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

L-R: Gary Shaffer, Tom Frascatore, Billy Van Zandt, and Jeff Babey are THE BOOMER BOYS, when the musical comedy returns to Tim McLoone’s Supper Club in AP on November 10. (photos by Rich Tang)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), November 7, 2019

 Granted, many composers of song and verse have addressed the realities of entering one’s “autumn years” with bittersweet beauty and elegiac elegance — but it’s safe to say that only one mature work of art has had the courage to couch its sentiments in a lyric like “My Prostate is the Size of a Buick.”

Returning this Sunday evening, November 10, to the Asbury Park stage where it was first workshopped a few years back, the musical comedy The Boomer Boys is a full-length revue in which a four-man “Fat Pack” of fifty-going-on-sixtysomething guys examines the march of time, the ebb of tide, and the inevitable degeneration of a generation, through laff-worthy laments on such topics as snoring, hair loss, weight gain, and lost keys. With Tim McLoone’s Supper Club the setting for the show seen previously under the title The Man-O-Pause Boys, the single 7 pm performance marks the latest in a series of boardwalk homecomings, for a pop-culture dynamo by name of Van Zandt.

That’s Billy Van Zandt to be precise; the half-brother of Little Steven Van Zandt, and a Middletown Township native who’s always maintained a foothold in the sandy soil of his Shore spawning grounds, even as he “went Hollywood” during a decades-spanning run as an award winning writer and producer for stage and screen. Segueing from his time as a young actor who scored plum parts in high profile films like Jaws 2, Taps, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the comedy specialist who wrote his first produced play in junior high school built his reputation and resumé as a playwright and a producer, in close partnership with his friend (and fellow Monmouth County local) Jane Milmore.

Writing and staging some two dozen fast-paced farces and tuneful titterfests with names like Love, Sex and the IRS, The Senator Wore Pantyhose, What the Rabbi Saw, and Confessions of a Dirty Blonde — and premiering many of their scripts in “homecoming” engagements at Brookdale Community College — the two built a brand that would rival the old British empire for global sprawl, and inspire the tongue in cheek showbiz adage, “you know you work in community theater if you’ve ever appeared in a show written by Van Zandt and Milmore.”

Their hard-earned success on the far (and fun) fringes of the “legitimate theatah” earned the collaborators entree to the high-pressure, highly competitive realm of TV sitcoms — and it’s there that Billy and Jane forged a career as staff writers and co-producers for shows that included Newhart, Martin, The Hughleys, and Anything But Love. It’s an interlude that saw them working with everyone from Don Rickles and Lucille Ball to Martin Lawrence and Andrew Dice Clay; garnering Peoples Choice awards and an Emmy nomination, and even marrying in ways that placed each of them a single degree of separation from the late and legendary Bea Arthur (Billy to ex-wife and Maude daughter Adrienne Barbeau; Jane to Golden Girls co-producer Richard Vaczy).

With the network TV game more chaotic than ever, Van Zandt and Milmore resumed their focus (or actually, never turned their backs) upon the creation of new works for the stage — scoring an international hit with You’ve Got Hate Mail, an intimately scaled “fingertip farce” that plays out with characters seated at computer terminals, and a crowd-pleasing comedy that was seen previously at Mr. McLoone’s. Making the connection with veteran actor, musician, cabaret artist and composer Wayland Pickard, Billy and Jane kicked around the idea for the project that would become The Boomer Boys.

Reporting in from his California home (where just days before he’d marked himself “safe from the Getty fire”), Van Zandt explains that Pickard “came to Jane and me to pitch us the idea of writing a show together that explains what men of a certain age go through.”

 Jane said yes right away,” he recalls. “She said ‘I’d rather write about it than hear you continue to complain about it’…and the show took off from there.”

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Worley ‘n Shirley, Together on LBI

It’s a TV addict’s waking dream: LAUGH-IN’s Jo Anne Worley, and LAVERNE & SHIRLEY’s Cindy Williams, starring as Neil Simon’s ODD COUPLE, at Surflight Theatre on LBI.

Does anybody out there remember a short-lived sitcom from the 1990s called ‪Hi Honey, I’m Home? Conceptually intriguing, if a bit beneath top-shelf quality (it was taped in Florida), it concerned a family from a 1950s TV show that was relocated to a neighborhood where every character from every long-ago cancelled classic (Leave It To Beaver, Green Acres, et al) was apparently forced to make his/her way in a brave new “real world” of gelled mullets.

Sometimes we get the impression that Billy Van Zandt would very much enjoy living in such a place, if he hasn’t bought himself a little crash pad there already. In the course of a long-playing career as an actor, playwright, director, and (especially) an Emmy-nommed scriptwriter and producer of sitcoms both legendary (Newhart) and look-it-up (Bless This House), the male half of the Van Zandt-Milmore writing partnership has worked with the likes of Lucille Ball, Bob Newhart, Don Rickles, John Goodman, Richard Lewis, Martin Lawrence, Brooke Shields and the Wayans Brothers, to name but a few. He even married into a sitcom pedigree — Adrienne Barbeau, who among many other things was the daughter of Maude.

If such a magical neighborhood does exist in the here and now, it might offer sci-fi Stargate access directly into Beach Haven’s Surflight Theatre — the beleaguered LBI landmark that, under the stewardship of new Artistic Director Roy Miller, has upped the ante on the TV Land factor for the 2011 summer season — an interlude during which the Surflight stage has been walked upon by everyone from American Idol  Justin Guarini and Taxi‘s Judd Hirsch, to Gilligan girl Dawn Wells, Hollywood square Peter Marshall, Food Network’s Marc Summers and Law & Order: SVU‘s Richard Belzer. There’s even talk of an upcoming project starring Eve Plumb of the Brady Bunch.

Beginning this week, it all converges in one wacky inter-dimensional wormhole, as Van Zandt directs Cindy Williams — the woman who put the Shirley in Laverne & Shirley — and Jo Anne Worley, the psychedelic diva from the 1960s signifier Laugh-In, in a new look at a familiar Odd Couple.

We’re talking of course about Neil Simon‘s 1980s “Female Version” rewrite of the comic chestnut — a scenario in which messy “Olive” Madison takes in her just-separated neatnik friend “Florence” Ungar, as the Trivial Pursuit games continue in lieu of the original’s poker tourneys. It’s a property that’s naturally attracted many of the most seasoned “comediennes” in the business, and the Surflight stand (which runs August 4 to 21) boasts still more picture-tube talents in the supporting cast — including June Gable (Joey’s agent on Friends!) and Lynne Marie Stewart (Miss Yvonne on Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and Charlie’s mom on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia!). It’s like you ate a half gallon of Ben & Jerry’s Welsh Rarebit Cathode Crunch, passed out on a bongwater-stained Peg Bundy sofa to late-nite reruns of phantom-channel transmissions bounced back from the Crab Nebula, and slipped into an endless Rod Serling/Jean-Paul Sartre loop of two-dimensional existentialist hijinx from which escape is not only impossible — it’s hilariously unnecessary!

We caught up with Billy Van Zandt between two worlds — his rehearsals on Long Beach Island, and his ongoing commitment to the Van Zandt-Milmore show You’ve Got Hate Mail, continuing its hit Off Broadway run at The Triad in Manhattan.

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ARCHIVE: Billy Gets His Evening, for M’town Arts

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Playwright Billy Van Zandt is in the hot seat for an April 30 fundraiser for the Middletown Cultural and Arts Center.

By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank Green April 22, 2011)

No, Billy Van Zandt — to quote the late great Red Buttons and his signature shtick on countless Dean Martin roasts — “never got a dinner.” But on the night of Saturday, April 30, he’ll be getting his very own Evening.

Unlike other Monmouth County folks who went Hollywood in a big way, the comic playwright, producer and performer has, with his longtime collaborator Jane Milmore, maintained a pretty dynamic profile on the area’s artscape — particularly over at the Lincroft campus of Brookdale Community College, where the Van Zandt-Milmore tagteam has taught, established a scholarship and regularly premiered such new works for the stage as You’ve Got Hate Mail, currently enjoying a hit Off Broadway run at The Triad in Manhattan.

As one half of a bicoastal stage/screen writing partnership, the half brother of Steve Van Zandt spends about half his time here on the greater Red Bank Green — often with his sons and his better half, actress and author Adrienne Barbeau. None of which is to suggest that Billy Van Zandt ever does anything halfway, however.

Scheduled for 7:30p on April 30, An Evening with Billy Van Zandt (it even rhymes with An Evening with Cary Grant) presents the 1975 graduate of the old split-session Middletown High School in an “up close and personal” forum, in which he’s expected to offer advice to aspiring actors and writers — and to share some pretty priceless stories from his travels as a young actor in major motion pictures, and an Emmy nominated writer-producer for sitcoms both legendary (Newhart) and look-it-up (Bless This House).

Moderated by actor Jeff Babey (who, as a member in good standing of the Van Zandt-Milmore stock company, is similarly not known to do things in moderation), it’s a circus that manages to involve everyone from Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, and Tom Cruise, to Wiliam Shatner, the Wayans Brothers and Andrew Dice Clay — and that’s just for appetizers. It’s also a benefit for the educational programs of the Middletown Township Cultural & Arts Council, hosted at their spacious (and criminally under-utilized) Middletown Arts Center, located just seconds from Red Bank and steps from the township’s NJ Transit train platform. The redbankgreen Drama Desk met up with BVZ at the Broadway Diner recently, to kvetch and ketchup on current events.

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ARCHIVE: High School Musical, Part 30?

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Going up: The cast of HIGH SCHOOL REUNION: THE MUSICAL — well, most of ‘em, anyway — includes (left to right) Glenn Jones, Lynn Kroll, Billy Van Zandt, Jane Milmore, Ed Carlo, and Susan Travers, with Barbara Bonilla grounded at center. The show by Van Zandt, Milmore and Nick DeGregorio makes its world premiere this weekend at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft. (Photography by Danny Sanchez; composite by Kevin Cosme)

By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit May 15, 2009)


For a couple of Monmouth County people who’ve gone forth and made it in the major leagues of show business, Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore don’t seem too interested in rubbing the noses of their former high school classmates in their success. In fact, Van Zandt maintains that the only two high school reunions he ever attended “were both miserable experiences.”

This being the season for such things, however, the award-winning tagteam of actors, writers and producers has made the trip back to New Jersey to participate in a huge reunion at a local school with which they share a deeply felt connection — and this time they’ll be in the company of some of their dearest friends.

Making its world premiere this weekend at Brookdale Community CollegeHigh School Reunion: The Musical is the latest (and maybe most ambitious) in a long and lucrative line of stage projects created by the Van Zandt-Milmore fun factory — a show that continues the annual “homecoming” tradition established more than 20 years ago by the prolific pair. It’s a tradition that’s taken root at BCC’s Performing Arts Center, with some of the most recent debuts including Silent LaughterA Night at the NutcrackerYou’ve Got Hate Mail and last year’s Hitchcock parody Wrong Window.

With a cast that numbers nearly 20 performers, and an original score of some two dozen songs, the musical comedy set at the 30-year reunion of a typically cliquish (and completely neurotic) Class of 1979 brings together all of the archetypes (and arty types) that made life so needlessly complicated back in the day — the jocks, the nerds, the burnouts, the overachievers, the so-called ’studs’ and ’sluts’ and more; only balding, Botox’d, Beemer-driving and beaten down by Boomer expectations.

And no, despite the similarity in titles, it’s not an extrapolation of where Zac Efronand crew will be when the franchise goes dry.

1979, as it turns out, was also the year that the two writing partners began their professional collaboration, with the perennially popular stage farce Love, Sex and the IRS. The two have gone on to create more than 20 other plays, an original screenplay (A Wake in Providence) and a career in Hollywood as writers and/or producers on such sitcoms as NewhartMartin and Anything for Love. They even garnered an Emmy nomination for the CBS special I Love Lucy: The Very First Show — and it’s even been said of the team’s dizzying output that “you know you work in community theater if you’ve ever appeared in a show written by Van Zandt and Milmore.”

The show abbreviated as HSRTM also stands as a reunion for numerous long-standing members of the Unofficial Van Zandt-Milmore Stock Company, with such veterans of BillyJane productions as Jeff BabeyMichael ChartierTom Frascatore,Glenn JonesMichael KrollArt Neill and Susan Travers joining such new partners in mirth as composer-conductor Nick DeGregorio and co-director Gary Shaffer, who just wrapped up a production of Thoroughly Modern Millie in Red Bank, and who might be familiar to habitual oRBiters in his role as frontguy for the Irish-American pubrockers The Snakes.

Red Bank oRBit “did lunch” with Van Zandt (Middletown High School, class of 1975) and Milmore (Keansburg High School, class of 1973) the other day at McLoone’s in Sea Bright, speaking on topics that ranged from the death of print media to the state of the sitcom, to Family Guy and family dynamics and a couple of bawdy stories about the late great Bea Arthur.

Bea Arthur? Why, yes — as it turns out the two of them have an eerily coincidental connection to the recently deceased TV powerhouse — Billy through his marriage to Maude co-star Adrienne Barbeau, and Jane through her marriage to Golden Girlswriter-producer Richard Vaczy. Read on.

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ARCHIVE: Her Wicked, Sinful Double Life

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Perils of Publishing: Rumson girl Kathy Milmore, pictured as one of her own heroine creations from for the historical romance novels she pens as Kaitlin O’Riley. The author and her alter ego will be making a signing appearance Tuesday night at Borders in Eatontown.

By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit April 6, 2009)

Most Mondays through Fridays, Kathy Milmore nukes her tea in the breakroom microwave at the L.A. private school where she teaches third grade for a living; putting pen to paper only for the latest lesson plan in decimal place values or Madam C.J. Walker.

Ah, but at night — at night, when fantasies run feckless and free as horses on the beach at Rodanthe, Kathy Milmore slips Snuggie-like into the persona of Kaitlin O’Riley, enigmatic authoress of historical romances with titles like Secrets of a Duchess and One Sinful Night. The sort of books that would qualify as guilty pleasures — were the guilt and the pleasure not so starkly two sides of the same savage, primal desire.

The 1985 graduate of Rumson-Fair Haven High — a divorced working mom to a ten-year old son, and one of four sisters to stage/TV comedy writer Jane Milmore(who you’ve met here in oRBit), often manages to make it back to her old stomping grounds for the odd personal appearance in between family visits — and Tuesday night finds her at the Borders store at Route 35 North and Wyckoff Road in Eatontown, where she’ll be reading from and signing copies of her latest book,When His Kiss is Wicked (Zebra Books Inc.).

Her third published novel and the first in a projected five-part series of tales centered around the quintet of Hamilton sisters in Victorian-era London, His Kiss involves bookish, independent sister Colette with one Lucien Sinclair, a noble-born playboy who secretly pines for “a plain biddable woman without the curse of beauty to endanger his heart.”

Even if you’ve never been a consumer of these pink-covered, bosom-heaving, bodice-ripping stories with the curiously contemporary looking couples on the front, you’ll have to admit there’s an allure to the staggeringly best-selling genre that kind of mimics the circumstances in which the heroines do their thing: the novelist constrained within the tightly corsetted templates of the chapter-romance formats, only to break out every X number of pages into a sexstorm of forbidden passions.

In fact, as Milmore/O’Riley told Karyn Collins of the local Gannett papers, “The sex stuff is the hardest part to write. The (historical) research just comes second nature for me…and let’s just say I have a very rich fantasy life.” The author and educator chatted with Red Bank oRBit for an interview in which we came away having learned a few things.

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