Administrative & Creative Team
Paul Whelihan (Producing Artistic Director) is a producer for three decades in New Jersey’s professional theater circuit. While still an undergraduate at Montclair State University, he co-founded Ironbound Theatre in Newark, where Whelihan served as Managing Director. He was the Development Director of Forum Theatre Arts Center in Metuchen, and Audience Services Coordinator for Premier Stages at Kean University. In 2007, Whelihan co-founded Running Rabbit Theater, a company organized to instill a lifelong appreciation of and support for theater in young audiences and their families. Running Rabbit received unprecedented first-year funding from both the NJ State Council on the Arts and The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Whelihan is an actor, director, stage manager and playwright as well. He’s written nine plays for family audiences, including the ground-breaking Treasure Island, the first professional production of its kind in New Jersey wherein the entire cast used spoken word, singing and American Sign Language to illuminate the story. He has performed, directed and stage-managed off-Broadway (47th Street Theater, 59 East 59 Theatres, NY Fringe Festival, 54 Below) and regionally (Royal Poincianna Playhouse, Broward Center for the Arts, Centenary Stage, Luna Stage Company, Bickford Theatre at Morris Museum, Forum Cultural Arts Center, Quillo Arts Center, The Growing Stage, Dreamcatcher Rep) in musicals, dramas, original works and locally produced television, film and web series projects (featured in the web series, The Madness of Art). As a teaching artist, Paul directs productions for Franklin Middle School (Somerset), Rockaway Valley School (Boonton), Breezy Point Summer Theatre Program (NY) and the YMCA of Wayne (NJ).
Samantha Simpson (General Manager) With over 20 years of experience in the entertainment field, she is passionate about the arts. Simpson has been a proud member of The Screen Actors Guild and The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists since 1996, and Actors Equity since 2004. Her experience includes various regional theatre (Bickford Theatre at Morris Museum, McCarter Theater, Surflight Theatre, Judith Anderson, The Forum Theatre, Running Rabbit) television, film, national commercials, and modeling projects. Favorite credits include Guest Starring/Recurring roles on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, As The World Turns and Gossip Girl. As a dance teacher and choreographer, Simpson enjoys developing and executing lesson plans, as well as mentoring children of all ages and skill level. Past choreography credits include Westfield High School, Surflight Theatre, Light Opera of NJ and Plays in The Park. Simpson is a two time Paper Mill Rising Star Award nominee and the recipient of the 2015 Paper Mill Rising Star Award for Outstanding Choreography/Staging of a Musical (Pippin). She was nominated for the 2016 Broadway World New Jersey Award for Best Choreography of a Professional Production (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Light Opera of NJ) and was the recipient of the 2015 Broadway World New Jersey Award for Best Production by a Local Theater (Jesus Christ Superstar – Choreographer, Middlesex County Plays-in-the-Park).
Terrence P. Burnett (Actor/Teaching Artist/Financial Manager/Puppet Design & Construction) has had the great privilege to have worn many hats in his long association with Pushcart Players. As an actor, Burnett has performed in London, New York and numerous regional theatres, mostly in NJ. He attended Montclair State University in NJ and the Webber-Douglas academy of Dramatic Arts in London. Burnett is currently a part of Pushcart’s production of The Last, The Very Last…Butterfly, which has been touring since 1997. He has designed and built the puppets for Pushcart’s productions of: Peter and the Wolf, Happily Ever After and Alice In Wonderland. Burnett is the recipient of the Star-Ledger Award for Best Actor in a Play for his performance in Three Days of Rain with Dreamcatcher Rep, and was most recently seen in a successful Off-Broadway run at P.S. 122 in NYC and in The Loman Family Picnic at 12 Miles West Theatre.
Michael Gardiner (Marketing Assistant) is privileged to be a part of Pushcart Players. A graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University, he holds a B.A. in Communication and Theatre Arts. He is pleased to be able to combine his passion for theatre with his knowledge of communication and marketing. As an actor, he was most recently seen in Black Box Performing Arts Center’s production of Cloud Nine. Some of his favorite roles include John Proctor in The Crucible, Mushnik in Little Shop of Horrors, and Oberon/Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He has also been a communication intern for The Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, conducting promotional interviews with a myriad of authors. He attributes arts education from a young age as a driving force in shaping his success as a student and individual.
Larry Hochman (Orchestrations) is the Tony and Drama Desk award-winner for best orchestrations for The Book of Mormon. He received Tony nominations for The Scottsboro Boys, Monty Python’s Spamalot, (Hochman also received Drama Desk nominations for both), Fiddler on the Roof (2004 revival) and A Class Act. Larry composed additional music for Disney’s Little Mermaid, for Stephen Spielberg’s Amazing Stories and for numerous celebrity concerts. Hochman’s other awards include the ASCAP Award for Musical Theater (One Man Band), 4 Emmy Awards for The Wonder Pets television series and a Bistro Award for composing One Man Band. He has orchestrated and/or written the scores for the majority of Pushcart’s productions.
Susie Paplow (Choreographer) has been a member of Pushcart Players since 1985 when she joined the company as an actress. She spent many happy years performing with Pushcart and continues to choreograph for the Company. She is also a proud Pushcart Board Member. While performing will always be in her blood, in 1993 Susie changed career paths to join her family business, Travers and Company, where she ran the NY Showroom until the Company’s sale in 2008. Since 2009, Susie has been running the show at de Le Cuona, Inc., a High-end, Luxury Lifestyle Collection based in the UK. As US Operations Manager, Susie is the face of de Le Cuona in the United States representing the Collection across the Country and throughout Europe.
Ruth Fost (Co-Founder) is a playwright, designer, actor, administrator and advocate for the arts, with a particular focus on arts in education. Fost has appeared in more than fifty leading roles in major productions ranging from Simon (Neil) to Shakespeare to Shaw. She has written 30 musical plays for children, has performed throughout the country and abroad and recently published a children’s book to accompany Pushcart’s production of Alice in Wonderland. Ruth is currently creating a book to accompany her musical play for young audiences, Dear America, celebrating the precious legacy of freedom and democracy in our country.
**Actors’ Equity Association Members**
Megan Bussiere (Actor) is a NY-based actor originally from Edison, New Jersey. She received her M.A. in Speech Pathology from Kean University, and currently provides American accent training at AccentsOff in NYC. Theater credits: Billy Elliot (Dead Mum/Mrs. Wilkinson understudy), Singin’ in the Rain (ensemble/Kathy understudy), True Love (P!nk workshop in NYC), White Christmas (Judy), My One and Only (ensemble), Legally Blonde (Swing/Norwegian Cruise Line), and Tokyo Disneyland (character performer). Proud member of Actors’ Equity Association. www.meganbussiere.com.
Oscar Castillo (Actor/Teaching Artist) A native New Yorker, Oscar is a graduate of Kean University with a BA in theatre. He is a founding member of The Theatre Project. For the past 13 years Oscar has been a member of The Pushcart Players performing for young audiences throughout the US. Oscar also performs throughout New York City with Peculiar Works Productions.
Harry Patrick Christian (Actor/Teaching Artist) began his career as a teenager playing Huckleberry Finn at Atlanta’s Peachtree Playhouse. In New York City, Harry has appeared in original Off-Broadway productions and at the New York Musical Theater Festival. Additionally, he has worked with several of New Jersey’s best professional theaters, including Dreamcatcher Repertory Theater, Luna Stage Company, WhatExit Theater, Bickford Theater, 12 Miles West Company, Playwrights Theater and The Forum, playing a host of wildly varied roles. A proud member of Pushcart Players, he is a long time Arts-in-Education instructor, and has performed in nearly 3,000 mainstage shows , including their tour of The Last…Butterfly in Czech Republic and the Terezin Concentration Camp. As a Dreamcatcher Rep member, Harry has appeared in many shows including Fuddy Meers, The Mystery of Irma Vep (named Top 10 of 2002 by The Star Ledger), The Laramie Project, Expecting Isabel (named Top 10 of 2006), Pride’s Crossing, The Pursuit of Happiness, This (Best Play 2010) and Distracted. Additionally, with the Pushcart Players, Harry has directed for nearly a decade at the Del E. Webb Performing Arts Center in Arizona and also works with the Passaic Police Department Youth Services Division conducting workshops for first-time violent crime offenders. Harry is a director at Essex Youth Theater and a member of Actor’s Equity Association and SAG/AFTRA.
Melissa Cox (Actor) is a Master graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University, where she studied Musical Theater as well. Cox performed the role of Beth in Little Women in Maplewood, NJ and has been seen as Martha in Spring Awakening and Sister in Damn Yankees.
Aja Downing ( Actor) recently graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Arts Academy in 2015, and is very excited about joining the cast of “A Cinderella Tale … happily ever after “ and the Pushcart Players family! Recent roles include Fantasy in Your Name On My Lips and Yahtzee in 420 the Musical. Aja is grateful for her family and is looking forward to all the wonderful projects to come!
Layan Elwazani (Actor) is a New-York-Based actress, originally from Bowling Green, Ohio. She is a member of Vixens En Garde, and all female sword fighting theatre company that specializes in Shakespeare. She recently played Fadwa in We Live In Cairo, a new work featured at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s Festival of New Works. Other recent credits include Anita in West Side Story, and Louise in Gypsy. She is a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting from Wright State University, and is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association. www.LayanElwazani.com
Robert Evanick (Stage Manager) is in his 16th season as the multi-talented Stage Manager for Pushcart Players. A musical theatre graduate of Shenandoah University, Rob is also an accomplished singer/songwriter who is well known in the club circuit of the metropolitan New York area. As an actor he was seen in numerous productions including Of Thee I Sing, How To Succeed…, Jesus Christ Superstar, Big River and Gigi.
Gerald Fierst (Teaching Artist/Storyteller) is one of America‘s most acclaimed storytellers. As a performer, he has appeared throughout the US, in Europe, and in Asia, telling original stories, stories from his own Jewish tradition, and stories from world folklore; as a writer and teacher, he has worked for school systems and universities across the US, leading workshops for teachers and students in writing and performance. He has served as a Co-director of the MidAtlantic Storytellers‘ Gathering, as a member of the board of The New York Storytelling Center, and as artistic director of the Jewish Storytelling Center at the 92nd St Y in NYC. Fierst has been a featured teller and ghost story teller at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN, a Storyteller in Residence at the International Storytelling Center, and is on line with a scholastic.com web page Meet the Storyteller
In 2008-10, he represented the United States through its embassy in Spain, performing stories with noted childen‘s author Margaret Read MacDonald as part of US State Department‘s cultural programming. Fierst has released four audiotapes Monstrous Mischief, Tikun Olam (both Parents Choice Silver Honorees), Jewish Tales of Magic and Mysticism, and The American Spirit. http://www.geraldfierst.com
Stacie Gogo (Actor) is currently in her fifth season with the Pushcart Players. Throughout her time with the company, she has performed in 7 different productions, and some of her favorites include Alice in Alice in Wonderland, Rosa in Ellis Island: Gateway to America, and Griselda (Cinderella’s Stepsister) in Happily Ever After. She attended Wilkes University where she obtained her B.A. in Musical Theatre with a Dance Minor. Since receiving her degree, Stacie has been seen performing around the country in several regional and touring productions, as well as Off-Broadway. Stacie has performed in 28 states, so far! Some favorite roles include Penny Pingleton in Hairspray (Westchester Broadway Theatre), Tinkerbell in Peter Pan (Weathervane Repertory Theatre), Kit Kat Girl in Cabaret (The Players Theatre/Brooklyn Theatre Arts Project, NYC), and Lead Vocalist in Crusin’ Into the ‘70s (Joey Casella Productions, Poconos, PA). Stacie is a proud member of the Actors’ Equity Association.
Christina Gordon (Actor) is a New Jersey native with an M.F.A. in Acting from Rutgers University/ Mason Gross School of the Arts. Previous credits include: Good People (The Public Theatre & Shadowland Theatre), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It and Reasons to be Pretty. Television credits include: HAPPYish, Person of Interest and Guiding Light. Film credits include: I Hate Being Black and Damsel. Additionally, Christina co-wrote and produced the award wining short-film, I Hate Being Black. This is Christina’s fourth season with Pushcart Players, performing in Little Red Ridding Hood & Other Stories and Stone Soup & Other Stories. Christina is extremely proud & grateful to God to be working amongst such a talented group of people. She is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA. www.ChristinaGordon.com
Mona Hennessy (Actor) has worked with Pushcart Players for over 30 years, and is so proud to be part of the cast of The Last…Butterfly. Mona was most recently seen in Michael Bias’ original play, Dreaded Bliss, at Garage Theater Group, Teaneck, where she had also appeared a few years ago as Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days. Mona worked for four years at Luna Stage Theatre Company, West Orange – as Managing Director, but she is first and foremost an actress! She appeared at Luna in Terence McNally’s A Perfect Ganesh, and prior to that, also at Luna, she played Virginia Woolf in Vita and Virginia. Over her decades-long career, Mona has worked primarily in New Jersey’s regional professional theatres. Among her favorite roles (besides Winnie and Virginia Woolf) are: Mrs. Alving in Ghosts and Ella in Little Beasts (Luna Stage); Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret (Forum Theatre); and Katharine in A Perfect Ganesh, which she had also performed with 12 Miles West. Mona co-developed and directed, with Jane Mandel, an original theatre piece called The American Project, which toured throughout New Jersey schools. Mona performed last year in The Theatre Project/What Exit’s One-Act Festival and in Luna Stage’s presentation of two plays by Phoebe Farber. As always, she gives love and thanks to her wonderful family (which now includes four – soon to be five – adorable grandchildren!).
James Holden (Actor) is thrilled to be in his third year with Pushcart Players! Onstage in New York, he has played the love-able cop Flapjack in both Doubles Crossed and the sequel Doubles Crossed: The Ballad of Rodrigo, both with Funny…Sheesh Productions. He’s performed in theaters around the country as Uncle Ernie in The Who’s Tommy, Wolf/Cinderella’s Prince in Into the Woods, Chris in Miss Saigon, Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and Albert Peterson in Bye Bye, Birdie. His television credits include: Celebrity Ghost Stories, I’d Kill for You, Redrum, and Mysteries at the Castle.
JD Lynch (Actor) is a graduate of DeSales University with a degree in Theatre/Communications. He has performed extensively Off Broadway and throughout the county. He has been a beloved matinee idol in New Hope, PA (Bucks County Playhouse) and Shawnee, also in PA. He was most recently seen in the role of Samuel in an original play, Fading Light, at the New York Fringe Festival. Ellis Island: Gateway To America marks his 11th production for Pushcart Players.
Lauren Moran Mills (Teaching Artist) has been working professionally throughout NJ as a Director, Choreographer and Teaching Artist for the past 17 years starting with Pushcart Players where she remains today as a Teaching Artist in Residence. She has worked at 12Miles West, Dreamcatcher Rep, The Growing Stage Theater, where she is a performer in their New Play- Reading Festival series, and most notably The Women’s Theater Company where she directed and or choreographed a myriad of plays and musicals. Favorites include, Always…Patsy Cline, Working, A Grand Night for Singing, The World Goes Round, The Last Five Years, Romance Romance, and the critically received, Side By Side By Sondheim. She cohosts a weekly radio program called Chewing the Scenery with Lauren and Danny on internet station homegrownradionj.org dedicated to supporting the theater and arts scene in and around NY and NJ. While not in the theater her favorite role is Mom.
Chris Morrissey (Actor) is thrilled to be performing with the Pushcart Players. He recently graduated with a BFA in Musical Theatre from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) where he also received the Lehman Engel Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre. Chris has performed at venues across the country including Paper Mill Playhouse, Lincoln Center, and the Kennedy Center for the Arts. He would love to thank his family and friends for their endless love, laughs, and support.
Oise Ohiwerei (Actor) is thrilled to be a part of the Pushcart family! He was recently seen as a videographer at the New York Fringe Festival and also an actor in the short film Solutions which was selected to be screened at the Chain NYC Film Festival. Now taking a step back from film and videography, he is continuing to pursue his aspirations of being a stage actor as well as a full time student at Rutgers University.
Lou Steele (Actor) was recently seen Off Broadway at the Clurman Theatre in a production of Baby (Nick). He had the joy of working with Kathleen Marshall, Sheryl Crow, and Barry Levinson on the world premiere of Diner, the Musical (Howard/Doo Wop Guy) at the Signature Theatre (VA). Other credits include Aida (Radames), Miss Saigon (Chris), West Side Story (Tony), and tick, tick..BOOM (Jon). His favorite role is his current role, husband to Laura and father to Juliet Marion and Lucas Steven. Thanks to friends and family for their constant love and support. For more, visit www.lousteele.net
Phebe Taylor (Actor) has been a Pushcart Player since 2004. She was recently seen flying around as Peter in Peter Pan at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre. Phebe is a company member of the Heartland Actors’ Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis, appearing in the summer Shakespeare productions of The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Tempest, and The Winter’s Tale. She is also a frequent performer at Indianapolis’ Phoenix Theatre, including such shows as Urinetown, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, The Zippers of Zoomerville, Boston Marriage, Peter and the Starcatcher, and the National New Play Network’s “Rolling World Premiere” of End Days. A graduate of the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, Phebe lives in Queens and is an avid vintage toy and game collector.
Gia Ware (Actor) is a graduate of Montclair State University, with a B.F.A. in Theatre. She’s an International Performer seen in Off- Broadway, Regional Productions, and International Tours around the World. At the young age of 8, she got her start as a vocalist at the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night. Since perfecting her craft, she’s traveled the world singing and acting in various theatrical performances. Countries have included the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Japan, France, Taiwan and more. Favorite show’s include : National/ International Tour of Dreamgirls, Aida, and Little Shop of Horrors. In 2007 she was in the original cast for It Happened In Little Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas for the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine. In 2015 she starred in the revised production of Little Rock leading to win the 2015 Barrymore Award. As a vocalist she’s been featured with VH1 events, Summerstage, and much more. She’s currently a vocalist and acting coach throughout the tri-state area. Along with her husband, Jonathan Ware, Gia is partial producer of The Reactivation Series. Her produced and written cartoon show Gia’s World can be seen on Youtube. “To God Be The Glory, Forever and Ever… AMEN.”