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Imagining The Third Century

It’s a Wednesday night in mid-June. Restaurants along Washington Street Mall fill up with folks from out of town. The night shift of employees come, ready to serve locals and visitors alike.  Locals finishing up their workday head to the beach, to a watering hole for a drink with friends, or home to get ready for their own evening meals with their families. Some are off to their second job of the day. For a group of Congress Hall employees, that second gig on this Wednesday night, is rehearsal. When their 9-5 wraps up, it’s time to head to the Harrison room to prepare music and run lines for a show.  It’s how they will spend the remainder of their Wednesday nights this summer.

Into The Third Centuryis a musical dinner theatre experience that tells the story of Congress Hall as it relates to the greater fabric of American history. Guests are encouraged to sing along, and it is equal parts Americana, comedy and sentiment. While the play itself is about a very unique place, the story of how it came to be is all the more extraordinary. The cast is made up of Cape Resorts employees-from Managing Partner Curtis Bashaw to summer marketing intern, Jim Lennon. A few members of the ensemble are direct descendants of Rev. Carl McIntire, who owned Congress Hall from 1967 through the late 1980s, including 12 year- old Evalina and 11 year-old Jackie McBride. Their mother, Charity Clark, is one of Rev. McIntire’s grandchildren, and she plays several roles in the show as well. “It is a pleasure working so closely with Curtis and his staff. He has such a work ethic and drive to make everything unique and exceptional for his guests,” Clark says. Others cast members include Jordan Rowan (General Manager of the Virginia Hotel and Ebbitt Room), Max Moran (Cape Resorts Graphic Designer), Bridget Martin (Congress Hall beach server), Lily Cosgrove (tour guide), Alex Shannon (parking lot attendant) and Iraisa Ann Reilly (Cape Resorts Marketing Manager and Playwright). So aside from spending all hours of the day at work together, how did this group come to spend a couple more a week sharing the stage?

In 2016 Congress Hall celebrated its Bicentennial with a slew of special events, from a Memorial Day Concert with the Bay Atlantic Symphony to a Labor Day Music Festival and Time Capsule burial ceremony on the Grand Lawn. In all of the celebratory events that took place between January and December of 2016, one particular Bicentennial Birthday Party stands out. For seven weeks in the summer of 2016 the Bicentennial Birthday Show played to sold-out audiences. It was a dinner theatre experience that told the story of Congress Hall through song, dialogue and dance. Guests were invited to sing along as they shared in a meal that hearkened back to the menus of 1855.

“Since Congress Hall was turning 200, Curtis came to me with this idea of doing a show about the hotel’s history. I have a background in theatre, and knowing that other employees had some performance experience we decided to reach out to those within the Cape Resorts family to be in the weekly show,” says Iraisa Ann Reilly, the playwright and theatre artist who worked on the show along with Bashaw. “I was excited to work on something new that incorporated my love of theatre, history and Congress Hall, where I’ve been given so many opportunities. This year, I even wrote some of the songs with Myra Vassian, our music coordinator. I’m grateful to have the chance to do what I love and try new things.” The band is led by Paul Sottile, a stranger to no one who’s spent an evening at the Ebbitt Room and heard him play the piano during dinner service. “Often a song has the power to take a person to another time or bring back a beautiful memory,” says Sottile.”Being the band leader forInto The Third Century has given me the opportunity to share the sentimentality of music with our guests on another level. It has also given our guests a chance to see me perform with our other talented musicians in a group setting and accompany our amazing Cape Resorts Staff and guests through the songs and sing alongs.”

 In 2017, the cast ventures into the future: Labor Day 2066. The Bicentennial Time Capsule is unearthed and its contents examined. Annie, one of the newest members of the Cape Resorts Family, is a 16 year-old employee at the Blue Pig Tavern. She joins Curtis Bashaw, (who will be  106  in 2066) and  travels through the history of Congress Hall using a book that was left in the Time Capsule,Tommy’s Folly.New scenes include a moving rendition of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1855, as well as the infamous John Wanamaker- Benjamin Harrison scandal over a cottage that was given as a gift to the President on Cape May Point.

The nostalgia is not lost on the audience, or the cast. “I have distinct memories of Congress Hall in its state before the 2002 renovation. It’s a real gift to be able to work here today and celebrate the history of this incredible place each week,” says Jim Lennon, reflecting on the summers he spent coming to Cape May with his family as a child. Jordan Rowan sees his involvement as a way to return to the hobbies he once enjoyed. “I always did musical theater in high school, so this seemed like a great way to get back into something I used to love. More than anything, it’s a TON of fun—hopefully the audience can see that, and share in our good time as well.”

On August 2nd and 16th guests will gather to share in the story, songs, and three courses with tableside wine.While the employees of Congress Hall are hard at work playing out their second gig on stage, it is evident that they enjoy telling the story of the place that has captured such a special place in the hearts of its visitors and employees. Tickets are $65 for adults and $15 for children ages 4-12. They may be purchased by calling the concierge at 609-884-6542.VentureInto the Third Century ethis summer with an unforgettable theatrical experience at Congress Hall.