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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10/24: Fear Factors and Trans-formed Actors

CarrieThere WILL Be Blood: Emily Chester is America’s telekinetic teen, as Nick Montesano’s NENAproductions resurrects CARRIE: THE MUSICAL for one more prom dance, beginning this weekend in Ocean Grove.

The breathlessly anticipated resurrection of one of the most fabled flops in musical theater history…a deep-fathom thinkpiece by Edward Albee, on display at a community church-playhouse…an Obie winner pitches a double-header in Red Bank…all this plus edgy experiments in the suburbs, a cask of Poe to go, and an Evita that shows her professional roots. THAT’s what’s going up on local stages in the days and weeks to come…and THAT’s why a night out on the aisles is more than just Neil Simon anymore (not that there’s anything wrong with that; our friends at Monmouth Players are right now presenting an entire ambitious “Season of Simon” at their newly reborn and rebranded Navesink Arts Center).

CARRIE On Screaming: Townsfolk tremble at her name, and not simply because she packs the gazebo-leveling wallop of a thousand Sandy Katrina Tsunamis in every Sissy-Spacek staredown. No, while America can’t seem to get its fill of Stephen King’s tortured telekinetic teen Carrie White (witness this month’s latest multiplex makeover), it’s CARRIE: THE MUSICAL that’s had Broadway bravehearts whimpering in the wings, since its megamillion-dollar 1988 debut went down in flames after just five performances. Enter Nick Montesano, producer/ director/ impresario of NENAproductions Theater Project — and a fearless sort who’s never shied from energizing the community-theater stage with some of the most unorthodox items from Sondheim (MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE), McNally (KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, CORPUS CHRISTI) and more (AVENUE Q, URINETOWN, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER). Nick and his NENA company have resurrected the dark tunefest (book by screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen; songs by the Oscar-winning team of Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford) for a welcome new look, in an engagement that opens Friday, October 25 and runs for two weekends (Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, with a 3 pm Sunday matinee on November 3) inside the prom-ready auditorium of Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center; the old high school at the corner of Main and Main.

Authentic seventeen year old Emily Chester takes on the title role, with Jennifer Nelson in the vivid part of Carrie’s holy-roller mom. They’re supported under Montesano’s direction by a troupe of NENA regulars (Jessica Berger, Jeff Caplan, Arnold Teixera) and newcomers for a “classic tale of bloodsport and revenge” that, underneath the power ballads and the pig blood, is “a story of bullying more timely than ever.” With that in mind, the cast will be  joined after the October 26 performance by Jessica De Koninck of the New Jersey State Anti-Bullying Task-Force, for a discussion on “the state of bullying, its heightened effect on young people in our area, and as it relates to new and progressing HIB laws.” Tickets ($25) from ticketleap.com or at 732.988.1007.

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‘Cutting Edge’ Entertainment @ the Count

Attend the tale of SWEENEY TODD: David Weitzer is the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Ali Gleason the lady with those curiously popular meat pies, when Phoenix Productions brings the Sondheim smash to the blood-red banks of the Navesink.

Those of you who neglected to adjust your clocks this past weekend have extra cause to be confused during this interlude of snow before Halloween, and of seasonal aisles in local pharmacies that begin to ring with jingle bells sometime north of Columbus Day.

When the curtain comes up on the famous stage of the Count Basie Theatre on Friday, November 11, Red Bank’s own Phoenix Productions will have extended the season of the witch right up to Thanksgiving’s threshold — with a major mounting of Stephen Sondheim’s operatic, ghoulishly Grand Guignol musical Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

The Tony-lauded “black operetta” — making its Red Bank debut hot on the heels of an Asbury Park production by Lincroft-based Premier Theatre Company — has apparently joined Dracula and Rocky Horror as something of a Halloween signifier in the years since the screen version that starred Johnny Depp as the man with the razor (and Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, maker of distinctive meat pies). Still, ghoulish as the storyline is, director Tom Frascatore suggests another, altogether different reason to tremble at the name of Sweeney Todd.

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