Not Your Average, Ordinary Kind of Woman
She rushes onstage midway through the second act, beautiful and barely put-together, apologizes for missing her entrance due to an uncooperative shoe, then launches into a huge, tongue-in-cheek chorus number about her ordinariness. She sings:
I’m your average, ordinary kind of woman:
Competent and neat,
Making life a treat.
Others as nice
You meet often, I know.
At least once or twice
Every decade or so.
This is Catherine from Stephen Schwartz’s musical Pippin. And, truly, she’s anything but ordinary: a widow raising a child and running a farm — two things that couldn’t have been ordinary in the time of Charlemagne but made perfect sense in a 1972 musical comedy.
Also, this is CMBC’s very own Marketing Communications Manager, Alicia Grasso, who played Catherine while pursuing a BFA in Theatre at Montclair University. Like Catherine, Alicia will insist on her ordinariness, but anyone who knows her and works with her will attest to the fact that she’s anything but.
A Petersburg native, Alicia went to Ocean City High School before moving on to Montclair. After college, the summer of 1999 was spent interning for Cape May Stage, a professional Equity theatre in town, and working in an art gallery on the Washington Street Mall.
“It was that summer — that felt like I was working 24-hours a day — that I really got involved in the Cape May community,” she tells us. “I had the best summer. I had so much fun. I met so many people. Working in retail got me to connect to the visitors and tourists who love our city, and working for the nonprofit got me to connect to the people of the community.
“I had the best of both worlds.”
She had a “whatever-it-takes” attitude to both jobs, giving it her all. But, sadly, in January of the following year, the founder of Cape May Stage, Michael Laird, passed away, and Alicia was met with an uncertain future.
Serendipity intervened in the form of a phone call from a friend with an extra room outside of New York City, and Alicia moved to the Big Apple, spending three years producing off-Broadway theatre for the Nederlander Organization.
“It was a really exciting time,” she quips, “because part of my job requirement was to go see Broadway shows.”
Believe it or not, theatre — particularly at the off-Broadway level — is an extraordinarily high-stress environment. Compound that with the fact that she lived through 9/11 and its aftermath first-hand, Alicia put in another year before returning to her beloved Cape May.
“The world changed dramatically on 9/11,” she says, “and so did my outlook on the future.”
This search for fulfillment is the central theme of Pippin — throughout the musical, the title character frequently reminds the audience that he’s on a quest for “complete and total fulfillment.” Everyone under thirty in the audience cheers him on, while those over thirty realize that his quest is doomed to failure.
Nonetheless, Alicia realized that the last time she felt fulfilled was the summer in Cape May in 1999.
“So I packed up and took a leap of faith and returned to this place that held a special place in my heart.”
When Cape May Stage heard that she was back in town, they immediately offered her a part-time position, eventually turning it into a full-time position.
“I loved every minute of working at that job,” she says.
And there was something else Alicia loved about Cape May: her high school sweetheart, artist Victor Grasso. They’d gone their separate ways after high school — for about ten years — but serendipity intervened yet again, and they found themselves back home at the same time. As of October, they’ve been married for ten years, with two beautiful children, daughter Gray and son Ash.
“Coming back to this place that made me happy once brought us back together,” she says.
Ten years ago, Victor was already well-established as an artist, but now he uses the inspiration of living in Cape May to define a lot of his work. Fans of Victor’s work would definitely recognize Alicia, as he’s painted her “too many times to count.”
“I’ve been sitting for him and posing for him forever,” she says.
Yet, it’s nearly impossible for Alicia to pick a favorite piece of Victor’s, as each is so different from the one before.
“He gets better every time,” she says. “Every painting he produces is better than the last, so it’s really hard to pick one.”
Once the brewery opened, Alicia kept hearing people talk about it, but she didn’t have the chance to check it out until one day she made a detour on her way home from Cape May Stage to stop by the Tasting Room, and was… confused….
“I pulled up to the front of the building here,” she says, “and I thought, ‘No way is this where I’m supposed to be,’ and I opened up this door, and I felt like I was walking into a private party.”
She didn’t spend much time here her first time — she didn’t even get to taste our wares, as Gray was still a little baby at home — she just wanted to see what the buzz was about.
“I remember I turned around and saw people everywhere and it was so loud in there and the back door was open and I thought… ‘THIS IS IT?!? WOW! We are out here in the middle of nowhere and this place is jammed!’”
Catherine might have passed Pippin by the first time she saw him, too. He was crumpled up by the side of the road like a rag. Yet, the arch of his foot catches her eye. Even though Alicia was a little intimidated by the brewery experience, something about it caught her eye.
She left Cape May Stage, taking yet another leap of faith, not sure where life would take her next, when she sat down with Ryan and Hank to discuss marketing for the brewery. They’d met while working together on an event for Cape May Stage — Shakesbeer — where the theater served CMBC brews.
“At the time, I had two little kids that I wanted to spend time with,” she recalls. “I wondered what I could do on the side, remotely, to support this really cool business that isn’t going to take too much time away from my children.”
She brought three initiatives to the table, one of which you’re currently reading.
Like most jobs here, it grew quickly. While we had someone running Social Media, the marketing at the brewery needed dedicated support. Her initial three initiatives soon snowballed into a full portfolio.
“I didn’t say no,” she says, “because it was very exciting to be part of a company that was in such a growth trajectory so quickly, there almost wasn’t time to say no. You just cared. You were like, ‘I’ll help you. I’ll do it. Let me help. Let’s build this company. What can I do to contribute?’
“It was a really cool time to come on board.”
Alicia points to three memorable times while at Cape May Brewing Co. In May of 2015, we opened our new building at 409 Breakwater.
“We held a ribbon-cutting ceremony where we invited a lot of media and our government officials to come out and see who we’d become and where we were going,” she recalls. “And that was really exciting. It was a really special day for the brewery.”
At the end of that summer was the international craze that was #YOPO, a special brew we did to commemorate Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia.
“#YOPO was super exciting,” she says. “We brewed this beer for fun and it turned out to be a media frenzy. We were getting international, global media attention.”
Alicia recalls sending out a press release one day and waking up the next to hundreds of emails in her inbox, with reporters from ABC, Fox News, MSNBC, and the Washington Post calling her cell phone.
“I think what made it so special was that we weren’t trying to do something,” she says. “It was more organic the way it developed, and, with that, it brought an authenticity of message. We were doing this to celebrate at a time when all of the media’s attention around Francis’s visit was all very dramatic. It was all about safety and closures and traffic and crisis in Philadelphia and lockdown. And here we are raising a glass to the pope.
“Russian international Catholic news agencies were calling me. It was so cool.”
Keeping with the Catholic theme, Alicia points to Demisemi as another memorable moment for the brewery.
“Brewing the beer for Villanova and celebrating with Matt Szczur in our hometown was a special event for us,” she says. “It allowed us to tell an authentic story that connected to our co-founders. We were honored to be invited, and then to make the connection to build out the story around this special beer while tapping into Philadelphia as well as nurturing our home market.
“It allowed us to reach so many new people who maybe weren’t aware of craft beer but loved Villanova.”
By the end of Pippin, the relationship between Catherine and Pippin progressed to the point that the title character needs to make a decision between “complete and total fulfillment” and life on a farm with a beautiful woman and her son. He decides to leave them to continue his search for rivers that ramble and eagles that fly — before coming face-to-face with death. Between death and Catherine, he logically chooses Catherine, and comes to the realization that life on the farm is fulfillment.
Just as Alicia has searched for her fulfillment from her college days, to the upheaval of 9/11, to the uncertainty of life after leaving Cape May Stage, she found it again where she began: in Cape May.
“It’s really exciting to work for a company that’s so progressive,” she says. “It’s exciting to work for a young, startup company with big goals and to be a part of that growth. To contribute my skills to help that company achieve those goals is very rewarding.
“And it’s a brewery so it’s really fun. You tell people you work at a brewery and they’re like, ‘REALLY?!? How do you get that job?!?’ It’s special. I feel really proud to say that I work here.”
And just as Pippin spent the first half of the show trying all of the things young men try when searching for fulfillment — war, drugs, sex, religion — he needed someone like Catherine to center him and give his life focus. In that vein, Cape May Brew Co. — a young startup searching for its voice in an increasingly crowded craft beer market — needed someone like Alicia to come in and give our marketing direction some focus.
Catherine finishes her opening number with these lyrics:
For I’m just a plain, everyday,
<huge, elaborate, operatic vocal cadenza>
And that, dear friends, is Alicia Grasso.