THE BIG GIG GOES UP, AS THE LAKEHOUSE BEAT BUS ROLLS ON

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), February 6, 2020

Photos by Jeff Crespi (Beat Bus photo by Tom Chesek)

 “We are all created creative,” says Ben Marino. “It’s just a matter of pulling that part of ourselves out.”

By that metric, the young veteran drummer might seem to have clued in to one of the most perfect situations in all of “creation” — a job as a music director at Asbury Park’s Lakehouse Music Academy.

It’s there inside the busy complex overlooking Wesley Lake that the Bloomfield, NJ resident helps oversee a slate of instructional programs designed to pull that passionate purveyor of music out from students that range in age from six months, to (currently) 75 years young.

While at first glance the LHMA mission might seem similar to numerous “School of Rock” programs from sea to shining sea, this is Asbury Park — and here in the music-mad little city that makes a gloriously big noise, it’s simply not enough to adhere to a strictly by-the-numbers classic-rock canon. And, while other instructors might prompt their students to essentially play dress-up in the boots of Janis, Jimi or Jim, the Lakehouse team takes a different tack, in which the student performer is encouraged to build something all their own, on the foundations of those innovators from pop history.

In the words of Lakehouse founder/owner (plus in-demand producer, engineer, songwriter and session musician) Jon Leidersdorff (pictured), the curriculum centers around “teaching kids to write and evolve as a creative person…and apply those skillsets you get from being creative.”

Beginning at 5 pm on Friday, February 7 — and continuing through two more music-packed mornings, afternoons and nights — the program and the people who power it take center-lanes stage at Asbury Lanes, as the reborn bowl-a-rama plays host for the second consecutive year to the student showcase event known as The Big Gig.

The culmination of the academy’s Fall 2019 semester, the weekend-long affair is one of three such showcases presented throughout the year; a modern-day vaudeville that brings more than 60 different bands — each representing a specific LHMA class in one of four age categories (Cadet, Get Started, Core, Adult Night Session) — to the stage that’s spotlighted a dazzling array of local, national, and international talent.

Picking up from previous Big Gig weekends at venues like House of Independents and the Wonder Bar, the triple-header event is completely free of charge to attend, and open to all members of the public. In other words, one need not be a family member of a participating student to appreciate the level of talent on display — in fact, it’s not hyperbole to suggest that music fans can expect to get an early look at acts that will soon be graduating to “grownup gigs” on many of the area’s most stellar stages.

“One of our Core program bands, a group called Mannequin Arm, opened for Southside Johnny at the Count Basie Theatre on New Year’s Eve,” says Marino of one the academy’s latest success stories. “They started all the way back in our Lakehouse Littles program, and graduated to other levels.”

Indeed, a glance at the roster of Moto Records, the in-house label operated by Lakehouse, displays several acts that should be familiar to regular followers of the Asbury-centric music scene — acts like Sonic Blume, Ella Ross, and one of the newest breakout performers, Lauren Gill (who will be headlining a Stone Pony matinee show on the afternoon of Sunday, February 16).

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COMIC KINGPINS ACCESS ASBURY’S STAGES, IN A PAIR OF ‘SUPER’ EVENTS

NOTE: The February 5 “Super Belly Laughs” benefit show described in this article has been canceled. No further information is available at this time.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), January 30, 2020

“We don’t want to be thought of as Hell On Wheels,” says Scott Chesney. “We’re peaceful people!”

That may very well be, but as an Ambassador for the nonprofit Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the longtime accessibility advocate and disability-issues activist is poised to make a figurative big noise on the boulevards and boardwalks of Asbury Park — as well as a literal big splash on its beaches .

To the Verona, NJ native, who has lived as a paraplegic since suffering a rare paralyzing stroke at the age of 15, it’s all about the assurance that “we’re doing everything in our power to facilitate positive change” — and the vehicle for that change is Access Asbury, a hyper-localized program that gathers its momentum from “all that’s going on in Asbury Park…the renaissance, the resurgence…and what I love most about the place, the open-mindedness.”

This coming Wednesday evening, February 5, that open-minded approach to the very serious work of the Reeve Foundation extends to the main ballroom of the venerable Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel, where “one of the most hilarious evenings ever” assembles a gaggle of Garden State guffaw generators in an event that could ONLY be called Super Belly Laughs for Access Asbury.

Kicking off with a 6 pm cocktail reception — and dedicated to helping local businesses make themselves more accessible to people with mobility issues — the event is one of two “Super” comedy shows going on within city limits in the next 7 days; an interlude that just happens to boast the single biggest attraction of the traditional TV year.

First up, on Super Bowl Sunday itself, the second annual edition of the Super Duper Bowl Comedy Show hits the House of Independents for a real-time take on the gridiron action that’s more colorful commentary than plain-speak play by play.

Headlined by latter-day legendary local Kurt Braunohler — the Neptune native turned nationally celebrated standup, festival fave, writer, and game show emcee — the program is the brainchild of Shore-based comic Taylor Allen and Steve Arena, hosts of the comedy-sports podcast Callin’ the Shots. It’s a format that riffs on the game (displayed on the big screen of the all-purpose auditorium) as it unfolds, with each quarter bringing out a different team of podcast pros (including Braunohler, himself host of the Nerdist offering The K Ohle), and a “halftime show” that features the band The Karl Malones performing covers of tunes by Super Bowl LIV entertainers Shakira and Jennifer Lopez.

“It’s completely random and totally entertaining,” observes Ming Chen, the store clerk (at Kevin Smith’s Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank) turned co-star of the AMC TV series Comic Book Men, and (with fellow series vet Mike Zapcic) a podcasting proponent whose award-winning adventures in the field have seen the pair establish their own Eatontown-based “PodcaStudios” under the name A Shared Universe — an enterprise that has also staked out a “pop-up” location on the Asbury Park boardwalk for the winter.

“It’s just a great event for the casual football fan who just wants to have fun…maybe even good for people who are indifferent to football,” adds the pod-producer and personality who joins Mike on a Super Duper bill that further features Angelo Gingerelli (host of the weekly Monday comedy night at Long Branch’s Brighton Bar), Ariel Leaty, Ryan Barry, Gordon Baker Bone, Kate Nichols, Simmons & Moore, and Warm Things. Tickets ($12 in advance) can be obtained from houseofindependents.com, or at Cookman Ave neighbor Rebel Supply Co.     Continue reading

JAMIESON’S SELECT: A JERSEY JESTER HOLDS COURT AT THE BRIGHTON BAR

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), January 23, 2020

 It’s the kind of matchup of vaudeville and venue that makes perfect sense and fits like a warm winter glove; a cold night’s comfort that still manages to raise a delightfully hellacious noise.

For a run of nearly five years, the Bradley Beach-based music promoter Ben Puglisi’s DAA Entertainment has established bi-monthly base camp, at a like-minded local-scene landmark that’s specialized in the care, feeding, and nurture of homegrown “heavy” music, in all of its metal/ punk/ noise and just generally offbeat manifestations.

The ringmaster for those revels is Don Jamieson, the veteran purveyor of “slobservational” standup and “prank” humor who’s best known on the national/ international as longtime co-host (with Eddie Trunk and Jim Florentine) of the VH-1 series That Metal Show, as well as the SportsNet NY program Beer Money, and enough multi-platform plaudits to have earned standing as a King of Most Media (or at least a recognition as “TV’s Don Jamieson”).

The venue for that brand of vaudeville is none other than the Brighton Bar in the West End section of Long Branch, a place whose proudly proclaimed pedigree as The Home of Original Music on the Jersey Shore saw it sounding its keynote as a neighborhood “frosted mug”/ package goods joint with a postage-stamp hitching post stage, gaining regional cred through various changes of ownership (and the steadfast presence of longtime booker/ bandleader Jacko Monahan) — then, under the stewardship of punk musician turned barkeep (and “cool teacher” at the local HS) Greg Macolino,   soldiering on through an era when live music clubs were shuttering by the bucketload, and when even the storied Stone Pony was vacant (or, briefly,“Vinyl”).

Then there’s that Wall of Fame, a groovy grotto of reverent contemplation that attests to the little bar’s ability to attract a generation of acts from the fabled 1970s golden age of punk rock (The Dictators, The Dickies, The Damned, The Vibrators, and members of The Sex Pistols, Ramones, Dead Boys, X, The Stranglers, New York Dolls), as well as the decades beyond (Fountains of Wayne, Nashville Pussy, Ween). It’s been a place that’s welcomed everyone from Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin to that wand’ring-minstrel-in-search-of-a-gig named Bruce Springsteen; a sonic laboratory and spawning ground for stars to be (Monster Magnet, Godspeed) and a happy harbor for a thousand-and-one local/regional acts that flared ever so brightly and all too briefly (Laughing Soupdish, Secret Syde, Dirge…and yes, J’zzing was a thing). The kind of place where you’d find yourself at the next barstool with one of your rock idols from middle school days; an experience that you’d pay VIP Golden Ticket Ambassador Pope levels to attain in a more corporate concert context.

“That’s because there’s nowhere to hide at the Brighton!” laughs Jamieson in a call from his Monmouth County home. “There’s no star dressing room; the bands are right there with the fans, and it’s a loose relaxed vibe all around.”

“It’s a great place, with a great stage, and great sound,” says the man who’s “seen the world” via multiple tours with Armed Forces Entertainment, and enjoyed a gig as regular opening act for Andrew Dice Clay. “if we can use my name to promote bands, give ‘em a place to play, that’s what it’s all about.”

On Friday night, January 24, it’s all about four Jersey-fresh bands who are “all going to be heavy, but different;” a dance card (selected by Jamieson in cahoots with DAA) that spotlights Ocean County combo Wild Chariot (seen previously at the Brighton during last month’s Brothers Union Holiday Show), as well as prog-metal paragons (and fellow OC guys) Throne of Exile, teenaged titans The Age of Ore, and the power trio known as “Apparition. Apparitions. ”All this, plus the highly visible DJ Claude Rains, for a twelve-dollar ticket.

“As a fan myself, I appreciate a club that keeps things on schedule,” says Jamieson of his preferred local haunts. “Get ‘em in, have fun, and get ‘em home at a reasonable time.”

“The Brighton Bar is our CBGB,” adds the emcee in reference to the legendary Bowery club. “I lived in New York around the time that CBs closed, along with Don Hill’s, Roseland, Continental…but places like the Brighton and The Saint have stood the test of time…Jersey really does have a thriving rock scene.”   

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WHOLE LOD OF LOVE, AT 20th ANNUAL WINTERFEST IN ASBURY

It’s still just scratching the surface…but some of the faces of this weekend’s 20th anniversary Light of Day Winterfest schedule include (top row) Marc Ribler, Sandy Mack, Deseree Spinks, Marc Muller, Jarod Clemons, Sara Aniano (New Narratives), Bobby Mahoney, Quincy Mumford, Stella Mrowicki, Pat Guadagno; (2nd row) Lisa Bouchelle, Taylor Tote, Cranston Dean, Billy Hector, Christine Martucci, Rachel Ana Dobken, Tara Dente, Avery Mandeville, Stringbean, Dr. Geena; (3rd row) David Ross Lawn, Bob Egan, John Easdale (Dramarama), Richard Barone, Jo Wymer, Poppa John Bug, Mary McCrink, Joe D’Urso; (4th row, hidden) We’re Ghosts Now, Shady Street Show Band; (5th row) James Dalton, JT Bowen, Stormin’ Norman Seldin, Chuck Lambert, Jo Bonanno, Billy Walton, Keith Roth, Emily Bornemann (Dentist), Paul Whistler, Reagan Richards (Williams Honor); (6th/ bottom row) Anthony “Remember Jones” D’Amato, Glen Burtnik (The Weeklings), John Eddie, Joe Rapolla, Anthony Krizan, Joe Grushecky, Vini Lopez, Jeffrey Gaines, James Maddock, Willie Nile.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), January 16, 2020

It’s a milestone menu of musical movings and shakings that was appetized by several local and regional events in the past week — one that lays out its spectacularly sprawling spread over the next four days; a benefit banquet that involves some 34 separate sites, dozens of distinct events, and enough performers to populate one little but LOUD, gloriously music-mad city.

Where to even begin to get a handle on Light of Day Winterfest, the fully soundtracked fundraising vehicle whose landmark 20th annual edition achieves climax this mid-January weekend? For perspective’s sake, it might behoove us to start at the very beginning — in this case the original Downtown Cafe in Red Bank; scene in November 1998 of a tune-filled 40th birthday party thrown by Bob Benjamin. Having received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease two years earlier, the music promo/ management pro asked his guests to forego the birthday presents in favor of donating toward Parkinson’s research — and it was there that Jean Mikle found herself on the ground floor of a thing that the Asbury Park Press journalist and Bruce Springsteen specialist says “has grown beyond anyone’s imagination…something that’s had such a positive impact on the community.”

The thing is the Light of Day Foundation, of which Mikle serves as president, and whose other board members include co-founder and premier promoter Tony Pallagrosi, as well as veteran music makers Joe D’Urso, Joe Grushecky and Rob Dye. As a year-round nonprofit endeavor with an international footprint, “LOD” has raised millions toward the goal of a cure for Parkinson’s — in addition to Joan Dancy & PALS, the ALS-focused charity founded by the late Terry McGovern — although the casual observer might be forgiven for first thinking of the organization as the planners and purveyors of a most auspicious party.

An ever-evolving affair that’s expanded its reach to several continents, major North American cities, and various satellite events throughout the calendar year, Winterfest commandeers the stages, storefronts and saloons of Asbury Park (as well as one sympathetic site in next-door Ocean Grove) in a manner that’s guaranteed to disturb the long winter’s nap of most other “off season” Shore locales. It’s a phenomenon that manifests as a natural outgrowth of the event’s symbiotic relationship with the city, where it first established base camp at the Stone Pony in 2000 — and to which it returned in 2008, after several years at surrogate homes in Sayreville and Sea Bright. By that time, Asbury Park had re-asserted itself as a music city that competed head-on with places many times its size — a “spiritual home” that finds Mikle “just amazed by the diversity and the depth of talent we have here.”

That deep bench will be on full active roster between tonight, January 16 and Sunday, January 19; represented by multiple generations of homegrown heroes, honorary local legends, and transplants to our music-friendly Shore. As Mikle (who recently accompanied D’Urso on the Fests’s European jaunt for the ninth time) explains it, “the fact that we have access to so many different musicians on this scene…and our out-of-town friends look forward to coming back each year…means we grow bigger each time out.”

Naturally, a big draw (and a focal point for some tantalizing will-he-or-won’t-he buzz) is the potential participation of Benjamin’s long-time friend Springsteen — whose soundtrack song “Just Around the Corner to the Light of Day” directly inspired the organization’s name, and whose frequent presence has made him de facto ringmaster for the majority of those all-star Bob’s Birthday concerts. 

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BIG MAN’S NEXT: JAROD CLEMONS ON A NEW WAVELENGTH

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), January 9, 2020

Yes, New Jersey, there is such a thing as a Clarence Clemons Day — and here within the Big Man’s old Shore stomping grounds, that special “day” is, fittingly enough, really more of a two-day deal.

This Saturday, January 11 marks what would have been the 78th birthday of the saxman/ bandleader/ occasional actor (and, briefly, club owner) who defined the look, sound, and personality-packed dynamic of the E Street Band, every bit as much as its hard-working foreman. And, when Clarence Anicholas Clemons Jr. died of complications from a massive stroke in June 2011, his passing was recognized as something far beyond a one-day headline in the mass media. Flags flew at half-staff here in the native Virginian’s adopted home state; the biggest names in popular music paid tribute to his sound and style from live stages around the world — and two years later, then-governor Chris Christie signed an official resolution making January 11 “Clarence Clemons Day” in the Garden State.

The loss of “CC” also served to spur into existence the Asbury Angels Project, a virtual memorial to departed Asbury Park music pros whose inaugural Class of 2012 included not only Clemons and his E Street colleague Danny Federici, but the city’s “first music superstar” Arthur Pryor, legendary Convention Hall concert promoter Moe Septee, and Upstage Club hosts Tom and Margaret Potter. And concurrent with Clarence Clemons Day in 2013, music promoters BIG RoaD Productions established their Big Man’s Birthday Winterbash, a yearly celebration that presents its eighth annual edition this Friday night and Saturday afternoon.

Staged as a benefit for the adoption center and programs of the Eatontown-based Monmouth County SPCA, the Bash returns in 2020 to a pair of longtime landmarks of Jersey Shore nightlife — The Headliner on Route 35 South in Neptune, and Bar Anticipation on 16th Avenue in Lake Como. The two venerable venues will be hosting a fairly eclectic (and multi-generational) mix of talents, ranging from several of CC’s veteran contemporaries on the local scene, to a couple of men who are carrying the Clemons name forward into a new musical decade.

Headlining the Headliner show on Friday evening will be the musician charged with taking over Clarence’s role on the E Street roster — his 39 year old nephew Jake Clemons. The multi-instrumentalist (whose sophomore album Eyes on the Horizon dropped this past September) will be spotlighting his solo material in a full-band set, joined on the bill by Eddie Testa, by Bob Polding — and by the most recent addition to the musical family tree.

At 21 years of age, Jarod Clemons has already set about writing the kind of working-musician’s story more befitting a player several years his senior. The youngest son of Clarence Clemons grew up with his mother Jacqueline Monteau in Connecticut and Florida, where he cut his tuneful teeth in and around the bars of the Tampa Bay area. But up here in the music-mad city that made his father famous, the young veteran with the weighty name was a relative newcomer when he made the decision to relocate to Asbury just last year — a move that resulted in what Jarod calls “the best six months of my past five years.”

Performing regularly at first with fellow Floridian Taylor Davis, Clemons made a memorable impression in settings both old (the Brighton Bar in Long Branch) and new (Danny Clinch’s Transparent Gallery at The Asbury Hotel) — sets that nimbly addressed the proverbial elephant in the room, by including an intimate arrangement of “You’re a Friend of Mine,” his dad’s hit 1985 duet with Jackson Browne.

Having parted ways with Davis in the months since his move, Jarod performs now in fully electrified band mode with The Late Nights, the four piece combo (guitarist Zach Tyler, bassist Alex Fuhring, keyboardist Stephen Verdi, drummer John DiNunzio) with whom he’ll be appearing in Neptune on the 10th. It’s both a capper to a hectic interlude of transition for the emerging bandleader — and a keynote to a coming year of musical exploration, experimentation, and continued excitations.       

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NJ REPERTORY CO. THROWS A NEW-SEASON ‘BONE’ TO ITS LOYAL AUDIENCE

Expanded from an article published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), January 2-3, 2020

There’s the simmering resentment and uncertainty that threatens the comfort-zone routine of long-standing relationships. The assault on stability that comes from devastating divorce and dawning dementia. The literal scars of hard-knocks life experiences; the petty rivalries; the public humiliations; the buried secrets that seldom lie still — and, for a bit of R-and-R, the odd side trip to the local concentration camp.

Or, as the folks at New Jersey Repertory Company might have it: That’s “Family” Entertainment!

Granted, there would never have been much of a thing as live theater, if human beings hadn’t always been such conflicted and unhappy bundles of raw nerve-endings. But even in an environment where the marital martial artists George and Martha of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? promise to be once again the toast of Broadway, the folks at the Garden State’s premier greenhouse for original plays are experienced hands at framing the many ways in which people are not so nice to each other — and a quick glance at the 20-year track record of the Long Branch-based company is a whirlwind tour of bad-housekeeping dynamics, racial animosity, romantic betrayal, paralyzing grief, debilitating illness, fragile facades, and sexual power-plays, often presented with a comic edge as bitterly dark as baker’s chocolate.

The truly ironic thing is that all of this relationship-threatening dramatic unpleasantness has been the publicly purveyed product of one of the greatest and most enduring personal/ professional marriages in the history of our region’s arts scene — that of Gabor and SuzAnne Barabas, co-founders (and, respectively, executive producer and artistic director) of NJ Rep. Partners in life and art and community vision, the two share a range of interests that span everything from poetry to horror films, to the long-running TV western Gunsmoke (a topic on which they literally wrote the book) — and as they prepare to roll out a frankly awesome 21st season of original mainstage productions on downtown Broadway LB, “Gabe” and SuzAnne are once more holding up a mirror to the good-bad-and-ugly of how we’re getting along with each other, here in 21st century America.

Speaking from their West Long Branch home during a characteristically busy holiday interlude, Dr. Gabor Barabas maintains that “when we choose our plays we have no formula…but if you look at things historically, we gravitate toward certain relationship plays.”

“It’s whatever we find compelling; whatever we feel is relevant across the generations,” adds the Hungarian-born retired neurologist and published poet, citing as one example the 2018 production Issei, He Say, a portrait of two Asian immigrant families dealing with their own cultural differences.

“And in the end, it all comes down to the idea of family.”

The people who head up an extended family of Rep regulars have kept the figurative porch light on throughout a couple of tumultuous decades in a fast-morphing city; not only via their branded playhouse at Broadway and Liberty Street, but through their purchase and ambitious plans for the onetime West End Elementary School property now re-imagined as the West End Arts Center (to say nothing of their stewardship of the historic “Buffalo Bill House,” recast in the new century as a lodging for guest performers and creative people during the rehearsal and run of a new show).

Here at the kickoff to the 2020 season, the welcome guests include a pair of players long familiar to NJ Rep audiences — actors Wendy Peace and John Little — as well as director M. Graham Smith, a Bay Area-based veteran of the National New Play Network, who happens to have been able to spend his holidays with family here in the local area.

The project they’ve been preparing for imminent debut is Bone on Bone, a “two-hander” comedy-drama by MaryLou DiPietro, and the latest in a very long line of plays to make its world premiere at the “modestly scaled but expansively visioned” venue In Long Branch, NJ.

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TELL TCHAIKOVSKY THE NEWS: THIS NUTCRACKER ROCKS

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), December 19, 2019

 “Tell Tchaikovsky the news,” sang the late great Chuck Berry in “Roll Over Beethoven” — and if the 19th century Russian master didn’t get the memo the first time, he might be interested to know that, here at the tail end of 2019, one of his most enduring concert classics has been given a holiday makeover complete with a transporting to an enchanted land known as the Jersey Shore, and a compositional assist from members of the Garden State rock band The Gaslight Anthem. Because of course it has!

Going up for six performances this weekend at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in the Deal Park section of Ocean Township, The Nutcracker ROCKS represents a delightfully unexpected collaboration between   the APAC’s in-house professional dance company The Axelrod Contemporary Ballet Theater [AXCBT], and a team of Jersey-based creative partners highlighted by two core components of the New Brunswick-spawned Anthem: bassist Alex Levine and guitarist Alex Rosamilia.

As director and choreographer Gabriel Chajnik explains, “this is our first full season of ballets here at the Axelrod…and we wanted to finish the year with a work that adds something of the musical tradition in our area.” Recognizing The Nutcracker as “the ballet that most kids and families are exposed to first,” the founder of the AXCBT (who performed in the 1892 classic during his days at the National Academy in his native Argentina — and who, as a student at NYC’s Juilliard School, thrilled to multiple stagings of George Balanchine’s landmark production) set out to create something that “would appeal to the classicists…and to the Jersey Shore rock and rollers.”

Indeed, the producers aren’t trying to “gaslight” their audience when they pitch this intriguing project as a work that’s “destined to become a Jersey Shore staple for many holidays to come“ — a thing designed not so much to set P.I. Tchaikovsky spinning in his grave, as to get the old boy humming like a dynamo in sync with its fuel-injected energy.

Riffing on the original source stories by E.T.A. Hoffman and Alexandre Dumas — and the ballet’s familiar plotline of young Clara and her Christmastime voyage through magical realms of mouse armies, sugarplum fairies, and an enchanted nutcracker soldier — The Nutcracker ROCKS boasts a new book by Red Bank Regional High School drama teacher Reuben Jackson (entirely coincidentally, Chajnik’s old Juilliard roommate), a traditional score (recorded by maestro Jason Tramm and the 40 piece MidAtlantic Symphony Orchestra at Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium this past October), dozens of young student dancers, acrobatic performers from Howell High School, “rats instead of mice; rockers instead of soldiers” — along with “hip-hop elements” and a layered rock component (including two all-new songs) custom-crafted for the occasion by the two Alexes and their partner in X Squared Productions, Wes Klienknecht.

As for exactly how the ballet master (who became a full time resident of Ocean Grove when given the opportunity to establish the AXCBT) connected with the veterans of the band best known for the album The ‘59 Sound, it’s as simple as the fact that “Alex Levine was my barber!”  

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A (MULTI)CULTURED PEARL, REVEALED IN LONG BRANCH

Above and below: 10PRL owners Kira Sanchez and April Centrone are pictured inside the Cyclorama construction that’s a centerpiece of the all-new, multi-purpose arts facility in Long Branch, set to debut with a New Year’s Eve intro party. Photos by Allison Kolarik

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), December 12, 2019

 The first thing you notice, upon ascending the stairs to its second-floor perch within a busy but largely beneath-the-radar neighborhood of Long Branch, is its immensity — an immensity grounded in its 6,500 square feet of splendid sprawl, its 14-foot high ceilings, and its numerous nooks of real-world real estate. It’s also a quality that transcends physical dimensions; that looks beyond the sturdy brick walls toward whole other realms of possibility and promise and pure potential.

It’s maybe only then that you happen to take in the cyclorama that commands the entire southwest corner of the space. For those who don’t have one at home, a “cyclorama” in this case is neither an amusement park midway ride, nor one of those spinner things in which astronaut trainees experience multiple G forces. Rather it’s an “840 square foot, fully immersive, gentle curve of white wall” that represents, in the words of April Centrone, “a canvas, for anything you can imagine.”

A Harlem-born, Shore-based musician, educator, therapist, photographer, and citizen of the world, Centrone is spending much of this holiday-season interlude prepping for the imminent public debut of a project that, in its own relatively quiet way, is as ambitious as anything on the rise within this fast-changing city by the sea.

Located just off Broadway’s midtown main drag at the onetime site of Pearl Street Gym, the place known as 10PRL (pronounce it as “Ten Pearl,” and you’ve all the GPS directions you need) is the brainchild of Centrone and Kira Sanchez — partners in life, marriage, music, art, entrepreneurship, and now a venture that is as proudly “Woman Owned” and “Queer Owned” as it is “super inclusive.”

“This is an idea that’s actually more than a decade in the making,” explains Centrone, herself familiar to fervent followers of the Shore soundscape as a unique maker of music, both as a drummer/ percussionist (for singer-songwriter James Dalton and others) and a front-and-center performer who was seen recently during November’s slate of “Tallie Fest” showcases in Asbury Park.

Regionally, the Point Pleasant native (who’s been raising a gloriously rhythmic ruckus since the age of 9) continues to commandeer the drummer’s seat with the Brooklyn-based band Jane — and is best known as the middle eastern music expert who founded the New York Arabic Orchestra in 2007 (an organization that also boasts the contributions of Venezuelan-born bassist Sanchez).

“I’ve played and taught in a lot of venues, from squats in Europe to major theaters and festivals,” explains the specialist in the stringed instrument known as the oud — a voyager whose Masters degree in psychology has seen her combine music and therapy disciplines in her work with at-risk teens on the home front, as well as (at the invitation of the UN and various American embassies) youthful refugees around the globe. “And what struck me in my travels was when we’d be welcomed into a space that was completely run by artists.”

The germ of what would eventually be realized as 10PRL was also inspired by the thought that, as tech-sector entities encroach upon available urban loft spaces and rehabilitated commercial properties — thereby driving up rents to the point where “artists are frozen out of the places they helped bring back to life” — it becomes more crucial than ever to stake out a space in which all members of the area’s creative class can converge; a hive of activity where “the connection is in supporting the community,” and where the momentum is generated by “the original forms of therapy: music and art!”

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