Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: January 18

Playbill Vault   Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: January 18
Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald in Ragtime.
Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald in Ragtime. Catherine Ashmore

1882 Birthday of A. A. Milne, best known as the creator of the Winnie-the-Pooh books, but also a prolific Broadway playwright, author of Mr. Pim Passes By, The Truth About Blayds, Belinda, Give Me Yesterday, and Ariadne.

1913 Birthday of funnyman Danny Kaye, who stars on Broadway in Let's Face It!, Lady in the Dark (singing "Tchaikovsky"), and other shows before going off to Hollywood for a series of comedies and musicals. He returns to Broadway in 1970 for Richard Rodgers and Martin Charnin's Two by Two.

1945 First a novel, then a film, then a radio drama, now finally Rebecca arrives on Broadway. Daphne Du Maurier adapts her own work. The cast includes Diana Barrymore, Florence Reed, and Bramwell Fletcher, directed by Clarence Derwent. There are just 20 performances. In 2008, a musical version of Rebecca is announced for Broadway, but it is postponed after scandals and financial troubles.

1954 Stage and film actor Sydney Greenstreet dies in Hollywood. He acted with Sybil Thorndike, Constance Collier, and Tyrone Power, Sr. in many classic roles. His film roles were normally supporting but always memorable. He was 75 years old.

1968 Songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb follow their success in Cabaret with The Happy Time, based on a play about a French-Canadian photographer, and his relationship with his adoring nephew. The musical runs only 286 performances despite the presence of Robert Goulet, then near the top of his popularity, in the lead.

1974 Choreographer and director Michael Bennett responds to an idea for a show about the lives of dancers in Broadway choruses. Bennett assembles a group of dancers, including Donna McKechnie, and has them discuss their experiences in an all-night session tonight. The show that will become A Chorus Line begins to take shape tomorrow.

1978 Donal Donnelly is My Astonishing Self, a solo show about George Bernard Shaw. Michael Voysey adapted Shaw's writings for a six-week run at the Astor Place Theatre.

1998 It's Ragtime at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. The show's epic journey to a home on Broadway nearly matches that of E.L. Doctorow's novel, adapted by Terrence McNally. Frank Galati directs the cast of 59, led by Brian Stokes Mitchell, Peter Friedman, Marin Mazzie, and Audra McDonald. It wins several Tony Awards but ultimately fail to survive the financial turmoil of its producing organization, Livent.

2004 Billed as North America's current longest-running theatrical production, The Toronto Truck Theatre staging of Agatha Christie's durable murder mystery, The Mousetrap, closes after a run of 26-1/2 years.

2004 Urinetown, which won Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Book of a Musical in 2002, closes after 965 performances at Henry Miller's Theatre. The theatre itself also closes, so it can be incorporated into a new skyscraper being built on the block bounded by West 42nd and 43rd Streets on Avenue of the Americas.

2012 Kevin Spacey stars in the titular role of Sam Mendes' production of Richard III, the final production of the transatlantic Bridge Project, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Shakespeare's tragedy about the "bunch-backed" King of England launched its international tour at London's Young Vic in June 2011 and ends its global journey in New York after stops in Qatar, the Singapore Repertory Theatre, Athens & Epidaurus Festival, Hong Kong Arts Festival, and Centro Niemeyer, Spain.

More of Today's Birthdays: Frank Harling (a.k.a. W. Franke Harling) 1887. Cary Grant 1904. Robert Russell 1912. Mark Rylance 1960. Jesse L. Martin 1969.

Watch a cast including original star Brian Stokes Mitchell perform Ragtime in concert on Ellis Island:

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