The Spirit of Joe Hayes Present at Surflight Theatre Grand Reopening

Jun 28, 2017

The atmosphere was positively electric at the grand reopening of Surflight Theatre last Friday evening. Searchlights lit up the sky above the Beach Haven landmark as ticket holders arrived. The lobby was packed because of the size of the crowd and the fact that many people paused on the way to their seats to say hello to and have their pictures taken with Kaitlyn Schoeffel, the recently crowned Miss New Jersey, and Olivia Suarez, the current Miss Ocean County, both sporting their tiaras.

When Producing Artistic Director Steve Steiner took the stage, clutching his trademark coffee mug, he received a warm round of applause before he introduced visiting celebrities and dignitaries such as Schoeffel, Suarez and representatives from the New Jersey Theatre Alliance, the South Jersey Cultural Alliance, the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce and Ocean County. He also had Beach Haven Mayor Nancy Taggart Davis take the stage to make a few remarks.

But it was the theater’s new owner, New York producer Al Parinello, who really got the audience going.

Parinello, who had been wearing a red “Make Surflight Great Again” baseball cap as he mixed with patrons in the lobby, climbed onstage holding a picture frame, carefully avoiding showing the front. He started telling a story about “a man with a large paper bag” and asked if the gentleman had made it to the show. The man, who wouldn’t give his name, answered from the audience, and Parinello welcomed him and continued with his story.

A couple of weeks ago, he said, the man had come into the lobby of the theater carrying a large paper bag. The visitor pulled out the picture, saying he had seen it sticking out of a garbage pile back in the days when Surflight was shuttered after declaring bankruptcy back in February 2015. He thought Surflight might want it back.

Parinello fought back tears as he revealed the picture to the audience. It was the headshot of Joe Hayes that had hung in the Surflight lobby for decades.

Hayes founded Surflight in 1950. Parinello had never met him, but he had heard tales of Hayes’ energy and joy. That’s what he and Steiner, said Parinello, would bring back to Surflight. What an omen, he said of the man with the large paper bag returning the picture.

Parinello called Steiner up to the stage once again as he exited to a huge round of applause. Steiner made a few more remarks and left to another round of thunderous clapping. It was time for the curtain to come up on “Footloose.”

The show itself earned a standing ovation. But an even better sign was that many people were dancing up the aisles as they exited the theater, even patrons who were old enough to have been at Surflight’s first show back in 1950.

The energy and joy of live musical theater is back in Beach Haven. Joe Hayes, who passed away in our nation’s bicentennial year, would be so happy.

— Rick Mellerup

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