Gia Maione Prima Foundation Studio Theatre opens with day of vibrant music and dance

gia maione theatre

Member of Carolyn Dorfman Dance perform “Prima!” at the Gia Maione Prima Foundation Studio Theatre at the Grunin Center in Toms River, March 19.

The new Gia Maione Prima Foundation Studio Theatre — a black box theater at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts at Ocean County College in Toms River — opened on March 19, appropriately enough, with Carolyn Dorfman Dance premiering “Prima!,” which is set to the music of Louis Prima. The singing of Gia Maione Prima — Prima’s wife, who grew up in Toms River — was heard in the dance piece.

Gia Maione Prima Foundation co-founder Anthony Sylvester, second from left, with Carolyn Dorfman, far right, and members of Carolyn Dorfman Dance.

The performance took place at 2 p.m., with a cocktail reception following at 5:30 p.m. After that, Louis Prima Jr. — the son of Louis Prima and Gia Maione Prima — performed with his band The Witnesses on the Grunin Center’s main stage.

“Gia was a Toms River gal,” said Gia Maione Prima Foundation co-founder Anthony Sylvester, before introducing Louis Prima Jr. & the Witnesses. “She loved this town more than anywhere on the planet, and she would have been incredibly proud to have the theater next door named in her honor.”

The concert marked the first time Louis Prima Jr. performed in his mother’s hometown.

“I can’t tell you, No. 1, how happy we are to be onstage, period,” he said, referring to the band’s down time during the pandemic. He added that this show had to be rescheduled several times because of that.

“It’s kind of neat for me,” he continued. “I spent every summer of my childhood in Seaside Heights, at the Boardwalk. My grandfather, Tom Maione, on my mom’s side, owned the Red Top Bar. If anybody spent any time in Seaside Heights, on the Boardwalk, it was down at the kids’ end. … we’d all eat Maruca’s pizza and die happy.”

GIA MAIONE PRIMA

Prima and the Witnesses’ high-energy show included some of the classics of his parents’ act — including “Sing, Sing, Sing,” “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody,” “Jump, Jive an’ Wail” and “I Wanna Be Like You” — as well as other covers, and original material.

Gia Maione, a classically trained singer, began performing with Prima in 1962. She later married him and had two children with him. Prima died in 1978, and she moved back to New Jersey in the ’90s.

She launched the foundation with Sylvester, her lawyer and advisor, about two years before she died in 2013.

The foundation is a founding supporter of NJArts.net and generously donates to many other arts causes in New Jersey, New Orleans (Louis Prima’s hometown) and other locations.

Like any other black box theater, the Gia Maione Prima Foundation Studio Theatre is designed to be able to accommodate a wide variety of productions. Upcoming shows there will includejazz guitarist Charlie Apicella’s trio, featuring saxophonist Don Braden, May 22; and Americana group Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters, May 27.

For information and updates, visit grunincenter.org.

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