A SPICY, SAVORY & SPECTACULAR SELLOUT

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Faces, fashions and flavors from around the world were on display last Saturday night at the Red Bank Primary School for the annual International Night, and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.

‘HS MUSICAL’ PHENOM HITS BASIE STAGE

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

First came the Disney Channel movie ‘High School Musical‘ in January, 2006.

Then the video and the soundtrack broke sales records, giving rise to a concert tour and an ice show. ‘High School Musical 2,’ the cable sequel, is coming out in August. There’s talk of Broadway. And though critical response has been lukewarm, ‘High School Musical’ is now practically an industry.

When Red Bank’s Phoenix Productions announced auditions for ‘High School Musical,’ 306 kids auditioned for 48 parts, says assistant executive director Elaine Eltringham. Running this weekend only at the Count Basie Theatre, the four-performance run is nearly sold out, with only balcony seats remaining.

Clearly, some people can’t get enough of ‘High School Musical.’

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EIGHT-BAR BLUES: FESTIVAL SHRINKS TO FIT

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The Red Bank Jazz & Blues Festival might be forgiven for having one monster case of the blues. In recent years, it’s been battered financially and encountered its fair share of literally stormy weather.

Yet the people who pull it together soldier on, this year presenting what corporate types might call a “rightsized” 21st annual edition of a free event that manages to draw music, food and crafts lovers by the tens of thousands, when the weather cooperates.

And almost as if reaching for a good-luck charm, the festival kicks off tonight amid forecasts of iffy weather with local favorite Billy Hector. The firey blues guitarist reprises a headlining role of a few years back that drew the biggest opening-night crowd in the event’s history.

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A SECOND LIFE AT THE INTERNET CAFÉ

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI
Joe Cullity doesn’t like to make a big deal out of his hip injury, and speaks reluctantly about the day he got it — September 11, 2001.

“I was lucky I was late for work,” he says. “I lost a lot of my friends that day.”

A software designer for the New York Mercantile Exchange, Cullity was inside Tower One, waiting at the elevator bank to go up to Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond trading firm, when the first plane hit the building.

“I walked to the back and saw all this debris coming down and flames and people running like hell,” he recalls. “Then I went to the front. Everybody was looking up at the building. I was standing under the door. After a few seconds I ran like a bastard across the street. At that time we thought it was an accident, an idiot controller. We had no idea.”

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LITTLE SILVER SPELLER TO REST A SPELL

Fourteen-year-old Little Silver resident Robert Hale, who made it to the fourth round of the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee before tripping up yesterday, is a bit relieved to now have that dictionary off his back, today’s Asbury Park Press reports.

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“I’m looking forward to not have a burden on my shoulders,” the Markham Place School eighth-grader told the paper, which sponsored his appearance. “I’m glad it’s over. It’s been stressful these past couple of months.”

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SUMMER REC SIGN-UPS DROP

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About 140 parents and children turned out at the Red Bank Middle School yesterday to sign up for a host of summer activities, from canoeing to soccer, at an event modeled after a trade show. The kids had a blast, throwing themselves into an unstructured soccer game outside.

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But David Prown, who organized the fourth annual event with Ann Cibbatoni, said the turnout was down 18 percent from last year. Participating organizations will meet Thursday night to discuss how to get the numbers back up next year.

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RUGGERS PLAY HARD, PARTY HARDER

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Late in the first half of Monmouth Rugby Football Club’s April 28 match against Bayonne at Thompson Park, a Monmouth player slowly righted himself from the turf after taking a hard tackle.

It was a while before he was unsteadily back on his feet. By the time he was, the action in the game had moved nearly to the opposite corner of the pitch. But this guy was going nowhere. Limping along the sideline, he signaled to Monmouth Coach Brian Muller that he needed to come out.

Muller, though, told the player he had no one to sub for him, and turned his attention back to the ongoing action. The player stayed in and shook off his injuries enough to carry on.

Just another day on the pitch in one of the world’s more primitive team sports, a game of tissue-scraping, bone-bruising beauty. And afterward, the ‘lads’ from both squads (you hear the word ‘lads’ a lot at a rugby match, often shouted with an Irish or English accent) went off for a therapeutic pint or two.

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S-L: FUN ‘UNDERPANTS’ NEED CLEANING

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Theater critic Peter Filichia of the Star-Ledger is more tickled by the Two River Theater Co.’s production of ‘The Underpants‘ than he is by some of the choices made by Steve Martin, who adapted the play from ‘Die Hosen,’ a 1910 German work by Carl Sternheim.

Some of Martin’s gaglines don’t hit the mark, Filichia says.

From the review:

No question that he’s cheapened the play by adding references to flatulence, urination, constipation and diarrhea. Some say the greatest sex organ is between the ears. If so, Martin didn’t always use his. What had been a souffle of a play is now a little heavier.

Still, Filichia praises the production as “fun-filled” (while mistakenly referring to the play’s director, Jackson Gay, as “he.”)

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FILM: WHAT THE CHURCH KNEW

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The Freedom Film Society, the organization that serves up the Red Bank International Film Fesitval each fall, will screen “Deliver Us From Evil” next Wednesday night at the Clearview Cinemas on White Street.

Directed by Amy Berg, “Deliver Us From Evil” is a documentary that explores the trail of emotional devastation left in the wake of Father Oliver O’Grady, the most notorious pedophile in the history of the modern Catholic Church.

With footage of both the mass predator — who confesses to his crimes without remorse or self-reflection — and his victims, the movie explores the question of what senior officials of the church knew of O’Grady’s pedophilia and the efforts they took to keep it under wraps.

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IN THE END, IT’S GOOD TO BE KING

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In “The Underpants,” Steve Martin’s adaptation of a 97-year-old German comedy that began previews last night at the Two River Theater, the character of the king is a looming but largely unseen presence.

The story concerns a woman who, in an effort to get a glimpse of the king passing by in a parade, experiences a brief undergarment malfunction in public, an event that — ahem — gives rise to multiple attempts at seduction.

It also mortifies the woman’s husband, Theo, a bureaucrat who worries that the king himself saw what others so indelibly saw. But though his portrait hangs on the stage throughout the play, the king doesn’t appear in person until near the end.

Red Bank’s own Joe Russo, a 61-year-old teacher in the performing arts program at Red Bank Regional, plays the king. redbankgreen was fortunate to get an audience with His Highness earlier this week as the company prepared for its monthlong run.

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BLOOD, GUTS & A CHRISTMAS STORY

By LINDA G. RASTELLI

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Veteran illustrator and author Elise Primavera, creator of the best-selling “Auntie Claus” picture book series, was giving readings in local schools when she hit upon some startling information about her market.

“I’d be doing a charcoal sketch, and they’d shout out, ‘Have a skeleton! ‘The wolfman!’ ‘A gravestone with RIP!’” says the Red Bank resident. “Then, ‘Put [in] an old tree, with a noose hanging off it, with a dead guy, and a hand coming out of the ground, dripping blood.’”

Primavera knew she was onto something.

“How can you ignore that?” she says. “This is what I keep hearing — ghosts, monsters, blood and guts.

“That’s what they want,” she says with a mischievous laugh. “There’s a need for this. Not enough nooses with dead guys.”

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STATE’S BEST DOWNTOWN, RIGHT HERE

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It’s turning into a break-out-the-Champagne kind of week for downtown Red Bank.

First came news last week that Tiffany & Co plans to open one of its high-end emporiums on Broad Street.

Now there’s a poll released Monday by Monmouth University and New Jersey Monthly magazine that finds Red Bank is the ‘best downtown’ in Central Jersey.

The poll of 801 adults found that six percent considered Red Bank the best downtown in the state, tied with Newark. In the central swath of the state, Red Bank won the ‘best’ designation from 28 percent of respondents, widely outpolling Princeton, New Brunswick and six other towns.

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MARQUEE MAN

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Andrew Malecki is kind of a hard case for high school guidance counselors and anathema to parents struggling to convince their kids of the value of a college education.

Smart enough to do well in most of the subjects thrown his way, Malecki’s someone who badmouthed high school as an obstacle to his real education and says, in categorical terms, that college is an utter waste of time and money. For himself, he emphasizes — though his critique is broad-brush.

He’s verbally and artistically gifted, unshakably confident, and — less than a year after graduating from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School — doing exactly the kind of cool stuff he dreamed he’d be doing ever since he decided, mid-sophomore year, that no way was college in the cards for him.

Circumstance may someday prove, to others, that Malecki made the right choice in deciding to pursue a career in filmmaking right out of high school. It could even turn out that the teachers who knew him best at R-FH and tried to dynamite him off his chosen path grudgingly agree.

For now, though, his alma mater is more likely to hold a “Bong Hits for Jesus” rally than point to Malecki as a role model.

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WHERE HAVE I SEEN THIS?

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For the first ‘Where’ of Spring 2007, we present what could be the final snow scene for the next nine or ten months. Yes, we know how broken up you are about this. Us, too.

But the cold hasn’t kept you indoors so much that you don’t know where this shot was taken. Are we right? Email us your ‘Where’ answers, please.

Now, turning to last week’s photo, which obviously showed a cityscape reflected by glass doors…

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‘TRUE WEST’ GETS LEDGER BOOST

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In today’s Star-Ledger, theatre critic Peter Filichia is big on the Two River Theater Co.’s staging of ‘True West,’ the Sam Shepard classic that opened last week at the Bridge Avenue venue.

“There’s plenty of gas in the tank that director Robert M. Rechnitz has filled to the brim,” Filichia puns, after noting that the production features lots of burps from the two beer-guzzling leads.

Those characters, brothers named Austin and Lee, are played by Wayne Maugans and Rob Sedgwick, whom Filichia says are “accomplished” in the roles.

Speaking of the physicality of the play, in which the two men tussle vigorously, Filichia says, “Audiences looking for something atypical will be swept along by the sheer force.”

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RED BANK: WORKING UP A SWEAT

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Chuck Lambert’’s day job is not exactly the kind of gritty, back-breaking slog typically associated with the blues: he’’s a “membership services associate” at Red Bank’’s Community YMCA. That’s right, he’’s the guy who’’ll give you the orientation tour, set you up with access to the Cybex machines or heated indoor pool, and do it all with purring, irresistible charm.

But Lambert has also had glimpses of “the seamier side of what the world can show you,” he says, —and he’s not just talking about the men’’s locker room at peak occupancy. For starters, some of the musicians Lambert has played with have been run over by the music biz, or drugs, or just plain bad luck, without having any sort of safety net for themselves or their families. “Music— — the blues in particular— — has its pitfalls,” he says over tonic water at the Downtown Café. “Next thing you know, they’re having a benefit concert for you.”

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