On this day in theatre history–August 23–in 1852 the world’s first stage adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, made its Broadway premiere at Purdy’s New National Theatre on Chatham Street, near Park Row. This was not, as many believe, the famous Aiken version which opened in Troy, New York, in September of that year. This was a short, one-hour long adaptation by C.W. Taylor that omitted key characters Eva, Topsy and St. Clair. It also had a happy ending with Uncle Tom being freed. Despite its many shortcomings, this original version contained the first staging of the famed ice flow scene in which Eliza makes a harrowing escape across a partially frozen Ohio River–a scene that would become standard in most subsequent variations of the play. Significantly, the most important element of the evening’s entertainment was not the play itself, which was roundly criticized as being an inferior piece of writing, but a popular rope-dancer named “Herr Cline” who filled in between scenes and was “every night greeted with cheers from audiences who admire[d] his daring and elegant feats.” Also of note was a farcial afterpiece called “The Mummy” that featured the popular entertainer, T.D. Rice, best known for his “Jim Crow” blackface character. Within a year, Taylor’s version was long forgotten and Charles Aiken’s adaptation became the most popular play in American history. Nonetheless, the first staged adaptation of Mrs. Stowe’s novel occurred on this day in 1852.
- 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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