The (Broadway) Stars Aligned for These Three Megastars' Birthdays Today

January 15, 2018

January 16 might as well be a Broadway holiday. Three gigantic names were born on this day, in 1908, 1950 and 1980, and they represent three distinct eras of powerhouse musicals. Without them, there’d be no belting Reno Sweeney, no “Fame”-ous Lydia Grant and no rapping Alexander Hamilton. Happy birthday to these indelible superstars.

Ethel Merman

Her name is practically synonymous with stage presence. The larger-than-life star was in 14 Broadway shows (15 if you count her revival of Annie Get Your Gun). Merman was Anything Goes’ first Reno Sweeney, Annie Get Your Gun’s debut Annie Oakley and Gypsy‘s original Rose. It’s no surprise she’s also a Tony winner.

If Merman were alive today, she’d be 110. In her performance of the title track from Anything Goes, she sparkles and she’s got spunk.

Debbie Allen

Today, she’s a consummate teacher, but Allen launched her career as a Broadway actress in the ensemble of 1970’s Purlie. For just her second show, she snagged a starring role as Beneatha Younger in the musical adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun. But audiences really took notice of her dancing chops when she played Anita in the 1980 revival of West Side Story (she even got a Tony nomination for featured actress).

Later, Allen jumped to, literally, household-name fame with the Fame franchise of movies and the TV series of the same name, where she portrayed teacher Lydia Grant. In this clip, she sasses things up on the show with another big name: Gwen Verdon.

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Though he’s the youngest of these three birthday thespians, he’s already racked up the most Tonys—two for Hamilton and one for In the Heights. And while Merman showed us the power of incredible song-and-dance classics, many of which endure today in successful revivals, Miranda represents a fresh direction for Broadway in the 21st century. Just because he can write a mean musical doesn’t mean he’s without a dancing bone in his body. His rhythmic roots run deep—all the way back to this video of him dancing to “Footloose” as a kid. Yup, we went there.