IT’S JUST AROUND THE CORNER: LIGHT OF DAY KEEPS THE AP HOME FIRES LIT

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 17 2019

To hear the man tell it, “Longevity is a benchmark of greatness” — and given that the speaker is Tony Pallagrosi, the words are no mere fridge-magnet platitude. After all, this is the veteran music scene mover ‘n shaker whose unimpeachable cred extends from his days as one of the cats in the band (The Shots, The Asbury Jukes), to host of some much-missed Shore nightspots (The FastLane, Xanadu), to co-founder of major concert venues and promotion entities (Starland Ballroom, Concerts East), to manager of The Weeklings — and quite possibly all the way to “the other side,” thanks to Asbury Angels, the musical memorial initiative that he chairs.

Pallagrosi, however, isn’t referring to himself, or to any of those aforementioned feathers in his cap, but to the endeavor that may ultimately stand as his most lasting legacy: Light of Day, the music-driven fundraising vehicle that’s  illuminated some of the darkest winter days and nights in this City of Summers for well nigh two decades.

Co-founded by Pallagrosi with music promo/ management pro Bob Benjamin as an awareness resource for Parkinson’s Disease research — and inspired by Benjamin’s own diagnosis with the disorder — the annual slate of star-studded happenings grew out of a 40th birthday party for Bob at the Stone Pony; taking its name from the Springsteen soundtrack song “Just Around the Corner to the Light of Day” on its way to becoming a sprawling affair that’s spanned several continents, major North American cities and additional satellite events throughout the calendar year.

Of course, along the way Light of Day became indelibly identified with the stamp of Benjamin’s long-time friend Bruce Springsteen — not just via the organization’s name, but in the very real presence of The Boss as an onstage participant and de facto ringmaster for the majority of those all-star Bob’s Birthday concerts. As an undeniable draw (and a focal point for some tantalizing will-he-or-won’t-he buzz each year), the Bard of the boardwalk has generously shared the stage with a core cast of frequent-flyer performers (including Joe Grushecky, Willie Nile, and Steve Forbert), as well as drop-in guest stars that have ranged from Southside Johnny, Darlene Love and Gary US Bonds, to Light of Day movie star (plus high-profile person with Parkinson’s) Michael J. Fox, and  The Sopranos’ Vincent Pastore.

While the nonprofit Light of Day Foundation is a year-round entity upon which the sun never sets, the heart and soul of the positively charged enterprise remains LOD Winterfest, the mid-January jamboree of activity that commandeers the stages, storefronts and saloons of Asbury Park during the post-holiday “off season” interlude when most other Shore towns are deep into a long winter’s nap. Having offered up a couple of preliminary pace-setter events on January 13 (see the feature on Bob Burger in last week’s Coaster), the circus comes to town in full force for a long weekend that begins tonight, January 17, with a choice of tuneful entertainments that includes a “Hall of Fame Jam” featuring veteran Bruce drummer Vini Lopez (Langosta Lounge), a special edition of Sandy Mack’s Wonder Jam at the Wonder Bar, and an official kickoff concert at downtown’s House of Independents that spotlights such next-gen talents as Williams Honor and Anthony “Remember Jones” D’Amato.

“No other town this small has such a vibrant music scene,” says Pallagrosi. “And at the end of the day, I want everyone involved.”

Continue reading

IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF JANUARY 10-16

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ,January 10 2019

SOUNDS: Big Man’s Birthday at the Headliner 

The old Big Man’s West nightclub may have long predeceased the iconic signifier of the sax who presided over the party, but over on Route 35 South in Neptune, The Headliner keeps said party proliferating, with a seventh annual salute to the enduring spirit of Clarence Clemons — who would have been 77 years old on January 11 — on that selfsame Friday evening. A collection of Jersey’s fave jam-masters is highlighted by the Dead-on interpretations of Splintered Sunlight, with Secret Sound, Woodfish, the Pat Roddy Band, and — in a too-rare local appearance — next-gen bandleader Nick Clemons (pictured). Special guests are rightly promised as well, for the event that floats its first note at 4 pm. Proceeds benefit the Monmouth County SPCA, as well as the nonprofit CFC (Coming Full Circle) Loud  N CLEAR Foundation for recovery support and relapse prevention — and tickets ($25) can be reserved online at bigroad.ticketbud.com.

THEATER: GODSPELL at Jersey Shore Arts 

Long before he composed the songs for the Broadway mega-hit Wicked, Stephen Schwartz gifted America’s great big community stage with Godspell, the youth-powered 1971 perennial based on parables from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The show that birthed the hit “Day By Day” puts forth and Age-of-Aquarius message of love and tolerance via an eclectic score that ranges from folk-infused pop to vintage vaudeville — and it’s back on the local stage for one weekend only, in a 2012 revised version that boasted new songs from the award winning composer. Presented January 11-13 at the Palaia Theater inside Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center, it’s a guest production of The Ashley Lauren Foundation Theatre Ensemble, a traveling performance arm of the non-profit organization “dedicated to bringing hope and help to children throughout New Jersey who suffer from cancer.”  Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, with a 2 pm Sunday matinee closing out the engagement, and tickets ($20 adultys; $15 seniors and students) can be reserved online at k4k.booktix.com.

 

SOUNDS: Anthony Krizan Band at the Wonder Bar 

Arriving back in town with the calling cards of his mid-90s tenure in jam-scape hitmakers The Spin Doctors — and a songwriterly sidegig that’s seen him pen successful tunes for Lenny Kravitz, John Waite, and others — Jersey-fresh singer/guitarist/producer Anthony Krizan takes the Wonder Bar stage this Friday evening, January 11, with a band of buddies that includes Asbury’s own Sandy Mack (see last week’s profile in this space). Krizan kollaborator/ ko-headliner and Hammond B3 ace John Ginty — himself a road scholar whose credentials include The Dixie Chicks and The Allman-Betts Band — bolsters the bill, with special guest Marcus Randolph (of his cousin Robert’s Randolph Family Band) keeping it all in the jamily via sit-ins with both bands.

SOUNDS: “Cover Me” at the Stone Pony

It’s “just around the corner” to Light of Day Winterfest,the annual mega-slate of musical benefits that commandeers NJ’s most music-minded municipality next weekend — and on Sunday, January 13, the 2019 edition of LOD sounds an advance keynote with an afternoon event that spotlights some of the region’s top talents on the bar-band and tribute-act circuit. Taking the Stone Ponystage are The Carl Gentry Band (2:30 pm), Clapton tribute Bell Bottom Blues (3:30), Moroccan Sheepherders (4:30), The Weeklings’ Bob Burger (paying homage here to Tom Petty at 5:30), CSN Songs (pictured) performing the sonic signatures of Croby, Stills, Nash AND Young at 6:30, and a 7:45 headline set by Best of the Eagles. Check stoneponyonline.com for available tickets ($18 in advance) — and check back here on January 17, for much MORE on Light of Day activities all around Asbury ACTION Park!

SCREENS: SPRINGSTEEN ON BROADWAY at Monmouth U

The Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music presents a FREE public screening of the film based on the Boss’s super-successful Broadway solo show, recorded live at the Walter Kerr Theatre and streaming currently on Netflix. It’s a chance to experience the acclaimed production on the big screen of the Pollak Theatre at Monmouth U, with Emmy winning producer and director Thom Zimny appeaing in person for a special extended introduction. The one-time screening event takes place this Sunday, January 13 at 4 pm, with ticket reservations available online and required for entry (limit two reservations per guest). Admission of registered guests begins at 3 pm on a first come/ first served basis (seats are not guaranteed), and non-perishable food items will be accepted in support of The Nest, Monmouth’s food pantry for students in need.

SOUNDS: Albert Lee Band at Tim McLoone’s 

Even if you’ve never heard Albert Lee play, you might have encountered some monumental praise and awe-struck odes to the Brit-born country/ blues “guitarist’s guitarist” from a number of people who are considered guitar-gods in their own right. To watch this veteran best-kept-secret at work is to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt — and this Sunday night, January 13, Asbury Park receives an exceedingly rare audience with the lightning-powered picker, as Lee and band take it topside at Mr. McLoone’s Supper Club. It’s one of the opening salvos of the 2019 Light of Day Winterfest (about which much more to come in this space) — and it’s an occasion further illuminated by one of our own fave best-kept-secrets of the Shore scenescape: Michael Patrick, ace frontman of the Cash tribute Ring of Fire Band and a savvy songsmith who’s gigging behind his latest, John Wayne Movies. Available reservations for the 7:30 pm show ($25-$35) at timmcloonessupperclub.com.

ANGRY ORCHARD: SECRETS, PAIN RIPE FOR THE PICKING AT NJ REP

Kersti Bryan and Christopher M. Smith co-star in APPLE SEASON, the play by E.M. Lewis making its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Photo by New Jersey Repertory Company

The Russian master Anton Chekhov had his Cherry Orchard and its group portrait of a fast-fading aristocracy, rotting from the inside out as it falls to the axe of social change. In the latest drama to make its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company, it’s Apple Season in the Pacific Northwest’s Willamette Valley — and it’s there where the low-hanging fruit of past behaviors and secrets threaten the members of one local family with a one-way trip into a wormhole of regret and suffocating grief.

Opening this weekend at the company’s downtown Long Branch playhouse, the play by E.M. Lewis represents NJ Rep’s first staging of a work by the the Oregon-based playwright who, by her own admission, is “the kind who goes back and forth between smaller, personal stories and bigger political plays.” Describing this one as “an intimate little three character play,” the award-winning dramatist declares that its themes of “the danger of secrets and the importance of truth telling” operate within her desire to “write about rural people…the ones who are less visible on most theatrical stages.”

“Sam Shepard wrote about non-urban people in a way that captured the largeness of human questions,” she observes. “People who live in ‘small’ places are people who are still wrestling with some big issues.”

In the production under the direction of Zoya Kachadurian, a funeral brings a sister and brother (Kersti Bryan, Richard Kent Green) back to the family farm that they turned their backs on years ago — leading to an encounter with a neighbor (Christopher M. Smith) who shares a history with both of the siblings, and a situation in which “a legacy of violence” puts an indelible stamp on the here and now. It all unfolds within “the season when the apples are hanging and ready…with no one there to pick them.” Continue reading

HERE’S WHAT’S ON SHORE STAGES IN JANUARY

Broadway director Sarna Lapine comes to Red Bank in January, teaming with Two River Theater on a new staging of Michael Frayn’s frantic farce NOISES OFF.

Published in the Asbury Park Press, January 4 2019

No sooner have we shoved Tiny Tim back up into the attic for another year, and stuck that shedding Ebenezer out at the curb, than the folks who bring live theater to our local stages get busy once again. And if January’s offerings are any indication, there’s going to be plenty to laugh and smile about in 2019, sometimes even in double doses.

With its disaster-prone play-within-a-play “Nothing On,” its inside-out perspectives on the process of making theater, and its bracingly modern approach to the physical laws of timeless farce, Noises Off is about as entertaining an example there is of a “meta” theatrical experience. But when two distinct productions of the Michael Frayn comedy occupy the same basic patch of turf at the same moment in time — well, that’s a sci-fi scenario that veers dangerously close to a fraying of the space/time fabric. That said, Shore-based aficionados of fast and furious stage comedy have a choice later this month, thanks to the good graces of rights licensors and to the hardworking teams at Red Bank’s Two River Theater Company and Manasquan’s Algonquin Arts Theatre. The professional playhouse takes the first pratfall with the popular backstage burlesque; going up in previews on January 12 in a production that sports a diverse young cast of players, wrangled by Sarna Lapine (who made her Broadway directorial debut with the 2017 revival of the Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal). The play opens officially on January 18 and continues through February 3; call 732-345-1400 or visit tworivertheater.org for tickets — and watch this space for more on Two River’s Noises Off.

Then for two weekends beginning Friday, January 26, the 2018-19 Broadway Series schedule at Algonquin Arts gets back into gear in hyper-kinetic style with a production of Noises Off that promises the “complete pandemonium” of “lines being forgotten, love triangles unraveling, and sardines flying everywhere” — and for which tickets ($32-$40, with discounts for seniors and students) and full schedule details can be found at 732-528-9211 or algonquinarts.org. Continue reading

LOOKING BACK ON THE BEST OF LOCAL STAGES, 2018

El Chupacabra terrorizes the alternate reality of a cartoonist turned comic book hero, in the 2018 Two River Theater production EL COQUÍ ESPECTACULAR AND THE BOTTLE OF DOOM. Photo by Richard Termine

Published in the Asbury Park Press, December 28 2018

Star-powered casts — and a set of new and diverse voices — set the pace for the live theater stages of Monmouth and Ocean counties in the calendar year 2018. The area served by the Asbury Park Press continued to draw the attentions and the talents of some top-shelf pros, even as its many creative crannies proved that the most interesting things can occur in the most unlikely of venues. Here are a handful of the Great Performances and all-around Good Things that we happened across in the year that was.

New dramas

Bemoaning the fact that comic book characters seem to be hijacking the entire mass culture? Well, get over it, because back at the top of the year, Red Bank’s Two River Theater set the pace with a “superhero play” of supercharged energy: the intriguingly titled El Coquí Espectacular and the Bottle of Doom. Emerging from Two River’s annual Crossing Borders festival of new Latinx plays, the play by Matthew Barbot succeeded where the mighty Spidey and Superman fell short in their respective musical misadventures; investing its story (of a young unemployed Puerto Rican-American artist turned self-styled costumed crimefighter) with a choreographed visual verve that played, under the direction of Jose Zayas, like a musical minus the music. Throw in a layered plot that segued smoothly between the alternate realities of the dual-identity protagonist, with projected images that heightened the shift between parallel worlds, and the result was a dazzling cultural satire that compared favorably with the company’s trailblazing premiere production of the musical phenomenon “Be More Chill.”

Over at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, some new faces arrived in town with April’s production of Chloe Hung’s Issei, He Say — and those newcomers had a compelling story to tell, in the Chinese-Canadian TV writer’s semi-autobiographical account of an immigrant family’s struggles with assimilation, aspirations, and the next door neighbor, an elderly gentleman of Japanese descent. As the play’s 12 year old central character, Christina Liang headed a superb cast in a drama that placed a perfectly constructed, intimately scaled frame around the big issues of blinding prejudice, national tragedies, home-front secrets, and the things people use to forge alliances in the darkness. Continue reading

IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF DECEMBER 13-19

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, December 13 2018

SOUNDS: Project/Object at The Saint 

Frank Zappa described the grand concept behind his work, as one in which “each project (in whatever realm), or interview connected to it, is part of a larger object, for which there is no ‘technical name’.” In the decades since FZ’s passing, Project/Object staked a claim to being the premier gatekeepers of the Zappa/Mothers legacy, by virtue of the fact that each lineup has spotlighted the skills of Zappa band alumni. These days, singer-saxman-flautist Napoleon Murphy Brock and guitarist Denny Walley are the 1970s/80s-era originals carrying the torch — and when the 2018 edition of P/O arrives at The Saint TONIGHT, December 13, they’ll be channeling the Chunga via a set of concert favorites, many of which (“Village of the Sun,” “Cheepnis”) were vocalized by Brock in their first incarnations. Doors open at 7, with tickets ($20 advance; $25 at the door) at thesaintnj.com.

SOUNDS: Old 97s at the Wonder Bar

Celebrating a silver-jubilee 25th anniversary  — and returning Shoreside in the midst of a special year-end Holiday Party tour — the Texas-based alt-country/ roots-rock/ loud-folk locomotive that is the Old 97s  brings the tinsel and the turned-up-to-11 twang to the Tillie-grin stage of the Wonder Bar TONIGHT, December 13. With doors opening at 7 pm, it’s a wonderland whistlestop in which frontman Rhett Miller is scheduled to deliver a solo acoustic set, and there’s punk-rock prestidigitation byCaseymagic as well. Tickets ($25) at wonderbarasburypark.com.

STAGES: The Hip Hop Nutcracker at the Paramount 

Tell Tchaikovsky the news: The Hip Hop Nutcracker is indeed a thing; a traveling stage spectacle that re-imagines the Russian composer’s classic ballet score “with a distinctly urban twist.” It’s a suite supercharged by Jennifer Weber’s choreography, plus a cast that includes a dozen dynamic dancers, a DJ, a violin soloist — and special guest Kurtis Blow (pictured), the old-school rap trailblazer whose milestone records “The Breaks” and “If I Ruled the World” set the pace for a musical millennium to come (and who, lest we forget, debuted with “Christmas Rappin’”). A production of Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center (and a presentation of NJPAC’s partnership with Madison Marquette in Asbury Park), the show lights up the Paramount proscenium for the first time TONIGHT, December 13, in its third annual tour of regional stages. Take it to Ticketmaster. Com for available seating (priced from $17-$77) to the 7:30 pm event.

SOUNDS: Puddles Pity Party at Asbury Lanes

A favorite out-of-towner visitor on the local scene, thanks to past appearances at House of Indies and elsewhere (and supercharged by widespread exposure on America’s Got Talent, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, the “immersive theater” project Sleep No More, and the virtual vaudeville of virally viewed video) Puddles the clown brings his romantic baritone, his leaky-glass-empty outlook on life, and his unerring instinct for a compelling cover version of a pop song standard back to Asbury Park, in a two-night stand at Asbury Lanes that continues TONIGHT, December 13.

Big Mike Geier’s king-sized character project is no joke when it comes to his skills as a singer and frontman, and even if Puddles doesn’t exactly brighten one’s holiday season, there’s a good chance that he’ll invest a seasonal standard or two with the stuff that infuses his transcendent take on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Tickets ($35) at asburylanes.com. Continue reading

HAVE YOURSELF ASBURY LI’L CHRISTMAS: A GRAB-BAG OF MUSIC ‘N MORE

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, December 6 2018

‘Tis the season when carols of Yuletide fill the chill air; when local houses of worship, halls of learning and points of purchase ring out with traditional hymns, choral cantatas and orchestral chestnuts of well-roasted resonance and enduring appeal. Here in Asbury Park, however, the sounds of the season boast a decidedly more jingle-bell RAUCous bent — coming in from all angles, and continuing well on through the gloriously un-silent nights of the holiday interlude. It’s a souped-up Santa sleighload slate of sonic ‘citement; a multi-genre mashup of merry wassailing  (and maybe a bit of cheerful assailing  of stodgy sensibilities) that fairly glows with civic pride and positive vibes, here in this place Where Music Lives.

It all begins this weekend — with The Big Event (and the hottest ticket in town) being the first-ever edition of A Very Asbury Holiday Show. Hosted at the Paramount Theatre  on Sunday, December 9, and produced (by those most proactive preservers and promoters of the city’s principal export to the world) The Asbury Park Music Foundation, the 7 pm extravaganza assembles a multi-generational mixtape of performers with deep Asbury roots. Featured are some of the living-legend architects of the classic SOAP scene (Bobby Bandiera, JT Bowen, Billy Hector, Lance Larson), next-wave singer/ songwriters (Emily Grove, Taylor Tote, Williams Honor), veteran master entertainers of the Shore clubscape (Jo Bonanno, Layonne Holmes, Brian Kirk, Jillian Rhys McCoy, Pat Roddy, Eddie Testa) and representatives of the dynamic new generation of Asbury-centric show bands (Remember Jones, Desiree Spinks, Waiting On Mongo).

This plus The Weeklings, Danny Clinch and the Tangiers Blues Band (as well as whatever looking-for-a-gig friends might show up), the kids from Lakehouse Music Academy, and some promised appearances by members of 60s heavyweights Vanilla Fudge and The Rascals (schedule subject to change, natch) — all under the direction of bandleader Tony Perruso, and with the helpful services of iconic Pony DJ Lee Mrowicki and guest emcee/ WABC-TV newscaster Michelle Charlesworth to keep track of the players. Proceeds benefit the APMF, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County (there’s also an invitation to donate new unwrapped items to the Asbury Park Toy Drive) — and info on available tickets can be had at asburyparkmusiclives.org. Continue reading

IT’S WHAT’S (ALSO) UP FOR WEEK OF DECEMBER 6-12 (NON-XMAS EDITION)

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, December 6 2018

SOUNDS: Wynonna and the Big Noise at Monmouth U 

It’s a local debut for the platinum-plated country star who made her first big noise as the younger half of the mother-daughter duo The Judds — but when she comes to the Pollak Theatreat Monmouth University on Saturday, December 8, Wynonna showcases her more recent incarnation as the rock-rhythm and blues infused front-woman of The Big Noise, the guitar-driven band that teams her with husband and drummer Cactus Moser. The singer who took such country-pop ballads as “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)” to the top of the Billboards had been seriously flirting with a leaner-meaner sound, as far back as her appropriately titled 1997 album The Other Side — and with a set list that ranges from gritty blues-rockers (“Ain’t No Thing,” “You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast,” “Cool Ya”) to trad Americana (“Things That I Lean On,” “Jesus and a Jukebox”) and re-imagined chart-toppers, the Grammy nominee performs with a newfound sense of purpose and extended “family.” Take it to www.monmouth.edu/arts or call the box office at 732-263-6889 for tickets to the 8 pm show ($65-$85). Continue reading