While Congregation Tifereth Israel appeared closed and empty on the night of Oct. 7, it was anything but, as nine people gathered inside the temple to rehearse for the CTI Theatre of Glen Cove’s first-ever show, set to premiere on Oct. 24.
Under the leadership of director Rich Buckley — who has directed a number of shows at the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center, in Greenvale — the new theatrical troupe prepared to bring to life Broadway legend Neil Simon’s classic musical comedy “They’re Playing Our Song.”
Phil Essex, of Sea Cliff, who is producing and starring in the show, said he thought of staging it after he completed a run of “Mamma Mia” with Buckley at the JCC in February. While the initial motivation, Essex said, was to ward off “theater withdrawal syndrome” — the emptiness actors feel when they finish a show — the real drive for creating the Glen Cove group was to re-establish a theater group on the Gold Coast.
“There’s a lack of good theater groups in the North Shore,” Essex said. “There’s talent out there, and even though we have the JCC, it’s nice to have something in your backyard.”
He explained that while there was a troupe at the synagogue years ago, which he belonged to, it disbanded in 2006, and left a hole in Essex’s life. Having performed in community theater for over five decades, he attempted to bring musicals back to CTI six years ago with a production of “The People in the Picture,” but was unable to cast the show.
When Essex performed in “Mamma Mia” alongside the lead, Michelle Herson, he found that perfect spark to get a show in the works at CTI. Herson, a Roslyn Heights resident who has played a number of leads in musicals at the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center, said she too was going through theater withdrawal when she got a call from Essex, who asked her to be part of his project. The two had great chemistry in their “Mamma Mia” performances, so it only seemed natural to Essex that they take on “They’re Playing Our Song.”
Herson was taken aback when she heard the title, because she had sung songs from the show as a voice major at Tulane University, in New Orleans. “It’s such a great show,” she said. “It’s funny, and I fell in love with the script right away.”
With Herson on board, Buckley agreeing to direct and Essex producing, the trio — who were all coy about their ages — went about getting permission to stage it and setting up auditions in June. The cast, which includes Buckley, worked on memorizing the lyrics and melodies over the summer. When the group reconvened after Labor Day, four-days-a-week rehearsals began at the synagogue.
Herson said that while the work has been hard — she has two children at home — it has also been a lot of fun. Buckley, a retired theater teacher at Lawrence High School, said that as the premiere date approaches, the troupe will bump up rehearsals to five days a week.
“It takes a lot of time, but it’s all to make sure that the audience gets a professional performance,” Buckley said. “I want them to get as much out of this performance as they can.”
Essex said that the performances would be the troupe’s first shot at bringing theater back to Glen Cove — and to the synagogue. The show will open on Oct. 24, at 7:30 p.m., and there will be two additional performances on Oct. 26 and 27. Tickets are $20 for adults and $16 for seniors and children, and can be purchased at tutuix.com/cititheatre and at the door. All proceeds will benefit CTI.