115 years ago (1903)
The Iroquois Theatre in Chicago is devastated by fire during a matinee performance of Eddie Foy in Mr. Bluebeard. Nearly 600 die in the blaze, the worst theatre fire in U.S. history, when a calcium light sparks a fire and the asbestos curtain doesn’t come down far enough to protect the audience. The theatre’s owner is convicted of manslaughter for his failure to follow proper safety precautions.
90 years ago (1928)
’Tis the season to be op’ning. On Christmas Day, Broadway unwraps eight new productions, marking one of the Great White Way’s biggest nights. The shows are Cyrano de Bergerac, Falstaff, Ruth Draper, Houseboat on the Styx, The Red Robe, Brothers, Sakura, and Back Seat Drivers. All are premieres except Cyrano, in the play’s third revival since its first staging on the Rialto in 1899.
80 years ago (1938)
After completing his B.A. at the University of Iowa, 27-year-old Mississippi native Thomas Lanier Williams moves to New Orleans, where he will rechristen himself Tennessee. After securing a modest room in the French Quarter, he writes to his mother, “This is most fascinating place I’ve ever been.” The Crescent City becomes the setting for many of his works, including A Streetcar Named Desire.
65 years ago (1953)
Miriam Colón makes her Broadway debut in Janes Bowles’s play In the Summer House (also the writer’s first Main Stem production). Colón, the first person from Puerto Rico to be part of the Actor’s Studio, will go on to found the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre in New York City in 1967. She’ll go on to receive an Obie for lifetime achievement in 1992 as well as a 2014 National Medal of Arts.
45 years ago (1973)
At UC Santa Barbara, the groundbreaking experimental troupe the Open Theater gives its final public performance, Nightwalk, concluding a tour that also includes Terminal and The Mutation Show, before reuniting for a TV taping of Nightwalk later in the month. During the London run earlier in the year, founder Joseph Chaikin calls the piece a comic journey “through the different worlds of sleep.”
20 years ago (1998)
Bernadette Peters stars in Annie Get Your Gun at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center, whose Broadway transfer will become the only revival of a pre-1950 piece to run more than 1,000 performances, with its 1,045 Main Stem performances nearly matching the original 1946 staging’s 1,147. The show will also pick up two Tonys, one for Best Musical and a Best Actress in a Musical prize for Peters.