This Week in Theatre History: March 1-6

POSTED March 9, 2021

Regarding this last week in theatre history there were the birthdays of two theater stars, the opening of a musical based on an 80s film, and the 1,000th performance of a well-loved jukebox musical.

First up on March 1, 1944, a midnight curfew was enacted in New York City during World War II in order to conserve energy and resources. The law outlined that all entertainment industries would have to close, including Broadway. Despite this, exceptions were made as Broadway was able to dim their lights instead of fully shutting down. Later in the war, the curfew was extended to 1 am. Another reason for blackouts during war is to prevent enemy aircraft from identifying targets including ships and other aircraft.

Years later on March 2, 1975, “The National Lampoon Show” opened at the Palladium in New York. The show took the ideas of the original “National Lampoon Radio Hour” which was a comedy radio show that ran from 1973 to 1974. Writers reported the show involved crude and satirical humor similar “Oh! Calcutta!” a well-known raunchy show. The humor surprisingly attacked social and political issues. Gilda Radner, John Belushi, and Bill Murray all starred in the event that ran for 23 weeks.

30 years later on March 3, 2005, the musical “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” by David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane opened on Broadway. The musical is based on the 1988 film of the same name where two con men attempt to sway a heiress out of $50,000. The show appeared the previous year for the first time in San Diego but quickly moved to previews on Broadway. Reviews were mixed but the later West End production received more favorable reviews and one found it more entertaining than the original film. 

Next on March 4, 2004, the jukebox musical “Mamma Mia” celebrated its 1,000th performance on Broadway. The musical first opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on October 18, 2001. The show takes songs from Swedish pop group ABBA and spins them into a story where a young bride is attempting to find her true father so he can walk her down the aisle. To celebrate the occasion, a few days later the cast album of the show was certified platinum. 

Way earlier on March 5, 1948, British singer and actress Elaine Paige was born. Paige first appeared professionally on stage at 16 and four years later debuted on West End in the 1968 production of “Hair”. She has originated several titular characters in London theatre including Grizabella in “Cats”, Florence Vassy in “Chess”, and Eva Perón in “Evita”. Due to her extreme success in British theatre, she is remarked as the First Lady of British Theatre. Her awards support this as she’s received the Officer of the Order of the British Empire honor for her efforts in the arts.

Only a day later on March 6, 1948, musical composer Stephan Schwartz was born in New York. Schwartz wrote the music and lyrics for Broadway shows including “Pippin”, “Godspell”, and most famously “Wicked”. In addition to foundational musicals, Schwartz wrote the lyrics for films like “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, “Pocahontas”, and “The Prince of Egypt”. While winning many major awards like Oscars, Grammys, and Drama Desk Awards, Schwartz has only gotten a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the American Theater Hall of Fame.

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