Over a year after Broadway was shut down, in some cases mid-show, Oceanside residents have brought back the theater to local residents. Penned by Oceanside resident Bruce Bider, Back to the 20s infuses talent from the stages of Broadway and the big and small screens with local youth.
Back to the 20s is an original work from music director and co-producer Bruce Bider as a celebration of the roaring twenties with historical perspective narrated by film historian Philip Harwood. The project was ready to debut at Molloy College’s Madison Theater in early 2020, but the pandemic put those plans on hold.
Bider, the co-founder and president of South Shore Theatricals, got to work on the project when fellow Oceanside resident, friend and colleague Lisa Engellis of Artists in Partnership suggested the two organizations merge for a production. Having sat on his original composition for over a year, Bider said he had just the production in mind: Back to the 20s.
Engellis, who is serving as the production’s executive producer and costume designer, as well as being part of the ensemble, has spent three decades in her theatrical journey, starting out as a cast member in a Bider-directed production of Guys and Dolls. Bider also gave Engellis her first starring role as Dolly in Hello, Dolly!
“It’s so wonderful to partner up with your mentor all these years later,” Engellis said. “We are ready. We are so excited to get out of the dark and back into the spotlight.”
The cabaret-style production includes over 40 musical numbers from the decade, including “Ain’t We Got Fun,” “The Charleston,” “Honeysuckle Rose” and many more.
“It is thrilling to be able to get back to doing what we love,” Bider said. “Everybody involved in our group does it for the love of it, and we have missed it. We’ve been away from it for so long.”
“After a very rough year, we all know that people are hungry for some fun and some good local entertainment,” cast member Mary Malloy of East Rockaway said. “The roaring twenties are back again, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”
The cast includes Broadway headliners such as cabaret star Klea Blackhurst, Sarah Rice of Sweeney Todd fame, opera singer Frank Basile, television star Judi Mark and LA-based jazz singer Richard Halpern. Kathryn Crosby, wife of the late Bing Crosby, will also contribute a virtual appearance.
Bider said the experienced and decorated cast was invaluable to the process of putting together the production.
“You have local people and even young kids working and learning alongside these pros,” Bider said. “You know that you can farm out a large percentage of the solos and duet numbers to those people as a foundation to build upon with members of the local cast.”
Part of that talented cast in another Oceanside resident, Jan Hernstat. Hernstat in the president of the International Al Jolson Society, of which Bider is a member as well. Bider also produced plays at Oceanside High School while Hernstat’s children attended.
“This is a venue that deals with the roaring twenties and, being a big Jolson fan, it’s always nice to have an event that highlights the songs that Jolson made popular in the twenties,” Hernstat said.
Temple Israel in Long Beach will serve as the venue for the production when it finally hits the stage for two shows on August 8 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. For tickets and information, visit www.theproducersplayhouse.com.