Ocean Professional Theatre Co. Proving Pros Can Be Found In Ocean County

By RICK MELLERUP | Apr 12, 2012

Southern Ocean County’s newest theatrical troupe, Steve Steiner’s Ocean Professional Theatre Co., is, as the name implies, professional.

Steiner recently said the company has inked a guest artist contract with Actors’ Equity, the union for professional stage actors and stage managers, so that the likes of John Davidson can tread the boards of the Barnegat High School theater this summer, starring in a production of “Man of La Mancha.” Steiner and Co. also held three days of auditions in the Big Apple in March and will be bringing in plenty of New York talent for its 2012 season.

“We’re going to be renting apartments or houses in Barnegat for our performers and our tech people as well,” said Steiner. “We’re figuring we’ll probably have to house about 15 performers.”

However, Steiner isn’t overlooking the local talent pool. It would be preferable for his new venture to spend more on production values to pack the house and less on housing, so he’s looking to round up as much talent from within “reasonable commuting distance” as possible.

“It’s not only for savings; we really want to hire locals to help the local economy,” he said.

That doesn’t mean a drop-off in talent at all. New Jersey is loaded with well-trained, experienced, performers. Indeed, Ocean County, even Southern Ocean County, is home to plenty of talented individuals. A look at the cast of the OPTC’s first show of the season, “Nunset Boulevard,” which is set to run from May 8 through May 13, clearly demonstrates that.

The show, the sixth and latest sequel to Dan Goggin’s “Nunsense,” which opened in 1985 and went on to become the second-longest-running Off-Broadway musical ever, once again features five of the Little Sisters of Hoboken. There’s Mother Superior, Mary Regina, a former circus performer who still, perhaps unconsciously, yearns for the spotlight. Sister Mary Hubert, the novice master, is the most dignified of the bunch but competitive when challenged. Sister Robert Anne hails from Brooklyn, meaning she is as streetwise as a nun can get. Mary Leo, a novice, wants to be the world’s first ballerina nun. Mary Amnesia is wacky and childlike, but God gifted her with a fantastic voice (the reason became evident in the second “Nunsense” sequel when she recovered the memory she had lost after being hit in the head with a crucifix and recalled she had once been a country singer).

Angela Schultz has been selected to play Mary Regina. She’s a native of the Show Me State with an undergrad degree in voice from Missouri Baptist University and a master of arts education from Fontbonne University in St. Louis. But she’s a New Yorker now, as evidenced by her 2012 MAC Award nomination. MAC is the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs – can’t get more New York than that.

Mary Hubert will be portrayed by Debra Thais Evans. Local theatergoers will be familiar with Evans – she played Motormouth Maybelle in “Hairspray” at Surflight Theatre in 2009 before taking to the road in a national tour with the same part. She also blew the Surflight audience away that summer with her performance as a gospel singer in “Ragtime,” which isn’t surprising considering she has an opera as well as a musical theater background. A native New Yorker, Evans still calls Brooklyn home.

The other three parts in “Nunset Boulevard,” Steiner was proud to say, have been awarded to locals, a reflection, he said, of the area’s tremendous talent pool.

Christina Skleros will be playing Sister Robert Anne. She’s a Southern Regional High School grad who now owns Musicology Studios in Barnegat, where she teaches voice, piano, flute and violin. Yet she may be more associated with New York than any of the other performers. She was the Yankees’ “good luck charm” in 1996. Every time the then 8-year-old sang the National Anthem before a Bronx Bombers game, they won, including the sixth and deciding game of the World Series.

Skleros has also performed at venues as varied as the White House, Avery Fischer Hall and Madison Square Garden. She earned a bachelor’s in music – jazz vocal studies from William Paterson University in 2011.

Jannah Tabbacchino will be tackling the role of Mary Amnesia. That’s another name that should be familiar with local theater fans because she’s a lifelong resident of Waretown who performed throughout her high school career both at Southern Regional and with the Our Gang Players, Southern Ocean County’s longest-running community theater troupe. Her work was most recently on local display when the Southern Regional Theatre Co. gave a marvelous performance of “Seussical the Musical” just a few weeks ago – Tabbacchino, now a member of the Southern faculty, teaching Middle School Chorus, Drama, and Music Appreciation, directed “Seussical.”

Between attending and teaching at Southern, Tabbacchino attended the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University, where she earned her bachelor’s of music. While there she was a member of the Montclair State Chorale and the University Singers, which gave her the opportunity to perform with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (Verdi’s “Requiem” and Orff’s “Carmina Burana.”).

Lisa Carlson will be playing Mary Leo. Carlson grew up in Manahawkin, where she first broke into show biz in a most local way – starting at the age of 13, she performed annually as such town events as the Founder’s Day, Good Ole Days and Arbor Day celebrations, as well as the town’s Christmas tree lighting. She went on to perform with Southern’s theater company, jazz ensemble and select choir.

 Like Tabbacchino, Carlson went off to Montclair State, but after one semester decided to go to New York, where she studied at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. But the most “local” performer of them all probably has put the most miles on her frequent flier card – she has served as Donna Summer’s wardrobe coordinator since 2006 and has accompanied her on numerous world tours. Before that she was a backup dancer for Neil Young’s 2003 “Greenville Tour.”

Again like Skleros and Tabbacchino, Carlson never has let go of her local ties. She’s the owner of Starlight Performing Arts in Manahawkin, where some of her students have advanced to play Benji in “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” on Broadway and Young Fiona in a national tour of “Shrek the Musical.”  She has also been choreographing the Southern Regional Theatre Co.’s musicals since 2006.

Steiner is convinced that with talent such as Skleros, Tabbacchino and Carlson, the Ocean Professional Theatre Co. will be able to do justice to both “Ocean” and “Professional.”

 

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