New Jersey Stage

Sunday, January 22, 2017

First Issue of 2017 for New Jersey Stage Magazine

The latest issue of New Jersey Stage magazine is available for free at -- this issue is for the film fan! We've got a preview of the New Jersey Film Festival Spring 2017, including features on Art of the Prank and The Northlander films; reviews of A United Kingdom and Split; plus the debut of a new column called JERSEY ON FILM in which we take a look at movies that involve New Jersey in a prominent way.  The first film examined is Danny Collins starring Al Pacino as an aging rock and roller who receives a letter from John Lennon (originally intended for him 40 years earlier).

We've got a feature on the rootsy, Americana band The Bitter Chills; tons of cd reviews; a music video by The Porchistas called "Mr. Chump" (a parody on you know who); the latest episode of Bongo Boy TV; a look at the Rock Against Hate compilation; and the answer to the eternal question of "Do musicians like performing 'Mustang Sally'?"

In addition, we have a theatre preview that looks at shows coming to stages around the Garden State.

The new issue is available for free at and readable on any PC, tablet, or smart phone.  Designed like a traditional publication, but featuring audio and video to make the pages come alive!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Mike June's Revolution

By Gary Wien

Mike June's Revolution

When Mike June left New Jersey for Austin about eight years ago, the move made perfect sense.  June’s gritty Americana songs seemed as though they were born from a Texan landscape anyway.  Years of playing in the local scene helped him further develop his sound, culminating in a pair of brilliant records in 2012 (Exile On Wilson Street and Talkin’ Revolution Blues).  His newest, Poor Man’s Bible, will be released early in 2016.  It’s one that builds on several themes in his recent records — spirituality, honesty, and a revolution he notices taking place across the globe.

Mike will likely be performing songs from the upcoming release on his current U.S. tour which includes a pair of shows in New Jersey and one in Philadelphia. The tour comes a few weeks after returning from a 16,000 mile round-trip journey of shows through Germany, France, England, Scotland, Holland, and Denmark.  In a letter to his mailing list sent in early October, the upcoming tour was dwarfed by two significant events.  The first bombshell was the announcement of his engagement to fellow musician Jess Klein.

“I had been thinking about it for a long time, but definitely didn’t plan for it to happen on this tour,” explained June.  “We were in this town in France for a few days; a 5th century city with a castle.  It was just beautiful.  We had a day off and she has a friend who lives in South Africa and was visiting Paris.  So, the wheels started spinning.  It was like this is more than perfect…”

“It wasn’t as romantic as it sounds though,” continued June.  “It’s pretty funny because we were both so tired from all of the traveling, by the time we got to Paris we had driven about four hours, and I had to drag her down to the Eiffel Tower.  When we finally got there I was like, ‘I know you’re tired and I’ve been dragging you around every city in Europe for the past month, but this is why.’”

The couple has been thinking about moving out of Austin and starting somewhere new.  In the past decade, the rising cost of living in the city has made it difficult for many musicians to survive.  In addition, Austin’s population has swelled in recent years, largely due to an influx of musicians arriving with a dream of making it big.  The influx has completely oversaturated the local music scene.

“It’s like Los Angeles,” explained June.  “When you go to L.A., you can walk up to anyone in the city and ask, ‘How’s your screenplay going?’ They’ll be like, ‘How did you know I was writing a screenplay?’ Austin is kind of the same with songwriters.”

June is originally from River Valle, NJ; his fiancee is from Rochester, NY, and they both have family in Florida.  They are considering a move to somewhere like Raleigh, NC, where they would be only a few hours away from the venues in the Northeast they’ve played for years.  The east coast would also be a better base for a touring musician than living in the middle of Texas, far away from everything else.

The second bombshell dropped in Mike’s email to his fans was that this might be his last tour.

“I’ve been working hard for the past couple of years,” he said.  “It’s a constant grind.  The good shows are few and far between and the money’s not coming in.  I’m starting to feel the burn out.  It’s one of those things you usually think about when you’re on tour or in a hotel room by yourself after a crappy night.  I just want to sit back and wait and see what happens with this record, getting married, and moving.”

“Being in the music industry these days is like a Catch 22,” he added.  “I started touring so much because I couldn’t buy the publicity you’re supposed to get with a radio promotion.  I was hoping a tour would get me some attention, but that didn’t turn out that way.  And you don’t exactly make a lot of money when you’re touring to pay for those things.  It becomes a vicious cycle.”

The new record looks to be coming out at the right time.  Even though the songs were written long before guys like Bernie Sanders turned the presidential campaign upside down and Pope Francis emerged as a breath of fresh air for the Church, the message and themes of the songs largely sound as if they were written as a response to these developments.  As someone who has toured across the world, Mike’s songs have not only struck a chord with people but show that people everywhere are facing the same problems.

“What I see is that people are starting to look within and realize that these material things are not as important as we used to make them out to be,” said June.  “I think people are turning inward and saying to themselves, ‘I need to be a better person and we need to be better people.  This world is too big not to share.’”

“When I started writing the songs on Poor Man’s Bible two or three years ago, I was going through my own personal spiritual inventory,” he continued.  “Then when I started singing these songs out loud, I thought nobody is going to give a crap about them because I was singing about myself.  But the more people you talk to, the more you get a sense that you’re on the same page.  I was surprised when I started doing these songs in the South.  I thought I’d get run out of town, but people were like, ‘I feel the same way.’  And I got a lot of the same responses over in Europe.  It was surprising.”

Ironically, while June has scathing lyrics about religion in songs like the new record’s title track, the emergence of Pope Francis has helped to renew June’s faith in the Catholic Church.  He was raised a Catholic, but says he’s been almost anti-Catholic since turning 17.  He sees Pope Francis as less of a revolutionary figure as one that simply speaks the Gospel of Jesus without the constraints put on by the Church for hundreds of years.

“He’s not doing anything unexpected from him other than saying these are the words of Jesus and this is how we should be acting,” said June.  “I think people got tired of the politics in America with people saying they are religious but with policies and belief systems that don’t line up together. As opposed to pushing things like the sexual scandals under the rug, the Pope is genuine and represents the best parts of the religion and that is what people are responding to.”

June may be political at heart, but he admits he has far too many skeletons in his closet to ever run for office.  As he gets older, he does feel a calling to do something greater though.  He’s thinking about pursuing a law degree and ultimately representing and helping those who are too poor to generally afford legal protection. “I feel like I need to be doing more as far as being involved in society as opposed to just singing about it,” he said.

One thing Mike won’t give up is playing music.  He may be undecided about future tours, but he says he’ll never stop playing live or making records.  But just in case this is his last tour, be sure to catch him in November.  He’s got a little of everything coming up from a solo club date in Philadelphia at the World Cafe Live to a full band show at Mexicali Live in Teaneck to an intimate house concert as part of the popular Rosie’s Café series in Brick.

PHOTO BY Mikk Duncan at Third Man Images

INSIDE MUSIC: Rock is to Jazz, as Night is to Day! And How We Enjoy Both

By Rosemary Conte

INSIDE MUSIC: Rock is to Jazz, as Night is to Day! And How We Enjoy BothWith the proliferation of tribute bands from the Beatles to Frank Zappa, audiences in NJ and the Metro Area can be taken back in time any day of the week. Who doesn’t enjoy the mental re-living of youthful romantic moments and the sonic energy of “back in the day?”

It’s awe inspiring to see a period show like Glen Burtnik’s tributes to John Lennon, The Who, and Summer of Love, for instance. As lovers of classic rock we want it to be note for note, authentically performed. We’re amazed at the musicians’ ability to create live, the material that came out of recording studios decades ago. We want all the parts, pieces, shadings, and energy to be there. A tribute audience may not be able to imagine the labor that goes into the transcribing of music and weeks of rehearsals required for a production that faithfully represents the songs of an era. And only the most proficient musicians can pull it off. Contrast that with a live jazz performance and you go 180 in the other direction!

The way of thinking, the language, the jargon in jazz and rock, the preparation and the execution of the music are very different. Here’s a minor observation. In pop and rock, we refer to songs; in jazz, we call them tunes. (And in the classical realm they’re called pieces.)

Different ways of talking about the same thing. That’s similar to various religions.

Pop and rock will please a crowd because it plays to the familiarity of songs and a standard way of performing them. In jazz, however, originality in performance is what impresses. Jazz musicians are expected to re-interpret a tune. So, while the classic rock tribute band nails the difficult and exciting kick off to a song, first thing a jazz player will do is take his tune apart.  It’s called re-harmonization. Revising the melody or chords adds interest and variety.

When you see a Janice Joplin tribute show, you want to hear a close approximation of Joplin’s singing. It’s what you look and listen for. When a fan goes to listen to a jazz singer, he or she  wants to hear a new interpretation of a song. Both styles take great skill.

In the world of jazz, repeating a familiar riff, run, or a common way of navigating a tune would be called cliché. An accomplished jazz player doesn’t play clichés. Yet, in rock, the cliché is the way. The context determines if a cliché is good or bad!

 What is it about jazz that is so off-putting to some? Some people say jazz is too cerebral, inaccessible, and people shouldn’t have to work so hard to understand what they’re hearing. Granted, at the Jersey Shore where I live, you don’t hear people calling the music of Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis or Ella Fitzgerald the soundtrack of their youth; but with a little bit of coaching on how to listen to jazz, people can realize a new awareness of and appreciation for the spontaneous creativity that is jazz.

On October 18, I invited an audience inside the performance of an unrehearsed program of jazz by myself and three musicians on piano, bass and drums. Wait, what? A concert and no rehearsal?  I’m not implying that all jazz performances should be unrehearsed. But this one was designed to demonstrate the essence of jazz.

 First of all, don’t try this with anything but excellent and very experienced musicians and singers. What the audience heard was an initial rendering of a tune as it was composed, followed by variations on the original chords and melody. New versions of the piece were created by the artist in the moment. Improvisation is the opposite of reading music. It was a spontaneous expression of brain neurons fired in tandem with the sonics of the heart and soul.

Jazz musicians and singers become instant “arrangers” and composers. A pop song or an old standard ballad might be performed as a samba.  Whatever “spin” the player wants to put on a song is OK in jazz. A jazz artist is inventive, and will not sound like or play something like anyone else does. And, he will not play or sing a tune the same way twice.

Jazz performance is the antithesis of tribute classic rock.

With all the freedom inherent in playing jazz, how does it all come together without sounding like a train wreck? Like rock artists, jazz artists share a common body of music in addition to composing new tunes. In both genres, signals are used among the players to indicate where the song may be going. Players communicate with a look or a nod of the head. It’s fun to note the non-verbal communication among jazz musicians. An audience can get absorbed into following the body language (including eye and head movements) of players. Musicians of all genres communicate this way when they are at the same level of proficiency. And sometimes, when players are “in the zone” they needn’t consciously communicate at all.

I believe that once an audience is allowed into the subtleties and divergent nature of jazz and the interesting re-interpretation of familiar songs, they will find it quite fascinating to follow.

Rosemary Conte is a singer of jazz and great American songs, and a vocal teacher based in Matawan. She invites questions, comments, and suggestions at

Sights and Sounds of Note: October 2015

By Rich and Laura Lynch

Sights and Sounds of NoteThis month our sack has been abundantly filled with some sweet and spooky tunes. We’ve sorted through the lot and this is the best of the best -- no candy corn filler here!

It may be a trick to Ritchie Blackmore fans that the guitarist still prefers to play folk rather than hard rock but for followers of the band Blackmore’s Night a new record is a treat. As with previous albums All Our Yesterdays transcends time by blending traditional minstrel music from different European countries with contemporary elements amid rock riffs. Candice Night has an ethereal vocal delivery well suited for the fantasy realm that the two have conjured up through their image heavy music. The opening title track reflects their signature style in a reminiscing tale of romance that flows into the animated “Allan Yn N Fan”. In contrast “Darker Shade Of Black” is heavier as an old church choir encounters contemporary drums and guitars. On All Our Yesterdays Blackmore’s Night magically melds medieval and modern sounds in a dozen enchanting songs that echo of simpler times...

It may take you a few moments to recognize the classic rock songs hidden behind a stylized mask but that’s what makes Spirit of ‘67 interesting. Vanilla Fudge is recognized for revising popular tunes. This time they picked ten tracks from the influential year of 1967 plus one original - “Let’s Pray for Peace” that thematically suits the times. On this album Vanilla Fudge changes the speeds and structures of well known songs, often giving them a heavier sound as in the case of “Gimme Some Lovin ‘” and “For What It’s Worth”. Guitarist Vince Martell sums it up stating that “Spirit of ‘67 is the continuation of the journey we began in the Summer of Love - psychedelic, rhythmically powerful arrangements of happening tunes of that era, colored by the insight and vision of who we are today.” Spirit of ‘67 is hippy garb with a hard rock edge...

Better Late Than Never from the Anderson Ponty Band is as pleasurable as going through one’s Halloween loot. Jon Anderson known as the voice of Yes and violin extraordinaire Jean Luc Ponty are supported by a world class group of musicians. Jon and Jean Luc share a sack full of sounds and styles in songs that were recorded live then enhanced with additional production. The result is a tasty mix of re-dressed fan favorites such as “Time and a Word” now heavily draped in reggae rhythms and vibrant violin stanzas from Ponty. “And You and I” wears its familiar song structure punctuated with colorful piano parts that give the piece a different flavor as does a jazzy re-branding of “Roundabout”. The magical “Infinite Mirage” is a new track incorporating Ponty’s classic tune “Mirage” with Jon’s distinctive vocals. Like a bag full of Halloween candy Better Late Than Never is full of surprises and sweets...

With a name like Blackie Lawless there may not be a more frightening frontman in rock and with their latest release Golgatha W.A.S.P. seem intent on trying to scare the skull right out of you. The album opens with a shocking and rocking “Scream” that sets the pace for this powerfully produced platter. “Shotgun” is a blast while “Miss You” is a monumental ballad with both showcasing a loud and lively Lawless. Overall, the album is explosive, theatrical and hard rocking throughout. The title track finds the band rising to the occasion on a song centered around the hill where Christ was crucified. To be honest, for whatever reason we never followed this outfit’s career back in the day. But, once the anthemic songs on this disc got into our heads we were in for a nice sonic surprise and we’re now believers. Time to check the back catalogue...

Metal Allegiance is a dynamic and demonic assembly of players who have taken a blistering “Pledge of Allegiance” to music and their self-titled debut features an illustrious list of performers from the hard rock and metal realms. The ensemble is anchored by legends of the genre - Alex Skolnick on guitars; David Ellefson on bass; and Mike Portnoy on drums. They are joined by a caustic cast of characters. The result is a scary good collection of harrowing riffs and rhythms with occasional melodic or thrash moments. “Let Darkness Fall” features Troy Sanders of Mastodon up front and the result is a torrid track that is wild yet worldly. “Dying Song” is powered by Pantera’s Philip Anselmo and “Wait Until Tomorrow” features King’s X frontman dUg Pinnick. Both are raw and riveting while full of complex changes. “Triangulum” is an intense multi-part instrumental suite clocking in at over seven minutes. The CD closes with an All-Star tribute to the late great iconic rock god Ronnie James Dio. On “We Rock” the Metal Allegiance accomplish exactly what they pledged to do. That is, they have delivered a dramatic and diverse album dedicated to the darker side of rock...

The Winery Dogs were many critics’ favorite new band when their debut dropped in 2013. Now, they continue that Hot Streak and avoid the sophomore jinx with some high-powered hijinks courtesy of the talented threesome consisting of Richie Kotzen, Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy. The tantalizing trio return with an album full of bark and a new bite that rocks hard with only a melodic pause or two along the way. On the title track the band funks up their approach just a bit while “Fire” slowly smolders. Both these tracks point to The Winery Dogs as a band who are willing to evolve beyond their successful formula. The rest of the album is a blistering showcase of these musical masters and their exceptional skills. On “Captain Love” we find Kotzen in the clutches of love and lust while “Empire” rises on a strong foundation from the renowned rhythm section. The Winery Dogs are clearly on a hot streak and if they keep putting out albums as strong as this one is that run of good fortune should continue unabated...

Marco Benevento is a charismatic, compelling and generous performer known mostly for his work in the modern jam scene. Earlier in the year he played at the Signal Kitchen in Burlington, Vermont and now he’s made that show available for free to his fans as the bootleg style release, Masquerade Ball. Marco dresses up many of his favorites with the help of bassist Dave Dreiwitz and drummer Andy Borger. For years Benevento remained ghost-like (as in not really seen or heard) as a vocalist; but with the release of his last studio recording Swift his singing talents were revealed. In this live concert, with seven months of touring under their belts, you can hear that Marco has gained the confidence and presence to move forward with another skill in his toolkit. Throughout, Benevento’s amped up approach to his keyboard remains captivating and mysterious. Standout tracks include “Witches Of Ulster”, “Limbs Of A Pine” and “Atari” all proving that Marco Benevento has got game and his concerts are always a ball...

EVEN MORE NOTABLE RELEASES! Blonde Summer hails from L.A. and artistically they are somewhere in between artists like Tame Impala, Modest Mouse, and more electronic acts like MGMT. Their latest EP, Paradise, joins the collection of sun soaked tunes for which the group is known. Introducing more keyboards and beats it’s like a fantastical version of the band’s previous self. The five songs weave the listener through Los Angeles pavement, beach sands, and the 420 smoke of songs like “Blazed.” Blonde Summer lets us know exactly what Paradise is to them... Alternative electronic acoustic lo-fi indie pop songwriter Alex Riggen from Illinois is prepping Safflower - his fourth solo album for release this Fall. The album’s nine tracks were completed one at a time and released on the Internet each month since January. With this release the artist has given birth to a project that is both experimental and extraordinary in its approach... Donivan Berube from Blessed Feathers has quite the story. The month after he turned 17, he left home and disassociated himself from the church of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which meant saying goodbye to his entire family and all of his friends forever. Then he took off with his dream girl (now wife) to travel the continent and live out of a tent. All of that life experience finds it way to his new album There Will Be No Sad Tomorrow. The result is a compelling and rootsy tale that is one part traveling music and one part biography that is a blessing to our ears and a testament to the triumph of one man’s human spirit... See ya next month!

Richard J. Lynch and Laura Turner Lynch are the founders of, an Internet-based music industry magazine and review site, online since 1999. Laura is a published author of the inspirational Positive Power Secrets From A to Z ( ). Rich regularly interviews famous rock stars for the site's radio show and he has recently launched his own recording career at ( ).

Ian Anderson On Jethro Tull, The Rock Opera

By Danny Coleman

Ian Anderson On Jethro Tull, The Rock Opera“Our agent at the time was a history graduate, we were dithering about searching for band names and he suggested it and I was sort of like; yeah, well, OK. Then it dawned on me; we’re named after a dead guy,”  explained founding member and music icon Ian Anderson with a laugh on how legendary rock band Jethro Tull got their name from an English agricultural pioneer that helped bring about the British Agricultural Revolution. “So let that be a lesson to you children; pay attention in history class!”

 The year was 1968 and Jethro Tull was on itsway to becoming an emerging force to be reckoned with in what was becoming the post Beatles era of rock music. Album oriented rock and roll had begun to dominate radio airwaves and harder, more heavy concept records were lining record store shelves. Every band was unique in its own way; from the album packaging and art to on and off stage gimmicks or antics.  Music was changing and Jethro Tull was an integral part of it.

Anderson, the front man and face of the band is widely credited with introducing the flute into rock music. Helping to launch an entire trend into the genre, Anderson blazed a trail with his use of this wind instrument. Now more than four decades later, 30 studio and live albums and more than 60 million records sold worldwide, Anderson is bringing his first “quasi rock opera” to the masses. Tickets are now on sale for “Jethro Tull, The Rock Opera,” which premieres at the Chicago Theater in Chicago,IL on November 1 and ends in Newark, NJ on November 11 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC).

“All these years later, I wanted to find something about him. I discovered that whether by fate or accident, many songs that I’ve written coincide with his life or career. I didn’t know at the time I wrote it that a song such as ‘Aqualung’ could actually relate to his bronchial disorder but it is all quite similar and there are quite a few of the songs that are like this. So I assembled them all together into this sort of an opera style show,” explained Anderson.

The rock opera named after Jethro Tull reimagines the man in the near future with the story illustrated via songs from the band’s repertoire.

“Heavy Horses,” “Farm On The Freeway,” “Songs From The Wood,” “Aqualung,” “Living In The Past,” “Wind-Up,” “A New Day Yesterday,” “The Witch’s Promise,” “Locomotive Breath” and many other classic songs from the Tull collection will be part of this undertaking; some modified a bit to “fit the bill,” he explained. “What I did was bring them up to speed to reflect a modern day chemist who is trying to feed the planet; a very hungry planet. Other than obvious cosmetic changes and a few pronoun changes; I’ve done very little in the way of changing the material. Those who come to the show are going to hear approximately 20 songs from the best of the Jethro Tull repertoire and they’ll all be relevant to the show and what I am trying to do; so obviously there will be no ‘Bungle In the Jungle,’ Anderson said with a slight laugh.

Also included in this presentation will be some new material and some “virtual guests” as well. “I’m using the original lyrics for the most part and incorporating them in a theatrical, multi-media event. The virtual guests will be on a large screen and will interject at precise moments to help tell the story.”

This series of eight shows in November are just the start of something much bigger to prepare the band for touring in 2016. “We are scheduling more in 2016 after Easter. In September we will take it to the west coast of the U.S. and shows in Europe as well.”

Anderson once said, ”A band to me is whomever is in the room at the time.” Well, this tour features a new band, a new show and a few history lessons as well and tickets are on sale now.

Jethro Tull with Ian Anderson
Wed, November 11  at 7:30pm
New Jersey Performing Arts Center
1  Center Street, Newark, NJ

Every HALLOWEEN Film Reviewed!

By Eric Hillis,

Every HALLOWEEN Film Reviewed!One of the classic horror film franchises is Halloween.  Eric Hillis takes a look at each film from the classic debut in 1978 to the most recent installment in 2009.  Along the way, you get a sense of how the story has evolved and how the quality has devolved at times.  For a look at the original film trailers for each film read our original magazine story.  It's a fascinating look at the Michael Myers story...

Halloween (1978)
While it can’t claim to be the first slasher movie, having been preceded by the likes of Peeping Tom, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Black Christmas, John Carpenter’s Halloween is certainly the most influential. Laying down a new template for the genre, it inspired countless imitations, none of which would come remotely close to replicating its chilling atmosphere.

Carpenter had been approached by producer Irwin Yablans to write and direct a cheap horror movie, Yablans having been highly impressed with Carpenter’s work on the low budget Assault on Precinct 13. Enlisting the aid of then girlfriend Debra Hill, Carpenter wrote a script in a few days, originally with the rather uninspired title of ‘The Babysitter Murders’. It was Yablans who came up with the title change, mainly as a marketing gimmick (October was traditionally a slow month for cinema releases). Producer Moustapha Akkad stumped up the cash and would become the guiding hand of the series once Carpenter lost interest.

After being turned down by Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, Carpenter landed Donald Pleasence for the role of Dr Loomis (named after a character from Psycho), the psychiatrist on the hunt for Myers. Pleasence is fantastic and it’s impossible to imagine the original two choices being as effective. They lack the vulnerability he brings to the role, too imposing for a character who is essentially the most terrified person in the movie. The casting of Jamie Lee Curtis was again somewhat of a marketing coup, being the daughter of Psycho star Janet Leigh (and Tony Curtis). This is not to undermine her, as she gives a fantastic performance, which lead to her being cast in every other slasher movie over the next few years. In fairness to the actress, she’s always been quick to acknowledge the debt she owes to this film and was happy to return to the role 20 years later.

The real star of course is Carpenter himself, both as director and soundtrack composer. In the latter capacity he recorded the score in just three days, basing it on simple syncopated rhythms taught to him as a child by his father, a music professor. It’s a perfect score, flawlessly employed in the film. The main theme has become iconic, as recognizable as those of Jaws and Star Wars. What Carpenter also cleverly does, and a highly original idea at the time, was to incorporate the music as a sound effect. Every time we see Myers jump out from the darkness we get a stabbing sound, which varies in tone for each situation. Like his earlier score for Assault on Precinct 13, it was entirely composed on a synthesizer, a method which would become the norm for low budget films over the next decade.

Carpenter’s direction is flawless, remarkable given the pressures of time and budget imposed on the young film-maker. To give it a higher production value, he took the decision to shoot the film in Panavision, a widescreen format usually reserved for epics and blockbusters. Carpenter uses the wide frame to create numbing tension, Myers often appearing out of the empty space at the corner of the screen. The Panaglide, an early form of Steadicam, was employed as a way of filming movement quickly without having to lay down tracks. It often serves as Myer’s POV, as in the brilliant opening sequence seen through the eyes of the eight year old killer as he murders his sister. Later in the film Carpenter messes with our heads by fooling us into thinking we’re seeing the killer’s POV only for Myers to walk into the frame. This lack of trust in the camera puts the audience on edge throughout.

There’s clever use of color too. The movie’s first half occurs in daylight with a predominantly green theme making us feel reasonably safe, and even the color of Curtis’ sweater matches the immaculate lawns of suburban Haddonfield. Later however darkness falls and a blue backlight (later to become a cliche in 1980s’ horror) pervades. Tellingly, Curtis swaps her green sweater for a blue one, shedding her innocence as the evening’s horrific events plunge her into maturity. Kudos to the lighting of Dean Cundey, who would go on to become one of Hollywood’s most in demand cinematographers.

The character of Michael Myers is one of cinema’s most iconic, but it’s a ridiculously simplistic costume. The mask was actually a William Shatner mask found by production designer Tommy Lee Wallace, who sprayed it white, cut holes in the eyes and tousled the hair to give it the creepy look we know so well. Carpenter’s friend Nick Castle played the killer, and his subtle movements add an extra dimension of creepiness. Myers was also played by Debra Hill (the hands of the eight year old Myers in the opening sequence) and Tony Moran (the face revealed when the mask is eventually removed).

Unlike the imitations which would follow, there’s nary a drop of blood spilled onscreen. Despite this, or arguably because of this, the movie is absolutely terrifying. The final 20 minutes, in which Curtis is stalked by Myers through the normally safe environs of a suburban street, is for me the highlight of a hundred plus years of cinema. There’s barely a word of dialogue; it’s visual film-making at its finest. Never have camera movement, framing, lighting and editing been combined in such a chilling manner. If an alien landed and asked me what makes cinema great, I would simply show them the shot of Curtis framed in a doorway as Myers rises from the dead behind her. That’s cinema! That’s John Carpenter! That’s Halloween!

5 stars out of 5

Halloween II (1981)
Halloween had become the most profitable independent movie ever so it didn’t take a psychic to see a sequel would be on the way. Compared to today, when we get a new Paranormal Activity movie every October, a three year gap seems like an age. In the intervening years, Carpenter’s original had spawned dozens of imitations, most of them frankly unwatchable. Thanks to the success of Friday the 13th, the elements that made Carpenter’s film so effective (suspense, mood, tension and atmosphere) had been replaced with gore and over the top death scenes. Each new slasher flick attempted to outdo the competition by giving us increasingly inventive death scenes. The simple act of stabbing a victim with a kitchen knife had become passe; audiences now wanted to see killings that utilized every household implement possible.

Presumably this is the main reason Carpenter sets the sequel in a hospital; there’s all manner of sharp implements lying around and plenty of long corridors, ideal for stalking. Once again Debra Hill co-writes, though their relationship had become platonic, Carpenter having married Adrienne Barbeau, his star of The Fog. The directorial reins were passed to the relatively inexperienced Rosenthal, as Carpenter had little interest in returning. As it turned out, the producers were unhappy with Rosenthal’s work, feeling the kills were too generic, and Carpenter was brought back for re-shoots. Most of the scenes involving Myers doing what he does best are helmed by Carpenter. Despite Rosenthal’s commendable attempts to imitate the style of his predecessor, Carpenter’s scenes stand out in his use of the widescreen frame, strategically placing Myers for that “He’s behind you!” effect.

All this talk of re-shoots and Carpenter’s lack of enthusiasm may lead you to believe the film is a mess, but that’s far from the truth. It never reaches the high watermark of the original but as slashers go it’s probably the second best entry in the sub-genre. Carpenter’s limited input is enough to elevate it above the competition. It also gives us a mythology, establishing a connection to the celtic roots of the Halloween festival, and an Empire Strikes Back style revelation concerning Myers’ family connections. The character of Loomis is brought to the forefront and Pleasence is given some great monologues, which he delivers with manic gusto.

Carpenter returns on soundtrack duties, this time recruiting the aid of synth wizard Alan Howarth. Like the film itself, the score is amped up in a more aggressive manner. Howarth would go on to take over from Carpenter as the series progressed, ensuring the themes set down in the original remained intact. Like the Halloween imitations, the score has something of a disco influence, the main theme now featuring a kick drum. The slasher genre is in some ways the film equivalent of disco music - both were kicked off by geniuses but ultimately ruined by talent-less hacks seeking a quick buck.
Halloween II is best viewed back to back with the original for the full ‘night he came home’ experience, but as a stand-alone slasher it’s still one of the very best.

4 ½ stars out of 5

Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982)
After Halloween II, a controversial decision was made concerning the future of the franchise. Feeling the slasher genre had burnt itself out, the producers decided to adopt an anthology format. The idea was that each new installment would tell a completely different story set around the Halloween season. Michael Myers would no longer feature. It was a brave move, but far from a wise one. The film was slaughtered by fans and critics alike. As is so often the case though, Halloween 3 has been reassessed, and is held in far higher regard by genre fans today.

As a kid, this was actually the first film in the series I had the pleasure of seeing. I was too young to have grown up with the first two installments so I presumed every movie in the franchise spun a unique yarn. Later, when I discovered the dubious joy of Michael Myers, it soured my opinion of this film. Now I actually consider it second only to the first movie as far as its series ranking goes.
Cult British Sci-Fi writer Nigel Kneale was brought on for scriptwriting duties. John Carpenter, still involved as producer, was a huge fan of Kneale’s Quatermass scripts for BBC television and Hammer Films. Carpenter would even pay homage by adopting the pseudonym of Martin Quatermass for his Prince of Darkness screenplay. Rumour has it Kneale’s script was loosely based on an idea previously rejected by the BBC for being too disturbing, given its infanticide theme. Director Wallace would ultimately rewrite large parts of the script due to a perceived anti-Irish bigotry, leading Kneale’s name to be replaced by Wallace in the final credits. (Personally speaking, as an Irishman I’m quite proud we can boast a horror villain as charismatic as O’Herlihy.)

The story owes a debt to the paranoid Sci-Fi movies of the ‘50s, films like Invasion of the Body-Snatchers and Invaders From Mars. O’Herlihy plays a Willy Wonka type mask factory owner who runs a small California town, the inhabitants of which are replaced by robot versions of themselves if they step out of line. Atkins is great as the alcoholic doctor whose patient dies following a trip to O’Herlihy’s factory. The dead man’s daughter, Nelkin, persuades him to tag along to the town to investigate, leading to one of cinema’s more unlikely romances.

Wallace does a great job imitating the visual style of his long time friend Carpenter, capturing the creepy atmosphere of the small town, complete with its nightly curfew and CCTV cameras. The dialogue, much of it improvised by Atkins and Nelkin, is snappy and witty without pulling the film down to any puerile depths. Carpenter and Alan Howarth re-team for another great electronic score that reflects brilliantly the escalating paranoia of the story. Sadly, this would be Carpenter’s final piece of creative input to the series. (The royalty checks would be enough for Carpenter from here on.)

Though belittled at the time of its release, Halloween 3 can now be considered one of the highlights of ‘80s horror, and with its theme of loss of identity, arguably more relevant today.

4 ½ stars out of 5

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
 With audiences and critics reacting poorly to Halloween 3, it was inevitable that a fourth movie would feature Michael Myers and a return to the slasher formula that made the original a hit. By the late ‘80s, slasher movies were more likely to be found on the shelves of video stores than playing in theatres. It was important that Halloween 4 be a success, so as to save the franchise from an exile in straight-to-video hell. It was indeed a success, at least financially, ensuring the survival of Myers for quite a while. Producer Moustapha Akkad, who had taken control of the rights, half-jokingly said he would make 24 sequels before he retired Myers.

A script had been penned by Dennis Etchison, writer of the novelisations of the first three movies, but Akkad rejected it as “too cerebral”. From what’s known of it, the rejected script had a post-modern twist, ironic given the massive success of the revisionist Scream a decade later. Alan B. McElroy, a self-confessed Halloween nut, rushed out a script in 11 days that focussed on Jamie Lloyd, the young daughter of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), orphaned following her parents’ accidental death a year earlier. Thanks to the revelations of the second film, fans now knew that young Jamie (Danielle Harris) was of course the niece of none other than Myers himself. It’s a well paced, punchy script that certainly feels like it was written by someone who understands and appreciates the series.

With Curtis out of the picture, the film would be carried by Pleasence, now practically a household name thanks to the role of Dr. Loomis. As with the second film, he’s given some great dialogue to chew on. A confrontation between Loomis and Myers in a gas station is one of the highlights not just of this film but the series as a whole. Loomis, replete with burn scars from Halloween II’s finale, is now a tired old man who resorts to begging Myers to “leave those people alone.” Few slasher flicks can boast of such a human moment. As the newly elected heroine of the series, 10-year-old Harris is a revelation, a child actor who actually acts like a child rather than a miniature adult.

Director Little does some effective if not earth shattering work behind the camera. His two greatest contributions are the moody shots of farmland in the credit sequence and a Vertigo-type zoom in the aforementioned gas station set-piece. Compared to the hacks who would take over in subsequent sequels he does an admirable job. After collaborations with Carpenter, composer Alan Howarth strikes out on his own for this film’s score. While the central themes remain, Carpenter’s absence is notable and the music isn’t nearly as effective as in previous films.

Halloween 4 was met with scorn but, importantly, it won back the fans with a thrilling and snappy installment in the adventures of their favourite mass murderer. Sadly, the series was about to enter its wilderness years.

4  stars out of 5

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

It’s remarkable that merely a year after the success of Halloween 4,  the series could have been plunged to the depths on view here. With its ugly aesthetic and nasty tone, this fifth film anticipates the direction Rob Zombie would take the reboot of the franchise almost 20 years later. This is a horrid film in every sense of the word and it introduced new elements that ultimately led to derision and disillusion among fans. Though the fourth movie featured no involvement from John Carpenter, it did for the most part feel like a Halloween film. Its follow-up has more in common with the sleazy imitations of Carpenter’s classic.

The film kicks off with a flashback to the previous film’s climax but presents us with the twist of Myers surviving and being swept down a river. Bizarrely he’s taken in by a hermit (and his parrot) who seems happy to allow him to sleep for a year in his hut. Myers wakes on Halloween Eve a year later, kills the hermit, and sets off back to his home town. Meanwhile, his niece (Harris) is in a children’s institution following the attack on her step-mother, which it seems the victim survived. The psychic bond hinted at in Halloween 4 is played up to cheesy levels now with Harris physically feeling her uncle’s actions. Dr. Loomis is overseeing the young girl and his treatment of her makes him a lot scarier than Myers.

This movie has many problems. By placing Harris in the “final girl” role the film takes on a nasty undercurrent. While we can all enjoy watching teenagers stalked and slashed, it’s not much fun seeing a child discover the corpses of her loved ones as her uncle tries to stab her with a butcher knife. Cornell was a likable presence and the film would have been better had she been the central figure rather than killed off at the film’s outset. Alan Howarth’s score is below par compared to his previous work and reaches a new low with the Three Stooges style theme he lays over scenes featuring a pair of bungling cops. Predictably, the movie was a flop, both commercially and critically, and the series would lie dormant for the next six years.

1  star out of 5

Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
 Halloween 5 had introduced a new character, the mysterious man in black. At the time nobody involved with the franchise really knew where this sub-plot would lead. Originally it was thought he would be Myers’ twin but for the sixth film it was decided he become the leader of a cult based out of Smith’s Grove, the sanitarium which originally housed the young Myers. To say this sub-plot is handled haphazardly is an understatement. This film attempts to tie up several loose ends but actually creates more than it ultimately resolves. There’s a bootleg ‘Producer’s Cut’ floating around that makes slightly more sense, but in either incarnation the film is a mess.

We open with Jamie Lloyd giving birth in the subterranean lair of a druidic cult. She should be 15 by this point but she’s played by an actress who doesn’t look a day under 20. The question of who fathered this child is never actually answered, but seeing how Myers is also being held captive by the cult, you surmise some Myers family incest may have occurred. Lloyd escapes and hides the child in a bus station before Myers impales his niece on some farming equipment. Tommy Doyle, the young boy Laurie Strode was babysitting in the original film, is all grown up and played by a fresh-faced Paul Rudd. He lives across from the Myers house, which is now inhabited by relations of its original residents, the Strodes. Hearing Lloyd call a radio talk show, he tracks down her baby and hides it in his room. From here on the plot gets too confusing for me to attempt to relate, suffice to say we end up with more questions than answers.

The film is an improvement on its immediate predecessor, though pouring acid in your eyes would be an improvement over watching the fifth installment. Gone is the ugly lighting, handheld camera and comic relief cops. To its credit, it does try to tie things in with the first film. Rudd’s landlady reveals herself as the babysitter of Myers on that fateful night in 1963 and there are visual callbacks, such as a young boy dropping a pumpkin upon sighting Myers. Despite this, it’s still a relentlessly dull affair which suffers from a lack of focus. There are too many characters who you know won’t be killed off and Pleasence’s role is little more than a bit part due to his ill health (he passed away just after wrapping up shooting). By trying to create a back-story for Myers, the producers were digging themselves into a hole and the wise decision was made to write off this mythology for the far more successful seventh installment.

2  stars out of 5

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
There may have been a mere three year gap between Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and this film’s release but in that short time the landscape of the horror genre had changed immensely. The success of Wes Craven’s Scream meant Hollywood was suddenly taking a serious interest in a genre it had avoided since the early ‘80s. What this meant for the Halloween franchise was a budget the producers had previously only dreamed of, and a widespread theatrical release. Most importantly, with horror now respectable again, it meant a willingness on the part of Curtis to return to the role that ignited her career.

After the unmitigated disasters of the fifth and sixth installments, the decision was made to take the series back to its roots. By trying to create a new back-story in the previous two films, the producers had lost credibility with a disgruntled fan base. In attempting to flesh out the mythology of why Myers kills, they had compromised the character. As Dr. Loomis reminded us so often, Michael is simply evil, and we don’t need or want to know any more. Thankfully, no such world-building is attempted here; in fact the movie cancels out the events of parts four through six. Laurie Strode (Curtis), is now the principal of a private school in California, having faked her death at some point in the past. We learn that Myers’ body was never found after the hospital explosion which ended Halloween II, but our favourite stalker has kept himself out of the news for the last two decades, somehow managing to keep that mask and boiler suit combo clean through the years. Now, thanks to a raid on the house of nurse Chambers (Nancy Stephens, resuming the role she essayed in the first two movies) he learns his sister’s whereabouts and sets off to finish what he started all those years ago.

At the time of its original release, my opinion on this film was lukewarm, feeling they had ‘Scream-ed’ it up too much, but I’ve grown to admire it over the years. It stands out as the best of the ‘90s cycle of post-Scream slashers, though admittedly that’s not much of an accolade. Apart from some annoying racial stereotyping there’s nothing to irritate fans of the series. There are minor details, such as a return to the original style of mask and Mr. Sandman playing over the opening, that go a long way towards sating us Halloween nuts. The teen characters never get too irritating and are swept aside for the movie’s final 20 minutes, setting up a thrilling game of cat and mouse between Myers and his long-suffering sister. Miner does a solid job directing these sequences and gives us one of the best visual motifs of the entire series when Curtis slams a door in front of Myers and the two stare at each other through a port-hole shaped window. Durand’s portrayal of Michael Myers is second only to Nick Castle’s in the original, playing the killer with the anger and impatience of someone who just wants to swat a fly that won’t leave his kitchen.

Halloween H20 is a must watch for anyone who loves good old fashioned stalkin’ and slashin’. With the series now back on track would more thrilling installments await us? Err…

4  stars out of 5

Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

Following the success of Halloween 4 in 1988, producer Moustapha Akkad immediately rushed out a near unwatchable follow-up. Strangely, he didn’t seem in a rush to capitalize on the positive reaction to 1998’s Halloween H20, waiting four years to produce this near unwatchable follow-up. In the mid to late ‘90s, slashers were big business, but by this film’s release in 2002, the fad was dead. Horror had returned to the shelves of rental stores and were it not for the presence of Curtis, I suspect Halloween: Resurrection wouldn’t have made it to the big screen. This film feels small in every regard.

With Halloween II director Rosenthal returning, there was some reason for fans to be hopeful and the opening scene gets us on board as Myers finally fulfills his wish of killing his sister, now resident in an asylum. But wait, didn’t Curtis chop off Myers’ head at the end of H20? She sure did, but here the writers find a ‘creative’ way of getting around this. After the first 15 minutes however it all goes downhill faster than a severed head in a laundry chute. Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks are a pair of internet entrepeneurs, (yes, a rapper and a supermodel, welcome to the ‘00s), whose company, Dangertainment, has gained access to the now deserted Myers’ house. They’ve placed cameras around the place and have recruited a bunch of teens to spend the night in the home of ‘America’s Most Notorious Serial Killer’.

If it’s anything, (and believe me, it’s not), Halloween: Resurrection is ahead of its time. With its house rigged with cameras gimmick, it prefigures both the current found footage fad and Big Brother style reality TV. This is not what we want from a Halloween movie though. Rosenthal’s direction is bland enough to highlight how much of an input John Carpenter had on Halloween II and the writing is sophomoric and amateurish. The biggest issue is how ineffectual Myers comes across, and seeing him beaten around by a rapper is a new low for the franchise. Predictably, the movie didn’t fare too well - certainly not with fans - and the series would be shelved for five years. As bad as this installment is, the worst was yet to come.

1  star out of 5

Halloween (2007)
By 2007, a host of classic horror movies had been given the remake treatment. A small few were worthwhile (Dawn of the Dead, The Hills Have Eyes), many were pointless (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Psycho), but most were just plain awful (The Fog, The Amityville Horror). Fans of John Carpenter braced themselves for the inevitable remake of his 1978 classic, and when it was announced that Rob Zombie would write and direct, the prospects looked bleak. With his previous films, House of a Thousand Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, the rock-star turned director had shown no evidence that he could come remotely close to making anything resembling an involving motion picture. Few were surprised when his Halloween turned out to be a cinematic travesty.

Though he’s improved since, at the time Zombie was no more a film-maker than Spielberg is a rock-star. His take on Carpenter’s masterpiece isn’t so much a film as the back page of a teenage sociopath’s math book brought to life. Not content with delivering a terrifying slasher movie, Zombie decided he’d delve into what turns a young boy into a psychopath. The first half of the movie - yes, the entire first half - is devoted to Myers’ childhood. Seems it wasn’t the supernatural forces of ancient Ireland that influenced young Michael; no, it was the fact that his daddy was an alcoholic redneck and his mother a stripper. If a film-maker wants to make a treatise on nature versus nurture that’s fine, but don’t hijack a much loved franchise to deliver your half-baked psychology lesson.

If one word can describe Zombie’s style, it’s ‘ugly’. Every character, even Dr. Loomis (McDowell), looks like a guest on Jerry Springer. Like Michael Haneke and Lars Von Trier, Zombie seems intent on making us feel bad for enjoying horror movies by giving us a story completely devoid of what’s generally considered a good time. What those film-makers fail to get through their judgmental heads is that we don’t get off on the violence, we get off on the fear. The ascent of the rollercoaster is far scarier than the descent - it’s the fear of what’s around the next corner, what’s making those noises behind that door. The real terror isn’t on the screen, it’s in the thick fog of our psyches. The dentist’s chair is never as terrifying as the dental appointment.

Because it relies so much on lighting, framing and camera movement, horror is the most cinematic of all genres and requires real talent to make it work. Here the lighting is abominable, the framing nonsensical, and movement consists solely of shakey-cam. For some bizarre reason we are constantly treated to the backs of character’s heads rather than their faces. The director doesn’t seem to understand that acting is in the eyes, not the ears. Zombie, arrogant in the way only musicians can be, displayed zero talent as a film-maker, yet somehow got to make a sequel to this disaster.

½ star out of 5

Halloween 2 (2009)
Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 is an improvement over Rob Zombie’s Halloween, although that’s akin to saying World War II was an improvement over World War I; in a perfect world neither would have occurred. While the first film was a punishingly grim experience, the follow-up at least has some moments of unintentional comedy. In the intervening years Zombie seems to have learnt a thing or two (literally no more) about film-making. During dialogue scenes we can actually now see the actors’ faces, and he’s relaxed his shaky-cam aesthetic. When it comes to creating tension, suspense and atmosphere, he’s still clueless however.

Zombie opens things with what initially appears to be a remake of 1981’s Halloween 2. Laurie Strode (Taylor-Compton) has been rushed to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital immediately following the events of the first movie. After spending half the running time of the first film establishing Michael Myers’ back-story, Zombie tears up his nature versus nurture argument by resurrecting Myers, presumably by supernatural means. Unfortunately we haven’t seen the last of the young Myers, as Zombie peppers his sequel with flashbacks and dream sequences. Myers has a recurring dream of his mother accompanied by a white horse. Just in case we’re not on board with his cod psychology, he opens the film with a quote from a textbook informing us exactly what a white horse symbolizes. This is but the first of many laughable moments sprinkled throughout this mess.

Just when we think Zombie is retreading the 1981 film, we realize it was all a dream, and a year has actually passed since the original events. Myers’ body, of course, was never found, and we get countless shots of the killer making his way back to Haddonfield, trudging through endless fields like he stepped onto the set of The Hobbit. Along the way he kills a few rednecks in bland and unoriginal ways. Back in Haddonfield, the local kids are having one of those incredibly well organized parties that only occur in slasher films and never seem to have enough beer. Dr. Loomis (McDowell) meanwhile has become a controversial celebrity, thanks to his best-selling book on Myers. McDowell has fun with the role and his performance is the only professional element of the movie, but making Loomis such a despicable character was another slap in the face to fans of the series.

1 star out of 5

FILM REVIEW: Crimson Peak

By Eric Hillis,

FILM REVIEW: Crimson Peak
The gothic horror genre has struggled to survive in recent years as it’s assumed that modern audiences lack the patience to invest in the sort of drama that’s based on mood and atmosphere rather than jump scares and gore. The revitalised Hammer Films, once the natural home of gothic, have only returned to their roots twice, for an adaptation of The Woman in Black and its sequel, but neither film came close to recreating the studio’s glory days.

Guillermo del Toro’s latest, Crimson Peak, attempts to revive the genre, but it relies too much on over the top gore and the sort of stalk and slash finale that would be more at home in the Scream franchise. The movie’s title refers to an old English mansion, its crumbling majesty sinking into the precarious red clay it’s built upon, and that’s ironically an all too apt metaphor for del Toro’s film, which is sumptuous in its visuals but housed on a paper thin foundation.

As a child, New Yorker Edith Cushing (groan) is visited by the spooky spirit of her recently deceased mother, who delivers the cryptic message, “Beware of Crimson Peak!” Later, as a young woman, Edith (Mia Wasikowska) falls for a visiting charming Englishman, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), and despite her father’s best efforts to prevent their coupling, moves to Sharpe’s ancestral home in rural England, ‘Crimson Peak.’ We quickly learn that Sharpe and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) have ulterior motives in luring Edith to their home.

Another problem with modern attempts at gothic is how few actors can appear convincingly Victorian, but in Wasikowska, Hiddleston and Chastain, del Toro has a assembled a trio of stars who look a lot more comfortable in Victorian garb than contemporary clobber. It’s these central performances, along with the magnificent costumes and production design, that keep Crimson Peak from collapsing. Wasikowska has a brittle Joan Fontaine quality, and Hiddleston was born to play this sort of old world cad, but it’s Chastain who steals the show with a performance that’s not so much scenery chewing as scenery absorbing.

As gothic melodramas go, Crimson Peak is fine, but what mars the movie is its ghost story element, an unnecessary subplot that adds nothing and feels a bit too close to M Night Shyamalan at his most mediocre. Del Toro has chosen to structure his plot in a way that gives us enough details to create a veneer of suspense, but he oddly holds back on the sort of minor details that are too obvious to make his final plot twists land with any degree of impact.

There are enough creaky doors and candle-lit hallways to keep devotees of this genre mildly sated, but Crimson Peak is ultimately a gothic melodrama that’s heavy on gothic but all too low on drama.

Roxey Ballet Presents "Dracula"

Roxey Ballet Presents "Dracula"
Roxey Ballet kicks off its 21st season with its dance adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. Roxey Ballet’s “Dracula” interprets Stoker’s famed horror story through a complete sensory experience of movement, music and spoken word with pyrotechnic, sound and lighting effects. Showcasing 14 professional dancers, the performances take place in the intimate, 72-seat Canal Studio Theater in Lambertville.

“We’re so excited to celebrate Halloween in Lambertville with 12 thrilling performances of our popular Dracula ballet,” said Mark Roxey, Founding Director of Roxey Ballet. “This production is not for the faint-of-heart. The small venue combined with bone-chilling music and multi-media effects draws the audience deeply into 18th century England and the disturbing story crafted by our world-class dancers.”

Mark Roxey’s original dance choreography, set to a collage of music and sound effects by David Hanoman and stage designs by Lisa McMillan, follows Stoker’s classic vampire tale. The audience comes face-to-face with all the notorious characters: the unwary Renfield who accidentally falls victim to Dracula on his way to the opera; the lovely, easily-seduced Lucy; and Dr. Van Helsing who leads the attack to rescue Lucy and others fallen prey to the vampires.

Performances take place at the Canal Studio Theater, 243 North Union Street in Lambertville, New Jersey on Friday, October 23 at 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Saturday, October 24 at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.; Sunday, October 25 at 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.; and Halloween weekend on Friday, October 30 at 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Saturday, October 31 at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, November 1 at 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.

General admission seating may be purchased online at or by phone at (609) 397-7616. Tickets cost $30.00 in advance and $35.00 at the door. There are special rates for seniors and disabled. The audience is encouraged to come in Halloween costume. Parental discretion is advised.

Roxey Ballet’s programs are made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Merck Foundation, Bunbury Foundation, Hunterdon County Cultural & Heritage Commission, and individuals and businesses.

An Interview with Andrea Clinton About Murphy's Law: Group Therapy Gone Wild

By Gary Wien

An Interview With Andrea Clinton About Murphy's Law: Group Therapy Gone WildMurphy’s Law: Group Therapy Gone Wild is a play by Andrea Clinton, niece of the legendary musician George Clinton.  The place will have its world premiere November 13-15 at the Hamilton Stage at Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway as part of Union County Advancing Community Theatre (UCACT) program.

The play is the first production by People Helping People, Arts & Entertainment, a non-profit organization founded by Clinton that helps citizens find jobs and offers referrals to agencies.  This branch of the organization seeks to help people via the arts.

After years as an English teacher and high school principal, Clinton turned to writing and is involved with everything from books to plays to film scripts and poetry.  She is the author of several books in a series called “Life Knows No Bounds” and is working on a biography of her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame uncle.

 The cast for Murphy’s Law: Group Therapy Gone Wild includes Dana Hawkins, Marshall Evans, K’von Madison, Doriane Swain, Jayna Strong, Peighton Bryant, Shiori Ichikawa, Erby Beauvil, Ashley Laroshe, Laymah Cisco, Alicia Whavers, Cely Rivera, Miguel Reis, Tiffany Stewart, Claushell Achille.

New Jersey Stage spoke with Andrea about the play.

Tell me about Murphy’s Law.  It sounds like a group therapy session run amuck. It absolutely is. MURPHY’S LAW: Group Therapy Gone Wild is so many things.  It’s a play on monologues, as Dr. Kapewski’s patients each share the issue that plagues them most. It’s a feast of comical goings on; a play on mental health awareness and it advocates suicide prevention. It urges its audience members with mental health issues to seek help and educates family members of what it’s like for their loved ones who internalize mental health issues; and since most of these patients are people from different classes, races and nationalities, they often clash, as personalities fly off the handle and certain group members i.e. characters fly off the chain gang, literally.

Does it blend the seriousness of mental illness and suicide with comedy? Yes, indeed, although there’s no way to offer a comical relief about suicide, which is where things gets dark. The play is a dark comedy. The way I see it, life’s a joke, right? And life can be very dark. So, with everything the play addresses, it just made sense that the play is written as such. Moreover, to deliver mental health issues and life events that we each face every day would’ve been sad and I feared it wouldn’t attract audiences and if it did, it’d leave a bitter taste of reality. So I decided to break up the monotony by adding some elements of comedy and instead show that even in some of the worst circumstances and life events, we can find laughter. Much like when many of us say, “I had to laugh to keep from crying,” it’s almost essential that we sometimes chuckle and laugh an issue off of our shoulders.

It’s not the easiest thing to do though, write a comedy, dark or otherwise, about such issues and calamities and surround them with elements set to bring forth laughter. Well, the act of writing isn’t difficult, but digesting the darkness while writing about the characters seeking light at the end of the tunnel is, because we know mental health is not so meek an ailment. It’s especially painful when you know the issues you’ve imposed on these characters’ lives are happening to someone, even right now.

Has mental illness or thoughts of suicide directly affected your life or the lives of people around you?  Was the play inspired by a real life group therapy session? Yes, mental health has affected me on many levels. When I left the cut throat corporate world it was because I had a boss who wanted me to fire people for little things and was just—I couldn’t do it. The pressure I endured watching her pick with the employees I supervised was team-too-much. I began having panic attacks, then seizures and when I went out on a medical leave of absence, I became depressed. In order to continue getting paid via my medical benefits, I had to go to group therapy, and I remember gazing around the room as if I’d encountered a feast for writings to come. I didn’t write about any of their lives, I felt as though it would be a betrayal of the worst kind. However, they did inspire me to bring mental health awareness to the forefront when bringing these monologues together. My goal with the play, as with my books, is to show that life isn’t out to get you.  It just doesn’t know boundaries, much like what I did with my book series, “Life Knows No Bounds.”

I turned up the mental health issues and suicide when my nephew died, then Robin Williams (aka Mork from Ork) died and then two weeks before the workshop of this play, my sister died as a result, many years later however, but as a result of complications from a suicide attempt. I HAD HAD IT! I needed to do something. I was so mentally beaten and brutalized by this issue of mental health and suicide, and I kept referring back to the feeling I had when I was in group therapy and it really started to feel as if this was a calling—a must write.

You’ve written novels, poems, film, and plays.  What points you in the direction of the stage for a story? Well, my grandmother was the director for the Right to Read program in Newark’s school system. So she started me writing as early as 7 years old and since we were reading plays at the time, it was actually plays I began writing first and I never strayed. It was only later in high school when I read a short story by Charles W. Chestnut that I began writing fiction. I wrote my first film in 10th grade when I tried my hand at writing a script, a sequel to the gang movie, Warriors. I also write poetry, which I began in junior high school. With all these different areas of interest, theatre always called out to me. It actually brings tears to my eyes when I think of the accomplishments thus far, winning grants, acceptance into festivals in an area I initially didn’t put too much stock into, even though I continued to write.

What do you hope to accomplish with the People Helping People productions? I’m hoping PHP, A&E can produce plays that offer anecdotes, remedies, and empower others: those being bullied, abused, stressed or beaten up.

Is this your first full staged production of one of your plays? Yes it is. I’ve written many plays, however, this is the first play that I’ve ever produced, thanks to Mohamed Jalloh and the UCACT program.

As a local artist, how important is it to have local government supporting the arts? It is extremely important that local government partake in furthering their citizens’ dreams, aspirations and more. Turnabout is fair play, right? A government body that supports its people is a government heavily supported. We citizens are all so unique and have so much to contribute to our municipality, county, state, country and when our government makes a way for us to contribute to society, via the arts, sciences, etc., it is the village working together for a common cause, our species preservation, preserving our way of life. What this grant has done for me as a playwright and PHP, Arts & Entertainment is remarkable and I’m sure it’s been a great assistance to the other theatre companies who received the grant as well. It’s also been a learning experience. In addition to being both a funding and in-kind service, it’s taught me a lot about promoting a production and publicity. It also provided an opportunity for me to exercise those producing things-to-do I learned in graduate school and it’s opened doors for me. I’ve been received by people in the theatre world who initially bid me well on a totally different level. Now, I’m invited to submit my plays, having meetings about partnering to produce this play and asked about others I have in my repertoire. I’ve even been approached by a director about licensing the play—this is all because I won the Union County’s Board of Chosen Freeholder’s UCACT grant award to produce Murphy’s Law. Programs such as UCACT enable residents to get a head start in the industry, exposure and gainful experience. I am ecstatic that Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders and staff accepted my play and proposal submission helping us in educating citizens about mental health awareness and suicide prevention, especially since it’s a relevant issue in this country today.

You were diagnosed with Lupus several years ago.  How did the diagnosis change your life?  Did it inspire you to start the “Life Knows No Bounds” series? Although Lupus made me buckle down and publish my work, it wasn’t the big inspiration for my “Life Knows No Bounds” series. The series was in fact inspired by life itself and how people deal (or don’t deal) with it. Lupus did, however, flip my life upside down. I was so sick upon being diagnosed and doctors spent four months tending to me, not knowing what was wrong, so I was at a point of welcoming any diagnosis, for meds, for peace of mind. I was lifeless and lost my gumption. I went through depression. Then, I didn’t want to be around people anymore. I still get that feeling quite often, “Like a dog going into the woods to die alone,” as it is said in my play. Eventually I gained more spirit and one thing I can attribute to knowing how you may possibly die, you seem to want to contribute to making the world a better place. You want to help people, make a difference and often, save the world from itself, which I guess for me is where my writing comes in.

Lupus inspired me not to start it, but to see the series through, even when it takes me three times as long to do what it takes the average author, due to sickness, Lupus flare ups and the blood clotting disease it caused (APLS). It felt like life through me a curve ball, and I don’t even play baseball. Seeing how people dealt with life made me want to write the series; to the point I found myself explaining in each book that, “Life isn’t out to get you, it just doesn’t know boundaries.”

I feel a heavy weight of responsibility to share my story and so I begun a memoir titled, “Living With Lupus: a quiet nightmare” by Andrea Clinton. I don’t know that I can add comedy elements to make this less gloomy but it will be a book about my experience/plight, others’ experiences and inspiration in spite of the war on Lupus I’ve waged.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a writer due to Lupus? Keeping up with the Joneses. What other people can do or accomplish, it often takes me triple the time. I can begin a project on a good day and do well, until I have bad moments. On a bad day, I will suffer what there is to suffer and on that bad day, have a good moment or more, begin writing or doing something to further my endeavor to achieve a career in entertainment. Sometimes lupus inspires a great work and at other times it’s a setback. As my rheumatologist says, “It’s not the disease that’s killing you, but the ailments the disease caused in the beginning…” and people wonder why I have no time for play. I’m on a mission to do, to write, to achieve. The weight of time being of the essence weighs heavy on my chest.

Finally, how is your biography/screenplay on George Clinton coming?  Any idea of a release date?  No release date in sight, maybe 2017 as I must do this book and screenplay justice. George wrote a memoir sharing with readers about his experience with music. In respect of his book and allowing the story of his music career to be told, I’m pacing myself with publishing the story of his and the family’s life, growing up in Newark, New Jersey.

Some years ago when my grandfather, George Clinton, Sr. passed away, I was speaking with my uncle George about writing his screenplay and possibly a book about his life; but I was focusing on his life, not life in the music industry. However, George, after some not so great experiences in the music business, wants to share his experience in the music industry, the people he’s met, worked with, industry goings-on, legalities and other items he feels is relevant for all to know, especially those going into the music industry.  So, it just makes sense to let the book on his music career and experience breathe.  Give it its proper time as he tours and does book signings all over the world.

Then, I’ll follow up with the film and book of his and the family’s life, which is very interesting and at times, very funny and gives an inside view of some of the goings-on that made the man. I think people will not only be enlightened to who George the man is, but through learning about his family, my grandparents, my father and their other siblings, old friends and the neighborhoods he lived in; people will understand more of why so many of his songs have a deep and often subliminal, yet key message.

For more on Andrea Clinton



twitter: @Teaclinton13

Danger In The Sky

By Gary Wien

Danger In The SkyIf the truth is stranger than fiction, perhaps reality is more suspenseful.  That premise is put to the test in the play Charlie Victor Romeo.  Written by Robert Berger, Patrick Daniels, and Irving Gregory, the play opens the 11th season for South Camden Theatre Company in October.

Charlie Victor Romeo takes actual transcripts from the “black box” cockpit voice recorders of six airplanes which all faced emergency and sometimes fatal situations.  Actors relive these terrifying moments in the sky exactly as they played out in real life.  This fascinating play won a pair of Drama Desk Awards in 2000, including one for Outstanding Unique Theatrical Experience.  South Camden Theatre Company’s production is the regional premiere of this fine work, which is rarely performed.

The cast includes Eric Carter, Kevin Doyle, Jason Cutts, Stacy Skinner, Tyler S. Elliott, Cindy Starcher, and Paul Sollimo.  The production is directed by Joseph M. Paprzycki, the Founding Producing Artistic Director of the company, who saw the play staged in New York in 2003.

“My friend called me and said you have to get up here and see this play,” recalled Paprzycki.  “I saw it in the East Village in a public school basement where they were doing it.  It was jarring theatre and it stayed with me all of this time.  I wondered if I could do that here. I started looking into it and finally found a way to get the rights, which was not easy.  I think they’ve only licensed it one or two times.”

The six different situations take the audience on a roller coaster ride that lures you in with moments that are almost comic, such as pilots flirting with flight attendants.   But with the audience disarmed, the scenes start getting darker.

“You’ve better be ready for a ride because the scenes are terrifying,” said Paprzycki.  “And they’re real.”

The reality of the situations is something that truly hits home.  These aren’t imaginary characters whose lives are in danger, these were real people caught in situations that could easily happen to you or me while flying.  We all try to put the dangers out of our minds when we enter our seats, but the dangers are always there.  Paprzycki admits that he has found himself paying closer attention to details while flying ever since he got involved with the play.  A trip to Boston in July was delayed while the crew had a maintenance guy check out a situation with the front tire.  Paprzycki watched what everyone was doing, what they were touching, how they were reacting, and even how they were sitting; all of which gave him insight for the play.  Likewise, historical tv coverage about the incidents proved invaluable for Paprzycki and the cast members to get a better understanding of the gravity of these situations.

“The direction I’ve given to the cast from the minute we started is, ‘This is a play in which you’re going to constantly remember one word as you’re acting - training,’” explained Paprzycki.  “I told them, ‘No matter what your personality is, you’ve been trained.  You’re highly trained professionals and that training has to come through in everything you’re doing.  Even though you might be scared to death, the training has to show.’”

That training comes through when a crew hears a boom during a flight.  The sound tells them something is obviously wrong, but they don’t know if it’s a bomb, a door blowing off, or the loss of an engine.  Incidents in the play range from bulkheads rupturing (causing the loss of the vertical fin and all hydraulics) to a simple piece of tape left over the static ports when the maintenance crew last washed the plane (resulting in the failure of crucial flight instruments to work properly).

During rehearsals, the cast was continuously pushed a little farther and farther into the realities of the situations.  One of the most intense moments of the play deals with United Airlines Flight 232.  At one point, the air traffic controller mentions “there is a four-lane highway you can look at.” Paprzycki asked the actors what that means.  The reply was, “It means you’re going to kill at least 100 innocent people on the ground.”  Paprzycki said, “Yeah, think about just how devastating that is.”  When the actors redid the scene again, their faces showed the realization of being told they could land on a highway that is probably packed with cars and innocent people who will be killed.  Paprzycki told the actors, “When you start hearing these things we have to see the reaction of you the person — through the training — because we know that the audience is thinking, ‘What if my daughter and my three grandchildren are in a car on that highway?’”

“I’m finding all new emotions with this production,” he continued.  “Emotions I haven’t worked with in plays I’ve directed before because this is so different.  The one thing I want to make sure our cast constantly does is keep the people in it.  It’s easy to get pulled aside when they’re fighting the plane or it won’t turn to the left or the right, but I keep hammering home the term they use throughout the play, ‘All the souls on board.’  This is real tragedy here.  These are real lives and real people.  And I don’t want to lose that when telling the story.   I want the audience to walk out the way I did and start thinking about the play an hour or two later and say to themselves, ‘Wait a minute… these were real people.  They weren’t made up from a playwright.’ When you start thinking about all these poor people, it really hits home.”

In a bit of fortuitous casting, the two women both have connections to pilots in real life — something unknown to Paprzycki during the audition process.  One laughed when Paprzycki called her and said she had the role.  She explained her husband is a pilot that flies for FedEx.  Knowing the strong possibility of emotional danger for her, Paprzycki asked her to think it over.  A day later she called him back to say she was on board.

The other woman has a best friend who is a pilot who came to one of the early rehearsals and helped the cast with their questions.  While most plays require actors to learn about their characters — their relationships, backstories, etc. — this play forces actors to learn a new language as well.  Having someone with real world experience proved invaluable to the process.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the play is the use of the last recorded words ever said by some of these people.  You are literally witnessing a reenactment of their final moments.  Writers often think of the power of words, but few ever think of the final words they’ll ever write or say out loud.  Audience members may or may not be thinking about the finality of these words as something momentous on a conscious level, but subconsciously it adds to the power of the play and makes it more of a jarring experience.

“What I can say is that you have never seen live theatre like this as it is both terrifying, true to life, and hopefully it will stay with you for a long time,” said Paprzycki.  “I’ve never done anything like this in South Camden and I wanted to start our second decade with something completely different as Monty Python used to say.”
Charlie Victor Romeo
October 16 - November 1
South Camden Theatre Company
400 Jasper Street, Camden, NJ

Danger In The Sky