There’s a brand new theater destination in Nassau County.
Cultural Arts Playhouse, a musical theater brand for 20 years, is getting back into presenting main stage shows after concentrating the last eight years on helping kids develop their song-and-dance chops.
“We became motivated to go main stage again,” says owner and artistic director Bruce Grossman, “because we just weren’t flourishing with the space and parking limitations at our previous locations. We felt Syosset would be a good place to re-establish ourselves.” Local professional theater is relatively scarce in Nassau, outside of Merrick Theater on the South Shore and BroadHollow Theater Company’s Elmont stage, “probably because Nassau residents are that much closer [than Suffolk] to the city,” Grossman says.
“Hairspray,” a musical based on John Waters’ movie, is the first show in CAP’s new 180-seat venue, which opened the night before the recent blizzard. The next weekend, an audience of 100-plus cheered as lights went up for just the second time at the Syosset theater.
CAP debuted in 1995, taking over the former Plaza Playhouse space in Old Bethpage. “But the rent was killing us,” Grossman says. So the company moved to smaller locations in Plainview, Roslyn Heights and later Wantagh, where it still shares space with Eastline Productions. While it continued periodically to produce musicals with adult actors, CAP’s shows mostly featured its students — kids and young adults — some with Broadway aspirations. Among its alums are Jamie-Lynn Sigler of “Sopranos” fame and Marissa McGowan, whose Broadway credits include “Les Miserables” and “A Little Night Music.”
To make the move to Syosset, the company, led by Grossman and resident director Tony Frangipane, raised more than $600,000 to carve a theater out of a bare 9,000-square-feet space. “We built it from scratch,” Grossman said days before opening night. Aside from the main theater, with stadium-style sloped seating facing a flat stage, there’s also a black box theater that doubles as acting-class space and roomy dressing accommodations. The lobby includes box office and concession counters facing a “wall of fame” CAP photo montage.
“Check out these bathrooms,” Grossman said proudly as he led the way into the men’s room. (We skipped the women’s room.)
There’s ample free parking near the maroon-awning entrance. “That was an issue for us in our old spaces,” Grossman says. “I couldn’t get the actors we wanted sometimes because they couldn’t park without getting a ticket.”
Also, the tight space presented issues beyond the limited seating (60 in Plainview). A credible cast for “Les Miserables,” for instance, was hampered by the postage-stamp stage for such a large production.
A cast of 30, led by Noelle Eichenlaub as Tracy Turnblad and Sean Burbiege as her mom, danced across the Syosset stage without bumping into each other — except when the script called for it. “Hairspray” is performed to a recorded score, but Frangipane says musicians can easily be accommodated.
“We’ll go with live music,” he says, “depending on the show.”