Shining the Spotlight on our CM Favorites – Old and New

There’s the old saying “A picture is worth 1,000 words”. Sometimes those words mean different things. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “Spotlight” as:

A projected spot of light used to illuminate brilliantly a person, object, or group on a stage.


Public notice or attention.

Those who work in the world of theatre are familiar with the word Spotlight for both of those scenarios. When it comes to CM Spotlight, a new Virtual Speaker Series, hosted by CM Alumni and Co-Chairman of the Board of Directors, Tim Pappalardo, I believe Spotlight takes on a definition that is more of a tool of distraction.

Have you ever seen a scene in a show where all of the lighting (spotlight included) is focused on the action happening in the foreground but in the background there’s one character that is giving such life to their performance and you just wish there was a light shining on them because other people could see what it was that you’re focusing in on?  That’s what CM Spotlight is to me.

Now don’t get me wrong, these guests that Tim brings on each week are worthy of being in the limelight all on their own with extensive resumes on and off the stage, but in the chaotic world we live in today where the news can be overwhelming, theatre has always been a tool of escapism. Knowing this, Tim keeps that spirit alive by shining the Spotlight away from the everyday focuses to a once a week escape, on Thursdays at 7:30PM EST, into stories that bring joy and nostalgia.

As a response to COVID19 preventing us from keeping our doors open for performances, CM Spotlight premiered on Thursday, March 26th 2020 with CM Alumni Robert Anthony Jones, or as those who know and have worked with him, Raj (his initials that also work brilliantly for his Instagram handle @justcallmeraj). Raj has been involved in many professional productions since his days at CM, most recently, the National Tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, as well as the final Broadway Company of Finding Neverland. Watch the interview here:

Following Raj on April 2nd was Nick Sanchez. Nick was last seen touring the country in the musical theatre phenomenon that is Hamilton (and yes, he has even on occasion played the titular role). Previously, he was seen on Broadway in Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville, Mary Poppins, Tarzan, and RENT. Fun fact about Escape to Margaritaville and Nick! I had won the lottery to see the show and I was super excited because A- I had friends in it (Nick and another CM Alumni, Mike Millan). B- I love Jimmy Buffett, and C- I love Margaritas (and the concession stand Margaritas for this show did not disappoint!). So I leave work at CM early to go home, change into some Island attire clothes, and head into the city to see the show. I had a front row seat, which was awesome because I got to literally interact with Mike Millan as he came down into the audience. However, Nick wasn’t in the show that day. A few weeks later, I won the lottery again! I had so much fun the first time, so I figured why not go again. So now I’m in the theatre again, this time sitting a bit further back but still with a fantastic view, and literally one row behind me is two other friends from CM, Gregory Franz (one of our Music Directors), and Aubrey Alvino (a frequent performer in the CM Teens and on the Main Stage). Seeing them prompted me to message Nick to see if he was in the show that night.

As fate would have it, Mike was out for that show and Nick was on. At intermission, Nick messages me and invites me to come back stage for a tour after the show. When curtain call happened, I was amazed to see that not only did Jimmy Buffett himself happen to be there, but so was Pitbull and the two did the most bizarre yet entertaining duet. So now I’m backstage, Nick gives me a tour, but ALSO introduces me to JIMMY BUFFETT! It’s worth noting at this time, my dad had been in the hospital for almost a month and Father’s Day was coming up in just a few days, so I asked Jimmy if he wouldn’t mind taking a photo and sharing a few words to pass on to my dad who is also a huge fan. He was more than happy to oblige. What’s the moral of this story you might ask? You really have no idea how many connections you can make that all stem from people who have worked with this organization. Noel S. Ruiz really was like the Kevin Bacon of Theatre in general. You could probably connect theatrical performers across the Tri-State Area (and probably further) to Noel in 6 connections or less. To watch the interview with Nick, click here:

The week after was Holy Week. If you are an avid follower of CM, you might already know that every year during the Lent Season, CM tours across Long Island with their dramatic Prayer Service entitled “Journey, Cross, and Crucifixion”. Due to COVID19, we were unable to do that this year, but since we were already toying with Live Streaming, we decided to stream an archived service of Journey on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. To help spread the word, Tim brought together a panel to discuss Journey. That panel consisted of Alyse Arpino (Executive Director), Brian Schnurman (One of the Founders of CM), Gail Kieser (Journey Troupe Leader), and Ellen Dumlao (Board of Directors). That special episode of CM Spotlight can be viewed here:

There are more aspects to Theatre than just being on the stage. The magic that happens off the stage and behind the scenes is just as, if not more important to address as well. On April 9th, we interviewed CM Alumni Jessica Paz, the 2019 Tony Award Winner for Sound Design of Hadestown. It is absolutely worth noting that Jessica is the first female to not only be nominated for, but also win a Tony Award in that category and we could not be more proud and ecstatic for her to be a role model to future Sound Designers across the country. Click here to watch that interview:

On Thursday, April 16th, we brought things a bit closer to home by interviewing our very own Artistic Director, Patrick Grossman, and several cast members of The Long Island Premiere of Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, which would have opened this past March. This interview was refreshing in the sense that it brought in current performers at CM (Steve Cottonaro, Katie Ferretti, and Bailey Whitney):

April 23rd, we brought in CM Alumni Sonny Paladino who is a Broadway Conductor, Orchestrator, Musical Director, Musical Supervisor, Arranger, and Accompanist. On Broadway, he has most recently worked on Gettin’ The Band Back Together, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, and the Broadway Revivals of Pippin, and Jesus Christ Superstar. Sonny is also one of the founders of The Doo Wop Project which has toured all over the globe. Fun Fact about Gettin’ the Band Back Together. Sonny wasn’t the only CM Alumnae to work on that show. One of the writers was Michael Tester, and yours truly was a Brand Affiliate on the Marketing Team! Sonny talks about that show, among other projects of the past (and hopeful future) in this interview:

Closing out April, we brought on CM Alumni and Jazz/Pop Vocalist, Jane Monheit. Jane has been touring all over the world and has collaborated with many artists, including everyone’s holiday album favorite, Michael Buble. I thought I was done with the fun personal stories relating to the interview guests, but I was wrong. I do indeed have a fun Jane Monheit story that kind of starts all the way back in 2004. Back then, I was a freshman at Patchogue-Medford High School and I had zero idea what CM even was at that time. My music teachers, Brian Reich and Rose Champion, both CM Alumni, are great friends of Jane, so much so that one of her album posters is on the wall in the Chorus room at the high school (it may even still be there today). Reich and Champion begged me to audition for a show at CM, so I did, and that’s how I first became involved in the Theatre. Fast Forward to 2013, Jane was doing a Special Event concert at CM and I finally after 9 years, got to meet the woman who I was quite literally looking up to all throughout high school. Her voice was worth the wait. Watch that interview here:

While Tim and our special guests do CM Spotlight free of charge out of the kindness of their hearts and love for the organization, we need your support now more than ever to keep bringing you entertainment during these times. Please kindly consider donating towards our GoFundMe campaign, and if you haven’t tuned in for a CM Spotlight yet, we hope you’ll tune in live on Thursday’s at 7:30PM EST on our Facebook Page and YouTube Channel.

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Brendan Noble

Brendan Noble is the Social Media and Website Manager for the CM Performing Arts Center.