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John Coffey knows the score

April 28, 2011

John Coffey and Cathy Banner, administrative assistant for
The Green Room Community Theatre, make last minute
changes to the program for "My Fair Lady."

After 11 years in New York City, noted pianist, musical director and musician John Coffey returns to Catawba County.
Coffey spent 22 years in Catawba County before he moved to New York, but he returned often enough to stay connected to his friends and the arts.
While in New York, he met many professional musicians, which is one reason he moved to the Big Apple.
“I went to New York to work with as many professional musicians as I could, and I did,” Coffey said.
However, work in the arts in a struggling economy is not abundant, so Coffey did as many musicians do — he found a steady-paying job.
“I worked for a marketing firm,” he said. “They sent us all over the country to watch people shop and film them as they shop.”
Coffey liked the steady paycheck and became more and more dependent on it.
“It’s easy to get addicted to that,” he laughed. “Then, I found I turned down theatre work for that, so I began to look at my priorities.” Happenstance stepped in. Coffey’s booking agent of many years passed away, the economy continued to chop away at available work in musical theatre, and he met Mary Lou Barber — stage dancer, singer and actress. “I met Mary Lou at the marketing firm — she worked there, too,” he said. “Both of us worked summer theatre in Pennsylvania in 2007, so we really hit it off.” Coffey and Barber worked together that summer, took walks together and formed a bond. After the summer work, Coffey returned to New York and discovered that Barber lived five blocks away. “She came to me later and asked me to write a one-woman show for her,” Coffey said. Things began to fall into place. Coffey, still with ties to Catawba County, wrote a show for Barber and himself to perform at the Old Post Office Playhouse. “We’re doing this for the OPOP, to help retire the debt,” he said. “So, really, the OPOP is a huge part of my decision to return.” “I’ve been thinking about this all year,” he added. “I used to get paid to teach musical theatre and piano, so I hope to reestablish myself.” Coffey hopes to be involved with Hickory Community Theatre, as well, in the same way — teaching piano and musical theatre. “And, no, I am not looking for anybody’s position,” he said. “I’ve had the reins before — I don’t want to do that. I just hope to be a vital part of this community.” Coffey arrived in Newton on March 26, and March 27, he auditioned 59 people for “My Fair Lady,” which opens at the OPOP on Friday, May 13. Coffey will direct “My Fair Lady,” which he directed 16 years ago at Hickory Community Theatre. Meanwhile, Coffey is busy preparing for “An Evening with John Coffey and Mary Lou Barber” Saturday, April 30 at 8 p.m. at the Old Post Office Playhouse. Together, they will present a program of Broadway, stories and song. A reception will be held immediately after the event and will be open to those in attendance. Barber arrived in Newton Wednesday, and she and Coffey rehearsed their show. Then, he began to take her on a tour of Newton and the area. “I’ll take her to the Artist’s Cafe, the Courthouse, Geppetos,” he said, “and, of course, I’ll show her where Hardee’s blew up.” “Mary Lou told me this is a wonderful legacy I’m moving back to,” he added. Coffey admits his life in the big city was thrilling. He played for Liza Minelli in her Easter Bonnet show, and he played on the tour for the Danny Kaye musical, “Danny and Sylvia.” The pace may be somewhat slower down here in the South — but not by much. Coffey will be busy, and that’s something he wants. He hopes to play for the Western Piedmont Symphony again, recalling a time with the symphony when he played Rachmaninoff. “I love to be busy — “‘give me somebody to dance for, give me somebody to show,’” he quotes from “Chorus Line.” “‘Let me wake up in the morning to find I have somewhere exciting to go.’” “It’s all about having work in your field, it’s about being an artist,” he said.

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