Interview: “Catch a Rising Star” Kimberly Suskind from “JOHN AND JEN”

Hammonton, NJ‘s Eagle Theatre brings in one of their favorite talents to star in Off Broadway’s “John and Jen”, a musical journey about a family’s strengths, weaknesses, hopes, failures and redemption.

Playing John is another Eagle favorite Adam Hoyak and Jen is played by Kimberly Suskind. We are spotlighting Kimberly who is no stranger to the Eagle Theatre having been part of 7 Eagle productions including Godspell, Heathers! The Musical, Beehive: The Musical and The Civil War.

Kimberly is far from a novice to the stage with a long resume of singing, acting and dancing in local and regional productions include Young Frankenstein (Elizabeth Benning), Burt and Me (Lacey) at the Delaware Theater Company and one of four productions at the Theater Barn in New York.

I caught up with Kimberly after the Eagle opening of John & Jen; the 1995 Off Broadway musical written by Broadway’s Andrew Lippa.

Pati Buehler: Kimberly, please shed some light on this emotional story and how did you prepare for the role?

Kimberly Suskind: This role is so incredibly special to me! I fell in love with John & Jen in college and could never get through the cast recording without tearing up. It’s such a beautiful story that everyone can relate to in some way. The relationships between two family members, whether it be brother and sister, mother and son, or any other combination, is often full of tension, affection, and most importantly, unconditional love. As far as preparing for the role, other than learning the extensive music and dialogue, I was fascinated by documentaries on the two sides of the Vietnam War and researching the 1960s counter culture. I love an opportunity to research and becoming more familiar with different time periods!

Kimberly’s bio reveals that she was singing at 18 months old and dancing by 3. Seems like she never stopped! Please tell where you call home and what was your family life all about?

KS: It’s true! Once I started, I was hooked forever. I’m very lucky to say, both of my parents were incredibly supportive of my career choice and helped me achieve everything I set out to do. My mother took me to infinite auditions, dance classes and rehearsals. I’m grateful every day that she believed in me and was will to give so much of her own time. My 14 year old little sister, Kayci, has the theatre bug too! My two brothers, Kayci’s twin, Tyler, and my older brother, Matt, have their own interests and specials skills. I actually spent my childhood moving about every two years, a corporate brat, some might say. I’ve lived in 9 states, all over the country, and went to eleven schools. I usually say I’m from Seattle, as that’s where I attended high school. My family now resides in beautiful southern Florida.

Kimberly earned her BFA in Musical Theater at the Boston Conservatory where she was awarded the Sue Ronson Levy Tap Scholarship. In addition to rigorous training in acting and dancing, her special skills include dialects in British, Cockney, Irish, New York, Southern and Jewish Grandmother! Having seen this delightful always smiling young actress in several productions I’d love to see you cast in a show requiring a Jewish Grandmother! Have you had the opportunity to use any of these ‘special talents’?

KS: I’m laughing out loud about that one! My lovely grandma, Sheila Cohen, is the inspiration as my quintessential Jewish grandmother and I have spent my lifetime trying to emulate her fabulous Brooklyn-born accent! She loves to have me “Do my voice!” in front of her friends. Why not throw in something to add a little humor to a resume? That being said, unfortunately, I’m never asked to portray a role that requires it. I’m still holding out hope! I have been able to use some other dialects, mostly southern and British.

PB: What do you hope the audience of John and Jen take away from this show?

KS: I hope the audience will leave the theatre thinking, “Wow, I need to call my family.” Our director, Ted Wioncek III, has found every touching and heartfelt moment the script has to offer. It’s so rewarding to work with someone who can read between the lines and lyrics to extract beautiful hidden meaning. I hope the production will warm the hearts of our audiences and encourage them to experience rarely produced musicals and plays! There are some hidden gems out there, and this is one of them!

Kimberly and Adam will appear in JOHN and JEN at The Eagle Theatre, 208 Vine St. Hammonton, NJ on selected dates through April 9. For tickets and information: visit www.eagletheatre.org or call 609.704.5012 For more information about Kimberly Suskind visit www.kimberlysuskind.com

Photo # 1 Kim in Eagle’s Beehive: The Musical-Photo credit: Chris Miller

Photo # 2 Adam Hoyak (John) and Kimberly Suskind (Jen) in “John and Jen”- Photo credit: Chris Miller

Photo # 3 Kim ( Elizabeth Benning) “Young Frankenstein, Barn Theater – Photo credit: A. Phelps

Eagle Theatre’s “Bonnie & Clyde”

bonnie and clyde logo“Dying Ain’t So Bad” when you can sing, kiss and shoot your way through a musical.

The Eagle Theatre presents its second Frank Wildhorn musical production this with a tuneful musical biography of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, the kissin’ outlaws from Texas who captured the American imagination during the Great Depression.

After a successful production of Frank Wildhorn’s Civil War-The Musical, Artistic Directors Ed Corsi and Ted Wioncek III take on another historical real-life project. Bonnie & Clyde is a musical with music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black and a book by Ivan Menchell. The musical centers on Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, the ill-fated lovers and outlaws whose story has been infamous since they achieved folk hero status during the Great Depression. Wildhorn described the music as a “non-traditional score, combining rockabilly, blues and gospel music. Bonnie & Clyde made its way to Broadway and despite less than stellar NY reviews and a very short run, it was nominated for 3 Outer Critics Circle Awards and 5 Drama Desk Awards, both including Best New Musical, as well as two nominations for the 2012 Tony Awards.

This Bonnie & Clyde doesn’t glamorize its subjects, as Arthur Penn’s 1967 film was Bonnie & Clyde

accused of doing, but it does sentimentalize them; they are introduced to us as children, (played impressively by Jamieson O’Brien as young Bonnie and Jacob Long as young Clyde) dreaming of fame that clearly goes awry when the Parker teen is swept off her feet by the handsome, reckless Barrow boy. So, where is the excitement of gunnin’ and runnin’ as seen in the filmed production starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway? Well, the staged production of Bonnie & Clyde clearly goes in another direction and presents the murderous pair as a couple of misunderstood kids trapped by the Depression infused with a musical score that while well executed is both “hit and miss”. More on this …

Make no mistake… the gifted performers in the Eagle’s production are given songs that dip into bluegrass or country, gospel or rock, not to mention that ever-present Wildhorn favorite, the blustery power ballad. Bonnie (Maggie Griffin-Smith) and Clyde (Sal Pavia) position their prologue clearly with “This World Will Remember Me” and Bonnie’s poem- inspired “ Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad”. Griffin –Smith & Pavia put in passionate, power house performances.

Bart and Clyde prented carEagle favorite Tim Rinehart plays Clyde’s brother Marvin “Buck” Barrow bringing some much needed humor as the loyal brother trying to please both brother and wife Blanche (Kimberly Suskind). Rinehart writhers and balks at the thought of returning to jail in the comical “You’re Goin’ Back to Jail” and shares some brotherly rowdiness with “ When I Drive” and “Raise a Little Hell”. Suskind quietly soars in her role as the Jesus-lovin’ earthy housewife and delivers a sweetly sung “That’s What You Call a Dream”. The gospel inspired “God’s Arms Are Always Open” opens the way for more levity as the towns Holy Rolling church members led by the virtuous vicar, and quite dramatic Eric Cecilio. A standout acting performance is offered by Melissa Connell playing Bonnie’s mother Emma Parker tugging on heartstrings as well Justin Mazzella playing Ted Hinton, lawman in love with Bonnie.B and C prison pic

Artistic director Ted Wioncek explains his take on this production about “romanticizing antagonists and sensationalizing outlaws. With a bleeding heart and an open ear filled with tales, we live vicariously through those devoted to reckless abandon and going against the grain.” The catchy songs flesh out a story with plenty of heart yet the composer and lyricist show little flair for marrying story with song and the production tends to pause and meander a bit too often. The show occasionally jolts with a few surprises but generally presents itself as a recognizable history lesson set to entertaining music sung by some great vocalists. Similarliy Wildhorn’s Jekyll and Hyde Musical is a campy dark production that presents itself as a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ exploration of what may have taken place in the emotions of a murderous fictional character and his victims.  Perhaps we need to also forgo some of the logic behind a bit of this re-imagined storyline too. Nonetheless, this is an entertaining fantasy to the real life villains Bonnie and Clyde.

The production’s biggest success other than excellent casting with stellar voices may be the collaboration of Lighting/Projection Designs by Chris Miller which include vintage photos of the real-life models for the characters on stage including their mug shots as well as clever motion simulations. Sets by Miller and Wioncek create a woodshed-style rustic stage with ramp entrances and of course, the vintage get- away car and other period props adding a touch of realism to the material.

BONNIE AND CLYDE plays at the Eagle Theatre, Hammonton, NJ on selected dates. For more information visits www.theeagletheatre.com or call 609.704.5012

Photos by Chris Miller

The Eagle Theater presents…Beehive – the 60’s Musical Sensation

Eagle Beehive logo From Bouffant hairdos and Barbie dolls The Eagle takes you on a musical tour of some of the most iconic female singers of the 1960’s

Whether you are a fan of early ladies of pop, rock or soul, there’s something for everyone to get excited about. The talented energetic cast includes some of Eagle’s favorite females; KIM SUSKIND (Footloose as Rusty, upcoming Blanche in Bonnie and Clyde and Mrs. Fleming in HEATHERS), JENNA BITOW (Hair, Smokey Joe’s Cafe and Into the Woods), MARISSA BARNATHAN (Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Footloose, Catch me if you Can, TARA NOVIE (Tick Tick Boom as Susan and new member of AEA) and MAGGIE GRIFFIN-SMITH (Into the Woods, upcoming Bonnie and Clyde Ensemble and Emily in Our Town).

A medley of some 40 songs including “The Name Game” (Shirley Ellis), “My
Boyfriend’s Back” (The Angels) to a Supremes Fans Dream hits; “ Where Did Our Love Go”, Come See About Me”, You Can’t Hurry Love” and “ You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. Stand out solos are offered by Maggie Griffin-Smith “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” sung beautifully by Tara Novie. Kim Suskind’s definitely earned some ”Respect” with her version of Aretha’s best know song and Marissa Barnathan’s dreamy “Where the Boys Are” made me look for my dance partner under the disco ball. (well, almost!).

Beehive logo picIf you were a tween or teen in the 60’s it was one of the one of the craziest roller coaster rides in history ever. ”Back in the day” we were part of the birth of The Beatles, Go-Go boots, lava lamps, mini-skirts and the British revolution of standout female artists and they were well represented by these gals with impressive versions of Petula Clark’s “Downtown”, Lulu’s “To Sir With Love”. Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” is wonderfully sung by Kim Suskind.

 

The mid to late 60’s found us young rebels reeling from the death of JFK, MLK and Vietnam and turning to the tumultuous tunes of Janis Joplin whose “Piece of My Heart” was hammered out nicely by Maggie Griffin-Smith and Tara Novie as well as Woodstock’s favorite “ Me and My Bobby Magee”. Long Live Janis Joplin!

Serving as the catalysis of this concert simply by her natural dynamic personality is Beehive Cast pic 2Jenna Bitow who displays her vocal diversity with a heartwarming “To Sir With Love” then explodes with Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” and “A Natural Woman”.
Chris Miller and Ed Corsi set the stage with “lava lamp” colored spot lights and Miller’s lighting compliments nicely. Corsi also directs this multi- musical journey with his focus on a fine transition from song to song, mood to mood. Choreographer Kate Orlando keeps the girls on their toes with constancy and movement that flows smoothly. Musical director Jason Neri and his 5 piece band are flawless in keeping up with the fast- paced 90 minuet musical journey.

BEEHIVE: THE 60’S MUSICAL SENSATION plays at the Eagle Theater, Hammonton NJ for selected performances through August 23 for tickets and information visit www.theeagletheatre.com or call 609.704.5012

The Eagle Theatre’s “Piano Men” – A Great Night of Music by Great Composers

Piano MenWhat’s hot in Hammonton NJ besides the weather? How about a rocking show featuring the music of Billy Joel, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Ben Folds and more.

Eagle’s Artistic director Ed Corsi stages this first of 2 Summer Concert Series by bringing in two talents; local Philly piano man Greg Offner, Jr. and Broadway veteran Evan Jan Newman for a great mix of music composed and sung by some of your favorite artists. This 80 min. one act show presented in the round is a close up and personal ‘sing-a-long rocking good time for both the audience and the artists.
It’s kind of hard not to clap and join in with a song list such as this:

“Movin’ Out” (Billy Joel) – Greg (with Evan) “Great Balls of Fire” (Jerry Lee Lewis) – Evan (with Greg) –“Christy Lee” (Billy Joel) – Evan and Greg –“Your Song” (Elton John) – Evan – “Thunder Road” (Bruce Springsteen) – Greg-“ Big Shot “(Billy Joel) – Evan- “My Life” (Billy Joel) – Greg- “At this Moment” (Billy Vera and the Beaters) – Evan- “I’m Not the Only One” (Sam Smith) – Greg – “Ordinary People” (John Legend) – Evan- “Baby Grand” (Billy Joel and Ray Charles) – Evan and Greg – “Man in the Mirror” (Michael Jackson) – Greg- “Sentimental Guy” (Ben Folds) – Evan- “ Zak and Sara” (Ben Folds) – Greg- “ I’d Rather Leave While I’m in Love” (Peter Allen) – Evan- “Keepin’ the Faith” (Billy Joel) – Greg- “ I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” (Elton John) – Evan – “Shake it Off” (Taylor Swift) – “Georgia on my Mind” (Ray Charles) – Greg-“ You Don’t Know Me” (Ray Charles) – Evan – “Mona Lisa’s and Mad Hatters” (Elton John) – Greg “How Come you Don’t Call Me” (Alicia Keys) – Evan- “ Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” (Billy Joel) –Greg – “Sweet Caroline” (Neal Diamond) – Greg and Evan – “PIANO MAN” (Greg and Evan)

Greg Offner picLet’s meet the talented men charged with this musical adventure! Greg Offner Jr. has been playing piano sine he could walk; a classically trained percussionist who has played professionally throughout North and South America and Europe. He currently plays gigs at the Whitebrier in Avalon, NJ. DUEL Piano Bar on Philadelphia and Vesper Supper Club in Philadelphia. Greg is a resident of South Philadelphia. His “Springsteen” style voice nails it in “Thunder Road” and his ‘easy listening” jazz side is smooth as ‘buttah’ for “Georgia on My Mind” and rocks out “Movin’ Out”.

Direct from the Broadway Tour of ” Mamma Mia” the North American Tour is Evan Jay Evan Jay Newman Newman who credits include Music Director for Green Day’s “American Idiot” (International Tour) Asst. Musical Director for “The King and I” and “Hairspray” (Weston Playhouse). Performing credits include” Les Miserables” National Tour and “Beauty and the Beast” . Evan’s obvious experience on keyboard are outstanding and his “Billy Joel” style voice enhances numbers such as “Big Shot”, Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”, and the very beautiful “I’d Rather Leave While I’m in Love” written by Peter Allen and also performed by singer Rita Coolidge.

Piano man prod. shotThe two playoff nicely together despite are a few musical missteps likely due to the fact that these two talents have barely had time to work together. The audience especially appreciated their combined versions of “Sweet Caroline” and of course “Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and surely left the audience humming all the way home.

“Piano Men” runs July 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17 and 18 at 8 p.m. and July 11, 12, 18 and 19 at 3 p.m. General admission tickets are $30. Tickets can be purchased at www.TheEagleTheatre.com. For more information, call the box office at (609) 704-5012.
Catch the second Summer Show “Beehive- The 60’s Musical Sensation” that runs on selected dates from 8/13 to 8/25

Eagle Theatre’s upcoming productions for the 2015-16 Season are: CLOSER, BONNIE AND CLYDE, ASSASSINS, HEATHERS- THE MUSICAL, OUR TOWN, THE KING OF EAST JABIP AND GODSPELL