Hippo Manchester
October 20, 2005

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Theater: Local boy hits the big time, doesn’t lose his head

Brooklyn playwright gives back to Manchester community

By Michelle Saturley   msaturley@hippopress.com

Mark Schoenfeld’s life story is remarkable enough in its own right.

A Jewish kid who grew up in an all-black neighborhood of the Bronx, Schoenfeld moved to the Manchester area (Goffstown, to be exact) at around age 20, had a wife and kids, got divorced, lived as a single parent and was homeless for a time, until he finally made his lifelong dream come true by bringing his musical, Brooklyn, to Broadway.

“I’m originally a kid from the Bronx, but I lived in the Manchester area so long, I call it home now,” Schoenfeld said.

Now a successful composer and playwright, Schoenfeld is hoping to use his newfound clout to bring attention to a local cause that is important to him. Rather than turning into another show-biz egomaniac, he is instead hoping to raise awareness about the services of the Moore Center, a Manchester-based organization providing services and resources to children and adults with developmental disabilities and brain injuries. Shoenfeld will be the keynote speaker at the Moore Center’s upcoming annual meeting and fundraising dinner, scheduled for Nov. 1 in Bedford.

During his time as a New Hampshire resident, Schoenfeld made some friends who became catalysts for what would come later in his life. He met singer and composer Barri McPherson after hearing her sing at the Galley Hatch, a nightclub in Hampton Beach. So enchanted was Shoenfeld with McPherson’s angelic voice, he hired her for a recording session to sing one of his songs. The duo went on to write the book, music and lyrics for Brooklyn, which just closed this past June after a yearlong Broadway run and will soon begin its national tour.

But before Shoenfeld made it big, back when he was still kicking around music and ideas for a musical, he used to hang out every day at the Panera Bread café in Bedford, working through his ideas for concepts and songs. That’s how he met Tim Boynton, an employee at Panera. Tim’s dad, Paul Boynton, is the director at the Moore Center.

“Through Tim and Paul, I was exposed to the work being done at the Moore Center, and it just blew me away,” Schoenfeld said. “I could not do this kind of work. It’s 24-7 care for people, for their whole lives. The people who work here, I think, are angels on Earth.”

Throughout Schoenfeld’s struggle to bring his show to life, the Boynton family became his biggest fans.

“Mark’s energy is contagious,” Paul Boynton said. “But I have to admit, when Tim first introduced me, I was a little skeptical, especially when my son told me that he wanted to move to New York and work with Mark. But getting to know Mark while his show was in the process of being put together, and later while it was being mounted, was very exciting.”

Though Schoenfeld said he never intended to go all the way to Broadway, now that he’s made it there, he’s in no hurry to leave. And now that this former homeless man has some personal wealth, he wants to share it — along with any other support he can give — with the Moore Center.

“There’s a song in Brooklyn called ‘The Heart Behind These Hands’ that talks about how you see a homeless person on the street, and most people never stop to think about who that person is, how they got there, and any hopes and dreams they have,” Shoenfeld said. “I think a lot of people have the same attitude about some of the clients here at the Moore Center. They feel sorry for them, but they don’t realize that these people have stories of their own. They have hopes and dreams too. They want the same things that everyone else wants.”

That’s where Boynton and his staff come in.

“The Moore Center assists people with developmental disabilities, from birth through their entire life,” Boynton said. “We offer resources, such as our day care center, respite care for family members, and in-home care, for people with anything from a mild to a severe disability.”

Schoenfeld calls the work Boynton does “genuine and great.” He will appear at the Nov. 1 fundraiser, held at The Event Center at C.R. Sparks, along with his writing partner Barri McPherson, who will perform selected songs from Brooklyn.

“I’ll be talking, and Barri will be doing the singing,” Schoenfeld said. “I’ll be talking about my struggle, and how important it was to meet certain people along the way who reached out to me and made a difference. That’s what the people at the Moore Center do every day, but on a much larger scale. There’s a lyric in the show that goes, ‘when you change someone’s life, you change your own.’ And I think that applies to the work being done here.”

When Schoenfeld’s speaking engagement is over, he’ll be heading back to New York to complete work on his new musical, Music Boy.

“It’s a musical about a boy with healing powers, who uses music to help people,” he said. “I got an offer from Disney to turn the script into an animated film, but I turned them down. I want to go back to Broadway again.”

For more information about the Moore Center’s annual meeting and fundraising dinner, call 365-7405. For more information about Mark Schoenfeld and the national tour of Brooklyn, you can visit brooklynthemusical.com.