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The Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, NJ is Broadway at the Beach

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Surflight TheaterIn 1950 the Surflight Theatre is born in Beach Haven Crest, on Long Beach Island, in a shaky 2,200-seat tent with a cast of 60, a 12-piece orchestra and a season only 3 weeks long.

Mounting shows from a tent to an old meat market, and garage to one last move, in 1954 to a rented former mechanic’s garage on Engleside Avenue, Beach Haven, a tiny stage, tin roof, no air conditioning, and lots of mosquitoes. Seating capacity: 312 (if you use a shoehorn). 6 shows a week. Patrons’ restrooms were located 1 block away at Beach Haven Borough Hall. During a rainy season, actors learn to constantly shout their lines to be heard over the rain drumming on the tin roof. The storm sewers back up, forcing patrons to wade to the theatre in hip boots and galoshes.

Fast forward to 1975 Show Place Ice Cream Parlour opens next to the theatre, collaboration between Joe Hayes Surflight’s original producer and his friend Scott Henderson, and a local banker. Food, ice cream AND a floor show, an immediate hit! Moving ahead again, in 1995 the Surflight season is streamlined to 16 weeks to cater more specifically to summer audiences.

In 1998 Surflight welcomes a new Artistic Director, Steve Steiner and his wife, Gail Anderson Steiner, to serve as the theater’s Company Manager and Production Manager. Steiner with his wife, Gail, left their theater careers in New York to take over Surflight. Steve Steiner, whose performing credits include several Broadway appearances including Anything Goes with Patti Lupone, Steve spearheads the theater’s transition in 2001 to nonprofit status as well as an agreement with the professional actors’ union Actor’s Equity.

I caught up with Steve in the throws of opening another great show: Cabaret.

“Steve, you have worked tirelessly for 12 years with the folks at Surflight. What are some of the high points of your career with the theater?”

“Being able to move the theater from somebody’s business into a community resource was a necessary move to the survival of this theater beyond a summer theater project.” 

Surflight Theater

As the anchor of this showplace Steve not only directs, produces, heads fundraisers, but also sing act and play musical instruments in some of the shows. “How do you balance all if this?” 

“You really need to love what you do and while this is working it is also fun. It’s often 60+ hours of fun per week (laughing) but you couldn’t do this unless you were having fun.” 

“Of the numerous shows that have taken place since your stay, what are some of your personal or crowd pleasing favorites?”

The Tribute to Buddy Holly Story” was probably the most popular, very fun and most financially rewarding show we’ve had. Our 2005 production of “Tommy” was artistically extraordinary and “On Your Toes” was also a really lovely production.”

The year 2000 finds ticket sales at an all-time record pace led by Dinner/Theatre and Lunch/Matinee packages that attract groups from as far away as Staten Island, NY and Wilmington, DE and is still very popular to this day.

Additionally, there are touring shows during Family Week at the Theatre and five different attractions for their Celebrity Concert Series, featuring such diverse artists as Tom Chapin, Tommy Emmanuel, Donna McKechnie, John Davidson and the Legendary Lead Singers of the Temptations. Total attendance at Surflight performances in 2003 is 62,587, up from 37,000 in 1997. 

For tickets and information about future shows visit www.surflighttheatre.org. Located at Engleside and Beach Avenues Beach Haven NJ. 609-492-9477.

Photo (Right): Steve Steiner and Surflight Theatre

Photo (Left): From "Tribute to Buddy Holly Story" 

Photo Credits: Surflight Theatre