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Rachel Menconi's album, "Just Meant To Be," was released in September 2011 and is available on iTunes. (Photo by: Anne-Marie Caruso)
Posted: Tuesday April 3, 2012, 1:08 PM
By Brooke Perry and Ian Spelling

Rachel Menconi
"To make the audience feel something is the best feeling in the world."

Written by Brooke Perry
Photography by Anne-Marie Caruso

Rachel Menconi discovered her passion for music at the age of 2. By 3, she was dancing. At 6, she enrolled in musical theater school, and at 8, she began voice lessons. The granddaughter of a Juilliard-trained pianist, composer and conductor, she is nonchalant about her music-centric childhood.

"I've been performing and training all my life," says the 25-year-old Montvale songstress who dedicated her debut album, Just Meant To Be, to her grandfather, whom she calls "the real deal."

Earlier this year, Menconi put the finishing touches on her first music video, choosing to showcase her original song "Don't Even Try" (a single from her debut album) against a mostly Bergen backdrop.

"I've lived here all my life and love the look and the feel of this area," she says.

The experience of recording her first album – a year-and-a-half process during which she focused "100 percent on quality" – was remarkable, she says.

Menconi released her debut album at a sold-out concert performance at the Triad Theater in New York City in September 2011, partnering with Haim Cotton, the seven-time Grammy-nominated pianist. The album includes two original songs, "Don't Even Try" and "You Will Love On," but her next album will have all original songs.

A fan of almost every kind of music, Menconi often says she feels she was "born in the wrong era."

"I find myself inspired by the older music," she says. "I love the Big Band sound, which is probably why my first love is musical theater, even though I love and sing all styles of music, as long as it has a good message."

Not surprisingly, her iPod playlist includes a striking range of musical styles. Favorites include The Eagles, Leon Russell, Edgar Winter, The Beatles, Linda Ronstadt, Bernadette Peters, Queen, Grace Potter, Tony Bennett and Styx.  

Founder and president of her own theater production company, Sunshine Face Productions, Menconi has starred in more than 40 musicals and 20 Off-Broadway cabarets and logged hours on television and in short films, music videos and commercials. It's all the result of years of study at some of the tri-state area's most highly regarded schools, including the Act II Performing Arts Center, the Hages Music Studios, the Stella Adler Acting Studio and the Action Theatre Conservatory.

When she's not studying, song-writing, practicing or performing, Menconi is often found in the Menconi Performance Studio, her private home studio, where she shares her passion for live performance with a growing number of students. A voice, acting and performance technique instructor, she coaches 20 private students (ranging from children to adults) and teaches three performance classes.

"Even though there is nothing like the feeling you get when you perform live, teaching is rewarding in a different way," Menconi says. "To see that lightbulb go off in a student's head is a wonderful feeling."

Mitchell Maxwell
Theater and film producer/author
"Fear is good sometimes. A certain amount of anxiety is good. But fear that makes you inert, fear of failure, of disappointment, that's not good."

Written by Ian Spelling
Photography by Chris Marksbury

Little did Mitchell Maxwell know that his book, Little Did I Know, would make such an impact on anyone who reads it. That was the goal, of course, but it's one thing to aspire to a goal and another to achieve it. Maxwell – an award-winning theater and film producer – did precisely that, first while writing the novel and then during a cross-country book-signing and reader-greeting promotional blitz.

For those not yet familiar with Little Did I Know, it's a more-than-semi-autobiographical tale about a young man named Sam August, who is passionately in love with the theater and everything related to it.

"I probably spoke to 1,000 people on the book tour," says Maxwell, who has lived in Tenafly since moving out of Manhattan shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. "These people have ranged in age from high school and college students to people in their 60s and 70s at various book clubs. I imagine it's different if you're John Grisham or one of those [best-selling] writers, but for a new writer, even with a fairly accomplished career in another world, it's a humbling and fascinating experience.

"Older people, my generation, people who've established their lives and are in their 50s or 60s or 70s," he says, "talk to me about how the story makes them feel young. It's nostalgic for them. That's very, very rewarding."

If the name Mitchell Maxwell rings a bell, then perhaps you've seen it plastered across the posters for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows or heard it announced during a Tony Awards telecast. Among his many credits are the Broadway revival of Damn Yankees (with Jerry Lewis), Oleanna, Dinner with Friends, Blues in the Night and the long-running Stomp! He also has produced several films, most notably Jeffrey, which starred Patrick Stewart in the title role. It's not an exaggeration to call Maxwell a larger-than-life figure. He is – and he's the first to admit it.

"I've had a very successful career in the business," he says. "I've had some big hits. I've had some big flops. I've had some big fans. I've had some big enemies. I've lived a big life. I've made a lot of money. I've lost a lot of money. I've launched a lot of careers. I've been famous. I've been ridiculed. I've won awards. I've been panned. I've lived a very, very big life."

The book came about as Maxwell was coming off a project that was "damaging to my psyche and my emotion and my desire to stay in show business." His wife suggested he recapture the optimism that led him to the career he has had. So, he sat down and wrote Little Did I Know, which represents how Maxwell, now 58, felt at 21.

"Even the challenges the kid faces, I approached everything with joy," Maxwell says. "Everything was magic. Everything was the first time. It was a joyous experience writing the book. I looked forward to finishing my day and spending time with these characters.

"For all practical purposes," he says, "the book is 85 percent true. All the events happened, and all the characters are real. So I found myself revisiting the joys of being 21, of first love, of taking on a challenge. The thing to recognize is that this is a book about a 21-year-old kid written by a 58-year-old man. So there is a wisdom in the character that is imposed upon the character because of my life experiences. It's an overlay of an older person writing a younger man."

At the end of the day, Maxwell found the whole Little Did I Know whirlwind to be cathartic and enriching, and it even nudged him into a fresh creative frenzy. He's producing and directing The City Club, a jazz-blues Off-Broadway musical opening this month at the Minetta Lane Theatre in Manhattan, and he recently purchased the historic Priscilla Beach Theatre in Plymouth, Mass. And there's more: Maxwell has written another book about Sam August, but in a different time in his life.

"In writing Little Did I Know, it's reenergized my creative juices, my perseverance and my desire to take on challenges," he says. "I've had movie offers and am taking a crack at the screenplay. I've had people want to develop it as a TV series. It fits what everybody's looking for now, with shows like Glee and Smash, because it has musical content embedded in it. I've been commissioned by a major regional theater to write a musical stage version of it. So it has altered my life."

Matt Mastrangelo
Rolling Stone Publisher
"I love the idea of music as a big form of self-expression."

Written by Ian Spelling
Photography by Anne-Marie Caruso

Growing up, Matt Mastrangelo always read Rolling Stone, courtesy of his very cool parents, who arranged a subscription as a gift. That made perfect sense, since their boy was an avid music lover coming of age in the 1970s and 1980s. In fact, it helped pave the way for Mastrangelo, who today is publisher of Rolling Stone, the legendary magazine founded in 1967 by Jann Wenner.

Mastrangelo has been at Wenner Media for 10 years, having started at Rolling Stone as the ad director, then serving in various positions, including publisher of the Wenner publication Men's Journal for two years, before returning to Rolling Stone, this time as publisher, in 2010.

"I was a huge fan of Rolling Stone, a huge music fan and when I went to college, I continued to be a subscriber to Rolling Stone and I got very involved in the radio station," Mastrangelo says during a conversation at his office in midtown Manhattan. "I went to Bethany College and was the music director and then program manager at our radio station. I had my summer internship here in the city, at MCA Records. I was doing promotion over there. So I've always had a love and appreciation for music."  

Now, as the publisher of Rolling Stone, Mastrangelo finds it "pretty wild."

"It's one of those things," he says, "where you're running this iconic brand and representing a brand that means so much to so many people, and has for so long and will continue to for so long. You try to do the best you can do to represent the brand for as long as you can do it. That's why it's so humbling, because it's really exciting, but it's also a heavy weight."

Iconic publications still have to sell issues to readers, at the newsstand and via subscription. Likewise, no magazine is exempt from the need to lure advertisers, to keep up with the competition and, of course, to turn a profit. It's always been a tough task, but a challenging economy, coupled with the ceaseless evolution of the Internet, has resulted in a thinning of the herd among print publications. Rolling Stone, meanwhile, appears to be thriving. From 2010 to 2011, the magazine gained 70.6 percent in ad pages. Two years into his run as publisher, Mastrangelo – who is charged with convincing the advertising community to embrace the Rolling Stone brand across multiple platforms – can't complain about how the magazine is faring.

"It's going really, really well," he says. "The business of music has monumentally changed as it pertains to the economics of the music business, thanks to file sharing and MP3s. However, the importance of music in youth culture continues to be such an important part of young people's lives. So, how young people get their music has changed, but their desire to get it is still rabid. They want to consume it. It's their truest form of expressing themselves, who they are and what they stand for. Music has always monumentally changed other businesses. Think about Apple. Where would Apple be if it wasn't for music? Spotify and Hulu and all of these great brands that are being created have come from people's desire to hear music."

So, what's the secret to attracting a youthful readership without alienating the longtime Rolling Stone aficionado who may have kids, or even grandkids, and might not accept radical change? Chances are the teens want to hear about Drake, Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj, while the more mature crowd likely wants to catch up with The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen or recent cover boy David Bowie. Mastrangelo leans back in his chair and nods, acknowledging the Catch-22 scenario.

"What the editorial team here is able to do is find these things that have a common ground among the audience," he says. "That's one of the great things about music, as opposed to movies and television. Music is very cross-generational, and it crosses the socioeconomic scale."

Mastrangelo spends his days in Manhattan, but he's a Jersey boy, having grown up in New Vernon and living now in Ridgewood with his wife, Tina, and their three kids, ages 13, 10 and 7. Mastrangelo first got a taste of Ridgewood when the family stayed at his wife's parents' home there for six months during construction on their apartment in the city. Later on, after Matt and Tina welcomed their third child into the world, they made a permanent move to Ridgewood.

"I love it," Mastrangelo says. "The commute is great. It's very, very easy. I do a lot of nighttime entertaining here in the city, meeting clients. So if I'm out until 1 or 2 in the morning, I can get in a car and – boom – be home in 20 minutes or a half hour. So it's worked out great."

Philip Smallwood
"Art is a very solitary process...It's a very sheltered existence. It doesn't get you out very much. That piece [of art], like anything you're in love with...that's the sacrifice."

Written by Ian Spelling
Photography by Anne-Marie Caruso

Philip Smallwood's art studio is a wide-open, sun-splashed space on the second floor of his home in New Milford. The room is alive and bustling, with yellow Post-Its and newspaper and magazine articles on the walls, art books on the shelves and his current in-the-works piece clipped to a drawing table. Watching him survey the scene, it's clear this is a man pleased with his house, his immediate surroundings and his career.

"I love this room," he says. "I love what I'm doing. How many people get to do this, and do it on their own terms?"

Smallwood is a respected and increasingly popular artist whose series of "Lifescape" watercolor paintings, most of them portraits, depict Americans and their experiences. Smallwood proudly displays pieces from that series around his studio.

Exiting his workspace, he settles into a chair in a nearby sitting area. Two charcoal drawings by his late brother, Fredrick Smallwood, hang above him.

Born in New Brunswick, raised in Boston and a New Milford resident since 1993, Smallwood explains that there's a common thread running through everything he signs his name to.

"I'm a perfectionist," he says. "Even in my life before fine arts, perfection – or a high level of achievement – was always a benchmark for me. So I think that more than anything, I'm challenging myself, like a game of golf. I work that way. It doesn't have anything to do with outside intervention.

"I don't have a painter's background, so it [watercolor] works well for me because it will lend itself to an intuitive approach," Smallwood says. "There's the non-toxicity of the watercolors, the lack of mess. I work from the home, so I have to think about the solvents and things like that. And it's just a true love affair, actually.

"I had worked with dry media. In fact, this is where my brother's influence came through, because he was primarily a dry-media artist, [using] graphite, charcoal, color pencils...those types of things. So I learned to draw or emulate him at a very early age, and I think that has paid huge dividends in my painting."

More than anything, Smallwood notes, he hopes people connect with his art, be it an emotional connection or on some other level. No one, he says, can sell a piece of art unless the artist cares about the subject matter and convinces the potential buyer to do likewise. The goal, Smallwood argues, is "to give them a sense of the subject's life, and who and where they are and what they are about."

Smallwood, once an artisan who designed and manufactured high-end furniture, custom built his house to meet his needs, which often include entertaining as many as 200 potential buyers at a time.

"It was very important," Smallwood says of the unmistakable personal feel. "And this touches on some of the dealer and gallery scenarios that are out there for professional artists today. There are a lot of artists today who are doing far better than they ever would have by being represented by a gallery. Now, there are other folks who probably won't get where they need to go, and it's a Catch-22. It's a toss-up. But, for myself, the house is part of the vision and really takes me away from having to be represented by a gallery.

"I bring clients here on a regular basis," he continues. "I have shows here. I do an art dinner once a month, where I bring in high-end clientele and we sit down and talk about the work.

Recently, New Milford renamed its courtroom and Smallwood rendered a commissioned piece of the honoree.

"I'm fairly well connected to the town," he says. "I love the town. It's quiet. It's safe. People are friendly. I like the proximity to New York. Quite frankly, this is how I want to live. Even though I grew up in Boston, in the inner city, I've seen enough of that, done enough of that. This is more me at this stage of my life."

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