New York, NY — May 11, 2023 — To begin at the beginning…92NY’s Unterberg Poetry Center celebrates the ninth annual International Dylan Thomas Day (on May 14) by sharing video of an acclaimed 2014 performance of Thomas’ timeless “play for voices” – Under Milk Wood – starring actor Michael Sheen and an all-Welsh cast.
The video will be available on 92NY’s website starting on May 14, and through May 21.
Thomas, the late great Welsh poet, premiered Under Milk Wood with a cast of five on 92NY’s stage 70 years ago, on May 14, 1953. He put the finishing touches on the play in 92NY’s green room – and legend has it that as he handed out parts to the cast, he gave just one directive: “Love the words.” The Poetry Center was also the site of Thomas’ first U.S. reading in 1950, and it was his home base for readings from 1950-53. Many of the readings were sold-out affairs, and included luminaries such as e.e. cummings.
The 2014 production of Under Milk Wood was directed by Michael Sheen and it featured him in the lead role as “First Voice.” Fellow cast members included Kate Burton, Karl Johnson, Mark Lewis Jones, Francine Morgan, and Matthew Aubrey.
The performance – presented as part of the Dylan Thomas centenary celebration – was broadcast live on BBC Wales. For Sheen, who is Welsh and well known for his roles in Frost/Nixon, The Queen and Masters of Sex, among other films and television shows, it was a unique opportunity.
He said at the time: “It’s a real honor and an absolute thrill to be able to perform Under Milk Wood in this very special year and on the stage that it first found its voice,” he said. “And the live radio broadcast is an opportunity to celebrate him and his work in both New York—a city that became so important to Dylan—and, at the same time, in Wales, his inspiration and home.”
Kate Burton’s parents, Sybil Williams and Richard Burton, participated in the first BBC radio recording of Under Milk Wood in 1954—just two months after Thomas’ tragic death in New York. Richard Burton also starred in the 1972 film adaptation of Under Milk Wood. Said Kate Burton: “It is very meaningful for me to be participating in this event as my parents were in the original recording,” said Burton. “I am very proud to be Welsh and to carry on the family tradition.”
There is only one known recording of that magical night of May 14, 1953, when Thomas premiered his masterpiece – an excerpt from that performance can be heard here.