This past July I had the great pleasure of performing at The Cape Playhouse, the oldest operating summer stock theatre in the country, playing the role of George in their production of The Drowsy Chaperone. It’s their 89th season!
This theatre is filled with so much charm and history. There is a picnic area with a gazebo outside of the theatre for patrons to enjoy the afternoon before taking in a show, and the beach is less than a mile away.
Inside the theatre is where you really get a sense of the theater’s history. The walls of the backstage area are covered with show posters of every show from all 89 seasons! Rumor has it that if a show poster is displayed upside down it means the star of the show was difficult to work with! The architecture of the house is almost like a church, with pew-like benches with cushions for seats, stained glass exit signs, and a steeple-like woodwork ceiling.
The theater has had an illustrious list of performers grace the stage over the past 89 years: Bette Davis, Imogene Coca, Uta Hagen, Celeste Holm, Bernadette Peters, Betty White, Jerry Stiller, Lynn Redgrave, Sandy Duncan, Estelle Parsons, Rebecca Luker, and Leslie Uggams to name just a few. I am proud to now add my name to that legacy of performers entertaining audiences at the Cape each season!
What theater would be complete without a ghost? The Cape Playhouse’s ghost is actually quite famous: Her name is Gertrude Laurence but the theatre staff and stagehands lovingly call her Gertie. Most theater-goers know Gertrude Lawrence as the original Anna opposite Yul Brenner in The King And I. She was honored with a Tony Award for her performance in 1952. Prior to this she actually performed a lot at the Cape Playhouse as well! Her first performance at the Playhouse was the starring role in Skylark in 1936.
In August of 1952 Ms. Lawrence fainted after a Saturday matinee at the St. James Theater and was taken home to rest. Over the course of the next month her health continued to fail her and she finally died on September 6th. The autopsy revealed she had widespread liver and abdominal cancer.
Ms. Lawrence’s funeral was attended by the who’s who of Broadway and according to the New York Times over 5,000 people crowded the streets outside. Gertrude was buried in her champagne colored dress from “Shall We Dance?” in Act II of The King And I. To celebrate her passing every Broadway theaters’ lights were dimmed in her honor. This was the first time this honor was bestowed and is still a beautiful theatre tradition carried out to this day after the passing of a theatre luminary.
The opening night tradition at the Cape Playhouse is to buy hydrangea flowers to be placed backstage to keep her happy and therefore have a great show.
If you ever find yourself in Cape Cod, I highly recommend seeing a show at the Cape Playhouse. Each show has a star headliner and the casts are always packed with Broadway veterans. This was by far one of the best theatre companies I have ever worked for, and cannot wait to work here again!