“Fifty-one years is too long not to have a permanent home,” said Shawn Clark, co-president of the board (along with Kim Lupinacci) of 90 Miles Off Broadway, New Paltz’s community theater company for more than half a century now. In all that time, the group has never had their own theater or rehearsal space, utilizing the stages at the local high schools or the community center, or — more often than not — the social hall of the Reformed Church of New Paltz on Huguenot Street. But as grateful as 90 Miles is for the support of the church that allows them to use the space often and at nominal cost, it’s not a permanent home.
So in collaboration with The Arts Community (their sister organization), 90 Miles Off Broadway has launched “A Home for the Arts” fundraising campaign with the ultimate goal of purchasing or building a facility that would include a dance studio, arts education classrooms and a theater. The Arts Community, a 40-year-old nonprofit that offers low-cost classes throughout the area wherever affordable space can be found, is also finding it harder than ever these days to survive, so by combining forces with 90 Miles Off Broadway, the plan is to create a facility where both organizations can thrive.
The timeframe for when this will all happen depends in large part on how the fundraising goes, said Clark. Last Friday, 90 Miles Off Broadway presented a well attended “Cabaret & Dessert Night” to raise funds for their future facilities, with half of the proceeds going back to the Reformed Church. “If we didn’t have this space for plays and rehearsals, we wouldn’t be here entering our 51st year,” co-president of the board Lupinacci told the audience. The cooperation of the church has allowed the theater company to keep ticket prices low, she said, which fulfills their mission of making theater accessible and affordable to the community.
The Cabaret & Dessert Night featured performances in two acts with an intermission in which a selection of tasty desserts made by members of the church and the theater company were offered and served with coffee. The evening, hosted by personable company actor Al White, who offered theatrical trivia questions before each of the musical numbers (with prizes of tickets to future 90 Miles Off Broadway shows), got off to a lively start with Kim Lupinacci leading a dozen four- to-seven-year-olds through “Getting to Know You” from The King and I.
The kids were not trained “theater kids,” as it was pointed out, but students from the Bright Beginnings pre-school and after-school daycare in New Paltz that Lupinacci is director of. In addition to her day job and being co-president of the theater company board, she is an actress in their productions, and with a lovely singing voice, Lupinacci led the kids through the number set in a schoolroom, where they seemed remarkably unfazed by being onstage and seemed to enjoy themselves a great deal. (If there had been a “cute meter,” it would have gone all the way to the right.) The pint-sized performers included Trace Baker, Abygail and Angelina Cioto, Natalie Diaz, Gracie Gabriels, Tyler Goulden, Julia Larsen, Devin McCaster, Thomas Novak, Willie Phillips and Carolann Stevens.
Next on the bill was longtime 90 Miles performer Sherry Kitay, who sang a heartfelt “You’ve Got a Friend,” by Carole King, and later in the second act, performed a soulful version of “Hopelessly Devoted to You” from the soundtrack of Grease, accompanied by pianist Lauren Ingrassia. The dapper Paul Walley came on stage with “Prelude to a Kiss” by Duke Ellington, a song he said later he had only just recently discovered and chose to sing that night simply because he liked it so much. The real-life reverend said his favorite role to have played over the years with 90 Miles Off Broadway was probably Reverend Crisparkle in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, for the sheer fun of playing a role that paralleled his real life. Retired now, Walley was campus pastor at SUNY New Paltz’s Student Christian Center for more than 30 years.
Young singers Oona Stoever and Max and Kiernan Toder performed a charming rendition (a cappella) of an old song called “Sweet Violet,” a classic example of a “censored rhyme” where the expected rhyme at the end of the line seems like it is going to be risqué but instead is replaced with a word that takes the train of thought elsewhere, segueing innocently into the next bit (all the more effective when performed by such fresh-faced youth). “There once was a farmer who took a young miss, in back of the barn where he gave her a… lecture on horses and chickens and eggs, and told her that she had such beautiful… manners that suited a girl…”
One of the strengths of Cabaret & Dessert Night was the eclectic choices in material made by the performers, taking the mood across the spectrum from the engaging humor of “Sweet Violet” to the drama when Kim Lupinacci returned to the stage with “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables, a deceptively simple but very emotional song usually sung by a male actor portraying the character Jean Valjean. Lupinacci said later that she chose the song because she felt it could be sung by a woman just as well, and she connected with the prayerful part of the song. And veteran 90 Miles adult performer Christopher Fatibene took the mood yet elsewhere with a beautifully nuanced “Charmaine” in the second act, a tune written in the 1920s. A little research the next day revealed the song was actually a #1 song on the charts for seven weeks in 1927 (as performed by the Guy Lombardo Orchestra), but was probably unknown to most of us in the audience before the cabaret night.
The first act closed with a sneak peek of New Paltz High School’s upcoming performances of Fiddler on the Roof March 17-19. Student performers Maddy Finnegin, Olivia Profaci and Tiana Ramic sang and acted with finesse the scene that involves the three sisters singing the famous “Matchmaker” song, which was followed by Gil Sweeney’s strong vocal of “Now I Have Everything.”
Act two opened with 21-year-old Sara Clark, veteran 90 Miles Off Broadway performer, who debuted in her first performance with the junior company at age eight, she said. She sang “Hallelujah” from Shrek, accompanying herself on piano, and later, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a song her dad said she had just learned that day when her planned duet fell through. “Dad” is company co-president Shawn Clark, who although not an actor himself, is frequently involved on the production side. He first got involved with 90 Miles Off Broadway some 13 years ago when his daughters did; Sara at age eight and Kymberli at age nine. Their sister, Machele has also been involved with the company stage-managing shows, with mom Tanya Yuro-Clark participating in it all as well. That type of family and multi-generational participation is all part of what makes 90 Miles Off Broadway special to community members whose families have been involved with it from the start, said Clark.
As the evening began to draw to a close, Dushka Ramic, a 90 Miles performer also known as co-founder (with her husband, Sam) of the annual New Paltz Food and Wine Festival, delivered a stirring medley of Bohemian songs from her native Yugoslavia, playing a spirited piano accompanied by strong vocals. “I could make a mistake and you wouldn’t know,” she told the audience with a smile before launching into folk rhythms that had the audience clapping along.
The evening ended with local singer/songwriter and Reformed Church member Krisha Stoever’s tasteful version of “Ain’t Misbehavin'” followed by an a cappella duet with her daughter, Oona, who earlier had charmed us with “Sweet Violet” (and has been in several 90 Miles past performances). The two sang a song from the current Hunger Games movie, Mockingjay, the tune reminiscent of old Celtic folk melodies. Their crystal-clear voices rose and fell in harmony in a lovely and effortless way, intertwined, the words wrapping around each other, mother and daughter both distinct and blended in the one moment.
90 Miles produces four shows a year, one in the spring and one in the fall, along with the annual winter cabaret night and a Children’s Theatre workshop and performance in the summer. Local business sponsorship includes Bacchus restaurant, Wallkill View Farm, Dedrick’s Pharmacy & Gifts, True Value hardware, Ulster Savings Bank, PDQ Printing and P&G’s restaurant.
There may be another Cabaret & Dessert Night fundraiser scheduled for later this spring; stay tuned. More information about future shows, auditions and fundraising are at 90milesoffbroadway.org.