RED BANK: ‘BASIES’ BUZZ IN THE AIR TONIGHT

The Red Bank Regional production of Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ has garnered seven nominations in the Basie Awards for excellence in local high school theater, as the 12th annual ceremony rolls out the red carpet tonight.

In a pop-culture landscape that’s littered with the sharp metal edges of way too many awards and honors, you could make the case that this is the only trophyfest that matters — the kind that recognizes, nurtures and inspires the next generation of acting, singing, dancing and technical talent.

When the 12th annual Basie Awards ceremony takes the famous stage of the Count Basie Theatre tonight, May 24, students and faculty from nearly 20 public, private and parochial high schools in Monmouth County — seven of them located here within the Greater Red Bank Green — will be vying for a chance to deliver their acceptance speech, in a field that, in the words of Basie education director Yvonne Lamb Scudiery, continues “to set the bar higher and higher, resulting in outstanding professional quality work…and certainly making the job or our evaluation team a very difficult yet gratifying one.”

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RED BANK: A BIT OF TOMS RIVER AT TWO RIVER

Alexis Kozak (horiz) COLORPlaywright and Middletown High School South faculty member Alexis Kozak premieres his original script, “Toms River Anthology,” at the Count Basie Theatre’s new Performing Arts Academy on June 12.

As Alexis Kozak explains things, it’s “a meditation on death in New Jersey,” one that “toys with the question of why we pass through Toms River, but why Toms River won’t just g–damn die?!”

Beginning on Friday, June 12 and continuing for three performances over the weekend, Kozak will host the world premiere of his original play Toms River Anthologynot in Toms River but in the new Red Bank headquarters of the Count Basie Theatre’s Performing Arts Academy (the onetime WaWa store at 111 Monmouth Street that until very recently served as rehearsal space for the Phoenix Productions stage troupe).

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RED BANK AREA SCHOOLS DOMINATE BASIES

BasiesStudent performers from over a dozen area schools are the stars of the show at Wednesday’s tenth annual Basie Awards.

Broadway has its well-established Tonys; Off Broadway its Obies — and every other branch of show business its various Grammys, Emmys, and Academys. And when the 10th annual Basie Awards roll out the red carpet in front of the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank Wednesday night they’ll be doing what they’ve done so well: honoring tomorrow’s talents in the performing arts, both on stage and behind the scenes.

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MIDDLETOWN: HOW TO MAKE A ‘DIAMOND’

MHSS playElias Kotsis and Jessica Fisher (center) are featured in the cast of Middletown High School South’s THE DIAMOND AS BIG AS THE RITZ, director Alexis Kozak’s own adaptation of the story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

If comedy is as hard as they say it is, then satire (which the conventional wisdom says “is what closes on Saturday night”) is even harder — and a diamond, whether in the rough or on the résumé, is the hardest thing known to mankind.

When Middletown High School South theater arts teacher Alexis Kozak got down to selecting the school’s fall dramatic production for the 2014-2015 academic year, he bypassed the tried-and-true tropes of the community-stage canon — gambling in favor of a never-before-presented script, by a largely unknown scribe: Alexis Kozak.

With a Masters degree in playwriting — and a portfolio of original work that includes the full-length Zero Days Since the Last Miracle (produced last year by The Black Box, the Asbury Park-based arts collective on whose board he sits) — Kozak is hardly a dilettante dabbler. And his script, The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, comes backed by the full faith and credit of one of the great American authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Set in 1920s Montana, this adaptation of Fitzgerald’s “Jazz Age” novella follows innocent prep-school boy John T. Unger (Elias Kotsis) as he accompanies his ultra-rich friend Percy Washington home for the summer to his family chateau — where he discovers that the source of the family’s wealth is a secret worth dying for.

“I did see this as an opportunity to beat Broadway to the punch,” says Kozak about Diamond, which has just come into the public domain, (and is also being adapted as a Broadway musical, purportedly scheduled for opening later this year). “I have always loved Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby…so, in some ways, this is a love letter to him and his work.”

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RFH, M’TOWN SOUTH WIN BIG AT BASIES

3muskThe Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School staging of THE THREE MUSKETEERS won Outstanding Drama honors at the ninth annual Basie Awards, Wednesday night.

Productions of Evita by Middletown High School South and The Three Musketeers by Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School took top honors at Wednesday evening’s Basie Awards, the ninth annual installment of the Count Basie Theatre’s celebration and recognition of excellence and achievement in high school theatre.

Both Evita and The Three Musketeers nabbed Outstanding Direction and Outstanding Production trophies for their respective categories – Evita for musicals and The Three Musketeers for drama. Combined, the productions took home an astounding ten Basies, including The Three Muskeeters’ Christopher Brodsky for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama, Christopher Tuttle for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama and the trophy for Outstanding Lighting Design in a Drama.

In addition to earning hardware for overall production and direction, Evita also earned awards for Outstanding Choreography (Jacqui Mazza) and Outstanding Chorus in a Musical.

The Basies also bestowed its Lifetime Achievement Award to Joan and Robert Rechnitz, who founded the renowned Two River Theater Company two decades ago.

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AND THE BASIE GOES TO…

Crew members from the Count Basie Theatre’s Performing Arts Academy prepare the set for Wednesday night’s seventh annual Basie Awards show.

To all those who believe that there are simply Too Many Award Shows — well, we certainly won’t argue the point.

That said, when the red carpet rolls and the paparazzi bulbs pop this Wednesday evening on Monmouth Street in Red Bank, it may just herald the only trophyfest that matters — possibly even a ground-floor investment in the next generation of acting, singing, dancing talent on the greater Green.

The Basie Awards extravaganza that goes up Wednesday night at the Count Basie Theatre will mark the seventh annual edition of the program that recognizes excellence in drama and musical productions among Monmouth County high schools. It’s an event that’s boasted such guest hosts and presenters as E Street busker Max Weinberg and Tony nominee Lou Liberatore, as well as SNL veterans Joe Piscopo and Siobhan Fallon Hogan. But it’s really all about the kids, of course — and when the Basie envelopes are fumbled open on the landmark stage, a collection of young performers from 19 local high schools (including five in the Red Bank area) will be among those hoping that this can be the first milestone item in a glittering trophy case.

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