BOWEN APETIT: JT, FEILES GIVE A SUNDAY-SAUCE TASTE OF A NEW PROJECT

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, November 15 2018

On paper at least, it looks like a bit of an oddball team-up; a partnership between a couple of performers who — while they can each boast some deep Asbury roots and a fervent local fanbase — have earned their musical street cred working two very different corners of that musical street.

On the one hand, you’ve got JT Bowen, an R&B/soul exciter in the classic spirit of Otis Redding; a gospel-infused entertainer with a preacher’s passion, who’s long specialized in fronting big, brassy, funky-sassy organizations on the stage — and whose long association with the late and legendary Clarence Clemons ranged from the 1960s outfit The Chosen Few, to the major label recording and touring project CC and the Red Bank Rockers.

On the other hand, you’ve got Arlan Feiles, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and Jewish kid from LA who — while he’s shared stages and studios with generations of local and/or internationally renowned music makers — has spent decades on the scene as the quintessential lone-wolf solo troubador. It’s a finely tuned songs-and-stories approach that’s allowed him to excel in settings that range from the corner of your favorite coffeehouse, to the Paramount Theatre, where he captivated the crowd during last spring’s TEDx Asbury Park program.

This Sunday afternoon, November 18, Mr. Bowen and Mr. Feiles convene inside the intimately scaled space of the Asbury Park Music Foundation’s headquarters (located inside the Lakehouse complex on Lake Avenue), for the latest in a series of Sunday Sessions sounds-and-syllables events. It’s actually an encore duet for the artists who previously shared a mini-set at that TEDx happening — and who also played for an audience of people on the go, during an August set at Newark Liberty Airport.

As anyone who’s followed Arlan or JT at any time within the past several months already knows, the 3 pm matinee also serves as an appetizer for a very special endeavor: Dig Deep, a full album of Feiles originals, interpreted by Bowen and currently being prepped for release under Bowen’s name with the help of a fan-based fundraising campaign. Check out the title-tune teaser on YouTube, and you’ll hear a powerful cry for dignity and respect; put forth with a sense of slowly simmering, righteous anger by JT’s big voice (and a surprisingly chunky rocked-up rhythm guitar) — in a way that evokes the sort of early 70s symphonic-soul heat, and bitterly cold urban landscapes, of Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Bobby Womack and their contemporaries.

“I first met Arlan a little over a year ago, when we were both in a show at the Strand in Lakewood,” says Bowen in recalling the origins of the highly anticipated project. “I heard about him as a writer…I introduced myself and we hit it off right away, like I knew him for a long time.”

“He’s an all around real nice guy, and a very spiritual person too,” adds the singer of his new collaborator — who, for his part, told Madison Marquette’s Gary Mottola on the TEDx stage that “I’d known about JT for a long time…he’s a local hero.”

“As I shook his hand, it occurred to me that we needed to work together,” Feiles continued during the interview with Mottola. “I told him, your voice is so powerful, and it needs to share a powerful message.”

Thus did the 71-year old veteran find his newest collaborator, in a career that’s seen partnerships with Marc Ribler, and, most famously, the Big Man.

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IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF NOVEMBER 15-21

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, November 15 2018

SCENES: Dr. Sketchy’s Belly Dance at Bond Street Basement 

The always-amazing and energizing CJ Mars IS the latest regeneration of the good Dr. Sketchy, the local chapter of the monthly series of themed drawing-class sessions that’s found a subterranean home at the Bond Street Basement Bar. Join CJ (pictured front and center in photo at left) and friends TONIGHT, November 15, for a very special event centered around the ever-exotic realm of Belly Dance — and featuring the incredible Brazilian-American dancer Yamé as guest live model! The teacher and leader of the SharQui Dance company (pictured above, during a previous Sketchy session keyed to the signs of the Zodiac) invites sketchers to sketch ‘er at 6:30 pm; it’s $10 admission to reserve a seat (via eventbrite.com or at the door); there’s a prize package giveaway of art supplies, plus unique merchandise for sale AND more details at the Facebook page for Dr. Sketchy’s Asbury Park.

STAGES: ANNIE at Axelrod Performing Arts Center 

Andrea McArdle, the original Little Orphan Annie of the Tony winning 1977 Broadway original, returns to the hit musical (this time as mean Miss Hannigan). Performances at 8 p.m. on November 15, 16 and 17; at 2 p.m. on November 17; and at 3 p.m. on November 18. Reserve tickets ($46-$56 adults, with discounts for seniors and students) at axelrodartscenter.com. Check upperwetside.wordpress.com for our archived Coaster interview with McArdle on the new production.

STAGES: THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at Monmouth U

A clever pastiche of 1920s Jazz Age tunefests (and the fans who love them), the Tony winning 2009 meta-musical (with songs by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison) comes to the Lauren K. Woods Theatre in a production from the Department of Music and Theatre Arts at Monmouth U. Professor Sheri Anderson directs a student cast, with performances at 8 p.m. on November 15, 16 and 17, plus a 3 p.m. matinee on November 18. Reserve tickets ($20; free for MU students) at http://www.monmouth.edu/arts.

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Two River, Dirden continue their Wilson cycle with ‘King Hedley II’

Published in the Asbury Park Press, November 16 2018

Actor Brian D. Coats returns to the world of August Wilson’s acclaimed cycle of plays, as Two River Theater and director Brandon J. Dirden prepare to open a new production of Wilson’s KING HEDLEY II in Red Bank. (photo courtesy of Two River Theater)

While they’ve never formally announced a grand plan to take on every play in August Wilson’s “Century Cycle,” the folks at Red Bank’s Two River Theater are well on their way, having previously presented major professional productions of the late Pittsburgh-based playwright’s Jitney, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. With the latest offering in the company’s milestone 25th season, Two River has reached the halfway point in the collection of ten dramas — each of them set in a different decade — that encapsulate the African American experience in the twentieth century, primarily through the lives of those who make their home in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.

That offering is the 1999 ensemble piece King Hedley II, the penultimate play in the chronological sequence — and a loose sequel of sorts to Seven Guitars, a work set nearly 40 years prior to this one. Two River’s 2015 staging of Guitars marked the directorial debut of Brandon J. Dirden, the in-demand actor of stage (as MLK in Broadway’s All the Way) and small screen (a long running role on The Americans) whose many endeavors in Red Bank have included Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine and last season’s A Raisin in the Sun. Returning to the director’s chair for Hedley (and taking the action “right into the lap of the audience,” to the more intimately scaled environment of Two River’s Marion Huber “black box” space), Dirden reunites with several of the actors from the previous project — among them Brian D. Coats, appearing in his third production for Two River. 

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AT MONMOUTH U, A FAB FOUR-DAY FORAY INTO A BRIGHT WHITE ALBUM

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, November 8 2018

It’s “the anti-Sgt. Pepper” if you will; an audacious, ambitious, eclectic piece of work that “if you surrender to it…batters you around like a shuttlecock” — and that “looms large as a big, brash, bold statement.”

The words are those of Kenneth Womack, Ph.D — Dean of the Wayne D. McMurray School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Monmouth University; award-winning author and critic; in-demand lecturer, and internationally recognized authority on the history, the lasting legacy, and the cultural influence of a little band called The Beatles. And the not-a-Pepper in question?  That would be the album also called The Beatles — a two-disc touchstone that marks the 50th anniversary of its release here in November 2018, and that remains known — due to obvious optics, and lack of any other formal christening — as The White Album.

Even if you’re not accustomed to big, brash, bold statements that arrive in deceptively plain, blank, “no frills” packaging, there’s no denying that the 1968 double-LP remains the great white elephant in the room for a couple of generations of music fans and cultural observers — an inviting canvas that would come to be embraced by both people-pleasing politicians and murderous Mansonites, and a cheerfully challenging opus that dispensed with the candy-colored psychedelia of 1967; re-establishing the Fab Four as a cohesive band, even as it laid the groundwork for the group’s quickly onrushing End of Days.

Beginning TODAY, November 8, and continuing in an extended weekend of events through Sunday, November 11, Monmouth University hosts The Beatles’ The White Album: An International Symposium — the latest in a successful series of academic conferences sponsored by the Bruce Springsteen Archive and Center for American Music at Monmouth; the resource whose director, Eileen Chapman, is both a longtime figure on the Asbury Park music scene and a current member of the city council.

Although The Beatles never played Asbury Park (they did perform a Philadelphia concert that was produced by Convention Hall event promoter Moe Septee), the music-mad city makes its presence felt here on Thursday’s opening day, with a Rock and Roll Walking Tour of local landmarks conducted by authors and Boss authorities Jean Mikle and Stan Goldstein. It’s an encore presentation of a featured attraction from several of the Springsteen-themed conferences hosted previously at Monmouth (including last spring’s salute to Darkness on the Edge of Town), with tickets ($35; see Monmouth.edu/the-white-album) still available, and the two-hour tour commencing at 1 pm from The Wonder Bar (Ocean and Fifth Avenues).

From there, the action moves to the West Long Branch campus of Monmouth U, where the school’s auditoriums and public spaces host an impressive array of Beatles experts and collaborators, as well as an assembly of Shore-based musicians who are raring to share their own musical perspectives on the album of the hour.

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IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF NOVEMBER 8-14

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, November 8 2018

SOUNDS: The Duprees at Tim McLoone’s 

Their catalog boasts “My Own True Love,”  “Have You Heard,” and what might just be their finest few minutes on record — that travelogue pledge of undying love, “You Belong to Me.”  Some 60-some years on, The Duprees don’t just belong to the ages (or to that know-it-all “oldies” collector in the track suit who wouldn’t cut you a break on that scratched-up single by the Jive Five) — but to the here and now, as the doo wop quartet has never stopped delivering their sublime little slices of streetcorner soul to a multi-generational public that’s hungry for harmony. On Saturday, November 2, the veteran vocalizers take it topside to McLoone’s Supper Club for some smooth slow-dance Saturday night sets of favorites from the Fifties, the early Sixties, and both-ways beyond. Available tickets for the 8 pm show start at $40, with seating reserved at timmcloonessupperclub.com.

STAGES: ANNIE at Axelrod PAC

Andrea McArdle, the original Little Orphan Annie of the Tony winning 1977 Broadway original, returns to the hit musical (this time as mean Miss Hannigan) in a new production at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Ocean Township. Performances at 8 p.m. on November 8, 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17; at 2 p.m.  on November 10, 11, and 17; at 3 p.m. on November 18, and at 7 p.m. on November 11. Reserve tickets ($46-$56 adults, with discounts for seniors and students) at axelrodartscenter.com. Check upperwetside.wordpress.com for our archived Coaster interview with McArdle on the new production.

STAGES: HAPPENSTANCE at Jersey Shore Arts 

The prolific collective La Strada Ensemble Theater returns again to the third floor cafe space at  Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center, with a program of four short original “plays about rolling the dice” (by Tom Cavanaugh, A.J. Ciccotelli, and Emmy winner William Mastrosimone) plus a cast that boasts Lite FM radio personality Christine Nagy (pictured at left). Performances are November 9 (8 pm) and November 10 (2 and 8 pm); reserve tickets ($25; senior and student discounts) at lastradaensemble.org or 732-455-2748.

STAGES: THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at Monmouth U

A clever pastiche of 1920s Jazz Age tunefests (and the fans who love them), the Tony winning 2009 meta-musical (with songs by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison) comes to the Lauren K. Woods Theatre in a production from the Department of Music and Theatre Arts at Monmouth U. Professor Sheri Anderson directs a student cast, with performances at 8 p.m. on November 9, 10, 14, 15, 16 and 17, plus 3 p.m. matinees on November 11 and 18. Reserve tickets ($20; free for MU students) at http://www.monmouth.edu/arts.

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HERE’S WHAT’S LEAPIN’ ONTO NOVEMBER’S SHORE STAGES

At left: Lite FM radio personality Christine Nagy and Brendan Keffner star in A.J. Ciccotelli’s  “The Un-Destined Traveler,” one of three short plays premiering under the umbrella title of HAPPENSTANCE, as La Strada Ensemble Theater returns to Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center in November. Photo by A.J. Ciccotelli

Published in the Asbury Park Press, November 2 2018

There’s the highly anticipated return of a true “Broadway baby” to the show that made her famous, with a twist. A mix of musical entertainments that aim to take some of the chill from the air, plus comedies, interactive family outings, a bit of sobering historical drama — and it’s beginning to look a lot like, well, November, here on Shore area stages.

The big news, as reported here earlier in these pages, is the long-awaited arrival of Annie to the auditorium of Ocean Township’s Axelrod Performing Arts Center, in a professional staging from producer Andrew De Prisco that boasts the starpower of Andrea McArdle. The actress and singer is indeed the same red-headed dynamo who was famously pulled from the show’s company of “orphans” to take on the title role in that multiple Tony-winning 1977 musical (a classic Broadway true-life tale that Busby Berkeley could not have choreographed better) — but while it’s never been uncommon for the likes of Rex Harrison and Yul Brynner to revisit their signature roles in multiple revivals of earlier stage triumphs, the APAC production finds the 54-year old McArdle portraying not Harold Gray’s eternally plucky comic strip heroine, but her nemesis, the ornery orphanage operator Miss Hannigan. 

“I’m literally being thrown into this…but the third time’s the charm,” says the recently minted grandmother who played the role in two previous Annie engagements (and who appeared briefly as “The Star To Be” in a 1999 TV movie version). “It’s a really daunting task…my memory of working with (original Hannigan) Dorothy Loudon is so vivid and strong…but I’m a quick study.” 

The commitment to the part represents a renewed interest in the Martin Charnin-Charles Strouse musical hit for the performer who became the youngest actress ever to be nominated for a Tony, and who went on to feature in the original casts of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express and State Fair, as well as to star turns in Beauty and the Beast and Les Miserables. Having since built a solid career as a cabaret artist, a concert attraction at some of the world’s major halls and a mentor to young stage hopefuls, she checks in to the autumnal Jersey Shore for a run of 15 performances that promise to be “a really good production…and fortunately, the little girl who’s playing Annie is a real treasure; a real find.”

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An ‘ANNIE’ with ANOTHER SIDE OF ANDREA McARDLE, AT THE APAC

Inset: Andrea McArdle is pictured as she appeared (with co-stars Sandy and Reid Shelton) in the original 1977 Broadway production of the hit musical ANNIE. The stage star returns to the show that made her famous — this time as mean Miss Hannigan — in the production that runs for three weekends at Ocean Township’s Axelrod Performing Arts Center.

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, November 1 2018

She was famously pulled from the ensemble to be thrust into the title role of one of the season’s most hotly anticipated musicals, in a story that might have made for a classic “backstage” musical in itself. She became the youngest performer ever to be Tony-nominated as Best Lead Actress in a Musical, only to lose out to the veteran who played her character’s nemesis in the same show. And, although her look and her voice and her positively charged energy have served as the standard against which all future portrayers of Annie would be judged, she would retire her characterization of the plucky Depression-era moppet at the end of the 1970s.

Beginning tomorrow night, November 2, and continuing across three weekends through November 18, Andrea McArdle returns to the Martin Charnin-Charles Strouse musical adaptation of the long-running comic strip Little Orphan Annie — not as Harold Gray’s juvenile heroine, but as that aforementioned nemesis, the mean orphanage matron and criminal conspiracist Miss Hannigan.

The professional production going up at Ocean Township’s Axelrod Performing Arts Center actually represents the third time that McArdle has taken on that comical villain role originated on Broadway by Dorothy Loudon. But, as the 54 year old stage star suggests, “the third time’s the charm” — especially when weighed against her original misgivings about accepting a role that would represent a forever-break from the “girl next door” parts that she had excelled in long into her adulthood (these included her stint in the original Broadway cast of State Fair at age 33, and, at 38, an acclaimed stint as Belle — “a Belle as old as time,” she jokes — in the Disney show Beauty and the Beast).

That first turn as Miss Hannigan, at the North Carolina Theatre in 2010, turned out to be “a real head trip” and a success for McArdle, despite it being “a really daunting task” for a lifelong performer whose “memory (of working with the Tony-winning Loudon) is so vivid and strong.”

“I’m literally being thrown into this one… but I’m a quick study, and fortunately the character has only two big songs instead of thirteen,” explains the actress and singer who first revisited Annie when she briefly appeared as “The Star To Be” in a 1999 ABC-TV movie version. “I’ve also had fantastic Annies each time I’ve done the show…and the little girl who’s playing Annie (Echo Picone) is a real treasure; a real find.”

“She has a quiet strength; a strong presence…some kids are just naturals,” says the former child star who has spent much of her career working with and mentoring young stage hopefuls — and whose adult daughter has also amassed a resume of theatrical credits (now a proud grandmother, McArdle also praises her 9 month old granddaughter for having “the tone and the pitch” to succeed in show business).

As McArdle recalls, “I did my share of shows performed for an audience of toys, with the hairbrush microphone…but I had to beg my parents to audition for a commercial;”  an experience that would lead to her first big break in a recurring role on the soap opera All My Children. “We as a family all had a part in my success.” Continue reading

IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF NOVEMBER 1-7

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, November 1 2018

SOUNDS: Anderson East at the Stone Pony 

Okay, so his name’s not Anderson East (it’s Michael Anderson; not to be confused with the guy who plays The Man from Another Place in Twin Peaks). And — despite his Nashville base of operations, and his tendency to be romantically linked with contempo-country recording artists — the Alabama native is more akin to a pop/rock/R&B singer who also happens to get nominated for Americana music awards. Whatever categorical pigeonhole he’s deftly dancing around at the moment, there’s no denying that Anderson East has worked his way up to the bigs from the perceived hinterlands of the DIY scene (thanks in no small part to some great exposure on the hit soundtrack to Fifty Shades Darker) — and when he makes his Asbury Park debut this Friday, November 2 behind his latest album Encore, it’ll be Brookdale Public Radio 90.5 The Night (and not Thunder 106) that welcomes him to the Stone Pony stage. Grizzled veteran “Nashville underdog” Travis Meadows makes for an interesting choice of opener for the show that opens the door at 7 pm, with tickets ($20 advance; $25 d.o.s.) still gettable from the box office window or stoneponyonline.com.

SOUNDS: Waterfront Duo at Patrick’s Pub

There’s the Asbury Park music history that gets celebrated in sprawling New York Times stories — and there’s Leon Trent, a man who’s been writing his own personal SOAP saga since long before The Boss ever graced the cover of a dentist-office newsweekly. A west-side wonder and a member of The Broadways — the 1960s Asbury/Neptune vocal group who released two singles on the nationwide MGM label — Trent truly achieved his musical destiny when he formed the eight-piece Waterfront in the 1970s. Known as much for his “fashionable and flashy” sartorial style as for his mastery of the “kick ass funky horn band” sound, the seemingly ageless entertainer continues to cover the waterfront well into the new millennium, transforming a corner of your favorite local watering hole into an arena for some classic R&B stylings (and literally hundreds of decades-spanning pop hits). On Friday night, the format is Duo — and the arena is Patrick’s Pub in Neptune City, the neighborhood tavern located at the Stop & Shop plaza just off Route 35. There’s no cover charge to take in the music — and no stopping the man who “turns a song into a show, and quickly becomes the audience’s onstage friend.”

SOUNDS: Billy Hector Electric Explosion at Langosta

“All I ever wanted was to play guitar for a living,” Billy Hector told us in an interview that appeared in The Coaster this past August. “…and I win!”  The Shore blues-rock legend whose career spans some six decades continues to make his presence felt up and down the Shore; both acoustically in settings like the recent Asbury Undergound Art & Music Crawl (as well as a regular gig at Belmar’s Ragin’ Cajun), and in plugged-in contexts that constitute no less than an Electric Explosion. Such is the case on November 3, when Hector, joined by his rhythm section of Sim Cain and Wilbo Wright (and who knows what manner of guests who come in from the cold) get behind the hitching rail of the Langosta Lounge stage for some Saturday night sets that promise to draw from the guitarist’s ever-deepening database of record releases (including the very recent long-player Some Day Baby) and his mapmaker’s mastery of the Chicago blues/ classic rock crossroads. Sounds start at 9:30 pm, with no charge for admission (but plenty of ee-lectrical charge in the air).

SOUNDS: Gypsy Funk Squad at the Yacht Club 

The finny faithful who attend the Asbury Park Promenade of Mermaids each year know them as the World Fusion/ Belly Dance Troupe that keynotes and heralds the colorful annual procession atop the boards (and beneath the warm summer sun). But the strolling street performers of NJ’s own Gypsy Funk Squad have also been known to stay put in one place when need be — and on November 3, the eclectically acoustic traveling carnival makes a rare indoor (and autumny-weather) appearance on the boardwalk, when Jack, Ohannes, and their crew of musical mer-persons dry-dock at the AP Yacht Club for some Saturday night sets that kick off at 9:30 pm. It’s a special Black Light Party that’s guaranteed to put a glow in that off-season/ set-the-clocks-back gloom — and there’s no cover charge, as always.

SCENES: Asbury Park Vegan Social  

It’s a Fat Cat Fiesta, hosted by one of our favorite creative culinary best-kept-secrets — Crust & Crumble — inside one our favorite downtown hangs, Shoppes at the Arcade (the ever-eclectic mini-mall located between Cookman and Lake Avenues at Bond Street). Going on Sunday afternoon from 12 to 4 pm, the happening offers up an all-vegan Fat Cat Sandwich Bar catered by Chef Luke and his C&C crew, plus a craft beer/ wine tasting, and live music courtesy of Brendan & Chris (pictured) from the sought-after event/party band Enjoy! All this plus a custom t-shirt, for a $45 ticket — with proceeds dedicated to the nonprofit Three Little Kittens Animal Rescue. There’s a Cat Costume Contest and “cat games” as well, so call 732-776-7767 to get social for a kittenly cause.

SOUNDS: Tuesday Night Record Club at Monmouth U

Returning to historic Wilson Auditorium at Monmouth University on November 6 is the Tuesday Night Record Club, the series that offers music fans a chance to share their perspectives and passions on some of the greatest albums of all time, in a listening-party setting (presented in partnership with The Grammy Museum) featuring moderators, guest panelists and fellow fanatics. This time out, the topic is the ultimate white elephant in the room — the 1968 double album THE BEATLES (aka The White Album), itself the subject of an ambitious International Symposium of words, music and activities that runs from November 8-11 on the Monmouth campus (and about which much more to come in this space). Put the headphones down and get sociable; admission to the 7:30 pm keynote event is FREE (register through eventbrite.com), and it’s followed on the schedule by December 4 exploration of David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

None of which is to suggest that we’ve forgotten the sold-out events starring LIFETIME (Saturday night at House of Independents) and ELVIS COSTELLO (Election Night Tuesday at the Paramount Theatre) — they just didn’t seem to need our help! But don’t YOU forget to set those clocks back for a bonus hour in the wee-hours ‘twixt Saturday night and Saturday morning…don’t forget to change the batteries in those smoke alarms…and don’t forget to check the November 1 print edition of THE COASTER, for the deep-dish listings of music, movies, comedy, theater, art, and Sex Toy Bingo (when applicable)!