Count Basie Center, Phoenix Productions announce merger

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RED BANK – The Count Basie Center for the Arts, Red Bank, and Red Bank-based Phoenix Productions have announced their intentions to merge, allowing the community theater company to officially become part of the organization which has hosted its productions for more than 30 years.

“Coming out of the (coronavirus) pandemic we were looking at how each of our nonprofit organizations could best serve the community,” Adam Philipson, president/CEO, Count Basie Center for the Arts, was quoted as saying in a Feb. 1 press release.

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“And we concluded by recognizing that we are stronger together. This is a union three decades in the making and we are excited to work with Phoenix Artistic Producing Director James Grausam and continue Phoenix’s ongoing tradition of producing top-notch, quality community theater,” Philipson said.

The Count Basie Center will work with Phoenix to produce six performances in the next 12 months. The titles of those programs will be revealed on Feb. 11 during opening night of Phoenix’s “The Wedding Singer” at the Basie Center’s Hackensack Meridian Health Theatre, according to the press release.

In addition to “The Wedding Singer,” Phoenix has two previously announced runs at the Basie Center: “The Wizard Of Oz” in the venue’s historic theater from April 29 through May 1, and “Putting It Together,” a tribute revue to composer Stephen Sondheim at The Vogel on March 11-12.

In addition, Phoenix’s educational offerings will be folded into the Count Basie Center Academy of the Arts curriculum beginning with the summer 2022 session, according to the press release.

As part of the mergence, three Phoenix Productions board members – Jerry Conaty, SoVonna Day-Goins and Joe Wajda – have joined the Basie Center Board of Trustees, while Phoenix board member James Marhold has joined the Basie’s Advisory Board.

For Goins, whose daughter has performed in 13 past Phoenix shows and recently landed her first professional gig in NBC’s “Annie Live!,” the merger makes sense given the organizations’ focus on the future.

“The Count Basie Center for the Arts and Phoenix Productions share many of the same values; a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, serving the community with quality entertainment and educational offerings – this is a powerful combination of bringing two like-minded organizations together to create sustainable arts for future generations to come,” said Goins.

For Wajda, a musical theater and Broadway veteran who joined Phoenix 13 years ago and serves as its music supervisor, the merger represents a pivotal moment for the region’s arts scene.

“Our organizations were able to weather the storm of the pandemic and exhibit creativity and resilience,” said Wajda. “We are two organizations that remained vigilant, safe and committed to our missions, and today, we are together and stronger for it.”

Wajda and Goins will co-chair a new Basie Center committee focused on Phoenix operations. The committee will also include Basie Center staff and board members, as well as former Phoenix board members, according to the press release.

“From our initial conversations with Phoenix, there was clearly a level of shared core competencies to make sense of a potential merger,” said Basie Center Board of Trustees Chairman Jeremy Grunin. “With this union, the Basie Center becomes both a presenting and producing organization, thus strengthening our mission to preserve and celebrate the arts.”

The addition of Phoenix Productions complements the Basie Center’s long tenure of supporting the Broadway community, from its “Broadway At The Basie Center” series of national touring companies, to the annual Basie Awards, which honor excellence in Monmouth County high school theater, according to the press release.

The Count Basie Center Academy of the Arts also offers numerous Broadway-themed classes and workshops, in addition to nearly a dozen yearly mainstage productions featuring academy students, according to the press release.

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