Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Memo From the RTC: Rockaway Café Rocks – Three Down, Seven to Go

Memo from the RTC:  Rockaway Café Rocks – Three Down, Seven to Go
By Norm Scott

The theme for the Rockaway Theatre Company’s 20th Anniversary celebration of Rockaway Café is “Then and Now.” The program guide states: “You are about to see a song and dance review containing tunes performed in previous Cafés in a mash up with numbers brand new to our stage, but related to the oldies.”

Where do I start? A cast of forty doing forty two songs, many with choreographed dance or little skits to enhance the stories they tell, some with scenery and stagecraft and a bonus of numerous videos to go along with the stories they tell. How does one manage all this mayhem? Maybe it takes former teachers like Director John Gilleece and Producer Susan Jasper to handle such a massive project that took months in the making. John is more than a director. He is also a teacher of theater and a teacher of how to behave like a professional in the theater. The cast and crew may be volunteers but it is clear that they all behave no differently than they would if they were on the Broadway stage.

I warned you in the last two weeks that the dance numbers would blow people away and they have. So let me go no further than mentioning the amazing choreographers: Nicola DePierro-Nellen, Gabrielle Mangano and Catherine Leib who have done the bulk of RTC choreography over the years. Their experience has taken the dance numbers in Café to a new level. I’d like to tell you which numbers to give special attention to but they are all so good I can’t choose. This time they are joined by Madiha Corning and Thomasina Ryszetnyk, with the ballet sequence in Jose Velez’ rendition of “Rose in Spanish Harlem” performed and choreographed by Dana Mongelli, an RTC favorite whom we first met as an RTC newcomer in acting class a year ago. Dana, a La Guardia HS graduate, performed professionally for a spell and shows it in her every move.

Now, with a cast of forty there is no way I can talk about everyone in this short space. Actually, I only get to see snatches of the show from either backstage or peering through the curtains at the back of the theater, so I don’t get to see everyone. However, at the risk of offending some people who put their hearts and souls into the show, I will mention a few people in this article and get to some others next week.

A friend, who is a theater critic and saw the show Saturday night, took special note of the astounding Erech Holder-Hetmeyer, a vast talent (and not too long ago a student at Murrow HS) who is a dominating figure on stage. Erech has been asked to do so much in this show – and of course delivers, whether it is singing a ballad (“Slip Sliding Away”), delivering a hard rock version of “Psycho Killer”, or performing duets “Uptown Funk” with Anthony Melendez or “You’re All I Need to Get By” with the lovely Maria Francesconi-Schirripa. People I know who have seen Erech in The Producers or La Cage are surprised to find he is learning to be an electrician instead of starring on Broadway.

Also asked to take a leading role is Maria Francesconi-Schirripa, another triple threat singer, dancer and actor, who is clearly someone who could have been on Broadway. Maria, an RTC fave, who, while taking time off to raise a family, has played Sister Sarah, a soprano lead in Guys and Dolls and performed a dynamic solo as Valerie in A Chorus Line, blows it all out in Café. Watching her every move on state is worth more than the price of admission. 

I can write ten columns about the cast but I’m pretty much out of space and I have a dozen more talented people to talk about. Look for more about them next week.

Performances are Nov. 3, 4, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18 at 8PM and Nov. 5, 12, 19 at 2 PM. Tickets are $20, $15 for seniors. Call RTC Hotline: 718-374-6400 or
Norm is practicing his dance steps for the 30th anniversary of Rockaway Cafe when he will be 82. Meanwhile he is also practicing writing in his other WAVE column, School Scope, and daily at his blog,

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