By Robert Viagas
and Christopher Reichheld and Anne Bradley
28 Dec 2013
1926 Twenty-four hours after opening the hit, Peggy-Ann, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart have one of their biggest flops with the musical Betsy, a vehicle for vaudeville performer Belle Baker, which bows tonight at the New Amsterdam Theatre, and creeps out again 39 performances later. Producer Florenz Ziegfeld reportedly didn't like his own show, and expressed his opinion of the score by interpolating an Irving Berlin tune that became a standard: "Blue Skies."
1927 George S. Kaufman & Edna Ferber's comedy The Royal Family opens at the Selwyn Theatre and runs for 196 performances. It's a thinly-disguised portrait of the Barrymore acting dynasty. The play will also have a hit revival with George Grizzard 48 years later, and be adapted as a musical by William Finn.
1934 Birthday of actress Maggie Smith, who will bring a majestic presence to stage and film roles on both sides of the Atlantic. Her Broadway experience begins with New Faces of 1956 and will include Private Lives, Night and Day and Lettice and Lovage the latter of which won her the Tony Award as Best Actress in a Play. She will be given a title by Queen Elizabeth II, and will sometimes be referred to as Dame Maggie Smith.
1938 Thornton Wilder has a flop with his comedy The Merchant of Yonkers, which closes after just 39 performances. He'll have more success with the revised version, retitled The Matchmaker in 1955, and even more success when the latter becomes a musical, Hello, Dolly! in 1964.
1954 Clifford Odets paints a comic picture of the Biblical Noah (of Ark fame) and his wife and kids as a bickering middle-class Jewish family in The Flowering Peach. Menasha Skulnik plays Noah. It will run 135 performances at the Belasco Theatre and be adapted as the musical Two by Two by Martin Charnin and Richard Rodgers. It's Odet's final Broadway play.
1979 The life of Piaf takes the stage at London's Aldwych Theatre. Pam Gems scripted this Royal Shakespeare production about the French chanteuse Edith Piaf. Jane Lapotaire stars. Gems would have another critical hit in 1997 with Stanley, starring Antony Sher at Circle in the Square.
2003 Isabelle Stevenson, chair of the American Theatre Wing and a tireless champion of Broadway, the theatre in general, and the Tony Awards in particular, dies at age 90.
2004 Jerry Orbach, the Tony Award-winning star of Promises, Promises and other musicals, dies at age 69. Widely known as gruff detective Lennie Briscoe on TV's "Law & Order," he created many famous roles in stage musicals, starting as the original El Gallo in The Fantasticks. Other roles would include Billy Flynn in the 1975 Chicago and Julian Marsh in the original 42nd Street.