It’s been quite a year for Phoenix Productions, the long-running, Red Bank-based theatrical company that moved recently to a spacious new state-of-the-art headquarters on Chestnut Street. Apparently still floating somewhere east of Cloud Nine, the Phoenix phalanx mapped out a 2015 season that spotlighted such high-flying family favorites as Mary Poppins — and beginning this Friday, Phoenix rises once more to the occasion with another famously gravity-defying musical entertainment, Peter Pan.
Shrewbury playwright Evan Krachman debuts a new drama in as The Count Basie Performing Arts Academy is the scene for a Halloween reading of PRESS TO TALK, presented by the Asbury Park-based Black Box collective.
Since taking over the Monmouth Street space formerly occupied by Phoenix Productions, the Count Basie Theatre’s Performing Arts Academy has put the onetime Red Bank WaWa store to multi-tasking use. That includes an arrangement with the Black Box Asbury Park collective that’s seen the “multi-cultural arts incubator” presenting such original theatrical works as the recent Toms River Anthology by Black Box board member (and Middletown High School South teacher) Alexis Kozak.
This Saturday afternoon, and for one Halloween matinee only, the academy hosts the collective in a staged reading of the new drama by a playwright from the Greater Red Bank Green: Press to Talk. by Evan Krachman.
Guests mingled in the new Count Basie Theatre Performing Arts Academy Monday. Below, Yvonne Lamb Scudiery and Mayor Pasquale Menna spoke at the unveiling. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
Old-timers will recall its days as a WaWa, but its future is as a laboratory for the arts.
So say officials at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre Performing Arts Academy about the onetime convenience store that is now the academy’s home.
Even as Two River Theater Company inaugurates a new season with the first previews of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars (about which more to come here at redbankgreen), the longest-established community theatrical troupes on the greater Green continue their winning ways — Phoenix Productions in Red Bank with a revisit to a tragically glamorous Andrew Lloyd Webber heroine, and the Monmouth Players of Middletown with a farcical spin on a Hitchcockian maguffin.
When last we looked in on the folks at Phoenix Productions, the Red Bank-based theatrical company was celebrating what was arguably the most significant opening night in its quarter-century history: the dedication of its spacious new state-of-the-art headquarters on Chestnut Street.
Still apparently on cloud nine after that gala affair, Phoenix returns once more to the grand stage of the Count Basie Theatre this weekend, rising to the occasion with a high-flying family favorite musical, Mary Poppins.
Phoenix Productions exec director Tom Martini (fifth from left) brandishes the scissors as the ribbon is cut for the theater company’s new home on Chestnut Street. Assisting during the May 8 gala party were (left to right) company president Lindsay Wood, plus board members Holly Hankins, Michael Dalberg, Bob Brown, Andrea Zawadzki, and James Marhold. (photos by Rich Kowalski)
It was a gala fundraiser and celebration unlike just about any other — one in which the “springtime casual” dress code abandoned the stodgy formalwear in favor of (in at least one case) full pirate regalia — an affair in which the microphone was commandeered for soaring Broadway-quality voices, rather than snoring speeches.
But then, this was no ordinary occasion for Phoenix Productions, the borough-based community stage company that recently fulfilled an ambitious relocation to (and renovation of) a spacious new rehearsal studio, craft shop, storage space and executive office complex at 59 Chestnut Street. More than a hundred guest well-wishers, community sponsors and alumni from past shows joined the Phoenix board of directors on the night of May 8, to cut the ribbon on the troupe’s new headquarters, to raise funds for ongoing projects, and to celebrate an entertainment legacy of more than a quarter century in song and in style.
The 2014-2015 season of shows from Monmouth Players continues apace at the Navesink Arts Center — the reborn and rebranded former Navesink Library at Monmouth and Sears Avenues in Middletown — with a busier-than-ever slate of entertainments that hasn’t let a little thing like a particularly rotten winter spoil its fun. When the figurative curtain went up this past weekend on the latest community production from the long-running troupe, veteran watchers of the Players were treated to something rare indeed: a musical.
Continuing through March 22, the Players production of Godspell matches the 1971 perennial from songsmith Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) with a cast of fresh faces — many of them brand new to the Navesink company that’s been in business since before its current executive producers (Lori and Paul Renick) made their own entrances on the world stage. Based on parables from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the show that birthed the hit “Day by Day” puts forth an age-of-Aquarius message of love and tolerance via an eclectic score that ranges from folk-infused pop to vintage vaudeville — and it’s a spotlight opportunity for one prominent member of the company who’s “happy to be joining a community comprised of such fanciful characters.”
King Arthur (Michael Chartier) is attended to by the Laker Girls in MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT, the very silly musical opening at the Count Basie Theatre this weekend, as the season-capping entertainment from Phoenix Productions.
Ah, Camelot — the wise and good King Arthur; the glory that was the Round Table. The Lady of the Lake and her Laker Girls; the “schlapping” fish, the nasty rabbits, the holy hand grenades and the Knights Who Say “Ni.”
Wait, what? Actually if it’s the classic Lerner-Loewe musical Camelot you’re looking for, take it to Two River Theater for the all-new production that goes up in previews November 15. But if, on the other hand, you’re in the market for as irreverent a Broadway tunefest as has ever made off with the holy-grail Tony, head down Monmouth Street to the Count Basie, where Monty Python’s Spamalot holds court for the next two weekends.
The season finale offering from the Basie’s resident nonprofessional stage troupe Phoenix Productions — one that represents the borough-based company’s first visit to the hit show “ripped off” by Python’s Eric Idle from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail — the 2005 crowdpleaser has become a fast favorite of school and community players across the land. Opening on Friday night, November 14, and continuing through Sunday, November 23, the production boasts a rather unique connection to local Arthurian lore and legend.
Press release from Red Bank Regional High School
Six members of the Visual & Performing Arts Academy (VPA) at Red Bank Regional High School are currently performing in the Phoenix Productions staging of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music. The beloved show that gave the world such standards as “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” “Do Re Mi,” “My Favorite Things” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” opened this past weekend and continues with three more performances, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm.
Lindsay Wood as Maria joins the Phoenix troupe in bringing ‘The Sound of Music’ to the Basie boards beginning this Friday — while Moliere’s ‘The School for Wives’ receives a bold new production design, as Two River Theater opens an all-new season with a Saturday night preview.
One is that family favorite that you grew up on, the one where “the hills are alive,”while the other is a new take on a theatrical classic that’s nearly old as them thar hills.
While Red Bank’s world-class professional Two River Theater Company and Red Bank’s community players Phoenix Productions would seem to approach their art from totally different places, there’s a common mission to give the audience a production that’s awesome to behold: a show that makes for the centerpiece of a memorable night out.
Born in the nostalgia craze of the post-hippie era; brought to the screen during the waning days of disco, Grease the musical gives the people what they want: the 1972 smash that became one of the longest-running hits in Broadway history, fuel-injected with some of the best-remembered songs from the 1978 film. When borough-based Phoenix Productions greases the boards of the Count Basie Theatre for the next two weekends, they’ll be showcasing an energetic young cast in a slick vehicle that’s made to order as a summertime offering from the borough-based troupe. A lot more family-friendly (and a lot less Chicago-specific) than its original stage incarnation, the timeless tale of new-girl-in-town Sandy Dumbrowski (Maggie Bera) and greaser kingpin Danny Zuko (Phil Mazzara) promises to get the customary Phoenix treatment, as the company takes full advantage of the Basie’s scale and star-power for a tunefest that includes “You’re the One That I Want,” “Greased Lightning,” “Summer Nights,” and “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” Ian Laudano (Kenickie) and Jennifer Townsend (Rizzo) head up a supporting cast of Pink Ladies and Greasers in the production that opens Friday, July 11 and continues through July 20.
Above: The cast of LAUGHTER ON THE 23rd FLOOR brings the Monmouth Players’ “Season of Simon” to a rollicking close in Navesink…while below, SHREK: THE MUSICAL kicks off the 2014 slate of shows from Red Bank’s Phoenix Productions at the Count Basie.
When the borough-based Phoenix Productions returns to the Count Basie Theatre this weekend, it’ll be kicking off its 2014 season of musical entertainments at the venerable venue — a local tradition that has seen the 25-year old Phoenix company up the ante considerably in terms of production values. Beginning Friday, April 25, the community stage troupe will be commandeering the Basie boards for six performances of a family favorite that’s as recently minted as it is minty green: Shrek the Musical, the stage adaptation of William Steig’s children’s book characters (and more to the point, the even more popular Dreamworks animated films). Jay Giberson stars as the unseemly ogre (and unlikely hero), with Carly Nelson as feisty Fiona, Aaron Lee Battle as wisecracking sidekick Donkey, and Anthony Preuster as Lord Farquaad, the bad guy with a ‘short’ temper. The show under the direction of Rick Joyce continues for two weekends, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm, through May 4. Tickets are priced between $20 – $32, and can be reserved right here, with tix also on sale for the upcoming Phoenix stagings of Grease and The Sound of Music.
Lisa Sherman and Sandy Mack bring their all-new Sherman Mack project to the Walt Street Pub Friday night. Below: painter Martin Kammler has the floor at BCC, for a close-up look at his creative process. (Top photo by Heather Morgan; click to enlarge)
Friday, November 22:
LINCROFT: He’s spoken of the physicality of his artistic process, which makes sense: when he’s not creating vividly visceral canvases, Martin Kammler approaches his other career as an in-demand personal trainer with equal intensity. The native of Essen, Germany visits the Center for the Visual Arts Gallery at Brookdale Community College to talk about his work and demonstrate his unorthodox, “paint on the floor” method in a presentation that begins at 7 pm. Take it here for details.
Before arriving at CVA, stop in at the Monmouth Museum (adjacent to the Brookdale Performing Arts Center) for the opening reception of Artists Celebrate the Holidays, a group show featuring “a vast representation of holiday celebrations from the traditional to contemporary works and installations.” Reception’s on from 6 to 8 pm, and the show remains on display during regular museum hours through January 5, 2014. It’s a first-nighter as well for the Holiday Gift Gallery, an annual array of handcrafted and other one-of-a-kind gifts (including jewelry, scarves, ceramics, home items and more) from local artists. There’s live music and refreshments also featured at the reception from 6 to 8pm, and the Gift Gallery stays open for business during regular museum hours through January 12.
Authors May Becker, Susan E. Davis and Lisa Borders appear at libraries and bookstores around the greater Green on Saturday afternoon. Below, Michael Morch, Jennifer Grasso, Laura Gepford and Ian Brown-Gorrell head up the cast in Phoenix Productions’ staging of ‘White Christmas.’
The days and weeks leading up to Thanks Thursday and Black Friday buy us a little more time to approach the holiday season at our own pace… a chance to chill in the outdoors with a few more hours of autumn sun, or to head home and curl up with some comfort food and a good book.
Friday, November 15:
RED BANK: Or, you could just cut to the chase and surrender to Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, the season-closing musical entertainment from Phoenix Productions on the stage of the Count Basie Theatre. Come for tonight’s opening performance at 8 pm, and you’ll get more than just a jaunty romance-in-rhythm packed with Berlin blockbusters like “Happy Holiday,” “Blue Skies” and the title tune — you’ll get a shot at the traditional Phoenix 50/50 raffle and, as is traditional on Opening Night, you’ll get a first look ahead to the borough-based troupe’s 2014 season. Show continues through November 24; take it here to reserve tickets — and here for our feature on some exciting new developments at the Phoenix fun factory.
RUMSON: He’s fronted the 21st century edition of Blood Sweat & Tears; subbed for Belushi in The Original Blues Brothers Band; shared stages with everyone from Boy George to B.B. King, and toured the region’s roadhouses with his own Hudson River Rats (an upstanding organization that boasts legendary drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie). You might recall blues-rock belter and ace harmonicat Rob Paparozzi from those open-air Red Bank Jazz & Blues Fests of yore — but when Rob and Friends take it indoors to Barnacle Bill’s for some Friday night sets, they’ll be tearing the roof from the joint with a harpin’ helpin’ of houseparty hospitality, and the kind of star quality that keeps paparazzi flashbulbs a-poppin’.
Melissa Javorek of Red Bank (left) appears with Ian Brown-Gorrell and Brianna Rosado in the Phoenix Productions recreation of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” opening this weekend at the Count Basie Theatre. (Photos courtesy Phoenix Productions)
By TOM CHESEK
In the words of producer Tom Martini, it’s a project that’s squarely “in our sweet spot… it’s a new show, it’s classic Irving Berlin, and it’s something for which we’re pulling out all the stops.”
When the borough-based community stage troupe Phoenix Productions returns to the Count Basie Theatre this weekend, it’ll be wrapping and capping one of its most successful seasons ever, with a song-and-dance fest that “we’ve been wanting to do for years” — Berlin’s ‘White Christmas.’
Based on the 1954 movie of the same name with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, the relatively recent stage adaptation has become a hot property with theater companies across the country — thanks in large part to a score of time-tested Berlin songbook standards.
Commandeering the Basie boards for six performances beginning this Friday, November 15, the show also represents a surprisingly rare foray into holiday-themed fare for the pholx at Phoenix, who look forward to the coming new year with an ambitious production-number of a project.