For over 90 years, the legendary Cape Playhouse has been bringing professional summer theatre to Cape Cod. Often referred to as the “Birthplace of the Stars,” The Cape Playhouse has attracted a long litany of famous actors since its inception in 1927. The list of past productions and actors reads like a veritable Who’s Who of stage and screen. From Bernadette Peters, to Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis to Henry Fonda, the stage of the Cape Playhouse has been graced by some of the greatest talent in the American theatre.
The Theatre’s Beginnings
In the 1920s, founder Raymond Moore wanted to create a summer theatre close to Boston and the more affluent Cape communities. He purchased three-and-a-half acres of land fronting the Old King’s Highway in Dennis, and found the abandoned 19th century Nobscussett meetinghouse located in another part of Dennis. Amazingly, Moore had the large meetinghouse hauled down the road and placed on its present site.
Before air conditioning, New York was unbearable in the summer. The theatres would close, and people escaped the heat by traveling to the coastal resorts. By offering actors the prospect of paid summer work in a professional theatre away from the heat of New York City, Moore convinced the big-name stars to come perform at the new theatre.
Summer Home of the Stars
On July 4, 1927, members of the glamorous audience watched the curtain rise on a glittering production of The Guardsman, starring Basil Rathbone and Violet Kemble Cooper – and when it rained, the roof leaked so badly that the audience put up umbrellas! Undaunted, audiences began flocking to Dennis to see the stars.
Young, unknown Bette Davis first worked as an usher before returning the following summer to act. And one promising student named Jane was given a small role in a play starring her father, Henry Fonda. Many actors such as Bette Davis, Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Montgomery, and Shirley Booth made their early professional appearances at The Cape Playhouse before going on to win Academy Awards.
Reputation and Tradition
The Cape Playhouse has been declared by the Actors’ Equity Association to be the “Oldest Professional Summer Theatre” in America. Each year, auditions for are held in New York. Most rehearsals take place in New York as well.
Over the years, The Cape Playhouse has gained a reputation for producing the highest quality, professional entertainment in the form of great theatre, and each year tens of thousands continue to enjoy exceptional shows at America’s Oldest Professional Summer Theatre.