By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank’s Vaudeville-era Count Basie Theatre is in for a massive, $20 milion expansion that will turn it into a “creative campus” dedicated to the performing arts in coming years, officials said Monday.
Incorporating adjoining properties acquired in recent years, theater officials plan to “move toward our longtime vision of an entire city block dedicated to the performing arts,” Tom Widener, chairman of the theater’s board of trustees, said in an announcement released Monday morning.
Theatre officials released some details of the plan, and a fundraising strategy to accomplish it, in advance of a press event scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at the theater.
Expected to be present are musician/actor Steven Van Zandt, a Middletown native who’s played guitar with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for four decades, and his wife, Maureen Van Zandt. They’ll serve as honorary co-chairs of a fundraising effort that has already attracted a $1 million pledge from the Mulheren family of Rumson, the theater’s announcement said.
Plans include “a new, glass-walled lobby, a modern upgrade for the theatre’s backstage area, a second, multi-use venue for up and coming artists, and new space for area arts nonprofits, partner programs, and the theatre’s ever-growing Performing Arts Academy.”
Construction isn’t expected to begin anytime soon, said Basie CEO and president Adam Philipson.
“This will be a conservative project – we won’t spend money until it has been raised,” he said in a news release. “That said, we’re optimistic that we can raise the money and have shovels in the ground within three to four years.”
“Several years ago, we made a decision to become a regional center for the performing arts, knowing that when the time was right, we could build a campus to contain that energy,” Widener said. “That time is now.”
The Basie opened in 1926 as the Carlton Theatre and, after a string of name changes over the decades, was rechristened in 1984 in honor of William “Count” Basie, the jazz composer and bandleader who was born in Red Bank 80 years earlier.
Here’s a prepared statement issued by the Van Zandts Monday morning:
We are the only country in the world that considers art a luxury. Everybody else (being around a lot longer) understands art to be an essential part of the quality of life.
A community’s art is a big part of its identity, and the degree by which it supports its arts is part of how it is measured.
The Count Basie Theater, called the Carlton Theater back in the day, has a special place in our lives.
Maureen spent most of her childhood summers at the Jersey shore, where she frequented the theater seeing countless shows, and later went on to dance in The Nutcracker on the Basie stage.
It was my local theater growing up. It’s where I saw A Hard Day’s Night and watched the young girls run down the aisles compelled by their uncontrollable passion to attempt to kiss the Beatles!
I can still remember the amazingly rich colors flowing off the screen in Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor, being quite a revelation compared to our black and white TVs.
Looking back now it wasn’t very local – having to come all the way from Wilson Avenue in New Monmouth – but Red Bank was our closest “big town.” Just up the street at Jack’s Music is where I bought my first guitar.
We hope to see the Count Basie Theatre expand into a regional center for the performing arts, which every community needs. The arts remain the first and best opportunity for communication between the races, genders, religions, and age groups. As the chaos and strife increases in the world, it is the one consistent inspirational and motivational sanctuary.
The Count Basie Theatre’s expansion into a true, regional center for the performing arts will be an example for other communities to follow, nationwide, and worldwide. Maureen and I are dedicated to doing everything possible to support it.