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People On The Move: Tom Martini
11/01/2007 - By Teja Anderson
Tom Martini: Setting The Stage
If it weren’t for a boring term paper and a couple of pretty co-eds, Tom Martini might never have discovered his passion and talent for the theater. Many years ago, during spring break (while attending Fordham University in New York City), Tom looked out of his dorm window and spotted two beautiful sisters heading toward the university’s theater (it turned out he had a good eye: one sister went on to become Miss USA, the other Miss Virginia). He decided to follow them and, not even a minute after entering the building, someone he knew came up and said, “Hey, you play the piano, don’t you? Our pianist has just called in sick and we need to rehearse this musical…” Tom accepted, and there began his long adventure with the theater.
Since then Tom has done it all…everything except for acting. He went on to become part owner of a summer theater company in the Poconos, which, unfortunately, burned down during only its second season. Tom took this as an omen and got a “real” job; he ventured into marketing. Over the next couple of decades he wrote, produced, and cast over 100 commercials in New York City. To Tom, commercials still felt like doing theater, albeit in 15 to 30 second bites. During this time he also got married, and he and his wife started a family – a son and a daughter. In 1979 he and his family moved to Marlboro, and they’ve been here ever since.
Fast-forward to the time his teenage son was attending Christian Brothers Academy and was a member of the stage crew for a production of “West Side Story.” Tom was yet again asked to cover for a no-show, this time in set design. Once again he was hooked. That fall he, with several other like-minded theater types, co-founded Phoenix Productions. Over the past 20 years Tom, along with the only remaining member of the original group, Ellen Walsh, has produced more than 75 shows and, most recently, he has found his home as the Director of the Count Basie Theater (at 99 Monmouth Street) in Red Bank.
Currently in the throes of a production of “The Sound of Music,” with the docile sounds of children’s voices in the background, Tom admits that this is his favorite production to date. “I could have cast this show with four full sets of actors and not lost an ounce of quality. New Jersey is just a wealth of talent!” He also notes that in his productions he doesn’t like to double up on the child performers’ roles. Although this is a good way to increase ticket sales and offers more children more opportunities for some of the better roles, Tom feels that it cuts into quality rehearsal time. For his next project he is looking forward to once again tackling a production of “West Side Story,” which is coming to the Count Basie Theater November 3rd –11th.
Although Tom is a bit miffed at the latest inclusion of theater to the reality TV phenomenon, “You’re the One That I Want,” which prompted a production of “Grease” on Broadway, he does consider it to be brilliant marketing. He also acknowledges that Phoenix Productions’ own staging of Disney’s “High School Musical” last year was their biggest financial success to date. With Broadway theater prices so high these days, many people are hesitant to take their kids, so Tom feels that anything that can be done to get more children to the theater should be encouraged. And while Tom finds joy in photography and is still involved with some advertising and marketing (which he enjoys on his own terms), the theater is his life.
–by Teja Anderson
For tickets and information for the Count Basie Theater, call (732) 842-9000.
Are you or someone you know in Marlboro a “Person on the Move”? If you’ve got a story to tell this could be you! E-mail a brief description to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know who you are.
Favorite restaurant: 2Senza, with a nice bottle of red wine
Favorite production: Les Miserables… he’d love to direct it someday!
Favorite actor: Kevin Kline
Favorite pet: a German Shepherd named Hajj
Pet peeve: doctors who jam their schedules so full they keep their patients waiting seemingly forever
Goal: to live until I die!
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