Pantochino Production’s ‘ridiculously entertaining’ theater company in Milford breaks award records

MILFORD >> Pantochino Productions Inc., who bills itself as the city’s “ridiculously entertaining’’ professional not-for-profit theatre company for family audiences has beat its own record by winning in 14 categories in the 2016 BroadwayWorld Connecticut Awards.

The awards are buoyed by public’s votes and Pantochino Production co-producer Bert Bernardi said that’s a testament to their “loyal following.”

Jimmy Johansmeyer, an award-winning actor, educator and costume designer, is Bernardi’s co-producer. Justin Rugg, a composer, actor, singer, musician, is musical director and along with Bernardi has composed the scores to 16 musicals for young audiences.

Bernardi, who has some 30 years of experience — including years at the helm of the once wildly popular and former Downtown Cabaret Children’s Theater children’s theater in Bridgeport, said their productions are original, complete with original songs — and entertaining to children and adults.

Johansmeyer also came from the Cabaret Theater, where aside from his behind the scenes work, he often played the villain on stage.

They went on their own to have more creative license and started Pantochino in 2010.

“It’s fresh, it’s different, it’s exciting,” Bernardi said. Often, they look to young actors to fill roles and Bernardi said, “I love to be able to give opportunity to young actors.”

Julie Nash, the city’s economic and development director, said of Pantochino Productions, “They are exactly what is unique and charming about Milford.”

“They are extremely talented professionals that put on a show like no other, not only that, but they give back to the community in many ways,” Nash said.

The honors this year include Best Musical and Best Original/New work for its popular production, “Christmas Cookies,” an original musical that debuted at the Milford Center for the Arts in December 2015. Featuring book and lyrics by Bert Bernardi and music by Justin Rugg, the show also won awards for Best Ensemble of a Musical, Best Lighting Design (Jeff Carr of New York City), Best Set Design (Von Del Mar of New York City), Best Sound Design (Nathaniel Dobas of Hamden), Best Director (Bernardi), Best Playwright (Bernardi) and Best Musical Director (Rugg).

Pantochino also won top honors in the performing categories of Best Actor in a Musical (Jimmy Johansmeyer of West Haven in “Dractastic!”), Best Actress in a Musical (Mary Mannix of Killingworth in “Fast Times at Mermaid High”), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Shelley Marsh Poggio of Durham in “Dractastic!”), and Best Young Actress (Jaden Bonfietti-Csvhinka of Milford in “Fast Times at Mermaid High.”

Best Actress in a musical winner Mannix has been with Pantochino since its inception and typically play the ingénue.

“I’ve always loved performing children’s theatre. Children are the truest audience and they see right through you if you aren’t fully invested,” Mannix said. “The opportunity to break the fourth wall and ask a child if they know how you can get to the ball is something very special.”

Mannix said she believes Pantochino is so popular is because “we provide an immersive live theatre experience that entertains the entire family. Everything we do is completely original …”

She said with the lively performance and colorful costumes, the performances can hold the attention of a toddler with “larger than life characters and slapstick humor, while making a grandparent laugh out loud at a reference to something they grew up with.”

The Broadway World Awards are unique because they allow the audience to have a voice.

“ I think the number of awards won is a real testament to the work Bert and Jimmy have put in to grow this company, and also the incredible gift Pantochino is to our community,” Mannix said. “I’m just so thankful I get to be a part of it.”

In addition to original musicals, the company produces touring shows, a summer theatre camp, a teen theatre program, a popular after school drama club series in area schools and also partners with the Milford Arts Council in producing the Nite Spot Nights series.

Paige Miglio, executive director of Milford Arts Council, said of Pantochino Productions, “We couldn’t be prouder of their accomplishments and consider ourselves very lucky to be partners in presenting the Arts to greater Milford.”

Miglio said the company is “extremely professional and engaging.”

“They have been running our theatre camp for five years now. It sells out months in advance and the families and kids they work with return year after year, almost like they are family,” Miglio said. “Some of their students grow into performing in Pantochino’s regular season of home-grown family musical series, which are extremely imaginative from the music to the costumes and performances. They have a following that far outreaches Milford’s boundaries…”

“It is terrific exposure for our downtown restaurants and shops,” Miglio said.

Bernardi said the location of the musical performances at the Milford Center for the Arts — located right at the Milford train station — helps make for an all around great night out because there is free parking, its safe and there are many great restaurants nearby. One family from Norwalk takes the train and makes it a night out, he said.

Bernardi said the recent awards are “a great feather in our cap,” and gives them some more nice exposure. He also said Milford has “an awesome business community.”

BroadwayWorld is the largest theatre site on the internet covering Broadway, the West End, more than 100 cities in the United States and 50 countries worldwide, according to a press release, which also states they have more than 4.5 million monthly visitors.

They are currently between productions. Their 2016-17 season will include: “Mr. Trick and Mrs. Treat,” “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus,” “Nonni Cimino’s Kitchen.”

For more information on the company, visit the website at