Count Basie Theatre

The Count Basie Theatre is a landmarked theatre in Red Bank, Monmouth County, New Jersey, United States. It opened as the Carlton Theater in 1926 and was renamed in 1984 to honor jazz great and Red Bank native William “Count” Basie. It was designed by William E. Lehman (architect) and has seating capacity for 1,543 patrons.


Count Basie Theatre

Edward Franklin Albee II opened the Carlton on November 11, 1926 as one of a series of elaborate new Keith-Albee-Orpheum vaudeville theatres. The investment was ill-timed as the public was moving to less expensive movies, and Albee was soon pushed out. The theatre chain was absorbed into Keith-Albee-Orpheum in 1928 and was soon controlled by Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr..

Opening night in 1926 included vaudeville acts and the feature film The Quarterback, starring Richard Dix. Nearly 4,000 people attended two shows that night, with crowds gathering two hours before the first performance. The New Jersey Register called the new theatre “…a marvel of beauty, convenience and comfort. Outside and inside it is a veritable and architectural triumph.”

The theatre was one of the highlights of nightlife in downtown Red Bank for many years. Finally, in 1970, after the Strand, Palace, Empire, and Lyric theatres had closed, the Carlton did also. In 1973, a significant anonymous donation allowed the Monmouth County Arts Council to preserve and reopen the historic theatre for cultural uses.

The theatre was renamed the Monmouth Arts Center. In 1984, it was renamed as the Count Basie Theatre, in memorial to William “Count” Basie, the great jazz pianist, bandleader, composer, and Red Bank native, who had died that year. The arts council operated the theatre until June 30, 1999, when the not-for-profit corporation Count Basie Theatre, Inc. was established to manage, program, and preserve the theatre.


Count Basie Theatre

Besides Count Basie, legends such as James Brown and Tony Bennett, as well as headline performers such as Al Green, George Carlin, Boz Scaggs, Counting Crows, Olivia Newton-John, Brian Wilson, "Weird Al" Yankovic and Jon Stewart, have performed at the theatre. Jersey Shore legend Bruce Springsteen has made several surprise guest appearances. Cats performed there. The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and the Monmouth Symphony Orchestra are regularly scheduled. The theatre collaborated in the development of the Shapiro & Smith Dance Company’s original production Anytown. The theatre is made available for local not-for-profit arts organizations. Kevin Smith's Sold Out: A Threevening with Kevin Smith was filmed at the Count Basie. More recently the reunion specials for The Real Housewives of New Jersey are filmed here. The theatre hosted James Brown's last show before his death.

Community outreach

The Count Basie Performing Arts Academy, a.k.a. the Cool School, offers professional training courses in performance basics, audition techniques, professional development, and weekend workshops to aspiring actors, musicians, and dancers of all ages.

On May 26, 2006, the theatre presented its first annual Basie Awards honoring excellence in high school theatre in Monmouth County, New Jersey. The May 2008 presentations were hosted by Joe Piscopo, while the May 2009 presentations were hosted by Siobhan Fallon Hogan. The 2010 awards were not hosted. The announced host Big Joe Henry, a disk jockey for NJ 101.5 radio, pulled out due to a threat of protests by the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), the union representing teachers in New Jersey, which has disagreed with the DJ and the radio station for political views and talks urging listeners to vote against state spending for education and the arts.

The building

Between 1995 and 2001, the arts council/corporation conducted a series of phased projects to repair and stabilize the infrastructure of the building. Phase 1 of a new renovation series was completed in 2004, replacing all the seating with new, historically accurate seats; adding alabaster lighting fixtures to the auditorium; and restoring and painting a side-panel of plasterwork. Over $1 million has been spent on theatre improvements to date, funded by donations and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Plans for future renovations include restoring and repainting the auditorium’s decorative plaster, an expanded lobby, and backstage improvements.

Seating includes 1,008 orchestra, 121 loge, 402 balcony, and 12 wheelchair-accessible platforms.


External links

  • Count Basie Theatre, Official website
  • "The Buzz About the Basie", Asbury Park Press, 6 January 2008

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