New York Producer Closes Deal for Surflight Theatre

Management Hard at Work for June Opening
May 03, 2017

It’s now official – Surflight Theatre is back.

On Friday, New York producer Al Parinello closed his deal with TD Bank and became the owner of the 0.61-acre Beach Haven theater complex that includes the 450-seat theater proper, the adjacent Show Place ice cream parlor, offices, housing for performers and technical staff, and a single-family house used to house visiting directors and the like. The theater and its outlying buildings had been shuttered since February 2015 when its board of trustees filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Parinello’s offer of slightly less than $2 million for the purchase had been accepted by TD Bank in February, but naysayers were wary. After all, since the theater went bankrupt many plans to resurrect the Queen City landmark had been floated only to sink.

Former producing artistic director Steve Steiner had attempted to round up financial backers to purchase Surflight almost immediately after the bankruptcy and had been in negotiations with court-appointed bankruptcy trustee John M. McDonnell. But by August 2015, when the complex was auctioned off, his backers were tired of waiting and Steiner couldn’t even make a bid.

Greg Russo, reportedly a North Jersey developer who wouldn’t tell reporters his plans for the complex, had the winning $2 million bid at the August auction, but McDonnell refused to accept the bid and filed a notice of abandonment, leaving Russo out in the cold.

That same month a local businessman, William Burris, announced his plan to turn the complex into a mini-convention center with the theater as its centerpiece. When TD Bank became the official owner of the complex by buying it at auction in December 2015, Burris said he would pursue that idea but no more was heard of it.

In February 2016 Beach Haven Mayor Nancy Taggart Davis announced that she and Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini were considering a plan conjured up by a local group called LBI Theater Inc. that included some of the members of the theater’s past board of trustees. It called for the borough and township to purchase the theater and then rent it to the group to run. But some members of the governing bodies of both municipalities shied away, not wanting to burden taxpayers, and that plan went to naught.

In November 2016 Bill Hanney, a Massachusetts-based impresario with a history of saving historic theaters, threw his name into the hat.

“He’s definitely interested and serious about purchasing Surflight,” said Davis at that time. “I’ve talked with him numerous times and with Paul Ryan, who works with him and who, years ago, worked at Surflight. He’s taken a tour of Surflight so he knows what work it needs, and he wants to make major upgrades. ... I know he just put in a second, higher, bid to TD Bank.”

But it was Steiner, who had said all along that he was still in the game, who prevailed. He had worked with Parinello – currently the lead producer of the Off-Broadway production “The Fantasticks” – in the past, teaming up with him to produce two years’ worth of Broadway-style shows in Atlantic City a few years ago. They had clicked, and in December Parinello agreed to work with Steiner again, deciding to purchase the theater complex and rent it out to Steiner to actually run.

“It ruined my Christmas,” said Parinello at a March 6 press conference, announcing his purchase. “It was a lot of pulling teeth.”

But at the end of February the deal was finally signed. The problem was that at that press conference Parinello said the deal had been closed. Although Parinello and Steiner were confident the sale would go through after TD Bank did “its due diligence,” the official closing hadn’t taken place, leading some to worry Parinello would go the same way as Burris, LBI Theater Inc. and Hanney.

They need worry no more.

Surflight will open its main stage season on June 23 with “Footloose.” That show will be followed by “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Disney’s Newsies,” “Hairspray,” “Million Dollar Quartet” and the Christmas season’s “Home for the Holidays: A Surflight Celebration.” A concert series includes performances by John Davidson, the Coasters, Drifters and Platters and The New Millennium Jazz Band Plays the Sinatra Songbook. Children’s theater will return and Show Place will once again feature a singing wait staff.

Cleaning, environmental and other building work has already begun. Steiner, once again Surflight’s producing artistic director, and his management team are close to completing casting for both Surflight and Show Place.

Pinch yourself. Surflight really is back.

— Rick Mellerup

Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McDonald | May 04, 2017 09:26

Wishing the Surflight Theater much success with this noble neighborhood revival offering us more seasonal fun and community entertainment.

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