Paul D. Miller — aka DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid — joins Monmouth University faculty members on March 21, for a free performance of music, words and images inspired by his travels to the Antarctic continent. (courtesy sozo artists)

(Expanded from an article published in The Coaster newspaper, Asbury Park NJ, March 15, 2018)

“I think of Antarctica as a place of meditation and deep time,” says Paul D. Miller, the multimedia master who explores an array of creative frontiers under the name DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid. “Everyone who has been there is humbled by the scenario — it really is the most un-Earth like place on this planet.”

Even for a multi-platform artist who’s traveled the world — delivering his  work to audiences at universities, museums and concert halls in cities on several continents — it might seem just a step or two out of accepted bounds to take one’s act to the place that he calls “a kind of Utopia at the end of the world…the only place with no government.”

But then, accepted bounds (or any other creative protocols and pigeonholes) mean pretty close to nothing, to a  man who describes himself as “an ‘interdisciplinary’ artist…and that means all boundaries are blurred.”

In the space of some two decades in the public eye, the native of Washington, DC has compelled attention as a trip-hop/ “illbient” recording artist; a turntable DJ of expansively experimental vision; a software designer; a composer for ballet troupes, orchestras and filmmakers; an exhibited media artist at major galleries; an artist in residence at NYC’s Met museum; an author (of the MIT-published The Imaginary App); an educator, a magazine editor (ORIGIN), and a performer who’s mixed and matched with everyone from avant garde composer Iannis Xennakis and Yoko Ono, to members of Public Enemy, Sonic Youth, and Slayer.

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Director and choreographer Luis Salgado (center) conducts rehearsals for RAGTIME, the musical on stage now at Axelrod Performing Arts Center. (photo courtesy of Hahn Films)

(Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park, NJ, March 8 2018)

It could be the excitement generated by  productions like a “Jekyll & Hyde” that featured dynamic Shore vocalist Remember Jones in the title role(s). It could be the news that  they’ve secured the services of Andrea McArdle, the original Broadway “Annie,”  to play the heinous Miss Hannigan in a November production. Whatever the source of the buzz, there’s no denying that Andrew De Prisco and his Axelrod Performing Arts Center team have really upped the ante on a bid to take their place among the state’s vanguard venues for musical theater.

It was just about a year ago that artistic director De Prisco and the APAC audience got their first look at the work of an exciting guest artist — dancer, director and choreographer Luis Salgado. The young Broadway veteran (“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” “On Your Feet”) brought his skills to the Ocean Township stage with a local debut production of a show that he himself had been a part of  in its original cast — Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” — and the question on everyone’s mind was, what can this partnership do for an encore?

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NJ Rep’s ‘Horses’ is a confessional karaoke

Estelle Bajou is a stranger in the strange land of a 1990s karaoke bar, as “Wild Horses” continues its world premiere engagement at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. (Photo by Suzanne Barabas)

(Published in the Asbury Park Press on March 2, 2018)

Technically it’s a “one woman show” — albeit one whose stage is populated by a full house of humans. But if “Wild Horses” is the rare solo showcase that seeks to capture what it’s like to be “alone in the crowd,” it’s also a reminder that the most confessional, revelatory, soul-searching monologues require an audience to happen.

The latest in a series of National New Play Network “rolling world premiere” productions at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, the script by Allison Gregory takes its title from the epic 1971 ballad by the Rolling Stones —and its peculiar rhythm from the novel setting of a little karaoke bar in 1990s “Anytown USA;” one whose jukebox is decidedly heavy on the sounds of the 1960s and 70s. Most of us have surely been there — or someplace very much like it — before, and the Jessica Parks set design presents a cozy comfort zone amid trappings that are alternately period-correct (that “Michelob Dry” sign!) and partly crazy (those LP covers of Andreas Vollenweider and Bobby Sherman?).

Into this dimly lit oasis walks “Woman” (Estelle Bajou), a mom who’s apparently slipped away from the kids this evening under pretense of attending a book club. At first a bit wide-eyed, as if it had been a lifetime since she last set foot in such a place, the stranger quickly acclimates herself to her surroundings; chatting up the regulars and finding the liquid courage to take the tiny stage. It doesn’t take many sips of her drink before she lapses into a long and winding soliloquy; a tale of lost innocence, freed spirits, and pent-up desires that transforms the nameless bar into a place at the crossroads of confessional booth and spoken-word slam.

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A ‘Bridge’ of souls on Bridge Avenue, at Two River premiere

Actor-playwright David Greenspan (fourth from left) tops the cast in his adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY, on stage now at Two River Theater.  (Photos by T. CHARLES ERICKSON)

(Published in the Asbury Park Press on March 2, 2018)

“There is a land of the living and a land of the dead,” wrote Thornton Wilder at the end of “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” the 1927 novel now on stage in a world premiere theatrical version at Red Bank’s Two River Theater, “…and the bridge is love.”

Those who’ve come to love Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning piece of work may find this “Bridge” to be an altogether different structure. But while it takes some ever-wilder liberties with the sometimes somber source material — a meditation on mortality and the seeming randomness of the Creator’s will, set in the aftermath of a rope-bridge collapse that kills five people — the dramatization by serial Obie Award winner David Greenspan manages to preserve the beating heart of the author’s core themes, even while losing the one presence who pretty much tied it all together.

Presented without intermission inside the Marion Huber space at Two River’s branded Bridge Avenue arts center, Greenspan’s commissioned work finds the dynamic actor-playwright-director working once more with a company of fellow players, having recently wrapped a Guinness-level gig during which he performed a six-hour solo take on Eugene O’Neill’s mammoth “Strange Interlude.” He and the other eight members of the cast collaborate here under the direction of Two River returnee Ken Rus Schmoll, whose 2017 production “The Women of Padilla” served as satisfying prelude to this time-hopping tale centered around an 18th century Peruvian village.

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Asbury Park’s Brett Colby (center) IS Mister Bungee, as William Finn’s offbeat (and somewhat autobiographical) musical  A NEW BRAIN comes to the intimate setting of The Starving Artist at Days Restaurant, courtesy of Ocean Grove’s NENAproductions. Available tickets…which are close to selling out as we post this…can be reserved by calling 732-988-1007.  (Photo courtesy of NENAproductions Theater Project)

(Published in the Asbury Park Press, March 2, 2018)

March, and its attendant awards-season hangover, may come on like a lion — but Shore theatergoers might find more than a few opportunities to catch up with some recent Tony favorites (and a genuine Tony winning legend) before the month takes it on the lam. We’ve got the roundup right here.

From such dynamic recent productions as a “Jekyll & Hyde” that starred Shore singing sensation Remember Jones — to the announcement that Broadway’s original “Annie,” Andrea McArdle, will be stepping into the role of Miss Hannigan in a Fall 2018 staging — artstic director Andrew De Prisco and the creative team at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center continue to position the Ocean Township venue among the region’s most dynamic forums for musical entertainments. Beginning this weekend, another of APAC’s favorite guest artists, director-choreographer Luis Salgado, returns to the building’s Vogel Auditorium with a highly anticipated follow-up to his 2017 take on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights.”

Adapted from E.L. Doctorow’s sprawling novel of early 20th century America (and its 1981 film version), the musical “Ragtime” also boasts a crucial Shore connection, in that the Tony-winning score’s lyricist Lynn Ahrens (“One On This Island,” “My Favorite Year,” “Seussical”) is a 1966 graduate of Neptune High School. The writer collaborated with composer Stephen Flaherty and playwright Terrence McNally on the stage show that examines the still-young nation through the dramatic intersect of three facets of society — the comfortable upper middle class, the immigrant experience, and an African American community ready to take the cultural spotlight — through an eclectic playlist of music that folds in popular marches, gospel, Eastern European traditions and, of course, those subversive new syncopations of ragtime.

Salgado, whose Broadway credits include “On Your Feet,” “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and the original cast of “In the Heights,” directs a young cast that embodies characters ranging from the fictional dramatic flashpoint and ragtime pioneer Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Alex Gibbs), to such real-life figures as scandalous socialite Evelyn Nesbit (Ashley Eder), Emma Goldman (Julie Galorenzo), and Booker T. Washington (Richard Coleman). Preformances of “Ragtime the Musical” are March 3, 10, 17, 23 and 24 at 8 p.m.; March 4, 11, 18 and 25 at 3 p.m., with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on March 17. Visit axelrodartscenter.com for tickets ($38-$42 adults) — as well as details on a High School Preview Night scheduled for Friday, March 2. Continue reading


Actor-writers Alex Trow and Meghan Longhran dance their way through a long-running friendship in their world premiere play “F Theory,” opening August 19 at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Photo by SUZANNE BARABAS

At a time when accumulating social media “friends” is a pursuit of quantity over quality, a brick-and-mortar buddy seems a thing valued above gold. But Odd Couples aside, the dynamics of long-running friendships have seldom been granted the same attention that dramatists have heaped upon romantic partnerships, or good old familial dysfunction.

In “F Theory,” a pair of young actor-playwrights seek to address that deficit, with a study of a stressed friendship that’s rooted in the happier real-life alliance of its authors and stars, Meghan Longhran and Alex Trow. The play debuts this weekend, as the latest world premiere production at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch — and as the two Yale classmates explain, it’s a project that fast-tracked its way to fully staged fruition when they involved another friend from their college-days circle of acquaintance.

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Left to right: Dustin Charles, Maria Couch, Dana Brooke and Jared Michael Delaney share space in “Multiple Family Dwelling,” the James Hindman play that premieres this weekend at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Photos by SUZANNE BARABAS

It’s a play that’s ostensibly set in its author’s hometown of Mount Clemens, Michigan — but as James Hindman tells it, “Multiple Family Dwelling” was directly inspired by frontier tales of gentrification here on the Jersey Shore, specifically his own experiences house hunting in and around Asbury Park around the turn of the century.

“I was standing out front of an old house in Asbury, and just as the real estate agent was putting her key in the front door, a team of police in full militarized riot gear pulled up to the house next door, and surrounded the place with assault rifles,” the playwright recalls. “Without missing a beat, the realtor says, ‘See? The neighborhood’s cleaning up nicely!'”

While he eventually settled upon Bradley Beach as his down-the-shore base of operations, Hindman would make Asbury Park’s landmark Carousel House the 2010 premiere venue for “The Bikinis,” a jukebox-musical study of a (not always harmoniously) reunited 1960s girl group that’s gone on to more than 50 productions around the country. For his return to the Shore area stage, the writer and actor whose credits range from Broadway’s “Mary Poppins,” to a recurring role on Marvel Studios’ forthcoming Netflix series “Iron Fist” expanded a ten-minute playlet into the full length “Dwelling,” which opens this weekend as the latest in a long line of world premieres at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

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“I look forward to the storm…keeps everybody in sight. Washes everything clean.”

— The highway killer, in the film JOY RIDE

Straight Outta Compton's CreekDon’t know why I exactly got to thinking about that disappointing killer-thriller feature — a movie that I hadn’t thought about once since the lone time I saw it — there on that chilly day in the run-up to Christmas. Maybe it was the stretch of highway before me; a not-common sight since I don’t have all that much occasion to drive these days. 

That, coupled with the light freezing rain that was starting to fall, and which prompted all the other cars ahead to slow down, tighten up the flow just a little bit. Keeping everybody in sight, if not exactly washing it all clean.

For me the occasion was a too-rare excursion to my old Wetside stomping grounds, a place that I generally steer clear of even more than I do driving in general — not out of any lingering sense of dread or evulsion; just the knowledge that, now as ever, there’s really not much reason to go there…or even to pass on through, as there always seems to be an easier alternative than that tired old highway and its traffic lights positioned what seems like every 50 feet.

The fact that I can pretty much get everything I need in and around my adopted little city — and the fact that the world pretty much finds its way to me — keeps me close to base camp. And not having day-to-day use of a car makes for a dandy excuse to not visit my mom’s house; so ridiculously close to where I live now, but so “been-there-done-that” I only manage to make it over there maybe twice a year anymore. And no, Christmas won’t be one of those times.  

(I’ve gone on at length about my beloathed hometown…and I’ve done it most eloquently in my extended rant “The Sprayer Man Cometh: A Wetsider Elegy.” Read it right here if you dare…then come back in an hour or so. We’ll be here.)

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