‘HAIR’ gets the TONY treatment, at Axelrod PAC

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, August 9 2018

The scene, beneath a darkening evening sky a couple of Mondays back, might have qualified as something akin to “magic,” to anyone who keeps tabs on the Asbury Park music whirl. Magic, or maybe more accurately the stuff of superheroics — the kind in which a mild/wild-mannered actor/ singer/ director named Anthony D’Amato suits up as dynamic alter ego Remember Jones; summoning his big-band organization like a jukebox Justice League, and taking to the stage, any stage (in this case, a “surprise surprise” open-air freebie at Asbury’s Springwood Park), whenever the energy level threatens to flag.

The unannounced entry in the AP Music Foundation’s Music Mondays series was made all the more remarkable by the fact that D’Amato/Jones and company were supposedly just homeward bound from one of their most extensive multi-state tours to date — giving these assembled Avengers the apparent superpower of being in multiple places at the same time. It’s a not-at-all outlandish assumption for longtime observers of Remember Jones (the man and the band), given that the act has exploded so as to seem everywhere at once — touring and recording behind an ever-growing catalog of supremely soulful original music; astonishing audiences with themed sets dedicated to everyone from Amy Winehouse, Joe Cocker and Jeff Buckley, to Kanye West (and even a full concert experience drawn from R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet”); and just generally supercharging the show-band template in venues that have ranged from the smallest of spaces to the Stoney SummerStage.

“Really, I’m not a superman,” insists D’Amato, who in his “spare time” has starred as both Jekyll & Hyde in a recent production at Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park, portrayed Hedwig and Rocky Horror’s Frank N. Furter, and consulted as a producing artistic director with the Strand Theater in Lakewood. “I have anxieties…I lose my voice…and I’ve failed at things!”

That said, the succinctly self-described “entertainer” acknowledges that the Remember Jones project is “the fastest-moving thing I’ve ever been part of; it feels like the first time I’ve caught some fire, and it’s turned into something big…and something that’s a business…really fast.”

In the process of bolstering the act’s nationwide profile — and getting into position to become the honest-to-goodness Next Big Thing nurtured by the fertile Jersey Shore music scene — D’Amato continues to brainstorm ways in which to bridge the twin realms of theater and pop music. Attentive attendees at that Springwood set might have picked up a crucial clue to the showman/shaman’s next move, when the Remember Jones band launched into a stormcloud-defying chorus of “Let the Sun Shine In,” a timeline-defining signature selection from the groundbreaking Rado-Ragni-McDermott rock musical Hair. Not coincidentally, the show that marked the golden anniversary of its Broadway debut here in 2018 comes to the Axelrod PAC stage for five performances beginning Wednesday, August 15, in a concert-format production co-produced, directed by and co-starring the ubiquitous Mr. Jones.

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