2013-07-26 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio

Hallelujah Rockaway Theatre Company!
By Susan Hartenstein

"Rock, Rock, Rockaway Beach" l-r-Jessica Mintzes, Suzanne Riggs, Gabrielle Mangano, Matthew Smilardi, John Panepinto, Najat Arkadan, Nicole Mangano. Photo by Jessica Schulman. "Rock, Rock, Rockaway Beach" l-r-Jessica Mintzes, Suzanne Riggs, Gabrielle Mangano, Matthew Smilardi, John Panepinto, Najat Arkadan, Nicole Mangano. Photo by Jessica Schulman. The Rockaway Theatre Company is back in business in Fort Tilden. Their production of “The Rockaway Café – The Comeback” is a must see for every Rockaway resident who has come back – physically, geographically, ‘architecturally;’ for those who wish to come back; for those who have fought the power of nature with their own power; for those who have had to give up the fight, but have never lost heart.

Kudos to Director John Gilleece, Assistant Director Susan Warren Corning, Musical Director Jeff Arzberger, choreographers, stage and technical crew and a cast of talented performers and musicians.

“Rockaway Café” is our story; a story told with great humor and poignancy. Cleverly weaving contemporary rock and pop songs and standards with original choreography, and based on an original concept by Susan Jasper and John Gilleece, we are taken from disaster to aftermath to daunting struggles to hard-fought triumphs and exuberant hope for the future. Opening night the waves of emotion and pleasure flowing back and forth between the talented cast and the highly receptive audience and the bonds within those groups were palpable. Such bonds in a theater are precious gifts to those on both sides of the proscenium.

Jodee Timpone’s touching interpretation of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” speaks so poignantly to those who struggled against the waters and joined with others in the battle. “Lean on Me,” with Chazmond J. Peacock leading a chorus of first responders reaches into the hearts of all who had been offered a strong, loving hand by the many volunteers and professionals who came to our aid. But the emotion is balanced by the rip-roaring energy and ‘rise to the feet’ celebration of our courage and resilience in songs like “I Made It Through the Rain” and “We Have Survived”; and by the humor found throughout in grand abundance. You’ll never see “It’s Raining Men” performed quite like this anywhere else. Brava, Matthew Smilardi and Chazmond J. Peacock. Threading through the entire evening the driving, pulsating, uplifting energy unifies and magnifies the production, and pulls the audience along in its thrilling cadence. Many numbers had the audience joining in the fun, clapping along in rhythm or singing the lyrics. Many had them singing with tears in their eyes. The lighting design by Andrew Woodbridge contributes a visual pulse beat to the production.

The extraordinary communion between the audience and the performers on stage occurred because we all went through this – together. The performers succeeded in expressing in words and music and personal interpretation the powerful emotions and thoughts of people who might not have been able to express their myriad reactions to the devastation that attacked this community.

Artists – visual artists, theatrical artists, dancers, musicians, are the heart and soul of a community. They are able to express the inexpressible. And they are able to entertain when it is most needed. They are the health of a community, the cathartic outlet necessary for a community to be able to find voice and fight back from the pain and loss. They even find the humor hiding under a pile of felled planks and collapsed roofs, waiting for the chance to rise again.

Welcome back, RTC, as we have welcomed back Rockaway Artists Alliance to our community’s Fort Tilden. Don’t let anyone ever tell you the arts aren’t practical. They are vital to the well-being of a community. Enter as ‘Exhibit 1,’ the smiling, cheering crowds at “Rockaway Café,” celebrating their hometown, themselves and each other. The celebration was led by and inspired by the ‘comeback’ production of “The Rockaway Café – 2013.” Come see it if you consider Rockaway your home, your heart, your soul. You will be touched beyond measure.

RTC has fought back to restore the Post Theater, but so much more needs to be done. When you buy a ticket; when you come to a performance and participate in the Chinese auctions and 50/50s, you are supporting our splendid theater company. So do it …and enjoy!

Remaining performances are: July 25th-28th; August. 2nd, 3rd, 4th. Friday and Saturday evening performances at 8 p.m.; Sunday performances at 3 p.m. For reservations please call the RTC hotline at 718-374-6400 or visit www.rockawaytheatrecompany.org

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