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.
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.
Those in the know count the upstairs rehearsal room as another cool space at the Basie. Below, Lorraine “The Wisdomkeeper” Stone. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
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.
Dunbar Repertory Company presents Gail Wynn Huland El’s “dark comedy” GREEN HONEY LOVE in the Count Basie Theatre’s second-floor rehearsal space beginning tonight.
By TOM CHESEK
In a cubby of culture that’s long been home to some best kept secrets of local life, most interesting things have happened not so much under our collective noses, but just one flight of stairs over street level. We’re thinking here of McKay Imaging Gallery; the makeshift comedy club at the Dub; and Gerda Liebman’s Gallery 135 inside Monmouth Street’s Red Bank Community Church.
Beginning this Friday, August 17, and continuing for eleven more performances through September 2, the Monmouth County-based community stage troupe Dunbar Repertory Company returns with a new offering at the Count Basie Theatre not the ornate auditorium of the venerable venue, but the second-story rehearsal space that’s often used for the educational programs of the Basie’s Performing Arts Academy.
Produced by Brookdale Community College faculty member (and participant on the Basie board) Darrell Lawrence Willis Sr., the play Green Honey Lovecomes to local audiences courtesy of the company that’s brought the annual Black Nativity stage show to the Count’s crib in the Christmas season. Here at the tail end of summertime’s dog days, the Dunbar team switches gears, from reverently joyful to raucously joke-filled.
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.