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Category: Entertainment

‘Chill out’ with gourmet ices at Stewart’s




Alongtime Kearny retailer is aiming to bring a taste of the Jersey Shore here, just a block in from the Passaic River waterfront.

For the first time, Stewart’s, 938 Passaic Ave., just south of the Rt. 7/Marine Lance Cpl. Osbrany Montes De Oca Memorial Bridge, is adding “Boardwalk Desserts” to its classic menu of root beer, hot dogs, and lots more.

“I’m offering a line of ‘Carmine’s & Johnny’s’ 20 gourmet ices which are manufactured by JT Ices out of Brooklyn,” said longtime Stewart’s owner Mike Decato. “It’s a $1.99 for a small squeeze cup.”

The ices are named in memory of Johnny Decato, his late uncle, who took over the business from founder Walter Stahl, originally a tool and die maker from Union; and the late Carmine Decato, Mike’s dad who bought the place from his brother.

Decato’s personal mouthwatering favorites are honey graham cracker, cannoli, spumoni and black cherry cheesecake – “the cake has real cheese in it,” he promises.

“We’ve never had anything like this before in the 64 years the store has been here,” he said. The original Stewart’s franchise was established in 1924 in Mansfield, Ohio.

Up to now, Stewart’s fans have been treated to the normal roadside staples of franks, sandwich specialties (like kielbasa with pierogies, Italian sausage, Taylor ham, grilled cheese) and a value meal menu with a variety of beverages at reasonable prices.

But now, with Mother Nature turning up the heat, Stewart’s is rounding out its daily selections with traditional summertime fare.

There’s refreshing Italian ices with enough flavors designed to tickle the palate: vanilla black cherry, cappuccino chocolate, vanilla oreo, coconut, banana, banana fudge swirl, mango, peach, tropical passion, cherry, lemon, root beer, creamsicle, blue raspberry/sky blue and rainbow.

Not to mention “a full line of hard ice cream” – with vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, chocolate chip cookie dough, butter pecan, chocolate chip mint, pistachio and rum raisin.

Prices for ices and ice cream range from $1.99 for a small size to $8.99 for a takeout quart.

Customers can also choose from among strawberry, hot fudge or caramel sundaes, cones, floats or a Stewart Blizzard (pick your candy and flavor of ice cream).

Still not satisfied? Desserts include: zeppoles, 16-ounce slushes, banana splits, waffle sandwiches and 22-ounce homemade milk shakes with hard ice cream and real milk.

Take your choice of side candies: M&Ms, Oreos, Reese’s Pieces and Heath Bars.

“My 83-year-old mother is baking pies and desserts for me,” Decato said.

The idea of serving up the savory sweets came to Decato when a retired chiropractor pal from Staten Island “introduced me to it at the end of last summer.”

Since his business had taken a slight downturn – which wasn’t helped by Superstorm Sandy doing some of its own damage to inventory – “I figured it needed a little oomph” to get it moving,” Decato said.

Now, Decato’s hoping to see a payoff in summer trade.

The 52-year-old merchant has learned the business, from the ground up, starting at age 12, washing down tables, cleaning the bathroom, waiting on customers. Seven years later, he had, essentially, taken over running the operation.

The owner says he’s put his life blood into making the place a welcome stop for families in the area, providing enclosed, comfortable outdoor table seating for up to 70 diners and counter seating for an additional 10 individuals.

“We also provide carhop service,” he said, for those who prefer munching in their vehicles. There’s on-site parking available for about 50 cars.

While most patrons are from the West Hudson/South Bergen area, Decato said he’s “heard of some people coming down from Rockaway [in Morris County] where there’s another franchise, because they find our food better.”

Decato said he remains committed to providing the best produce and service available so he can stay local. Originally from Cranford, he’s made North Arlington his residence since 1980 and he likes the area.

He acknowledges that the property could have value for a fast food-type outlet and he’s considered renting it out but that would only be as a last resort.

“I wouldn’t know what to do with myself,” Decato said. “I’m not married, got no hobbies. This place has been my life. It’s in my blood.”

– Ron Leir

Feel like royalty at King’s Court

Photo by Karen Zautyk

Photo by Karen Zautyk



Just how enticing is King’s Court Health & Sports Club? After a short visit, even someone (like your correspondent) to whom the concept of “sports” and even “health” is anathema, is tempted to sign up.

If you are serious about your workouts and training regimen, my bet is you’ll be more than tempted.

Adding to the attraction is that it’s a family-owned business, which indicates a more personal investment in keeping things running smoothly and in offering the latest in fitness classes and equipment.

King’s Court, housed in an architecturally pleasing building at 525 Riverside Ave. (near the intersection of Kingsland Ave.), has been in business since 1980, when it was primarily a racquet-ball and sports venue. In fact, one staffer told us, “I’ve heard people say, ‘I didn’t know this was a gym!’” Those people obviously don’t realize how much the place has changed over the decades. And especially over the last year or so.

The 60,000-square-foot building has undergone a multi-million-dollar renovation resulting in what marketing director Kristin Degenhardt described as a “state-of-the-art facility.”

Photo by Karen Zautyk

Photo by Karen Zautyk


Degenhardt gave us a personal tour, and what we saw was impressive. And pristine.

Much of it (since we are unfamiliar with exercise) was also mysterious, but Degenhardt happily answered all our questions.

We were first introduced to the “full body circuit,” which to our untrained eyes resembled the command center of some alien spacecraft, but in truth it is a circle of various workout and weight machines.

Complete the circuit and burn calories and build muscle strength and other good things.

King’s Court has two of these “circuit” centers, one in a room of its own and another in the huge gym — which also features treadmills and stationary cycles and ellipticals and multitudinous other exercise equipment, plus weight-training equipment, too. And unlike some gyms, it is light and airy, thanks to all the windows.

Photo by Karen Zautyk

Photo by Karen Zautyk


Our favorite room, though, was the one where the popular spinning classes are held. Thanks to the lighting (and the music when classes are in session), it resembles a cyclist’s disco. Extremely appealing.

And so is the beautiful swimming pool, which Degenhardt pointed out is a spa pool, not a lap pool. (Though you can swim laps, if you like.) It features two large Jacuzzis, and the temperature of the 5-foot-deep water is warmer than that of a lap pool.

Photo by Karen Zautyk

Photo by Karen Zautyk


The renovated club also features steam rooms and saunas, a basketball court (there are King’s Court leagues), racquet ball courts, and a spacious aerobics room (that room and the sports courts have floating hardwood floors, designed to lessen impact on knees and other joints).

There is also a brand new indoor running track and a TRX center. (TRX, we were told, is one of the new fitness fads, invented by the Marine Corps, and involving multiple exercises and weight training.)

Renovations are continuing, too. By midsummer, King’s Court hopes to have added a 120-foot-long indoor turf field for such sports as soccer and flag football.

And, oh yes, there’s also a “nursery,” where a parent can leave their child (age six months to 10 years old) to be entertained while mommy or daddy exercises.

As for group classes, there are too many to list here, King’s Court has flyers showing the seven-day-a-week schedule and describing what each offering is. Kickboxing, Pilates, Zumba and Yoga we understand, but there are others (Tabata Training, Piloxing, Crossfire) which are a puzzlement to us. But King’s Court will happily explain.

Photo by Karen Zautyk

Photo by Karen Zautyk


Plus, new members can avail themselves of a free physical assessment and training session, the better to choose which exercises/classes they might benefit from — and enjoy — most.

On Saturday, June 1, King’s Court will host a free Summer Kick-Off party from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. so prospective members–or just the curious general public–”can get a feel for the club,” which currently has approximately 2,500 members.

As for membership costs, “Inquire within.” You are invited to set up an appointment, or just stop by, and discuss the wide array of membership packages.

You can contact King’s Court at 201-460-0088 or by email: kingscourtnj@gmail. com. General club hours are Monday – Thursday, 5:30 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.; Friday, 5:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.; Saturday – Sunday, 7 a.m. -7 p.m.

For more information, visit kingscourtnj.com.

— Karen Zautyk

In Lyndhurst, we were to the manor borne

Photo by Karen Zautyk continued next page Judith Krall-Russo with basic necessities for a proper Edwardian tea

Photo by Karen Zautyk continued next page
Judith Krall-Russo with basic necessities for a proper Edwardian tea


By Karen Zautyk

Observer Correspondent


Admit it, ladies. (And maybe some of you gentlemen, too). Many of us are suffering “Downton Abbey” withdrawal.

You know the symptoms: the compulsion to wear elbow-length white gloves; drinking far too much tea; dressing for dinner, even if you’ve ordered takeout, and constantly searching eBay for pickle fork auctions. (Personally, if I don’t get a Mr. Bates fix soon, I shall suffer an attack of the vapors.)

Watching repeats helps a bit, but we know there’s a long, long trail a-winding until Season 4 starts next year.

For that reason, I took the motorcar on a jaunt to the Lyndhurst Public Library on Valley Brook Ave. last Saturday forenoon for a special presentation: “Life at an Edwardian Manor — Inspired by ‘Downton Abbey’.”

The speaker was Judith Krall-Russo of Fords. Krall- Russo is a food historian, but she has also done “massive research” into the manners and mores of the Edwardian era, which technically spanned the reign of Edward VII (1901-1910) but is more generally expanded to define the period from the 1880s to the end of World War I. And perhaps a bit beyond.

As “Downton” fans know, the Crawley family at the center of the saga has already entered the post- WWI period, and massive changes are in the air. But within the walls of the manor house, customs and attitudes (and the relationship between upstairs and downstairs) evolve at a more glacial pace.

Krall-Russo’s informative and intriguing program helped fill in some of the cultural-knowledge gaps of the series’ American audience, ranging from broad economic issues to such tidbits as why Lady Sybil’s appearance in harem pants cause such a stir. (What she was wearing was called a “tango dress,” and the tango, introduced to England around 1911, was downright scandalous. Until then, thanks to the omnipresent gloves, when men and women danced, they never touched flesh-to-flesh; that would have been considered “totally evil.”)

Not that there wasn’t such touching going on off the dance floor. Arranged marriages could be especially unhappy, and there were scores of American heiresses (“new money” not accepted into U.S. high society) shipped off to Britain simply to marry a lord and gain a title — and save the husband’s formerly wealthy family from bankruptcy. This could lead to significant hanky-panky among the upper classes.

Photo by Karen Zautyk Choose carefully: Which one is for pickles and which for pastries?

Photo by Karen Zautyk
Choose carefully: Which one is for pickles and which for pastries?


Krall-Russo gave her listeners a succinct lesson in economics, which play a critical role in the Crawley drama. Downton is in dire financial straits, but it still looks pretty spiffy. (“This is a show, not a documentary,” Krall-Russo reminded us more than once.) In fact, many of the British manor houses of the time lacked electricity and indoor plumbing and had deteriorated into fairly shabby conditions. (Not what those imported heiresses had expected at all.)

A primary cause — this is how the world economy works, children — was the American Civil War, after which U.S. industry, research, science and technology took off. On this side of the pond, it was also the era of huge ranches and farms.

England began buying its corn, wheat and meat, etc., from us, and the English laboring class, who had worked the manor house fields for centuries, “began leaving the land to do other things.” The aristocrats were losing their fortunes as land values plummeted.

This is also why the aristocrats were eager to wed rich American brides, since a bride and her money became the husband’s property.

The idle rich, Krall-Russo explained, were exactly that. Idle. Completely, except for socializing. “They did nothing,” she said. “Aristocrats were unemployed, and they were proud to be unemployed.”

Oh, the men might go fishing or shooting or fox hunting on occasion, but there was no concept of “work” for them. If they were out shooting, they didn’t even load their own guns. The “loader” did that, handed the weapon to the gentleman, who pegged a shot at a bird, handed the gun back to the loader and was given a freshly loaded one.

As for aristocratic Edwardian women, their primary occupation was to change clothes. Five times a day. The clothes were put on them by their maids, as were their jewels, their shoes, etc. A servant even put the toothpaste on their toothbrushes.

Some other fascinating trivia for us ladies:

• In the Victorian era, only prostitutes wore makeup. Except in France, where upper-class women wore makeup but prostitutes did not. (Must have been confusing for Englishmen visiting Paris.) Makeup — rice powder, pearl powder and rouge — started becoming acceptable for proper Englishwomen in the 1900s.

• The dark brunette hair of Cora and Lady Mary was not the preferred color. And blonde hair was considered “unfortunate.” Light brown hair was the ideal.

• Until age 18, girls could wear their hair down. But once they “came out” in society, the hair went up and it never came down in public again.

• An unmarried woman would never be left alone in a room with a man. Ever.

• A woman never left the house without a hat or bonnet. Ever.

• Speaking of hats, on the street one could identify a man’s social standing by his headgear: Aristocrats wore top hats; the working class (meaning doctors, lawyers, judges) wore bowler hats or homburgs; lower-class laborers wore caps.

As for the lower-class, the servants or “slavies,” Krall- Russo noted, “In ‘Downton Abbey,’ they’re too clean.” They would not have bathed regularly. And they would have slept in attics on leftover sheets and torn blankets.

Aside from all the housecleaning and fireplace-feeding and silver-polishing and kitchen work, their chores would have included ironing the newspapers so ink would not come off on the master’s hands and washing all coins, because the coins had been touched by commoners. And nothing, not a letter, not a calling card, would ever be handed directly to a family member; it would always be presented on a small tray.

If you, as a servant, passed a family member in a hallway, you would look down or at the wall. “Because,” said Krall- Russo, “you were not there.”

The servants got a half-day per week and one full day per month off — family social engagements permitting. They awoke at 5:30 a.m. and did not go to bed until all the work was done. Or, in a lady’s maid’s case, until the lady returned from her evening out. Which could be 2 a.m. or later.

Sometimes, the servants got no sleep at all. At one shooting party, Krall-Russo said, “4,000 birds were reportedly shot in one day. Who plucked and cleaned them?” Not the gentleman shooters.

All of the above is just part of the information we gleaned in the hourlong presentation.

The library had noted that you didn’t have to be a “Downton Abbey” fan to enjoy the program, but “devoted fans may take more notice of certain details in the show after attending.”

This one certainly will.

On Sunday night, I already started applying my new knowledge while watching another PBS program, “Mr. Selfridge.” For the first time, I was noticing the hats on the men in the street and rating the wearer’s social standing.

The more you know, the more interesting even the simple things become.

‘Stuart Little’ takes the stage



The West Hudson Arts & Theater Company (W.H.A.T.) will present a stage version of E.B. White’s classic children’s book, “Stuart Little,” on Saturday, April 27 at 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. and Sunday April 28 at 1:30 p.m., at the W.H.A.T. Theater, 131 Midland Ave., Kearny.

This latest production from W.H.A.T. is made possible through a generous grant from the Kearny Education Association (KEA). “We are especially grateful to the KEA allowing us to bring our second family theater production to our stage, “ said W.H.A.T. President Gerald Ficeto. “Part of our mission is to reach the youngest theater fans and their families and help them embark on a lifelong love of live theater,” he added.

“Stuart Little” tells the story of a young boy named Stuart who, while born into a regular family of humans, looks curiously just like a mouse. His parents immediately accept him for who he is, but Stuart longs to see the world outside the comfort and safety of his home. At the wheel of his pint-sized roadster, Stuart sets off to see the world and encounters adventures and friends along the way.



“‘Stuart Little’ was one of my favorite books,” said director Mary Pat Shields, who also serves as the W.H.A.T. vice president and has been involved in many local high school and middle school productions throughout West Hudson. “The characters are wonderful, the adventures are exciting, and the idea that a little guy takes on the big world is a perfect message for the kids of our community.”

That cast includes Jack Haefner, Noelle Haefner, Tim Firth, Jonathan Pinto and Paula Reyes.

The audience can meet the cast after each performance and patrons are invited to bring their cameras.

General admission tickets are $5 for children (age 12 and under) and seniors; $8 for adults. Reserved seating is available for groups of 25 or more. For tickets and additional information, visit www.whatco.org, call 201-467- 8624, or stop at the theater box office 30 minutes before curtain.

Hawaii, Florida images at Nutley Library

Maui-Hawaii by Scott Bergenfeld

Maui-Hawaii by Scott Bergenfeld


Everyone is welcome to stop by The Nutley Public Library, 93 Booth Dr., this month to view the photography exhibit of local artists Scott Bergenfeld, Rosemarie Linfante, and Marta Russoniello, all from Nutley. The display will feature a unique collection of vivid photographs taken at Maui, Hawaii, and Orlando, Fla.

Bergenfeld recently ventured to Maui for his honeymoon last October where he was able to enrich himself in a vibrant palate of landscapes and culture.

He took this time to photograph one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Some of the breathtaking images he snapped included the Haleakala Volcano, the Seven Sacred Pools, and all 52 miles of the Road to Hana. Read more »

Go fish! Starting Saturday, it’s trout & about




By Karen Zautyk

Observer Correspondent


The trout-fishing season starts in New Jersey this Saturday, April 6, at 8 a.m., and local anglers do not have to travel very far to seek a prize catch.

The pond in West Hudson Park covers a mere 4 acres, but by Saturday it will have been stocked with 340 trout, most of average size: about 10.5 inches and a half-pound each.

However, lucky fisherfolk could land what the N.J. Division of Fish & Wildlife terms a “lifetime trout.”

Of the 340 fishies, 30 are large “broodstock” trout — weighing 3 to 7 pounds each and ranging from 15 to 24 inches.

West Hudson’s pond is one of only 10 sites in the state to be selected for the broodstock for the 2013 season.

“By concentrating . . .these large trout in 10 relatively small lakes and ponds, it is expected that angler participation and satisfaction will increase as anglers catch these trout themselves or observe others catching them,” the division’s website notes.

Photos from NJDEP/Fish & Wildlife

Photos from NJDEP/Fish & Wildlife

“Imagine going to a small pond or lake and latching onto one of these lunkers.”

(We do not fish, but we presume “lunker” is a good thing.)

In 2012, West Hudson Park had received only five broodstock trout, so odds of catching one are far better this year.

Every spring, over a span of several weeks, Fish & Wildlife workers travel the length and breadth of the state, depositing more than 570,000 brook, brown and rainbow trout in approximately 200 bodies of water, not only lakes and ponds but also streams and rivers.

Photos from NJDEP/Fish & Wildlife

Photos from NJDEP/Fish & Wildlife

All the fish come from the the division’s Pequest Hatchery in Warren County.

The Hackensack River will have been stocked with 690 trout by Opening Day, and a total of 1,810 by the end of May. The Passaic River will have 2,700 by Saturday, and an eventual total of 7,020. (No broodstock in the rivers, though.)

Your correspondent was surprised to see the Passaic on the stocking list, but then we remembered that the river is more than the sum of its polluted parts (the section that flows through Observer towns.)

The Passaic is 80 miles long and wends its way through pristine hills and lowlands of rural and suburban Jersey before it reaches this

area. We surmise (and hope) that the river trout will be caught primarily in the unpolluted areas.

If any make it down this far and are caught in these waters (people do fish the river here; why we cannot fathom), they should NOT be consumed.

In any case, the trout likely will have developed feet and glowing fins if they’ve spent any time in the Lower Passaic.


Photos from NJDEP/Fish & Wildlife

Photos from NJDEP/Fish & Wildlife

Perhaps one could use them as nightlights.

Please note that, to legally fish for trout, even in a park pond, a valid N.J. fishing license and trout stamp are required for N.J. residents aged 16 through 69 and for all nonresidents aged 16 and older.

For a full list of regulations, info on the trout-stocked waters and all things fish, visit www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/

Getting ‘Real’ about tress distress



By Karen Zautyk

Observer Correspondent


Fans of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” lined up inside a local beauty salon Saturday afternoon for the chance to get up close and personal with Teresa Giudice, considered by some the most glamorous, and intense, member of the cast.

Giudice, who made her mark in Season 1 by toppling a dinner table, showed none of that tempestuousness at the “Meet & Greet” at the Hair by David salon, 534 Kearny Ave. She was all glitter and style and charm as, from 2 to 4, she met with her public, signing autographs and graciously posing for photos with one and all.

The occasion was a promotion for her recently launched hair-care line, called Milania. Although officially introduced just a bit more than a month ago, on Feb. 18, Milania apparently has been gathering its own loyal fans at a rapid pace.

More than one of the women who attended the event told us it was love of the product, as much as affection for Giudice, that led them to Kearny that day.

Milania is named after one of Giudice’s four daughters — the others being Gia, Gabriella and Audriana. It was chosen by a vote of fans on Facebook and Twitter, Giudice told us, noting, “It fits!”

Giudice, also known for her appearance on “Celebrity Apprentice” and as the author of three best-selling cookbooks, could have lent her creds to any number of products, so why hair care?

She told us the choice was the result of personal experience: all the damage her own hair was suffering thanks to “all the straightening irons and the curling irons and the blow dryers” used to prep her for her TV appearances.



“I wanted three good products,” she said, and sought the help of friend and beauty-industry guru Jerel Sabella, who developed formulas for the Milania line: the Total Vitamin Leave-In Treatment, the Keratin Heat Protector and the Argan Oil Infusion Serum. All of them designed specifically to increase moisture and shine in heat-damaged hair.

Salon owner David Antunes said Milania was first brought to his attention by his sister Elizabeth Aranjo of Morris Plains, who raved about it. He started offering it to his clientele, “and we had such a great success selling it; it has just blown off the shelves.”

Antunes contacted Giudice via social media regarding Milania’s instant popularity at the salon, and the “Meet & Greet” was arranged.



The products were for sale, of course ($24.99 apiece or $49.99 for the set of three), but the event, Antunes said, was also “a great way for her to meet her fans.”

Giudice publicist Dina Elliot noted that the Kearny visit was among the first in a series they have planned to promote Milania. Teresa “loves” the events, Elliot said. “She is so grateful and appreciative of her fans’ support, and she loves hearing the feedback.”

We had one more question for Giudice: What can you tell us about the new season of “Real Housewives”?

“It’s definitely a season you don’t want to miss,” she said. She’s not giving away any secrets. Except how to glamorize your hair.

Golden moments on silver screen




By Karen Zautyk
Observer Correspondent


Last Thursday evening, Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey played host to an extraordinary film festival, held at its N.J. operations campus on Supor Blvd. The Harrison site was actually one of eight venues in Essex, Bergen, Union, Somerset and Hudson counties to screen selected productions sponsored by a New Yorkbased organization called Reel- Abilities.

Formed in 2007, ReelAbilities “is dedicated to promoting [through film] awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different abilities.” Read more »

‘Once on This Island’ coming to Kearny

Photo by Catherine Astrella Playing deities in “Once on This Island,” from l., are Gabe Navia, Mary Berko, Jimmy Simoes and Future Vereen.

Photo by Catherine Astrella
Playing deities in “Once on This Island,” from l., are Gabe Navia, Mary Berko, Jimmy Simoes and Future Vereen. Scroll down for gallery.


By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent


Kearny High School will usher in spring by welcoming visitors to an enchanted tropical isle where, it is hoped that “Once on This Island,” they won’t want to leave.

Or at least, not until the play of that aforesaid name ends.

The KHS players have selected this 1990 Broadway musical, with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, to offer theatergoers on March 21, 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. nightly. Tickets are $8 for students and the elderly, $10 for adults.

Local senior citizens will be treated to a special preview dinner and show on March 19. The meal will be served at 5:30 p.m. and the show follows at 7 p.m. at no cost but reservations are required.

For reservations and/or tickets, call Sally Sprague at 201-955-5048.

To convey what he described as a mixture of “Romeo and Juliet” with “The Little Mermaid,” KHS chorus teacher Brian Toal, the show’s director, has assembled a cast of 23, backed by an orchestra of eight professionals and two students – wind player senior Jennifer Gilker and percussionist junior Aislynn Sroczynski – conducted by KHS Band Director Ed Gargiullo.

If you’re one of those types that demand a plot summary before you venture into a theater, here is a capsule version: A young peasant girl falls in love with a rich guy who is badly injured but whom she nurses back to health but … well, I don’t want to be a spoiler. You’ll hear from those players shortly.

And, oh yes, complications abound, thanks to intervention by the local deities. More about them later.

During a break at a rehearsal a few weeks ago, The Observer was granted an exclusive interview with the show’s co-stars, junior Cassie Shea, who plays the peasant girl Ti Moune; and senior James Berko, who has the role of rich guy Daniel.

After prior supporting roles in “Les Miserables,” “Pippin” and “Little Shop of Horrors,” 16-year-old Cassie is going about the business of preparing for her “most challenging” assignment to date.

“I’ll be singing songs in a higher range than what I’m used to and I have more solos,” she explains. So, aside from normal two and a half hour rehearsals Monday through Thursday, she’s plugged into a karaoke recording at home to achieve the desired effect.

“The music’s amazing,” she says.

As for showing up as Ti Moune, that’s part of her new challenge. “She’s naive but hopeful and determined – I think I’ll be good playing that,” Cassie maintains.

And being disappointed in love? “I’m a teenager,” says Cassie. “I have had heartbreak before but I think I can tap into those feelings.”

James, 18, a seasoned veteran of five shows at KHS (including Seymour in “Little Shop …”), finds himself in a conundrum with this role.

“Daniel is rich and has an arranged marriage but falls in love with Ti Moune, a peasant girl, but the rules of the island say that the rich and poor can’t marry and that’s a hard concept for me to accept,” says James. “I’ve never been in that position so to get into that mindset is very difficult.”

His character’s willingness, ultimately, to accept that principle is a true mindbender for James who recognizes, “I have to get over that [feeling]” to nail Daniel.

Post-graduation plans find James on the path to studying to become an educator, preferably as a high school history teacher, while Cassie confesses to being “torn between pursuing a career in musical theater or forensic psychology.”

And now, lest we forget, an introduction to the island gods, starting with senior Mary Berko (sister of James), who plays Asaka, goddess of earth. (By the way, you should also look for senior Michael Berko – the third member of the Berko triplets – on stage: He’s Armand, another rich guy.)

Mary’s been singing for KHS audiences since her freshman year but she admits she’s up against it with Asaka. “This role is very much out of the [vocal] range of my previous roles,” she says. “The songs are in a lower register than what I normally do, plus my character’s personality is really big. I’m trying my best to be someone I’m completely not.”

By contrast, senior Gabriel Navia, 17, is quite comfortable in the role of Papa Ge, demon of death, who he describes as “very out there, menacing – he wants to take lives of others.” (That may evoke memories of last year’s role as Audrey II in last year’s “Little Shop…”). “It’s fun,” Gabriel says. “I feel this part is perfect for me. Big and outgoing.” He’s projecting a future in “risk management.” No fooling.

But, by the way, Mary, 18, is absolutely confident about a future before the footlights. “I’ve decided to pursue musical theater the rest of my life,” she says. “I like the fact that you can use [your character] to portray strong emotions through song and dance that people wouldn’t ordinarily see and then can relate to that.”

Senior Jimmy Simoes, 17, cast as Agwe, god of water, plays trumpet in the KHS Marching Band and tested the thespian waters last year with the town’s Teen Drama group. “I enjoyed it because you can not be yourself,” he says.

Now that he’s got the bug, Jimmy wants to continue singing and horn playing in postgrad years but not as a lifetime gig. His career choice? “I want to be a S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons and Tactics) officer.”

Last of the deities is senior Future Vereen, 17, who plays Erzulie, goddess of love. “It’s my first time in theater,” she says. Still, Future already knows she’s “going to have a career in music as a singer.” She’s been singing “since I was five” and currently her voice can be heard at the Revival Temple Choir in Newark.

Her vocal talent apparently runs in the family: Her cousin is the professional actor, Ben Vereen, a Tony Award winner for his Broadway work in “Pippin” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Alas, she says they’ve never met.

Rounding out the cast, other supporting players are: freshman Carly Hull as Little Ti Moune, senior Devin Wason as Mama Euralie, senior Adrian Yllatopa as Tonton Julian, sophomore Leslie Hassanein as Andrea, freshman Stephanie Herrera as Madame Armand, senior Chris Doran as Gatekeeper and seniors Shawn Carlos, Karine Nunes, Nicole Olivares and Kathereen Pablo, juniors Michael Oliveira and Stephanie Pinto, sophomores Lilah Orengo, Kevin Steinmann and Julia Truskolawski and freshman Kayla Santana, all as Storytellers.

Behind the scenes, scattered through the “island,” are several others contributing to the production. Among them are: junior Joana Marmelo, stage manager; Garfield School teacher Milagros Gonzalez, choreographer; KHS A.P. studio arts teacher John Bednarczyk, set/light designer; and KHS counselor Catherine Astrella, business manager.

They’re all waiting for you on the “Island.”

It’s never too early to start learning

Mayor Robert Giangeruso (c.) presides at ribbon-cutting for grand opening of The Learning Experience in Lyndhurst in September.

Mayor Robert Giangeruso (c.) presides at ribbon-cutting for grand opening of The Learning Experience in Lyndhurst in September.


If you’re looking for a daycare center that offers more than mere babysitting– or plunking a child down in front of a TV — look no further than The Learning Experience in Lyndhurst.

Open since early September, the new center, located at 518 Stuyvesant Ave., is focused on “providing children with a quality education, from the beginning,” noted owner Corinne Aulov.

And she means “the beginning.” The Learning Center enrolls children as young as six weeks. Currently, there are eight babies in the nursery, all of them being provided with “a nurturing experience.”

The infants are part of the initial enrollment of 72 children, through age 5. The facility has a capacity of 167, and “we anticipate being full” by this coming September, Aulov noted. In September, too, The Learning Center will be offering kindergarten classes, in conjunction with the Lyndhurst school system, she said.

Aulov, herself the mother of three, left a career in the corporate world of New York to devote herself to early childhood education, and her passion for and commitment to the work is evident.

At present, she has a staff of 10, including the center’s director, Mara Doloroso. “I make it a requirement that they are all certified in early childhood education,” Aulov noted. “I want the school to be on an elite level,” giving the youngsters “a strong foundation.”

The Learning Center, part of a nationwide group of franchises, offers “one of the best curriculums out there,” said Aulov, describing the program as a “structured Montessori type of education.” “We need to get back to the fundamentals,” she said. In many schools, “the basics are not there.” The Learning Center program is designed to give children “that extra foothold.”

In addition to the day-care program, which operates Monday-Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., The Learning Center is planning a “fun and exciting” summer day camp in August. That will be for children ages 2 to 8. If parents take advantage of early registration, by the end of March, there will be a discount, Aulov said.

The Learning Center houses nine classrooms and features two play areas, indoor and outdoor. There’s a strong emphasis on security; the school is “constantly monitored,” with security cameras throughout the building keeping a watchful eye on the little ones, who, are happily playing–and learning–in their “home away from home.”

For more information on The Learning Center in Lyndhurst, call 201-460-0040 weekdays between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Or visit lyndhurst.tlechildcare.com.