From the first 'unofficial' SDP production of "A Christmas Carolette" at the Ocean One Mall in Atlantic City (Christmas, 1990) to the first 'official' Star Dust Production of "Who Shot the Piano Player?!" at the Sailfish Cafe in Margate, NJ, (1991) to our farewell show "One Crazy Mystery" at Huntzinger's Restaurant (Spring, 2000),

Star Dust Productions’
First Logo, 1991

I and the cast of StarDust Productions Theater had the pleasure of making thousands of people laugh, sometimes cringe, and guess who-dunnit. *(Yes, I spelled Stardust two different ways...now three...they are all interchangable, and yes, the previous sentence was one of the longest run-ons in recorded history, next to this one, which is still going, at least for a little longer; ok, now it's done.)

The Early Days

I first joined a dinner theater in Cape May in 1989 with the hopes of having one of my own plays, “That Party Was Murder,” produced. I auditioned for a gangster show and got the part of Mugsy in a show called ‘Spats and Mugsy’. It was a decent show and I had a lot of fun doing it, but after about a year (and several cast member changes) the show started to grow stale. The theater wasn’t interested in producing my show (completely not the right market at the time for it), so I auditioned for two other shows there and got principle parts in “Drop Dead Twice” (where I actually played 3 characters, all of whom dropped dead), and “Stagedoor Canteen”, a 40’s USO style show. (I continued the part of Mugsy while doing these other two shows, one night a week each). The USO show was off to a good start, but a new director/producer who weaseled into the production caused it to fall apart, and it closed after only two performances. Several cast members quit or were fired after that. I stayed on, but only with extreme distaste for the current director. The feel must have been mutual; after a two week vacation I was told they were only running the shows I was in once a week, when in fact they were running three times a week using my vacation replacement (at less than half my salary) in my place. That was enough for me…I quit, knowing I could do this type of theater on my own better and with a lot more fun…and convinced several of the star actors to eventually come with me.
Now I had the task ahead of me of actually starting my own theater company. The first thing I did was round up as many people as I could who would be interested in performing. That list included people I knew in the theater, friends, and co-workers. I didn’t only look for people who were talented actors, but also people with large personalities and the ability to make others laugh. Once I was sure I had good people to work with, I set out to find a venue.

At first, we were going to try to rent a theater. That proved much too costly so the next idea was to create a set of shows that could easily be moved into an existing theater, restaurant, or even ballroom. After some research, I found that the real potential was in teaming with privately owned restaurants, so that’s where we set our sites.

The first restaurant to become interested in having us perform a show closed a month before we were to perform! Ok, maybe not the best start, but it got things going…I wrote the first real StarDust Productions show, “Who Shot The Piano Player?!” specifically for that dining room. So we had our first show scripted, and a cast. Still needed a place to perform.

With the help of some of my actors, we approached and convinced a small restaurant in Margate, NJ, The Sailfish Café, to present the show. They marketed it in the local papers for several weeks while we began rehearsal in a cast member’s living room. I incorporated as much theatrics into the show as I could, including my playing sax and keyboard, another character playing keyboard, and several songs by each member in the cast.
To go to the extreme, in this murder mystery the murder was committed right in view of the audience by a masked killer. The victim (that was me) was shot, stabbed, hit on the head, strangled, and drowned in a bowl of boiling celery soup. I then returned in a typical old-fashioned gag…I came back as the detective investigating the case, who had an uncanny resemblance to the deceased.

The show was a success, and we performed several times at the Sailfish through the early to mid 90’s. After that first one, I was able to start cranking out show ideas for upcoming dates. The second show, “The Mysterious Presto,” was a spoof of a 1930’s radio program. The audience got to see us perform the show live, plus got the ‘behind the scenes’ intrigue that took place. The third show, and my favorite, was “One Crazy Mystery”. This show took place in jazz-society 1950’s, and featured an eccentric millionaire (me), his sexy yet capable nurse, his visiting sister, and her beatnik boyfriend. The show included bongo-backed beat poetry, a drunken version of “Unforgettable”, and several live jazz pieces performed by the band built into the cast – me on sax, the beatnik on guitar, and our soundman on bass. It was during an audition to replace the nurse that I meet my future wife, Colleen.

The Peak of Performances

Star Dust Productions grew in popularity with each year, and by 1995 we had added a Christmas show, a gangster murder mystery, and custom-themed murder mystery party shows. We spread out and performed at many restaurants and other venues, including Atlantic City Casinos (The Claridge, Resorts, Tropicana), Cousins Country House, The Inn of Egg Harbor, Huntzinger’s Restaurant, Rio Station, The 1871 House, and dozens of others. We even performed a family “Haunted Train Ride” on the Seashore Express train in Cape May
In 1998 we produced “The Golden Days of Radio featuring The Mysterious Presto” on the Ocean City Music Pier, including piano accompaniment, a featured vocalist, comedy sketches, commercials, and real magic tricks by Presto himself. With Colleen heading the marketing and sales (as well as starring in each of the shows) we produced more shows than ever during 1998-1999. But by 2000 it was clear the world was changing…Just as television had changed entertainment in the 50’s, the internet was changing the world at the turn of the millennium. Audiences no longer wanted full-length, three-hour dinner and show evenings. To meet the demand, we scaled back our shows to shorter, less scripted, and more improvisational performances. Audiences took to the format very well. In October of 1999, we produced a Halloween show entitled “Party of Horrors at Dr. Acula’s Castle” for a private party. The script was only three pages long, and it was mostly improv based on our characters – I as Dr. Acula (Combination Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein, Mr. Hyde and the Phantom of the Opera), Colleen as a witch, and Monique Lukens as the innocent victim. The show incorporated several songs, me on sax as usual, the witch casting spells on the audience, and a stand-up routine. It was probably one of the best shows we ever did, but it signaled the end of the full-length murder mystery years for Star Dust.

The End, and Beyond

Although we officially closed the curtain with a performance of “One Crazy Mystery” at Huntzinger’s Restaurant in May of 2000 (with my soon to be wife Colleen playing my sexy nurse), the spirit of Stardust lives on. Now in Florida, we’ve had several private party performances, and continue the tradition of our insanely wild Halloween party each October. We are still available for private engagements, and will write and produce a custom theme party for special occasions. Perhaps when the world settles down a little, and people can enjoy an entire evening of entertainment without worrying about rushing home to Twitter or post on MySpace, I’ll finish my latest who-dunnit… “Key West Murder Mystery: The Legend of Captain Blackbird.”