JACOB LANDAU: A FINE ARTIST’S CAP (AND KIRBY) CONNECTION

Sniper

The forgotten Quality Comics hero THE SNIPER stands as a Golden Age feather in the cap of Jacob “Jay” Landau, in the decades before he became a noted educator, illustrator and fine art printmaker. A retrospective of Landau’s war-themed work is on display at NJ’s Monmouth University, April 10 through 24.

Originally published on 13th Dimension, April 6, 2014

It rushes at you like a chaos of riderless horses. Lunges for your gut with fixed bayonet.  Flails a desperately groping hand that causes you to shrink back a step, even as you wonder if there’s anything you can do to ease the epic anguish of the twisted figures before you.  

When encountered for the first time, the lithographs, woodcuts and drawings of the late artist Jacob Landau can be a jarring thing to behold — a stark and elegant/ugly plane of Holocaust tableaux; visions of Dante’s circles of Hell and the insomniac fables of E.T.A. Hoffmann. Scenes of displacement and despair that nonetheless pulse with the faint heartbeat of a stoic humanism — turning proud General Lee to a somber shadow, and Mark Twain to Edgar Allan Poe.

The artist’s passionately held, lifelong anti-war beliefs course through A Judgment of War: Selected Works by Jacob Landau, a retrospective exhibit of works hosted in the seminar room of the Monmouth University library, and opening with a 4:30 pm reception on Thursday, April 10. Curated by MU’s Scott Knauer and Susan Douglass, the installation covers several of the works that Landau (1917-2001), a longtime resident of the Monmouth County, NJ artist community in Roosevelt, is noted for among fine art experts. It also folds in some previously little-explored corners of the artist’s early career — from his stint as art director and editor of wartime military magazines, to the Hitler-punching exploits of America’s most super of soldiers, Captain America.

Young Landau’s involvement, in the creator-run shop overseen by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby for the first ten issues of Cap’s title, is among the topics that will be discussed (along with The Sniper, a rifle-toting Robin Hood appearing in Military Comics, the Quality title that introduced Blackhawk to the world) by Steven Brower, the award winning designer, author and former creative director of PRINT magazine. Brower — who wrote this vanguard study of Landau’s comix connection, and whose other writings on the topic have included this illuminating piece on Kirby’s photocollage background experiments, and this fond farewell interview with the great Joe Kubert — comes to Monmouth’s West Long Branch, NJ campus on April 17 for a first-ever talk about Jacob Landau’s mystery-shrouded career as a superhero comic book artist.

Your upperWETside Control Voice spoke to Steven Brower on Landau’s brief but fondly recalled romance with the comics business, and the ways in which sequential storytelling continued to impact the artist’s later work (and perhaps, vice versa).

CRENSHAW BY THE ‘SHAW,’ AS SONGWRITERS RETURNS TO MU

MarshallCrenshawMarshall Crenshaw joins a couple of Jersey Joes, a David Jo’ and MO’ in a new edition of Songwriters by the Sea, March 29 at Monmouth University.

Originally published on Speak Into My Good Eye, 3/24/14

With a pro music career that goes back more than 30 years — a career keynoted by a stint as John Lennon in the touring company of Beatlemania, and further bookmarked by his portrayal of Buddy Holly in the movie La Bamba — Marshall Crenshaw has assembled the kind of catalog that most singer-songwriters would give the right side of their brain for (“Someday Someway,” “Whenever You’re On My Mind,” “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time”); attracting interpreters that range from Ronnie Spector to Bette Midler, and writing or co-writing standout stuff for the Gin Blossoms (“Til I Hear It From You”) and the one and only John C. Reilly (“Walk Hard”). The Detroit native has done it all with a relaxed and unpretentious delivery, an understated (and underrated) rock guitar style, a self-effacing sense of humor and a fairly awesome passion for pop music — a set of skills that he’ll be bringing to the stage of the Pollak Theatre at Monmouth University this Saturday, March 29.

The latest in a series of Songwriters by the Sea events hosted by Jersey scene veterans Joe D’Urso and Joe Rapolla, the 8 p.m. concert marks another Shore encore for the guy who recorded a live DVD at The Stone Pony in 2003, who played a memorably intimate show at a neighborhood church in Atlantic Highlands a few years back, and who chose to record his contribution to the La Bamba soundtrack at a downtown Long Branch studio. It’s a natural forum for an artist whose spontaneous ear for a fun cover song (MC5! Jo Stafford! Left Banke! ABBA!), ability to rethink a familiar catalog favorite, and seemingly effortless flair for new and perfect pop songs are very much in evidence on a new series of subscription-only vinyl EPs, merched from his official website.

Crenshaw’s also found another outlet for his encyclopaedic mastery of popular music in The Bottomless Pit, the radio program he’s hosted on WFUV out of New York — a sideline gig that he shares in common with his contemporary and co-star in the March 29 Songwriters session: David Johansen, curator and caretaker of The Mansion of Fun on Sirius XM Radio. From his supercharged takes on Sonny Boy Williamson and Archie Bell during his Doll’d-up days as a proto-punk godfather, to his folk-blues field excursions into Memphis Minnie and more with The Harry Smiths, and his retro-rocketing career trajectory as alter ego Buster Poindexter (an act that he’s returned to with some highly regarded small-combo sets at NYC’s Cafe Carlyle), David Jo has always been the man with the song for every occasion. His 1980s sets at such long-gone Central Jersey joints as the Fast Lane, Royal Manor and Fountain Casino reinforced his acumen as a natural entertainer, and cut his anthemic guitar-driven originals like “Funky But Chic” and “Personality Crisis” with raucous and exhilarating whirls with oldies from The Animals, The Foundations and The Four Tops. A frequent “Evening With” attraction at the Brighton Bar and other regional rooms, the Staten Island stalwart makes an encore trip to the Songwriters circle in the company of his longtime guitarist Brian Koonin.

The two Joes and their two 60-something guests will be joined by a third singer-songwriter who’s been known to play very well with others: Allison Moorer, the NY-based alt-country vocalist whose classic voice is fortified by her covertune acumen (Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot” among others), collaborations (everyone from Buddy Miller to Kid Rock), credentials (both an Oscar and a Grammy nom), and familial connections (she’s the wife of Steve Earle, and the sister of Shelby Lynne). The 8 p.m. program is rounded out by three homegrown talents from Monmouth U — Bryan Haring, Erin Holmes and Natalie Zeller. Your upperWETside Control Voice rang up Marshall Crenshaw to talk about casual concerts, covertune conundrums, and corporate cubbyholes.

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A LAND OF PURE IMAGINATION, AT TWO RIVER

Pinkolandia2Gaby (Andrea Morales) encounters an inhabitant of PINKOLANDIA — a private world shared by two displaced sisters from Chile, and a play by Andrea Thome that’s on stage now at Two River Theater.

Just days after striking the set from Mr. Shakespeare’s fanciful Forest of Arden, the folks at Two River Theater Company got busy realizing another setting where occasional magic, romance, poetry and acts of heroism happen — a little place called Pinkolandia.

Don’t bother checking the map. Take it instead to the “black box” Marion Huber Theater inside Two River’s branded Bridge Avenue artspace, where a couple of young sisters named Gaby (Andrea Morales) and Beny (Maria Helan) have escaped with their family from their native Chile in the days of the Pinochet dictatorship, to the cold and alien landscape of Reagan-era Wisconsin. It’s there in the Badger State of the 1980s that “the girls create imaginary worlds to make sense of their family’s past, as their parents (Annie Henk, Varin Ayala) try to find their own place in the American Dream — knowing that sometimes, when you lose your country, you have to make your own.”

It’s also there that the realities of the outside world — and the not-so easily left behind past — intrude with the appearance of Beny and Gaby’s uncle Ignacio (David Crommett). Gabriel Sloyer rounds out the cast under the direction of Jose Zayas, in the play by Andrea Thome that continues in previews Tuesday through Thursday, and opens Friday night, February 28.

A “rolling world premiere” project produced through NYC’s Lark Play Development Center, Pinkolandia saw fully staged productions at New York’s INTAR Theatre and in Austin, TX last year — and moves on to an engagement in Chicago following the conclusion of its Red Bank run on March 23. For the Two River team under artistic director John Dias, it represents the company’s first mainstage production to evolve from the annual Crossing Borders Festival, where it was presented as a reading in the summer of 2012.

For the playwright — who grew up in Madison, WI with her Chilean mother and Costa Rican father — Pinkolandia represents a public triumph that’s interlaced with personal family history. An actor, author, dancer and sought-after translator, Andrea Thome (who’s not to be confused with this wife of the baseball slugger Jim Thome) has forged an eclectic resume of activity that sprawls from the West Coast (where she founded the Red Rocket Theater Company in San Francisco) to the East (where she serves as co-director of the “New York-based satire collective” known as Fulana). She’s also a very engaging person to have a conversation with, and your upperWETside Control Voice was pleased to speak with her during a “delightful, peaceful” week of rehearsals in Red Bank. Read on…

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HEROES AND VAUDEVILLIANS: HE DREW ‘EM ALL

KirbyMarxThe Living Planet himself, Jack Kirby, graces the cover of Drew Friedman’s upcoming portrait parade HEROES OF THE COMICS…while a circa-1960 Marx Bros herald the opening reception for the Friedman solo show OLD JEWISH COMEDIANS, at the Society of Illustrators.

Originally published on 13thDimension.com, February 2014

Robert Crumb…that avuncular Nucky Thompson of the comics underworld…stood in awe of his talent and technique. The Times Book Review likened him to Vermeer; Kurt Vonnegut compared him to Goya; Howard Stern said he was better than Picasso. And Joe Franklin elevated him to the pantheon of “the greats” by virtue of an epic lawsuit, about which more in a moment. 

There were cautionaries among the compliments, too, with Will Eisner telling him to “lose the dots;” Harvey Kurtzman calling him “nuts” for his labor-intensive pointlllistic detail, and Crumb tempering his words of encouragement with a note of concern about the young artist’s eyesight.

Once even more obsessed with those devilishly detailed “dots” than Little Dot herself, Drew Friedman stippled his last staccato stab of the Croquill pen some twenty years ago — bravely putting aside his signature technique in favor of a watercolor flume-ride that looped crazy circles around the messy, littered carnival of the popular culture. While fans of his earlier, dottier dissections of sad old celebrities and neglected New Yorkers — often featuring the savvy and surreal script contributions of his brother Josh — could still enjoy those grainy, late-night B&W reruns in collections like Warts and All and (recently reissued) Any Similarity to Persons Living or Dead is Purely Coincidental, Friedman’s second-act portfolio served to get him noticed like those first glimpses of Color TV in the appliance store window — that cavalcade of unforgettable faces leaving their niche cubbyholes of Raw, Heavy Metal, Weirdo and Screw to go blinking out into the bright lights of a vividly expansive new universe of mass media.

While he may have been regularly picturing Beltway backroomers, Botox’d bimbos and boardroom bigwigs going for the gusto in the pages of everything from The New York Times, New York Observer, Village Voice and The New Yorker to Time, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and that budding-cartoonist grail known as MAD, the man who famously said “Liver spots are my NINAs” never lost his affinity for the weathered and leathered faces of vintage entertainers. Specifically, the Old Jewish Comedians that he lovingly rendered in a series of “BLAB Storybooks” edited by Monte Beauchamp.

Those boys (and a few girls) of the Borscht Belt, burlesque houses and beyond — from Berle, Burns, Benny and Brooks to — uh, Menasha Skulnick? — reside at the big, generous heart of Drew Friedman’s new solo exhibit, also called Old Jewish Comedians and opening at Manhattan’s Society of Illustrators gallery with a reception on the evening of Wednesday, March 5. Populated by people whose faces were cathode-cannoned into his consciousness by a youth spent seining the phantom channels of local New York TV, it’s a kosher keynote to a two-month installation highlighted by an April 24 panel on “The Evolution of Jewish American Comedy” that teams Drew with, among others, Larry (F Troop) Storch.

The son of novelist and playwright Bruce Jay Friedman has another pipelined project to promote, centering around comics of a different discipline — Heroes of the Comics (Fantagraphics), a celebration of the early years of the comic book that ditches the masked mystery men in favor of the dedicated creators who made their adventures pop. Siegel and Shuster, Finger and Kane, Ditko and Kirby, Kurtzman and Wally Wood — to say nothing of Fawcett artist Ma Raboy and cover kingpin L.B. Cole — are all among the 80-plus portraits included in the volume that further features a foreword by Gang of Idiots godfather (and Friend of the Asbury Park ComiCon) Al Jaffee. Like the Comedians series and the single-volume Sideshow Freaks, it’s a genuine labor of love that confers instant Hall of Fame status upon its subjects, by dint of the passionate portraitist who painted them.

Drew Friedman’s magazine-work collection Too Soon? sports an intro by the artist that answers a lot of the questions we’d normally want to ask — from his work chronology and greatest influences, to his pen nib of choice (Hunt No. 4) and his personal pick for “funniest non-Jews who ever lived” (Bob and Ray). The bio page on his website devoted to fine art prints offers a succinct summary as well — and his very entertaining blog ventures wherever it may, from “Godfrey Cambridge’s Rent A Negro Plan” to “The Musical Stylings of Anthony Quinn.”

Your upperWETside Control Voice rang up the ever-industrious Friedman, at the Pennsylvania home he shares with his wife and occasional collaborator Kathy Bidus, plus beagles. Read on…

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TIMONEY GOES ‘ALL THE WAY’ WITH HIS BIG SCARY FRIEND

BillTimoneyCOLORMiddletown man Bill Timoney — actor, producer, writer, stuntguy, cartoon voice and friend to the scary-famous — is making his Broadway debut in ALL THE WAY, the LBJ bio-drama that also marks the Great White Way bow for his longtime friend and best man, Bryan Cranston.

He’s right there, in the closing split-seconds of the TV commercials for All The Way, the play by Pulitzer-winner Robert Schenkkan that dramatizes the early days of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s tense time in the White House.

Don’t bat an eyelash or you’ll miss…wait, go back…pause it…there! Lower left hand corner of the screen: Bill Timoney. All around Upper Wet Side kind of guy. Man of mind-bogglingly many talents. Broadway actor!

Bergen County-bred Bill is “thrilled beyond words” to make that belated bow on the Broadway boards “after ‘only’ 34 years in the profession;” a busy interval in which the son of 1950s quiz show hostess Mary Gardiner racked up numerous appearances on regional professional stages (including New Jersey Repertory Company and Monmouth University); had a popular role on the venerable soap All My Children; lent his strong tenor to dozens of voice-acting gigs on Pokemon and countless other Anime imports, and has worked for everyone from Woody Allen and The Onion to a Turkish cable news channel.

Along the way, Bill the master storyteller picked up scads of showbiz anecdotes on such not-yet-forgotten figures as regal stage dame Ruth Warrick (who was in the first Broadway show he ever saw as a youngster, and who he got to work with on TV) and suave but aging Euro-leading man Francis Lederer. For All the Way (which begins previews this very week), Timoney joins a cast of 20 actors, including Michael (Spinal Tap) McKean as J. Edgar Hoover, Brandon J. Dirden (Two River Theater’s Jitney and Topdog/Underdog) as Martin Luther King Jr., and Hall of Fame stage legend John McMartin, in a highly anticipated project that also finds him working alongside one of his oldest and dearest friends — fellow Broadway rookie Bryan Cranston.

Yeah, that Bryan Cranston. The actor, director and producer whose recently wrapped run on the epic cable fable Breaking Bad  completely tilted the dramatic playing field in favor of the man who previously ruled the comedy roost as Hal on Malcolm in the Middle. Really, with his monumental, almost Shakespearean shake on suburban drug kingpin Walter “Heisenberg” White (followed fast by his participation in the Best Picture drama Argo), the multiple Emmy winner took his rightful place among the true greats of our time…he Wins Show Business, and with All the Way he takes on a towering titan of 20th century American life with the flesh-pressing, space-invading perseverance of LBJ himself.

Timoney has worked numerous times with his “big scary friend” Bryan — who actually served as best man at the wedding of Bill and his wife, actor-producer Georgette Reilly — including as a producer and cast member on Last Chance, the 1999 desert-set indie drama that marked Cranston’s first foray into writer-director territory. And a little more than six years ago, Bill and Georgette (who make their home these days in the Locust section of Middletown Township) welcomed Bryan and his wife Robin Dearden to the Jersey Shore, to work together in a summer-stage production of Neil Simon’s Chapter Two at Monmouth U (take it here for our archived chat with the star from 2007).

The Cranstons, who rented a house in Avon for the occasion, could be seen strolling the boardwalk, dining at local restaurants — and even attending a Bill-hosted film screening at The Stephen Crane House, the historic haunt where we now make our home and blog our blog. Your upperWETside control voice, working from our lonely garret inside Crane’s crib, spoke to the multi-faceted Mr. Bill Timoney (who credits having seen the legendary team of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore onstage in 1972 with having “opened a whole world to me….and changed my life”) on the eve of his first-ever performance on the Great (Walter) White Way…

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1/23: All Red Bank’s a Stage, for Actor Owens

GeoffreyOwens

Former COSBY SHOW cast member Geoffrey Owens is BACK, as Jaques — and Two River Theater Company’s got him, as previews begin this weekend for TRTC’s production of Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT.

As a regular for the last seven seasons of The Cosby Show, Geoffrey Owens was part of a pop-cultural juggernaut that TV Guide named as The Greatest Sitcom of the 1980s; a Reagan-era repository of positive role models and fatherly sweaters that consistently topped the Nielsens — before ultimately being toppled by The Simpsons and other heirs to the throne of tubeland’s most dysfunctional modern family.

While his recurring role as Cliff Huxtable’s occasionally opinionated but nice-guy son-in-law Elvin allowed him to have the odd moment of good-natured fun with Bill Cosby’s proven shtick, it wasn’t until returning to the stage that the son of former U.S. Congressman Major Owens discovered a surprising specialty — as a sought-after interpreter of the comedic and tragic characters from the quill of Wm. Shakespeare.

Seen recently on Broadway in Romeo and Juliet (with Orlando Bloom), Owens has starred and co-starred in major productions of Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, and many others — including a Joseph Papp-produced As You Like It that brought him to the Broadway boards as Orlando, the exiled young noble and dashing leading man of the Bard’s “comedy of cross-dressing heroines and triumphant heroes.” Beginning this weekend, the actor returns to As You Like It‘s “Forest of Arden” setting for the first in a series of preview performances this Saturday night, January 25.

In the Two River Theater Company production directed by Michael Sexton of NYC’s Shakespeare Society, the part of Orlando is taken on by Jacob Fishel, who starred under Sexton’s direction in TRTC’s 2012 production of Henry V. Miriam A. Hyman plays Rosalind — a fellow runaway from family drama and court intrigue who spends a good deal of the play’s running time disguised as a young guy named Ganymede. And Owens returns to the 400 year old comedy in the smaller but vividly memorable role of Jaques — an unusually (for Shakespeare) cynical observer of the passing human parade, and the character who gets to deliver the play’s most quotable line: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

The production that opens on January 31 also lends a new layer of musicality to an already song-infused work, with an original score by Ben Toth that finds the company of eleven actors singing and accompanying themselves on various instruments. Your upperWETside Control Voice rang up Geoffrey Owens for a quick conversation about finding romance, reconciliation and religion in a place called Arden.

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A Stonesy-y Birthday, for Keith ‘n Keys

BobbyKeysGimme the Keys: Tenor sax ace (and longtime Rolling Stones lieutenant) Bobby Keys celebrates his 70th birthday — a milestone shared by none other than Keith Richards — with an appearance at the Count Basie Theatre’s FIFTY LICKS concert.

The first time that Marc Ribler assembled the All-Shore project known as The Fifty Licks Band, it was the eve of a pretty momentous occasion — the 50th anniversary of the debut gig, by a group then going under the name The Rollin’ Stones.

When the Billboard-charting songsmith, commercial jingle composer, and benefit-bash bandleader re-convenes his jukebox Justice League this Wednesday, it will be in honor of a milestone that might conceivably call for twenty more licks. December 18 not only marks the 70th birthday of the irrepressible Keith Richards, but a big Number 70 as well for a man who’s been a cornerstone of the band’s extended family since 1969 — tenor saxophone ace Bobby Keys.

The Texas-born Keys, who’s maintained his end of a forty-year “ax and sax” dialogue with partner (in music and, occasionally, mayhem) Richards, will be spending his special day at the Count Basie Theatre. He’ll be appearing with Ribler and company as the very special guest in an 8 pm event that producer Tony Pallagrosi sums up as “a much different experience than seeing a bar band do a bunch of Stones covers…this really is Stones music, played the way that the Stones play it.”

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10/24: Fear Factors and Trans-formed Actors

CarrieThere WILL Be Blood: Emily Chester is America’s telekinetic teen, as Nick Montesano’s NENAproductions resurrects CARRIE: THE MUSICAL for one more prom dance, beginning this weekend in Ocean Grove.

The breathlessly anticipated resurrection of one of the most fabled flops in musical theater history…a deep-fathom thinkpiece by Edward Albee, on display at a community church-playhouse…an Obie winner pitches a double-header in Red Bank…all this plus edgy experiments in the suburbs, a cask of Poe to go, and an Evita that shows her professional roots. THAT’s what’s going up on local stages in the days and weeks to come…and THAT’s why a night out on the aisles is more than just Neil Simon anymore (not that there’s anything wrong with that; our friends at Monmouth Players are right now presenting an entire ambitious “Season of Simon” at their newly reborn and rebranded Navesink Arts Center).

CARRIE On Screaming: Townsfolk tremble at her name, and not simply because she packs the gazebo-leveling wallop of a thousand Sandy Katrina Tsunamis in every Sissy-Spacek staredown. No, while America can’t seem to get its fill of Stephen King’s tortured telekinetic teen Carrie White (witness this month’s latest multiplex makeover), it’s CARRIE: THE MUSICAL that’s had Broadway bravehearts whimpering in the wings, since its megamillion-dollar 1988 debut went down in flames after just five performances. Enter Nick Montesano, producer/ director/ impresario of NENAproductions Theater Project — and a fearless sort who’s never shied from energizing the community-theater stage with some of the most unorthodox items from Sondheim (MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE), McNally (KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, CORPUS CHRISTI) and more (AVENUE Q, URINETOWN, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER). Nick and his NENA company have resurrected the dark tunefest (book by screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen; songs by the Oscar-winning team of Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford) for a welcome new look, in an engagement that opens Friday, October 25 and runs for two weekends (Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, with a 3 pm Sunday matinee on November 3) inside the prom-ready auditorium of Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center; the old high school at the corner of Main and Main.

Authentic seventeen year old Emily Chester takes on the title role, with Jennifer Nelson in the vivid part of Carrie’s holy-roller mom. They’re supported under Montesano’s direction by a troupe of NENA regulars (Jessica Berger, Jeff Caplan, Arnold Teixera) and newcomers for a “classic tale of bloodsport and revenge” that, underneath the power ballads and the pig blood, is “a story of bullying more timely than ever.” With that in mind, the cast will be  joined after the October 26 performance by Jessica De Koninck of the New Jersey State Anti-Bullying Task-Force, for a discussion on “the state of bullying, its heightened effect on young people in our area, and as it relates to new and progressing HIB laws.” Tickets ($25) from ticketleap.com or at 732.988.1007.

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