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RED BANK: WHO’S NEXT FOR PHOENIX? YES.

Jonathan Jacob Phoenix TommyJonathan Jacob (top right, above) heads the young cast, and Victoria Keiser (below) is the seductive “acid queen” Gypsy, in Phoenix Productions staging of  “Tommy” this weekend.

Victoria Leigh Phoenix TommyIf it’s July at the Count Basie Theatre, then it must be time for the now-traditional summer musical from Phoenix Productions, the borough-based theatrical company that continues its long and productive residency at the venerable Red Bank venue.

With scores of aspiring actors of high school and college age currently between semesters, the troupe’s midsummer offerings have represented a showcase for young performers, with especially energetic and ever so slightly edgier selections (“Rent,” “Hairspray”) than the family-friendly fare (“Mary Poppins,” “Little Mermaid,”) that’s proven so successful for the Phoenix brand.

When the Count’s curtain goes up this Friday night, it will usher in a two-weekend stand for a Broadway sensation with a psychedelic countercultural pedigree: “The Who’s Tommy.” Read More »

RED BANK: GILDA IN THE HERE AND NOW

Gilda Rogers BCCGilda Rogers is the guest for the latest in a series of Author Talk events, Wednesday at the Red Bank Library — followed on July 18 by a special presentation at Project Write Now on Bridge Avenue.

Red Bank regulars know her from many different settings, and wearing many figurative hats — from faculty member at Red Bank Regional and coordinator of special community outreach initiatives for Two River Theater, to local talk show host, and onetime proprietor of Frank Talk Art Bistro, a much-missed Shrewsbury Avenue storefront that was as delightfully difficult to summarize as the woman who put her stamp on it.

Writer, activist and producer Gilda Rogers remains very visible around Red Bank in the coming days, beginning with an appearance at the Red Bank Public Library on Wednesday, July 13. Scheduled for 7 p.m., it’s the latest event in the library’s monthly Author Talk series; a session that finds the author of “Arrested Development: The State of Black Achievement and Education in Hip Hop America” discussing her debut as a dramatist, with a work entitled “Supernatural: The Play.”

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LINCROFT: TAKING ‘MEASURE’ OF SHAKESPEARE

Shakespeare BCCKate Bader (center) performs a scene from “Titus Andronicus” during last year’s Shakespeare on the Lawn presentation on the campus of Brookdale Community College. The summer series returns on Thursday evening with “Measure for Measure.” (Photo by Brookdale Community College) 

Summer-Shakespeare-300x271Ask any Shakespearean scholar you happen to see: the historic incubator and natural habitat of the Bard’s classic tragedies, comedies and histories has little to do with stuffy theater boxes, scratchy formalwear, and snoozing patrons of the arts. Rather, it’s an experience that’s best realized in the open air — with un-amplified voices, improvised solos by Mother Nature’s minions, and an audience of engaged, enthusiastic (and ever so spirited) folks from all walks of life.

It’s a tradition maintained locally each year on one of the greatest, greenest spaces of the Greater Red Bank Green — and, beginning this Thursday evening, Shakespeare on the Lawn returns to the Lincroft campus of Brookdale Community College for a 15th annual edition, with a new look at William Shakespeare’s tragicomic “problem play” known as “Measure for Measure.”

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RED BANK: WEEK TO REMEMBER MAMA @TRT

I Remember Mama TRT 6-2-16 018 I Remember Mama, directed by Jack Cummings III at Two River Theater Company 6/3/16 Scenic Design: Dane Laffrey Lighting Design: R. Lee Kennedy Costume Design: Kathryn Rohe © T Charles Erickson Photography tcepix@comcast.netBarbara Andres (‘Mama’) sits at the head of the table, surrounded left to right by Heather MacRae, Dale Soules, Rita Gardner, Louise Sorel (back to camera) and Mia Katigbak in “I Remember Mama,” entering its final week at Two River Theater. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson) 

trt exterior 050211A cast of 10 veteran actresses — each over the age of 60 — playing the parts of some two dozen women, men and children. One big extended family that encompasses mama, papa, big/ little kids, a caring curmudgeon of an uncle, a trio of contrary aunts, a local undertaker, a dying cat, plus a broke boarder with a storyteller’s gift. And in place of the play’s all-important kitchen table, this version’s got 10.

Putting up eight more matinee and evening performances between June 22 and 26, the John Van Druten ensemble drama “I Remember Mama” closes out the 2015-2016 season at Two River Theater with a staging that lends a bit of cutting-edge cool to the warmly sentimental story of a Norwegian-American community, a dreamer of a daughter, and the Mama who could reputedly fix anything (and maybe even work the odd miracle).

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RED BANK: HERE’S THE BALDWIN- KLINE THING

Alec-Baldwin-Kevin-Kline-333x250The first time Alec Baldwin took to the stage of Red Bank’s Two River Theater, it was for a 2009 fundraiser, during which the leading man of silver screen (“The Hunt for Red October”) and Broadway stage (“A Streetcar Named Desire”) participated in a Q&A for the benefit of the local Junior League.

By the time Baldwin returned to the Bridge Avenue space two years later, he had netted two Emmys, a couple of Golden Globes and a SAG Award for his work on the sitcom “30 Rock.” That appearance found the actor taking part in an entertaining panel discussion with the Tony-nominated frequent Two River artist Michael Cumpsty — a chat moderated by TRTC artistic director John Dias, who made no secret of his desire to secure Baldwin’s services for a future mainstage production in Red Bank.

When Baldwin makes his scheduled appearance at Two River this coming Monday, he’ll have added to his list of conquered media (movies, TV, live drama, commercials, voice mails) a new one: podcasting. And, he’ll be bringing along a fellow multi-platform performer with a formidable set of skills.

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RED BANK: THE ‘WILD THINGS’ ARE US

Where Wild Things AreMaurice Sendak’s Max embarks upon an epic adventure…and the audience is along for the ride…as Vancouver’s Presentation House company brings its interactive adaptation of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE to Two River Theater for six performances this weekend.

First published back in 1963, “Where the Wild Things Are” quickly took its place as a boomer-generation touchstone; the picture-book tale (of rebellious young Max, and his supperless-bedtime voyage to an island of king-sized fantastical creatures) winning its author-illustrator Maurice Sendak a coveted Caldecott Medal, before going on to be adapted into an animated short, a live-action feature, and even an opera.

Somewhere along the way, Scotland-based TAG Theatre was inspired to turn this classic story of imagination, family ties — and an angry little boy’s exploration of his wild side — into an interactive “guided play experience” that successfully crossed the pond to become a staple touring production of Vancouver’s Presentation House Theatre. Beginning with two days of school-show matinees today and Friday, and continuing for six public performances on June 11 and 12, Two River Theater hosts the Canadian company’s touring troupe in an engagement pitched at kids ages 3 to 7, and their (big and hairy and snaggletoothed?) adult companions.

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RED BANK: REINVENTING MAMA, AT TWO RIVER

IRememberMama0783Barbara Andres (right) returns in the role she performed in the acclaimed Off Broadway production of I REMEMBER MAMA, when the play goes up this Saturday as the season’s closer at Two River Theater. (Photo by Transport Group).

It’s about family, of course — specifically the Hanson family, Norwegian immigrants struggling to carve out a new life for themselves in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century. To the extended Hanson brood — Mama, Papa, their four kids, plus three aunts, an uncle and a boarder named Mr. Hyde — the rock-ribbed principles of hard work, education, sacrifice, love, loyalty and thrift sometimes chafe up against a yearning for something else in this new-world setting. But in John Van Druten’s play I Remember Mama, it’s the title character who ultimately keeps the universe in balance for this collection of dreamers, schemers, no-nonsense traditionalists and sensitive souls.

Adapted from the semi-autobiographical novel Mama’s Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes — and subsequently transformed into a hit film, a TV series, and Richard Rodgers’ last musical — the 1944 ensemble piece goes up in previews this Friday, June 3 as the final mainstage offering of the 2015-2016 season at Two River Theater. As re-imagined by NYC’s Transport Group and director Jack Cummings III, the comedy-drama is given a compelling twist, with all of the play’s 20-plus roles — men, women, children and teens — performed by a company of actresses aged 60 and over.

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RED BANK AREA SCHOOLS BIG BASIE WINNERS

OPENING-NUMBER-BASIE-AWARDS-2016A multi-school ensemble, led by Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama winner Laura Diorio, opened the Basie ceremony. (Photo by Andrew Musser – Count Basie Theatre)

HOT-TOPIC_03Students and faculty from five Red Bank area schools dominated the balloting in the 11th annual Basie Awards, presented  Wednesday night to honor excellence in Monmouth County high school theatrical productions.

Musicals and dramatic presentations from Red Bank Catholic, Red Bank Regional, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional, Mater Dei Prep and Middletown High School South combined to take or tie for top honors in 17 of 27 categories.

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RED BANK: WHO’S UP FOR BASIE AWARDS?

MHSS American Idiot Ayo OladejiThe Middletown South production of Green Day’s “American Idiot” (above) score big in musical nominations — while RBR’s Patrick Monaghan (at right below, with Davis Bush) earned a dramatic acting nomination for “Amadeus.”  (Photo above by Ayo Oladeji)

Amadeus Davis Bush Pat MonaghanIt’s Red Bank’s own homegrown answer to the Tonys, the Obies, and any other major accolade for live stage performance. What else but the BASIES, the awards that honor tomorrow’s talents today — or rather this Wednesday, May 18, when the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank once again celebrates excellence in dramatic and musical productions among Monmouth County high schools, with the presentation of the 11th annual Basie Awards.

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RED BANK: A WALK WITH LIFE AND ART

calpulli2The dancers and musicians of Mariachi y Calpulli Mexican Dance Company perform at the Count Basie on Cinco de Mayo, capping Thursday’s MoCo ArtWalk experience in Red Bank.

MoCo-Walking-TourIt’s being billed as the first in a new series of “MoCo Artwalks,” and hosted by the folks at the Monmouth County Arts Council and designed to give arts aficionados a strolling/rolling and altogether unique perspective on some fascinating goings- on in and around the MoCo (Monmouth County) Arts Corridor — a scintillating strip of station stops along the Matawan-to-Manasquan stretch of the North Jersey Coast Line.

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RED BANK: A SPLASHY DEBUT FOR PHOENIX

little mermaidsCat Tierney, seen at right with the other Daughters of Triton, stars as Ariel in the staging of “The Little Mermaid that begins a Red Bank run Friday night. (Click to enlarge)

littlemermaid2016After rising to the occasion last year with such gravity-defying entertainments as Mary Poppins and Peter Pan, the folks at Phoenix Productions in Red Bank dive deep for their inaugural production of the 2016 season: the Disney musical The Little Mermaid, which surfaces for a two-weekend run at the Count Basie Theatre.

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RED BANK: A BARD AT THE END OF THE WORLD

Actor-singer-composer-musician Rinde Eckert talks about creating the music for the Two River Theater production of “Pericles,” which begins previews this weekend. (Video courtesy of the Two River Theater.)

Even as passionate a cheerleader as Two River Theater Company artistic director John Dias is forced to admit that Pericles, Prince of Tyre is “one of Shakespeare’s plays that has frustrated his fans” —  the result of its being “most obviously the result of a quirky collaboration with another playwright (or two).”

A sprawling smorgasbord of mythology and melodrama that boasts sensational plot points (incest! pirates! sexual slavery!) and more scenery than can be chewed through in a single sitting, the late-period romance fairly begs, as Dias declares, for “an interpretive team of theater artists who love it for the splendor of its quirks, while working to bring its disparate selves together.”

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