L-R: Gary Shaffer, Tom Frascatore, Billy Van Zandt, and Jeff Babey are THE BOOMER BOYS, when the musical comedy returns to Tim McLoone’s Supper Club in AP on November 10. (photos by Rich Tang)
Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), November 7, 2019
Granted, many composers of song and verse have addressed the realities of entering one’s “autumn years” with bittersweet beauty and elegiac elegance — but it’s safe to say that only one mature work of art has had the courage to couch its sentiments in a lyric like “My Prostate is the Size of a Buick.”
Returning this Sunday evening, November 10, to the Asbury Park stage where it was first workshopped a few years back, the musical comedy The Boomer Boys is a full-length revue in which a four-man “Fat Pack” of fifty-going-on-sixtysomething guys examines the march of time, the ebb of tide, and the inevitable degeneration of a generation, through laff-worthy laments on such topics as snoring, hair loss, weight gain, and lost keys. With Tim McLoone’s Supper Club the setting for the show seen previously under the title The Man-O-Pause Boys, the single 7 pm performance marks the latest in a series of boardwalk homecomings, for a pop-culture dynamo by name of Van Zandt.
That’s Billy Van Zandt to be precise; the half-brother of Little Steven Van Zandt, and a Middletown Township native who’s always maintained a foothold in the sandy soil of his Shore spawning grounds, even as he “went Hollywood” during a decades-spanning run as an award winning writer and producer for stage and screen. Segueing from his time as a young actor who scored plum parts in high profile films like Jaws 2, Taps, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the comedy specialist who wrote his first produced play in junior high school built his reputation and resumé as a playwright and a producer, in close partnership with his friend (and fellow Monmouth County local) Jane Milmore.
Writing and staging some two dozen fast-paced farces and tuneful titterfests with names like Love, Sex and the IRS, The Senator Wore Pantyhose, What the Rabbi Saw, and Confessions of a Dirty Blonde — and premiering many of their scripts in “homecoming” engagements at Brookdale Community College — the two built a brand that would rival the old British empire for global sprawl, and inspire the tongue in cheek showbiz adage, “you know you work in community theater if you’ve ever appeared in a show written by Van Zandt and Milmore.”
Their hard-earned success on the far (and fun) fringes of the “legitimate theatah” earned the collaborators entree to the high-pressure, highly competitive realm of TV sitcoms — and it’s there that Billy and Jane forged a career as staff writers and co-producers for shows that included Newhart, Martin, The Hughleys, and Anything But Love. It’s an interlude that saw them working with everyone from Don Rickles and Lucille Ball to Martin Lawrence and Andrew Dice Clay; garnering Peoples Choice awards and an Emmy nomination, and even marrying in ways that placed each of them a single degree of separation from the late and legendary Bea Arthur (Billy to ex-wife and Maude daughter Adrienne Barbeau; Jane to Golden Girls co-producer Richard Vaczy).
With the network TV game more chaotic than ever, Van Zandt and Milmore resumed their focus (or actually, never turned their backs) upon the creation of new works for the stage — scoring an international hit with You’ve Got Hate Mail, an intimately scaled “fingertip farce” that plays out with characters seated at computer terminals, and a crowd-pleasing comedy that was seen previously at Mr. McLoone’s. Making the connection with veteran actor, musician, cabaret artist and composer Wayland Pickard, Billy and Jane kicked around the idea for the project that would become The Boomer Boys.
Reporting in from his California home (where just days before he’d marked himself “safe from the Getty fire”), Van Zandt explains that Pickard “came to Jane and me to pitch us the idea of writing a show together that explains what men of a certain age go through.”
“Jane said yes right away,” he recalls. “She said ‘I’d rather write about it than hear you continue to complain about it’…and the show took off from there.”
While there’s no onstage role for Van Zandt’s longtime playwriting/ producing/ performing partner in this all-male revue, Milmore has been fully engaged with the creation and development of Boomer Boys from the outset; steering the production through its earliest iterations, and making major contributions to the show’s book and comic song lyrics (sample titles include “I Just Took a Pill Called Viagra” and “My God, I Am My Father”).
Joining Billy Van Zandt (who plays “Billy”) in the show’s current cast are a couple of veteran members of The Unofficial Van Zandt-Milmore Stock Company: Tom Frascatore (as “Tom”) and Jeff Babey (as “Jeff”), while rounding out the foursome is the relatively recent addition of Gary Shaffer (playing the part of “Gary” — and really, what are the odds?).
A member of the Ocean County College faculty — and a skilled actor-director-producer-musician who many might recognize as a charter member of the Shore-based Irish band The Snakes (he’s also the first and possibly only promoter to bring hip-hop concerts to Howell Township; a story for another day) — Shaffer actually became involved with the Boys project as one of the show’s producers, a role that he shares with Joe Corcoran (who, as co-producer of Tony and Tina’s Wedding, was instrumental in making that interactive Off Broadway hit a worldwide sensation). When original cast member and longtime Billy-Jane collaborator Glenn Jones bowed out of the show due to injuries, Shaffer stepped up to the stage; wearing multiple hats throughout a busy year that saw a change of title (other names under consideration included The Golden Boys and The Bucket List Boys), as well as a renewed drive to bring the production to audiences in different cities and larger venues.
“The beauty of this show is the simplicity of the original concept…it’s something that works in small rooms, and we’ve done it everywhere from VFW halls to adult community centers,” observes the Toms River native who transitioned to theater from his 1980s tenure as a member (alongside his fellow regional stage actor and impresario Jan Topoleski) of the Shore new-wave band The Pinch.
“We’ve also sold out the Algonquin in Manasquan, which is around 400 seats…and the OCC theatre, which is about 600,” he adds. “And from here we head to the Regent Theatre up by Boston, which is 500 seats.”
“We’ve added things like projections for those bigger rooms, but at its heart it’s a show that goes over great in the supper-club sort of setting…and it’s a show that’s funny when you’re sober!”
For his part, Van Zandt is pleased to be performing in “the first show I’m not producing myself…Joe Corcoran’s pedigree of producing Tony and Tina’s Wedding for 20 years impressed me enough to turn over the reins on this one to Gary and Joe. And I love just showing up and performing.”
“I especially love doing this show because it’s with three great friends,” says the showbiz multi-tasker who’s currently hard at work on a memoir of his adventures in TV-land (working title: Get in the Car, Jane!). “I’ve known Tom since kindergarten. Jeff and Gary for over twenty five years. It keeps us loose, and we always have as good a time as the audience.”
It’s a feeling that’s mutual for Shaffer, whose long-range plans for the production include the establishment of multiple touring companies, the better to “occupy the niche of shows like Nunsense and Forever Plaid…it actually hits a pretty broad audience, where you find husbands, wives, couples all identifying with it.”
“Billy and Jane can make you laugh…and they can really grab you on a deeper level,” the actor-producer maintains. “Just to watch them at their craft is a real treat…they’re constantly fine tuning; making every laugh count, and every time we do the show, it’s funnier than before.”
While Sunday’s 7 pm performance of The Boomer Boys is close to selling out as we go to press, reservations ($35) and information on available seating can be found at timmcloonessupperclub.com. If you can make it out to Quakerstown, PA this Saturday, November 9, you can find west coast transplant Van Zandt and his three Jersey pals performing the show at McCoole’s Art Place — and from Asbury Park, the production heads up to the aforementioned Regent Theatre in Arlington, MA for a super-sized stand on Saturday, November 23. Visit vanzandtmilmore.com/current-productions for updates and ticket links regarding additional appearances by those perennially pleasing (if not exactly ageless) Boomers.