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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Jun 30, 2017

Van Zandt and Milmore: A Lifetime of Laughs

By Lori Draz

For the writing/performing team of Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore, their careers are a laughing matter! In an area of the country that is in no way short on talent, these two have found themselves in the elite category. Over the past 30-plus years, Billy Van Zandt, of Middletown, and Jane Milmore, of Rumson, have written over two dozen plays that have been produced internationally. They are also the minds behind the merriment of iconic TV shows, including “Newhart,” “The Hughleys,” and “Bless This House.” They co-created “Suddenly Susan” for Brooke Shields, “The Wayans Bros.” for Marlon and Sean Wayans, and “Daddy Dearest” for Don Rickles and Richard Lewis.

As an actor, Billy debuted in “Jaws 2” and appeared in “Taps” with Tim Hutton, Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, and George C. Scott, among other films. He had the honor of performing alongside idol Lucille Ball in her final series “Life with Lucy.” And the team was nominated for an Emmy for their TV special “I Love Lucy: The Very First Show,” which unveiled the “I Love Lucy” TV pilot for the very first time. Billy and Jane also wrote and produced the groundbreaking series “Martin” for Martin Lawrence, which won them a People’s Choice Award and NAACP Image awards.

The team was forged on the live stage. The two met at the Barn Theater’s high school drama competition in Rumson. A month later, they were cast together in Neil Simon’s “Star Spangled Girl” and have been working together ever since. Talk about a long-running hit!

As playwrights, they have a down-to-earth and magical way of weaving pop culture and humor into their productions, which resonates with audiences all over the world. Their shows are relatable, peppered with hilarious jokes that break “the fourth wall,” bringing the crowd into the shows. And like so many of the great entertainers with strong New Jersey roots, they bring their shows to the Garden State over and over, like a migration of mirth.

Their first play, “Love, Sex, and the IRS,” was produced at the Dam Site Dinner-Theater (now MJ’s) in Tinton Falls, and has been performed in multiple languages all over the world. Their first Off-Broadway play, “Drop Dead!,” also debuted locally at the Dam Site in 1985. “Silent Laughter,” an Off-Broadway silent-movie-live-on-stage comedy, first debuted locally at Brookdale Community College, as did “A Night at the Nutcracker,” a Marx Brothers-themed musical. Their biggest NYC hit, “You’ve Got Hate Mail,” which ran for four and a half years Off-Broadway and is still being performed in countries all around the world, also debuted at Brookdale in 2007. Their “High School Reunion: The Musical” was a celebration of their amazing 30th annual year of premiering plays in New Jersey, and like a true reunion, the play starred actors from all their 30 years of productions.

The Manopause Boys: Tom Frascatore, Billy Van Zandt, Jeff Babey, and Glenn Jones

Their latest musical comedy, the hilarious “Manopause Boys,” is a brutally honest and funny look at males “of a certain age.” It’s a wincingly funny exploration of mid-life crises, from divorce to losing your hair, keeping up with young girlfriends, to all the other male challenges. It’s a laugh from start to finish, performed with the interactive candor of a pregame football show. “Manopause Boys” stars Van Zandt along with Van Zandt/Milmore regulars Glenn Jones, Tom Frascatore, and Jeff Babey. Come see the guys give each other the business when it appears at the Holmdel Theatre Company, 36 Crawfords Corner Road in Holmdel, for a limited run before returning to New York and Los Angeles. See it July 21-22 at 8:00 p.m., July 23 at 3:00 p.m., July 28-29 at 8:00 p.m., and July 30 at 3:00 p.m. For more information, contact the Holmdel Theatre Company at (732) 946-0427 or info@holmdeltheatrecompany.org.