Initially written for television, The Miracle Worker by William Gibson first aired in 1957. After it was warmly received by television audiences, it was rewritten for the stage and opened on Broadway in 1959 at the Playhouse Theatre. Although some of the reviews were mixed, the audience response was very favorable and during its run the first production of The Miracle Worker rarely failed to fill the 1,000 seat theatre.
Drawing heavily from letters written by Anne Sullivan in 1887, as well as from Helen Keller's autobiography, William Gibson constructed a drama around the events that took place when Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, first met in the 1880s. The exchanges that take place in The Miracle Worker are all derived from factual events that Gibson has woven together to construct a fluid, emotionally real, depiction of the "miracle" Anne Sullivan was able to work: teaching Helen Keller language.
Audiences and critics alike were most drawn to The Miracle Worker's honest and emotionally vivid portrayal of the relationship between Annie (as she is called in the play) and Helen. The actors' intense energy and commitment to truth in the scenes of physical struggle between Annie and Helen were held as the most memorable moments of the play when it first opened on Broadway. Audiences found the story of Annie's struggle to teach Helen language and her eventual success life affirming and uplifting. Surrounding the major themes of change and transformation and language and meaning is basic integrity and emotional honesty. These two elements are the strongest reasons that The Miracle Worker is so popular among audiences and has been called an American Theatre classic.