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A Celebration For Mai Coe’s Steinway

On a crisp autumn evening while the last of the golden leaves floated down on the circular driveway leading to Coe Hall, more than 150 guests filled the great hall to celebrate the restoration of Mai Coe’s beloved Steinway piano, which had not been played in 50 years. And what better way to do it than with a celebration of Broadway show tunes. For two hours guests were entertained  by six talented performers whose credits range from Broadway and national tours as the original cast members from award-winning plays such as Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and South Pacific. Curator Gwendolyn Smith and Executive Director of the Planting Fields Foundation Henry Joyce were thrilled with the turnout.

With the Coe ancestors looking down at the audience from their portraits hanging in the hall, Smith gave the audience a history of the piano. “Mai Coe loved contemporary music and played the piano often. It was our dream to restore the Steinway for many years. It had a cracked keyboard and had several issues with it mechanically so it was not in playable condition. We put together a restoration project and had it sent to Steinway to have it completely mechanically restored so it is in concert performance condition. It will be used for many events to come. It was played by Mai Coe and it is was ‘born’ on December 24, 1913 and delivered here to Oyster Bay. It is such a special occasion for us because it is the 100 year anniversary of the Planting Fields estate. The piano is solid mahogany, heavier than most Steinways, and will stay in the Great Hall because we want to use it for future performances.”

Henry Joyce beamed listening to the beautiful sounds of the piano filling the hall without the benefit of microphones. “This is really a splendid evening because we are celebrating the restoration of this great Steinway piano which has been owned by the Coe Family for 100 years but hasn’t been played for 50 years because it was in such bad condition. This is the first concert performance for this piano so we are playing Broadway songs. It is a really lovely evening. This is the centennial year of Planting Fields because the original owners bought it in 1913, closed on December 1, 1913 and here we are in 2013. The house looks beautiful, the park is gorgeous, and we have the most splendid fall color so we are celebrating the bigger picture of Planting Fields this evening. It’s an exciting evening. We will be having new concerts every month, our Christmas concerts in December, and January and February.  In the spring we will have a Cole Portor concert, because we are doing an exhibition on the history of the house during that era when Cole Porter was probably played here.”

Guests were enthralled with the first rate performances of the singers, often giving standing ovations, one in particular after a haunting performance by Gary Mauer who played the Phantom on Broadway singing the signature song “Music of the Night.”

The last song brought all cast members together for a kick line performance with the audience joining in for the “Lullaby of Broadway” from 42nd Street. The audience rose to its feet to applaud the outstanding performances by all of the singers and pianist.

Afterward, the performers commented on the night. Pianist Jack Kohl, who helped assemble the cast, is a proud Long Islander from Northport who has been playing piano since the age of 8 and was trained at Julliard School. His first time at Coe Hall was as a child. “I saw a play in this very room. It was a murder mystery. So it is very odd to be part of a production in this very same room; I feel as if something about the family wants to espouse something like this in this room.” He commented, “It is a wonderful piano and it has been restored perfectly. It answers to every little command you give it. They definitely got their money’s worth.”

Kimilee Bryant, a native of South Carolina who played Christine on Broadway in the Phantom of the Opera as well as Carlotta and Madame Giry, was so impressed with the acoustics of he great hall. “It’s fantastic, it’s so nice not to use microphones. It’s a beautiful space, and a beautiful piano.” She is expecting her first child in March and smiled when she said she felt the baby kick when she sang the song “If I Loved You.”

Elizabeth Southard, with numerous theater credits to her name and married to Gary Mauer, enthused over the night’s events. “I was more than thrilled when I got the call. I am from Glen Cove, my mom lives here along with many family members. When I first saw the building, and to sing in this room, with no microphones, it was awesome. Just a beautiful treat.”

Marie Danvers, from France, grew up in East Islip and is married to Rob Gallagher. “I am ashamed to admit that I have never been to this unbelievable place.”

Gary Mauer from Arizona now lives in New Jersey and praised Coe Hall. “It’s a beautiful hall, a beautiful room and so wonderful to sing without microphones and it’s such a gorgeous room to sing in.”

Gallagher, who starred on Broadway as Javert in Les Miserables, hails from St. Louis and said,“It was a terrific experience. Usually we are covered up with costumes and there are lights and amplification and microphones. I really felt like this was walking back in time to an era when this was  this was the kind of entertainment people generally go to as opposed to watching television and movies. This was the kind of entertainment back when this estate was built. It was a joy to sing to this instrument and a joy to sing in this room."