"Morning's at Seven" has one of the oddest histories of any American play.
It was virtually unknown until 1978, nearly 40 years after it was written. Its original Broadway run, in 1939, was a flop. A regional theater in Illinois staged it in 1978, and some Broadway big shots happened to see that production and liked it. They brought it to Broadway, where it became a massive and surprising hit in 1980, running for 564 performances and winning Tony and Drama Desk awards.
An acclaimed revival in 2002 at the Lincoln Center had a successful limited run with an all-star cast, including Frances Sternhagen, Estelle Parsons, Stephen Tobolowsky, Buck Henry, Christopher Lloyd, Piper Laurie and Julie Hagerty.
Since 1980, local and regional theaters around the country have turned "Morning's at Seven" -- the only well-known work by playwright Paul Osborn -- into a reliable hit that's popular with audiences, critics and actors.
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The once-forgotten flop has become a classic of American theater. It opens this week at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, where it will be the first Manatee Players show in the Bradenton Kiwanis Studio Theater this season. (That's the smaller of the two spaces in the performing arts center. A very fun production of "Dames at Sea" is currently running in the larger Stone Hall.) The play, which takes its title from a line in a Robert Browning poem ("Morning's at seven, God's in his heaven, All's right with the world") revolves around four small-town sisters. They're getting older and decide to make some life changes before it's too late. Their decision, and the ramifications it has on their family, are the impetus for the play's bittersweet comedy.
Details: Sept. 18-Oct. 5, Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W. Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $26. Information: 941-748-5875, manateeplayers.com.
-- Marty Clear