Surflight Theatre rebounds after Sandy

Posted: May 17, 2013

WHEN Ken Myers returned to Beach Haven's venerable Surflight Theatre after Superstorm Sandy had left a trail of destruction on Long Beach Island last fall, he was greeted by such sights as two 800-pound refrigerators (used by the theater's adjacent Showplace ice cream parlor) "upside-down on their sides" and thousands of ruined costumes dating back decades.

But the 63-year-old summer-stock icon's executive director barely flinched. "I looked at the theater, and I thought, 'OK, fine. Give me 10 days and I'll have a performance,' " he said following a Tuesday afternoon tour of the Surflight's stone's-throw-from-the-ocean complex.

"I've been in this business for 60 years. And with all the experiences, you wake up in the morning knowing it's been worse. It isn't being a Pollyanna. If you know what has to be done, you can do it."

In all, Myers, who assumed his position last September, just weeks before Sandy hit, was faced with an estimated $750,000 in damages (about $500,000 of which was covered by insurance). In addition to the refrigerators and costumes, other issues included lost storage space (today, the costume room is a jumble of ripped-up wooden flooring and exposed walls and wires), several computers still in their boxes and ruined carpeting in both the theater and lobby.

But with the help of the Surflight staff - which he described as "marvelous" - volunteer contractors and even Boy Scouts, the theater, while not 100 percent renovated, is operating as you read this.

Tomorrow, Fred Grandy, who portrayed Gopher on the popular 1970s TV series "The Love Boat," wraps up an 11-day run in the psychological thriller "Sleuth." The theater's 64th season officially begins May 25 with the 1920s musical comedy "The Boyfriend."

Sandy's unwelcome visit was only the latest in a series of recent problems (mostly of the financial variety) to befall the Surflight, which began life in 1950 as a summer-only, open-air venue under the one-man guidance of veteran showman Joseph P. Hayes, who died in 1976. (Hayes was famous for not only creating and producing the shows, but manning the concession stand at intermission.) So, once Myers knew there would be a 2013 season, he wanted the programming to be a little stronger than what is usually expected. Which accounts for the presence on the schedule of one of history's greatest blockbusters.

"I wanted this year to give [the staff and community] a feeling of security, that . . . we're really in business. Having some very strong friends in the industry, we were able to get 'Les Miserables,' " he said of the beloved "sung-through" musical that is booked July 31 to Aug. 24. "We are one of the first small theaters to get it."

The 450-seat room's size and budget dictates that this will be a more-modestly staged "Les Miz" than audiences are used to seeing (read: no turntable). But, Myers promised, "Vocally it will be as strong as it is on Broadway. We'll probably have a couple of people from Broadway."

The summer schedule also includes "George M!" (June 19-July 7), "Rogers & Hammerstein's South Pacific" (July 10-28) and "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" (Aug. 28-Sept. 8). Additionally, there is a full slate of one-night musical and comedy performances, including those by jazz-guitar titan Bucky Pizzarelli and his son John (July 22) and former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Colin Quinn (Aug. 9).

Though nobody could blame Myers if ticket prices were higher this summer, they have actually been sliced by 16 percent, from $54 to $45 (there's also a 50-percent discount for current and former military personnel with ID).

But everything, from the new paint and carpeting to the strong schedule to the reduced admission fees, is designed for a single purpose: To proclaim Myers' message which is simply, "We're open for business."


Surflight Theatre, Beach and Engelside avenues, Beach Haven, 609-492-9477, surflight.org.

Walnut 'Greases' up


 For its next presentation, the Walnut Street Theatre is going to the far edges of the theatrical avant-garde with its presentation of something called "Grease." It appears to be a look at long-gone manners and mores of the 1950s through the use of the rock music of the era and gallons of Vaseline.

But seriously, folks, the ever-popular musical that, in its original form, was meant to be a snarky put-down of '50s youth culture, but which has since morphed into a celebration thereof, opens Tuesday for a two-month run at the 204-year-old hall.


Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St., show times vary, $95-$10, 215-574-3550, walnutstreettheatre.org.


On Twitter: @chuckdarrow

Blog: philly.com/Casinotes

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