Haddonfield Plays and Players put the “fun” in fundraising this November 21st. HPP presented a telethon to ease the financial strain imposed by the COVID-19 lockdown. They did so by doing what they do best: showcasing top talent in the South Jersey area. The program took place via YouTube.
The organizers began by reminding the audience of what they’ve been missing over the last several months. The show opened with a montage of brief clips from Haddonfield Plays and Players’ past productions. They ranged from last season’s performances all the way back to 1996’s production of Frankenstein.
Dave Staveski, HPP’s President, introduced the program. He gave the audience an overview of Haddonfield Plays and Players’ 87-year history. Several well-known performers began their careers on its stage. Michael Landon performed there during the 1940s. Theatrical and television performer Julia Udine took its stage for 2010’s West Side Story. Before performing on Broadway in Disney’s The Lion King, Ben Lipitz joined the cast of HPP’s Robin Hood in 1980. Mr. Lipitz made his return to Haddonfield Plays and Players for this performance. He entertained the audience with a wonderful rendition of “If I Were a Rich Man.”
Director Gary Werner ensured that the show featured material that would appeal to a diverse audience. The song selection encompassed a variety of musical styles. It included myriad sentimental ballads, more soulful material and even some comedy. Solo numbers as well as duets populated the set list.
Dana Weiss’ song choice provided the choice adjective to describe her performance. Ms. Weiss sang “Astonishing” from the musical version of Little Women. Ms. Weiss’ expressive face and strong vocals allowed the audience to experience the same emotions as her character. She did so while smoothly singing the melody’s quick phrasing and executing the vibrato that concluded the phrases.
Annie Raczko adorned a wig and cape for her number as King George III from Hamilton. Ms. Raczko added comical shoulder movements and an English accent to her interpretation of “You’ll Be Back.” Her sinister smile as she sang the lyrics, “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love” enhanced Lin Manuel-Miranda’s dark humor.
Darryl Thompson, Jr. showed his own flair for style by taking the stage in a vest, shirt and tie. He performed with a unique musical by style, too. Mr. Thompson crooned like a rhythm and bluesy Nat King Cole. He added a bit of Stevie Wonder’s influence to his rendition of “That’s All.”
Nick French accompanied himself on guitar for the folk song “The Mary Ellen Carter.” It’s theme of triumph over adversity was a solid addition to the program. Sound engineer Kalman Dunne added good reverb to the vocals for this track. Always a talented singer, Mr. French showed himself just as adept at finger picking a six string.
Life during the pandemic made a selection from Songs for a New World eerily appropriate. DJ Hedgepath showed that he is living his given destiny with this rendition. He delivered an upbeat and soulful performance of “King of the World.”
Trisha Dennis’ choice of “Back to Before” from Ragtime seemed chillingly suitable for the same reason. One could interpret the song as a lament from an actor to her audience. Ms. Dennis delivered impassioned vocals on the lines:
There was a time
Our happiness seemed never-ending…
We can never go back to before.
Tami Funkhouser performed another song that conjured images of a performer speaking to her audience during the lockdown. Ms. Funkhouser delivered a beautiful, heartfelt performance of “You’ll Never Know.”
You’ll never know how much I miss you
You’ll never know how much I care
And if I tried, I still couldn’t hide my love for you…
You went away and my heart went with you.
Following the family tradition, Ms. Funkhouser’s two sons contributed their immense talents to the production.
Evan Brody sang “Shiksa Goddess” from The Last Five Years. It contained the line, “I’m breaking my mother’s heart.” Not with this performance he didn’t. A mambo/boogie beat drove the song. Mr. Brody sang over this unusual rhythm with terrific skill.
Taylor Brody joined DJ Hedgepath for the duet, “The Proposal/The Night Was Alive” from Titanic: The Musical. Both Mr. Body and Mr. Hedgepath delivered moving interpretations of this emotional track. They included the appropriate facial expressions and mannerisms to suit the lyrics.
It’s Only Intermission contained a host of sentimental favorites for theatre fans. They included: “Maria” by Andy Boettcher, “Waiting for Life to Begin” by Tess Smith, “Written in the Stars” by duo Jasmine Roosa and Chris McGinnis, “Being Alive” by Amanda Frederick, “Whose to Say” by Emma Scherz and Ava Kapelus, “Say It to Me Now” by Justin Walsh, “My Man” by Faith McCleery, “I Don’t Need a Roof” by Allison Korn, “Alone in the Universe” by Cassie Scherz and John Sayles, the duet “All the Wasted Time” by Arielle Egan and Andrew Jaremea, “Giants in the Sky” by Jake Gillman and “Home” by Nicki Intereri.
Other performers varied the musical catalog by performing in different genres. Abby Brown turned in a soulful rendition of “What It Means to Be a Friend” from 13. Matt Goodrich selected “Being a Geek” from the same musical. This song contained a rhythm and bluesy beat that at times included elements of early rock and roll. Joe Grasso sang a tribute to fatherhood with “The World’s Greatest Dad.” The latter appeared in Elf: The Musical.
Some Haddonfield Plays and Players alumni reprised songs they performed there in recent seasons. Husband and wife duo Megan and Tommy Balne revisited “Everything is Rosie” from 2016’s Bye, Bye Birdie. The enthusiasm they showed performing this song again made one wonder if they were really acting. Gabrielle Werner followed-up her performance in 2019’s Fun Home with another strong rendition of “Ring of Keys.”
The show concluded with Jasmine Roosa delivering an extraordinary combination of gospel and soul. Ms. Roosa performed a monumental version of “I Know Where You’ve Been” from Hairspray.
Since the show was broadcast virtually, the production team utilized three cameras to capture the singers. Watching the program from multiple angles helped create the illusion of seeing people perform on a stage.
The following individuals served on the production team.
Producer – Tami Funkhouser
Director – Gary Werner
Musical Director – Pat DeFusco
Sound – Kalman Dunne
Lighting – Omaria Parilla-Dunne
Camera Operator # 1 – Gary Werner
Camera Operator # 2 – Emmett Turco
Camera Operator # 3 – Bobby Werner
The suspension of live community theatre has challenged audiences, performers and community theatre organizations. The losses described in the show’s ballads took on a different meaning because of current circumstances. But, as Mr. Staveski noted, “It’s only intermission.”
Those interesting in experiencing this entertaining evening still have the opportunity. A link to Haddonfield Plays and Players’ fundraiser is available here: It’s Only Intermission – YouTube.