Blame it on Tony Bennett and an Italian-American household brimming with the sounds of the Great American Songbook. That’s at least part of the reason behind Garden City resident Kathleen Mucciolo-Kolins’ drive and dedication behind the Music and Theatre Legacy Foundation (MTLF). Created in 2009, this nonprofit organization represents Mucciolo-Kolins’ passion for bringing children and the performing arts together in a world where theater and music seem to be taking a backseat to social media and video games.
“I wanted to give back the marvelous experience that I had when I was in high school with my musical theater teacher. Her name was Ruby Parks, a name I’ll never forget,” she recalled. “She was a teacher that knew that’s what I loved and saw me grow through the years in front of her by way of all the plays that I did. Then when I went on to graduate school at Adelphi University, where I was lucky enough to again have a professor who helped me get my internship and then my thesis under the tutelage of two very successful and well-known producers at the time—Arthur Cantor and David Merrick, it was just such a positive experience for me that I wanted to give put the focus on our kids and give them the experience of live performance.”
As the highly energetic performer races around her immaculately kept home, she pulls out binders and pictures detailing the path the MTLF has followed. Never missing a beat or stopping to catch her breath, Mucciolo-Kolins proudly shares details about the time the MTLF sponsored children from East Meadow’s Parkway Elementary School and Westbury’s St. Brigid’s Elementary School to sing at Italian-American Night at Eisenhower Park back in 2013. Or the scholarship she gave the prior year for professional performance studies to a young lady from New Hyde Park Memorial High School who didn’t wish to have her name published. In the end, it all goes back to MTLF, the good work it does and the components that have its founder believing so fervently in it.
“It’s got a good solid mission statement that revolves around collaborative or engaged learning. Instead of watching a concert or show, they’re a part of it. That’s arts and education at its best,” Mucciolo-Kolins explained.
“It’s about working with and mentoring children. I started to think about it and decided that I wanted to give back and see if I could touch one student or two and make a difference in their lives the way the difference was made in mine.”
An experienced performer who’s spent time on and Off Broadway working in production as well as performing, Mucciolo-Kolins, who taught drama and English at Sewanhaka High School, also boasts a degree as a teaching artist from the Lincoln Center Institute.
So it’s with this combined passion for live performance, musical theater and the drive to make a difference in children’s lives via the arts where she’ll be directing the efforts of the MTLF next, which is an upcoming show at Westbury’s NYCB Theater in which Andy Cooney, “Irish America’s Favorite Son,” will be coheadlining with Connecticut-based soprano Marissa Famiglietti. The show takes place on Monday, March 16 at 2 p.m. and will include a guest performance by the Long Beach Middle School Chorus. The 50-member chorus will accompany Cooney on selected songs, including a rendition of “Calling Us Home Again” and “A Bright Brand New Day.” It’s an event that Mucciolo-Kolins has called some favors in for (Broadway composer Ron Abel is donating vocal arrangements for the kids), and she’s ecstatic about how rehearsals are going.
“The children are working very hard with their music teacher, Michele Bennett, who has done a great job with them. I go into the rehearsals and they’re just a joy to behold, with their angelic sound. So it makes it all worth it because I know in the end that I’m going to hear that whisper or get that note that says this was the best day of their life and they’ll never forget it. And that’s what it’s all about,” she said with a smile.
As for why these children were picked to be helped by the MTLF, the Floral Park native admits that seeing the devastation of Super Storm Sandy two days after it hit back in 2012 is what spurred her to reach out. What started out as instruments, stands and sheet music donated to the music department by the foundation eventually led to Mucciolo-Kolins approaching school principal Dr. Michelle Natali and Superintendent of Arts Dr. Dale Johanson about the foundation, arts and entertainment and the possibility of having the school chorus perform with an artist of Cooney’s caliber.
“I wanted to go there and give these children a very special, uplifting and fun learning experience,” she said. “I wanted to give them a performance opportunity, make them feel special and give them the gift of music. I thought they deserved to have their day in the sun because many of them had their lives uprooted and had to leave their homes.”
For at least one afternoon, these children will get the chance to enjoy the spotlight and an experience that will be exposing them to music they wouldn’t normally hear, much less be a part of. It’s a perfect situation as far as Mucciolo-Kolins is concerned.
“I named this ‘From the Emerald Isle to the Romantic Hills of Italy’ because Andy Cooney is going to do phenomenal Irish tunes with his band. And Marissa Famiglietti is going to come in and do a beautiful array of mostly Italian music and some opera. It’s great because the kids will be in the audience and hear it,” she pointed out. “I will bet that it will be the first time that some of them will hear this beautiful opera. So there you have another step in the success of this project and in arts, education and learning first-hand. So not only are they going to be doing it, they’re going to be hearing it. You can’t lose.”
Andy Cooney and Marissa Famiglietti will be performing with the Long Beach Middle School Chorus on Monday, March 16 at 2 p.m. at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call 516-455-9393 or visit www.musicandtheatrelegacyfoundation.org. To read more about the show, click here. To read more about Andy Cooney, click here.