The Tonys may be months away, but in the world of local community theatre, some of New Jersey’s brightest stars recently celebrated the annual Perry Awards.
The Perry Awards, hosted by the New Jersey Association of Community Theaters (NJACT), recognize the achievement by artists of all disciplines involved in the performance and production of local community theatre. This year, there were only eight winners.
And at a September ceremony, it was announced that one of those winners was Angelo Cerrone of Weehawken for his lead role performance in “Meshugganuns,” produced by the Union City Park Players.
When Cerrone first got a phone call, he thought he was winning a much more local award. The Park Players’ in-house Mikkie Community Theatre Awards were taking place around the same time.
“John [Fiorenza, co-director of Park Players] called me and said I was nominated for best actor, and I thought he was talking about the Mikkies,” said Cerrone recently. “I didn’t know what to expect. I know nothing about the Perry Awards, and John said that there were only eight people nominated statewide.”
This was the first statewide recognition for Cerrone in community theatre.
Really, I won?
Cerrone was unable to attend the September award presentation, but the directors of the Park Players, John Fiorenza and Joe Conklin, received the award on his behalf.
Cerrone was one of eight nominated for Best Actor this year for his role in Meshugganuns, a sequel to “Nunsense.” The play was one of 250 productions that qualified for the 2006 Perry Awards.
“It finally hit me when I had it in my hands, and it’s a great recognition,” said Cerrone. “Community theatre is a great outlet for people that are just so dedicated to the craft. They dedicate their time and they don’t get paid.”
As for what’s next, Cerrone looks forward to his next collaboration with the Park Players.
“I want to get involved in another show with them,” said Cerrone. “I would love to do one of the old shows like Carousel or Phantom of the Opera.”
Born and raised in Hoboken, Cerrone didn’t develop his performing arts chops until high school.
“I had joined the glee club for the five credits, and to that point I never sang a note in my life,” said Cerrone. “It was a gift I happened upon by chance. At the age of 18 I won first place for the Northern New Jersey operatic contest at Jersey City State College.”
It was his first formal competition, and he was competing against others who had years of formal training.
Following high school, Cerrone performed in about 10 community theatre productions including “Oklahoma” and “Bye Bye Birdie.”
“After that I really got the itch and started taking classes in the city,” said Cerrone. “I was full force at the time with auditions.”
However, due to the demands of his restaurant business at time, he had to momentarily push theatre aside. He dabbled in other areas of the performing arts including a lounge act in Atlantic City; a CD compilation of Christian music in 1997 entitled “He’s Alive,” which sold 2,000 copies; and voice-over productions including a one for a pilot cartoon program.
Cerrone has also been singing at his church every Sunday for the last 25 years, and even performed for Pope John Paul II in 1985.
“I sang for the Pope John when he came to Giants Stadium [as part of the] selected Papal Choir,” said Cerrone. “There were about 50 people selected from the state.”
Despite all his outlets, it would be 23 years before he returned to the drama stage. The Park Players’ production of Meshugganuns heralded his grand return to the stage.
“I auditioned and they were impressed enough to offer me the lead role, and I thought, I can’t turn down the lead role,” said Cerrone, who was actually recommended to the group by Conklin’s niece.
“After all this time I jumped back in and took away the award, which was very cool,” said Cerrone.