Review: Dinner Theater Fundraiser “Once Upon A Mystery”


Clifton Journal, March 6th

It was an absolutely delicious evening at Mario’s Restaurant on Feb. 27. Three courses of flavorful enjoyment in a well-executed presentation, impeccably seasoned to satisfy the soul and senses.

And the food was pretty good, too.

The Theater League of Clifton presented its seventh annual dinner theater on Feb. 27. "Once Upon a Mystery" brought to life fairytale characters such as Little Red Riding Hood. Above left, Craig Woodward performing; above right diners during the event; and below, performers take the stage at Mario's Restaurant.



Mario’s was the venue for the TLC’s seventh annual dinner theater fund-raiser, “Once Upon a Mystery,” written and directed by Kirk Woodward. The production was staged in the restaurant’s private dining hall and the appreciative, capacity crowd was treated to a light-hearted, captivating show and a sumptuous meal.

The most impressive aspect of the performance was the collective energy and teamwork of the cast — a tribute to the focused players as well as Woodward’s direction and script. Actors were ebullient from start to finish. It was quite clear they were having fun, and that convivial spirit was contagious and generously shared with the audience.

The Theater League of Clifton presented its seventh annual dinner theater on Feb. 27. "Once Upon a Mystery" brought to life fairytale characters such as Little Red Riding Hood. Above left, Craig Woodward performing; above right diners during the event; and below, performers take the stage at Mario's Restaurant.



Dialogue was clever, crisp and flowed smoothly. The ensemble’s timing and delivery was well-synchronized as they skillfully played off one another, sustaining the narrative’s momentum and capturing laughs all along the way. The cast also must be given credit for flexibility, creativity and cohesiveness as they negotiated the unstructured environment of the dinner theater. Despite the distractions of food, beverages and background noise of clinking glasses, dishes, knives, forks and spoons, actors delivered their lines with clarity and, in turn, captured the fancy of the audience.

The setting for this mystery was a “character” costume conference. Cast members took turns demonstrating their goofy, nerdy personalities, portraying fairy tale characters such as the Three Little Pigs, Cinderella, Goldilocks, Hansel and Gretel and other fable favorites. The script made use of familiar passages from those fairy tale classics, mixing them with sarcastic humor, Jersey attitude and hip street talk.

Danielle Petrucelli, in the role of Little Red Riding Hood, was the leader of the quirky pack of characters and a most impressive performer. Petrucelli was sure-footed and in command every step of the way. Her skillful, comedic charm and expressive peepers put wind in the sails of the production. Petrucelli is a resident of West Orange and a middle-school English teacher in the Franklin Township school system.

Little Red Riding Hood was more than a match for the dashing Craig Woodward who played Nero, a bearded big bad wolf in mobster’s clothing. Woodward sparkled in his role and was one slick scoundrel, giving the show its comedic edge. He and Petrucelli stepped out of the pages of the fairy tale and into a competitive relationship as they challenged each other with digs and barbs throughout the night. Rumor has it that Woodward is related to the director.

All cast members get an artistic “A” for their performances, with extra-special kudos going to Katie Shuster as Cinderella, Ruth Hayden as Grandma and Mike Purdy and Tara Moran as the bubbly, bouncy team of Hansel and Gretel. Carla Silvestri played Sleeping Beauty; Millie Ortiz, Goldilocks; Mike Sconzo, Marquise Figueroa and Felipe Rodriguez, the wise guy Three Little Pigs; Kenny Fowler, Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk); and Joseph Romano, who started out as a mild-mannered bartender only to emerge as the long-awaited crowned prince.

Praise also goes to the wait staff at Mario’s — the dedicated women that were highly effective serving food, clearing tables and courteously assisting patrons during the show. They gave an efficient performance. Bravo to all their hard work.

Two years ago Clifton theater patrons enjoyed another original production written and directed by Craig Woodward — “Aladdin Visits the 20th Century” — which was staged at the Clifton Arts Center in October 2013. Woodward, who resides in Little Falls, is the author of more than 20 plays.

According to notes in the show’s program, Woodward said “Once Upon a Mystery” was written after he, Craig Woodward, and Danielle Petrucelli appeared at Mario’s two years ago in Theater League of Clifton’s performance of “Murder Me Always.” Following that experience, Craig Woodward explained he decided to write a play specifically for dinner theater. “I kept hearing Danielle’s voice as the lead character. Fortunately we were able to get her for the role, so what you’re seeing tonight is the play I originally envisioned.”

Mark Peterson produced the dinner-theater play, Tara Freifeld was the stage manager, Maryann Irizarry created the costumes and Kurt Irizarry served as the sound technician.

The Theater League of Clifton will present the Rogers and Hammerstein classic “South Pacific” as its annual spring musical. The show, directed by Kathleen Kellaigh and produced by Maryann Irizarry, will be held at the Theresa Aprea Theater, 199 Scoles Ave. on May 8, 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17. Visit the organization’s website for more information.

As spelled out on its website, TLC is a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering an appreciation of the arts through theatrical performances. “Our goal is to provide an outlet for creative community involvement, and to provide quality entertainment for all ages. It is also our goal to nurture the development of theater arts in Clifton’s youth by creating a scholarship for Clifton High School seniors who will be continuing their education in this area.”

Read online here

February FUNdraisers!


Our 7th Annual Murder Mystery Dinner Theater

During a performance of “Once Upon a Mystery” the character Red attempts to solve the mystery: who poisoned Snow White with an apple?

At Mario’s Restaurant in Clifton – Tickets on Sale Now!

Once Upon A Mystery


Online Thirty-One Fundraiser

We’re hosting a second February FUNdraiser – an online sale with Thirty-One going on NOW through March 13th! Check out these adorable products, many of which are on sale. 20% of sales benefit TLC!  Visit our exclusive online event link here. 

TLC Thirty One Fundraiser flyer

Audition Notice – Spring Musical


SP LogoAuditions for our Spring musical production of the Broadway classic “South Pacific” are coming up! Directed by Kathleen Kellaigh, Musical Director is Jalmari Vanamo, Choreographer is Malinda DiPasquale, Producer is Maryann Irizarry, Stage Manager is Tara Freifeld.  Seeking males and females to play the following:

SP Character Breakdown no logo


Auditions will be Wed, Jan 28th and Fri, Jan 30th, 7:00-10:00pm, and Sat, Jan 31st, 11:00am – 2:00pm at ATC Studios, 68 Union Ave, Clifton, NJ.

Auditions will be from sides provided at the auditions. Please bring a prepared song with accompaniment (CD, IPOD, MP3 or sheet music). Songs from the show are permitted.

Show dates are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays: May  8,9,10 and 15,16,17th. All shows are in the Theresa Aprea Theater at The Learning Center, 199 Scoles Ave, Clifton NJ.  For questions please call 973-928-7668.


Audition Notice – Spring Dinner Theater



Auditions are coming up for our annual murder-mystery dinner theater. “Once Upon a Mystery”, written and directed by Kirk Woodward.  It features 12 roles with a wide type and age range, 4 male and 8 female, both adult and teen.

The roles are familiar fairy tale characters, presented as people today:

Red Riding Hood


Sleeping Beauty




3 pigs




During a performance of “Once Upon a Mystery” the character Red attempts to solve the mystery: who poisoned Snow White with an apple?

Directed by Kirk Woodward.  Produced by Mark Peterson. Stage Manager is Tara Freifeld.

Auditions will be held December 16th and 17th from7:30 pm – 9 pm at Mario’s Restaurant 710 Van Houten Avenue in Clifton, NJ.  Audition pieces from the script will be provided.

Performance dates are Feb. 27,28 and Mar. 1,6,7,8; Friday & Saturday at 8PM and Sunday at 4PM, at Mario’s Restaurant.

For questions call (973) 928-7668.


Fall Show – Moon Over Buffalo


Tickets on Sale now!

moon over buffalo 8


Coming up this November is our production of “Moon Over Buffalo” by the award winning Ken Ludwig.  Presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.

“Moon Over Buffalo,” in the madcap comedy tradition of “Lend me a Tenor,” centers on George and Charlotte Hay, fading stars of the 1950′s. On the brink of a disastrous split-up caused by George’s dalliance with a young ingénue, they receive word that they might just have one last shot at stardom: Frank Capra is coming to town to see their show, and if he likes what he sees, he might cast them in his movie. Unfortunately for George and Charlotte, everything that could go wrong does go wrong, abetted by a visit from their daughter’s clueless fiancé, hilarious uncertainty about which play they’re actually performing, and the exasperated deaf old stage-manager mother who hates every bone in George’s body!

The cast hails from cities all over New Jersey and includes Marquise Figeroa, Jeannie Kempa , Susan McDonald , Michael Purdy and Felipe Rodriguez of Clifton;  Thomas Kane of Wood Ridge; Danielle Petrucelli of West Orange; Jack Pignatello of Bloomfield; Rebecca Shuster of Basking Ridge and Craig Woodward of Little Falls – with both new faces and TLC alumni featured!

Directed by Kathleen Kellaigh; Producer is Maryann Irizarry; with Stage Manager Tara Freifeld.

This program is funded, in part through a grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Department of State and a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Show Dates are November 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, and 23 at the Aprea Theater in The Learning Center at 199 Scoles Avenue in Clifton.  Friday & Saturday 8pm and Sunday 2pm.  Non-member tickets are $20/adults and $15/students & seniors.

For questions about becoming a Member of the Theater League of Clifton to get FREE show tickets and other benefits call us at (973) 928-7668.

MOB Cast photo final

Sanding Left to Right

Marquise Figeroa, Jack Pignatello, Felipe Rodriguez, Mike Purdy

Seated Left to Right

Jeannie Kempa, Susan McDonald, Tom Kane, Danielle Petrucelli, Rebecca Shuster, Craig Woodward

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Audition Notice – Fall Show


We are holding auditions for our Fall production of Moon Over Buffalo by Ken Ludwig.  Produced with special arrangement through Samuel French Inc.

Directed by Kathleen Kellaigh.  Produced by Maryann Irizarry.  Stage Manager Tara Freifeld.

In the madcap comedy style of Ken Ludwig, the hilarious Moon Over Buffalo centers on George and Charlotte Hay, fading stars of the 1950′s. At the moment, they’re performing Private Lives and Cyrano De Bergerac in repertoire in a theater in Buffalo, New York with 5 actors. On the brink of a disastrous split-up caused by George’s affair with a young actress, they receive word that they might just have one last shot at stardom: Frank Capra is coming to town to see their matinee, and if he likes what he sees, he might cast them in his movie. Unfortunately for George and Charlotte, everything that could go wrong does go wrong. Including a visit from their daughter and her clueless fiancé.   Hilarious uncertainty about which play they’re actually performing, caused by Charlotte’s deaf old stage-manager mother, Ethel. Richard, their lawyer, trying to woo Charlotte. All while Paul, one of the actors, secretly in love with Rosalind, tries to hold everything together.

The ages listed for each character are the character age.  You need to act that age not necessarily be that age.

George Hay              50s-60s,  a former leading man who can’t let it go.

Charlotte Hay           50s-60s,  a former leading lady who can’t let it go.

Ethel                         70s-80s,  hard of hearing. Charlotte’s mother.

Rosalind                   20s-early 30s, Charlotte & George’s daughter.

Howard                     20’s-mid 30s,  Rosalind’s fiancé.  A weatherman.

Eileen                       20s-early 30s, George’s not-so-sweet young mistress.

Paul                          20’s-mid 30s,  an actor in the company. Holds company together.

Richard                     50s-60s, lawyer in love with Charlotte.

Soldiers                    20-60, for opening of Cyrano

Auditions will be from sides supplied at the audition.   ALL ROLES ARE OPEN

Auditions will be held on Monday 6/23, Wednesday 6/25 & Thursday 6/26; 7-10pm at ATC Studios, 68 Union Ave, Clifton NJ.

Show dates are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays:  November 14,15,16,21,22,and 23. All shows are in the Theresa Aprea Theater at The Learning Center at 199 Scoles Ave in Clifton NJ.


Fiddler On The Roof – Reviewed in Clifton Journal



‘Fiddler’ finds balance on Clifton stage

May 16, 2014
By Michael Gabriele
CORRESPONDENT, Clifton Journal

It was a grand, joyous night of dancing, singing and “tradition” as the Theater League of Clifton staged the renowned Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” An audience of nearly 250 patrons enjoyed the opening-night performance May 9 at the Theresa Aprea Theater.

On many levels, a show like “Fiddler” is an ambitious project, for a community theater or a Broadway troupe, with a challenging musical score, dramatic roles and athletic choreography. There is also an added degree of difficulty in that many of the songs have become Broadway standards — lyrics that are word-for-word familiar and near and dear to hearts of theater-goers — all of which carries an expectation of excellence. It is a daunting task and a difficult target to hit.

Director Kathleen Kellaigh and the Theater League actors must be commended for meeting these challenges head on. No corners were cut; no hurdles were dodged, and no short cuts were taken. The reward for their artistic courage was a most satisfying, successful performance. They hit the target and breathed life into the spirit of a beloved Broadway classic.

One example of this courage came in Act 1 during the wedding of Tzeitel (Rebecca Shuster) and Motel (Craig Ernest Woodward), when the stage cleared and four men of the humble village Anatevka danced with bottles balanced atop their hats. This “bottle dance” was a flawless, well-executed delight.

Another moment, earlier in Act 1, was the Sabbath Prayer scene. The stage lights dimmed as Tevye (Frank Favata), Golde (Alexa Fernandez) and their family gathered around the table to light candles. The scene unfolded as a visual, almost-eerie work of art. Ghost-like actors, perched in a two-tier set construction behind a scrim, illuminated their presence with candles as the family sang in prayer. The final touch to this on-stage composition was the deep, atmospheric, blue background lighting. Set designers and lighting technicians Kurt Irizarry, Ken Kida, Matt Locker and Kyle Parkin deserve a bow for creating this ethereal moment.

Tender emotion was the moment captured in Act 2 as Hodel, played by Sabrina Curry, sang sadly and sweetly, “Far From the Home I Love,” to her father, Tevye, as she waited for a train that would take her on an uncertain journey to Siberia. Curry’s eyes welled and glistened as she delivered the stellar solo of the performance. In addition to Curry, two other noteworthy vocal moments were achieved by Woodward (“Miracles of Miracles” in Act 1) and Perchik (Kenneth Fowler—”Now I Have Everything” in Act 2).

At the other end of the spectrum, the Act 1 scene, “To Life,” was a boisterous moment that kicked the entire production into high gear. Tevye and his pal Lazar Wolf (Dante Liberti) were brimming with rowdy, drunken energy and the two actors looked like they were enjoying every minute of their high-octane exchange. Other cast members joined in as the carousing evolved into a dazzling, intricate dance number with many moving parts.

Taken as a whole, these moments combined to weave a sustained momentum that built throughout the show and was fully realized by the entire cast in the final, mournful farewell to “Anatevka.” At the end of the night, these were authentic characters that connected with the audience. They gave dignified testimony to the simple joys and stark hardships of the resilient, faithful people they portrayed during the eve of the Russian revolution.

The soulful performance of Favata, the hub of the production, kept the show’s momentum on track. He demonstrated the endurance and chops needed for this principal role and was masterful in capturing the existential angst of Tevye — a character burdened by the weight of tradition, bound by his faith, and painfully aware of a rapidly changing world closing in on him. Favata also displayed his dramatic range, generating laughter with wry charm, woebegone facial expressions, well-placed sighs, and subtle comic timing.

Cast members included Steve Adubato as the Rabbi; Melody Atkinson as Shaina; Mia Balsamo as Bielke; Hilda Santiago Berrios as Friedel; Sindy DeLaCruz as Grandma Tzeitel and Basha; Marquis Figeroa as Fyedka; John Fraissinet as Avram; Gregory Gwyn as the Fiddler and Olaf; Jonathan Hernandez as Mendel; Ellie Kallay as Chava; Katie Kallay as Itzik; Lillie Kortrey as Anya; Gary Koesyan as Constable; Milagros Ortiz as Ruchel; Joe Pacella as Ilya; Erin Pach as Rifke; Felipe Rodriguez as Sasha; Ernest Romeo as Mordcha, the Inn Keeper; Marsha Schreier as Yente and Fruma Sarah; Katie Shuster as Mirala; Frank Skokan as Nachum; Maren Sugarman as Shaindel; Andrew Till as Yussel; and Rachel Zegler as Shprintze.

Musical director Jalmari Vanamo led the pit band while Joel Robertson served as the choreographer. The band was composed of Alyssa DiNapoli, Gerry Cappuccio, Robert Slonim, Mary Louise Irvine, Andrea Herr, Victor Keremedjiev, Gary Hollander, Gary Guzio, Joe Yachnik, Anthony Fenicchia, Larry Silverman, James Robbins and Matt McLaughlin. The Theater League made special note of Robertson’s theatrical credentials as he worked directly with legendary Broadway choreographer Jerome Robbins in the 1980-82 national revival tour of “Fiddler.” As a performer, he was an original cast member of the shows “Cats,” “Les Miserable,” and “Jekyll and Hyde.”

Stephanie Peterson and Maryann Irizarry are the producers of the show. The diverse costumes by Irizarry were another spot-on artistic element for the production. Tara Freifeld served as stage manager, supported by assistant stage manager Devin Sogluizzo and house manager Katherine Waumans. The stage crew included Shawn Artim, Claudia Jackson, Michael Purdy and Tom Vigilante.

Founded nine years ago, the Theater League of Clifton, a non-profit cultural organization, is now in its third season performing at the Theresa Aprea Theater, located at 199 Scoles Ave. (formerly the YM-YWHA Community Center of Clifton and Passaic). Mark Peterson is the president of the group.

Performances of Fiddler on the Roof continue tonight (May 16), Saturday, May 17 and Sunday, May 18. The May 16 and 17 shows open at 8 p.m., while May 18 is a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee. For tickets, call the Theater League at  973-928-7668


Spring Show – Fiddler On the Roof – Tickets on Sale!


We are excited to announce our spring musical production of the Broadway classic, “Fiddler On The Roof.”  Directed by Kathleen Kellaigh, Musical Director is Jalmari Vanamo, Producers are Maryann Irizarry and Stephanie Peterson; Stage Manager is Tara Freifeld.  Choreographer is Broadway veteran Joel Robertson, who was featured in a Broadway revival of Fiddler.  Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, Book by Joseph Stein, presented through special arrangement with Music Theater International (MTI).

“Fiddler On The Roof” is set in Russia in 1905 and centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his family and religious traditions while outside influences impact their lives. The original Broadway production was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning nine, including Best Musical.

The cast features a diverse cross section of actors from Essex, Bergen, Morris, Passaic and Somerset Counties including: Rebecca Shuster of Basking Ridge, Frank Skokan of Bedminster, Steve Adubato of Belleville, Ellie Kallay, Katie Kallay, Erin Pach and Maren Sugarman of Bloomfield, Andrew Till of Butler, Hilda Berrios, Sabrina Curry, Sindy De La Cruz, Alexa Fernandez, Marquise Figeroa, Kenneth Fowler, Greg Gwyn, Kurt Irizarry, Gary Koseyan, Dante Liberti, and Rachel Zegler of Clifton, Melody Atkinson of Emerson, Lillie Kortrey of Glen Ridge, Ernest Romeo of Kinnelon, Craig Woodward of Little Falls, Mia Balsamo and Milagros Ortiz of Montclair, Katie Shuster of Morris Plains, Frank Favata or North Arlington, John Fraissinet of Nutley, Jonathan Hernandez of Passaic, Marsha Schreier of Verona, and Joe Pacella of Wayne.

Show dates are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays: May 9, 10, 11 and 16, 17, 18th with an additional show Thursday May 15th Times are Thursday, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm & Sundays at 2pm, at the Aprea Theater in the TLC Learning Center at 199 Scoles Ave.

A Complimentary Opening Weekend & Member Appreciation Reception will be held Sat. May 10th at 7pm in the lobby before the show.

Non-member tickets are $20/adults and $15/students & seniors.  Tickets and seat selection can be made online here or by calling our Box Office at (973) 928-7668.  Checks can be mailed to: Theater League of Clifton, PO Box 4072 Clifton, NJ 07012, please include the show date & time.

Group Discounts are available for groups of 20 or more, please call (973) 928-7668 for details.

This program is funded, in part through a grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.