Big Band, Big Heart
'The Summer Club' is Coming Back to Avalon for Two Shows
By Mary Byrne Lamb
Stir your martini and grab your dancing shoes because The Summer Club is coming back to Avalon for two shows at the Avalon Community Center. On Aug. 4 and 18 at 8pm, the group will provide a swinging evening of toe-tapping nostalgia, music, dancing, and high-flying performances. Headlined by Philadelphia theater professionals Jeff Coon, Fran Prisco, JP Dunphy and Michael Philip O’Brien, the group performs Rat Pack-era tunes backed by a 17-piece band that is as hip and lively as the music it’s playing. The Summer Club provides a night of entertainment like none other along the Jersey Shore.
“When we go onstage, it really is so much fun,” says Coon, who fell in love with the music of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and their contemporaries by listening to WPEN radio with his grandmother. “There is something about the quality of the sound, I never get tired of singing in front of that big band. It really is an atmosphere that lends itself to having a good time. That’s the aim of the show, to make sure people in the audience feel like they are included in the fun.”
And the fun has kept rolling since the group first formed. What started with a handful of shows in Cape May in 2014 grew to 24 performances last year, including shows in Manayunk, Philadelphia, West Chester, Parx Casino, and of course, Avalon.
“The summer shows are really our tent-pole shows. They’re the ones we look forward to the most,” says Coon. “Especially the shows in Avalon because we have the ability to do a dance floor there, which personally makes the show for me.”
Ree Dunphy, The Summer Club co-founder and producer, concurs. “The venue at the community center in Avalon works so well with the show, with that kind of dinner-theater vibe. We don’t serve dinner, but people bring their own appetizers and beverages. Last year, the four singers came off the stage and asked people to dance and then people joined in. They loved it.”
Thanks to the synergy and collaboration of Dunphy, Coon and the Cathy Miller Cancer Fund, The Summer Club started as an idea, that turned into a project, that became a philanthropic endeavor.
The idea was a seed planted by Ree Dunphy. She had first become acquainted with Coon when he worked at her family’s restaurant, Carney’s, in Cape May during his youth. When the two reconnected in 2014 through Dunphy’s son, JP, who was performing in a show with Coon in Philadelphia, Dunphy had a brainstorm.
“Jeff Coon is a very big star in Philadelphia theater, and I knew that he was from Cape May and went to Lower Cape May Regional High School,” Ree Dunphy said. “I asked him if he’d ever performed in Cape May and he said he’d never had an opportunity. I told him that I had an idea for a Frank Sinatra-Dean Martin kind of show, and he loved it.”
Coon credits Dunphy with getting the project off the ground: “Ree was the spark that really set fire to this idea and she gave us the spirit to actually make it happen.”
Coon was not only eager for an opportunity to perform music in a style he loved, he was also excited about the possibilities the group could create.
Summer Club members and friends (from left): Fran Prisco, Kim Mosley, Jeff Coon, Ree Dunphy, Frank Miller, Jean Diamond and JP Dunphy.
“When you get to a certain age in this business, it becomes incumbent on you to make others work and do other things creatively,” Coon says. “So much of being an actor is waiting for someone to hire you. There was something that appealed to me about seeing what we could do ourselves that would create work for us personally, but also give us the opportunity to hire other people.”
While Coon selected the performers and assembled the big band, Dunphy handled the business side of things. After the first set of shows in Cape May were a success, the philanthropic piece of the puzzle fell into place through Dunphy’s association with the Cathy Miller Cancer Fund.
“I had a very dear friend named Frank Miller who lost his wife to cancer in 2003,” she says. “He wanted to start a charity in his wife’s name and he contacted my husband [Fran], who is the head basketball coach at Temple University and very involved in the American Cancer Society’s Coaches vs. Cancer charity. My husband connected Frank to me and we became fast friends.”
Ree Dunphy helped Miller with the Cathy Miller Cancer Fund and ultimately introduced him to the AstraZeneca Hope Lodge in Cheltenham, which would become the sole beneficiary of the Cathy Miller Cancer Fund.
“The American Cancer Society has facilities called Hope Lodge throughout the country,” says Dunphy. “I heard about the Hope Lodge in Cheltenham and I immediately developed a tremendous love for it because of the way it helps the person.”
The lodges provide a free home away from home for cancer patients and their caregivers who are traveling more than 40 miles for treatment. The lodges provide a nurturing community and a restful respite.
“I explained the Hope Lodge to Frank and he loved it,” she says. “He had several fundraisers throughout the year to raise money and his primary thing was the Hope Lodge.”
In fact, the Cathy Miller Cancer Fund has contributed over $800,000 to construction, renovations, operations, and special projects at the Hope Lodge. Miller also started a fund to provide Uber rides for patients who need rides for treatments and began hosting dinners one Monday a month at the Lodge for patients and their families. “It’s a catered dinner. It’s beautiful,” says Dunphy.
All of these threads came together in 2014 when Dunphy was beginning to produce The Summer Club, and Miller was looking to do more to bring joy to the patients at Hope Lodge. She suggested a partnership in which Miller would sponsor The Summer Club, and in return, members of the group would perform at the monthly Monday dinners. It was a perfect match.
“I’m really proud of our connection with the Cathy Miller Cancer Fund,” says Coon. “They were our first sponsor. We literally wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without them stepping in that first year. I think it’s really important to make good music and to make sure that people have a good time, but it’s equally important to me personally to do good in the world. And our connection with the Cathy Miller Cancer Fund helps us to do that. I know how people who are struggling get a lift out of the dinners, and the fellowship that they have. And then having a chance to have people from The Summer Club come and sing – it’s a great gift for us to be able to share that.”
Sadly, Frank Miller passed away recently. But, his mission and the Cathy Miller Cancer Fund will live on. In fact, the upcoming Summer Club shows in Avalon will be performed in his honor.
“He was a great guy,” says Coon. “I think the best testament to how wonderful he was would be the amount of people who would volunteer at the Hope Lodge dinners. Often, there were too many people. And it was because of who he was and his generosity. I felt that the first time I met him and performed at the first dinners, I knew I wanted to be a part of this all the time.”
For more information and tickets go to summerclubshows.com.
Visit the Cathy Miller Cancer Fund at cathymillercancerfund.org to make a donation
August 2018 Articles: