Actually my choice of location was the result of an email I received from the Surflight Theatre (“Broadway on the Beach Since 1950”) announcing its 60th Anniversary season. I had missed the opening production – “Nunsensations the Vegas Review!” – but the second show was “Lady Be Good”, a 1924 musical that was the first collaboration of the Gershwin brothers, George and Ira. The original 1924 Broadway production starred brother and sister Fred and Adele Astaire.
I researched lodging online and settled on the Coral Seas Oceanfront Motel (on the Beach at Coral Street), run by the Kelly family, which still had reasonable “low-season” rates through June 11th. I discovered upon arrival that the motel was only three (3) blocks from the theatre.
Prior to this trip my visits to Jersey shore communities had been limited to traditional “boardwalk” beach locations. With the exception of Wildwood (once), Cape May and Atlantic City, I had never stayed south of Belmar (I did make two day trips to Seaside Heights with friends in the summer of 1971). This would be my first stay at a Jersey shore town without a Boardwalk.
Beach Haven is one of the communities on Long Beach Island – known as LBI. While truly long (18 miles) it is also narrow, and got narrower the farther south one drove. Where I stayed on the Island someone in better shape, and with less girth, could easily walk from Ocean to Bay.
It was starting to rain as I finished breakfast at the 4-Star Diner in Union City. Within two hours I had crossed the Dorland J. Henderson Memorial Bridge, known locally as "The Causeway", and was heading south on Long Beach Boulevard, under clear sunny skies, through Surf City (I wondered if this one also had “two girls for every guy”), Ship Bottom, Brant Beach and Spray Beach on the way to Beach Haven (“the Queen City” – hopefully so-named for not an obvious reason).
My motel was, as the name suggested, on the oceanfront. I had a room on the ground floor with the front entrance by the pool and an enclosed small private terrace in back. A large dune blocked the view so I could not actually see the beach and the ocean from my terrace, but I could hear the waves crashing on the shore and the occasional seagull stopped by to visit. A few steps from the motel was a walkway to the beach.
On the Sunday before my trip the Travel Section of the Sunday News had an article on the Jersey shore – selecting three good stops north, central and south. North turned out to be Ocean Grove and south was Wildwood. The central stop was LBI and specifically Beach Haven, with the “Where to Stay” being the Coral Seas Oceanfront Motel! It looks like I had done good.
I don’t fish (I tried once as a boy on a YMCA day camp outing – got the hook caught in my hand and that was the end of that) and I haven’t swam (in ocean nor pool) or sunbathed in almost 35 years. When at the shore I prefer to relax in the shade, a cocktail and cigar in hands, reading a murder mystery (in this case “Murder at the Opera” by Margaret Truman) and watching or listening to the waves – which took up most of my time during the day while here (I waited till mid-afternoon for the cocktails).
I did explore Bay Avenue (which Long Beach Boulevard becomes upon entering Beach Haven), mostly residential with some beautiful new houses south of Coral and chock-a-block with restaurants, shops and attractions north of Coral. Not far north is the Fantasy Island Amusement Park and the Watersport Park. I stopped to walk through the Schooner’s Wharf and Bay Village malls next to Fantasy Island on Bay Street – though most of the stores were closed.
The timing of my stay was perfect. For the most part the town, and especially the motel and the beach, was empty. I guess the season does not really get under way until at least mid-June (which is when the motel’s rates begin to go up).
I had dinner at Tuckers on the Bay side on Tuesday night (word of caution – I had expected the Crab Chowder to be creamy, but it was instead Manhattan-style). The crab cake, while very good, was just one cake on a bed of lettuce. The highlight was the Apple Cobbler desert.
Wednesday’s pre-theatre dinner was at The Engleside Inn, next door to my motel on Atlantic Avenue and on the way to the Surflight Theatre (which is on Engleside Avenue). I had checked out the Inn online when first looking for a motel and found the room rates about twice as much as at the Coral Seas. The lobster bisque was super-creamy (I should have had a bowl, but I had been burned at Tucker’s) and the Caesar Salad was a meal in itself. The Chicken Parmagian was good. No room for dessert this night.
Breakfasts were at Fred’s Diner on Bay Avenue on Wednesday and the Dockside Diner on Long Beach Boulevard (on the way back to the Causeway) on Thursday, both traditional diners with a counter. I was drawn to the Dockside Diner because of its advertised “Breakfast Cristo Sandwich” (an excellent Monte Cristo sandwich).
The Surflight Theatre was somewhat smaller than I had expected – and the performance was not sold out (the audience was, for the most part, older). My seat was in the center of the 5th row – I couldn’t have asked for better.
While the show was, as mentioned in the publicity, pure fluff, typical for musicals of the period, the production was professional in all aspects, with an excellent cast and great choreography. The two “comic relief” male roles (lawyer Watty Watkins and bon vivant Bertie Bassett) were stand-outs. Unlike the also Gershwin scored “Crazy for You”, only two songs were memorable, and have stood the test of time – the title number “Lady Be Good” and “Fascinating Rhythm”.
In addition to musicals and, in the fall, plays, Surflight also has a “Concert Series” and Children’s Theatre. Mickey Rooney appears in two show of his “Let’s Put On A Show” cabaret act tomorrow (Monday, June 8th). The Kingston Trio will appear in late August and the Coasters, Marvelettes and Platters together in November.
Other major productions of the summer include “Ragtime”, “Hairspray”, “Little Shop of Horrors” and “The Buddy Holly Story”.
I plan to return to Surflight in September for the “1940s Radio Hour”. I expect I will once again stay at the Coral Seas Oceanfront Motel, as it proved to be a great value.
I truly enjoyed my visit to LBI – and don’t know why I hadn’t come sooner.