The Uke-A-Likes, a ukulele group, will compete in Morristown ONSTAGE, a spectacular amateur talent show, on Feb. 24, 2016, at the Mayo Performing Arts Center. The evening is a major fundraiser for the Morris Educational Foundation.
By Kirsten Traudt
It’s one thing to be in the audience at Morristown ONSTAGE, and quite another to be in front of it.
That’s the transition that Morristown Green Editor Kevin Coughlin will face next week on the “hallowed ground” of the Mayo Performing Arts Center stage, alongside his Uke-A-Likes bandmates Lisa Martin, Beth Bachmann and David Codey.
The four plan to perform a ukulele piece, Like Me, written by Coughlin.
He covered all eight years of Morristown’s Got Talent!, the forerunner of Morristown ONSTAGE. Over that span, he says, he came to admire the courage of the amateur contestants and wondered if he could muster the same.
It went right to the wire: The Uke-A-Likes only decided to audition after the application deadline was extended, and their act was pulled together in what Coughlin describes as “one frantic week.”
Their song, he explains, is a lighthearted treatment of the “obsessive, addictive nature of social media.”
Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, at 7 pm
Fifteen Greater Morristown amateur acts compete for prizes and bragging rights
Tickets: $25-$75 at the Mayo Performing Arts Center, 973-539-8008
Proceeds benefit Morris School District programs
Fittingly, Coughlin got hooked on ukuleles while writing an article for Morristown Green.
Initially he scoffed at the “uke” as a toy for novelty acts like Tiny Tim. But at the Folk Project’s annual Uke New Jersey festival in Morris Township, he fell in love with the instrument’s portability, and its ability to “create amazing sounds with just four strings.”
It was there, and at the monthly Morristown Uke Jam at Anthony’s Pizza, where he met Martin, Bachmann and Codey. Uke Jam leader Mark Dutton leads up to 20 “ukesters” of all experience levels; many practice during the week with Dutton’s online tutorials.
Morristown’s uke scene is “a really friendly, welcoming group of people,” says Martin, who works at an arboretum in Summit. Over the summer, The Uke-A-Likes jammed together in assorted combinations on the Green, in the Macculloch Hall garden and at Burnham Park.
For Morristown ONSTAGE, they have focused on becoming comfortable in front of an audience. Over the holidays they played for schoolchildren; more recently, they entertained the Morristown Library’s “Downton Abbey Support Group.”
Bachmann, a social worker, describes the rehearsal process as “a fun one” and says the group dynamic allows the song to feel “fresh and live,” even after practicing it countless times.
They learn something from each performance: Coughlin recalls stepping on Codey’s bass cord and yanking it out in the middle of a song. They have sought feedback from prior contestants, musician friends, and Morristown ONSTAGE talent coaches Gabrielle Meyer and Brad Marullo, who offer tips to all finalists after their Media Day dress rehearsals in January.
Thrilled that they made the cut, the Uke-A-Likes appear eager to pay forward the joy that ukes have brought them.
Should they win, Bachmann says she plans to use her share of the prize money to buy ukuleles for schoolchildren.
“It’s a little instrument that brings a smile to so many faces,” says the Morris Township resident.
Regardless of the outcome, Coughlin considers the experience an exercise in journalism.
“It’s a reminder of how it feels to be on the other side of the notepad or camera,” he says.
Kirsten Traudt is a senior at Morristown High School, where she is editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, The Broadcaster. She also was a prize-winner at the 2013 MorristownGreen.com Film Festival.