It all started with The Music Man. I believe that was the first Broadway musical my parents took
me to see. It was at the Shubert in Philadelphia and Forrest Tucker played Harold Hill. Of
course, Robert Preston had been the star in NYC and would star in the excellent movie later. But
I was enamored of the music and the costumes and his patter songs. We bought the record and I
started memorizing “Trouble” somewhere around 8 or 9 years old. Then came the clincher.
Glassboro State College’s Campus Players produced The Music Man in about 1962. I was
attending Campus School, a Glassboro public school, cleverly named to reflect that it was on the
campus of Glassboro State College (GSC). Reasonably, the college sought some youngsters to
fill out the “boys in the band” for River City. I played trombone and sang and I was 12, so I was
selected. I was even given a line in the middle of “Iowa Stubborn.” “Good morning Mayor
Shinn.” That was it. I was hooked on the prattle Cal Iszard did as Harold Hill, on the energy of
Marcellus, on the costumes, the sets, the lights, the camaraderie backstage. The whole package.
My arrival in high school corresponded with the arrival of Valentino DiGiorgio, the school’s
new choir director and an aficionado of musical theatre. He chose Finian’s Rainbow as the
musical and I got cast, as a freshman, as Finian. Truth is, I should have been cast as Og the
Leprechaun, but I was a young bass/baritone and my best friend, Mike Self, was a great tenor
and got cast as the leprechaun. Og is a tenor role. It was all fine except Mike was a good three
inches taller than me. This production was especially important to me as I found myself working
beside a girl with the most devastating smile I had ever seen before or since. She was a junior
named Sue Ann Somers. Lots more about her later. Interestingly, the high school at that time was
a precursor to HMHS. The auditorium was designed to be a gym and stage with nothing about it
being a stage except the floor. The HMHS design is essentially the same, though I cannot
confirm it was also used as a gym. The key factor is, I had a lot of theatre training in
very “untheatrical” environments.
My sophomore year brought significant change. We moved into a new high school building and
Val DiGiorgio left after just a year. He had announced we would be doing Bells Are Ringing
before he left. Nobody else knew much about that show, though there was a movie. The
replacement choral director the school hired was named David Porkola. A mid-year hire, he had
come right out of an organ college and knew nothing about musicals … or high school kids. We
quickly talked him out of producing Bells Are Ringing and into, you guessed it, The Music Man.
In a stunningly smart move he assigned me and Sue Ann Somers as assistant directors. I honestly
don’t remember how the play was cast, but I was Harold Hill. Sue Ann was Ethel Toffelmier,
Marcellus’ girlfriend, a fine player piano player … piano.. Mr. Porkola was completely out of his
element. After about a week or so of rehearsals, he stormed out never to come back to rehearsal.
So … Sue and I started in, me teaching the boys “Rock Island” and Sue teaching the girls “Pick-
a-Little.” With Glassboro State’s production firmly implanted in my brain, we reproduced the
blocking and sets and costumes. It was remarkably successful, considering it was directed by a
sophomore boy and senior girl.
My junior year saw me cast as Ali Hakim in Oklahoma. I was unremarkable. At the end of my
junior year, my family moved and I transferred to Oakcrest High School. A new choral director
started that year and selected The Boyfriend. I got cast as Tony, the boyfriend. The play is pretty
mediocre, and I was pretty mediocre as a straight romantic lead. I did get to dance with a big
beach umbrella. I think the umbrella looked good at least. When we moved to Egg Harbor City,
some community group was producing The King and I. The director had heard from somebody at
Glassboro that I was pretty good and they were desperate so they asked me to step into a play
already in rehearsal and play Lun Ta. (I had to look up the character's name, I couldn’t remember
it.) This was, in fact, my only real chance to play a romantic role in my high school years. Lun
Ta sings two beautiful duets with Tuptim, “We Kiss in the Shadow’ and “I Have Dreamed.”
Both tenor lines. I think I did it pretty well, but I can’t remember the producing group, where we
did the show, the girl that played Tuptim … nothing. Maybe it wasn’t that good. That family
move did provide an excuse to break up with a girl I had been dating in Glassboro, and pursue
Sue Ann. No junior girl would look at freshman boy, not even a senior girl and a sophomore boy,
really. Now that she was in college in Trenton and I was in Egg Harbor we started dating. Yep.
Couldn’t date when we were in the same town …
All during high school, I was fortunate enough to get to attend the Fine Arts Camp being held
each year at Glassboro State in August. Produced by the music and theatre departments, I was an
unusual hybrid: I got to perform in both sides of the camp. Outside of playing the Priest in The
Valiant, I can’t remember any of the straight drama stuff I did. On the music side however, I was
introduced to Gilbert & Sullivan and performed in the choruses of Pirates … and … Pinafore
and Mikado. I wasn’t a music “major,” but I was a bass singer, so the only feature role I had was
the Sergeant in Pirates. Those productions did instill in me a love for the operetta form of
When it was time for college, my mother wanted me to go to the drama school at Yale. My
father said, “Have you seen his grades?!” I think it was inevitable that I would go to Glassboro
State, and that is a decision I never regretted. Because I had been in the fine arts camp, the
faculty knew me, which gave me a head start. Before I was actually enrolled in the theatre
department, I was cast in a Glassboro Summer Theatre production of The Fantasticks as The
Boy. That began an entanglement with and passion for The Fantasticks which resurfaces
periodically. I played The Boy that summer; the following October, I played The Old Actor in a
production that won a USO competition that took us on a tour of military bases in the Northeast
Command. That included Greenland, Iceland, Newfoundland, and Labrador … in February!
I will try to name key moments, those I think most profoundly affected my later life as I whiz
through my college career. I was involved in every production at Glassboro State for the four
years I was there. I was acting in most of them, building sets for all of them and I was the paid
lighting assistant for those years, so I was involved in lighting everything in the theatre. As
mentioned, Tohill Auditorium was a former gym/auditorium, an almost identical design as I
would find later at Haddonfield. The music department was also housed in Bunce Hall, the home
of Tohill Auditorium, so I did lighting for all the music concerts for 3 years, until the music
department moved out. This enabled me to make a brilliant barter deal. I built the set for an opera
for James Shaw (no relation) the opera director, in exchange for voice lessons, as he was
scheduled to be music director for the drama department’s version of Man of La Mancha.
I worked very hard at those lessons because I desperately wanted to be Cervantes/Don Quixote.
It was generally assumed in the department that I was a shoo-in for Sancho, the comic relief, but
I wanted Cervantes/Don Quixote. So I purposely didn’t listen to anything Sancho sang and
didn’t work on anything Sancho related. The director, Dr. Richard Kislan, and the music director
knew how I felt and gave me every opportunity to read and sing for the Quixote character.
Helping my cause (I hoped) was that a talented young man named Robert Hegyes desperately
wanted to be Sancho. Unfortunately, there was another talented young man named Steve
Newport who also wanted to be Cervantes/Don Quixote. It was unfortunate because he was very
talented, very slender, taller than me, and had a marvelous rich baritone voice. Reluctantly, Dr.
Kislan asked Stephen and I to sing the song Man of La Mancha (“I, am I, Don Quixote … ”)
together. He nailed it, and so did I … as Sancho. I looked out and saw Bobby Hegyes’ face and
demeanor sink into his seat as I sang. I mention this anecdote because Robert Hegyes would go
on to a marvelous career in network television, starring opposite John Travolta on Welcome
Back, Kotter and with Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly in Cagney and Lacey.
The production was enormously successful, played to full houses and standing ovations with
wonderful local reviews. Perhaps the most important learning process for me through this La
Mancha experience is how much goes into a director’s casting decision. My burning desire to
play Cervantes/Quixote, my skill as an actor and singer, my relationship with the director and
musical director became secondary in the director’s mind to his view of the play and the needed
physical characteristics. This became a reference I used a few times in explaining some casting
decisions of my own to my “favorite” student performers.
Stephen Newport and I worked together a few more times, in college and professionally. He
went on to play Cervantes/Quixote several more times professionally, so I think they cast the
right guy. Sancho became one of my singular roles, as I would portray him again later in
community theatre. I would direct La Mancha while at HMHS for Haddonfield Plays and
Players. Our HMHS students built the set, at the Haddon Fortnightly … what a challenge that
was! Stephen and I starred together the following year in a much-acclaimed GSC production of
Fiddler on the Roof. I was Tevya and he was Perchik. That production played to packed houses,
standing ovations, and was even extended an extra performance, unheard of prior to that time. I
played Tevya again later in community theatre, and Stephen played Perchik several times in
professional productions in his career.
The most important part of my college career was the combination of people and experiences to
which I was exposed. I spent 4 years as Campus Players’ treasurer, which taught me skills in
finding suppliers and handling budgets and money. I worked with several excellent directors and
talented scene designers, and I tried to learn from each one. Perhaps most important was Dr.
Michael F. Kelly, who taught me how to organize a production schedule and direct a play. I
always said that if you could snap your fingers and stop a Kelly-directed play at any instant, you
would see a perfect stage picture. I tried to emulate that.
The most important decision I made in college was to marry Sue Ann Somers. Having known
each other for eight years and dated for four, everyone’s reaction was, “About time!” Being
married helped me decide that pursuing a career in acting was not going to be very fair to her, so
teaching was the next choice. I had student-taught at Oakcrest Regional in Mays Landing, and
when they offered me a job as English teacher and drama director, I grabbed it. I had interviewed
at both Haddonfield and Oakcrest, but Oakcrest called first and I said yes. I spent a year there
and enjoyed it. But the reality of the more rural area, the difficulty with bus schedules and the
relatively lukewarm response of parents and community was a tad disappointing. So, when
Haddonfield called and asked, “Are you happy at Oakcrest?” I answered that I was listening …
and that led to a match made in heaven. Remarkably, when I was hired, the president of the
Drama Club, one Bucky Kilpatrick, made a trip from Haddonfield to our home in Glassboro, just
to meet and talk about theatre. We were both excited to talk about my philosophy of doing a
variety of types of plays during each student’s high school time. Amazingly, we both thought it
would be a great idea to try a Shakespeare play as my first effort in the fall of 1973. We decided
on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This began two traditions in my time at HMHS.
First, the fall productions (non-musicals) would fit into a rotation of 1) Shakespeare, 2) a classic
comedy, 3) a drama, 4) contemporary comedy. Musicals were staged in the spring, with large
Second, all the productions for a given school year would be selected with the input/involvement
of the Drama Club officers. I never regretted sharing the decision-making process with my
students, and they knew that, ultimately, I would be the one to decide.
While I was at HMHS the major productions were:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Little Mary Sunshine
The Man Who Came to Dinner
Barefoot in the Park
Guys and Dolls
Barrett’s of Wimpole Street
She Loves me
Arsenic and Old Lace
The Music Man
How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying)
You Can’t Take It With You
Once Upon a Mattress
The extent to which the students were intimately involved with every detail of production is one
of the things of which I am most proud. Scene design was developed in my Theatre Arts class
and with talented club members. Students built and painted every set. Students and parents built
almost all costumes. On the night of performances, the production was run by a student stage
manager calling cues to student stage and lighting crews. Dedicated students worked tickets and
ushered and sold concessions. It always seemed that the more responsibility I was willing to give
students, the more they took it.
Speaking of self-sufficiency, one of the other things of which I am most proud, is that we did
more than pay for ourselves. The Board of Education paid me a stipend (a whopping $250 per
year) and paid a stipend less than that for another teacher as producer. For most of my tenure,
that was the irrepressible Judy Perkins, a fellow English teacher. She and the marvelous math
teacher Peggy Stevens, who followed her, allowed me to concentrate on the production pieces
while they organized the bake sales, and the program creation and ad sales and the concessions
and ushers. They were marvelous people who toiled in the far less glamorous but critical tasks
that are part of a successful program. In our time, we received no other Board of Ed funding, but
managed to pay for every production; pay for and install a Clear-com communication system;
pay for numerous new lights; and pay for and install a new auditorium sound system.
When it came to the musicals, there was other help available. There was a small stipend for the
musical director/orchestra conductor. I always felt the job should be offered to the district music
teachers, but in almost all years, they were not interested. It makes a certain amount of sense, in
that they were always working hard on their own programs, and pit orchestra is not necessarily
an exciting outlet. That led to my employing Sue Ann Shaw as our musical director. Sue Ann
was a music major, and we had worked together since high school. Her value in teaching vocals
would have been enough, but she understood the critical role the pit orchestra plays in a musical.
Its purpose is to accompany the vocals 90% of the time, but then must step and shine in dance
and production numbers and overtures and entr'actes. She was great at it, and some of the
happiest times in our marriage were collaborating on HMHS musicals. I should note that my first
musical director for Little Mary Sunshine was actually a student, Shelley Rink!
I also brought in Sue Keeny Carlin, a colleague from the GSC production and USO tour of The
Fantasticks, to choreograph several productions. There was no stipend for choreographer, so the
Drama Club paid her out of the play proceeds. I can direct, but I can’t dance or teach dance, so
she was a valuable addition.
By 1977–78, a typical school year for the HMHS Drama Club proceeded as follows:
September – Meet as soon as school restarts and begin working on “Story Theatre,” a
dramatic/comedic staging of various fractured fairy tales that we would perform at Back-to-
School Night for parents, who had “Study Hall” in the auditorium. We would perform these in
“Intimate Theatre.” That was the process of setting up a three-sided riser audience area behind
the main proscenium. We acted on a stage area about 12’ x 12’.
In October, we would cast and begin rehearsing the fall production. It would run for four
performances, two on Thanksgiving weekend and two the week before. The NJEA “break” was
always characterized by daily set construction, as was every Saturday in October and early
November. We learned an important lesson in those sessions: namely, that you can’t call in a
large order to McDonald’s and expect them to get it right. You had to go and submit every order
individually to actually get what you wanted!
Following the Fall Production, we would put together a Christmas/Holiday-themed assembly
program that we took to the three elementary schools in the Haddonfield district. Directing this
production became the responsibility of that year’s Drama Club president.
After the holiday recess, we immediately would audition for and rehearse the Winter One Acts.
This was a collection of one-act plays that were selected and directed by seniors in the Drama
Club and other teachers at HMHS. Our policy for the one acts was important: Everyone who
tried out would get cast in a one-act play. This was a popular opportunity for many students who
loved being in and around the program but weren’t blessed with the finest acting talent. The
casting process became known as the “flesh market” among the directors, who would argue or
bargain for some “stars” for each play and some who would make their mark as the baobab tree.
These were performed also on the stage in our intimate theatre the first weekend in February.
The beauty of the intimate theatre setting meant every performance played for a packed house.
Auditions for the spring musical followed right on the heels of the Winter One Acts. One of the
things I learned early on was that a well-thought-out rehearsal schedule is critical to the success
of a musical. For me, that meant working backward from opening night. I knew what we needed
for dress, for tech, for orchestra integration. I knew what it took to stage a production number, a
solo, and every other aspect of a musical. I knew when lines had to be down. One of the most
critical things for our success was devoting the earliest rehearsals entirely to learning the music
and getting started on the dance. Learning the blocking of a song is much easier when you’ve
already learned the words and music. An important thing I learned in my one year at Oakcrest
involved line deadlines, or, more importantly, my relationship with my casts. I staged Twelve
Angry Women there. (Yes, that would be Twelve Angry Men … when you don’t have any men.)
Line deadline had come and my cast was not doing well, stopping and starting and calling for
lines; it was a bad rehearsal. I was angry and wanted them to know I took this seriously, so, with
each call for a line I would kick a chair in the audience or slam my clipboard down. Well, they
got that I was angry. However, as I was giving notes at the end of the rehearsal and commenting
again on the failure to know their lines, one of my leads said, “You know, when we’re struggling
to remember our lines, it doesn’t help to hear you slamming around in the audience.” She was
right, I was appropriately chagrined, and although I will not claim I never got angry again, I tried
to refrain from management or intimidation by anger. This has served me well in all aspects of
We performed the musicals the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May. As with
NJEA in November, every Spring/Easter break, we would be working. We couldn’t rehearse
because too many families traveled in the week off, but the carpenters, painters, grips, and
gaffers were in every day working on the sets. Our reputation for excellence led to some other
opportunities on the tech side.
Haddonfield celebrated a bicentennial celebration by staging an original production
called The King’s Road at HMHS in the fall of 1975. Our students designed and executed the set
and lights. A few of our students appeared in it as well.
I directed Man of La Mancha for Haddonfield Plays and Players, and we built the set for
that, complete with full thrust stage and descending staircase. What made this achievement more
impressive was that it was staged at the Haddon Fortnightly, on a second-floor small stage that
offered numerous challenges to say the least.
The 76 House Dinner Theatre at the shore hired us to build their set for A Funny Thing
Happened on the Way to the Forum. A couple of our students found employment there as well.
As you can see by the above description, the Drama Club started in September and went every
month through May. In addition to the Drama Club, I was teaching English electives—Public
Speaking, Acting, Theatre Arts, Contemporary American Authors—plus a unit of either
freshman or sophomore English. I never earned as much as $20,000 per year as a teacher, so
finding summer employment was a necessity. That led to a variety of summer jobs including,
Wells Fargo security guard, manager of a boardwalk movie theatre, groundskeeper and manager
of a campground, actor and maître d‘ at a dinner theatre.
By 1981, the schedule had burned me out. The opportunity developed for me to go back to grad
school at Temple University in communications. So, I earned all the credits necessary for an
M.A. in communication with a specialty of broadcast journalism, though I never took the
comprehensive exam to finalize the degree—a mistake I have long regretted. While at Temple I
interned at CBS-owned Channel 10 in Philadelphia. I got hired there as an associate producer in
community affairs programming. That sounds much better than it was, but it gave me experience
in television. At the same time, I was working with a private video production company called
Televents Corp. I was doing on-camera talent and behind camera work as well. We were
producing a weekly TV program for the Haddonfield United Methodist Church (HUMC) called
On the King’s Highway. HUMC had helped fund my graduate education, and this was my way of
paying back that debt, to God and the church.
The chance came to buy Televents Corp. from the previous owners, so I took that. Televents
grew as a video production company until we merged into CME Conference Video. This was a
wonderful niche business that traveled around the country recording medical conferences. We
would then sell those recording to physicians who hadn’t been able to attend the conference, who
could get continuing medical education credit for watching the video. Those were an amazing
few years, as I got to travel to numerous resorts and lots of U.S. cities as conferences were held
everywhere. I learned a lot of business lessons and too much medicine. The business grew from
$100,000 in revenue in 1989 to $15,000,000 in 1996 to bankrupt in 1998. Ouch. I left before the
end and worked for another medical education company at a job I hated for a year or so.
I landed a better job with the Adam’s Mark Hotel in Philadelphia. The hotel wanted to bring all
its audio/video services in-house instead of hiring outside companies for all its meetings and
conferences. So, I built its audio/video department from scratch (winning manager of the month)
and learned even more about AV work and the hotel business. Ironically, the Adam’s Mark was
on City Ave., across the street from Channel 10, where I had worked more than 10 years
previously. At least I knew the commute.
Then the call came from a retired US Navy admiral for whom Televents had sone some video
training work. He was the Executive Director for the Battleship New Jersey Museum and
Memorial, which was getting ready to open in Camden. He said he had enough Navy guys
working on the project and needed a business and education guy and asked me if I wanted to
come play on the battleship. Oh yeah.
I spent 6 years on the Battleship New Jersey progressing to vice president of operations. Next to
my years at HMHS, the battleship years were probably the most gratifying. It is a remarkable
memorial to American engineering and human sacrifice and determination. I got to work with
wonderful members of “the Greatest Generation” and got to help educate a new generation.
However, I think the number of trips up and down those steel ladders and across the steel decks
and concrete piers took a toll on my knees and led to double knee replacement a few years later.
When the United Methodist (UM) Churches of Greater New Jersey were looking for a director of
communications. I applied for and got the job. I was looking forward to completing my working
years in the field I had trained for and working for the church. I had continuously worked with
the UM Conference since the 1980s on its communications committee, providing video reports
and video streaming and image enhancement. Unfortunately, that director of communications job
included 140 miles of commuting every day. That worked well for a couple of years until I was
able to move to a full-time pre-retirement job at Hope United Methodist Church as director of
operations. There, I was able to apply my operational experience in many areas with my
technical AV and theatre experience, as the church has an active technical ministry and drama
contingent. There I assisted in directing a summer music camp for grades 3 through 9 for 10
I thought my working career was done, but the volunteer part continues. I am currently serving
as chairman of the board of directors for Bestwork Industries for the Blind. This is a unique
nonprofit company with revenues between $10 and 20 million a year used in providing jobs for
people who are blind or are visually impaired. Another example of how so many differing
experiences have prepared me for the next job. This job ranks up there with teaching and the
battleship in job satisfaction.
I have been blessed with wonderful opportunities. I have been very blessed with Sue Ann, a wife
that looked up every few years and said, “Fine! Change jobs again!” but went with me every
time. She has shined at every position she has undertaken, starting as a music teacher,
progressing to director of technology in the Haddonfield school system. Her understanding of
accompaniment served her well as she added technology not for technology itself, but as a
teaching instrument. Our daughter Heather has been a pride and joy from her time as an HMHS
high school musical star, to her current position as pastor and director of family services at Hope
Church. She started as a teacher as is her husband, Kevin. Kevin has been smarter than both of
us, as I think he’s staying in teaching!
The joy, satisfaction, and friendships that developed in our time at HMHS are among the things
we treasure most. The fact that so many of our students have stayed in touch with us and each
other fills me with pride and, frankly, awe. That they have taken on this JDS Legacy project is