By TOM CHESEK
Well, that was certainly the summer that was: the season of beach badges, clam shooters and Met meltdowns is barely a week old, but over at the Count Basie Theatre it’s a time to shut off the lights.
Or all but one light, that is. The Basie adheres to the grand theatrical tradition of leaving on a ‘ghost light’ a lone, bare bulb set in the center of the stage to ward off ghosts. And despite the disruption of the next four months, the tradition will continue, a Basie spokeswoman tells redbankgreen.
The landmark Red Bank auditorium isn’t going anywhere, of course simply having a little work done, a procedure to stay taut and competitive with other newer, spiffier entertainment venues on the regional circuit.
But even though the boards of the legendary stage may lack for famous names over the next four months, the circa-1926 house will be one of the busiest places in town, as an army of artisans and tradespeople endeavor to bring the former Carlton Theatre up to its full potential, both in terms of decor and tech capabilities.
Peeling plaster and paint, as seen around the wall sconce at left, will be replaced. A sample of the renovation highlighting an original organ loft grille has been on display in the theater for several years.
It’s a much-delayed, $8 million project that’s been made possible in large part by the recent Bruce Springsteen fundraiser show, which grossed $3 million for this round of renovations.
It’s also the latest phase in an extended plan that’s already resulted in a new marquee, tech booth and computer network (1995-2001), as well as a full complement of “historically accurate” theater seats, carpeting and lighting fixtures (2004) and a new roof.
The most noticeable improvement on the summer’s to-do list is surely the long-awaited completion of the detailed paint job that will bring out the hidden charms beneath the drably whitewashed walls of the auditorium. A lobby expansion project will add restroom facilities and concession counters and not so immediately evident (but still crucial) are a round of enhancements to the lighting, sound and rigging equipment.
Audiences should be getting their first gawk at the results in plenty of time for the busy holiday season at year’s end; in the meantime, says marketing director Diana St. John, a “Basie cam” is being installed to give the curious a webside seat on the action. redbankgreen will give out the URL as soon as it’s available.
For the theater’s staff, the time between Monday’s planned ceremonial groundbreaking and the return to live shows will be business as usual upstairs in the executive offices, with event bookings continuing unabated.
“We were looking forward to some downtime, but we’ll be quite busy with planning the upcoming events and documenting the renovation,” says St. John.
Basie CEO Numa Saisselin will also be posting regular progress reports on his blog.