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.
Broadway veteran Ken Wasser delivers a selection from the musical RAGTIME, while Tom Martini orders a signature beverage that bears his name, during the gala fundraiser Grand Opening of the new Phoenix facility.
Situated on a 1.5 acre piece of property across the street from the Armory Ice Complex — and boasting dedicated parking space for 80 cars; a rarity indeed in Red Bank — the century-old building that most recently housed the Academy of Dance Arts (and that once upon a time served as a tobacco warehouse) represents a quantum step up from the Phoenix company’s previous home, a conveniently located but cramped former WaWa store at 111 Monmouth Street. The purchase of the outgrown Phoenix space by its next door neighbor the Count Basie Theatre — the landmark venue upon whose historic stage the Phoenix troupe regularly presents its “several cuts above the community norm” musical productions — was the catalyst that kickstarted the company’s acquisition of the Chestnut Street space. Standing before his guests inside the new building’s 1,500 square foot rehearsal and performance room, Phoenix co-founder and executive director Tom Martini paid particular thanks to Basie CEO Adam Philipson, as well as to Michael Simpson of Red Bank-based SOME Architects, to mortgage provider United Teletech of Tinton Falls, and to primary contractor Seaview Remodeling.
The speechmaking, however, took a back seat to the live entertainment, as dozens of veteran cast members from decades worth of Phoenix shows treated the crowd to a crash course in showtune standards from some 60 years of Broadway musical history.
In addition to some first-rate singing, attendees were treated to a sneak-peek look at an exciting new 11,000 square foot Phoenix Rehearsal Center that is still very much a work in progress. Boasting four furnaces, five bathrooms and a massive 2,000 square foot scenery shop (something the fledgling company sorely lacked during its first seasons at Lincroft’s Christian Brothers Academy in the 1980s), the building also features an in-house costume shop, a fully equipped office, a “hospitality court” with kitchen and vending machines, and on-site storage space for thousands of meticulously catalogued props and costumes, which the company regularly rents out to regional high schools.
Perhaps most interesting is that main rehearsal space, a room that could also double as a “black box” theater in the event that Phoenix seeks approval for such a feature from the borough in seasons to come. As Phoenix president Lindsay Wood noted in a statement, the new venue “would be able to provide the intimate setting” for “interesting, challenging works that would be lost in the Basie.”
The scenery shop and adjacent rehearsal studio were pressed into service during the May 8 event for displaying the many raffle items donated by area businesses and individual supporters. Raffled off at the end of the evening were dinner gift certificates, wine samplers, personal training sessions, sports memorabilia, and cast-signed posters from several Broadway shows (as well as Marvel’s latest Avengers blockbuster).
In addition to funding the continuing refurbishment of the building, proceeds from the evening helped maintain features like Camp Phoenix, a summer day camp performing arts program that begins its new session in July (with the aim of expanding into a year-round arts education program for kids, adults and seniors as of September). The 2015 Phoenix Productions season continues at the Count Basie with Mary Poppins (July 10-19), Evita (September 11-20), and Peter Pan (November 13-22). Call the Basie box office or go here to reserve tickets for any of those upcoming shows — and take it here for more information on Camp Phoenix, as well as donations, show sponsorships, volunteering, and additional support opportunities.