CFL’S SUMMER STAND IS A CABARET LICENSE TO THRILL

Felix Truex does it up GRAND, in a Wednesday night STAND that heralds the continuation of a beautiful relationship between Tim McLoone’s Supper Club, and the nonprofit Cabaret For Life. (photos courtesy Tara Feeley)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), July 11, 2019

While he acknowledges the fact that “Asbury Park has been coming back in the most amazing ways,” Andrew De Prisco emphasizes that for many of the city’s neediest inhabitants, the story remains much the same as it’s been for more than a quarter of a century. And when the need continues, The Show Must Go On — in the form of Cabaret For Life, Inc.

Established in the fall of 1995 by De Prisco, his artistic producing partner Fred Mayo, and John and Carole Hessel of Bradley Beach, the Ocean Grove-based nonprofit has kept the focus on “raising funds for service organizations that help people coping with life-threatening diseases, especially HIV/AIDS and cancer, through the production of musical theater.”

Any doubts as to the verifiable healing powers of a well-turned showtune should immediately take a back seat to the evidence of Cabaret For Life’s successful mission; particularly its track record of having raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities that range from such nationally known entities as the American Cancer Society and St. Jude Children’s Hospital, to Monmouth County-based nonprofits Ronald McDonald House of Long Branch, Mary’s Place by the Sea, K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital, the Ashley Lauren Foundation, the VNA Health Center, and The Center in Asbury Park’s Center House facility.

Speaking during a rehearsal for the upcoming De Prisco-produced staging of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Ocean Township’s Axelrod Performing Arts Center — about which more in a moment — the org’s co-founder notes that The Center has been the principal beneficiary of his group’s endeavors from the start, with the Cabaret crew raising an average of $10,000 per year for the Rev. Robert “Father Bob” Kaeding and his volunteer service organization for those living with HIV/AIDS. It’s an affiliation that dates back even before the official inception of Cabaret For Life, when Andrew and company staged their upbeat entertainments at Father Bob’s former post, the Church of St. Anselm in Tinton Falls — and as the new century enters its third decade, Cabaret For Life remains steadfastly committed to a community leader who “does a great deal of outreach…the people who live at Center House have a real need of their services, and when it comes to Father Bob we love to lift him up; to give a voice to his work.”

Following a “pretty peripatetic” interlude in which the Cabaret troupe did their thing at venues that included The Old Mill in Spring Lake, McLoone’s Rum Runner in Sea Bright, and Jumping Brook Country Club in Neptune, De Prisco landed at what would become Cabaret For Life’s regular home stage, when the company presented its first summer season of shows at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club in 2009.

“McLoone’s helped us re-invent ourselves for our second chapter,” the producer says of the elegant upstairs space located within the space-age “doo wop” saucer that once housed the late George Panas’s stalwart Howard Johnson’s during some of Asbury Park’s most challenging times. “It seemed the ideal place to create real cabaret…and for the first time, we were able to do single-person shows.”

A summertime staple that’s now in its 11th Supper Club season, the 2019 Cabaret For Life slate got underway on June 27 with The Dolly Parton Songbook, a tribute set that dedicated a full 100 percent of proceeds to local charities. As De Prisco tells it, the show’s success “speaks to the unique way that we operate, where our annual membership people help us to cover all of the expenses involved with putting on a show…and help us in turn to give all to charity.”

The summer schedule resumes once more this coming Wednesday, July 17, when Cabaret For Life welcomes back a performing partner who’s been with them from the get-go — singer, musician, and all-around entertainer Felix Truex — for the first of two one-man extravaganzas entitled Ain’t It Grand! Drawing from his prodigious mental songbook of Broadway, jazz, pop and rock standards, Truex performs a 7 pm solo set for which admission (a $35 donation) can be reserved at timmcloonessupperclub.com.

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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