AND JUST A HINT OF SULFUR…

Kabooming_irThe 2007 closing blasts, that is.

Brace yourselves for a bit of window-rattling pyrotechnics over the Navesink tonight.

Better yet, leave the sofa and television behind for a couple of hours and see for yourself as the night sky blooms in crackling colors.

In case you haven’t heard, tonight’s the annual KaBoom Fireworks on the Navesink fundraiser, held at the Monmouth Boat Club.

The goal is to offset as much of the $175,000 annual cost as possible. The July 3 spectacular, which typically draws 150,000 people into Red Bank, gets no public funding; it’s all paid for from donated funds.

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THE DUDE TIES THE ROOM TOGETHER

Dude2The real ‘Dude.’

By TOM CHESEK

Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s the Dude.
Sam Elliott as “The Stranger” in The Big Lebowski

When the filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen scooped up an armful of Oscars last February, many of us imagined that the golden statuettes were being awarded not to No Country for Old Men, but in winking recognition of one of the century’s strangest cultural phenomena — a little picture called The Big Lebowski.

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Blessed with a savvy, salty script by the Coens and some vivid characters brought to life by a never-again cast of Hollywood mugs, the 1998 release — has it actually been 10 years? — grafts a Raymond Chandler sort of noir thriller plot onto a mellow-paced mood piece that substitutes an unemployed underachiever (Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski) for the hardboiled gumshoe. He’s an aging former activist whose only real passions are bowling some frames with his buds and sucking down White Russians.

An underachiever at the box office, Lebowski was one of those pictures that built its momentum in the lucrative cable/rental afterlife, becoming a touchstone to countless line-quoting aficionados (including a heavy armed-services contingent). It’s also spawned an annual Lebowski Fest that’s shone a public spotlight upon the man who inspired the protagonist, played by Jeff Bridges.

Well, meet Jeff “The Dude” Dowd. Really. He’ll be at the Count Basie Theatre this Saturday, when he’ll screen Lebowski, spin stories from his upcoming book The Dude Abides! Classic Tales and Rebel Rants, answer questions and host a cash-bar afterparty.

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PROG SPRING II: ASIA INVADES RED BANK

GeoffdownesWelcome back, my friends, to the song that never ends: Geoff Downes of Asia.

By TOM CHESEK

As part of a loose nationwide “underground railroad” of mid-sized auditoriums, theme-park arenas and summer-stage fairgrounds, the Count Basie Theatre continues to play a vital role in connecting the music of “a certain era” to audiences of “a certain age.”

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It’s not nostalgia, it’s now-stalgia — and it carries the value-added attraction of showing us that the now be-wattled warriors of album-rock radio can still lead active and productive lives, even getting $100 a ticket — provided they observe that earlybird 8p curtain time.

It’s a successful policy that continues this Wednesday night with a Red Bank reprise by those synth-shiny hitmakers of the early ’80s, Asia — or, more to the point, All Four Original Members of Asia.

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O’REE-LEASE PARTY AT THE DOWNTOWN

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By TOM CHESEK

The last time redbankgreen looked in on Matt O’Ree, the Jersey Shore bluesical legend was feeling downright Reegal — understandable, given that he had just been officially crowned the Guitarmageddon King of the Blues, by decree of a King named BB.

Presented on the stage of Chicago’s House of Blues, the June 2006 award was the climax to a showdown that saw O’Ree outblast a field of more than 4,000 aspiring axe-meisters and walk away with the shock-awed respect of the judges (a distinguished panel that also included John Mayer and Cheap Trick‘s Rick Neilsen). He drove off with prizes that included a new car, a stack of endorsement deals and a “year’s supply” of energy drink (probably more like two weeks, when you consider the lifestyle of an in-demand guitarslinger).

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While there’s no denying that it’s good to be the king, no bluesman ever stayed on top of his game by ignoring the call of the open road. So it figures that the favorite son of Holmdel — a multiple Azzie award winner who’s shared stages with such mindblowing note-benders as Buddy Guy, Robin Trower and Dickey Betts — has continued to ply his trade out on that endlessly seductive ribbon of asphalt.

The road finds the Matt O’Ree Band making major concert appearances tonight and tomorow in Santiago, Chile, then hightailing it back to Red Bank for a long-awaited return to the completely refurbished Downtown club this Saturday, April 12. It’s a triumphal homecoming of sorts for the 36-year old performer, as well as a DVD/CD release Party that could only be characterized as an O’Reely Big Show.

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…TELL ‘EM JOE SENT YA

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By TOM CHESEK

Ask the oRBit desk here at redbankgreen and we’ll tell you that jazz — real jazz — has been giving us all the high-hat for far too long.

Once upon a tick in time, the sounds now known as “America’s classical music” were something you’d encounter in some smoky, sub-sidewalk level speakeasy — the kind of place you’d skulk up to with your coat-collar pulled up high and hat-brim pushed down low. Entreé meant laying a secret knock upon the door and telling the eyeball behind the peephole, “Joe sent me.”

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Nowadays it’s the stuff of museum fundraisers and PBS pledge drives; of twelve-disc boxsets and Ken Burns freeze-frames; too much Jazz at Lincoln Center and not enough Johnny’s Jazz Market. Strictly for squares — like, dullsville.

So you could color us beat when we came across an e-mail message informing us that, first of all, there is such a thing as a National Jazz Month, and secondly, there will be a series of weekly Jazz Lovers’ Lectures presented every Sunday during that month of April in Red Bank.

When we pinned the word “lecture,” it set off alarms in our head like Coleman Hawkins clamming on a case of 5-Hour Energy Shot. But then imagine our pleasant surprise when we discovered that these free Talkin’ Jazz offerings were being hosted at a location that, for reasons way too stultifyingly baroque to go into here, must remain undisclosed. A location that could only be revealed by reserving seating with a cat by the name of Joe.

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BLONDIE TO ROCK THE BASIE

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Maybe you’ve seen her, or someone you’re pretty sure was her, at the Antiques Center, a vaguely Garbo-esque figure picking among the lamps and jewelry.

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Or perhaps you’ve spotted her at the Red Bank post office; that had to have been her buying stamps at the counter, right?

One thing’s certain: you didn‘t see her at CBGB back in ’78, even though you’ve been telling people you did for so long that you’ve come to believe it.

Well, now, you can see River Plaza’s own Debbie Harry and her band, Blondie, right here on her home turf and yours. And there’ll be no doubting your eyes and ears.

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CRITICS LAUD TRTC’S BRITTLE ‘MENAGERIE’

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The first reviews the Two River Theater Co.’s new production of “The Glass Menagerie” are in, and they’re raves.

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Theater critic Peter Filichia of the Star-Ledger
writes that director (and TRTC founder) Bob Rechnitz’s take on the Tennessee Williams classic “turns out to be as refreshing as the lemonade that Amanda Wingfield loves to serve.”

Amanda, of course, is the mother to the adult children Tom and Laura, and the three of them clash over their thwarted dreams in a Depression-era St. Louis tenement. Filichia writes that TRTC veteran Maureen Silliman plays Amanda the charmer “brilliantly.”

What’s most astonishing about Silliman is that she makes an audience believe that she’s improvising each line, and not that she’s carefully learned dialogue. Spontaneous performances such as these are rare and must be cherished.

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UP TO THE ELBOWS IN JAZZ, BRUSH & MORE

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Another in redbankgreen‘s occasional series called “Done Good,” featuring upcoming volunteer and fundraising efforts. Scroll down for info on submitting notices.

TONIGHT: Jazz at the Red Bank Woman’s Club

Mike Barris, Jerry Topinka, Tom Bender and Jennifer Wright salute pre-war jazz greats as part of the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation‘s “Reckless Steamy Nights” concert series at the Woman’s Club of Red Bank.

The program includes signature tunes of Django Reinhardt, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith and Bunny Berigan, as well as many others. If you couldn’t make it to the show in the last two years, here’s another opportunity to be part of an enthralling tribute to the stars of early jazz and blues.

Music goes from 8-11p. A donation of $10 is suggested in support of scholarship programs sponsored by the Woman’s Club of Red Bank and the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation. Snacks will be provided.

TOMORROW: Fair Haven nature area clean-up

Work out the winter kinks in a community effort to maintain and enhance the micro-wilderness at Fair Haven Fields Nature Area. Work gloves and work shoes required; pruning shears come in handy. Work is not suitable for small children.

From 8:45 to 11a. Parking is along the United Methodist Church access road. Call Dick Fuller at 732.741.0874 for more details or info on weather cancellation.

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TUX TIME: CLASSICISTS CONVERGE ON BASIE

Classicalfaces2Appearing on the Basie stage this weekend are (clockwise from top left): MCC conductor Mark Shapiro; sopranos Sungji Kim and Christine Reber; MSO assistant conductor Lucian Rinando; bass Nathan Baer; tenor Daniel Molkentin; clarinetist/conductor Roy Gussman; and violist Dorothy Sobieski.

By TOM CHESEK

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Time to shake those swallowtail tux jackets and evening gloves out of storage; unbag those stoles and tiaras and opera glasses — we’re kicking it classical this weekend.

All right, dress codes aren’t what they used to be, at the symphony hall as at any other place. But it shouldn’t mean that our own homegrown performing arts entities aren’t worth getting dressed up for. If anything, we here in Monmouth are guilty of having taken for granted the fact that our once-rural county boasts an exceptional chorale and a truly first-rate semi-professional orchestra — a couple of innovative, creative organizations, packed with passionate and talented people.

And both, by some way-cool karmic astrology, are storming the stage of Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre this weekend.

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BLACK COMEDY, AND OTHER BASIE SELLOUTS

Lewisblack1Hold onto your lederhosen, Little Kraut: Lewis Black darkens the stage for two nights this week in the latest of a string of sold-out shows at the Count Basie Theatre.

By TOM CHESEK

You would think this was a sweet point in time to be Lewis Black.

The gravel-voiced gadfly — already a household name thanks to his “Back in Black” vignettes on The Daily Show — has much to hype this season. His new weekly TV show Lewis Black’s Root of All Evil just made its debut on Comedy Central. A forthcoming book, Me of Little Faith, is poised to blow the lid off this organized-religion thing. And he continues to sell out venues across the USA with his own Black-label blend of vein-popping vitriol.

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So why, then, is Lewis Black not smiling? Why does “the most indignant, exasperated man in America” continue to rant, rave and rail against the many real and/or imagined indignities, hypocrisies and stupidities of modern American life?

Because we wouldn’t have it any other way — and when the Yale-educated social activist slash leather-jacketed curmudgeon takes to the soapbox with his high-decibel, slightly Tourettes-inflected stand-up act, there’s no finer music.

Having consistently filled the house in recent years, Black and his longtime opening act John Bowman return to the boards of the Count Basie Theatre for not just one but two sold-out shows, tomorrow and Wednesday night. If past Basie gigs are any indicator, Black will tweak topics both global (wars on terror, prez-candidates in peril and public figures in spectacular freefall) and strictly local (both comics have been known to have some fun with the name of Red Bank’s landmark restaurant The Little Kraut) — with a salvo of bunker-busting F-bombs and all the surgical delicacy of a pair of explosive-charge bolt cutters.

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BRUCETIX: THE BASIE RESPONDS

Bruce_springsteenHimself.

In response to questions posted by a redbankrgreen reader earlier this week, management at Count Basie Theatre Foundation, which is organizing Bruce Springsteen’s solo acoustic show May 7, sent us the following this morning.

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About 1,000 seats are being auctioned off by the Red Bank venue at a minimum $1,000 each. The process started last night and continues until noon, April 2.

What seat locations are being set aside for Count Basie sponsors?
Tickets for sponsors are located in the center orchestra through row R and in the first rows of the loge.

What prices are Count Basie sponsors paying for tickets?
The prices for the sponsorship tickets range from $5,000 to $15,000 per seat.

What seat locations are being set aside for Count Basie staffers?
There are no seats set aside for Count Basie Theatre staff.

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RECHNITZ ON MEMORY AND ‘MENAGERIE’

Brechnitz

By TOM CHESEK

“I first saw this play when I was 16 years old. It’s what ruined my life!”

The speaker? Robert Rechnitz, retired educator, author and founder of Red Bank’s Two River Theater Company. The show in question? The Glass Menagerie, the classic “memory play” by Tennessee Williams that’s undergoing a major revival at the company’s eponymous playhouse on Bridge Avenue beginning next week.

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Memory, of course, can be a tricky thing, but for the 77-year-old Rechnitz, the vivid recollection of that 1946 touring production one-nighter in Denver was a “eureka” moment that’s stayed with him through his life.

It’s what set the young son of Pueblo, Colorado on a course toward a career in the theater — not as a matinee idol, but as a teacher, a writer, a director and, ultimately, a man who was able to stand before an opening night audience in 2005 and welcome them to an all new, custom-built performing arts auditorium named for his wife Joan and himself.

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UPTEMPO DOWNTOWN

Img_4338Img_4344Img_4332Img_4308The joint was jumping before sunset last night as the Downtown (née the Downtown Café) reopened following major renovations to the Red Bank nightspot. Click pix to enlarge.

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OWNER TAKING CHUBBY’S TO THE BANK

Img_4366Michael Gilson Jr., 7, gets a kiss from his father after the Chubby’s owner won zoning board approval to erect a new restaurant on the West Front Street site.

A plan to replace the seen-better-days Chubby’s Waterside Café on West Front Street with a combo restaurant and sports bar topped by two luxury apartments won unanimous approval from the Red Bank zoning board last night.

The thumbs-up came after Chubby’s owner Michael Gilson ponied up a parking plan under which his customers will be allowed use the Riverview Medical Center garage on East Front Street, which turns out to have up to 300 empty spaces most afternoons, nights and weekends.

He also secured parking permits for his employees, and promised to run a shuttle for customers.

The approval, though, came with a hefty price tag: $120,000 that Gilson will have to contribute to the borough parking fund, as per a parking deficiency ordinance.

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FOREVER SAY DYE

Img_3465Rob Dye outside Red, with the Downtown visible over his left shoulder.

By TOM CHESEK
If you’ve spent any time at all navigating the brackish channels of the Jersey Shore bar scene, chances are excellent that you’ve encountered Rob Dye in one of his several musical incarnations.

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It could have been a balmy Friday evening at a place like Off the Hook in Highlands, where the twosome of Dye and Melissa Chill laid down a languid soundtrack to your Island Chicken.

Or perhaps it was a breeze-kissed Saturday in the shade of Asbury Park’s Convention Hall, where Dye and his R&B combo The Extras rocked the thatches off the tiki bar with a little Motown mayhem.

Maybe, just maybe, you stopped for a pushcart hot dog in downtown Asbury and were lured inside The Saint by the wafting sounds of the Rob Dye Band, there to showcase a set of original songs.

If the Atlantic Highlands-based songwriter and guitarist had to be pegged to any particular time and place, however, it would have to be his near-legendary Sunday night residency at the former Downtown Café (now, simply the Downtown) on West Front Street. There, he emceed a series of impromptu “open jam” affairs in which anyone from accomplished veterans to amateur vagabonds could take the stage with Dye and an ever-morphing roster of side players.

In the process, they’d rip through an iPod’s worth of song possibilities and, more often than not, strike a happy medium between the fabled Upstage club and that well-lubricated office party you attended a couple of years back.

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DOWNTOWN RE-OPENS THURSDAY

DowntownThe Downtown Café as seen from outside Red, its sibling establishment, in late January.

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It’s official: nearly two years after shutting its doors for a wholesale makeover, the former Downtown Café plans to reopen this week as The Downtown.

In addition to filling a large void in Red Bank’s nightlife, the return marks a long-overdue revival of music for adults. In the 20-plus months that the Downtown was closed, the live-music scene near the intersection of Broad and Front Streets came to be dominated by all-ages shows at the Internet Cafe, which is now closed, and Chubby’s, whose owners are hoping to turn it into a sports bar/restaurant/reception hall.

Onstage for the Downtown’s official debut Thursday will be Brown, the supersmooth, high-energy soul band led by the club’s music director, Chris Masi.

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KIDS STAGE A COOL-SCHOOL COUP

CoolschoolCast members rehearse for next week’s Cool School Showcase event at the Count Basie Theatre.

By TOM CHESEK

In some respects, it’s not all that different from those good old school talent shows that generations have known and tolerated.

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Only in this case, many of the kids doing the singing, the dancing and the acting are skilled and budding pros who already have agents. And instead of an all-purpose room with folding aluminum chairs, the show goes up on the boards of one of the most famous entertainment stages on the East Coast; a Red Bank venue whose marquee groans these days with the names of such heavyweights as Wayne Newton, Lewis Black and a local talent by name of Springsteen.

Under the supervision of Executive Director Yvonne Lamb Scudiery, the Cool School program at the Count Basie Theatre has been offering an ambitious and highly regarded curriculum of classes and workshops for aspiring actors, musicians and dancers aged 4 to 16 years. The course selections, taught by a crew of seasoned pros, range from funtime-atmosphere weekend activities to some very serious seminars in professional development and audition technique.

Young performers from all over Monmouth and parts of Ocean County — as well as master-class students hailing from precincts in northern NJ and NYC — have taken some crucial first steps at the Count’s Cool School. The sessions, which begin each January, April, July and September, climax with the presentation of a quarterly Cool School Showcase, the Winter 2008 edition of which comes to the Basie stage on the evening of March 18.

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ACTORS’ HOUSE GETS TEPID APPROVAL

Img_4134_2Two River Theater founder Bob Rechnitz apparently can’t believe what he’s hearing as zoning board members detail their objections to his proposal.

Bob Rechnitz thought he had a can’t-miss idea.

Buy a single-family house on the West Side of Red Bank and rent it for a dollar a year to the nearby Two River Theater Company, which he founded, for use as temporary lodging for up to five visiting actors. Provide assurances about the character of the people who would stay at the house, and under what circumstances. Underscore its importance to the future of the $15 million theater in its drive to attract professional talent to its intimate stage, and to the cultural and economic vitality of Red Bank.

Through his attorney, Rechnitz repeatedly asserted that the boarding-house-like use would be in effect only as long as the house, at 81 Shrewsbury Avenue, was employed by the theater exactly as described.

Still, over the course of three hearings, Rechnitz’ proposal met resistance from the borough zoning board, from which he needed a variance.

While praising the theater itself, members of the board raised concerns about who would police the behavior of the actors; whether the property might be used a boarding house by a future owner; and whether it might someday end up owned by the non-profit theater itself, thus taking it off the tax rolls.

Last night, the plan won unanimous, if lukewarm, approval after a last minute stipulation by Rechnitz that he variance would only be in effect for two years. But the process appeared to have left the college-professor-turned-stage-director with a sour taste.

“I thought it was a slam-dunk,” he told redbankgreen afterward, clearly frustrated by the ordeal.

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SPRINGSTEEN TO PLAY BASIE BENEFIT MAY 7

Payme

Bruce Springsteen has scheduled a May 7 concert at the Count Basie Theatre as a fundraiser for the historic Red Bank venue and some of its programs.

The Monmouth Street theatre announced the rare headline appearance by the rocker this morning. While he’s a not-uncommon walk-on at events featuring other musicians, Springsteen has rarely booked the theater for his own shows, preferring large arenas and stadia.

He and his E Street Band last week resumed a world tour that began last year in support of their latest album, ‘Magic.’

Springsteen’s wife, recording artist Patti Scialfa, is on the Basie Foundation’s board of directors and serves as honorary chair of the capital campaign. Though she trouped along for the tour’s first leg, she wasn’t with the band when it hit the road again last week.

“We have three teenagers at home, so we live in constant fear of the house burning down,” he told an audience in Hartford, Conn. “It must be watched.”

Presumably, the couple will be able to either bring their kids to the Basie show or get somebody else to keep an eye on them and their home, which is in either Rumson or Colts Neck, depending on which source you use. They own estates in both towns.

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ON TRACK: TAKE THE A(RTS) TRAIN

Img_3857A likely stop on the tour: Emily Asher Neiman’s new gallery on Monmouth Street.

By TOM CHESEK

Here’s an intriguing idea: link Monmouth County’s three hottest cultural hubs by choo-choo train and see what happens.

Come late spring, the borough of Red Bank will join the cities of Asbury Park and Long Branch for a “weekend-long regional arts tour” that allows tourists and townies alike to “experience a tri-city festival of sights and sounds as they travel by train to enjoy all things artistic, from visual art showcases to theatrical performances, street performers, poetry readings, concerts and more.”

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Scheduled for the weekend of June 6 – 9, the Tri-City Arts Tour is not affiliated with the weekly TriCity News — though we’re counting on crusading publisher Dan Jacobson to humbly (of course) claim to have inspired it. Rather, it’s a loose-knit cavalcade of ticketed and free-of-charge events, presented by arts-oriented organizations in all three Monmouth County municipalities and standing as “a celebration of what each town has to offer,” in the words of the Monmouth County Arts Council’s Terri Thomas.

Throw in some rolling wine and cheese, and they may be onto something.

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“THRILL KILLERS,” IN SONG, AT BCC

ThrillmebBrian Metz (on floor) and Samuel Spare star as the infamous Leopold and Loeb in “Thrill Me,” the musical appearing this week at Brookdale’s Performing Arts Center.

By TOM CHESEK

At first blush, it seems something out of Max Bialystock‘s reject pile: A two-character tunefest, based on the true story of two well-born young men who scandalized the nation when they lured and murdered a 14-year old boy in a terrifying scenario of hidden desires and emotional manipulation.

This isn’t the climate-controlled Camelot of Lerner and Loewe It’s the shadowland of Leopold and Loeb.

One of the first major scandals to surf the mass media in the United States, the 1924 case of Illinois teens Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb was a tale of attractions; the pull that Leopold felt toward the intellectually brilliant and manipulative Loeb, and the dark impulses that drew them into an ever-escalating pursuit of the “perfect crime.”

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The case managed to attract the formidable Clarence Darrow as defense attorney, and continues to command the attention of eminent journalists, psychologists and dramatists. Among those inspired was playwright and composer Stephen Dolginoff, who created “Thrill Me: the Leopold and Loeb Story,” an acclaimed 2005 off-Broadway musical that comes to Brookdale Community College this week as the latest offering at the school’s Performing Arts Center.

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IN THE WORKS: ART FOR HEARTS, AND MORE

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Today, redbankgreen introduces ‘DONE GOOD,’ an occasional feature spotlighting individuals and organizations making a positive impact on their communities through volunteer efforts.

For info on submitting items for consideration, see below.

TONIGHT: RBR Hosts art auction

The third annual charity art auction entitled “Art for Heart Sake” will take place at Red Bank Regional High School from 6:30 to 8:30p. Proceeds will benefit the Amanda’s Easel Art Therapy Program, which aids children dealing with abuse and bereavement.

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DOWNTOWN 2.0: CASUALLY TUNEFUL

Img_3658After a total gut job, the Downtown plans to re-open in March as a double-wide.

By TOM CHESEK

“We’re taking a gamble, there’s no doubt about it,” says Downtown co-owner Danny Lynch, as he shows off the impressive results of a massive 18-month renovation.

The favorite Red Bank watering hole’s anticipated return in the coming weeks will happen not a moment too soon for patrons who were lost without it — and who are depending on the completely made-over Downtown to blast away some of the dead-bank doldrums that have crept into town of late.

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But for Lynch and his business partner Matt Wagman — the team behind the nearby Red Restaurant and Lounge — the bar and eatery represents a major investment in structural upgrades, improved facilities and people-pleasing features.

The two-level club and restaurant at 3 West Front Street is now fully twice its former size, having expanded into a neighboring building that had been vacant for as long as anyone could recall (a sign announcing the imminent arrival of a tile store sat in its window for years). And it drops onto the scene just as suddenly MIA businesses, hassles over code violations and bogus “closed for renovations” signs are proliferating in the vicinity of Front and Broad streets.

“It’s a tough market in Red Bank right now,” says Lynch while leading redbankgreen on a sneak-peek preview of what’s now a 9,800-square-foot, brick-and-wood comfort zone. “It’s really diverse in that you have your high-end places and lower-end mom and pop shops, but there’s no middle class.”

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