IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF SEPTEMBER 27 – OCTOBER 3

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, September 27 2018

SOUNDS: Melanie Up Close, at Tim McLoone’s

“New Jersey always wanted to claim me,” the veteran folk-pop singer Melanie told us in an interview some years back. “But when we first moved (to Long Branch) from the city, it was then very provincial…they hadn’t seen the likes of me.” The self-proclaimed “outcast andoddball” who got her start singing at a Sea Bright restaurant, who made her first big splash at Woodstock — and who scaled the charts with hits like the soulful “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain),” the nostalgic country-honk “Look What They’ve Done to My Song,” and the teasingly playful “Brand New Key” in the seasons before Springsteen — makes a rare Shoreside homecoming appearance TONIGHT, September 27, when she takes it topside to Tim McLoone’s Supper Club for an intimate concert that teams Melanie Safka with her longtime tour accompanist (and son) Beau-Jared Schekyryk. Produced by RUE Events, it’s an Up Close and Personal set of songs, stories, and Safka-esque observations from an artist who’s appeared on some of the world’s most famous stages, achieved international stardom, and managed an enviable balance of fame and family life, on her way to becoming a traveling ambassador of peace, love and cross-cultural understanding who can still “basically think that the world can be changed with a song.” Reserve tickets to the 7:30 pm show ($49.50) at timmcloonessupperclub.com.

SOUNDS: Pete Yorn Acoustic at the  Stone Pony

A Jersey guy by birth ‘n breeding, and a longtime favorite about these Shore Points, Pete Yorn returns to the Stone Pony stage this Friday, September 28, on the northeast leg of an “Evening With…” tour that finds the multi-instro singer-songwriter kicking it solo acoustic, despite the fact that his two most recent releases found him harmonizing with occasional collaborator Scarlett Johansson (the Apart EP), and 90s alt-rocker Liz Phair (a cover of The Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man”). Anticipate a retrospective of the artist’s growing catalog (including some high-profile Hollywood film score contributions, and the odd dip into the deep end of the covertunes pool), and maybe even some as-yet unreleased items from the workshop drawing board. Tickets to the 7 pm show ($30 advance; $35 d.o.s.) are available at stoneponyonline.com — and the artist’s website peteyorn.com offers “VIP backstage experiences where fans can meet Pete, watch soundcheck and even attend a pre-show performance of a song in the dressing room.”

SOUNDS: Dramarama at the Wonder Bar

“The songs are all about me,” John Easdale told us several years back in reference to his alterna-powerpop group Dramarama. “If I’m doing my job right, then people will see a bit of themselves in the song.” Despite the singer’s relocation to LA, the band that emerged from Wayne, NJ to gift the world with “violent and twisted” ditties like “Last Cigarette” and “Anything, Anything” remain perennial favorites here on the Shore (thanks in large part to heavy rotation on the old WHTG-FM) — and on Friday, September 28, the Drama-tists return to the Wonder Bar for a rocking “33 1/3 Years of Dramarama” retrospective, for which tix to the 8 pm show are $21 at the door or from wonderbarasburypark.com.

STAGES: Catapult’s “Magic Shadows” at Monmouth U

They wowed the national television audience when they appeared on Season Eight of America’s Got Talent — and yet, the members of Catapult remain shadowy figures to the general public. Founded in 2008 by choreographer (and veteran of Pilobolus Dance Theatre) Adam Battlestein, Catapult is a troupe of artists who perform behind onstage screens in a way that melds contemporary dance with centuries-old storytelling and even sculpture. When the company brings its Magic Shadows show to the Pollak Theatre at Monmouth University on Friday, they’ll convey a cycle of eight “shape transformation” stories (through movement, music, and something akin to magic) that just might inspire you to never look at your own shadow the same way again. Tickets to the 8 pm event ($40-$50 adults; $20-$25 children) can be reserved by calling 732-263-6889, or visiting http://www.monmouth.edu/arts.

STAGES: NENA’s “Secret Garden” at JS Arts

Returning to the auditorium of Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center for their annual fall offering, producer-director Nick Montesano and his NENAproductions Theater Project present a new production of The Secret Garden, the Tony-winning musical adapted from the classic novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Boasting songs by Lucy Simon and Pulitzer winner Marsha Norman, the oft-filmed story of a young orphaned girl named Mary, the tragedy-haunted uncle she’s sent to live with — and a hidden neglected garden that offers both mysteries and a chance for redemption — stars Maura Whalen in a followup to her turn in NENA’s staging of Fun Home. Jeffrey Fiorello (pictured with Maura) co-stars as Uncle Archibald, and the supporting cast features many returning company players under the music direction of Jeff Brown. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays, September 28 through October 6 at 7:30 pm, with a 3 pm Sunday matinee on October 7. Tickets ($25 adults, $19 kids) can be purchased at the door, through ticketleap.com, or by calling 732-988-1007.

SCENES: DJ Spooky’s “Book of Ice” at Monmouth U

“I think of Antarctica as a place of meditation and deep time,” said Paul D. Miller — aka DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid — in an interview that appeared here in this space several months back. “Everyone who has been there is humbled by the scenario…it really is the most un-Earth like place on this planet.”

A trip-hop DJ, composer, musician, software designer, visual artist, author and educator, the “interdisciplinary” master was inspired by his own travels to Antarctica to create the “part fiction, part science” project The Book of Ice; a print work that also inspired an album, a symphonic work, and a touring Book of Ice multimedia presentation that comes to the Pollak Theatre at Monmouth University this Tuesday evening, October 2. Originally scheduled for this past March, the polar explorer’s visit to campus was postponed due to some light snow…ahem…but when That Subliminal Kid takes the stage of Monmouth’s flagship performance venue, it will be a FREE 6 pm event that’s a presented as part of the ArtNow: Performance, Art and Technology series. A string quartet of area musicians and Monmouth faculty members joins DJ Spooky on electronics, providing a soundtrack to a display of projected images that’s followed by a post-performance discussion with the artist. Admission, once again, is free of charge, so take it to the Pollak for a unique Tuesday night out — and search this site for our archived interview with Paul “DJ Spooky” Miller.

But why stop there? Take it to the pure print edition of THE COASTER, where the What’s Up pages of Asbury Park’s fightin’ weekly fun-tab have the details on movies, art shows, and lots more music — including a special Bruce Birthday Bash hosted by Jo Bonanno…sets by local favorites Waiting On Mongo and The Cold Seas…the Asbury return of singer-songwriter Josh Zuckerman, an all new monthly Open Mic series at Palette Gallery, and the kickoff to an extended Oktoberfest of live Polka bands, at Asbury Festhalle Biergarten!

‘PAMELA’S FIRST’ IS ONE TO REMEMBER, IN TWO RIVER PREMIERE

Howard McGillin and Sarah McKinley Austin co-star in PAMELA’S FIRST MUSICAL, the season opener now in its world premiere engagement at Red Bank’s Two River Theater. Photos by T.C. ERICKSON

Published in the Asbury Park Press, September 21, 2018

Their many productions for family audiences have included a homegrown musicalization of The Wind in the Willows that starred Tituss Burgess as Mr. Toad; a Charlotte’s Web told with live actors and puppets, and imaginative revisits to several favorites from decades past — but with the show that opens their milestone 25th season of professional theater in Monmouth County, the folks at Two River Theater might have happened upon their most crowdpleasing all-ager yet.    

Conceived by Wendy Wasserstein — and based on her 1996 children’s book of the same name — Pamela’s First Musical makes a very long-awaited world premiere, not in the Broadway of its setting, but at Two River’s branded Red Bank performing arts center. Despite the added contributions of Christopher Durang, the music of celebrated composer Cy Coleman, and the participation of an all-star cast at a 2008 concert production, the show’s journey to the stage was unable to surmount the obstacles of Wasserstein and Coleman’s passings — although you’d hardly know it from this fun and colorful limited engagement, presented without intermission (except for a fake one that’s actually part of the proceedings) inside the Rechnitz auditorium.

While both Wasserstein (the Pulitzer winning playwight of The Heidi Chronicles) and her posthumous collaborator Durang (author of the Tony winner Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) necessarily dialed down the edgier aspects of their literary voices here, the book of Pamela’s First Musical is nonetheless a breezy affair, packed with plenty of knowing in-jokes for Broadway buffs, and hitting all the bases for a kid-centric story in which Pamela (Sarah McKinley Austin) — an 11 year old misfit with a not-so-secret life as the award winning star of her own bedroom-based epics — finds her already terrible-awful birthday ruined by the news that her widowed dad (long-running Phantom star Howard McGillin) plans to marry into a family of obnoxiously self-smitten health and fitness freaks. Enter free-wheeling Aunt Louise (Carolee Carmello), toting a chocolate cake with extra frosting — and a pledge to whisk her niece away to the big city, where the two kindred spirits will catch a Broadway musical, and maybe even meet some of the amazing people who make that special kind of magic happen.

Continue reading

A BROADWAY ‘VALENTINE’ GETS ITS LONG-AWAITED DELIVERY, AT TWO RIVER THEATER

Left to right: Tony nominated actor-singer and Monmouth County native David Garrison (we all know him as Steve on MARRIED WITH CHILDREN) appears with Sarah McKinley Austin and Carolee Carmello in PAMELA’S FIRST MUSICAL, the talent-packed project that makes its long overdue world premiere this weekend as the opening entry in Two River Theater’s milestone 25th season. (photo by T.C. Erickson)

Expanded from an article published in the Asbury Park Press, September 14 2018

It’s a life-affirming, upbeat show that boasts a book by two titans of the modern American theater, Wendy Wasserstein (the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of The Heidi Chronicles) and Christopher Durang (author of the Tony winning play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike). It sports a score of songs by Tony’d tunesmiths Cy Coleman and David Zippel (whose various credits include Sweet CharityOn the Twentieth CenturyThe Will Rogers Follies, and the Disney films Hercules and Mulan) — and its public bow in an all-star 2008 concert production drew the participation of Joel Grey, Sandy Duncan, Donna McKechnie and Tommy Tune, while inspiring the New York Times to hail it as “a valentine to Broadway.”

And yet, that love letter would somehow remain lost in the post for years, due in large part to the untimely passings of co-creators Wasserstein and Coleman. All that is about to change, however, as the team at Red Bank’s Two River Theater presides over the formal world premiere staging of Pamela’s First Musical, in the inaugural production of the professional company’s milestone 25th season. Adapted from the children’s book of the same name by Wasserstein, the show opens tonight, September 14, as the most ambitious “all-singing, all-dancing” project in the history of the troupe whose recent forays into musical theater have included the debut of the runaway phenomenon that is Be More Chill. 

Continuing its limited engagement through October 7 at Two River’s mainstage Rechnitz auditorium, the show centers around the universally appealing story of a young girl whose “eccentric and fabulous” Aunt Louise (triple Tony nominee Carolee Carmello) rescues her from a less than memorable birthday — by spiriting her away to the big city, where Pamela (Sarah McKinley Austin) becomes immersed in the world of a lavish musical; both via the magic on stage and the vivid characters who make it all happen. The production reunites two creative contributors from that 2008 staging, including the ten-time Tony nominee Graciela Daniele (Annie Get Your Gun, The Visit) as director and choreographer — and, in the role of producer Bernie S. Gerry (a playful amalgam of Schubert organization bigwigs Bernie Jacobs and Gerry Schoenfeld), a familiar face of stage and screen, Monmouth County native David Garrison.

Continue reading

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

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

STAGES: CARMEN at the Axelrod PAC

It was shocking and scandalous when it premiered in 1875 — and here in the time of #metoo and #timesup, the canonical opera Carmen still has something new to say to contemporary audiences. Energized with instantly familiar music (“The Toreador Song,” “The Flower Song,” “The Habanera”) — plus a passion-filled story of a gypsy woman, a seduced-and-abandoned soldier, and an obsessive love that turns to jealous rage — Georges Bizet’s masterwork comes to the stage of the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in a bold new production from director Andrea DelGuidice, with the action transported to 1970s New York City, and a perspective shift in which “Carmen is no longer the victim;” a concept based in part on the real-life story of “Black Widow” Griselda Blanco. Augusta Caro and Victor Starsky (pictured) star as Carmen and Don José, with Devony Smith and Gustavo Feulien co-starring in the cast under the musical direction of Ocean Grove’s Jason Tramm. Performances (sung in French, with English supertitles) are at 8 pm on September 15 and 3 pm on September 16, and tickets ($35-$42) can be reserved at axelrodartscenter.com or at 732-531-9106 ext. 14.

SOUNDS/ SCENES: Indian Summer Festival at Convention Hall

We’ve never been quite certain of just whatever it means — or just whenever it exactly is — but one thing we know for sure is that here in Asbury Park, Indian Summer heralds the annual beach music festival (plus attendant vendor bazaar) of that same name, going on this weekend within Convention Hall’s Grand Arcade and (weathergods permitting) the north-beach stage and sandy dance floor outside the Anchor’s Bend bar. With more than 100 vendors of handcrafted goods open for business at 12 pm on both September 15 and 16, the event also represents one more grand opportunity to enjoy the priceless vibe of the surfside stage, with Saturday’s live band lineup starting at 5 pm and featuring Philly-based headliners Purling Hiss plus Ecstatic Vision, gods (pictured here in silhouette at a previous salt-air soiree), Heaven, Birthwater, latewaves, Brother Andrew and DJ Foggy Notion for a ten-buck ticket. Sunday’s bill of FREE entertainment starts at 1 pm, and offers the reggae/ ska/ rocksteady DJs of the Steady Sound System, plus the eminently intriguing Holdfast Sound (a project of downtown’s own Holdfast Records). There’s MORE to the tune of beach bonfires, beach camping/glamping, and beach yoga, with full details available at indiansummerap.com.

SOUNDS: Bruce Wacker Memorial Tribute at the Stone Pony

When the next class of Asbury Angels inductees is announced, there will surely be room in that rock ‘n roll heaven for Bruce Wacker, the veteran Shore blues-rocker guitarist and Middletown native who passed away at the age of 61 this past June. This Sunday afternoon, September 16, the Stone Pony is the setting for a special memorial concert that brings together an all-Shore lineup of colleagues and contemporaries of “that other Bruce.”

Running between 4 and 9 pm, the tribute show is being organized by Wacker’s family members with Stormin’ Norman Seldin; the piano man making a too-rare Asbury Park return as he joins his Big New Orleans Band on the famous stage. It’s part of a bill that features championship blues guy (and BonJovi tour guitarist) Matt O’Ree and his combo, an organization that further boasts a pair of headliner-in-her-own-right vocalists in Eryn O’Ree and Layonne Holmes. The Bobby Donofrio Band also appears, and Pat Guadagno teams with fellow saloon-singer veteran Rich Oddo, while harpin’ jam-master ringmaster Sandy Mack heads up a cast of jam-ready juggernauts that include Vic Cappetta, Damian Cremisio, Ed Dougherty, Gerry Gironda, Ray Johnson, Neil Perkins, Eric Safka, and Taz. Plenty of additional guest players are also promised, in an evening of heartfelt tribute and “joyful noize” for which tickets (a $15 donation) can be reserved at stoneponyonline.com.

SOUNDS: Nils Lofgren Acoustic Duo at the Stone Pony

A 2008 double hip replacement may have curtailed his trademark aerial flips and trampoline tricks, but Nils Lofgren has always been much more than the sum of his onstage “Rockletics” — and when the Honorary ShoreCat returns to the Stone Pony this Tuesday, September 18, it will be in an Acoustic Duo setting that confirms the veteran guitar great as a generator of energy and excitement even when planted on the terra firma of the famous stage. A continuation of a 20-year exploration that began in earnest with the 1997 album Acoustic Live — and extended to The Loner, his 2008 LP of stripped-down Neil Young signatures — the E Streeter’s intimately scaled sets provide a cool counterpoint to the electric pyrotechnics of his bigger-than-life stage work with Bruce and company. It’s also a real-time companion to Face the Music, the 2014 box set that showcased the long career highlights of the man whose standout songs have included “White Lies,” “Keith Don’t Go,’ and “Valentine.” Expect a retrospective re-imagining of all these and more, along with a sample of multi-instrumental mastery, a taste of the improv instincts that power his recent Blind Date Jam Project endeavors, and a feel for the qualities that have allowed this ever-versatile frontman/sideman to forge such productive partnerships with Springsteen, Young, and a gallery of greats that range from Ringo, Rod, Stills, Nash, Willie, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee, to Tim Curry and Sesame Street’s Bob McGrath. Tickets for the 7 pm session ($35) reserved at stoneponyonline.com.

SOUNDS: Fear at the House of Independents

Reunited around the 1970s-era core trio of founding frontman Lee Ving, guitarist Philo Cramer, and drummer Spit Stix, the SoCal punk institution Fear brings its new 2018 edition to downtown Asbury’s all-purpose auditorium House of Independents, in a Humpday hardcore hootenanny that promises a raucous retrospective of heirloom classics from the seldom-sedate band’s erratic but entertaining career, with maybe just a rocking-chair squeak of the branded mayhem that famously saw the group banned from SNL and many a liability-fearing venue. Veteran NYC punks Murphy’s Law bolster a bi-coastal bill that further features Lower East Side Stitches and Nervous Triggers, with tickets to the September 19 show (ranging from $25 to a truly hardcore $100) available from houseofindependents.com, or across Cookman Ave at Lola’s Café.

All well and fine, we suppose, but the forecast calls for MORE where that came from, each and every day-night of the week, and you’ll inhale the fine particulars in the printed pages of this week’s COASTER paper (and as far as THIS weekend goes, with the caveat that some potentially wild weather can yet scotch many of these announced events, such as the Jawbreaker set postponed from its originally announced Saturday perch on the Stone Pony SummerStage. THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 13 finds the Shore’s class-act next-generation songbook/saloon singer Chris Pinnella channeling the Chairman at his Vegassy best, in a salute to the classic album “Sinatra at the Sands” that swings upside Tim McLoone’s Supper Club. FRIDAY finds Will Sheff and his long-running indie-rock institution Okkervil River making a rare area appearance behind their 2018 album In the Rainbow Rain at Asbury Lanes, while SATURDAY sees the Saint hosting an all-day This Is Hip Hop showcase showdown that drops its first couplet/gauntlet at 4 pm. SUNDAY offers up Alec Ounsworth (pictured) and his current lineup of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, in a House of Independents show re-scheduled from a couple of months back (and joined for the occasion by Asbury Park faves Dentist)…while MONDAY afternoon brings one more chance for hard-working locals to enjoy an Industry Pool Party at the Asbury Hotel, soundtracked by Dean “DJ Values” BornscheinRand Hubiak highlights a TUESDAY night return to Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center for the ongoing Café Artiste Songwriters Series…while WEDNESDAY sees the Asbury solo debut of lately legendary indie-rock singer, songwriter, and superproducer Butch Walker at the Lanes. Pick yourself up and do it all over again each and every Thursday, when THE COASTER hits the streets and diner counter-tops with your deeply detailed docket of Asbury area arts ‘n entertainment listings!

September brings life, death, mystery, magic (and a touch of music), to Shore stages

Red Bank-based photographer Elisabeth Koch-McKay’s “Ringer” is among the art works on display “When the Circus Comes to Town,” as New Jersey Repertory Company presents another in a series of Theater Brut short play festivals at its new West End Arts Center in Long Branch.

Published in the Asbury Park Press, September 7 2018

For anyone who makes their home on or around the Shore, the immediate aftermath of the Labor Day holiday can be likened to the morning after the circus pulls its wagons out of town. But, as at least one company of troupers reminds us in no uncertain terms, September can mark the moment when the passing carnival truly makes a stand, and in more ways than one.

When the Circus Comes to Town” is the big thematic umbrella for eleven days and nights in the latter part of the month, as the folks at Long Branch-based New Jersey Repertory Company launch the latest in an intermittent series of “Theater Brut” Festivals of the Arts; bringing an ambitious slate of new short plays, live music, visual art and spoken poetry to the walls, halls and repurposed classrooms of the company’s West End Arts Center facility. Occupying a full block of real estate — and with on-site parking, yet — in the heart of the city’s West End neighborhood, the onetime primary school building hosted an acclaimed Theater Brut fest (centered around the them “All About Eve’) in the fall of 2017, and two weekends from now they’ll be maintaining the newly minted tradition with a multi-media cavalcade of works that draw their inspiration from the colorful clamor (and the occasional shadowy corners) of one of the oldest and endlessly fascinating realms of popular entertainment. 

It all begins with a free Art and Photography Reception from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, September 20, as the building’s gallery space hosts a display of works (by such well known Monmouth County artists and photographers as Mare Akana, Kate Eggleston, Elisabeth Koch-McKay and Mike Quon) that remains on view for the duration of the ten day Theater Brut festival. Beginning September 21 and running eight distinct programs through September 30, the event presents the premiere of 31 original works (plus one encore, the mini-musical Stepping Into Fire) that range from zany surreal comedies to stark dramatic sketches, and even a tuneful take inspired by the vintage Tyrone Power film noir Nightmare Alley. Contributing playwrights include several who have seen their full-length works produced by NJ Rep — among them LA Law veteran Michael Tucker (whose Fern Hill wraps up its world premiere engagement this weekend at the company’s downtown Long Branch playhouse), Marisa Smith, and Joel Stone — as well as actors Christopher Daftsios, Jared Michael Delaney, and Barney Fitzpatrick. Directors include NJ Rep co-founder SuzAnne Barabas, Gail Winar, frequently featured player John FitzGibbon, and Point Pleasant native Peter Zazzali. Rep regulars should be on the lookout for some favorite familiar faces (and maybe a few surprises) in the casts, which will be made public shortly.

Interspersed between the Theater Brut play programs will be a free Storytelling Event for kids ages 5 to 10 (Tuesday, September 25 at 4 p.m.); a Poetry Night (Wednesday, September 26 at 7 p.m.) that spotlights contributions by New Jersey writers, and a Music Night concert (Friday, September 28 at 8 p.m.) showcasing the bands Homeless Apiens, Jackson Pines and others. Admission to any of the individual Theater Brut play programs is $50 (includes post-show music and refreshments), with the Poetry and Music Night events priced at $15. A limited number of complete-schedule Festival Passes are available for $300 each, and all tickets can be reserved by calling 732-229-3166 or visiting njrep.org, where you’ll find a complete performance schedule and other details.

Bright Stars, Secret Gardens, Technicolor Dreamcoats

As it winds down its sophomore “comeback” summer season on Long Beach Island, the born-again Surflight Theatre of Beach Haven enters the post-Labor Day interlude with the continuation of its NJ premiere production of “Bright Star,” the collaboration between funnyman-playwright Steve Martin and folk-rocker Edie Brickell that was drawn from their Grammy nominated album. Set in North Carolina in the aftermath of World War II, the musical tale of forbidden love, family secrets, personal ambitions and a connection that spans the decades runs now through Sunday, September 9 — and it’s followed on the professional stage by a pair of intriguing limited engagements. Playfully adapted from the Hitchcock thriller of the same name, “The 39 Steps” brings quick-change farce to a whole new level, with the frenzied tale of seductive spies, mistaken identities, and mysterious MacGuffins putting a cast of four through its paces as some 150 different characters. The show runs from September 12 through September 16 — and it’s followed in short order by “Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins.” If you recall Meryl Streep as Florence in the recent feature film, you’ll know that Mrs. Jenkins was the real-life society matron of boundless ambition and finite musical abilities, who famously brought her cacophonous coloratura to a sold-out Carnegie Hall showcase concert in 1944. Told through the viewpoint of her accompanist Cosme McMoon, the Stephen Temperley play makes its local debut in a production that runs from September 19 through September 23. Ticket reservations and full schedule details for all of these events can be found at http://www.surflight.org.

She made her mark on Broadway as the female lead in “Jekyll & Hyde” (one of several professional collaborations with then-husband Frank Wildhorn) — and has since been no stranger to multiple musical personalities; having honed her chops as a lounge singer in AC, achieved household-name status as an undefeated champion on “Star Search,” dressed in gowns as a singer of Songbook standards, and in blue jeans as  she toured behind her album of country-pop kickers. When Linda Eder steps once more onto the Asbury Park Press Stage at Red Bank’s Count Basie Center for the Arts on Thursday, September 20, it’s anyone’s guess as to where the evening might take the listener — but it’s a reassuring sign when your captain announces, “I’m Linda Eder and I am a singer…that’s all I’ve ever done.” Reserve tickets for the 8 p.m. concert ($25 – $75) by calling the Basie box office at 732-842-9000 or visiting thebasie.org…an early triumph for composers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice takes it to the house of worship, as Middletown-based Stone Church Players return with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  Christine Jay directs the performances inside All Saints Memorial (the historic “Old Stone Church” at the junction of Navesink and Monmouth Avenues), with complete schedule details and ticket reservations ($25) at 732-226-6131…returning to their regular homestage berth at Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center, NENAproductions Theater Project tackles an all-ages classic with The Secret Garden, the 1991 muscialization of the oft-adapted 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Company founder Nick Montesano directs the production of the show that boasts a Tony-winning book by lyricist Marsha Norman (and music by Grammy winner Lucy Simon), with the show opening on Friday, September 28 and continuing through October 7 with tickets ($25) reserved at 732-988-1007 or via ticketleap.com. 

Serious in September

Their reputation as specialists in the art of stage comedy has long been established — but as the calendar year fades into its late ‘embers, the folks at the Atlantic Highlands dessert theater First Avenue Playhouse are getting suddenly serious, in the process taking on one of the most seriously groundbreaking dramas of the past century. The “Angry Young Man” movement in postwar British drama had its most important exponent in playwright John Osborne, and with the 1956 play Look Back in Anger the frustrations of an embittered working class found their voice. Adapted into a memorable film with the young Richard Burton, the portrait of smart but scornful ne-er-do-well Jimmy — and the ways in which his lashing out at the world threatens to up-end his every human relationship — is directed here by First Ave regular Dave McGrath. Opening Friday, September 7, the show plays Fridays and Saturdays through the month at 8:30 p.m. (with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee on September 16), and reservations ($22) can be had by calling 732-291-7552 or visiting http://www.firstavenueplayhouse.org…meanwhile, at the historic nearby library building that does duty now as the Navesink Arts Center, “A Season of Life and Death” is the theme for the new slate of offerings from Monmouth Players, as the Shore area’s longest-established stage troupe launches its season (the 66th?) with a program of Life and Death One-Acts. Opening Saturday, September 15 and continuing for six more matinee and evening performances through September 30, the production sets the pace for a late-innings 2018 that further spotlights the adapted words of Edgar Allan Poe, Orson Welles, and Anne Frank. Ticket reservations ($15) and additional info can be obtained by calling 732-955-0335 (note the new phone number), or visiting monmouthplayers.net.

Such legendary literary sleuths as Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade are on the case once more, as the folks at Aural Radio Theater present a program of Classic Radio Detective Stories, performed “LIVE, with music and Foley sound effects.” The retro-noir action happens for two shows only (Saturday, September 15 at 2 and 7:30 p.m.) on the stage of the Middletown Arts Center, with tickets ($10) available by calling 732-706-4100…if any Garden State Bard could lay claim to being the Shakespeare of New Jersey, it’s Ed Shakespeare, member in good standing of Ocean Grove’s La Strada Ensemble Theater and the scribe behind WMAD, a new script that makes its public bow on Thursday, September 20. Described as a “comedy-drama powerhouse play about a radio DJ and the community he creates on air,” the show goes up for two performances (September 20 at 8 p.m., September 21 at 2 p.m.) at the third floor cafe at the Jersey Shore Arts Center, under the direction of Donna Ault-Jacobson. Take it to lastradaensembletheater.com for tickets.  

IT’S What’S UP FOR WEEK OF AUGUST 23-29

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, August 23 2018

SIGHTS: Wooden Walls ArtWalk on the Asbury boards

The Asbury Park boardwalk is the setting on Thursday, August 23, as two of our favorite figures on the Asbury Park arts scene — Parlor Gallery co-owner and Wooden Walls Project curator Jenn Hampton, plus Paranormal Books & Curiosities proprietor and Asbury Park Tour Company historian Kathy Kelly— team up with the folks at the Red Bank-based nonprofit MonmouthArts for a special edition of the group’s ArtWalk events. Between 5:30 and 7:30 pm, Jenn and Kathy will be the guides for an up-close look at the acclaimed mural project (and a delve into the colorful history of the city’s famed waterfront) that includes an artist meet-’n-greet, access to a temporary installation in the Carousel building, and a post-tour performance art event (on the beach at Second Avenue) by Transformer’s Siren Arts series.

Grab-and-go drinks and snacks will be provided by Asbury Park Yacht Club, and participants get special discounts on exclusive Wooden Walls-themed towels, bags, and other merchandise available from Shelter Home. It’s a fundraiser for the ongoing programs of Monmouth Arts, with a portion of proceeds dedicated to the support of the Wooden Walls Project. Get tickets ($50, or $40 for Monmouth Arts members) online at https://bit.ly/2AdjmgE— and mark your Carousel for 12 noon on Sunday, August 26, when artist Jeffrey Fulvimari is in the iconic roundhouse at the south end of the boards, for a FREE Live Paint Event.

Continue reading

‘Fern Hill’ is a session of (sometimes weighty) words with friends

Jill Eikenberry and John Glover head a stellar cast of celebrated character players in FERN HILL, the play by Michael Tucker now in its world premiere engagement at NJ Repertory Company in Long Branch. Photos by SUZANNE BARABAS

Published in the Asbury Park Press, August 17, 2018

As painter and college professor Sunny (Jill Eikenberry) tells it, the first time that she raised the specter of an assisted-living arrangement to her mother, “she looked at me like I was a terrorist.” 

That same aversion to the notion of growing old among strangers —a thought no doubt on Sunny’s mind as she approaches retirement age — sparks the proceedings in Fern Hill, the new play by actor-author (and Eikenberry’s husband of some 45 years) Michael Tucker. Now in its world premiere engagement at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, the ensemble piece assembles six character actors of frankly awesome credentials with an in-demand director of international repute, for a prestige project that turns NJ Rep’s modest shadow-box stage into a rare Shoreside showcase for some top-shelf talents.

In this, the second NJ Rep endeavor for the married LA Law veterans known as “The Tuckerberrys,” the titular setting is an upstate farm house owned by Sunny and her English professor husband Jer (David Rasche) — and yes, regular theatergoers, we are once more planted on the dramatically fertile home turf of that curious species known as career academics — a locale that’s become a preferred gathering place for “the Sunny and Jer Show” and two other couples with whom they’ve maintained long-standing relationships. Vincent (Tony winner John Glover) is a noted painter whose nimble wit belies a body in breakdown mode, while his spouse Darla (Dee Hoty) is a gallery-exhibited photographer in breakout mode, with an impending show in Europe and some guilt over the prospect of leaving her ailing hubby at home. Fellow faculty member Michiko (Jodi Long) is herself the one most often left to hold down the home front, married as she is to the affable but aging tour-bus rocker and bon vivant Billy (Tom McGowan). Ranging in age from a rounded-off sixty to an arguable eighty, these people of education and accomplishment and passionately creative pursuits have one thing in common above all else: they are each, in their own way, feeling a little too old to be doing things the way they’ve been doing it for the past bunch of years. 

Continue reading

IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF AUGUST 16-22

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, August 16 2018

SOUNDS: The Blasters at the Wonder Bar

In an interview we did several years ago with yelping, yodeling musicologist (and Ph.D-level math genius) Phil Alvin, the lead singer of The Blasters framed his hometown of Downey, CA as a true crossroads for what his band famously branded American Music: the roadhouse C&W, R&B, hard blues, Western swing, rockabilly, and saloon jazz that form the foundation for all to come. The four-piece band re-takes the famous stage of the Wonder Bar TONIGHT, August 16, for another raucous session of the kind of stuff that transmits anywhere, and transmutes leaden days into golden-age good times. And, while Alvin has expressed his disdain for the “clown” show of cowboy-hatted country (“If you told Bob Wills back in his early days that he played ‘cowboy’ music, he’d’a kicked your ass”), he’ll surely be pleased to share the bill with swingin’ singing cowboy Jet Weston and His Atomic Ranch Hands, in a bill (further featuring Lara Hope) that opens its doors at 7 pm, with tickets ($25) available at wonderbarasburypark.com.

SOUNDS: Guided By Voices at Asbury Lanes

When they returned to Asbury Park for the first time in a while, with an August 2014 gig at the Stone Pony, Guided By Voices delivered a now-legendary show (preserved for posterity on live Yahoo simulcast) that saw the dissolution of the band’s reunited “classic” lineup amid superhuman consumption of alcohol, epic rants, and onstage collapse on the part of frontman Robert Pollard, the sixty-something former schoolteacher whose astonishingly prolific GBV/ solo/ side-gig output numbers in the literal hundreds of albums, EPs, singles, and surprises. Of course, none of that failed to stem the ongoing tide of record releases — and when Guided By Voices materialized for a September 2017 date at House of Independents, a re-energized Pollard re-teamed with guitarist Doug Gillard for a satisfying revamp of the band’s mid/late 90s configuration that climaxed with an arena-ready cover of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” With a man-made mountain of material to draw from, the elder statesman master of the lo-fi two minute masterpiece goes positively Fourth Ave for a Friday night fracas at Asbury Lanes on August 17— and we wouldn’t be at all surprised if he doesn’t put forth another five albums between the bus and the back door. Available tickets for the 8:30 pm show ($25) at asburylanes.com. Continue reading