Cape Cod Melody Tent – History & Information

Cape Cod Melody TentCape Cod Melody Tent Draws Celebrities and Music Lovers from Memorial Day to Labor Day

Cape Cod’s top summer music venue is the Cape Cod Melody Tent, in Hyannis, MA, which showcases today’s world-class performers in an intimate setting.  The Cape Cod Melody Tent is rich in entertainment history, and is among the oldest tent music theaters in-the-round nationwide.

Over the years, The Cape Cod Melody Tent has spotlighted such musical icons as Tony Bennett, Crosby Stills & Nash, Carole King, Chicago, Linda Ronstadt, Kenny Rogers, the Irish Tenors, and hundreds more celebrities, including today’s chart toppers, such as Josh Turner and Diana Krall.

History

The history of the Cape Cod Melody Tent is inextricably bound to the history of its sister venue, the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, MA.  And one story cannot be told without the other.

For over 60 years, the Cape Cod Melody Tent and the South Shore Music Circus have been presenting world famous entertainment in Massachusetts’ scenic coastal communities.

The only two continuously-operated tent theatres in-the-round in the United States, the Cape Cod Melody Tent and South Shore Music Circus are owned and operated by the South Shore Playhouse Associates — a not-for-profit organization dedicated to encouraging and supporting the arts, and cultural and educational organizations throughout Cape Cod and the South Shore.

The two theaters share a colorful history dating back to humble beginning in 1932 in Cohasset, MA.   And, their history is tightly interwoven, as well, with the fabric of summer theatre history on the East Coast.

The Early Days

In 1932, Raymond Moore, founder of a summer theatre on Cape Cod – the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts – was looking for an additional site to stage his shows, and his search led him up the coast to the South Shore community of Cohasset.

He chose Cohasset’s historic town hall in which to present performances by stars including: Humphrey Bogart, Josephine Hull and Van Heflin. The following year, Alexander Dean assumed management of the operation. Dean formed the South Shore Players and continued the tradition of live performances in Cohasset featuring such famous writers and actors as Edward Everett Horton, Arthur Treacher, Sylvia Sydney, Thornton Wilder and Sinclair Lewis.

By 1949, the South Shore Players attracted much larger audiences than the town hall could accommodate, leading a group of dedicated citizens to pursue the dream of establishing a performing arts center for the benefit of the South Shore communities.

It was around this time that the first tent theatres began operating on the East Coast — the first in New Jersey, and the second in Florida.

When famed English actress Gertrude Lawrence viewed the Florida tent theatre, she convinced her husband, Richard Aldrich, that New England would be a great location for this summer theatre concept.

The actress and her husband first approached the South Shore Players with the idea for a tent theatre for musicals, but at the time, it didn’t coincide with the theatre the South Shore Players envisioned.

There was, however, interest in Hyannis, so in 1950, the Cape Cod Music Circus (now the Cape Cod Melody Tent) became the third musical tent to open in the US.

On December 10, 1950, the South Shore Playhouse Associates announced that, on or about July 1951, they would begin presenting operettas and musical shows on the “horse grounds” of the Bancroft Estate in Cohasset. The production company would be known as the South Shore Music Circus, Inc., and would retain the services of the eminent Broadway producer and director of the Cape Playhouse and the Hyannis Music Circus, Richard Aldrich. He would manage and direct the productions in a musical tent seating 1,000 people.

The South Shore Music Circus became musical tent number four. In anticipation of the upcoming performance season of 1951, the landscape of the Bancroft Estate was modified to accommodate the tent. Horse stalls were torn down, buildings hauled away and new structures appeared in their places.

On June 25, 1951, the South Shore Music Circus presented its first show – a performance of Show Boat – boasting a cast of sixty. Interest in this new theatre was so great that the first four performances of that season sold out in advance and the remaining three had near capacity crowds.  Tickets for that first season sold for $1.20 to $3.60 for the evening performances and $1.20 to $3.00 for the matinee on Thursday.

During the early years, both the Cape Cod Melody Tent and the South Shore Music Circus attracted major stars of the Broadway stage and silver screen, and featured performances by Ginger Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Angela Lansbury, Bob Hope, Helen O’Connell, Robert Merrill, Zero Mostel, Kitty Carlisle, Ann Miller, Jane Powell, Victor Borge, Debbie Reynolds, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, Rosemary Clooney, Pearl Bailey and countless others.

Cape Cod Melody TentModern Times

Recent years have witnessed a variety of structural improvements in these pioneer summer theatres.

In 1975, the main theatre bowl of the South Shore Music Circus was converted from old-fashioned wooden risers to an attractive, modern concrete structure, while staircases and aisle openings were redesigned, greatly improving audience access and sightlines.

In 1977, the customary canvas chairs were replaced with more comfortable, permanent stadium seats.

In 1994, the South Shore Music Circus’ traditional canvas tent was replaced by a state-of-the-art vinyl one with a cupola offering a new venting system ensuring a more comfortable entertainment experience for patrons and performers.

Over the years, the sound and lighting equipment have been upgraded to state-of-the-art systems designed specifically for theatres-in-the-round. Seating capacity for the South Shore Music Circus was expanded from 1,000 to 2,300 seats.

In March of 1990, the South Shore Playhouse Associates purchased the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis from William Carmen and have since made numerous improvements there also, including a new state-of-the-art vinyl tent with Cupola venting system, new seats, new stage and computerized lighting and sound systems.

Today touring performers of world-class caliber continue to perform to packed houses at both the Cape Cod Melody Tent and the South Shore Music Circus, including such household names as:  Vince Gill, Wynonna, Linda Ronstadt, the Moody Blues, Carole King, Melissa Etheridge, Bruce Hornsby, Johnny Mathis, Kenny Rogers, B.B. King, Fuel, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jo Dee Messina, Alice Cooper, Willie Nelson, Hall & Oates, Chris Isaak, Darius Rucker, Blues Traveler, John Hiatt, Robert Cray, Lyle Lovett, Huey Lewis, Little Big Town, Chicago, the Beach Boys, KC & the Sunshine Band, the Indigo Girls, Ani DiFranco, Aimee Mann, Aretha Franklin, Little Feat, the Doobie Brothers, George Thorogood, Jonny Lang, Lisa Marie Presley, Linda Eder, the Gipsy Kings, and The Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops.

As may be obvious from that list, the Cape Cod Melody Tent and the South Shore Music Circus are popular destinations for performers as well as patrons.

Reinvesting in the Community

As a not-for-profit organization, the South Shore Playhouse Associates, owners/operators of both the Cape Cod Melody Tent and the South Shore Music Circus, reinvest the profits from these two venues into other not-for-profit organizations in the community.

The South Shore Playhouse Associates have distributed over $3.7 million to such organizations as: the Cape Cod Conservatory/Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra, the South Shore Conservatory, the Paul Pratt Memorial Library, South Shore Arts Center, and The Arts Foundation of Cape Cod.

Cape Cod Melody Tent Box Office

The Cape Cod Melody Tent Season runs from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day each summer and its box office is open seven days a week from 12 noon – 6 pm, and through intermission on show nights.  Tickets range in price, depending upon the show, from $31 to $68. Tickets can be purchased online at this link.   Or, via telephone: 508-775-5630.

For children’s show performances, the Cape Cod Melody Tent Box Office opens one hour before show time.

The Cape Cod Melody Tent business offices are closed for the season from Labor Day to just prior to Memorial Day Weekend.

Gift Certificates

Cape Cod Melody Tent gift certificates are available for in-person and phone sales at its sister theatre, the South Shore Music Circus, located at 130 Sohier Street in Cohasset. The South Shore Music Circus offices are open Monday through Friday from 9 am until 5:30 pm. For more information, call 781-383-9850.

Seating Chart

The Cape Cod Melody Tent offers the best of theater in-the-round  — with all the acoustical and viewing advantages such seating affords.  The seating capacity is approximately 2,300.  No seat is farther than 50 seats from the rotating stage. So every seat in the house is a good one.

To view the Cape Cod Melody Tent Seating Chart, click this link.

The Melody Tent Club

For theatergoers who plan to see multiple shows each season, it may be both convenient and cost-effective to invest in membership in the Cape Cod Melody Tent Club.

Cape Cod Melody Tent Club membership for the 2015 season is $100 and one club membership is good for the entire family.  A portion of the membership dues is tax-deductible because the Cape Cod Melody Tent is a not-for-profit organization.

Cape Cod Melody Tent Club Membership includes the following advantages:

  • A Gold Circle Club membership card which has your membership ID printed on the card
  • Save $6 per ticket on all shows
  • $3.00 Discount per ticket on service fees
  • Never a per order processing fee ($3.50 per order savings)
  • Club Members ONLY will be able to buy tickets by phone directly from us! And discuss seating options!
  • Club members will be able to go to the website: melodytent.org to purchase tickets online, 24hrs/day, 7 days/week and still receive per ticket discounts.
  • Access to the best seats in the house before they go on sale to the general public
  • Private “Club Members Only” Entrance
  • Complimentary membership in the Inner Circle Club at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset
  • Two great lineups from which to choose
  • Special e-mail newsletters and exclusive club offerings
  • Monthly updates as shows are booked
  • Lost ticket insurance

For more information and to join the club, click on this link.

Directions to the Cape Cod Melody Tent

The Cape Cod Melody Tent is easy to reach from Boston, the South Shore, and anywhere on Cape Cod.  It’s located in the center of Cape Cod — in Hyannis, at 21 West Main Street.

For Directions to the Cape Cod Melody Tent, plus information on parking and nearby restaurants, click on this link.

For more information on the Cape Cod Melody Tent, click on this link.

Material for this report was obtained from capecodmelodytent.org.

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