Broadway star Gertrude Lawrence, pictured below driving the bulldozer that cleared the area for the original Melody Tent in 1950, and her husband were the leading lights behind The Melody Tent’s launching as a summer stock musical theater on Cape Cod. Early hits included popular shows like No No Nanette, Mame, and Show Boat.
The tent’s open design made it susceptible to unique hazards. “One of the worst scenarios was always a skunk in the house,” says former head-usherette Tasha Lingos. “The only thing we could do was not alert the folks sitting in that section, grab a large container of popcorn, and try to lead the skunk out with a trail!”
There was no back stage. Tania Lingos, who is now a Boston oncologist, describes a tense wardrobe moment during a performance of George M. “We had a quick change at the top of the aisle from black to white tuxedos,” she says. A dry-cleaner mix-up had left two actors with the wrong size white pants and no time to switch. “The men had to run back down on stage half in black and half in white!” she recalls.
Such trials for the crews were mitigated by behind-the-scenes interaction with celebrities like Sammy Davis, Jr. and John Raitt. Tamara Lingos of West Yarmouth remembers the former as “laid back and quiet” when not bubbling onstage, and the latter as “charming beyond description,” while singing warm-up scales with his daughter—blues icon-to-be Bonnie.
As ownership of the Melody Tent passed to Bill and Beverly Carmen in 1978, the big top was replaced by a larger tent, the roster of children’s matinees expanded, and weeklong musicals were phased out in favor of shorter runs to spotlight individual artists. A rotating stage platform helped performers unfamiliar with theatre-in-the-round adapt, while a Bavarian beer garden helped vacation-minded audiences relax.