CFL’S SUMMER STAND IS A CABARET LICENSE TO THRILL

Felix Truex does it up GRAND, in a Wednesday night STAND that heralds the continuation of a beautiful relationship between Tim McLoone’s Supper Club, and the nonprofit Cabaret For Life. (photos courtesy Tara Feeley)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), July 11, 2019

While he acknowledges the fact that “Asbury Park has been coming back in the most amazing ways,” Andrew De Prisco emphasizes that for many of the city’s neediest inhabitants, the story remains much the same as it’s been for more than a quarter of a century. And when the need continues, The Show Must Go On — in the form of Cabaret For Life, Inc.

Established in the fall of 1995 by De Prisco, his artistic producing partner Fred Mayo, and John and Carole Hessel of Bradley Beach, the Ocean Grove-based nonprofit has kept the focus on “raising funds for service organizations that help people coping with life-threatening diseases, especially HIV/AIDS and cancer, through the production of musical theater.”

Any doubts as to the verifiable healing powers of a well-turned showtune should immediately take a back seat to the evidence of Cabaret For Life’s successful mission; particularly its track record of having raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities that range from such nationally known entities as the American Cancer Society and St. Jude Children’s Hospital, to Monmouth County-based nonprofits Ronald McDonald House of Long Branch, Mary’s Place by the Sea, K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital, the Ashley Lauren Foundation, the VNA Health Center, and The Center in Asbury Park’s Center House facility.

Speaking during a rehearsal for the upcoming De Prisco-produced staging of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Ocean Township’s Axelrod Performing Arts Center — about which more in a moment — the org’s co-founder notes that The Center has been the principal beneficiary of his group’s endeavors from the start, with the Cabaret crew raising an average of $10,000 per year for the Rev. Robert “Father Bob” Kaeding and his volunteer service organization for those living with HIV/AIDS. It’s an affiliation that dates back even before the official inception of Cabaret For Life, when Andrew and company staged their upbeat entertainments at Father Bob’s former post, the Church of St. Anselm in Tinton Falls — and as the new century enters its third decade, Cabaret For Life remains steadfastly committed to a community leader who “does a great deal of outreach…the people who live at Center House have a real need of their services, and when it comes to Father Bob we love to lift him up; to give a voice to his work.”

Following a “pretty peripatetic” interlude in which the Cabaret troupe did their thing at venues that included The Old Mill in Spring Lake, McLoone’s Rum Runner in Sea Bright, and Jumping Brook Country Club in Neptune, De Prisco landed at what would become Cabaret For Life’s regular home stage, when the company presented its first summer season of shows at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club in 2009.

“McLoone’s helped us re-invent ourselves for our second chapter,” the producer says of the elegant upstairs space located within the space-age “doo wop” saucer that once housed the late George Panas’s stalwart Howard Johnson’s during some of Asbury Park’s most challenging times. “It seemed the ideal place to create real cabaret…and for the first time, we were able to do single-person shows.”

A summertime staple that’s now in its 11th Supper Club season, the 2019 Cabaret For Life slate got underway on June 27 with The Dolly Parton Songbook, a tribute set that dedicated a full 100 percent of proceeds to local charities. As De Prisco tells it, the show’s success “speaks to the unique way that we operate, where our annual membership people help us to cover all of the expenses involved with putting on a show…and help us in turn to give all to charity.”

The summer schedule resumes once more this coming Wednesday, July 17, when Cabaret For Life welcomes back a performing partner who’s been with them from the get-go — singer, musician, and all-around entertainer Felix Truex — for the first of two one-man extravaganzas entitled Ain’t It Grand! Drawing from his prodigious mental songbook of Broadway, jazz, pop and rock standards, Truex performs a 7 pm solo set for which admission (a $35 donation) can be reserved at timmcloonessupperclub.com.

The assembled Housewives of Monmouth County return to Asbury Park for a “Reunion Tell-All,” with four performances beginning Wednesday, August 21.

 “He’s so funny and spontaneous,” De Prisco says of the musical multi-tasker who, in addition to being Vice President of the Cabaret org, also serves as a board officer of the Spring Lake-based South Street Players. “He can create an arrangement on the spot; he can remember and play a song he heard one time many years ago…and he’ll tell you ‘there’s no delay between what’s in my head, and what comes out on the piano’.”

Felix Truex offers an encore engagement of Ain’t It Grand! on the evening of Thursday, July 25 — and the action continues a few Thursdays thereafter on August 15, when veteran Cabaret/ APAC performers Ken Wasser and Deborah Murad join Supper Club newcomer Ruth Levy and musical director Neal Herstik for a triple-header headline act under the banner of Old Friends.

The 2019 slate goes into hyperdrive the following week, with the first of four “Season 10” presentations of that perennial Cabaret homegrown favorite, The Housewives of Monmouth County. Sprawling across a pair of midweek stands (August 21 and 22; August 27 and 28), it’s a savvy satire of both reali-TV culture and the Asbury area’s suburban backyard, with no less than six veteran cast members — Kristen Babcock (as “Leslie Lohan of Fair Haven”), Leonie Huggins (as “Connie Lombardi of Marlboro”), Mary Keefe (as “Carmella Mazzolla of Spring Lake”), Kelly Ross (as “Baroness St. Clair of Rumson”), Heather Varley (as “Nicole Marshall of Brielle”) and Jodi Woolley (as “Ruth Levitz of Deal”) reconvening for a “Reunion Tell-All” that promises to harken back to the heyday of such past Housewives hurlyburlys as “The Bridges of Monmouth County” and “Livin’ On a Prayer.”

Returning to the fold after a hiatus of several years, singer Cindy Buck closes out Cabaret for Life’s summer schedule at the Supper Club on September 19 and September 25, with a pair of “Simple Things” sets of Broadway, folk and pop favorites, delivered with full band backing.

Of course, the dynamic De Prisco wouldn’t be De Prisco without a simultaneous slew of other projects in the works — and the top item on the To-Do list this week is the Axelrod PAC production of Joseph, which goes up for the first of 13 highly anticipated performances tonight, July 11. Directed and choreographed by Broadway veteran Matthew Steffens, it’s a fresh take on the early bible-rockin’ triumph from the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice partnership that finds the Andrew/ APAC team upping its game once more on the local stagescape. Starring as young Joseph is Peter LaPrade (The Lightning Thief), described by the producer as a performer with “rock singer attitude…and very moving in the title role.”

He’s joined by Amma Osei (Broadway’s Rock of Ages) as the Narrator in a matchup of performer and part that De Prisco describes as “phenomenal” — and, as the Pharaoh,Josh Canfield; a star-quality player known as much for his tenure on the CBS show Survivor as he is for his Broadway turn in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812).

“Everyone uses Survivor as a point of reference, but Josh and his boyfriend were both appearing on the Broadway stage when people were watching him on TV,” says De Prisco (who, by the way, is an internationally recognized pet authority who has authored more than a dozen books on pet care and companionship). “He’s a genuine talent…with an awful lot of chutzpah!”

Performances of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat resume with two shows (5 and 8 pm) on Sunday, July 14, and continue through July 28 with a mix of matinee and evening curtains. Tickets ($58-$64 adults) and full schedule details can be obtained at axelrodartscenter.com, where you’ll also find info on the next projects from APAC artistic director De Prisco — a just-announced “Nutcracker in July” preview performance of the Axelrod Contemporary Ballet Theater December production of The Nutcracker Rocks inside the Asbury Park Carousel House (Sunday, 2 and 4 pm); the AXCBT staging of Alice in Wonderland (August 18-25); a concert version of The Who’s Tommy (September 7-8), and the musical comedy classic Guys and Dolls (November 1-17).

Take it to timmcloonessupperclub.com to reserve seating at any of the upcoming shows on the Cabaret For Life schedule — and to cabaretforlife.org to learn more about the mission of the nonprofit organization.