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LINCROFT: A HOME FOR FOLK AT EARTH ROOM

Kirsten Maxwell, above, and Matt Nakoa, below, perform Saturday night at the latest in a series of Earth Room Concerts.

While local folk music artists have occasionally been able to get face-to-face with audiences at annual festivals, coffeehouses and libraries, there just hasn’t been a consistent venue for national folk performers to ply their trade among the rock clubs, cover-band bars and theater-size stages of eastern Monmouth County.

That is, until the folks at Lincroft’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation initiated their series of Earth Room Concerts.

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RED BANK: TWO RIVER PLANS ADDITION

A rendering of the proposed addition to the left of the existing theater and tower above, as seen from the northeast. (Rendering by Kaplan Gaunt Desantis Architects. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

The backstage area of Red Bank’s Two River Theater is about to get bigger, if a plan in the works gets a green light from borough officials.

Scheduled for consideration by the zoning board next week, the plan calls for the construction of an architecturally bold addition to the existing theater for rehearsal spaces, costume-making and the building of props and scenery, according to documents on file.

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RED BANK: BASIE PIMPS STAGE TO PRESS

Signage touting the Asbury Park Press brand will be installed in front of the stage and projected elsewhere in the venue before and after shows. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

After some 90 years as a lights-down sanctuary from the outside world, visitors to Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre will be greeted by heavy pre- and post-show branding by the Asbury Park Press starting Tuesday.

According to an “exclusive” report about itself Monday, the Neptune-based Press will have its name in lights throughout the entertainment space: in front of the stage, on a drop-down screen, and on the walls before and after performances and during intermissions.

“You will be seeing an act that is performing on the Asbury Park Press Stage,” Basie CEO Adam Philipson is quoted as saying.

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RED BANK: FORMER STAIR FACTORY REFRAMED

The former B&C Stair factory is in the midst of a top-to-bottom renovation.  (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Having worked his magic in creating a dazzling new gallery downtown last year, art collector Kenny Schwartz has now turned his attention to a factory on Red Bank’s West Side.

There, in the former home of B&C Custom Wood Stairs and Rail, at the corner of Drs. James Parker Boulevard and South Bridge Avenue, the auto dealer is creating a custom-frame shop to serve walk-in customers, major museums and galleries, including his own Detour Gallery, on Clay Street.

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RED BANK: MOMIX IN THE MIX AT BASIE

Choreographer Moses Pendleton brings his MOMIX dance company back to the Count Basie Theatre on Sunday for a new look at their classic work, ‘Opus Cactus.’

In an interview that appeared in our paperless pages several years back, famed choreographer Moses Pendleton shared his thought that “if people appreciate what I do, if they go out from one of our performances with a little less gravity in their skip, then I’ve been successful.”

Since 1971, when he co-founded the revolutionary Pilobolus dance company, Pendleton has done his part to fight the good fight against gravity — both the stodgy old natural law, and the sort of attitude that too often keeps a “fine arts” institution from having a joyful sense of humor about itself. When he left Pilobolus to forge the meeting of movement and stagecraft magic known as MOMIX, the self-described “avant gardener” renewed his mission of “exploring new and surprising ways to move and bend.” And when the troupe returns to the Red Bank stage of the Count Basie Theatre this Sunday, they’ll be newly exploring one of the works that made them one of the most celebrated forces in modern dance.

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RED BANK: HORNSBY, SKAGGS & HOT SARDINES

Bruce Hornsby, above at lower right, joins fellow Grammy winner Ricky Skaggs for a Monday night matchup at the Basie, followed on Thursday with a much-anticipated appearance by the Hot Sardines, below.

Picture this: you’re a celebrated, Grammy-winning musician and songwriter whose seemingly effortless mastery has seen him move with past the often artificial barricades of classic rock but your most immediate identifier remains the smash hit single that launched you out of the gate a generation ago. And that, fans, is just “The Way It Is.”

Undaunted, Bruce Hornsby continues to embrace that “elephant in the room” signature song with a “vibrantly expansive” new arrangement that stands as one of the highlights of his current tour — an ambitious itinerary that finds him stepping onto the stage of the Count Basie Theatre tonight in the collaborative company of another multi-faceted music maker, his friend and fellow Grammy getter Ricky Skaggs.

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RED BANK: TWO WAYS TO MAKE ‘MERRY’

Two River Theater hosts two very different takes on Shakespeare’s comedy ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor,’ beginning with Saturday’s first preview of a three-actor free for all. 

When William Shakespeare put quill to parchment and began work on The Merry Wives of Windsor, he probably wasn’t laboring under the illusion he might create something to be dissected by critics and scholars for hundreds of years to come. The more immediate tastes of the popular audience were calling out to him, and with Wives the busy Bard had the opportunity to spin one of his most crowd-pleasing creations — Sir John Falstaff, the portly and roguish companion to the future king in the two parts of his historical drama Henry IV — into a rowdy (and cheerfully out-of-time) little knock-down farce.

Beginning this Saturday night, the Two River Theater offers Red Bank audiences not one but two rather unique takes on one of Shakespeare’s silliest comedies: one an intimately scaled three-actor adaptation that goes in search of the play’s “dark undercurrent;” the other an abridged full-cast version showcasing a talented company of high school age performers.

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LITTLE SILVER: A HOOTENANNY IN CHURCH

Among the five acts scheduled to perform at Little Silver’s Embury United Methodist Church this Sunday, the Last Whipporwill Bluegrass Band, above brings traditional bluegrass “as God and Monroe intended it.” 

Like the jazz-and-blues house parties held on the last Friday of each month at the Red Bank Woman’s Club — and the regularly scheduled classical recitals at the White Street home of the Monmouth Conservatory — the libraries, community centers and places of worship on the Greater Red Bank Green have a long tradition of connecting music lovers with specialized sounds in a way that’s intriguingly under the radar, and off the beaten path.

This Sunday afternoon, another of the area’s “best kept secrets” raises its voice once more, as Little Silver’s Embury United Methodist Church plays host to a Bluegrass Stage Show and Jam that’s engaging, illuminating — and even interactive, should such things strike your fancy.

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RED BANK: ONCE AGAIN, IMPROV IN A JAM

Audience members twist the limbs of Improv Jam members Chris Rearick and Mike O’Keefe during a recent skit. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

They’ve been evicted so many times it’s almost funny, and the comedians who brand themselves as Improv Jam are about to lose their current home, in Red Bank.

But they haven’t lost their sense of humor, and comedy lovers — including those willing to surrender their cellphones to the cause — can catch them at their antic best every Saturday night, for free, on Monmouth Street.

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RED BANK: A VALENTINE IN MUSIC AND DANCE

Singer-dancers Joan Hess and Kirby Ward (above) are special guest Valentines of the New Jersey Symphony this Friday night at the Basie, and star conductor Xian Zhang (below) leads the orchestra back to Red Bank on February 25.   

When it secured the services of the internationally celebrated Xian Zhang as principal conductor last year, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra upped the ante on its bid to earn a place among the New York region’s premier musical organizations.

Now, the orchestra returns to its coastal New Jersey venue of choice — Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre — with a February slate that stands as a virtual valentine to its own versatility, whether waltzing across the works of the old masters or doing a Tin Pan Alley tapdance through the Great American Songbook.

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RED BANK: STEWART CREW RETURNS

Contributors to Jon Stewart’s new HBO project — including writer Brendan O’Hare, above, in the guise of obsessive basketball fan — make an encore appearance at Count Basie’s Performing Arts Academy Thursday.

As they did two months ago, writers and other contributors to Jon Stewart‘s hush-hush new HBO-project-in-the-works are scheduled to take a stage Thursday night in what one of them called a “dope little room that probably was a garage three weeks ago.”

Hey, a little respect: that “dope little room” next door to Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre was once a Wa-Wa convenience store, we’ll have you know.

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RED BANK: ‘PRODIGIES’ AT ST. THOMAS PIANO

Internationally acclaimed 13-year-old pianist Adam Jackson visits Red Bank’s St. Thomas Episcopal Church Sunday for the first in a new series of Impromptu Classical Music Recitals.

There are prodigies, and then there are prodigies — the kind of undeniable talent that simply rockets to the head of the class, unconstrained by any seeming lack of life experience, and forcing observers to concede that their performance has “often surpassed those of seasoned adults.”

Classical music lovers on the Greater Red Bank Green can see and hear one in action this Sunday.

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MIDDLETOWN: PLAYERS DISH UP FINE ‘DINING’

The cast of ‘The Dining Room’ is mostly under the table as the Monmouth Players present A.R. Gurney’s engagingly experimental ensemble comedy for six performances.

When last we looked in on the Monmouth Players, that longest-running of all area community stage troupes was offering up a holiday-season production of A Long Christmas Dinner, a Thornton Wilder playlet in which a single dining room serves as the setting for a century’s worth of action, with a small cast playing multiple generations of characters in the life of an American home.

When the players resume their Season of Classics this weekend (their 63rd overall, if you can wrap your head around that), it will find them still lurking about the dining room — or more precisely, The Dining Room, an ensemble “comedy of manners” that packs its own playfully experimental edge.

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RED BANK: TRIBUTES TO CARPENTERS & MORE

Close To YouLisa Rock (center) and her band pay homage to the 1970s pop hits of The Carpenters in the stage show ‘Close to You,’ coming Thursday to the Count Basie. Jenna O’Gara (below) is among the singers going Back to the Eighties with Jessie’s Girl in a Friday night concert.   

Jenna O'Gara Jessie's GirlIt’s a non-alternative fact that some of the most legendary names in the music business — the Beatles, ABBA, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead — have plied their trade on the boards of Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre, represented (in spirit if not flesh) by a bold new breed of note-perfect, big budget traveling tribute extravaganzas.

Following on the heels of a weekend that saw the annual appearance of the ever-popular Elvis Birthday Bash (and a genuinely star-studded, sold-out recreation of The Band’s Last Waltz concert), the Basie keeps the tributes going this Thursday and Friday with some spot-on salutes to the 1970’s pop of The Carpenters, as well as the superstars (Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince) who defined the MTV era of the 1980s.

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RUMSON: SPRINGSTEEN SELLING MANSION

springsteen rumson carriage house 051116.The carriage house at the Ridge Road entrance to Bruce Springsteen’s Rumson estate. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

HOT-TOPIC_03Rock star Bruce Springsteen is selling his little-used mansion on the hill in Rumson, redbankgreen has learned.

A notice of contract filed with the Monmouth County Clerk identifies the prospective buyers as Peter and Meghann Marturano, who other records show own a home just two doors away.

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RED BANK: BANDIERA AND ‘HOPE’ AT BASIE

bobby_bandiera_and_jon_bon_jovi_at_hope_concert_8_2015Bobby Bandiera, joined here by longtime tourmate Jon Bon Jovi at a past Hope Concert, brings the ninth edition of his all-star benefit show back to the Basie Friday.

donegoodlogoIt’s just about the last of the big holiday-themed entertainment events to take the stage of the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank each December — a frankly awesome rock and roll extravaganza that plants a glittering star atop the tree at an eleventh hour when various Scrooges, Nutcrackers and vocal choirs have scurried off to their last-minute shopping excursions.

Ask Bobby Bandiera and he’ll probably tell you that a dose of charitable spirit is more important than ever in the final countdown to Christmas and Hanukkah — and that the day-to-day survival of our neediest neighbors doesn’t take a holiday break when the rest of the community settles into its family traditions.

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RED BANK: KENNY ROGERS TO MAKE LAST STOP

kenny-rogersKenny Rogers — now on the Christmas leg of his farewell concert tour — returns to the Basie Wednesday with a “Gambler’s Last Deal” show that features special guest Linda Davis, below.

linda-davis-sara-kaussIt’s branded “The Gambler’s Last Deal” — a special “Christmas & Hits” holiday-concert leg of the final, forever, farewell worldwide tour of one of country-pop’s most celebrated crossover artists.

On Wednesday night, Kenny Rogers takes it to the stage of Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre for a program of custom-roasted Yuletide chestnuts, platinum-plated signature songs, stories, and a multimedia element that “will include a reflective look back through Rogers’ storied 50-plus-year career.”

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RED BANK, MIDDLETOWN: JOY TO THE EARS

shrews-chorale-christ-episcopalNeil F. Brown conducts the Shrewsbury Chorale, above, and Ryan Brandau, below, leads the Monmouth Civic Chorus, as the local vocal organizations present their annual Christmas concerts this Sunday.

director-brandauBlessed as it is with a well-above-average amount of choral voice talent — and numerous, well-established outlets for those voices to be heard — the Greater Red Bank Green is indisputably the area’s epicenter of classic carols and cantatas of Christmas.

And, with the New Jersey Chamber Singers and Tower Hill Choir having had their glorious say this past weekend, two more long-running organizations are on deck to herald the season in their own inimitable way, at a pair of concurrent concert events taking place this Sunday.

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RED BANK: BACH’IN AROUND THE XMAS TREE

vladkovalsky2Monmouth Conservatory director and pianist Vladislav Kovalsky, above, welcomes jazz pianist Sandy Sasso, below, for a holiday concert this Saturday.

sandy-sassoWe already know that the long-running, best-kept-secret Red Bank institution known as the Monmouth Conservatory of Music has been a blessing and a boon to the “classically curious” — those looking for an intimately scaled, no-pressure introduction to great music that’s packed with an impressive roster of guest artists, free of pretension, and often free of charge.

When the MCM’s Chamber Orchestra and executive director Vladislav Kovalsky perform a public-welcome holiday concert this Saturday, they’ll be offering up an “all Bach and Holiday” program of sacred and devotional music, one that should deliver the requisite warm ‘n fuzzies for aficionados of the form. It will also unpack a cool and sassy surprise.

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RED BANK: HOLIDAY SHOWS ROCK THE BASIE

darlene-loveRock and Roll Hall of Famer Darlene Love, above, and not-so-secret Santa Brian Kirk, below, return to the Count Basie stage for their respective holiday shows this Friday and Saturday.

brian-kirkA holiday tradition bit the fake-snow dust in 2014, when a retiring David Letterman hosted musical guest Darlene Love in her umpteenth and final annual performance of the soaring “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

But Red Bank audiences can vouch that Ms. Love and her Christmas-pop signature are alive and well. And when the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer returns to the Count Basie Theatre stage this Friday,  she’ll bring along some special friends with a Jersey Shore connection — while kicking off a weekend that boasts another special sleighride from a locally homegrown Santa: Brian Kirk.

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RED BANK: STEWART CREW COMING TO TOWN

jon-stewart-1-121612-2Whether or not Jon Stewart, seen above at a Basie event in 2012, shows up Thursday, his collaborators, and satirical spirit, will be in Red Bank. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

Basie academy 062216Though he’s cultivated a grey beard since backing away from his desk at The Daily Show 16 months ago, Jon Stewart hasn’t exactly adopted a hermit-like existence.

He’s made memorable appearances on the programs of former colleagues Stephen Colbert and Larry Wilmore. He’s been busy with his wife, Tracey, in establishing a new home for rescued farm animals. A new book titled “The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests,” has rekindled interest in his legacy. Oh, and he signed a four-year contract with HBO that had media observers salivating over the possibilities.

While Stewart’s still-untitled HBO project is said to be readying for debut by March, a live audience on the Greater Red Bank Green is slated to get an advance taste Thursday night, when the Count Basie Theatre mounts a special Evening of Comedy spotlighting its writers and performers.

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FAIR HAVEN: CAN WE TALK JOAN RIVERS?

Joan Rivers' other books include I Hate Everyone ... Starting With Me and Men Are Stupid ... And They Like Big Boobs.Journalist Leslie Bennetts (below) visits River Road Books Wednesday evening for a “can we talk?” session on the career of the late Joan Rivers (above).

leslie-bennettsBefore her sudden passing in 2014 at the age of 81, Joan Rivers seemed to have lived several lives in the public eye. From her training in the hepster coffee houses of Greenwich Village and the challenges of being a “comedienne” in the Sullivan-era standup scene to a spate of late-career activity that included a hit cable TV show — and a tour stop at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre — Rivers acquired new generations of fans as readily as she made enemies in and out of the business.

So writes author Leslie Bennetts in Last Girl Before Freeway: The Life, Loves, Losses, and Liberation of Joan Rivers, her newly published comprehensive study of the star’s “tumultuous, victorious, tragic, hilarious, and fascinating life.” A regular contributor to Vanity Fair magazine and an interviewer of stars, Bennetts visits River Road Books in Fair Haven for an intimate “can we talk?” session Wednesday evening.

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RED BANK: AN EXPRESSWAY TO WINTER

wizardsThe Wizards of Winter keep the Yuletide vibe going after dusk with a Saturday night set at the Count Basie Theatre. (Click to enlarge)

It wasn’t all that long ago that the shopping-mall sound systems and merciless muzak machines of the holiday season received a heavy dose of prog-rock bombast that shook the snow from the shingles when an organization that called itself the Trans-Siberian Orchestra released its first Christmas-themed rock opera.

When four touring crewmembers of TSO (including vocalists Guy LeMonnier and Joe Cerisano) opted to pursue their own career track in the early years of this decade, they did so under the acronym of WOW, or Wizards of Winter.

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