Bittersweet Bankruptcy Beach Reading: A Eulogy for The Show Place and the Surflight Theatre

Co-authored by Doron P. Kenter and Dana Kaufman.
“Dream the impossible dream; eat the impossible sundae…”  So the song goes – or rather, went – at The Show Place Ice Cream Parlour in Beach Haven, New Jersey.  Sadly, The Show Place and the adjoining Surflight Theatre have closed their doors and will be liquidating their assets in chapter 7.  The authors have fond memories of shows at the Surflight and family outings to The Show Place, and we are now in the unenviable position of wishing the institution a melancholy happy trails.  So for this installment of Bankruptcy Beach Reading, we take you to Long Beach Island, New Jersey, to bid farewell to the Surflight Theatre and The Show Place. 
The Surflight Theatre was founded in 1950, with its first shows taking place in a tent by the beach.  As Long Beach Island grew, so too did the Surflight, eventually constructing a 450-seat theater, which has stood in the same location in Beach Haven for the past thirty years.  The Surflight put on high-quality shows in its short summer seasons and was a hub of arts and culture in the burgeoning beach communities on Long Beach Island.  News sources report that in that time, it gave rise to a number of stage and screen personalities, including Jim Brochu, James Brennan, Charlotte D’Amboise, Ed Dixon, David Hartman, Richard Kind, David Loud, and Seth Rudetsky.

Incidentally, although Richard Kind is best known for Mad About You, Spin City, and his voice work for Pixar, he recently appeared in Sharknado 2: The Second One.  Was his Surflight experience formative in his role in that timeless classic?

Also incidentally, Charlotte D’Amboise is married to Terrence Mann. No, not that Terrence Mann.

But we digress – back to the story.
Some forty years ago, The Show Place Ice Cream Parlour opened in the space adjoining the Surflight Theatre.  The Show Place was a Broadway-themed ice cream shop, where the treats were named after iconic musicals.  The servers (aspiring musical theater actors themselves, often working up to a role at the big stage next door) would perform during service, usually several times a night.  But the best part of all was the audience participation.  Frequently during ice cream service, a bell would ring, and out would come a singing server, fully equipped to embarrass someone (hopefully not you – but hopefully your brother/sister/mother/father/uncle/visiting European diplomat).  You’d hear your server bellow something along the lines of “I have in my hand a Music Man Sundae…” and out she’d come with an enormous goblet of ice cream, ready to force some unwitting customer to stand up and sing a short ditty about the ice cream treat that he or she was about to enjoy in red-faced satisfaction.  Even the flavors of ice cream would be recited in song (“What kind of ice cream do we have?! We have butter pecan, chocolate chip mint, peanut butter, peanut butter, peanut butter, orange sorbet, raspberry sorbet. . .”)  And alas, woe to the moms and dads who would order a cup of coffee (“Hey lady, this is an ice cream parlor!!”).  Of course, after you’ve finished your ice cream, out came the crazy hats for everyone to wear during the grand finale!
The authors – and countless other kids of all ages – spent summer after summer waiting for “Show Place night,” when we’d all head off to the The Show Place for ice cream and a show.  But no more.  After a 2010 chapter 11 reorganization, and beset with the continuing economic downturn, the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy and a theater fire in 2012, high operating costs, and other external factors, the Surflight was forced to file a chapter 7 petition in February 2015.  Notwithstanding efforts to the keep the theater (and ice cream parlor) open, no savior could be found, and the Surflight’s chapter 7 trustee announced plans to sell off the debtor’s assets in a court-approved auction, scheduled for August 6.
We are sorry to see that the last days of the Surflight and The Show Place have passed.  We had hoped for one last summer, and the chance to share “Show Place night” with one more generation.  But so it goes, and the memories will linger.  In the words of Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham: ”Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child. . . .”  Because you see, sometimes life rolls by like an army of steamrollers. This country has been erased like a blackboard; rebuilt and erased again.  But The Show Place and the Surflight are a part of our past – they remind us of all that once was good.  We will miss them dearly.
Additional information regarding the Surflight auction is available here.