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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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RED BANK: TWO RIVER TOASTS ARTS ANGELS

Joan_and_Bob_Rechnitz_Ed_Zipprich_Ivan_PolonskyTwo River Theater Company co-founders Joan and Robert Rechnitz were joined on the evening of March 28 by Red Bank Councilman Ed Zipprich and philanthropist Ivan Polonsky, for the 2016-17 Season Announcement event at Two River’s Bridge Avenue arts center. Some 100 of the stage company’s major donors and supporters attended a special reception in the lobby prior to the 7:30 p.m. program, mingling with TRTC artistic director John Dias, Tony nominated actor-director Michael Cumpsty and other artists involved in the new slate of shows that begin in September 2016. A full rundown of the new schedule, including season subscription information, can be found here. (Photo by Teja Anderson)

RED BANK: DOLLS GO TO HEAD OF THE CLASS

Broadway DollsAs a lead actor in Broadway’s HAIRSPRAY, Hollie Howard (center) paid her dues, eight shows a week. As the co-star and creator of  The Broadway Dolls, the Colts Neck resident has assembled a troupe of young “triple threat” veterans from some of the biggest hits of the New York stage — and on Saturday, May 21, the Dolls will be the featured attraction for A Little Taste of Broadway, a benefit event presented by the Navesink Business Group and hosted at Two River Theater. A fundraiser for capital improvements at St. James Elementary School, the 6:30 p.m. affair boasts cocktails and food samplings from such Red Bank restaurants and purveyors as Teak, Bistro, Greek Eats, Dish, San Remo, The Cheese Cave, Lil’ Cutie Pops, and The Vintage Cake — in addition to a set of hits from crowdpleasing shows like WICKED, RENT, JERSEY BOYS and more. Take it here for tickets ($85), which include the show, tastings and (beer, wine, soda) beverages.

RBR’S MONAGHAN AN OUT-LOUD WINNER

Patrick MonaghanPress release from Red Bank Regional High School

On March 17, Red Bank Regional High School senior Patrick Monaghan of Little Silver came in second in the very competitive New Jersey Regional Poetry Out Loud State Championship. This was the second visit to the competition’s stage for the celebrated RBR thespian, who has won the Regional competition for the past two years.

For his performance at the College of New Jersey, Patrick performed William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29: When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes as well as two other selections: Or by Thomas Sayers Ellis and Ode to the Midwest by Kevin Young.

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RED BANK: TEACHING MR. SHAKESPEARE

Folger Workshop Two RiverPress release from Two River Theater

On Tuesday, March 1, forty teachers from five New Jersey counties assembled at Two River Theater in Red Bank, for a full-day Teaching Shakespeare Workshop sponsored by the Washington, DC-based Folger Shakespeare Library.

The workshop was underwritten jointly by the Princeton and Monmouth County Branches of The English-Speaking Union, with generous support from Two River Theater’s Kate Cordaro, Director of Education, and John Dias, Artistic Director.  It was one of many educational programs being offered in 2016 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

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RED BANK: THAT’S SOME ENCHANTED EVENING

Khadijah MohammedKhadijah Mohammed, above, and Livia Tedesco, below, are among the performers joining Joe Muccioli’s Red Bank Jazz Orchestra Saturday night at the Two River Theater.

livia tedescoOther burgs may jostle for the “music city” label, but when it comes to jazz on the Jersey Shore, no other town can boast the William ‘Count’ Basie-birthing pedigree and passionate preservationism of Red Bank. And no one has worked harder to keep that cool blue flame burning than the people of the Jazz Arts Project.

The borough-based nonprofit that gave us the annual Sinatra Birthday Bash, the Summer Jazz Café, the Talkin’ Jazz series and our very own Red Bank Jazz Orchestra have another, recently minted tradition here in the waning days of daylight-savings time. And when conductor-arranger-artistic director Joe Muccioli and the RBJO take the stage at Two River Theater this Saturday night, they’ll be compensating for that lost “spring-ahead” hour by living large during the third annual event known as An Enchanted Evening of Song.

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RED BANK: MISSION HOUSE WINS OK

st crispin's 030316Architect Ned Gaunt’s rendering of the proposed St. Crispin’s Social Ministry House on the St. Anthony of Padua campus. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

At a hearing packed with supporters, and without a peep of objection, Red Bank’s zoning board gave unanimous approval Thursday night to a plan by St. Anthony of Padua parish to build a new social services facility on Herbert Street.

“They’ve obviously been very beneficial to the town,” said board member Sean Murphy, citing the church and its volunteers. “Unfortunately, the need is growing, but we’re very fortunate to have them.”

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RED BANK: INDIE FILM FEST SET FOR SUMMER

basie screen 070114The big screen at the Count Basie Theatre, seen here during a live broadcast of the 2014 World Cup, will serve as the home screen for a film festival scheduled to run in July. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

ClapboardKept on a restricted diet for the past eight years, Red Bank-area fans of independent movies will finally get to binge again this summer.

An outfit called Indie Street — in conjunction with Red Bank RiverCenter, three major entertainment venues and even the borough middle school — is planning screenings of as many as 30 films over five days in July.

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RED BANK: TWO RIVER WALKS A TIGHTROPE

A promo video for ‘Ropes.” Below, actor Varín Ayala. (Click to enlarge)

Varin_AyalaTo walk a tightrope is to travel in a way that’s as fraught with peril as it is delicately balanced — a daredevil method of getting from point A to point B, even if it remains indisputably the most direct path available.

In Ropes, the drama by Mexican playwright Bárbara Colio that begins previews at Red Bank’s Two River Theater Saturday, a trio of brothers walk a high-tension line between an unattainable ideal of family life on one end and, on the other, the reality of the strained relationships between themselves and their father, a world-renowned tightrope artist who abandoned them as children.

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RED BANK: SPEAKING OF SHAKESPEARE

Press release from English Speaking Union of Monmouth County

On March 1, some 35 high school English and Drama teachers from Monmouth, Ocean, Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset counties will congregate at Two River Theater, for a full-day workshop in Teaching Shakespeare. The 9 am to 5 pm session, a partnership between The English-Speaking Union and the world-renowned Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC,  gives teachers the tools they need to bring Shakespeare to life in their classrooms.

Sponsored jointly by The Monmouth County and the Princeton branches of The English-Speaking Union, with generous support from Two River Theater Company, this workshop is just one of many educational activities being held worldwide in 2016 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.

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RED BANK: A LAST CALL FOR ‘REASON’

Lives of Reason TRTC 1-16 063 Lives of Reason, by Robert Rechnitz and Kenneth Stunkel, directed by Jonathan Fox at Two River Theatre Company 1/7/16 Costume Design: Karen Perry Lighting Design: Gina Scherr Set Design: Charlie Corcoran © T Charles Erickson Photography tcepix@comcast.net

Ilona (Mairin Lee) is the center of attention, as the Two River Theater original LIVES OF REASON (above) enters its final round of performances…while Monmouth U’s Frank P. Fury (below) inaugurates a new series of Conversation + Play events at Two River. (Top photo by T. Charles Erickson)

FuryAlthough its authors — longtime Monmouth University English professor Robert Rechnitz, and veteran Dean/ History prof Kenneth Stunkel — have waved away any direct connection to their former place of employment or co-workers, the unmistakable flavor of a life spent in academia permeates Lives of Reason, the original ensemble drama that represents the maiden collaboration for its two octogenarian playwrights.

Even as Lives enters into the final eight performances (today through Sunday, February 7) of its limited engagement at Two River Theater, the venue re-establishes that Monmouth U connection with the help of the organization known as The Navesink, whose TEDxNavesink events used the Bridge Avenue arts center for its sold-out 2014 session (and who since relocated to, you guessed it, the Monmouth campus). Thursday, February 4 marks the first in a three-part series of Conversation + Play “salons” that pair an 8 pm performance of Two River’s current mainstage production with a special pre-show lecture — in this case the young MU faculty member and literature specialist Frank P. Fury, Ph.D.

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RED BANK: NEW ‘REASON’ FOR OLD FRIENDS

rechnitz stunkel 010616 2Ken Stunkel, left, and Two River Theater founder Bob Rechnitz are first-time, eighty-something playwrights getting the big-time treatment. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)  

By TOM CHESEK

hot-topicWhen the 2015-2016 season resumes at the Two River Theater in Red Bank this weekend, it will find the celebrated company once again departing from familiar Broadway-tested properties like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Seven Guitars to the latest in an ongoing slate of world premiere dramas by relatively “new” playwrights.

This time out, the play is called Lives of Reason, and the rookie playwrights are a couple of eighty-something colleagues named Bob Rechnitz and Ken Stunkel.

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BIG NEA AWARDS TO TWO RED BANK VENUES

Louis Prima JrNext-generation swing-music wildman Louis Prima Jr. and his Witnesses will perform at the Count Basie Theatre in spring 2016, as part of an enhanced Jazz at the Basie slate funded by an Art Works grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. Two River Theater also received an NEA grant, toward the development of a new musical. (Photo by Mitchell Glotzer)

From press materials issued by The Count Basie Theatre and Sen. Bob Menendez

Two major nonprofit arts entities in Red Bank have been named as recipients of a National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) Art Works award for 2015. The Count Basie Theatre and Two River Theater were among 15 New Jersey-based organizations awarded a total of $290,000 toward the development of original arts programming; part of a 51st annual slate of NEA grants totaling $27.7 million and supporting more than 1,100 projects in 49 states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.

The NEA’s Art Works category supports the creation of work and presentation of both new and existing work, lifelong learning in the arts, and public engagement with the arts through 13 arts disciplines or fields. Two River Theater Company was recipient of $20,000 to support the development and funding of The Ballad of Little Jo, an original musical featuring lyrics by Sarah Schlesinger and music by Mike Reid (A Wind in the Willows Christmas), as well as supplementary education programming (discussions, student matinees, classroom teachers’ guides) that focuses on the women of Frontier America.

In celebrating its namesake, the Basie will use its $15,000 NEA grant to help produce a series of programs and activities celebrating Jazz Appreciation Month, with jazz-related lectures, films and biopics scheduled to take place throughout April 2016. On May 19 the celebration will continue with a jazz-centric edition of the Count Basie Theatre’s “No Shush!” kid’s concert series, starring Louis Prima Jr and the Witnesses, as well as the Red Bank Jazz Orchestra under the direction of conductor Joe “Mooche” Muccioli, artistic director of the Jazz Arts Project at the Basie’s Performing Arts Academy. Proceeds from that performance — and a donation from the Gia Maione Prima Foundation, named for Prima’s late mother — will match the NEA gift.

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RED BANK: FUNNY THINGS KEEP HAPPENING

A Funny Thing...Forum TRTC 11-15 175 A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim choreography by Denis Jones directed by Jessica Stone Two River Theatre Company 11/13/15 Scenic Design | Alexander Dodge Costume Design | Clint Ramos Lighting Design | Jeff Croiter and Jake DeGroot Hair and Makeup: David Bova Sound Design | Drew Levy © T Charles Erickson Photography tcepix@comcast.netDavid Josefsburg, Michael Urie, Christopher Fitzgerald and Kevin Isola keep the toga party going for one more weekend, as “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ wraps its run at Two River Theater. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

By TOM CHESEK

Red Bank’s Two River Theater offers one more long weekend of happy-humbug harbor to all of us who may feel caught between a Dickens and a Nutcracker this time of year.

Directed by Jessica Stone — and boasting an all-male cast of Tony nominees, TV personalities, Two River returnees and toga-clad Broadway babies — the TRT’s naughty and bawdy production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum reclaims the Stephen Sondheim musical comedy (based on the farcical works of ancient Roman playwright Plautus) from the community church basements and school auditoriums it’s long been consigned to. And it uses the novelty of its “stag” staging to mine maximum gold from its broad burlesque belly-laughs.

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RED BANK: ALL-FEMALE TAKE ON SHAKESPEARE

two river theater posterAn all-female cast of area high school students brings a special “Little Shakespeare” version of “Pericles” to life at Two River Theater this week.

Even as the all-male cast of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum continues to make merry on the mainstage of Two River Theater, the Red Bank institution’s black-box Marion Huber performance space gears up for a special presentation of a centuries-old classic with a distaff twist.

Running an extended schedule of school shows and public performances now through December 12, William Shakespeare’s Pericles offers an abridged version of the circa-1607 tragical history tour as the latest in Two River Theater Company’s annual student-actor project known as “A Little Shakespeare.”

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