Conklin, a retired Woodrow Wilson School drama teacher, will perform in the Park Players upcoming production of "Victor Victoria," which also includes his real life partner John Fiorenza as part of the cast.
Fiorenza is quick to draw similarities between their long-term relationship and those that permeate the play.
"It's a wonderful dream to be in this performance," said Fiorenza, "I'll be [performing] in the show with my partner, in the production we're together, and in real life we're together!"
Based on the 1933 German film and perhaps most well-known for the American film version starring Julie Andrews, "Victor Victoria" revolves around a struggling female singer, Victoria, whose plan to impersonate a man impersonating a woman leads to her successful alter ego "Victor." Victor's charisma is enough to attract fame and straight men while also forcing some men to "come out of the closet."
The Park Players are using the adapted Broadway version of the German film as written by Blake Edwards. Lyrics are by Leslie Bricusse and music by Henry Mancini and Frank Wildhorn.
Award-nominated Conklin, plays Toddy, an over-the-top, flamboyant performer and Fiorenza plays a security guard tough guy character named 'Squash' Bernstein.
Both seasoned professionals have performed with the Park Players before. Conklin, who helped found the group, has been a member for 30 years and Fiorenza has performed with the group since 1996.
To celebrate their real life and theatrical union, the couple will host a mock wedding for the April 6 performance of "Victor Victoria" before marrying the following week in Fort Lee.
"I get to marry my partner in crime, John. It's just a lot of fun," said Conklin.
"Victor Victoria" will debut at Antonia's By the Park restaurant in North Bergen on March 28 at 6:30 p.m. The performance is an exclusive dinner theater production in which audiences will dine and watch the play.
The right players
There are 24 actors ranging in age from 10 to 65 years old in the upcoming production. The actors are members of the Union City based Park Players. Among them is Conklin's 28-year-old niece Trisha Johnson.
Johnson, a performer for 20 years whose notable appearances include a Billy Joel music video, is co-directing the adapted screenplay together with Evelyn Rue and admits to inserting secret "special touches."
In addition to co-directing, Rue plays the main character Victoria Grant / Count Victor Grezhinski, the cross-dressing singer. Rue, who has also acted and danced mostly in the past, is also the choreographer for the production.
"I get 10 times more out of [the play] as someone who is watching someone perform your work," said Rue, adding, "It's a big musical with a lot of singing."
Though the work is demanding, Rue described the pleasure of directing and choreographing.
"Doing both is a full-time job," said Rue. "When you rehearse, it's done in different pieces and then you mesh and blend it together. We did our first run-through [Sunday] of the first two acts and it was wonderful to see it together. It was breathtaking."
The actors' group was once based out of the Park Theater in Union City until, according to former Park Players Board Chair Conklin, the group couldn't afford to host plays there.
Currently, the group hosts performances thanks to fund raising, private contributions, and Hudson County Cultural Affairs grants.
According to Conklin, who helped found the group together with North Bergen High Tech High School English teacher Patrick Noble, the Park Players began as a grassroots effort to unite actors throughout Bergen and Hudson counties.
"The group started with 14 professionals and non-professionals in 1978," recalled Conklin, adding, "We had teachers, computer whizzes, librarians, and even a traffic controller!"
Conklin says the Park Players devoted audience comes from throughout the area, including Fairview, Weehawken, Edgewater, Jersey City, Bayonne, Hoboken, and Manhattan.
The Park Players have been traveling with their productions for seven years, and with two sold-out shows to date (100 tickets for each performance), expect "Victor Victoria" to make a "great run."
Said Rue, "This show is special because Joe [Conklin] and John [Fiorenza] are special and they're special to me. I'm glad I'm part of their lives and wish them luck in the marriage."
"Victor Victoria" will debut at Antonia's By the Park Restaurant at 9011 Palisade Ave. in North Bergen on March 28 with the dinner seating at 6:30 p.m. and the show to start at 8 p.m. Tickets are: $45 for adults and$43 for seniors/students. Group rates are available. For more information, call (201) 941-6030 or visit www.parkplayers.com.
Nicolas Millan can be reached at NMillan@hudsonreporter.com.