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Loads of Talent and Fun at Gateway Theater Summer Program

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SOMERS POINT — Get ready for a little Broadway along Bay Avenue at the Gateway Playhouse and Theater with the presentations of “Bye Bye Birdie Jr.” and “Chicago,” the High School Edition. The shows are the culmination of the summer camp program for more than 100 kids from around Atlantic and Cape May counties.

The Shining Stars program began in June with 57 kids ages 9 to 13. They will present “Bye Bye Birdie Jr.” at 1 and 6 p.m. on Aug. 13 and 14. The older kids in the Rising Stars program, ages 14 to 18 will perform “Chicago” 1 and 6 p.m. on Aug. 5 and 6.

Directing both productions is Phil Palitto who said the Gateway to the Arts camp programs at the Gateway Playhouse and Theater were able to accommodate over 100 area kids for the six-week program and had a long waiting list of aspiring actors. Karen Cleighton is the choreographer and Claire Collins the vocal coach. Kevin McCafferty is the technical director. Kathy Ford is the musical director for “Bye Bye Birdie” and Debbie Rolland is the musical director for “Chicago.”

“Our goal here at Gateway to the Arts is to create a program that will empower kids through theater. We take kids from all different experiences. For some this is their first exposure to theater, while others may be seasoned veterans. With their experience as a starting point, we work to allow students to develop a strong level of comfort that will transcend on the stage,” said Palitto.

The director said he chose these productions because they fit so well with the kids. “Birdie is just pure fun,” said Palitto. “It’s a classical musical that takes us back to a simpler time where kids focused on the latest record album or joining a fan club. For our high schoolers, ‘Chicago’ forces us to look at the power of the media and its impact on our justice system and our daily interactions.”

“Bye Bye Birdie,” introduced to audiences in 1960, features Conrad Birdie just before he joins the Army. It is set in 1958 and loosely parallels Elvis Presley’s enlistment in the Army in 1957, at the height of his popularity. “Chicago” is a Bob Fosse musical set in the 1920s and features two vaudeville performers and murderers. The show debuted in 1975.

Both shows are double cast to give more actors a chance to shine on stage. From the Rising Star program and the production of ‘Chicago,” Mason Naman and Christian Horning-Finneran share the role of Amos Hart.

Naman, 15, of Northfield said, “I love this show and this camp. It is a small show and every experience is fun.

Horning-Finneran said, “‘Chicago’ has been so great. It is always fun to become someone different, and isn’t that what acting is all about?”

Morgan Murphy and Rosalyn Driscoll share the role of Velma in “Chicago.”

Murphy, of Margate said, “I have done more than 20 shows, but ‘Chicago’ is my dream show. I am so happy to be able to do this with so many of my good friends.”

Driscoll, 16, of Northfield said, “I love this show and I love it here at the Gateway.”

Vincent Piratin and Alex Manzo share the role of shady lawyer Billy Flynn. Both are enjoying their time on stage.

Piratin, 16, of Margate, and a rising junior at Ocean City High School said, “We are all friends here and we all look up to each other and we all challenge each other to do a great job.”

Alex Manzo, 18, of Egg Harbor Township said, “I had to come back here this summer, the Gateway is where its at. Nothing can beat this experience.”

Manzo will head to Stockton University in a few weeks to major in theater.

Ella Osbeck, of Linwood, recently graduated from Mainland Regional High School and heads to The College of New Jersey to study special education and vocal studies, but she wanted to enjoy one more summer program at the Gateway.

“It is so much fun here. Everyone works together so well, it’s like a family atmosphere,” she said.

Osbeck has the role of Roxy in “Chicago.”

Aubrey Culbert, 18, of Egg Harbor Township, shares the role of Roxy.

“This is my fourth Gateway show and it has been so much fun,” she said.

Culbert is heading to Rowan University to double major in musical theater and design. She got her taste of the stage doing the makeup for “Shrek” several years ago.

The “Bye Bye Birdie” cast is gaining confidence and refining their acting chops.

Patrick Mularz, 11, of Linwood, and Austin Lasher, 11, of Cape May Court House, are sharing the role of Conrad Birdie. Both agreed that aside from learning much about the stage over the summer, they are also having a great time.

For the cast of “Chicago,” it was a real treat to spend the morning with Colt Weiss of the National Touring Company of Chicago. Weis presented a master class to the cast members who heard what it is like from a seasoned pro as well as see some Bob Fosse dance numbers.

Tickets for “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Chicago” are $15 and available at gatewaybythebay.org/UpcomingShows.cfm or call 609-653-0553.

The Gateway Theater and Playhouse is located at 738 Bay Ave.

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