On this day in theatre history–June 17, 1968–Kenneth Tynan’s musical revue, Oh! Calcutta! opened at the small Off-Broadway venue, the Eden Theatre, on the corner of 12th Street and 2nd Avenue in New York City. It would eventually move to the Belasco Theatre on Broadway, completing its initial run in August of 1972 after 1314 performances. Though poorly received by the critics, the show’s principal distinguishing characteristic–and indeed its main selling point–was the extensive use of nudity. Ten actors (five men and five women) spent most of the two hour performance completely naked in what some critics viewed as a comment on the increasing use of nudity and sex on stage and in cinema during the late 60s, while the rest of us probably just viewed it for the naked bodies. (More importantly, the production continued Broadway’s long-standing love affair with that cleverest of marketing devices known as the exclamation point! Simple one and two-word titles followed by an exclamation point that easily identify a fun MUSICAL! for weary out-of-town tourists.) In addition to work by Tynan, the show included pieces by Jules Feiffer, Sam Shepard and John Lennon. Even Samuel Beckett contributed a short play entitled Breath that was initially used as a prologue, though he soon withdrew the work. Despite its controversy and racy reputation, the production launched the careers of several well-known actors, including Bill Macy, Alan Rachins and Margo Sappington. As successful as this initial run was, defying most critics’ expectations, the 1976 revival at Broadway’s Edison Theatre became one of the most successful and longest running musicals in history, closing in August of 1989 after 5959 performances and proving once again the age-old lesson that Aeschylus taught the world in Prometheus Bound: Cheesy musical revues with ten actors running around naked most of the time sell lots of tickets. (It sounds better in ancient Greek).
- Today in Theatre History–THE FIRST AMERICAN-BORN ACTOR? WHO KNOWS?–March 13, 1790
- Today in Theatre History: WILLIAM WELLS BROWN’S “ESCAPE” LEAPS TO FAME–January 30, 1858
- Today in Theatre History: SHERIDAN’S FIRST PLAY, THE RIVALS, GETS A DO-OVER–January 28, 1775
- Today in Theatre History: OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD WITH DOROTHY AND IMOGENE THE COW–January 21, 1903
- Today in Theatre History: GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, “A THIRD RATE IBSEN”–January 9, 1905
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