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RED BANK: DOG DAY DIVERSIONS @TWORIVER

The musical act Early Elton — featuring members of the Asbury Jukes and the Fab Faux — brings its tribute to Elton John and Bernie Taupin to Two River Theater in a Saturday night benefit show.

The start of the 20th Anniversary stage season at Two River Theater is still more than a month away, but even as Tony- and Oscar-winning actor/director Joel Grey rehearses his cast for the upcoming production of On Borrowed Time, the stage of the Bridge Avenue performing arts center is abuzz with activity in these dog-day afternoons and evenings.

It’s a late-summer slate that kicked off with this past Sunday’s Beatlemania benefit concert — and which continues tonight with a sold-out screening of the locally produced documentary feature Destiny’s Bridge.

The sights and sounds and screenings roll on right to Labor Day’s doorstep, with a Saturday night benefit concert that captures the soulful spirit of an international music superstar’s introspective early albums.

Possessor of a most glorious musical pedigree, singer Lorna Luft makes her debut on the Two River stage with an August 24 concert.

Scheduled for 7:30 pm on August 10, the trio known as Early Elton teams Rich Pagano (of star-studded ‘Mock Tops’ tribute and frequent Red Bank flyers the Fab Faux) with a pair of 21st century Asbury Jukes — Jeff Kazee and John Conte — for an act that honors the 1970-1972 collaborations of Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin. It’s a long-ago time that saw the former Reg Dwight — at a point before he strode that Yellow Brick Road of glitz and glam — recording and touring almost nonstop in an economically scaled three-piece setting that brought out the best in songs like “Tiny Dancer,” “Levon,” “Border Song” and the classic WPLJ-FM concert that became the live album 11-17-70.

It was a sound, perfected by the hardworking young piano player with bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson, that event producer Rusty Young of MusicWorks describes as “both raw and poignant” — and one that’s inspired the three veteran NJ/NY players of the Early Elton project to “blur the line slightly between replication and innovation — while still capturing and utilizing the spirit, mood and energy.” Tickets, priced at $29 – $59 and gettable right here, benefit the Cancer Support Community/ Diney Goldsmith Center.

A Sunday afternoon event that brings singer (and author of ‘Remembering Whitney’) Cissy Houston to Red Bank — and about which you can read more here on redbankgreen — takes the stage at 4 p.m. on August 11.

The four-day interval between Thursday, August 15 and Sunday, August 18 brings the third annual edition of the Crossing Borders Festival to the Two River’s “black box” stage, for a celebration of new Latino theater in which patrons will be treated to “bare bones” readings of acclaimed new plays, bookended by public-welcome parties, and all presented free of charge. Curated by veteran stage director Jerry Ruiz, the festival (for which schedule details have not been made available as this story is posted) spawned the local audience’s first look at Andrea Thome’s Pinkolandia, a play that will go on to become one of Two River Theater Company’s fully staged offerings in the spring of 2014. Check back here for updated info on featured plays, opening/closing parties and more.

MusicWorks returns to Two River’s Rechnitz auditorium with another music-biz legend in her Red Bank debut — Lorna Luft, whose early appearances with her mom Judy Garland keynoted a decades-long career that’s made her a favorite songbook stylist of casino crowds, a performer in numerous Broadway shows and national tours, and an Emmy nominee who’s worked with everyone from Barry Manilow and Blondie to Rufus Wainwright and Don Rickles. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show on Saturday, August 23 ($45 – $75, with a VIP meet-and-greet option for $105) can be reserved right here.

Two highlights of the most recent TRTC seasons have been a pair of August Wilson ensemble plays — 2012’s Jitney and 2013’s Two Trains Running — both directed by Tony winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson and featuring a heavyweight company of lauded players. Although Two River Theater won’t be paying a visit to the Pittsburgh of the late African American playwright’s “American Century Cycle” in the upcoming season, it’ll be taking it to Chicago — by way of NYC’s Jerome L. Greene Performance Space — for a one-time live screening of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, presented at 7 p.m. on Monday, August 26. The only one of Wilson’s ten-play cycle not set in Pittsburgh, the 1982 play flashes back to 1927, when the real-life legendary blues belter Ma Rainey arrives late to a Windy City recording session as her black musicians and white producers bicker, banter and ratchet up the dramatic tension.

The Tony-nominated study of racism, religion and relationships is the first of a series of live broadcasts, streaming to theaters nationwide as a co-production with NPR — to be recorded with the approval of the Wilson estate. Tickets, while free of charge, should be reserved in advance by taking it here.

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