Gateway

The re-opening of The Gateway Playhouse in Somers Point has caused quite a few not-so-dry eyes among the performers.

Photo by David Spatz

Unless it’s part of the script, breaking into tears during a play is considered a theatrical no-no. It’s right up there with breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience when the actor should be conversing on stage with another character.

But even the most ardent theater purist wouldn’t have begrudged members of the Shaken Not Stirred Players a few moments of spontaneous emotion when they took the stage of the born-again Gateway Playhouse in Somers Point late last month.

It was the first time back on those boards in more than a decade for members of the theater company when they performed what’s become their signature program, “Broadway By Request,” a challenging, make-it-up-as-you-go-along show where the audience requests the songs — from Broadway shows, obviously — and it’s up to the cast to know the song and deliver the goods.

“It was almost a little embarrassing, because I think almost every person on that stage had a moment where they teared up or just plain broke down,” says Jim Dalfonso, a founding member of the Shaken Not Stirred Players and a member of the Theater Collaborative of South Jersey (TCSJ), which helped raise the money and obtain the grants needed to bring the Gateway back to life.

“It was strange,” Dalfonso adds. “The only one who had an opposite opinion was my wife, Debbie. And when I asked her about it, she said (she) felt like she’d never been gone. She said it felt like it was the day after the last time we were there.”

No doubt for some, there were probably times since the venue closed in 2006 when they thought saving the battered, structurally unsafe and century-old former warehouse was a lost cause.

Despite the passion of the people who devoted big chunks of their lives to restoring the theater, there are some who wouldn’t have been surprised to see it fall to the wrecker’s ball and the land bulldozed into a nice piece of real estate with a great view of the bay.

But with the persistence and never-say-die spirit and attitude of the TCSJ, the marquee at the Gateway Playhouse glows once again to brighten up the corner of Bay and Higbee avenues.

Dalfonso wasn’t one of those who felt the Gateway would eventually come down.

“I knew that if for some reason (the TCSJ) wasn’t able to follow through with it, someone was going to step up and finish the project,” Dalfonso says of the renovations that have created a comfortable and 220-seat room. “It’s too important to the local area.”

The goal of the Gateway restoration project, he explains, was to keep it the same intimate venue it had always been.

“Only without the mold, the sand fleas and the bad smell,” he adds with a laugh.

Like the mythical Phoenix rising from the ashes, the Gateway, which was built around 1910 and first used as a warehouse before becoming a movie theater and then a live stage venue, now gives the area another entertainment option.

It took some time to put everything into place, especially the money. But with financial support that included $150,000 from the Pepsi Refresh project and $100,000 from its neighbor down the street, Shore Medical Center, plus some Hurricane Sandy federal funding, backing from the city of Somers Point and a bunch of financial donations from the community, the Gateway opened debt-free.

It doesn’t owe any place or anyone a dime.

The Shaken Not Stirred Players return to the boards they still consider their “home stage” with performances of the musical “She Loves Me.” Shows will be presented Sept. 22 to 24 and Sept. 29 to Oct. 1. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays.

In some respects, it’s the perfect show, because the history of the play somewhat mimics the Gateway’s past.

Like the theater, which has had different names over the years, “She Loves Me” is a show that’s been adapted several times and in different mediums under various names.

The Gateway was already a popular shore movie theater when the play began life in 1937 titled “Parfumerie.” It was then adapted several times as a motion picture with different names.

There was the 1940 version called “The Shop Around the Corner” that starred James Stuart, “In The Good Old Summertime” in 1949 as a showcase for Judy Garland and then in 1998 as “You’ve Got Mail,” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

On Broadway, “She Loves You,” the musical’s third stage adaptation, debuted in 1963. It was a hit in London’s West End in 1964 and was revived in New York in 2016, where it became the first Broadway show ever live-streamed.

“It’s a tale of mistaken identity or really not knowing who you’re really in love with,” he explains. “In fact, many regard it as possibly the most charming musical of all time.”

He says the show will use a cast of 12, and the production isn’t age-restrictive.

“I think it’s a show that can be told at any age level,” he says. “I think the median age of the folks in the show is about 45. So we’re able to stretch those ingénue years a bit and still be able to tell the story.”

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