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Cultural Arts Playhouse opens in Merrick

New location taps into South Shore's talent

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The muffled sounds of an eager audience gathered in the lobby crept into the theater of the Cultural Arts Playhouse in Merrick last Saturday night, but the cast of “Bare” milled about the set unfazed, giving one another last-minute notes before a stagehand opened the house.

Nick Castello, who played Peter, the lead role, encouraged his castmates to rough him up in the opening number, “Epiphany.” In the song, Peter, who is gay, dozes off during Mass at St. Cecelia’s Boarding School and dreams that he is outed and condemned by his family and friends. “Don’t be afraid to get physical with me,” he told his fellow actors. “This is my nightmare.”

The performance anchored the grand opening of CAP Merrick’s Main Stage theater division on Feb. 8. Owner Bruce Grossman described the division as CAP’s “highest level of professional entertainment.” Before the show, the Merrick Chamber of Commerce officiated a ribbon-cutting ceremony to welcome Grossman and his staff to Merrick.

Grossman founded CAP in 1995 to give children, teens and young adults on Long Island a comprehensive theater arts education. He opened CAP’s flagship location in Syosset five years ago, but realized the organization lacked a permanent home on the South Shore. “We were like a nomad moving around, but this is a permanent base,” he said of the Merrick playhouse. “There’s a wonderful talent base here, and we needed to have a location local to them.”

The Main Stage productions mirror the standards of a professional theater troupe, Grossman said. The program comprises theater majors, college graduates and young adults pursuing performing arts careers.

Main Stage gives its actors “a vehicle to perform at a very high level with other high-level actors, network with those actors and build their resume, knowledge and experience to enhance their chances of success in the theater field,” Grossman said.

Chrissy Ganci, of Bellmore, was double-casted as Nadia in “Bare.” An alumna of Calhoun High School’s On Tour Company, she has performed with CAP at its Syosset location since 2017. Ganci is a social worker by day, but spends her nights and weekends rehearsing and performing with fellow Main Stage students, whom she referred to as her “best friends.”

Community theater is like therapy to Ganci, she said. “You get to see your friends perform, then you put it all out there yourself — it’s sort of like a release,” she said. “Especially with a show like this. [It’s] a deep, beautiful story, and I enjoy sharing it with other people who enjoy the arts.”

CAP General Manager Tony Frangipane directed “Bare,” and expressed his excitement to produce more shows like it under Main Stage. “It fits our mission statement to do more unique, lesser-known shows that are offbeat and different,” he said.

In addition to Main Stage, CAP Merrick also offers classes and programs for aspiring actors in kindergarten through college, as well as summer theater workshops. Students receive training in musical theater, dance and acting, as well as learn self-confidence and self-expression.

Ganci said theater gave her a confidence she cannot explain. “It really teaches you how to interact with others, and if a child is unsure, they can take a class and check it out — there’s no pressure,” she said. “The staff is very inclusive and lovely, and they’re there to support you. It’s a perfect environment.”

Frangipane also stressed the importance of an arts education. “No matter if you’re going to be an actor on stage, a teacher or just a human being, to have some self-confidence to get up and speak in front of people is very important,” he said. “It’s for all the kids who are the outsiders, to have some place that they can call home.”

For more information about CAP Merrick, call (516) 694-3330, or visit www.capwantagh.com.