It’s a beautiful summer night in Ocean Grove, NJ. As we stroll the boardwalk, folks are leaving the beach after a day of fun in the sun, whereas others are just arriving to enjoy the cool evening breeze.
The sky slowly changes colors as the sun begins to set.
Music lovers congregate at the pavilion on the boardwalk to enjoy live music with a religious theme.
Others canvas the beach collecting shells.
Youngsters can be seen happily chasing three-foot-long bubbles on the beach as Roxanne, “The Bubble Lady,” creates enormous amorphously-shaped bubbles using two poles connected with a web of string by dipping them into a bucket of magic solution.
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But inside Ocean Grove’s historic Great Auditorium, there is a different kind of magic going on as comedian Taylor Mason performs for a crowd of all ages.
A winner of TV’s Star Search with Ed MacMahon — the predecessor to today’s America’s Got Talent — Mason is a ventriloquist, musician, and stand-up comedian who has carved out a career in entertainment that has taken him around the world and into living rooms across the United States for the past 25 years.
An award-winning performer, Mason grew up in Illinois where his experience with Chicago’s Second City theater company developed into a career performing on television, on Disney cruise ships, in comedy clubs across the nation, and even at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
Unlike many comedians of his generation, Mason’s act is 100% G-rated. As such, in his show, more than anything else, he “concentrates on jokes and punch lines.”
Currently a resident of Moorestown, NJ, Mason still works all over the country, but says he especially enjoys performing in comedy clubs and at college campuses around the Garden State.
And here at the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, it’s obvious Mason is having a ball as he tells jokes, “converses” with puppets, and sings, accompanied by his own piano playing.
An accomplished ventriloquist, Mason’s act includes hilarious antics with a variety of appealing puppets, notably the cynical adolescent, Romeo.
Whether he is singing, telling jokes and stories, or working with kids and adults whom he invites to handle his menagerie of puppets on stage, Mason’s quick wit keeps the show constantly moving and keeps his audience in stitches.
Explaining to the crowd that his act is extremely “low-tech,” Mason reveals that he builds his puppets using everyday items like Clorox bottles, wire clothes hangers, and pipe cleaners.
He brings these inanimate items to life with his hands, his vocal talents, and his imagination so realistically that it’s easy for audience members to forget that these really personable characters aren’t really real.
Throughout Mason’s show, audience participation is key.
At one point, Mason performs with multiple audience members who help him to create a memorable puppet musical rendition of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
After giving a penguin puppet to Amy, a mom from Mountain Lakes; a pig puppet to Moshi, a six-year-old girl; and his Romeo puppet to 15-year-old AJ from Brick, Mason stops the show to ask for one more volunteer.
When the children of a father named Matt in the audience volunteer their dad for the job, instead of handing Matt another puppet, Mason places a mask-like contraption over Matt’s mouth which is connected to a controller that will be worked for laughs by Mason.
With his human and puppet entourage now in place, Mason begins an entertaining rendition of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” as each puppet — one at a time — talks and performs lines from the song.
As the “guest puppeteers” — Amy, Moshi, and AJ — respectively move their puppets’ mouths, Mason does all of the voice work, seamlessly aligning his words to each puppet’s mouth movements. Mason’s spot-on use of timing — and pitch — elicits giggles and guffaws from the crowd!
Moreover, father Matt takes things one step further, moving around like a cartoon character and chatting like a human puppet with Mason controlling his prosthetic mouth so effortlessly that more than a few members of the audience can be heard exclaiming, “He must be a plant!”
Following the show, we take a moment to chat with Matt, who assures us that neither he — nor any of the other audience members who appeared on stage with Mason tonight — “received any coaching whatsoever before the show!”
Matt’s son, Anton, tells us that when Mason asked for a volunteer dad to come up on stage, he pointed to his father because he knew his dad had been a “theater geek” in school and would “play along for fun.”
Says Anton about seeing Mason on stage working so effortlessly in tandem with his father, ”I really enjoyed it — it’s not every day you get to see something like that!”
Anton’s sister, Kaela, reveals she was “kind of embarrassed” when Mason chose her dad to come up on stage, yet quickly notes with a smile, “but he did pretty good!”
In addition to Anton and Kaela, other audience members talk about how much they enjoyed Mason’s show as well.
Amber from Brick calls Mason, “Hilarious!” wondering, “How could you not laugh?”
Amber discloses she first saw Mason perform at a prior New Jersey engagement, acknowledging, “I wanted to see a show the whole family could enjoy.”
As a result of that experience, she brought her son, AJ, with her to tonight’s performance in Ocean Grove.
Revealing, “The last time I saw Taylor Mason, I was invited on stage, so I was thrilled when AJ was picked to go up there this time.”
AJ, who got to control Taylor’s Romeo puppet during the hilarious performance of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” says of his experience with Mason, “It was really fun!”
Also adding, “I was laughing a lot, too, when I was in the audience,” AJ speaks for many in the crowd who had a wonderful time laughing out loud to a wholesome family performance that folks of every generation can enjoy.
Near the end of his show, Mason, himself, has a heartfelt chat with his audience of kids and adults of all ages about dreams and how people can make them come true.
Explains Mason, “Dreams can come true — when you help others achieve their dreams.”
Acknowledging to the folks in the Great Auditorium tonight, “God works with people. We’re working together! Tonight, people put on a show for me!” Mason concludes by summing up with a wink and a smile, “We came in as strangers and now we’re good friends.”
To learn more about Taylor Mason, please go to taylormason.com. For further information on upcoming performances at the Great Auditorium — including Neil Sedaka on August 12 and The Beach Boys on August 19— please click on www.oceangrove.org.Photos by Love Imagery
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