Herbert Senn, Broadway and Cape Playhouse Set Designer, Is Dead at 78

Obituaries   Herbert Senn, Broadway and Cape Playhouse Set Designer, Is Dead at 78 Herbert Senn, the prolific scenic designer whose four decades of near ceaseless work was seen on stages from Broadway to Boston to Cape Cod's storied Cape Playhouse, died at his Yarmouthport, MA, home on Aug. 13, the Cape Cod Times reported. He was 78 and had been suffering from liver cancer.

His Broadway designs included musicals, Shakespeare, Noel Coward plays and Theatre Guild productions. But he made his most lasting impact on the Cape Playhouse, the summer stock stalwart in Dennis, MA. He joined the theatre in 1956 and did not retire from work until 1994, outlasting several artistic directors. There, with his collaborator and partner, Helen Pond, he created more than 350 sets for the Playhouse's crowded summer seasons.

The Cape Cod Times reported that Mr. Senn often had a little as four days to create a set. He and Pond would often attack their assignments by beginning each day with a swim in nearby Scargo Lake and then work until 10:30 PM.

Mr. Senn not only created designs for the Cape Playhouse's shows, but constructed the gazebo and wagon that grace the grounds outside the familiar white clapboard theatre. The Playhouse's scene shop is named after Herbert Senn and Helen Pond.

Mr. Senn's first Broadway set was for a musical revue called Double Dublin. It ran for only four performances. More successful was his next job, the musical What Makes Sammy Run?, starring Steve Lawrence. He also designed the lighting for that show. His other designs (always in collaboration with Pond) include Noel Coward's Sweet Potato, No Sex Please, We're British, A Musical Jubilee and a Lincoln Center production of Macbeth. He also designed sets for the 1981 revival of Show Boat.

In Boston, he created numerous opera sets. He was also responsible for the scenic design of Leonard Bernstein's Mass, which opened the Kennedy Center in 1971. Herbert Senn was born in Ilion, NY, on Oct. 9, 1924. He attended Columbia University, where he met Helen Pond. In 1986, the couple bought an old Universalist Church in Yarmouthport and converted it into their home, naming it Strawberry Hill. The belfry remained operational and Mr. Senn would sometime ring it on special occasions, such as the turn of the recent millennium.

At 5:30 PM Aug. 13, the bell was rung 78 times, one chime for each of Mr. Senn's living years. Several friends gathered and raised a glass in toast.

A memorial service will be held at a later date.