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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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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10/14: A Pinter Party, w/ Julian and John

JulianSandsThat’s Harold PINTER, not Harry Potter…and the late British wizard of word is channeled by the ever-dashing JULIAN SANDS on October 18, in A Celebration of Pinter that’s directed by John Malkovich. 

Two’s a party, they say, or maybe it’s three — but when the blond-maned, ever-dashing actor Julian Sands takes the stage of Monmouth University’s Pollak Theatre on Friday, October 18, he’ll stand alone in a performance of his one man touring show A Celebration of Harold Pinter. That said, he’ll stand there fully reinforced by the talents of the late playwright — and of his director, none other than John Malkovich.

Pinter you might know from his Oscar-nominated screenwriting — crackling, often brilliant adaptations of other peoples’ novels, plays and unfinished manuscripts that resulted in films like The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Quiller Memorandum, The Last Tycoon, and those British new-wave classics The Servant, Accident and The Pumpkin Eater. You might even have spotted him on screen in Mansfield Park or The Tailor of Panama, but Harold Pinter’s legacy rests on the creaking boards of the stage — via such dramatic fare as The Caretaker, the brutally absurdist Birthday Party and the chronologically cockeyed, emotionally abrasive Betrayal (all three of which became powerhouse pictures in themselves). The 2005 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was a man in constant motion; acting in and directing scores of plays, penning editorials and generally becoming the antithesis of the reclusive writerly type.

Malkovich of course is the founding member of Chicago’s celebrated Steppenwolf Theatre Company whose own career on the stage (Death of a Salesman, Burn This, True West) and screen (Dangerous Liaisons, Empire of the Sun, and, natch, Being John Malkovich) include Academy Award nominated turns in Places in the Heart and In the Line of Fire.

And Sands? He’s the actor who made his first big impression in the 1985 Merchant-Ivory production A Room With a View, and over the course of a 25 year film and TV career has appeared as everyone from Percy Bysshe Shelley and Franz Liszt, to the Phantom of the Opera and Superman’s father — in highbrow and lowbrow projects that have ranged from the Oscar-lauded Leaving Las Vegas and The Killing Fields, to Warlock and the unforgettable Boxing Helena. He’ll be bringing the Pinter program to New Jersey for the first time, for an 8 pm presentation that arrives on the heels of the 83rd birthday of Pinter (1930-2008) —  and that’s described as “an evening of Homeric theater with an extraordinary actor, great words, and an audience.”

First seen at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and nominated for a 2013 Drama Desk Award, this is a Celebration that focuses upon a relatively little known aspect of the Nobel laureate’s work — his poems and “political prose,” presented here in a setting that’s augmented by the first-person reflections of the performer who was hand-picked by Pinter for this project.

Sands was recruited by Pinter in 2005 to present a special program of the playwright’s poetry in London — and in the process was granted a close-up perspective on the outlook, work and personality of a literary lion who’s still a bit of a cipher to American audiences. Julian Sands spoke to your upperWETside correspondent from his home in Southern California. Here’s the gist of it…

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2/14: Pinsky’s Jazzy Samurai Song

PinskyFormer US Poet Laureate (and Long Branch native) Robert Pinsky returns to the Monmouth University stage on February 15, with a words-and-music performance entitled PoemJazz.  (Photo by Eric Antoniou) 

In an interview that appeared almost four years ago on our since-skyfallen Red Bank oRBit site, Robert Pinsky waxed rhapsodic about Long Branch, the seaside city of his youth; telling us “In the Golden Age, you could have a Ballantine’s and a Max’s hot dog when Max’s was on the boardwalk side of Ocean Avenue. When there was a Long Branch boardwalk! Pizza at Freddie’s or Nunzio’s, clams at Danny Maher’s. Crabbing at Pleasure Bay, the circus at Flanagan’s Field. Tea dances at Red Bank Catholic.”

Pinsky — the internationally renowned, Pulitzer-lauded author of more than a dozen volumes of poetry and essays on art — was briefly back on his old turf for a reading appearance at Monmouth University, and a preview of his 2009 book Thousands of Broadways; a meditation on the “Dreams and Nightmares” of small town American life. The man who produced what for many is the definitive translation of Dante’s Inferno — and who served for an unprecedented three terms as Poet Laureate of the United States — had visited Monmouth U previously (even giving the commencement address one year). But when he stepped out onto the stage of the Pollak Theatre that March, he may not have realized at the time that he’d be making the West Long Branch campus a habit.

For a formidable figure who earned a doctorate in philosophy (in addition to many major awards and fellowships), Robert Pinsky has remained an approachable advocate for the role of poetry in mainstream 21st century life. It’s a mission that’s seen him consent to appearances on The Simpsons and The Colbert Report — and a calling that’s seen its purest expression in the Favorite Poem Project, in which Americans from all walks of life were recorded reading and discussing the works of verse that have meant the most to them.

The past few years have seen Pinsky — a genuine jazz aficionado and amateur saxophonist — step up his schedule of appearances in which he performs his poetry to the accompaniment of live jazz musicians. It’s a mode of expression that the Laureate has branded PoemJazz, and it’s an attraction that returns to the Pollak stage on Friday, February 15.

The 7:30pm performance is a followup to a 2012 event at Monmouth, in which Pinsky was joined by the New York-based double bassist Ben Allison. Since that time, Pinsky has released his first words-and-music CD, also called PoemJazz — a set that finds the poet collaborating with pianist Laurence Hobgood on an array of compositions that range from the intensely musical “The City” and the Pinsky favorite “Samurai Song,” to a rendition of the 17th century Ben Jonson verse “His Excuse for Loving.”

Pinsky — who’s jammed live with a variety of instrumentalists, and in settings ranging from duo to quintet — will be rejoined by Allison (as well as by guitarist and Allison bandmate Steve Cardenas) for Friday night’s fricassee of verse and vibe; an event that promises to recall some of the best sonic experiments of the Beats (minus the bongo’d cliches), while custom-crafting a zone that’s pure Pinsky perfection.

Your upperWETside correspondent had the tremendous honor of conducting a virtual interview with America’s pre-eminent ambassador of the spoken word, a few days prior to the Monmouth stopover….and it’s all here, at the flip of a pixelated page…

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11/26: Four Days/ Two Guys of Hanu-Mas

Broadway veterans Marc Kudisch and Jeffry Denman ARE The Holiday Guys, and they’re on a multi-show mission to spread some much needed seasonal cheer from the Monmouth University stage.  (photo by Daryl Getman)

They’re called The Holiday Guys — a couple of Broadway-branded acting/ singing/ dancing/ musicmaking multi-taskers; each with an individual résumé longer than Santa’s Nice List, and a collective desire to redefine the experiences of Christmas and Hanukkah into a seasonal synergy known as Hanu-Mas.

With Superstorm Sandy dumping countless tons of water, woe, sand and debris on the threshold of the season, however, these gifted entertainers are being cast as something more than savvy RE-gifters of cheer and tradition. When The Holiday Guys bring their 2012 Hanu-Mas Concert Tour to the Pollak Theatre at Monmouth University for a four-day, four-show extended engagement that begins Thursday, November 29, it will be as messengers of morale-boosting merriment for a local audience that’s just gone through the most challenging interlude of its life and times. A couple of prophets and saviors, even; charged with sounding a keynote to the season of lights — even if it takes a billion battery-powered tea candles (and a gas generator or two) to stave off the darkness.

The Holiday Guys are Marc Kudisch — a three-time Tony nominee whose big-time Broadway bonafides include Thoroughly Modern Millie, Beauty and the Beast, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang — as well as Jeffry Denman, whose Great White Way wowzers include Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying), and the original Broadway cast of The Producers (an experience that was the subject of an acclaimed memoir by the first-time author). Together they’re teaming up for a project that’s been analyzed as “two parts Smothers Brothers quirkiness and sentimentality; one part nostalgic innocence and sincere goofiness of Laurel and Hardy, one part sophisticated and joy filled song and dance routines of Kelly and Kaye, and one part infectious humor and holiday variety show of Hope and Crosby.”

With Kudisch strumming guitar, and Denman (who’ll be channeling the hoofing skills that served him so well in his Fred Astaire tribute ) joining in on the most Yuletide ukelele this side of Christmas Island, The Guys will be putting their own silver-bells spin on a sleighload of seasonal songs, stories and snickers — all delivered by the light and crackle of a Yule-log fireplace. There’s even some talk of cameo appearances by some special guest stars — and with shows at 8pm on November 29 and 30, and 3pm on November 30 and December 2, you’ve little to no excuse for not making it home for Hanu-Mas.

Your upperWETside correspondent pulled up a fireside and chatted about the true meaning of HanuMas — and the need for a little extra light amid the blacked-out blitzkrieg of Sandy’s residual ill wind — with a couple of not-so-secret Santas named Kudisch and Denman. Open up that package (and save the bows; save the bows)…

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4/19: RENT Controlled ‘n Ready

Original Broadway cast members of RENT, Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp perform both solo and in tandem in a Saturday night concert event at Monmouth University. 

We spoke of many things — of baseball (esp. the Cubs and the Mets) and Spider-Man; of a band named XTC, and what it’s like to have a father in law who won the Nobel Prize. We even found a few moments to speak of a little phenom called Rent.

Illinois native Anthony Rapp was already a seasoned veteran of the stage (at age ten, he played the title role in the ill-fated musical The Little Prince) and screen (Adventures in Babysitting, Dazed and Confused) — and Adam Pascal was a native New Yorker whose only stage experience was in fronting a band called Mute — when the two became castmates (and their characters became roommates) in a show that did nothing less than change the face of latter-day Broadway.

Set in the once-forgotten but fast-transitioning landscape of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the AIDS-ravaged 1980s, Jonathan Larson’s magnum opus borrowed the framework of Puccini’s La Boheme for a production that would win a fistful of Tonys AND a Pulitzer (not to mention a whole new generation of diehard Rentheads), fueled by real grass-roots buzz and the mind-bogglingly sudden death of its creator on the eve of the show’s first preview.

In the original cast of the 1996 Off Broadway premiere and its Broadway incarnation later that same year — a cast that also boasted Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs and Law & Order‘s Jesse L. Martin — Pascal played Roger Davis, the HIV-positive musician, with Rapp as Mark Cohen, Roger’s filmmaker friend and roomie (the two roles were riffs on Boheme‘s Rodolfo and Marcello).

The actors would eventually go their own ways — Anthony would come out and advocate tirelessly for LGBT rights, while Adam would “marry up” and form a partnership with playwright and superstar cookbook author Cybele Pascal (prominent in the food allergy community, and daughter to the Nobel-winning Eric Chivian). And, while the show would launch the Broadway careers of the two young stars in earnest (Pascal would play lead roles in the Elton John-Tim Rice Aida, in David (Bon Jovi) Bryan’s Memphis, and in the 1998 revival of Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret; Rapp would essay the title role in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown), it would also draw the Adam & Anthony team back together for the 2005 film version, and a 2009 tour.

On Saturday night, April 21, the colleagues reunite once more, in a concert presented under the name Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp: Original Stars of Broadway’s RENT — a touring production that comes to Monmouth University‘s Pollak Theatre for one 8pm show.

The three-part program is set to kick off with Pascal performing with his three-piece combo “Me & Larry,” a project that finds the singer adding his powerhouse vocals (as well as his underrated guitar and bass skills) to pianist Larry Edoff’s bold sound in a set that draws from their album Blinding Light, with some eye-opening new takes on some familiar showtune standards, to boot.

Rapp, who documented his own voyage through life and Rent in his memoir Without You, will be performing a mix of savvy originals and surprising covers with his own five piece band — and the two co-headliners team up again for the concert’s climactic segment, an interlude in which the stars share stories and signature songs from that most game-changing (and career-defining) of shows.

UpperWETside spoke to Adam and Anthony separately, and in that order. What follows is a merry mashup of those back-to-back phone conversations.

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Sanchez Frames a Fab Forty

Ace portraitist Danny Sanchez — pictured at work and in a self-snap — helps the Monmouth County Arts Council celebrate a milestone anniversary with FORTY FACES, a display of studio studies that marks his first-ever solo gallery exhibit.

The way Danny Sanchez tells it, “I’m basically a working stiff…I don’t think of anything I do in terms of artistic value; I’m just fortunate to be shooting stuff that people like.”

Regardless of how he spins it, however, the veteran portrait paparazzo — a fixture of Red Bank life for decades — has long been a sought-after snapster for scores of headshot hopefuls, CEOs, celebs, senior partners and cherished toddlers.

It stands to reason then that when the Monmouth County Arts Council went looking to assemble a little gallery exhibit in honor of the nonprofit org’s 40th anniversary, they called on the man who’s quietly amassed a groaning file cabinet full of faces — the faces of the people who make the arts happen here in Monmouth County. The visionaries and the volunteers; the educators and the entertainers. The manipulators of paint and pen and pixels, or the sculptors in sound and stone. The character players and choreographers; the philanthropists, and the occasional phreeloader.

The exhibit called Forty Faces — with a tip of the hat to the concurrent 20th birthday of the Two River Times — goes up on the evening of Friday, June 10 with a 6pm reception inside the Pollak Gallery on the West Long Branch campus of Monmouth University. It’s a display of images culled from nearly a quarter century’s worth of Sanchez favorites — and, incredible as it may seem, it’s the first-ever gallery exhibit that the veteran lensman has ever consented to.

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