"The carpet man and the Coke man was just here, and now the pest control guy is here," says Steve Steiner. "We're in the real thick of it right now."
Steiner is the producing artistic director ("the guy who does whatever anybody else doesn't want to do") of the Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, N.J., on Long Beach Island. He, wife and coproducer Paula Steiner, and crew are busily, or maybe frenetically, getting it ready for its grand reopening on Friday.
The Surflight is back from the dead. Shuttered by Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February 2015, it reopens with Footloose!, which runs through July 9. That kicks off a full theatrical summer, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (July 11-23), Newsies (July 23-Aug. 13), Hairspray (Aug. 15-27), and Million Dollar Quartet (Aug. 29-Sept. 10). There will also be children's theater.
It's a boost for summer theater offerings at the Shore, which have been spotty. Atlantic City isn't doing much theater these days. Nearby in Hammonton, the Eagle Theatre has a full September-June schedule, and it's hosting the New Jersey Fringe Festival again this year, Aug. 4-6. Various venues have tried cabaret or dinner/mystery theater. And Shakespeare has often trod the beach: At the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities at the Emlen Physick Estate in Cape May, the REV Theatre Company is doing Hamlet July 19-23 and 25-29.
There's community summer theater in Ocean City at the Greater Ocean City Theatre Company (Fiddler on the Roof, July 11-14, and other offerings). But for a full summer slate, it's a ride of 75 miles and change from Long Beach Island down to Cape May, and the Cape May Stage and East Lynne Theater.
(But there are signs of new life: The Gateway Playhouse in Somers Point, dark for 11 years, is being gussied up for an August resurrection.)
The Surflight, "Broadway on the Beach," has been in Beach Haven since 1950; the present structure went up in 1987. With a staff of locals, actors who get paid, and a summer-stock feel, it's part of a complex that includes the ShowPlace Ice Cream Parlour, which reopens at 6 p.m. Friday with a gala that will feature Miss New Jersey and Miss Ocean County. Footloose! starts at 8 p.m.
Steiner moved to Beach Haven from New York to be producing artistic director of Surflight from 1998 to 2010. But differences of artistic vision led to his departure. The theater had a rocky next five years and went dark.
Even before it did, Steiner was trying to resuscitate it. "We actually had most of this season planned in 2015," he says. But banks wanted a big-time investor to partner up.
Enter Al Parinello, real estate executive, concert/theatrical producer, and former WJSE-FM (106.3) owner. He and Steiner were old friends and had coproduced shows at Trump venues in Atlantic City in the early 2000s. After what Parinello called "a lot of pulling teeth and … literally waving dollar bills," he closed a deal with TD Bank.
Steve and Paula Steiner now face the dual goal of, as Steve puts it, "doing really good and watching the pennies and dollars to ensure we get to season two." They know how to do that, he says: "For the last five, six years, Paula and I have kept producing. We've had venues ask us to do shows in other locations. So our first three shows can use the same set, just redressed. We can save on costumes for Hairspray by using costumes from a production of it we did at the Laguna Playhouse. And for Footloose!, we can use scenic design and costumes from when we did it in Laguna and at the Eldorado Reno."
A full summer, a few events in the fall, and then? "Our goal," Steiner says, "is to build back to what we used to do: Have events in each of the 12 months of the year."