ASBURY’S GOT TALLIE (AND LOTS OF TALENTED WOMEN) DURING 3-DAY FEST

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), November 21, 2019. Tallie design by Eric Schiabor

Tallie? Tallie Who? According to producing partners Brittney Dixon and Bob Makin, she’s the “overlooked girlfriend” of Tillie, the iconic figure whose toothy Cheshire-cat grin has graced many a souvenir and signifier of Asbury Park. She’s also someone whose name means princess in Gaelic, and from Friday, November 22 through Sunday, November 24, she’ll serve as spirit guide namesake for a three-day/ three venue happening designed to “shine a light on 22 female and female-fronted music acts, as a means to raise funds for two impactful women-operated Asbury-based charities” — an ambitious project called Tallie Fest.

Taking place on the stages of Marilyn Schlossbach’s Langosta Lounge and Asbury Park Yacht Club on the famous boardwalk, as well as Scott Stamper’s Main Street mainstay The Saint, the inaugural Tallie Fest celebrates “the many talented women based in Asbury and throughout New Jersey,” even as it raises funds and awareness for Food For Thought, the nonprofit initiative through which Chef Marilyn’s flagship restaurant feeds the homeless and hungry with free holiday dinners (on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter), in addition to operating a food truck that employs inner-city youth. The slate of shows also aims to benefit the Asbury Park Women’s Convention, the annual empowerment event (and its related year-round activities) that occurs during the Women’s History Month of March.

As the onetime manager of the landmark New Brunswick nightclub Court Tavern, and the promotional powerhouse behind the Brittney On Fire music showcase events (seen regularly over the past few years at venues like The Asbury Hotel’s Soundbooth Lounge), Dixon has indisputably ranked among the most influential women on the Garden State’s burgeoning music scene — although, as she readily observes, this highly anticipated “female powered” festival was originally the brainchild of Makin, the Dean of NJ Rock Journalists, and the veteran event organizer whose Makin Waves programs have raised beaucoup bucks for many a worthy cause.

“Tallie Fest was actually all Bob’s idea…I ran into him at a show at a local cafe, and he brought it up to me and I told him I loved the idea,” she says. “This is the first time we’ve ever officially done an event together, and I’m really thrilled with what we’ve created.“

“There have always been fantastic women doing their thing in the scene, and I’ve worked with a bunch of them from the get-go,” Dixon observes. “But it does seem that in recent years, bands with females or female fronts are taken a bit more seriously…it’s still not where it needs to be, but hopefully the scene can keep improving.”

Tallie floats her first notes over the chilly Atlantic with a pair of concurrent-but-connected concerts on Friday night, at the Schlossbach group’s sister saloons on the boardwalk. Langosta Lounge offers up an eclectic bill of locally based music makers, beginning at 9:30 with an unusual and exotic twist: the Middle Eastern percussion and instrumentation of music educator (and co-founder of the NY Arabic Orchestra) April Centrone. She’s followed by a young mainstay of the Shore scene, pop vocalist/ songwriter and bandleader Taylor Tote, with a closing set by Leah Voysey (from Brooklyn via Joisey).

Meanwhile, the Yacht Club features Pony-pedigreed singer and songwriter Stella Mrowicki, launching a Friday triple bill that further features Mamadrama (“a mom-only Jersey Shore band spicing rock and punk covers with inspired originals”), and Ella Ross, teamed here with a genuine Asbury original, Blaise. Both shows (as well as the two Saturday night events) are free of charge, but half of the entertainment budget will be donated to Food for Thought, which also will benefit from a 50/50 raffle, a silent auction (for color prints of co-sponsor Eric Schiabor’s Tallie poster), and a food drive through which attendees are encouraged to bring canned, nonperishable items to the show.

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LIVE, LOCAL & LOYAL, RIGHT HERE IN MUSIC CITY

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), November 14, 2019

 LOYALTY! It’s a concept that only truly functions as a two-way street — mind you don’t get thrown ‘neath one of those passing buses — and one that arguably attains its highest calling in that special relationship between singer/ band and audience. And, as Jeff Warshauer puts it, “in a time where 40,000 tracks get uploaded to Spotify every day and music is being relegated to the background, it is very important that we facilitate a deeper connection between artist and fan, and elevate the local music scene.”

Here along the Monmouth County Shore, that epicenter of the NJ music community (where sounds are a cash crop and principal export), the emergence and influx of new musical acts in recent years (added to an already substantial scene’s worth of veteran acts) fairly cries out for a reliable guide — and with that in mind, Warshauer developed Asbury Park-based Live Music Loyalty as a mobile app that focuses on “helping musicians connect with their fans and grow their audience” — a mission accomplished via comprehensive live music listings, detailed artist profiles, and an option that encourages fans “to check in to events so artists know who come see them play” (there’s also a recommended playlist each week, spotlighting tacts who are locally based, or who’ve paid a recent visit).

Having made its mark, with remarkable momentum, upon the scene’s screens, Live Music Loyalty takes its next quantum leap into the brick and mortar meatworld, with a pair of (concurrent but connected) multi-band “takeover” events this Saturday night, November 16. Beginning at 9:30 pm, the hallway between a pair of sister saloons on the Asbury boardwalk (Marilyn Schlossbach’s Langosta Lounge, and Asbury Park Yacht Club) is the two-way street that allows access to two stages worth of “Scene by the Sea” sounds, with Langosta serving up ace showband Secret Sound, plus the Mike Montrey Band and Matt Cook — while APYC sets sail with The Shoobies, Natalie Farrell, and The Foes of Fern. There’s no cover charge, and proceeds from purchases of products from drink special sponsors Last Wave Brewery and Shipwreck Rum go directly to the youth music education programs of the Asbury Park Music Foundation.

As Warshauer explains it, “Asbury Park is such an unbelievable community, and we need to make sure our artists don’t get drowned out by the noise” — but if ever a scene kicked up a glorious noise of its own, it’s this one; a year-round bash that spans the genres and the generations, and that anymore refuses to abide by the tired old concept of the “off season.”

Embedded within the evolution of the present-day scene is the phenomenon of the musician turned impresario/ promoter/ ringmaster of their own branded events — and the coming nights offer two exciting examples at live music venues in Long Branch. Tonight, November 14, the Freehold-based folks behind the fast-growing surf/ tiki label Hi-Tide Recordings (that’s Magdalena O’Connell and her husband, Black Flamingos drummer Vincent Minervino) return to Whitechapel Projects, as they welcome Rochester, NY’s retro pop trio The Hi-Risers (with some set-up spins by the ever-enigmatic DJ Hi-Tide). Then on Friday, the forever Home of Original Music on the Jersey Shore — that’s Greg Macolino’s Brighton Bar in wild West End — gives the floor to pioneer punk/crunch/skronk drummer Reg “Satana” Hogan, as the veteran pacesetter and recently minted promoter showcases a bill toplined by the buzzed-about band Shut Up, and featuring Reg’s own recent project, the trio 19DRT.

Another homegrown performer whose skills in both nightclub/concert and theatrical settings have served him well as a showman — the ever-industrious Anthony “Remember Jones” D’Amato — takes the Stone Pony stage on Saturday night, as frontman for the latest feather in his career cap; a little combo known as Everyone Orchestra. Under the baton of Matt Butler, it’s “a blissful, masterfully conducted, fully spontaneous explosion of live music created by a rotating cast of world renowned musicians” — in this case including such awesome instrumentalists as pedal-steel paragon Robert Randolph and sought-after session guitarist Vernon (Living Colour) Reid. Check our music listings on page 31 for particulars — and check in around town that night for no-cover sets by local lights Quincy Mumford (Robinson Ale House) and Alex English (Soundbooth Lounge at The Asbury Hotel).

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OK BOOMERS: VAN ZANDT ‘N MILMORE HAVE A GENERATION’S NUMBER

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.”

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A JOE GLOWS IN ASBURY (AND THE HARVARD BEATS GO ON)

The life and luminous legacy of the late JOE HARVARD — one-of-a-kid maker of music, savior of “trash,” and bringer of positive radiation — is celebrated with a new trash-art installation (and a special black-light opening reception) at Asbury Park’s art629 Gallery. (Joe photo by Kristen Driscoll)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), October 31, 2019

 In Asbury Park — a place where a few too many landmark structures have met the wrecking ball — lovers of the local landscape can attest that the loss of a favorite haunt or hang can feel like losing a longtime friend. On the flipside of that thought are the people whose passing feels like the removal of a beloved building or public space; a loss that gets one pondering how that missing puzzle-piece could have continued to contribute to local life, or served to inspire those who will come to stake out their own experiences and visions for this city.

Joseph Incagnoli Jr. — better known as Joe Harvard — was just such a figure on the scene; one whose madcap energy (and seemingly undimmable enthusiasm in the midst of often monumental adversity) served to embody the very scrap and spirit of a certain little city by the sea. A genuine legend in his native East Boston (where he co-founded Fort Apache recording studios, and had a hand in the creation of some significant records by The Pixies, Radiohead, Hole, and many others), Joe would find his way to a raggedy-but-re-emerging Asbury Park around the turn of the new millennium — and, before his death from cancer in the early spring of this year, would tickle the fancies and touch the lives of people from all all corners of town.

A songwriter, guitarist, sound collagist, event promoter, painter, published author, community volunteer, cool dad, and actual ivy-league Harvard Man, Joe was furthermore a master raconteur and storyteller-slam champion — although the stories he told were anything but tall tales, as witness the outlandish but entirely true story of how this guy very nearly became a member of the ruling family of Pakistan. Regardless of how you might have made his acquaintance — as the gadget-laden “One Banned Man” busker on the boardwalk; as ringmaster of a series of “Long Weekend” open mics at venues around town; as a softball teammate; as a worker with local kids or homeless adults; as a rescuer of animals; as a member of combos with names like Dub Proof, the Cockwalkers, or the Velvet Underground tribute “Velveeta;” as an advocate for diversity, inclusivity and acceptance in this weirdly welcoming city — Joe was somehow many Joes, seemingly existing everywhere at once.

That said, Joe Harvard left his biggest impression with the widest cross-section of humanity, via the signature endeavor known as The gARTen — “the world’s first all-trash, open-air, walk-through, black-light, glow-in-the-dark art gallery,” and a project via which Joe (ably abetted by partner Mallory Massara and other gleefully hoodwinked volunteers) collected, curated, and created a vividly colorful something from “invisible” plastic nothing; transforming a drably vacant patch of downtown business-district real estate (between Parlor Gallery and Cookman Creamery) into a sur-real estate that served as zany Zen contemplation garden by day, and luminous destination attraction by night.

Puttering like a farmer in his fertile fields of reclaimed household detritus and rebirthed containers of laundry detergent, Joe played host to a passing parade that featured curious passersby, musical performers, and his longtime friend, underground rock/ folk icon Jonathan Richman. And it was a philosophical Joe who would be charged with the task of breaking down the gARTen (and a short lived sister location on the west side of town) at the end of 2018, shortly before receiving a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis. For the irrepressible creative spirit, those last months were ultimately another chapter in a decades-long campaign to seize life and passion and compassion and curiosity and good cheer, from the same devils that tend to trip up so many of us less alive souls.

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IT’S OCTOBER COUNTRY, AND ‘LILY’ IS IN BLOOM AT NJ REP

Joy Danze and Christopher Daftsios star in LILY, the play by Daftsios making its world premiere in Long Branch this weekend. (photos by Andrea Phox)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), October 24, 2019

 In screen stories like Tender Mercies (and numerous vanity projects starring singers with actorly ambitions), a tale of a musician’s battles with personal demons, past transgressions, and the po’-side of fortune is told with a pronounced twang — and it’s not hard to see why, since no other genre can match country when it comes to that often tense and too-close dance between star and fan.

Locked into a loop of perpetual touring; grinding out product for an increasingly fractured and fickle marketplace, the country music artists who are compelled to meet and greet their followers at events like the annual CMA FanFair can often look like they’d rather be anywhere but there. And here in the heart of The October Country (that place “where it is always turning late in the year,” as per Ray Bradbury, and where boarded-up seasonal businesses are “nailing summer into a series of coffins”), a frequent visitor to our Shore prepares to debut a new dramatic work that fulfills two of his personal goals: to compose “a modern day Greek tragedy,” and “to play a cowboy.”

Regular followers of Long Branch-based New Jersey Repertory Company know the actor Christopher Daftsios from recent-seasons dramas like The Jag, Mercy, and The Substance of Bliss. Beginning this weekend and continuing through a month-long limited engagement, the player steps out as playwright, when NJ Rep’s branded playhouse on downtown Broadway presents the premiere of Lily.

Going up for a pair of preview performances beginning tonight, October 24, the latest in the professional company’s long line of world premiere plays represents the first fully staged production of a script by Daftsios. The actor who saw his one-act “In the Hole” performed at one of NJ Rep’s short play festivals (and who has since expanded that piece into the full-length Circus Dreams) was actually approached by two NYC-based producers who sought to bring Lily to Off Broadway runs — but opted to debut in Long Branch, where “SuzAnne and Gabe Barabas gave me the freedom to explore this story.”

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ASBURY UNDERGROUND RISES AGAIN, IN A CRAWL TO DUTY

Mark “Xylophone of Wrench” Davis returns to Joe Harvard’s gARTen — where he plied his unique musical trade in October 2018 — when the semi-annual sonic smorgasbord known as ASBURY UNDERGROUND comes back to the bistros, boutiques, and boulevards of downtown AP on October 19.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), October 17, 2019

 It’s a FESTIVAL for sure, here in a seaside destination that’s just signed up for a third go-round of Sea.Hear.Now in 2020. Only this is one that elevates the storefront over the waterfront; the beloved “townies” over the international touring acts — and where the only surfing to be done is in catching the wave of a city’s creative community, within the most delightfully unexpected settings.

This Saturday afternoon, October 19, marks the plucky 13th edition of the Asbury Underground Art and Music Crawl, a strolling/ rolling smorgasbord that commandeers a collection of offbeat venues for a happening that, like the recent Porchfest of a few weeks back, puts the “underground” in street-level sight — placing the fertile scene’s big heart front and center for all to see. The brainchild of Patrick Schiavino — artist, gallery owner, curator, promoter, vanguard Asbury Park developer, and big-time music fan — the Crawl works its way up and down the Cookman Avenue corridor (plus points on Bond Street, Bangs Ave, Lake/ Springwood and Main Street) between the hours of 1 and 6 pm.

Speaking at art629, his Cookman Avenue gallery space that does duty as Asbury Underground’s headquarters, Schiavino explains that “come September, things tend to get very quiet downtown during the week…it’s like someone let the air out of the balloon…and my neighbors here in the business district love that I’m doing something that brings people to town in the daytime.”

With a music business resume that includes stints as booker for such fabled Jersey nightspots as The Fountain Casino and Club Bene, and as a co-owner of the Circuit landmark Wonder Bar (to say nothing of his years as manager of TV/ nightclub icon Uncle Floyd Vivino), Schiavino could maybe afford to rest on the laurels of that well-earned cred — but for him, the event represents “an opportunity for performers to connect with new audiences — younger kids, older people, anyone who doesn’t go out to bars at night.”

Also blinking out into the daylight sun are performers that span the generations and the genres, encompassing longtime local faves (Stringbean, Kevin John Allen) and next-gen breakouts (Taylor Tote, Quincy Mumford, Pamela Flores), plus purveyors of punk, powerpop, Americana, torchy jazz, and the classically inspired compositions of David Ross Lawn. With a number of new additions on board for this year’s tour (inlcuding Amici, Locals ArtSpace, Proven Poké, Sami’s, Wacky Tobacky), the pop-up pop concerts transform the town’s galleries, eateries, salons, and retail spaces into places where one can almost literally stumble over The Next Big Thing.

“It gets a little bigger each year, and it could possibly be even bigger by about a third, if we had the extra manpower…and if there were such a thing as more hours in the day,” says Pat with a laugh. “As it is, we really can’t fit more people on our schedule in a single day, without doing an injustice to those that are playing.”

It’s a Herculean task behind the scenes, as undertaken by Pat’s music organizers, Dark City Entertainment’s Christine Feola and Shore scene veteran Rick Barry. Considerations include maintaining an eclectic shuffle mix; taking stock of who’s going to be on the road at the time (frequent-flyer performers Emily Grove and Dentist are thus missing in action this year), and making sure that musicians who draw an overlapping crowd are scheduled in such a way that fans can catch as many of their favorites as possible. 

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SCARY SKETCHES, FROM THE UNDERGROUND

Models Kevin Tallon, Nicole Howard, and Saraphina Curry are pictured in a scene from Dr. Sketchy Asbury Park’s GRIMM FAIRY TALES event in October 2018. Photos by CJ Mars

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), October 10, 2019

 It’s a truism that applies to any musician, comedian, deejay, trivia quizzard, bingo master, psychic medium, or variety entertainer who ever forged a mutually beneficial relationship with a restaurant or bar: if you want to have a steady gig, you’ve gotta draw.

Hidden beneath the bustling sidewalks of Asbury Park’s Cookman Avenue corridor, a passionate posse of offbeat art lovers has taken that bit of accepted wisdom to literal, face-value heart — by offering local denizens a genuinely one-of-a-kind diversion; one that speaks in equal measure to expressing one’s soulful self, while indulging in a healthy bit of masquerade and make-believe.

Presented year-round, on the third Wednesday evening of each month, the communal drawing sessions of Dr. Sketchy’s Asbury Park invite participants of all ages and skillsets to “draw together” in a relaxed and yet wildly vivid setting, equipped with live figure models who are spectacularly outfitted according to each session’s designated theme.

It all happens, colorfully and often oh-so-quietly, in the lower-level Basement Bar of the Bond Street Complex, that interconnected colony of rendez-vous accessible via the Bond Street Bar, Capitoline (Cookman Ave.), or Loteria (Mattison Ave.). With sessions starting at 6:30 pm (and lasting approximately three hours, including breaks), the events are neither sober instructional classes nor merlot-marinated Paint ‘N Sips, but a place where — in the words of Carly-Jean Booker — “some super crazy talented people can work alongside people who just want to work on their skills, with a little friendly competition, but no critiquing and no pressure.”

 As the leader and public face of the Asbury Park group’s Team Sketchy, the arts aficionado who goes by the name CJ Mars maintains a “passion project” that’s loosely but officially affiliated with the original Dr. Sketchy events — the popular sessions that began in NYC, and subsequently spread to major cities across the U.S. and several other foreign shores. Call her “Doctor” if you must (in a way that suggests a Dr. Who-like regeneration process that ensures the long-term survival of the Sketchy franchise) — but as CJ sees it, she and her Team mates Tracy Coon, Celia Connaire, and Amanda Mercadante are not only offering their fellow New Jerseyans entree to a genuine international phenomenon (the Asbury chapter is currently the only regularly operating one in the Garden State), but carrying on in the spirit of the local chapter’s founder, Tim Lucas.

Organizing Sketchy sessions in the earlier years of the decade at various venues like the Jenn Hampton-era Asbury Lanes, Lucas made a late-innings convert in Carly-Jean, who “started attending in March 2015, and began to go almost religiously, it affected me so much.”

“I have a BFA in graphic design, and I was always into art, although not really figure drawing,” says the designer in the Ocean County library system. “Knowing people in the Burlesque scene, and getting involved with belly dance, I had friends who got me into some cool things…but I had never seen anything like this. It helped get me out of my shell!”

When Lucas stepped aside from his Doctorly duties, Stephanie Wolter kept the local group going in sessions at the Belmar Arts Council — but a move away from the area left the Shore chapter at sea, until CJ and company stepped in with the determination that “no way are we going to give this up…this has to go on.” And in October 2017 — two years ago this week — Team Sketchy hosted their first event; a Halloween themed offering centered around Witches and Warlocks.

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LIVE THEATER? IT’S NO ZOMBIE ART FORM

Dan Lauria of TV’s WONDER YEARS is among the actors, directors and playwrights taking part in a Theater Brut Festival of Short Plays this weekend in West End…while Ray Dademo and Frank Falisi star as the brothers Mizner, when Ocean Grove’s NENAproductions takes on Stephen Sondheim’s rarely seen ROAD SHOW.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), October 3, 2019

On a weekend when the Zombie hordes lurch once more along the boards and boulevards of Asbury Park (and the force of nature known as Shatner walks the land, and a couple of veteran Springsteen bandmates play a free concert), a couple of seemingly unrelated happenings serve to remind us that — when it comes to resolutely original, routine-breaking, risk-taking live theater — this place sits squarely within the Land of the Living.

In fact, with more professional and semipro companies active in the area than at any time in recent memory — and several more ambitious fledgling troupes prepping for their turn in the spotlight (Asbury Park Theater, Dromio Theater, and Shore Thing Improv — about which more to come in this space), those who branded the art form a “fabulous invalid” in general, and a walking-dead issue on the local front, have to up and admit that the live local stage is most definitely No Country for Old Zombies.

THE SCENT OF BRUT

The French defined “Art Brut” (“raw” or “outsider” art) as a creative work that “colors outside the lines” of socially accepted, polite, or even legal norms — and while “Theatre Brut” as practiced by the folks at New Jersey Repertory Company is done entirely according to copyright law, Equity rules, and public permit, the (more or less) annual festival of that name represents an opportunity for the Long Branch-based company to assemble an allstar team of their favorite frequent-flyer guest artists — having fun, and playing fast-and-loose with expectations, in a way that allows actors, directors, and playwrights to invade each others’ wheelhouse.

Going up for four separate sessions between tonight, October 3 and Sunday, October 6, the 2019 Theater Brut Festival of Short Plays presents 16 never before seen works, loosely collected under the assigned theme “Some Like It Hot.”

It’s the eighth such event presented by NJ Rep co-founders SuzAnne and Gabor Barabas, and the third to be hosted inside the West End Arts Center, the reborn and repurposed elementary school building (occupying a whole city block worth of Long Branch’s West End neighborhood) that’s the subject of some truly ambitious plans for future seasons. It’s also the centerpiece of the latest West End Festival of the Arts, a five-day fling that kicked off Wednesday night with an all-star poetry reading hosted by poet/ educator/ editor/ musician Daniel Weeks and his magazine This Broken Shore (there are also concurrent visual art and photo exhibits on display for the duration of the weekend).

As with previous years’ themes (some of which have included “The Seven Deadly Sins,” “The Circus Comes to Town,” and “America’s Pastime”), playwrights are invited to submit scripts that interpret the given title in any number of ways — and, as SuzAnne Barabas explains, the concept of “Hot” has inspired the authors to deal with topics that range from sexual relationships, to climate change — and even “elements from the movie Some Like It Hot, like gangsters and drag!”

And, as is the custom, those playwrights are a diverse lot, ranging from award-winning veterans to newcomers — and even a couple of scribes who are more familiar as faces on our nation’s TV screens.

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