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MIDDLETOWN: DAZE OF THEIR ‘PRIVATE LIVES’

Seen here in a 2015 staging of ‘Present Laughter,’ the Monmouth Players return to the Noel Coward canon with a production of ‘Private Lives’ that begins Saturday.

It was a time when the Garden State Parkway had miles to go until completion, and Neil Simon had yet to pen his first play. Way back in 1953 — well before the arrival of professional playhouses to the sleepy bedroom communities of Monmouth County — a fledgling theatrical company by the name of Monmouth Players chose as its first fully staged production Blithe Spirit, a ghostly farce by a then very-much-alive Noël Coward.

Over the years — some 63 of them, in fact — the Middletown-based players have made numerous return trips to Sir Noël’s well, not just for encores of Spirit but for Present Laughter (staged as recently as 2015) and, beginning this Saturday, a fresh look at the vitriolic valentine known as Private Lives.

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RED BANK: TWO RIVER INTROS NEW SEASON

Michael Cumpsty, Brandon Dirden and Ruben Santiago-Hudson (pictured at an August 2016 event promoting the Two River Theater production of MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM) are among the returning artists who are scheduled to contribute to the upcoming 2017-18 season at the Bridge Avenue arts center.

It’s a season highlighted by a bevy of returning talents, both on the stage and behind the scenes. A season that boasts an enhanced slate of offerings for young theatergoers; more outreach to the area’s growing Spanish-speaking audience, some never-before-seen works, and several fresh perspectives on familiar stories — including two by a certain Wilde man of English letters, as well as one even Wilder.

When Two River Theater Company raised the curtain on its upcoming 2017-2018 schedule of productions on Sunday night, it did so via a genuine “rite of spring” tradition at the Bridge Avenue artspace, as TRTC’s celebrated artistic director John Dias and a panel of guests heralded the company’s 24th season with a “debt of gratitude” to founders Robert and Joan Rechnitz (“the two most glorious people I know”), a tip of the hat to the faithful supporters (“we know you care about this as much as we do”), and a brief channeling of Sally Field (“you actually like us!”).

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RBR PRESENTS ‘KISMET’ THIS WEEK

Left to right: Luke Pearlberg (Poet), Corey Van Huff (Wazir), Ford Zacks (Caliph), Danielle Wolf (Marsinah)  and in front, Ricci Bigelow (Lalume) star in KISMET, the spring musical production running March 23-26 at Red Bank Regional.

Press release from Red Bank Regional High School

Set in ancient-times Arabia, the musical Kismet takes place where magic may or may not be real, and true love is found in the power of poetry. From the streets to the palaces of Bagdad in A.D. 1071, the story of four interwoven lives coming together to sing, dance and celebrate the mystery of “fate” is the essence of the musical that comes to the stage of Red Bank Regional High School beginning Thursday, March 23, as the spring theatrical from the school’s celebrated performing arts program.

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RED BANK: LAUNDROMAT & APARTMENTS OK’D

The new structure would be built between a six-unit apartment building, at left, and Juanito’s Market, at right, with all three properties sharing parking in back. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

The Red Bank zoning board approved the creation of a new laundromat and four apartments on a vacant Shrewsbury Avenue lot Thursday night.

But before the project can get underway, grocer and restaurateur Juan Torres will have to reduce a possible tab for water and sewer hookups that could total $562,000.

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RED BANK: MAKING ‘MERRY’ IN MARCH

Zuzanna Szadowski, Jason O’Connell and Nicole Lewis are the whole company in the Two River Theater staging of Shakespeare’s ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor,’ playing through March 26. (Photos by T. Charles Erickson. Click to enlarge.)

Whether it was an amateur outing in a gnat-infested public park or a top-ticket import from London’s West End, veteran observers of William Shakespeare’s works have by now gotten used to seeing the great dramatist’s plays twisted, teased and teleported into all manner of settings — more than a few of which might have made him flip his folio.

From Romeo and Juliet in modern Miami and Hamlet on Wall Street to a World War II Richard III and a Tempest on a planet named Altair IV, it seems as if there’s no place in space or time from which the Bard is barred — and at Red Bank’s Two River Theater, where last year we saw Pericles re-imagined as the world’s most epic saloon story, the comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor continues for two more weeks, during its long-term stay at the sort of roadside motel that would normally specialize in hourly rates.

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RED BANK: TWO RIVER PLANS ADDITION

A rendering of the proposed addition to the left of the existing theater and tower above, as seen from the northeast. (Rendering by Kaplan Gaunt Desantis Architects. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

The backstage area of Red Bank’s Two River Theater is about to get bigger, if a plan in the works gets a green light from borough officials.

Scheduled for consideration by the zoning board next week, the plan calls for the construction of an architecturally bold addition to the existing theater for rehearsal spaces, costume-making and the building of props and scenery, according to documents on file.

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RED BANK: BASIE PIMPS STAGE TO PRESS

Signage touting the Asbury Park Press brand will be installed in front of the stage and projected elsewhere in the venue before and after shows. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

After some 90 years as a lights-down sanctuary from the outside world, visitors to Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre will be greeted by heavy pre- and post-show branding by the Asbury Park Press starting Tuesday.

According to an “exclusive” report about itself Monday, the Neptune-based Press will have its name in lights throughout the entertainment space: in front of the stage, on a drop-down screen, and on the walls before and after performances and during intermissions.

“You will be seeing an act that is performing on the Asbury Park Press Stage,” Basie CEO Adam Philipson is quoted as saying.

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RED BANK: MOMIX IN THE MIX AT BASIE

Choreographer Moses Pendleton brings his MOMIX dance company back to the Count Basie Theatre on Sunday for a new look at their classic work, ‘Opus Cactus.’

In an interview that appeared in our paperless pages several years back, famed choreographer Moses Pendleton shared his thought that “if people appreciate what I do, if they go out from one of our performances with a little less gravity in their skip, then I’ve been successful.”

Since 1971, when he co-founded the revolutionary Pilobolus dance company, Pendleton has done his part to fight the good fight against gravity — both the stodgy old natural law, and the sort of attitude that too often keeps a “fine arts” institution from having a joyful sense of humor about itself. When he left Pilobolus to forge the meeting of movement and stagecraft magic known as MOMIX, the self-described “avant gardener” renewed his mission of “exploring new and surprising ways to move and bend.” And when the troupe returns to the Red Bank stage of the Count Basie Theatre this Sunday, they’ll be newly exploring one of the works that made them one of the most celebrated forces in modern dance.

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LINCROFT: SENSORY-FRIENDLY ‘MUSIC’ AT CBA

Opening tonight, March 3 and continuing through March 11, the Pegasus Production Company staging of The Music Man finds the student-run theatrical company at Christian Brothers Academy revisiting Meredith Willson’s golden-age Broadway classic for a total of six performances inside the Henderson Theatre on the CBA Lincroft campus.

Boasting such showstoppers as “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Ya Got Trouble” and “Shipoopi,” the tale of how traveling con man Professor Harold Hill brought a much-needed infusion of dreams, schemes, music and romance to the citizens of small-town River City, Iowa has been a perennial favorite on American stages, winning the Tony for Best Musical in 1957 and going on to countless productions in “River Cities” across the continent and overseas. As a special distinction, the Pegasus troupe will be offering a very special performance on Friday, March 10.

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MIDDLETOWN: DURANG, IN SMALL DOSES

Ever had a weekend of Durang? You know, one of those interludes in which your every human interaction — whether a disastrous date, a stress-inducing so-called vacation, or a simple trip to the store for a can of tuna — borders on the absurdly surreal?

Fortunately, we have the celebrated Christopher Durang, seen at right, to provide a road map of sorts through these needlessly complicated, often over-thought encounters. And beginning this Saturday, we have Middletown’s Monmouth Players at the wheel of the tour bus.

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RED BANK: TWO WAYS TO MAKE ‘MERRY’

Two River Theater hosts two very different takes on Shakespeare’s comedy ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor,’ beginning with Saturday’s first preview of a three-actor free for all. 

When William Shakespeare put quill to parchment and began work on The Merry Wives of Windsor, he probably wasn’t laboring under the illusion he might create something to be dissected by critics and scholars for hundreds of years to come. The more immediate tastes of the popular audience were calling out to him, and with Wives the busy Bard had the opportunity to spin one of his most crowd-pleasing creations — Sir John Falstaff, the portly and roguish companion to the future king in the two parts of his historical drama Henry IV — into a rowdy (and cheerfully out-of-time) little knock-down farce.

Beginning this Saturday night, the Two River Theater offers Red Bank audiences not one but two rather unique takes on one of Shakespeare’s silliest comedies: one an intimately scaled three-actor adaptation that goes in search of the play’s “dark undercurrent;” the other an abridged full-cast version showcasing a talented company of high school age performers.

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RUMSON: RFH HOSTS STARS PRESENT & FUTURE

Press release from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School

On Monday, April 3, the Night of FUTURE Broadway Stars will rock the auditorium at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, in the third annual edition of the exciting musical event benefitting homeless youth.

Scheduled for 7 p.m. in the RFH auditorium, the presentation is a fundraiser for the programs of Covenant House in Asbury Park, showcasing the performing arts talents of students from high schools throughout Monmouth County. The evening has also boasted the participation of special guests with a Broadway pedigree, such as Carter Calvert (pictured on stage at the 2016 event), the actress and recording artist whose credits include the debut production of the Tony-nominated It Ain’t Nothing But the Blues, and the lead role of Grizabella in the national Tour of Cats.

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RUMSON: TARZAN SWINGS INTO RFH IN MARCH

Press release from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School

On the weekend of March 24-26, the award-winning Tower Players of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School will present the rollicking, family-friendly musical Tarzan at the RFH auditorium.

Adapted for the stage from Disney’s epic animated adventure — and based on the popular characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs — the musical show features high-flying excitement as well as heart-pumping music by rock legend Phil Collins, with a score that includes the Academy Award-winning “You’ll Be in My Heart” as well as “Son of Man,” “Two Worlds,” and “Strangers Like Me.”

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RED BANK: BRUSH UP YOUR SHAKESPEARE

It’s one of William Shakespeare’s most raucous comedies; one that indicates that even the celebrated Bard wasn’t above cranking out a “popular demand” money shot. Picking up the character of Sir John Falstaff from the two parts of Henry IV — and plunking the portly, cowardly, boastful and besotted knight down into a farcical fracas of amorous misadventure and comical come-uppance — The Merry Wives of Windsor does its job within a relatively short running time, and with a relatively economical cast of 20 characters.

Or does it? According to Eric Tucker (pictured), co-founder and artistic director of NYC’s Bedlam Theater, the circa-1600 play can be brought to life just fine by a company of no more than three very busy actors — and tonight, February 13, Two River Theater offers the public a free-of-charge chance to watch director Tucker in action, as he works with his modestly scaled (but expansively skilled) cast in an Open Rehearsal at the Bridge Avenue arts center.

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RUMSON STUDENT STARS ‘ROCK THE BOAT’

On the weekend of January 26-28, a troupe of 37 performers and seven crew members treated audience members to a star-studded performance of GUYS AND DOLLS JR. at Forrestdale School. The fast-paced school version of the hit 1950 Broadway musical comedy featured the Forrestdale Drama Club in such showstopping numbers (under the supervision of musical director Mrs. Barbara Leutz) as “Luck Be a Lady,” “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat,” and “A Bushel and a Peck.” Mr. Vinny Sabatino directed the cast highlighted by eighth graders Jamie Lynne Eckhoff and Aidan Herman (cast as Sarah Brown and Sky Masterson), seventh grade standouts Frances Forte and Matt Marra (as Miss Adelaide and Nathan Detroit), and supporting players Matt Black, Mackenzie Doherty, Ali Gagliardi, Kayla Kenny, Oliver Butters, Peter O’Connor, Tim Wisely, Lula Grand and Griffin Volk.

FAIR HAVEN: BE OUR GUEST AT SCHOOL SHOW

Press release from Fair Haven School District

On the evening of Thursday, March 2, the All Purpose Room at Fair Haven’s Knollwood School will be the setting for  a special one-night-only production of the Disney musical Beauty and the Beast Jr.

Designed for middle-school aged performers, the 60-minute musical is based on the 1994 Broadway production, and Disney’s 1991 animated feature film. The sixth, seventh, and eighth grade cast contains approximately forty students.

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MIDDLETOWN: PLAYERS DISH UP FINE ‘DINING’

The cast of ‘The Dining Room’ is mostly under the table as the Monmouth Players present A.R. Gurney’s engagingly experimental ensemble comedy for six performances.

When last we looked in on the Monmouth Players, that longest-running of all area community stage troupes was offering up a holiday-season production of A Long Christmas Dinner, a Thornton Wilder playlet in which a single dining room serves as the setting for a century’s worth of action, with a small cast playing multiple generations of characters in the life of an American home.

When the players resume their Season of Classics this weekend (their 63rd overall, if you can wrap your head around that), it will find them still lurking about the dining room — or more precisely, The Dining Room, an ensemble “comedy of manners” that packs its own playfully experimental edge.

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RED BANK: ‘HURRICANE’ WATCH AT TWO RIVER

Mia Barron as Sandy in ‘Hurricane Diane’ by Two River Theater playwright-in-residence Madeleine George (below).

madeleine-georgeTo get right to the sell point, it’s a play that’s set in Red Bank — maybe not that real-world Call In the Authorities/ Retail Churn Red Bank we know so well from redbankgreen, but a representation of coastal suburban living that manages to capture a distinctly Monmouth County set of mind.

It’s there in a cozy cul-de-sac neighborhood that a quartet of local women find themselves drawn to a strange visitor who blows into town like a game-changing superstorm — a “lesbian separatist permaculture gardener from Vermont” who stands out from the pack of lesbian separatist permaculture gardeners, in that she is in fact the Greek god Dionysus, come to enact a new agenda “in the dying days of the American empire, as the planet warms and the oceans rise.”

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RED BANK: TWO RIVER KEEPS THE LIGHTS UP

The luminescent artistry of Lightwire Theater is on display from December 27 to 30 as the Two River Theater hosts the New Orleans-based troupe in a music-infused, family friendly show.

very-electric-xmasWhile we’re not recommending leaving the Christmas lights up into the season of Independence Day fireworks, there’s something to be said for staying plugged in past December 25.

Beginning Tuesday, December 27 — the same day Red Bank observes the Festival of Lights with its official town menorah at the train station — the Two River Theater plays host to the family-friendly touring show A Very Electric Christmas, in a multi-day engagement that marks its first-ever exposure to Shore area audiences.

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MIDDLETOWN: A WILDER WAY TO HOLIDAY

mp_long_christmas_dinner_121016_aLeft to right: Kelly Cibrian, Lori Renick, Kevin Huelbig and Carolyn Robertshaw appear with Grace Modla (below) and Brandon Guerriero (not pictured) in ‘A Long Christmas Dinner,’ the Monmouth Players production going up this Saturday at the Navesink Arts Center. (Photo by Grace Modla)

grace-modlaWhen the Monmouth Players sounded the 2016-’17 season’s keynote back in August with “An Evening with Thornton Wilder,” they did so not in the auditorium of their Navesink Arts Center homestage, but in the more intimate setting of the historic building’s beautifully refurbished reading room/ lobby — a space that formerly served as part of Middletown Township library system.

Beginning Saturday and continuing through December 18, the elegant book-lined room makes for a made-to-order setting, as the Players take another walk on the Wilder side with the 1931 ensemble piece “A Long Christmas Dinner.”

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RED BANK: EITHER WAY, WE’RE SCROOGED

a_christmas_carolNebraska Theatre Caravan’s stage spectacle of ‘A Christmas Carol’ makes its annual stand on the Count Basie stage this Friday…even as Middletown’s Stone Church Players offer up an intimate “radio-play” version of the Dickens classic all weekend long. Meantime, the Stone Church Players present an intimate “live radio play” style version of Scrooge’s story.

He creeps in from the shadowy fringes of the Season of Lights this time each year: the bitter old man of worldly business whose quiet Christmas Eve will soon be besieged by chain-rattling spirits and life-altering visions of the Past, Present and Yet To Come.

But even as we celebrate the forced re-entry of Ebenezer Scrooge into the mainstream of humanity, we do tend to take a certain comfort and joy from the knowledge that the miserly man-we-love-to-hate will be back all the earlier at his counting house, refreshed and rebooted, for the next day’s matinee. And so we welcome him once again this Friday night to Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre.

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RED BANK: CRAFTS, CAROLS, COLLECTIONS

two-river-crafting-carolingIn the spirit of Christmas (and in conjunction with the current production of THE LION IN WINTER), Two River Theater held an evening of crafting, caroling and holiday treats this past weekend, led by local event decorating company #TableSettingIsMyLife. Guests of all ages learned how to make their own Christmas cracker crafts (an English tradition), while the Monmouth Civic Chorus delighted the crafters with festive holiday songs throughout the night. Two River also collected canned good donations for The Foodbank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

RED BANK: BASIE, FRIENDS JOIN FOR BIG GIVE

basie-marquee-111416Press release from Count Basie Theatre

“Giving Tuesday,” founded in 2012 by New York City’s 92nd St. YMCA and the United Nations Foundation, was originally a “response to commercialism and consumerism” during the holiday season. It has since turned into an international day of giving.

Tomorrow, November 29, the nonprofit Count Basie Theatre will join forces with radio station  94.3 The Point and The Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation, to raise funds for both the theatre’s sensory-friendly programming, and for POAC Autism Services.

“Giving Tuesday” at the Basie will kick-off at 5:30 a.m., with a day-long broadcast from 94.3 The Point / WJLK-FM Radio. Listeners will be invited to drop by and give donations in person, or to make donations via theBASIE.org.

The organizations will also use the day-long effort and radio broadcast to raise funds for POAC Autism Services of Brick. Two dollars from every Count Basie Theatre ticket sold on November 29 will be donated to the group, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children and adults with autism achieve their fullest potential by providing quality education, support and recreation at no cost to participants.

“Reaching all audiences with the highest level of the performing arts is part of our not for profit mission,” said Adam Philipson, CEO and President of the historic Count Basie Theatre.  “We strive to be inclusive and create barrier-free experiences and these shows will support our guests and families with special needs including autism spectrum disorder.”

“We are looking forward to partnering with the Count Basie Theatre in bringing the Jersey Shore together to support this important cause,” said Steve Ardolina, Regional Operations Manager for Townsquare Media Group New Jersey, which owns WJLK.

In addition, the Jersey Shore-based Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation, which uses philanthropy to increase citizen activity and economic development opportunities through the arts, healthcare and education, has generously agreed to match all donations up to $25,000.

“The Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation is proud to be able to work with a great non-profit partner like the Count Basie Theatre,” said executive director and Basie board member Jeremy Grunin. “The ability to support POAC Autism Services in their mission coupled with further showing the power of the arts through the Basie was too powerful an endeavor to ignore.”

Earlier this year, the Basie team worked with POAC to train staff in advance of the theatre’s first-ever sensory-friendly mainstage performance.

“POAC is so thrilled to be involved with Count Basie Theater’s sensory-friendly programming and their fundraising efforts on Giving Tuesday,” said Simone Tellini, Director of Program Development at POAC. “Children and adults on the autism (ASD) spectrum often have sensory issues that make it difficult to participate in and enjoy community-based activities, especially those involving the arts. These activities are essential, especially for children, and vital to their growth in so many ways.

“Last February,” Tellini continued, “the Basie provided a wonderful show that, for many children, was their first experience with live theater. The management and staff went above and beyond to make everyone feel comfortable and accepted.  We applaud the Count Basie’s commitment to our families and look forward to future events and programs.”

The live “Giving Tuesday” broadcast will feature performances from students of the Count Basie Theatre Performing Arts Academy’s Jazz Arts Project, Rockit! and Voices vocal ensemble. In addition, cast members from the Tony Award winning ONCE, playing that evening on the Basie stage, will go on air to perform the musical’s signature hit, “Falling Slowly.”

RED BANK: VEGAS TO BROADWAY VIA BASIE

Donny and Marie Osmond, below, bring the holiday cheer and more to the Count Basie Monday… followed by a twice-as-nice engagement by the touring company of the hit musical ONCE, seen in the promo video above.

donny-and-marieTo paraphrase the signature song of a certain fondly recalled TV variety series, it’s a show that’s a little bit Christmas, a little bit something else.

The entertainment-packed November/December schedule at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre makes for especially interesting sked-fellows this time of year — with the holiday season getting into early jingle via offerings like Phoenix Productions’ A Christmas Story: The Musical and this past Monday’s seasonal spectacular starring Brian Setzer, even as recently featured acts like Joe Bonamassa and The Pretenders have offered up a happy-humbug alternative to any potential reindeer overkill.

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