Former PMHS drama head John Orefice returns to Westchester stage in ‘Shakespeare Sings on Broadway’

John Orefice.

No amount of time or distance from the stage may ever mark a final goodbye for John Orefice. Orefice, who ran Pelham Memorial High School’s Sock ‘n’ Buskin program for three decades before retiring in 2011, returned to a local stage earlier this month with Music at Asbury, performing in and directing “Shakespeare Sings on Broadway” at Asbury-Crestwood United Methodist Church. 

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, he was asked to sing in the show. He’d spent many years working with Asbury Summer Theater but had never done a Music at Asbury show. He was struggling with retirement and missing out on the theater life so said yes.

“I guess it wasn’t exactly the same, but it was a little bit like coming home again—in the Asbury sense,” said Orefice.  

The journey wasn’t short.

First, the health emergency shut down the production. Then, Orefice had to step in to direct when the pandemic caused the show to lose its director. Finally, the show ran Oct. 2 at the church in Tuckahoe.

The most fulfilling part of his journey with the production was that his granddaughters were able to see him perform. He said he was delighted that they could see him on stage, a place he has called his home for so many years.

“I’m kind of at that point if this were the last thing I were to ever do, it’d be ok,” said Orefice. “If something comes along, and I’d be useful in any way, then I’d be happy to keep going.”

Originally hired as an English teacher at PMHS in 1979, Orefice had always dreamed of directing students. When the opportunity to work with Sock ‘n’ Buskin presented itself, he jumped at the job. He offered his gratitude to his mentors, specifically Dr. Jack Conroy, who he said gave him the complete freedom to take the program in whatever direction he chose.

“It was wonderful,” he said. “I got there, and there were all of these talented students who were really ready for something new and different. The students of Sock ‘n’ Buskin and I hit it off right away.”

Orefice directed both the fall plays and spring musicals at the school for 32 years, as well as taking on side projects. 

The Asbury Summer Theatre was where Orefice spent most of his summers. He began working with the company in 1982 while it was producing full musicals in the summer.

“The idea of theater was more than a place for show people, but also a place to build friendships and make art together,” said Orefice. 

Asbury Summer Theatre gave Orefice a place to share his beliefs about theater with like-minded people. He said he believes in a philosophy of educational theater, an approach he brought to PMHS.

“It really wasn’t about creating Broadway. It was about growing students’ awareness of the arts, for one, but more importantly, teaching them how to get along, see something through and to work hard for something.”

Whether Orefice will return to the stage again is up in the air, but he will be cheering on Sock ‘n’ Buskin from the audience.

“My life was full of theater,” he said.