By JOHN T. WARD
It may always be best known to locals as ‘the Basie,’ but Red Bank’s oldest and most prominent entertainment venue is nothing if not prolific with monikers.
On Friday, yet another new one went up on the Monmouth Street marquee that bears the name of the town’s most famous son.
Welcome to the Hackensack Meridian Health Theatre at the Count Basie Center for the Performing Arts.
Some backstory: five months ago, theater officials introduced the name “Count Basie Center for the Performing Arts” to denote the blocklong “campus” of entertainment and educational facilities now being built on both flanks of the theater as part of a $26 million expansion.
That was little more than a year after the theatre rebranded its storied performance platform, which has hosted everyone from Cary Grant to Weird Al Yankovic, as the Asbury Park Press Stage, in exchange for undisclosed support.
Let’s not forget that the original motion-picture house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was dubbed the State Theater during its construction — that name is still visible in stone above the marquee — but opened in 1926 as the Carlton Theatre, and was rebranded yet again as the Monmouth Arts Center, the name given upon reopening after a three-year shutdown in the 1970s.
The venue was dedicated to the late borough resident and jazz legend William ‘Count’ Basie in 1984 and has been undergoing near-continuous rebirth and restoration over the past decade, a period in which sales soared to 250,000 tickets annually.
On Friday, theatre officials unveiled yet another retagging: the main theater is now the Hackensack Meridian Health Theatre, thanks to a partnership with the hospital chain that owns Red Bank-based Riverview Medical Center.
Theater CEO Adam Philipson told a clutch of government officials, board members and other onlookers that the deal “formalized” an association of many years between two “strong, supportive neighbors.”
To be clear, theater CEO Adam Philipson told redbankgreen, the new name applies only to the original performance space, while its stage remains the Asbury Park Press Stage and the overall complex is still the Count Basie Center for the Performing Arts.
Signage for the new branding was installed above the electronic marquee Thursday without any news leaks or social media notice, another theater official told redbankgreen.
Terms of the partnership were not released. The hospital’s acquisition of naming rights, Philipson told redbabankgreen, “is an investment in helping us blow this out into a mini-Lincoln Center. There will be all kinds of things happening here, some of which has not yet been planned.”
Meantime, the Basie name is locked in, Philipson said. Under a 2016 agreement with the trust that controls the Basie estate, the theater committed to retain “Count Basie” in its name for 50 more years, with five 10-year extensions.
“We will never lose that,” he said.