Capitol Theatre owner Pete Shapiro (masked) and General Manager Bruce Wheeler (holding the scissors) with crew and benefactors at the commemorative ribbon-cutting ceremony.
BY JANICE LLANES FABRY
Pullquote: “Legend has it that Janice Joplin wrote ‘Mercedes Benz’ at the bar at the Capitol between performances.”
The box office is bustling, red velvet roped stanchions line the entrance, and the marquee boasts “The Cap is Back.” After having been closed for eighteen months due to the pandemic, the iconic Capitol Theatre in Port Chester has reopened amid much fanfare. On September 9, a commemorative ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to celebrate a new beginning.
“In the next six months, we have more shows on the books than at any other six-month period,” remarked owner Peter Shapiro. “We’re launching a new moment at the Cap.”
He also acknowledged those patrons who supported the theater during the lockdown by purchasing an engraved Cap Family Tile for the entryway. The tiles were a meaningful way for patrons to honor their favorite shows while ensuring the theater’s longevity.
“This venue means so much to a lot of people,” said Shapiro. “Its sense of magic has always been perceived by top musicians, like Bob Dylan who agreed to perform when we first reopened in September 2012.”
General Manager Bruce Wheeler assures that all Covid-19 safety protocols are in place.The mask-wearing staff is fully vaccinated, and patrons are required to show vaccine cards or negative Covid-19 tests.
“Ticket sales have been very strong. We’re happy to see that people are feeling more comfortable,” observed Wheeler. “At the end of the day, it’s about everyone coming out and enjoying a great show.”
The landmark theater dates back to 1926. Designed by leading architect Thomas Lamb, who was also responsible for Madison Square Garden, it started out as a vaudeville venue. In the 1930s and 40s, it evolved into a movie theater featuring such classics as “Casablanca” and “Gone with the Wind” for five cents.
In the 1960s, it was transformed into a live music space that attracted major rock and roll artists — The Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Traffic, Eric Clapton, Black Sabbath, Chuck Berry, the Moody Blues, and many more.
“At that time, all the popular bands would play at the Fillmore East in New York City and the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester,” noted head usher and self-proclaimed music junkie Brian Lynch. “Legend has it that Janice Joplin wrote ‘Mercedes Benz’ at the bar here between performances.”
In the 1970s, the theater was shut down after the village cracked down on late- night live entertainment. While in the 1980s it opened to musicals and plays, it was reincarnated as a banquet hall in the 1990s. In 2011, Shapiro stepped in, renovated, launched Garcia’s lobby bar, and infused cutting-edge technology.
As lead Stage Manager Eliot Byron attests,“The installation of production elements resulted in state-of-the-art lighting and sound. There are ten high- definition projectors and acoustic treatments that make this the perfect venue.”
Since its 2012 reopening, the Capitol has showcased a remarkable array of performers. It seats 1,600 and accommodates 2,000 at general admission performances. Audiences, who come from all over the country and as far as Australia, invariably come out en masse for Cheap Trick, Elvis Costello, Steely Dan, Foreigner, Chicago, The Stokes, Cyndi Lauper, Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg, Sheryl Crowe, Billy Idol, and REO Speedwagon, to name a few. Comedians Kevin Hart, Amy Schumer, and John Mulaney have also made appearances.
Lynch’s rock and roll and Cap Theatre trivia rolls off his tongue, as he shares that Grateful Dead bass player Phil Lesh has played at the Cap 88 times; the loudest show distinction belongs to DJ/musician Skrillex; the youngest crowd came out for DigiTour, with 12-year-old girls screaming like the Beatle fans of yesteryear. Incidentally, the Beatles never made it to the Cap, but Ringo Starr played there five years ago.
The theater’s mascot, besides the ubiquitous rock and roll squirrel, is 1930s actress Jean Harlow. The Cap’s wallpaper is a shrine to rock and roll legends. Its spiral design is embellished with microphones, 45 record adapters, and images of Jerry Garcia, Janice Joplin, Chuck Berry, Ozzie Osbourne, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie.
No doubt legendary artists will continue to rock the house in this historically rich arena for a long time to come. For a full roster of musical guests, visit thecapitoltheatre.com.