broadway production was a notable critical and popular success. It set a record for the longest run of any show on Broadway up to that time. It was followed by a hit London production, a popular film version, and numerous revivals. My Fair Lady has frequently been called “the perfect musical”.

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The West End production, in which Harrison, Julie Andrews, Robert Coote, and StanleyMy_Fair_Lady-1958-book Holloway reprised their roles from the original Broadway production, opened  at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, where it ran for five and a half years (2,281 performances). Edwardian musical comedy star Zena Dare made her last appearance in the musical as Mrs. Higgins. Leonard Weir played Freddy. A special Gala Performance was held on 5 May 1958, attended by Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Alexandra. Harrison left the London cast in May 1959, followed by Andrews in August 1959 and Holloway in October 1959.  [Wikipedia]

April 30, 1947: Oklahoma! takes to the London stage

Oklahoma!-1947Oklahoma! is the first musical written by the team of composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical is based on Lynn Riggs’ 1931 play, Green Grow the Lilacs. Set in Oklahoma Territory outside the town of Claremore in 1906, it tells the story of cowboy Curly McLain and his romance with farm girl Laurey Williams. A secondary romance concerns cowboy Will Parker and his flirtatious fiancée, Ado Annie.

The original Broadway production opened on March 31, 1943. It was a box-office smash and ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances, later enjoying award-winning revivals, national tours, foreign productions and an Academy Award-winning 1955 film adaptation. It has long been a popular choice for school and community productions. Rodgers and Hammerstein won a special Pulitzer Prize for Oklahoma! in 1944.

This musical, building on the innovations of the earlier Show Boat, epitomized the development of the “book musical”, a musical play where the songs and dances are fully integrated into a well-made story with serious dramatic goals that are able to evoke genuine emotions other than laughter. In addition, Oklahoma! features musical themes, or motifs, that recur throughout the work to connect the music and story. A fifteen-minute “dream ballet” reflects Laurey’s struggle with her feelings about two men, Curly and Jud.

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Oklahoma! was the first of a post-war wave of Broadway musicals to reach London’s West End. It starred Howard Keel (then known as Harold Keel) and Betty Jane Watson, opening at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane to rave press reviews and sell out houses, running for 1,543 performances. A pre-London run opened a day late at the Manchester Opera House on April 18, 1947, after the ship carrying the cast, scenery, and costumes ran aground on a sandbank off Southampton. [Wikipedia]

April 24, 1968: “Man of La Mancha” makes debut in London

Man_of_La_Mancha-1968Man of La Mancha is a 1964 musical with a book by Dale Wasserman, lyrics by Joe Darion, and music by Mitch Leigh. It is adapted from Wasserman’s non-musical 1959 teleplay I, Don Quixote, which was in turn inspired by Miguel de Cervantes and his seventeenth-century masterpiece Don Quixote. It tells the story of the “mad” knight Don Quixote as a play within a play, performed by Cervantes and his fellow prisoners as he awaits a hearing with the Spanish Inquisition. The work is not and does not pretend to be a faithful rendition of either Cervantes’ life or of Don Quixote. Wasserman complained repeatedly about taking the work as a musical version of Don Quixote.

The original 1965 Broadway production ran for 2,328 performances and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The musical has been revived four times on Broadway, becoming one of the most enduring works of musical theatre.

The principal song, “The Impossible Dream“, became a standard. The musical has played in many other countries around the world, with productions in Dutch, French (translation by Jacques Brel), German, Hebrew, Irish, Japanese, Korean, Icelandic, Gujarati, Uzbek, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Serbian, Slovenian, Swahili, Finnish, Ukrainian and nine distinctly different dialects of the Spanish language.

Man of La Mancha was first performed at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut in 1965 and had its New York premiere on the thrust stage of the ANTA Washington Square Theatre in 1965.Man_of_La_Mancha-1968-Keith_Michell

The original West End London production was at the Piccadilly Theatre,  running for 253
performances. Keith Michell (pictured) starred, with Joan Diener reprising her original role and Bernard Spear as Sancho. [Wikipedia]

April 21, 1998: Rent debuts on the London stage

Rent is a rock musical with music, lyrics and book by Jonathan Larson, loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème. It tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and create a life in New York City’s East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.

The musical was first seen in a workshop production at New York Theatre Workshop in 1993. This same Off-Broadway theatre was also the musical’s initial home following its official 1996 opening. The show’s creator, Jonathan Larson, died suddenly of an aortic dissection, believed to have been caused by undiagnosed Marfan syndrome, the night before the Off-Broadway premiere. The show won a Pulitzer Prize, and the production was a hit. The musical moved to Broadway’s larger Nederlander Theatre on April 29, 1996 where the show gained critical acclaim and won a Tony Award for Best Musical among other awards.

Rent-1998The show made its UK premiere on at the West End’s Shaftesbury Theatre and officially opened on May 12, 1998. The original cast included Krysten Cummings as Mimi Marquez, Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Angel Schunard, Bonny Lockhart as Benjamin Coffin III, Jesse L. Martin as Tom Collins, Adam Pascal as Roger Davis, Anthony Rapp as Mark Cohen, and Jessica Tezier as Maureen Johnson. The show closed on October 30, 1999 after one-and-a-half years. Limited revivals took place at the Prince of Wales Theatre from December 4, 2001 to January 6, 2002; December 6, 2002 to March 1, 2003 (featuring Adam Rickett as Mark and Caprice as Maureen). There was also a successful production for a limited run in Manchester in 2006 with an additional ‘goodbye’ performance in 2008 from the Manchester cast.

Rent-1998

The Broadway production closed on September 7, 2008 after a 12-year run of 5,123 performances. On February 14, 2016, the musical Wicked surpassed Rent’s number of performances with a 2pm matinee, pushing Rent from the tenth- to eleventh-longest-running Broadway show. The production grossed over $280 million.

The success of the show led to several national tours and numerous foreign productions. In 2005, it was adapted into a motion picture featuring most of the original cast members. [Wikipedia]

April 17: ‘Aspects of Love’ opens

Aspects_Of_Love-1986-Programme1989: Aspects of Love is a musical with a book and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart. It is famous for the song “Love Changes Everything.”

Based on the novella of the same name by David Garnett, the piece focuses on the romantic entanglements of actress Rose Vibert, her admiring fan Alex Dillingham, his underage cousin Jenny, his uncle George, and George’s mistress, sculptor Giulietta Trapani, over a period of 17 years. The “aspects” of the title refers to the many forms that love takes in the show: love between couples, both as romantic infatuation and as married people; children and their parents; and hints of same-sex attraction (Giulietta and Rose).

Lloyd Webber was introduced to Aspects of Love in 1979, when he and Tim Rice were approached to write a few songs for a proposed film version. When nothing came of it, he suggested to Trevor Nunn that they collaborate on a stage adaptation. In 1983, they presented a cabaret of numbers they had written, but it was not until five years later that they tackled the project in earnest. For the finished project, Lloyd Webber used at least five of the tunes he had written for the 1986 one-act musical Cricket, which he had written with Tim Rice.

The West End production, directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Gillian Lynne,Stage-04-17-1989 opened this day in 1989 at the Prince of Wales Theatre, where it ran for 1,325 performances. The original cast included Ann Crumb as Rose Vibert, Michael Ball as Alex Dillingham, Kevin Colson as George Dillingham, Kathleen Rowe McAllen as Giulietta Trapani and Diana Morrison as Jenny Dillingham. Sarah Brightman, Barrie Ingham, and Michael Praed were among the replacements later in the run. Roger Moore was due to star as George in the production but left two weeks before opening night. He later stated in an interview that he was unable to cope with the technical side of singing in Aspects of Love, and that the production required someone with experience of orchestras. Following his departure, understudy Kevin Colson took over the role.

April 13: Streisand brings Funny Fanny to the West End

Funny_Girl-19661966: Funny Girl is a 1963 musical, which opened on Broadway in 1964, with a book by Isobel Lennart, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Bob Merrill. The semi-biographical plot is based on the life and career of Broadway star, film actress and comedian Fanny Brice featuring her stormy relationship with entrepreneur and gambler Nick Arnstein. Its original title was My Man.

The musical was produced by Ray Stark, who was Brice’s son-in-law via his marriage to her daughter Frances, and starred Barbra Streisand. The production was nominated for eight Tony Awards but, facing tough competition from Hello, Dolly!, it failed to win in any categories.

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Streisand reprised her role in the West End production at the Prince of Wales Theatre on this day in 1966, directed by Lawrence Kasha. When Streisand became pregnant and had to drop out of the show, her understudy, Lisa Shane, wife of The Italian Job director Peter Collinson, took over, and continued to perform until the show closed.

April 11: Pygmalion opens in London, and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Born

1914: Pygmalion is a play by George Bernard Shaw, named after a Greek mythological
figure. It was first presented on stage to the public in at the Hofburg Theatre in Vienna on 16 October 1913, in a German translation.  Its first New York production opened on 24 March 1914 at the German-language Irving Place Theatre. It opened in London on this day in 1914, at Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s ‘His Majesty’s Theatre’ and starred Mrs. Patrick Campbell (pictured) as Eliza and Tree as Higgins, running for 118 performances. Shaw directed the actors through tempestuous rehearsals often punctuated by at least one of the two storming out of the theatre in a rage.

Professor of phonetics Henry Higgins makes a bet that he can train a bedraggled Cockney Stage-04-11-1914flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to pass for a duchess at an ambassador’s garden party by teaching her to assume a veneer of gentility, the most important element of which, he believes, is impeccable speech. The play is a sharp lampoon of the rigid British class system of the day and a commentary on women’s independence.

In ancient Greek mythology, Pygmalion fell in love with one of his sculptures, which then came to life. The general idea of that myth was a popular subject for Victorian era English playwrights, including one of Shaw’s influences, W. S. Gilbert, who wrote a successful play based on the story called Pygmalion and Galatea that was first presented in 1871. Shaw would also have been familiar with the burlesque version, Galatea, or Pygmalion Reversed. Shaw’s play has been adapted numerous times, most notably as the musical My Fair Lady and its film version.

Shaw mentioned that the character of Professor Henry Higgins was inspired by several British professors of phonetics: Alexander Melville Bell, Alexander J. Ellis, Tito Pagliardini, but above all, the cantankerous Henry Sweet

1967: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, an absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy by Tom Stoppard opened at the National Theatre in London, following an original 1964 one-act incarnation entitled Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Meet King Lear and an expanded version under the current name staged at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1966.

John Stride played Rosencrantz and Edward Petherbridge as Guildenstern.  “Waiting For God” actor Graham Crowden (1922-2010) appeared as The Player, and John McEnery played Hamlet.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

As well as playing on Broadway there has been a radio adaptation featuring Edward Hardwicke (1932-2011, Watson to Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes), Freddie Jones (currently in Emmerdale) and Martin Jarvis.  Although MGM acquired the film rights in 1968, a film version did not appear until 1990, directed by Stoppard himself.  It starred Gary Oldman as Rosencrantz, Tim Roth as Guildenstern, Richard Dreyfuss (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) as the Player, and featured Ian Richardson (1934-2007, House Of Cards) and Iain Glen (Jack Taylor).