There was a rule in LENA’s house: no singing at the table.
If that was not the rule, Lena never would have finished her mother’s delicious spaghetti and clam sauce. And that would have been a travesty in the Pennino household.
But, now that she is older, she sings at the table, writes songs and has published her first album for families: “Happy as Clams.” The compilation of 13 new songs share Lena’s love of a good story, musical games and theatrical humor.
In 2013, The Long Island Children’s Museum invited her to write an interactive musical for families… and she hasn’t stopped.
- “Happy as Clams: The Musical” (2013) And the crowds clamored for more!!!
- “Full Circle: An original Music Revue about everyone’s favorite shape” (2014)
- “The Princess Frog: A Musical Fairytale,” (2015) an adaption of an Italian folktale.
Lena’s journey into family music began when her son was born: she wanted to share something special with her baby, Jonah. She began to write useful songs to engage him: “Lullabye-bye” quieted him before bedtime; when he learned to walk, the family would play “Stacking Blocks” to help practice his balance. (It’s a musical game similar to “Ring-around-the-Rosie.”); and “Hugh Stinkfoot” taught him to blame his father when something didn’t smell right.
Lena has a background in journalism — writing for various newspapers on Long Island, NY as a reporter and proofreader. She has served as a fulltime youth minister, church cantor, co-director of communications for the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville and now performs and writes music and musicals for families at libraries, festivals and The Long Island Children’s Museum. And she is the mommy of a preschooler and a baby girl.
Recording “Happy as Clams: the album” was a team effort, including a cast of 20 performers and musicians, including her talented piano-playing husband, Brian Smith. (The couple met while performing in local children’s theatre.) Lena and Brian host a party every year on “New Year’s Eve-Eve” where friends share musical creations, audition pieces for shows or just favorite tunes. As she wrote new songs, she would try them out at the party. When she recorded “Happy as Clams,” it only felt natural to include her “musical family” in the process….which she has now dubbed her “Clamily.”
BRIAN SMITH (The Hello Song, Captain in Hugh Stinkfoot, Welcome to This World, It’s Not Goodbye), first and foremost, is married to the songwriter and daddy to Jonah, the inspiration behind most of this album. He is also the guy responsible for the vocal (Welcome to This World, Lullabye-bye) and piano arrangements on “Happy as Clams.” When Lena started writing musicals, Brian arranged the piano and vocal score, as well as directed the productions, served as music director and even originated the role of the fisherman in “Happy as Clams: The Musical” and Prince Tre, the male lead, in “The Princess Frog: A Musical Fairytale.” He spends days teaching math to middle school kids, and the rest of his time is shared among family and the stage. Brian has spent his life performing as an actor and singer in many venues throughout Long Island and NYC, and he has been directing school and camp productions for the past 17 years. Music is a passion for him, and it is what brought him and Lena together, in a production of Peter Pan (He was Captain Hook and Lena was his pirate “wench”… and their ship sails on to this day, with first mate Jonah and newest crew member, little baby Clare.)
BILL HERMAN (Studio Engineer) is chief engineer at Paradiddle Studio, owns Paradiddle Sound, a live sound company, and serves as President of Paradiddle Records. The studio, located in Huntington, NY, was founded in 2006 and has been called the “True Champions of Long Island Music.”
The label’s first release, Bob Dylan Uncovered, received critical acclaim throughout the world, garnered international airplay and impressive sales numbers. Over a dozen releases have followed including Kinks UnKovered, Live in Peace by Russ Seeger, a former bandmate of Levon Helm, as well as several releases by local artists. Most recently they released Trouble in the Fields-An Artists Tribute to Nanci Griffith. Trouble in the Fields was called “a high water mark for Paradiddle as a true creative force in Americana/Roots.” (Good Times Magazine). With this compilation they expanded from their local roster to include international folk artists like Tom Russell, Jerry Jeff Walker, and The Kennedys. Contributions by renowned songwriters Julie Gold and the late John Stewart help to fill out this wonderful collection.
Bill attended SUNY Oswego, majoring in Broadcasting with a minor in Music. He also attended the Audio Recording Technical Institute in Islandia, NY completing an Audio Engineering training program. As a volunteer, he lends his talents as sound engineer for two music series: Live in the Lobby at The Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, Suffolk County’s largest theatre, and the Sunday Street Acoustic Series which showcases nationally touring musicians like Ellis Paul, Willie Nile and Susan Werner.
He performs in two bands: Revolver and The Ghosts of Electricity.
MICHAEL LEUCI (guitar, drums, voice in “Hugh Stinkfoot” ensemble) is a multi-instrumentalist active in the New York music scene, performing with a variety of bands and artists, including The Treutlein/Novak Band, The WellDiggers, Carrie McQuade and The Other Shoe. He also composes original songs and instrumental music and has been an avid recordist since the age of 7, spending much time producing music in his studio and helping others realize their own recording projects. To date, he has performed on and contributed to over 20 albums by numerous original artists. In addition, Michael is the owner of MCL Media/Arts (www.mclma.com), a multi-media business offering creative services such as graphic design and promotional copywriting. “Happy As Clams” is Michael’s first foray into the world of children’s and family music (not to mention piratery!) and a project that he considers to be one of the most creatively and personally rewarding in his many years of involvement in music; he is endlessly grateful to Lena and Brian for having him aboard.
Michael Leuci has played percussion, piano and guitar for all of Lena’s musicals, even serving as pit director for “Happy as Clams: The Musical.”
MIKE PALUMBO (bass guitar) To say that Mike is happy and honored to have worked on this project for his friends Lena and Brian would be an understatement. It was truly a joy and a barrel of “CLAMS” to play bass on this cd, and to be given the opportunity to record with such a group of talented singers and musicians from Long Island. When not working on various musical ventures, Mike’s favorite project is trying to get his “Honey Do” list done set up by his wife and best friend, Erika and playing with his son, Victor. Mike also has served as Captain of the Chemical and Rescue Company # 1 of the Lindenhurst Fire Department.
RICHARD CHARLES (guitar and bass) Rich is a veteran of the NY music scene. Originally trained in classical music as a child, then jazz in his twenties. Comfortable in many genres, he has worked through the years in everything from rock bands to society orchestras, country bands, and others. Along with live performances, he has recording date credits and has taught as well. Through his musical collaborations with Mike Leuci, he met Brian and Lena when they were putting together “Happy As Clams, the Musical” at the LICM Theater. A member of the show band, Rich also participate in arranging the songs. He had a great time with the Smiths, and everyone involved with “Happy ac Clams: The Musical,” and said yes right away when asked to be in the pit band for “The Princess Frog” for its month-long run at the LICM in 2015.
CHRISTINE FITZGERALD (When I’m in My Slippers) is awesome. It is difficult to express how awesome she is, especially in a bio. Because bios are written with words. Christine’s awesomeness cannot be expressed with words, nor should anyone attempt to do so. She just is. That’s all there is to it. Even the word “awesome” isn’t awesome enough to describe her awesomeness. Though it is spelled A-W-E-S-O-M-E, it truly is not “awesome” like Christine is awesome. No. That would be impossible. Otherwise, the word would do the trick. But it doesn’t. No word or collection of words, in any language, even Pig Latin (which by the way is NOT a dead language…don’t believe what you hear) is acceptable. So just sit there and imagine Christine’s ineffable awesomeness and find yourself at peace. Ohmmm.
MELISSA A. GEBEL (Stacking Blocks) is very thrilled to be included in this album – what wonderful music put together by some pretty amazing people! Melissa started singing practically in utero and never stopped – she remembers fondly one early Christmas present of a microphone which would play your voice through the radio, and she is absolutely sure her family got their fill of “White Christmas” that year. She began her formal training during high school as a coloratura soprano at the Delaware Music School, where she performed her first and only opera, singing the part of Gretel in Hansel and Gretel. She pursued a course of study in musical theatre at The Catholic University of America, and fell in love with the genre. Melissa has performed in many musicals throughout Long Island; some of her favorite shows are Sweeney Todd (featured lunatic), Into the Woods (Cinderella’s Mother, Granny & the voice of the Giant), Company (Susan, “Not Getting Married Today” soprano), Camelot (Nimue) and The Pajama Game (Gladys). She loves sharing music with her Little Peanut. Thanks so much, Lena & Brian, for inviting me to participate in this project!
LAUREN GOBES (Lullabye-bye Mommy Choir) is honored to lend her voice to “Happy as Clams”. She has performed across the country with several national tours, and appeared in leading roles in dozens of productions on Long Island. Favorite credits include Sweeney Todd (The Beggar Woman), Phantom (Christine), Ragtime (Mother), & Rabbit Hole (Izzy). She also works as a director, choreographer, teaching artist & voice over artist. She holds a BFA in Acting from Marymount Manhattan College.
Lauren is the proud wife of Ray and Mommy of twins Raymond & Christina.
ED HUETHER (“Welcome to This World”) is a director, writer, actor and singer whose directorial credits include productions of Evita, The Pillowman, Bat Boy the Musical, and Sondheim’s Assassins, among others. Onstage, Ed has recently come off a run of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, but previous credits include playing Mozart in Amadeus, Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar, Ethan in The Full Monty as well as the title roles in Bat Boy the Musical and Pippin. Currently, Ed can be seen in the feature film “Send No Flowers” starring Sean Young and has also recently completed filming of the short film “Bullified”. He is also currently penning the musical Tears, based on the Cherokee Trail of Tears that resulted from Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830.
JERRY MAGGIO (“Welcome to this World”, “Hugh Stinkfoot”) has been performing in Long Island theatre and singing for nearly 20 years now and he’s so proud to be a part of the Happy As Clams project. It’s been truly an honor to support Lena and Brian’s work- thank you both! Some of Jerry’s favorite past roles include: Simon Stride/Spider in Jekyll & Hyde, Malcolm in The Full Monty, Rev. Moore in Footloose, Noah in Children of Eden, Warbucks in Annie, Mr. Sowerberry in Oliver!, and Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors. Besides musical theatre, Jerry enjoys a cappella and doo wop music, so he was quite happy to sing on Welcome To This World. To his wife, Donna, his Broadway-bound soul mate, “Even though we’re apart right now, I know you’re there by my side on stage. I’m so proud of you and I love you so much!”
JOE MANKOWSKI (“Hugh Stinkfoot”, lead vocals on “Welcome To This World”) has been an active part of Long Island entertainment for over 25 years, as a singer, actor, director and musical director. He has appeared onstage in dozens of musical productions, often with one or more of the artists on Happy As Clams. A graduate of The Catholic University of America, Joe is an accomplished vocalist and musician. He has served the Diocese of Rockville Centre as a cantor and choir director for over two decades, and appears annually with both The Christi-Brown Carolers and The Milleridge Singers. He has recently shifted his attentions to film acting, and will make his feature film debut in July 2013 in Fred Carpenter’s Send No Flowers, starring Sean Young. A genuine kid at heart, Joe is a huge fan of Lena’s music and is honored and blessed to be a part of this amazing project.
DEREK MUTERSPAW (Stacking Blocks) is a vaudevillian at heart and a veteran of various theatrical endeavors all over the Northeast… from musicals & dinner theatre to improv comedy & short films… in a career that spans over 20 years. Lately, however, Derek spends most of his time in the role of husband to his lovely wife Alice and father to two great kids, Dylan and Paige (who’s love and support make all things possible), so he was THRILLED to be asked to help Brian & Lena with their labor of love! And in his free time, he keeps busy creatively as a regular contributor to the Rag-Nerd-Rok podcast and by bringing his whimsical brand of balloon-bending entertainment to parties and events as Mr. PoppinTwist! Also, 2013 marks his debut as a comic book writer as the project THUNDER CHARGERS (with partner Edwin Hernandez) is due to be released this Summer. Hope you enjoy the ride!
ERIKA MONTAPERTO PALUMBO (Lullabye-bye Mommy Choir) After many years of performing on main stages and in children’s theater across Long Island, Erika is happy to lend her vocal talents to the Lullaby Bye Chorus. Her current starring role is Mom to Baby Victor, favorite past rolls include: Angel – The Best Little Whorehouse, Once lady/Texas – Cabaret, Aretha, Tina Turner, Patti Labelle – Beehive, Nimue – Camelot, Maria – West Side Story, Mrs. Potiphar – Joseph…. Dreamcoat, Prudence – Pirates of Penance, Gladys – The Pajama Game. She was also a vocalist for the NYC Jam band Lewd Buddha.
KIM VOLPE (Cup of Jo Jo, Lullabye-bye Mommy Choir) Off-Broadway/NYC theatre credits include Back in Pictures, Angels (NYMF), Magpie (NYMF), Frankenstein the Musical, Weill’s Broadway Years, The Chairs, The Wedding and Travis Tanner. Regional credits include Jekyll and Hyde, Man of La Mancha, Parade, Sweet Charity, Seussical, Victor Victoria, Into the Woods, Cabaret, Chess, A View from the Bridge and Songs for a New World. A Hofstra and NYU grad, she holds degrees in drama, journalism and musical theatre performance. Kim has directed mainstage, children’s and teen theatre productions, but the best preparation for “Happy as Clams” was no doubt her daily performances for her most important audience: her 18-month-old daughter, Ivy.