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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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RED BANK: MU STUDENTS CO-STAR WITH TRTC

TwoRiverMU1As part of a partnership program between Monmouth University and Two River Theater Company, Student Ambassadors Nick Zaccario, Sheri Anderson, Samantha Myers and Molly Huber are pictured outside the box office with TRTC staffers Courtney Perez, Cassie Galasetti and Angela White.

Press release from Two River Theater Company

In a partnership designed to deepen relationships between Two River Theater and the Music and Theater Arts Department at Monmouth University, the Red Bank performing arts center and the West Long Branch-based university have announced a new Student Ambassador Program, facilitated by Department Chair Joe Rapolla and Professor Sheri Anderson.

Three “Student Ambassadors” — sophomore Molly Huber, senior Samantha Myers, and junior Nick Zaccario — have been selected to lead the program for this inaugural season. The students will work closely with Two River’s marketing team to help create special programs and opportunities for their campus peers, starting with the theater’s upcoming production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which hosts its first preview on Saturday, November 14. Opportunities being explored include access to backstage tours and technical rehearsals; workshop/Q&A sessions with actors and/or designers, and more.

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RED BANK: PERPS AND PUPPETS AT TRTC

stephen-brackett1Director Stephen Brackett (above) returns to Two River Theater for a one-night reading of THE GREAT PRETENDER this Thursday…while Rumson’s own Maggie McDonald Condon presents her one woman comedy “whodunit” DAMES OF OUR LIVES on Thursday and Sunday (below).

damesTheir acclaimed production of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars has been entered into the books — and November’s take on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is still three weekends away from its first preview performance — but over at the branded Bridge Avenue homestage of Two River Theater Company, the coming days are abuzz and a-twitter with a special degree of activity.

It all begins at 7:30 pm this Thursday, October 22, when the building’s black-box Marion Huber space hosts a free reading of The Great Pretender, a seriocomic new work “about life, death, and the healing power of puppets” from playwright David West Read. Stephen Brackett, who directed last season’s smash musical Be More Chill at Two River, returns to Red Bank for this first look at a script in which a beloved TV kiddie-show host (whose wife and sidekick puppeteer has passed away) invites tension and uncertainty when he takes on a new assistant to lend life and voice to his puppet pal. There’s no charge for admission, but reservations are required by taking it here or calling (732)345-1400.

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RED BANK: A G.N.O. WITH BFF’s

girls night outGirls of most ages are invited to gather in downtown Red Bank this Thursday for the latest in a series of Girls Night Out events designed to spotlight the town’s most engaging shops and eateries. (Photo by Susan Ericson)

It happens but twice each year in Red Bank — and it happens for the final time here in 2015, when on Thursday, October 15, more than 40 borough-based restaurants, retailers, entertainment venues and service businesses invite women from all around the greater Green to the latest in an ongoing series of Girls Night Out events.

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RED BANK: FILM, FOOD, FORTUNE AND FIRSTIES

AugustWilsonThe documentary feature AUGUST WILSON: THE GROUND ON WHICH I STAND receives a free public-welcome screening on August 19 at Two River Theater. The 7:30 pm event is just part of a slate of special happenings keyed to the Two River production of Wilson’s SEVEN GUITARS, opening September 12 as the first show in the new season.

Press release from The T. Thomas Fortune Project

A free documentary film screening, a Birthday Bash fundraiser for a celebrated figure in Red Bank history, a lecture on the legacy of a great American playwright. All this, plus a Soulful Cook-Off and a Bid Whist Tournament — and all of it keyed to the opening of Seven Guitars, the first production of the new 2015-2016 season at Two River Theater.

The latest in Two River Theater Company’s series of dramas written by August Wilson, Seven Guitars goes up in previews on September 12; opening on September 18 and running a limited engagement through October 4 under the direction of frequent TRTC lead actor Brandon J. Dirden. As an appetizer for that main course, the theater invites one and all to a free screening of August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand, on the evening of Wednesday, August 19. Scheduled for 7:30 pm inside the main Rechnitz auditorium at Two River, the documentary feature (originally produced as part of the PBS series American Masters)  offers an inside look at the Tony- and Pulitzer winning dramatist who examined African American life in the 20th century through his home turf of Pittsburgh’s Hill District. While admission is free of charge, seating must be reserved by calling the box office at (732)345-1400.

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RED BANK: A CUBAN ‘CROSSING’ AT TWO RIVER

ChariseRogelioAbelCharise Castro Smith, Rogelio Martinez, and Abel Gonzalez Melo are among the Cuban and Cuban-American playwrights represented in this year’s Crossing Borders Festival at Two River Theater. 

In case you didn’t know, New Jersey is second only to Florida among states in its number of Cuban-heritage residents. So when relations between Washington and Havana took a turn toward normalization this year, Jerry Ruiz saw an opportunity to dedicate this year’s Crossing Borders Festival to a genuinely historic milestone.

For the director and curator of the annual event – a free, multi-day celebration of new works by Latino creatives at Red Bank’s Two River Theater – the “Crossing Borders” brand already carried multiple layers of meaning, and with the figurative crossing into Cuba comes a chance to fulfill a mission that Ruiz has described as “creating a new audience, by building a bridge to a community.”

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RED BANK: BEATLE BOOTS AND SPIFFY SUITS

Beatlemania_Stage_Show_Sgt_Pepper_OfficialBeing for the Benefit: Lincroft’s own Lucien Nocelli (right, as John Lennon) leads his Beatlemania Stage Show mates back to the Two River Theater on Sunday.

When he’s just being his own, talented self, Lincroft-based guitarist, singer, songwriter and music educator Lucien Nocelli plays and records as a fast-fingered fusion fretmeister. But whenever there’s a cause to be supported, Nocelli suits up as John Lennon – whether in “Ed Sullivan” era garb, colorful “Sgt. Pepper” uniforms or “Abbey Road styled apparel” – and puts out the call to his mates in the Beatlemania Stage Show.

Based on the long-running Broadway smash that framed the Fab Four’s music in period costumes and projected images of the tumultuous Sixties, the musical multimedia presentation has summoned the Beatles back into being every August for the past several years with a benefit show on the stage of Red Bank’s Two River Theater.

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RED BANK: WRAPPING UP A JAZZY JULY

LayonneFaddisLayonne Holmes leads the New Standard Jazz Ensemble in a Thursday local debut at Riverside Gardens. Trumpeter Jon Faddis plays the Two River Theater’s Summer Jazz Café Friday.

Whether you’re a serious jazz aficionado – you know, the kind who hears a record and can name the session date, all of the players, and what they had for lunch – or simply one who digs all that a sophisticatedly swinging set does to the general mood, you’ve got to appreciate the fact that it’s been a July to remember, jazzwise, in Red Bank.

This weekend sees the final entry in the 2015 Summer Jazz Café series at Two River Theater, while the music plays on at Riverside Gardens during the free Thursday night slate of Jazz in the Park concerts; all of it programmed by borough-based Jazz Arts Project and artistic director Joe “Mooche” Muccioli.

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RED BANK: SLICES OF PIE AND PIZZARELLI

SherriBuckyMiss Sherri Ehrlich displays her grown-up pop side in the park as Sherri Pie plays a Thursday night freebie at Riverside Gardens. Guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli joins Ed Laub at Two River Theater’s Summer Jazz Café Friday and Saturday .

A well known “kindie-rocker” of the Greater Red Bank Green shows her grownup pop chops during an up-past-bedtime concert, and a granddaddy of the Jersey jazz scene displays the stuff that’s made him a cross-generational favorite as Red Bank’s resolutely jazzy July continues at Riverside Gardens Park and Two River Theater, brought you by Joe “Mooche” Muccioli and the borough-based Jazz Arts Project.

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RED BANK: LADIES SING THE JAZZ

Eryn Shewell, above, leads the Whiskey Devils to the water at Riverside Gardens Thursday night. Charenee Wade, below, channels the late great “Lady Day” Billie Holiday Friday and Saturday at Two River Theater’s Summer Jazz Cafe.

Charenee WadeWith a spot-on tribute to an iconic diva of Jazz’s golden age, and a look at one of the Shore area’s most versatile vocal stylists, it’s all about the chanteuse this week in Red Bank.

Beginning Thursday night, a three-night interlude of cool jazz sounds wafts into Riverside Gardens Park and the Two River Theater, programmed by borough-based Jazz Arts Project and its co-founding father/artistic director Joe “Mooche” Muccioli.

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