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Jan 29, 2018

Phoenix Productions – 30 Years and Going Strong

By Lori Draz

“It’s a Hit!” “It will run forever!” “Non-stop entertainment!” These are the kinds of comments often heard about Broadway’s biggest hits and just as easily said about Phoenix Productions.

In one of the toughest industries, Phoenix Productions has been delivering top-notch musicals to audiences for 30 years, and that is worth a standing ovation.

At the helm is Tom Martini who has been the company’s driving force since it began. Tom is the personable and proud parent who is equally amazed at the longevity of this amazing company. “I never dreamed I would be alive much less celebrating a 30th year anniversary of a growing theatre. We’ve done about 150 productions and we have even bigger plans on the horizon. We are grateful to our loyal audiences and the talented entertainers who make this company’s productions possible year after year.”

Phoenix Productions plays are staged four times a year at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. The colorful productions are fully staged musical revivals, complete with gorgeous costumes, elaborate sets, fully scored music with live musicians, and professionally choreographed dancing. The entertainers perform as volunteers and the company has a very small office staff, but most of the set and costume builders are volunteers. “We are always looking for volunteers in all those areas, especially construction. It’s a fun and wonderful experience and the applause at the end of each show is a terrific payoff.”

Many of the company’s actors have gone on to pursue careers in the arts and some have become entertainers on Broadway, on cruise ships, and in national tours. Most recently Jenny Hill appeared in Something Rotten on Broadway this past year and Jared Gertner appeared in Book of Mormon.

Martini shared a brief history of Phoenix Productions, “I always had an interest in theater, but like so many, I went on to pursue a more predictable life, with a regular job and a family. Then one day my son was in a production at CBA and said they needed help building the sets so I helped. The rest is history. We soon moved from doing shows at CBA during the summer to the Count Basie Theatre and grew our schedule to include a spring, summer, and fall show with full costumes and a full live orchestra.”

For many years the company operated out of the building next to the Count Basie. It was very crowded and recently the company moved to a building on Chestnut Street which is four times as large as their previous home, allowing them to expand their arts education programs and enhance their productions. The new location includes fully equipped costume and set shops and two huge rehearsal studios. The group is raising funds to convert one studio to a black box theater for smaller shows.

This year’s shows include Annie, running from April 20 to 29. The summer show is In the Heights for one weekend only, June 22 to 24. (the Basie will be closed for renovations this  summer). The next is 1776, which will run October 12 through 21. And the company will also present The Hunchback of Notre Dame, November 9 through 18.

To celebrate their anniversary, Phoenix Productions will welcome back many alumni for the production of their “30th Anniversary Gala” which will be held on February 24 at 8:00 p.m. at the Count Basie. Martini shares, “It will be some of the best moments of our history. Act 1 will feature songs from the first 30 years, and Act 2 will include songs from the upcoming years.”

Choosing a show to present can be the tricky part. “We pick the shows we’d like to do and then we have to apply for the rights to do them. We are very lucky to have so many theaters between here and Broadway, but that also makes it hard to get the rights to a show. We can’t run current Broadway and national touring companies shows. Shows like Annie and Jesus Christ Superstar, which was our first show, are still immensely popular. Last summer, we sold out every performance of West Side Story. I’ve loved them all but some of my favorites include Ragtime, because it was so socially relevant. (The played debuted two weeks after the hurricane).

Phoenix Productions is a non-profit company that holds open auditions for every production, and you don’t need to be professional to try out. Additionally, they are always looking for donations and volunteers. Visit www.phoenixredbank.com to learn more.