It’s been described as “a love letter to women of color,” one that “reveals heartfelt emotions about intimacy, sexual responsibility and overcoming adversity.” Credited to author and producer Yetta Young — but acknowledged by her as a collaborative effort that features the input of some dozen different women — the intimate theatrical experience entitled Butterfly Confessions has spread its wings and its message to communities from coast to coast, including audiences right here in Red Bank who enjoyed it for the first time in the spring of 2016.
The upstairs “Studio 99” rehearsal facility at the Count Basie Theatre is the venue for the Dunbar Repertory production of BUTTERFLY CONFESSIONS, going up this Friday for the first show of a two-weekend stand.
Seasoned explorers of Red Bank’s cultural scene know that the second story often plays host to a whole other story — for proof, take it upstairs to any of the art opening events at Salon Concrete or McKay Imaging — or dig if you will such special events as tomorrow night’s Red Bank Blooms fashion show upside Teak.
When it’s not bumper-to-bumper busy booking some of the biggest names in show business on its storied stage, the Count Basie Theatre can be found hosting activities that can extend from the street-level Carlton Lounge and back-scenes patio, to the “Studio 99” rehearsal rooms on the landmark building’s second floor. It’s there that one of the area’s best-kept-secret theatrical companies has found a home for many of its projects — and there that Dunbar Repertory Company will present the play Butterfly Confessions for a two-weekend engagement that begins this Friday, April 21.
Jazz chanteuse Champian Fulton (above) is among the guest speakers — while Ella Fitzgerald and “Kid from Red Bank” Count Basie are among the topics — when the annual Talkin’ Jazz series returns Monday.
“If you can play — if you can show me something, whoever you are — I’m listening,” said Red Bank-based jazz maven Joe “Mooche” Muccioli in these paperless pages several years back. It was a statement that underscored the democratic attributes of jazz music — and at the same time, it served to drive home the point that a true jazz player has got to go beyond talking that talk, and walk that walk.
During the National Jazz Appreciation Month of April, however, it’s also about talking the talk — particularly when the spoken word serves to illuminate the music that’s been called America’s one truly homegrown art form.
Amidst its $20 million dollar expansion and improvement plan, the Count Basie Theatre has announced the merging of its Board of Trustees and Directors and the hiring of a new Vice President of Development to join the newly appointed executive leadership team.
As a recognized 501(c)(3) organization, the Count Basie Theatre once operated under the guidance of two governing boards — one overseeing theater operations, and the other the non-profit’s fundraising efforts. With a single Executive Committee under the leadership of Chairman Tom Widener and Count Basie Theatre president and CEO Adam Philipson, the work to merge the boards into one, diverse and powerful force behind the theatre’s ambitious plans for the future have come to fruition.
“This is an auspicious, exciting moment for us at the Count Basie Theatre, said Board Chairman Tom Widener. “Merging the boards creates cohesion, clarity and focus at an important time in our history.”
A cast of some 45 actors, singers, dancers and community members brings the theatrical gospel celebration BLACK NATIVITY back to the Count Basie Theatre this Sunday, December 27, in the return of a local tradition from Dunbar Repertory Company. (Photo courtesy Richard Krauss)
When it was first presented to Broadway audiences back in 1961, the theatrical experience known as Black Nativity was little more than a 40-page outline of a script on paper; an adaptation of the Gospel of St. Luke that was infused with the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes. In their fully fleshed form, however, the words came to life through a mix of traditional spirituals like “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” African American dance forms, colorful costumes, and an improvisatory element that encourages local clergy, schoolchildren and public officials to get into the act everywhere that Nativity has become the stuff of tradition, from Savannah, GA to Seattle, WA and numerous points between.
Beginning about the turn of the new millennium, Black Nativity became the stuff of Monmouth County tradition, when Darrell Lawrence Willis Sr. first presented its “powerful message of joy, hope, victory and liberation” at Manasquan’s landmark Algonquin Theatre, in a staging by Dunbar Repertory Company, the producer-director’s grassroots troupe dedicated to presenting the works of African American playwrights. Re-emerging at the Count Basie Theatre in 2010 (where Willis, a now-retired faculty member at Brookdale Community College, has served as a board member for ten years), the production quickly staked out a place as a year-end centerpiece of community life for performing artists and church congregations from all around Monmouth. Following a one-year hiatus, Black Nativity returns to the Basie stage this Sunday afternoon, December 27, for its fifth Red Bank appearance — a re-energized and highly anticipated extension of the Yueltide season, about which Willis found time to chat with redbankgreen.
Observers of the Red Bank arts scene could tell you that some of the most interesting stuff often happens one flight above street level (think of a place like McKay Imaging Gallery) — and the same notion applies to the Count Basie Theatre, where the landmark building’s second-floor “Studio 99” rehearsal space represents a hidden-in-plain-sight venue for events that are intimately scaled in relation to the venerable venue’s famous auditorium.
It’s a place that’s hosted past offerings from Dunbar Repertory Company, the African American community stage troupe founded by Brookdale Community College faculty member (and participant on the Basie board) Darrell Lawrence Willis Sr. This Sunday, Studio 99 presents the first of three “professional staged reading” theatrical presentations from the Dunbar fold in spring 2015.
The Dunbar Repertory production of BLACK NATIVITY returns to the Count Basie Theatre on Friday.
In an interview that appeared here a little over a year ago, Brookdale Community College faculty member Darrell Lawrence Willis Sr. told the redbankgreen Drama Desk that “no matter what I’ve been working on, whether it was the works of August Wilson or the Juneteenth festival, the number one thing that people ask me about is Black Nativity.”
“They’d tell me ‘the show has been such a blessing to us,’ and they all want to know when we’re doing it again.”
On December 30, 2010 following a hiatus of some six years the stage director and founder of Monmouth County based Dunbar Repertory Company revived his popular production of the theatrical presentation that combines the Gospel of St. Luke with the poetry of the late Langston Hughes and a custom-collected set of folk spirituals and hymns, bringing it to the boards of the Count Basie Theatre for the first time.
It’s a holiday offering that was designed to take its place among the scores of concerts, plays, ballets and benefits that have staked a traditional spot on the Count’s schedule each December even if, for a moment there, it looked to be a Christmas miracle that was in danger of not coming to pass.
Lorraine Stone is in the cast, and Darrell Lawrence Willis Sr. directs, as BLACK NATIVITY comes to the Count Basie stage for the first time on December 30.
By TOM CHESEK
If you’ve been in (or anywhere near) the Count Basie Theatre recently, you probably noticed that the venerable venue is a house of traditions throughout the holiday season a host harbor for Christmas concerts, New Year’s blasts, allstar benefits, Nutcrackers and Scrooges all of them staples of local life.
Beginning Thursday, December 30, the Count’s crib opens its curtain for the first time on a homegrown edition of a stage tradition that’s become the centerpiece of community Christmas celebrations, from Boston to Seattle and lots of big-league towns between.
First produced on Broadway in 1961, Black Nativity combines the Gospel of St. Luke with the poetry of the late Langston Hughes and a set of folk spirituals and hymns for a theatrical experience that’s often custom-tailored to every town it appears in. It’s the kind of presentation in which the stage swells with local children; in which hometown preachers play a big part and the Three Wise Men are often cast from the ranks of neighborhood civic and business leaders.
For several seasons, the play staked a Shore area home at Manasquan’s Algonquin Arts Theatre, in a production by producer-director Darrell Lawrence Willis Sr. and his Dunbar Repertory Company. A Brookdale Community College faculty member and a participant on the Basie’s board, Willis has kept busy in recent years with such projects as the annual Juneteenth Urban Arts Festival in Long Branch and winter’s upcoming staging of A Raisin in the Sun at BCC.
The redbankgreen Drama Desk caught up with the director as he found “room at the inn” for a re-established Yuletide tradition, here in Red Bank.