Ac­tor’s vi­sion

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - FRONT PAGE - By JIM DINO Staff Writer jdino@stan­dard­speaker.com

Gene Duffy brings his dreams of Hol­ly­wood to the stage.

Gene Duffy went to Hol­ly­wood to be­come an ac­tor. Do­ing the seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble was noth­ing new to him, since he was a foot­ball walk-on at Penn State who started at tight end for three years for the late Joe Paterno.

But the act­ing gig never took off. Not like Duffy didn’t give it a chance. He tried to make it for 10 years.

Dur­ing that decade, he worked at a Jewish deli in Los An­ge­les. What he saw there in­spired him to write a book that will be­come a mu­si­cal this week­end.

“As the Matzo Ball Turns” is the name the book and the mu­si­cal share.

Duffy re­turns to his alma mater, Jim Thorpe Area High School, to de­but the mu­si­cal tonight at 7. Ad­di­tional per­for­mances are slated for Satur­day at 2 and 7 p.m. and Sun­day at 3 p.m.

The mu­si­cal takes place at the fic­ti­tious Johnny’s Fa­mous Deli, a vari­a­tion on the name of the place he once worked.

“It started as a joke,” Duffy said of the book and mu­si­cal. “I worked at a Jewish deli in Los An­ge­les for 10 years — 1999 to 2009. It was a pretty in­ter­est­ing 10 years. Monthly, some­thing big would hap­pen. I ab­sorbed it all.”

Duffy waited on a lot of celebri­ties, in­clud­ing Jerry Se­in­feld.

“I waited on Jay Leno for take-out food,” he said. “Sharon Stone, Adam San­dler, Steve Carell, Ni­co­las Cage, and Gene Sim­mons from (the rock band) KISS all came in. Tom Arnold came in on a night when I was busy, but he was very po­lite and gen­er­ous.”

The sto­ries Duffy tells are funny and in­ter­est­ing.

“There was a drag queen bar next door, and on the week­ends, their pa­trons came in,” he said. “There was a hit­man who was talk­ing about his last as­sign­ment. All of a sud­den, we were sur­rounded by po­lice. One time, we had a run­away kid. We sat him on the counter, and the first thing you know, the po­lice and tele­vi­sion news cam­eras were there.”

Although he didn’t make it as an ac­tor, Duffy ended up work­ing in other ar­eas of the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness.

“I be­came a writer and pro­ducer by de­fault,” he said. “We did a lit­tle film, and got a lit­tle award at a fes­ti­val. The film made it to DVD. From the time my feet hit Penn­syl­va­nia in 2009, un­til 2012, it was the book. The mu­si­cal took another five years to now. So I’ve put two decades of my life into this mu­si­cal.”

The award was from the Park City Film Mu­sic Fes­ti­val in Park City, Utah. Duffy was also rec­og­nized with a Ma­roon and Gold Quill Award in 2014 from the Friends of the Blooms­burg Uni­ver­sity Li­brary As­so­ci­a­tion and was a fi­nal­ist for hu­mor book of the year by For­ward Re­views.

For help with the score, Duffy turned to long­time mu­sic man Dan DeMelfi, who has run the DeMelfi School of Mu­sic in Ha­zle­ton for 40 years and serves as well as mu­sic in­struc­tor at MMI Prepara­tory School in Free­land.

“I was look­ing on­line,” Duffy said. “I had these melodies in my head. I wanted to find a place to record. I found this guy, Taylor Sappe, who was work­ing out of Danny’s stu­dio. I met Danny, and asked around about him. He had a good rep­u­ta­tion, and af­ter talk­ing to him, we agreed to work on a cou­ple of songs to­gether. We have a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship.”

DeMelfi, who is co-com­poser of the mu­sic, said it took him 11 months — from Jan­uary to Novem­ber of 2015 — work­ing with Duffy to com­pose the mu­sic for the play.

“Gene went into our stu­dio, and recorded bass (gui­tar), and sang,” DeMelfi said. “He recorded snip­pets of songs — what we call scratch vo­cals. Taylor also recorded bass gui­tar, and I did key­board and or­gan. I struc­tured songs from what they gave me.”

DeMelfi com­posed the songs with the help of a com­puter, he said.

“It was a three-step process,” DeMelfi said. “I had to make sure the mu­sic was in time, and that the melodies flowed. Se­cond, I got to­gether with him (Gene) to make sure what he wrote is what I gave him. He then emailed the songs to Cal­i­for­nia, where a friend of his added more. The third step was ac­tu­ally record­ing the songs, by putting all the parts recorded to­gether. In­stead of hav­ing a ‘pit’ orches­tra, he has these record­ings.”

DeMelfi is look­ing for­ward to see­ing the fin­ished prod­uct.

“I think this pro­duc­tion will be suc­cess­ful, be­cause Gene has been so ded­i­cated,” DeMelfi said. “He has been so fo­cused, and has shown such pas­sion for this show.

“His writ­ing re­minds me of Dave Barry,” the hu­mor colum­nist.

Duffy re­cruited ac­tors from all over the re­gion, but found most of the cast mem­bers in one place.

“We have a great cast of 19 peo­ple ... mostly from the Al­len­town area,” he said. “The mu­si­cal has a lot of spe­cial ef­fects and props. We have a 12-foot stage car that can be bro­ken down to get on stage, and an 8-foot fire­breath­ing owl.”

Af­ter Duffy grad­u­ated from Jim Thorpe High School in 1986, he at­tended Penn State Uni­ver­sity, where he earned a de­gree in me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing. He is now a part-time cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer at Car­bon County Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity in Nesque­hon­ing and a waiter at Shenani­gans bar in Lake Har­mony.

Duffy wrote the book un­der his pen name Jozef Roth­stein, but will di­rect the mu­si­cal as hin­self.

As­sist­ing with the pro­duc­tion are Sara Vi­teri, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor; Jane Longazel, pro­duc­tion co­or­di­na­tor; Se­bas­tian Paff, mu­sic di­rec­tor; Harry Adams, vo­cal har­monies; Shari Kennedy, chore­og­ra­phy; Linda Bas­sett, hair and makeup; and Laven­der Lady FX Group, spe­cial ef­fects.

Tick­ets are $21.62 in ad­vance and $26.50 at the door, cash only.

Tick­ets and the book are avail­able at as­the­matzo ball­turn­s­the­mu­si­caltick­ets.eventbrite.com.

For more in­for­ma­tion call Sara 484-687-3341 or email Sara@laprince­sapro­duc­tions.com.

Pro­mo­tional poster for "As The Matzo Ball Turns," a mu­si­cal by area na­tive Gene Duffy, which opens tonight in Jim Thorpe.

Duffy

DeMelfi

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