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Playbill Vault’s Today in Theatre History: July 4

1898 Birthday of Gertrude Lawrence, longtime acting partner of Noël Coward (Private Lives, Tonight at 8:30) and star of musicals by the Gershwin brothers (Oh, Kay!, Lady in the Dark). She has her greatest success with her final show, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I, in which she originates the role of Mrs. Anna.

1927 From Brighton Beach to Biloxi to Broadway, Bronx boy Neil Simon is born. He becomes one of America’s most prolific (and produced) playwrights with such plays as The Odd Couple, Plaza Suite, Barefoot in the Park, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound, Lost in Yonkers, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, and The Dinner Party. He is also an accomplished librettist, writing the books for the musicals Little Me, Sweet Charity, They’re Playing Our Song, and The Goodbye Girl.

1942 This Is the Army, Irving Berlin‘s sequel to his World War I-era hit Yip, Yip, Yaphank, opens on Broadway at the Broadway Theatre. Featuring a cast of 300 soldiers, the revue includes Berlin himself singing his hit song “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning.” Proceeds from ticket sales are used to benefit the Army Emergency Relief Fund, leading Kate Smith to reportedly send a check for $10,000 to pay for her two $27.50 opening-night tickets.

1965 The Long Wharf Theatre opens its doors for the first time in New Haven, Connecticut. The premiere production is a new staging of Arthur Miller‘s witch trial tale, The Crucible. Written at the height of McCarthyism, Miller’s play depicts a Massachusetts town that falls under siege to lies and betrayal when several teenage girls appear to have been bewitched. Miller’s play draws subtle parallels between Salem and 1950s anti Communist hysteria.

1970 The first season of Summer Shakespeare in Monmouth, Maine starts today. Produced by “The Theatre at Monmouth,” the festival includes productions of Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, and Christopher Fry‘s The Lady’s Not For Burning.

1999 Celebrating its 40-year anniversary as a theatre group, the San Francisco Mime Troupe presents Division Street, a musical about the urban housing crisis, in parks across the San Fran area. The Troupe was founded in 1959 by R.G. Davis, and in 1987 won the Regional Theater Tony Award for sustained excellence.

2001 TV star Tom Selleck makes his Broadway debut with the first preview of a revival of Herb Gardner‘s A Thousand Clowns.

More of Today’s Birthdays: Pat Rooney 1880. Irving Caesar 1895. Philip Rose 1921. Tracy Letts 1965. John Lloyd Young 1975.

Watch Tony Award winner John Lloyd Young sing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” in Jersey Boys:

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