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SHOWTIME, from Cape May and back: Great theatre artists inspire the next generation

By Henrik Eger


One of Philadelphia's most famous actors and singers of musicals, Jeff Coon, joined by some of the best singers and dancers on the east coast, and accompanied by a seventeen-piece live band, will bring a series of swinging events, chock full of singing, dancing and fun, to Cape May in July and August.

Coon, who grew up in Cape May, NJ, is giving back to the community through three unusual shows.

An Evening at the Cape May Summer Club will highlight music from the Golden Era of Song, Broadway Standards and Shore Favorites, specially created for each evening. Each show features a variety of special guests, including multi-talented actor JP Dunphy, comedian Tony Braithwaite, Broadway's Jennifer Hope Wills, Philadelphia favorite Fran Prisco, and many others.

One of the primary motivations for the creation of this event was to help establish and grow a connection between An Evening at the Cape May Summer Club and the Cape May community at large.

With that in mind, the organizers of this event established a scholarship to be awarded to students from the Lower Cape May Regional school district who are currently involved in the live arts—theatre, music, dance—and who aspire to pursue their craft professionally.

In this interview, Coon gives a moving account of what teachers in New Jersey did for his life. Based on 20 years of professional work, Coon then addresses parents and young people and shares things that very few people dare to address—all in practical and caring ways.

Tell us as much as you remember about your experiences as a child and adolescent in Cape May and your first forays into the theatre, music, and dance world.

JC: My first theatrical experiences in Cape May were in junior high school at Teitelman. I had done some revues before that, when my family lived in Florida for a few years, but my first official play was that chestnut Headin' for a Weddin'. My friend Sharon Buehler and I played a mute hillbilly brother and sister who stayed under the family bed for most of the play. It was an auspicious beginning.

I did play the viola at that time, but Nan LaCorte, the Teitelman band director, encouraged me to try the trombone instead, which I played until my senior year in high school and at various times after that—especially in the Arden Theatre's production of Assassins a few years ago.

During my freshman year in high school at Lower Cape May Regional, I got my first taste of musical theatre. They were doing The Music Man and needed boys. I had never sung before, and didn't even think I knew how. So, I auditioned and was cast as one of the salesmen and townspeople. It was really the beginning of my descent into musical theatre madness. :)

Could you portray those teachers who impacted your life as a theatre artist the most? What exactly did they do and say that encouraged you to explore new worlds?

JC: There were several of them and they all have had a lasting effect on me. The first was Sandy Beane-Fox. She was the closest I've had to a mentor in my life. She shepherded me into finding my singing voice. She was our choir teacher, the vocal director for all the musicals, and the teacher in charge of the yearbook committee. I spent A LOT of time with her and, to this day, I say any good habits I still have when singing are directly attributable to her—anything bad is something I've picked up along the way.

Paul Mathis was the second. He directed all of the musicals and plays. He was the first teacher who cursed in front of students. He introduced us to Mel Brooks, Thoreau, Monty Python, and Gilbert and Sullivan. He made us feel like we weren't just kids, but collaborators with him. He encouraged us to "take risks" and "be in the moment." He helped provide a safe place for all of the theatre kids who just wanted to be in shows and "play" together.

He passed away last year. There was a large concert held to celebrate his life. It was well attended and many people came from far away to be a part of it. It's a testament to how much he touched the lives of many individuals.

Ed Jurewicz was my band director in high school. He was, and is, an absolutely brilliant man and musician. He challenged me to work harder and practice more. He introduced us to Miles Davis, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, and this wild and weird Jersey TV show called The Uncle Floyd Show. He cared about the music as much as he cared about the kids. He instilled a sense of admiration and appreciation for great music in me.

Stina Smith was our choreographer for all the shows. She wasn't a teacher at the school, but she taught me how to do a barrel roll and a flea hop. She also told me that I could dance if I just tried harder. I'm not sure she was right about that, but she made me believe it and that, in and of itself, is no mean feat.

Finally, Lynn Massimiano did all the costumes and make up for our shows. She also sold ads for the programs. She did anything and everything to make these shows at school a success. She has been as invaluable in that same way to the shows we're producing in Cape May. She was the first teacher that I was ever able to see as a "real person" outside of school. Even before Sandy Beane Fox, Lynn helped me realize that as much as I admired all of these teachers, they were still just regular people working their asses off to make us kids look good and have a great time.

Have you stayed in touch with some of your former teachers in Cape May? And what have been their responses to your phenomenal rise to the top in the Philadelphia theatre and music scene?

JC: You bet. I have stayed in touch with all of them. They arranged whole bus trips to see my shows in Philly. I've even had beers with all of them at one time or another. They are a remarkably supportive group of people to whom I'm incredibly grateful. That support has been extended for over 20 years now. And truly, I wouldn't go all out in producing these concerts if it weren't partially due to their artistic, moral, and sometimes even hands-on support.

What would you say to young people in Cape May, especially those who would like to follow in your footsteps—from Cape May to starring in one of America's largest theatre cities.

JC: Work hard and play nice. Work as much as you can, whenever you can, and be nice to EVERYONE you work with, even when you might not want to be. There are too many people in this business who are talented. The ones you remember and want to work with, time and time again, are the ones who show up prepared, ready to work, and who don't make a ton of waves.

That doesn't mean don't speak up for yourself. Rather, it means speak up for yourself in a way that respects both yourself and the rest of the people you're working with. Nobody wants to be around a jerk. So be nice to each other, and support other artists! A rising tide lifts all ships, so don't spend so much time just trying to get yourself ahead.

Lend a hand when you can. Go see other shows or work—it's educational and important.

Standing on stage, performing, and basking in applause from the audience can be a great experience, but there are also problematic aspects for practically all theatre artists who have to hunt down new jobs all year 'round. What would you say to young people to help them prepare themselves for the many rejections they most likely will experience, without letting any negativity distract them from their artistic and professional life goals?

JC: Play a game with yourself: In a given time period, set a goal for the number of jobs you DON'T get. Look for the No in your life and embrace it. That process forces you to take the power out of that little word we hear so often in this business and make it something you look for.

For example, set a goal that says you have to get 30 NOs over the course of a month of auditioning. This method FORCES you to go to more auditions. You'll increase your NOs, but you'll also increase your chances of getting cast, which obviously is the real goal. It also hones your auditioning skills and makes you inured to the negative a little bit more.

Also, try to remember that just because you get a NO doesn't mean you're no good. It means that there are many factors involved in getting a job and, this time, it just didn't work out. Keep auditioning. Keep working when you can, and keep your chin up.

Could you address the parents of young people in Cape May and invite them to the upcoming series in one of America's oldest vacation resorts? When they see a most professional and entertaining show in one of New Jersey's most charming cities, they could then see what their children could do one day—not only making them proud, but delighting audiences all over the country.

JC: Twenty-five years ago, I was some version of your kid. I was figuring out who and what I was and wanted to be. I had some great teachers who pointed me in directions that I didn't necessarily expect, but enjoyed anyway. I worked hard.

I have established a career in the arts which ain't always easy, but I didn't do it on my own. I did it with supportive communities of people who helped foster me and keep me moving forward and growing as an artist—even when it wasn't always easy. That's part of why we're establishing a scholarship through these concerts, because I want to be able to give a small token of my thanks to the community that helped foster me by doing the same thing for another kid interested in the arts.

Thank you, Jeff. I like what I'm hearing and would like to see your show. Is there any chance that I could also meet all those mentors of yours during intermission?

JC: Absolutely, but you're going to have to find them without my help because [he smiles] I'm going to be a little busy during intermission on Saturday night.



WHAT: "An Evening at the Cape May Summer Club"
Created by Jeff Coon and Ree Dunphy
Co-Hosted by Jeff Coon and Fran Prisco

WHEN: Saturday, July 26, 2014
Saturday, August 16, 2014
Saturday, August 30, 2014
All performances begin at 8pm

RUN TIME: 2 hours
WHERE: Cape May Convention Hall
714 Beach Avenue
Cape May, NJ 08204
Free parking is available at Cape May City Elementary School, located at 921 Lafayette Street in Cape May, where a trolley will then pick up attendees and shuttle them to Convention Hall for each performance. The trolley service will be available after the show until 11 p.m. to get people back to their vehicles.

TICKETS: $35
PHONE: 609-884-9563
WEBSITE: http://www.capemaysummerclub.com
http://www.facebook.com/capemaysummerclub




HENRIK EGER, editor of Drama Around the Globe. Bilingual playwright, including Metronome Ticking, docudrama, performed by the son of a Third Reich war correspondent and the son of a Jewish Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camp survivor who became friends—performed in Germany, Austria, and the U.S.

Born and raised in Germany, studied in Europe and the U.S. Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago (1991). German translator of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Nobel Peace Prize mail. Producer-director: Multilingual Shakespeare, London.

Served as a judge for the Barrymore Theatre Awards in Philadelphia, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Media Theatre, and Theatre Ariel, the Jewish theatre of Philadelphia. Produced and wrote the YouTube film: All About Jewish Theatre (AAJT) —The World's Largest Secular Synagogue and Open University. Longtime Philadelphia theatre correspondent for AAJT, Tel Aviv.

Retired professor of English and Communication who taught in six countries on three continents, including four universities and one college in the U.S. Author of four college level text books, articles, reviews, and interviews in various outlets, including the Jewish Forward, New York; Philadelphia Jewish Voice, Phindie and Broad Street Review, Philadelphia.




The Lord Stirling Theater Company Presents "Treasure Island"
(BASKING RIDGE, NJ) -- The Lord Stirling Theater Company will present Treasure Island in the English Barn Theater at the Farmstead Arts Center October 5-7 and October 12-14. Adapted for the stage by award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Crazy for You) from the classic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island follows the adventures of a boy named Jim Hawkins who comes into possession of a treasure map.
Premiere Stages to Present World Premiere of Liberty Live Commission "Black Tom Island"
(UNION, NJ) -- Premiere Stages at Kean University will present Martin Casella’s Black Tom Island from October 11-21 at Liberty Hall Museum (1003 Morris Avenue, Union, N.J.). Originally commissioned over a two-year cycle through Premiere’s Liberty Live Commission, Black Tom Island will feature actors Damian Buzzerio, Mason Hensley, Jenna Krasowski and Bart Shatto. Producing artistic director John J. Wooten directs.
American Poetry Theater Presents "Gun Love"
(LONG BRANCH, NJ) -- The American Poetry Theater presents Gun Love from October 5-7.  The play, written by cast and community members, runs about one hour and is a collection of monologues and a skit dealing with gun violence in America.  
Seuls en Scene 2018 Runs This Week At Lewis Center For The Arts
(PRINCETON, NJ) -- Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, Department of French and Italian, and L’Avant-Scène will present the seventh annual Seuls en ScèneFrench Theater Festival, which will take place from September 21 to 29 at venues across the University’s campus. Most performances will be in French with English subtitles; all are free and open to the public.
Smugbug Productions presents The Eleventh Hour! at The Raritan River Festival
(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- The Eleventh Hour!'s Chris Pasi with composer David Seamon for a night of acoustic renditions of songs from the rock musical comedy at the Raritan River Festival at Boyd Park in New Brunswick, NJ on Sunday, September 30 at 1:00pm. 


Two River Theater Presents The World Premiere of "Pamela's First Musical"
If anyone ever doubts that New Jersey is home to great theatre, just point them to the world premiere of “Pamela’s First Musical” at Two River Theater. The cast and creative behind this show by Wendy Wasserstein and Christopher Durang includes a combined total of more than 25 Tony Award nominations and seven wins. It’s a cast that would look impressive at any theatre – Broadway  or otherwise. According to one of the stars, the opportunity to work with the 10-time Tony Award nominee director/choreographer Graciela Daniele and to be part of a new musical was too good to pass up.
The Jersey Devil on stage: An interview with playwright Brandon Monokian
Up-and-coming New Jersey native Brandon Monokian has worked as an actor, writer, director, producer, and popcorn sample distributor. He wrote and starred in the film Happy Yummy Chicken and co-founded the production company Love Drunk Life with Katie Frazer. Together they have produced plays, films, books, and, to support their creative work financially, a product line: lovedrunklife.com. Monokian received national attention through Revolutionary Readings (his TEDx talk at Princeton Library), which was used to fight the banning of the book Revolutionary Voices from two New Jersey libraries. 
An Interview With Nicole Pandolfo
Nicole Pandolfo is a talented playwright from New Jersey whose work has been produced on four continents along with readings and productions throughout the Garden State. Her play, Brick City, is currently being presented at Premiere Stages at Kean University now through September 23rd. The play was commissioned and developed via the NJPAC Stage Exchange program. Premiere's production features Rafael Benoit, Jacqueline Correa, Madison Ferris and Chris Grant under the direction of Jessi D. Hill.
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Fun seems to be the operative word for “Incorruptible,” the production that opens the fall season at  the Ritz Theatre Company on Thursday, September 13.
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Event calendar
Thursday, Sep 20, 2018


MUSIC

ELI YOUNG BAND WITH CODY BRYAN @ The Stone Pony, Asbury Park - 7:00pm

CELTIC THUNDER X @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm

Lost 80's Live @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm

Citizen Cope @ The Newton Theatre, Newton - 8:00pm

ICON 2018: ELIMINATION ROUND 2 @ Hamilton Stage @ Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC), Rahway - 8:00pm

Linda Eder @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

Doug Deming & The Jewel Tones @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm







THEATRE

Souvenir @ Surflight Theatre, Beach Haven - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

East Lynne Theater Company presents SILENT SKY @ First Presbyterian Church (Cape May), Cape May - 8:00pm

The Shuck @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 7:30pm

Auditions for Seussical at CDC Theatre @ CDC Theatre, Cranford - 7:00pm

Playhouse 22's Third-Thursday Play Reading Series @ Playhouse 22, East Brunswick - 7:30pm

West End Festival of the Arts- Opening Reception @ West End Arts Center, Long Branch - 6:00pm

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm

Brick City @ Premiere Stages at Kean University, Union - 8:00pm


FILM

New Jersey Film Festival @ Ruth Adams Building #001, New Brunswick - 6:00pm


KIDS

Crybaby Matinee: The Triplets of Belleville @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 11:00am

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