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

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Inset: Andrea McArdle is pictured as she appeared (with co-stars Sandy and Reid Shelton) in the original 1977 Broadway production of the hit musical ANNIE. The stage star returns to the show that made her famous — this time as mean Miss Hannigan — in the production that runs for three weekends at Ocean Township’s Axelrod Performing Arts Center.

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, November 1 2018

She was famously pulled from the ensemble to be thrust into the title role of one of the season’s most hotly anticipated musicals, in a story that might have made for a classic “backstage” musical in itself. She became the youngest performer ever to be Tony-nominated as Best Lead Actress in a Musical, only to lose out to the veteran who played her character’s nemesis in the same show. And, although her look and her voice and her positively charged energy have served as the standard against which all future portrayers of Annie would be judged, she would retire her characterization of the plucky Depression-era moppet at the end of the 1970s.

Beginning tomorrow night, November 2, and continuing across three weekends through November 18, Andrea McArdle returns to the Martin Charnin-Charles Strouse musical adaptation of the long-running comic strip Little Orphan Annie — not as Harold Gray’s juvenile heroine, but as that aforementioned nemesis, the mean orphanage matron and criminal conspiracist Miss Hannigan.

The professional production going up at Ocean Township’s Axelrod Performing Arts Center actually represents the third time that McArdle has taken on that comical villain role originated on Broadway by Dorothy Loudon. But, as the 54 year old stage star suggests, “the third time’s the charm” — especially when weighed against her original misgivings about accepting a role that would represent a forever-break from the “girl next door” parts that she had excelled in long into her adulthood (these included her stint in the original Broadway cast of State Fair at age 33, and, at 38, an acclaimed stint as Belle — “a Belle as old as time,” she jokes — in the Disney show Beauty and the Beast).

That first turn as Miss Hannigan, at the North Carolina Theatre in 2010, turned out to be “a real head trip” and a success for McArdle, despite it being “a really daunting task” for a lifelong performer whose “memory (of working with the Tony-winning Loudon) is so vivid and strong.”

“I’m literally being thrown into this one… but I’m a quick study, and fortunately the character has only two big songs instead of thirteen,” explains the actress and singer who first revisited Annie when she briefly appeared as “The Star To Be” in a 1999 ABC-TV movie version. “I’ve also had fantastic Annies each time I’ve done the show…and the little girl who’s playing Annie (Echo Picone) is a real treasure; a real find.”

“She has a quiet strength; a strong presence…some kids are just naturals,” says the former child star who has spent much of her career working with and mentoring young stage hopefuls — and whose adult daughter has also amassed a resume of theatrical credits (now a proud grandmother, McArdle also praises her 9 month old granddaughter for having “the tone and the pitch” to succeed in show business).

As McArdle recalls, “I did my share of shows performed for an audience of toys, with the hairbrush microphone…but I had to beg my parents to audition for a commercial;”  an experience that would lead to her first big break in a recurring role on the soap opera All My Children. “We as a family all had a part in my success.” Continue reading

‘HAIR’ gets the TONY treatment, at Axelrod PAC

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, August 9 2018

The scene, beneath a darkening evening sky a couple of Mondays back, might have qualified as something akin to “magic,” to anyone who keeps tabs on the Asbury Park music whirl. Magic, or maybe more accurately the stuff of superheroics — the kind in which a mild/wild-mannered actor/ singer/ director named Anthony D’Amato suits up as dynamic alter ego Remember Jones; summoning his big-band organization like a jukebox Justice League, and taking to the stage, any stage (in this case, a “surprise surprise” open-air freebie at Asbury’s Springwood Park), whenever the energy level threatens to flag.

The unannounced entry in the AP Music Foundation’s Music Mondays series was made all the more remarkable by the fact that D’Amato/Jones and company were supposedly just homeward bound from one of their most extensive multi-state tours to date — giving these assembled Avengers the apparent superpower of being in multiple places at the same time. It’s a not-at-all outlandish assumption for longtime observers of Remember Jones (the man and the band), given that the act has exploded so as to seem everywhere at once — touring and recording behind an ever-growing catalog of supremely soulful original music; astonishing audiences with themed sets dedicated to everyone from Amy Winehouse, Joe Cocker and Jeff Buckley, to Kanye West (and even a full concert experience drawn from R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet”); and just generally supercharging the show-band template in venues that have ranged from the smallest of spaces to the Stoney SummerStage.

“Really, I’m not a superman,” insists D’Amato, who in his “spare time” has starred as both Jekyll & Hyde in a recent production at Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park, portrayed Hedwig and Rocky Horror’s Frank N. Furter, and consulted as a producing artistic director with the Strand Theater in Lakewood. “I have anxieties…I lose my voice…and I’ve failed at things!”

That said, the succinctly self-described “entertainer” acknowledges that the Remember Jones project is “the fastest-moving thing I’ve ever been part of; it feels like the first time I’ve caught some fire, and it’s turned into something big…and something that’s a business…really fast.”

In the process of bolstering the act’s nationwide profile — and getting into position to become the honest-to-goodness Next Big Thing nurtured by the fertile Jersey Shore music scene — D’Amato continues to brainstorm ways in which to bridge the twin realms of theater and pop music. Attentive attendees at that Springwood set might have picked up a crucial clue to the showman/shaman’s next move, when the Remember Jones band launched into a stormcloud-defying chorus of “Let the Sun Shine In,” a timeline-defining signature selection from the groundbreaking Rado-Ragni-McDermott rock musical Hair. Not coincidentally, the show that marked the golden anniversary of its Broadway debut here in 2018 comes to the Axelrod PAC stage for five performances beginning Wednesday, August 15, in a concert-format production co-produced, directed by and co-starring the ubiquitous Mr. Jones.

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