Danu.ColmHenryjpegAbove: Celtic combo Danú brings “An Nollag in Éirinnis” to Santa Basie’s workshop on Friday…while below, young adult novelist Julie Milillo comes home to Middletown for a Saturday discussion of Immortal Sin.

Friday, December 13:

JulieMililloRED BANK: It’s opening weekend for the annual holiday-season family show at Two River Theater, a newly revamped production of the original musical A Wind in the Willows Christmas that mixes Kenneth Grahame’s classic animal characters with “a lot more holiday spirit,” and redesigned costumes that highlight “ears and tails and fur.” Tonight’s 7 p.m. opening is preceded by a special noontime Scout Day preview that allows scout troops a behind-the-scenes look at the production, with games, snacks, photo ops and more. Performances continue at 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday; take it here for tickets (adults $20 – $55; ages 18 and under $25) — and keep it tuned to redbankgreen for more on Mr. Toad and friends.

ReidAdamVladRoyEscape the holiday shopping zombie-walk with a weekend of quality choral, chamber and orchestral music, featuring (clockwise from top left) Reid Masters directing the NJ Chamber Singers in Red Bank; Adam Peithmann conducting the Tower Hill Choir; Vladislav Kovalsky and Roy Gussman joining the NJ State Youth Orchestra in Middletown. 

RED BANK: It’s An Nollaig in Éirinn — that’s Christmas in Ireland — as the acclaimed Celtic ensemble Danú makes its Count Basie Theatre debut as part of a Yuletide tour of the States. The vocals of Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh mesh with fiddle, flutes, button accordion and traditional percussion in a program that draws from the band’s repertoire as well as a selection of Irish songs of the season. The band has also included in their program a set of songs designed to be performed in each community with the accompaniment of a local choir. Tickets ($20 – $45) can be reserved right here.

Saturday, December 14:

RED BANK: It’s been a staple signifier of the holiday season in Red Bank for 28 years — a tradition that’s involved generations of performers, as well as audience members. When the students of Red Bank’s Company of Dance Arts return to the Count Basie Theatre with CODA’s annual production of Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker, they’ll be joined by local professionals and guest soloists from New York dance companies for a fully staged, colorfully lavish production that offers up two performances (1 p.m. and 5 p.m.) on both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets ($20 – $40) can be reserved right here.

RED BANK: In the final 2013 edition of the long-running River Read monthly poetry sessions at the Red Bank Public Library, series coordinators Linda Muhlhausen and Gregg G. Brown are joined by a trio of young published poets — Eric Farwell, Matthew Hall, and Marianna Sierra — for a free 2:30 p.m. presentation that concludes with the now-traditional River Read open reading. It’s also an opportunity to learn more about submitting work toward a forthcoming volume of Poetic Voices in Response to Hurricane Sandy, sponsored by the Monmouth County Arts Council.

MIDDLETOWN: It’s a homecoming for native Middletowner and Brookdale College grad Julie Milillo, as the author of young adult novels visits the Middletown Township Public Library to read from Immortal Descent, at 7 p.m.. For the writer who’s since relocated to Maryland, it’s the second book in her Immortal Sin Trilogy — the saga of one Amanda Chaste, a Jersey girl who “embarks on a nightmarish adventure and her faith is put to the ultimate test, as she journeys onward to discover the true meaning behind family, love and her destiny between good and evil.” A discussion and signing session follows; online registration is recommended.

RED BANK: In the latest edition of the Tower Hill Concert Series, Christmas carols of French origin are featured in a traditional program of Lessons and Carols, as musical director Adam Peithmann and the 50 voice Tower Hill Choir assemble at First Presbyterian (Tower Hill) Church of Red Bank for a free concert that keynotes at 7 p.m.. Each musical selection will illustrate a portion of the Christmas story, with works including “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella,” “A Maiden Most Gentle,” “Il Est Ne” (“He is Born”), and “Ding Dong! Merrily on High.”  The choir will be accompanied by an orchestra of local musicians, a free-will offering will be taken to defray series expenses.

RED BANK: A candlelit concert can be an ideal way to take in the joys of the season — while simultaneously removing oneself from the doorbusting crunch of the consumerist cavalcade — and this evening, borough-vocal ensemble New Jersey Chamber Singers waxes eloquent in a visit to the United Methodist Church of Red Bank and a program entitled Noël, Then and Now. Reid Masters directs the NJCS in an opportunity to “experience the wonders of the modern world and hear familiar carols in a new light.” Admission to the 8 p.m. event ($15 advance, $20 at the door) includes a buffet dinner served after the performance, and can be reserved by calling (732)389-5426.

LINCROFT: It’s not Humbug, it’s Humanlight — a secular holiday (first observed in 2001 by the New Jersey Humanist Network) dedicated to “living an ethical life based on reason, logic and science without any need for supernatural beliefs” —and the Red Bank Humanists would like to introduce their neighbors to this newest of the season’s celebrations, by inviting the public to a catered buffet dinner at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth County. Contributions of appetizers or desserts are welcomed at the 8 p.m. event, which features guest speakers on humanist/ nontheist rights topics, and admission ($15 advance, $20 at the door) can be reserved by calling (732)245-7046.

Sunday, December 15:

MIDDLETOWN: The Middletown Arts Center is the setting for a special two-part concert event showcasing the New Jersey State Youth Orchestra — a parent-run, not-for-profit organization that meets weekly at the MAC and offers orchestral ensemble experience for students in grades 2 through 12. A 1 p.m. performance by the Chamber Ensemble and Concert Youth Orchestra is followed at 2 p.m. by an intermission with refreshments — and a 2:45 p.m. segment with the Senior Youth Orchestra brings together the talents of two figures that NJSYO spokesperson Cynthia Barabas cites as “instrumental to music education in Monmouth County.” Monmouth Symphony Orchestra director Roy Gussman conducts the Senior Youth Orchestra and Preparatory Strings in a program for which the young players are joined by piano soloist (and director of the Monmouth Conservatory of Music) Vladislav Kovalsky. The internationally lauded Steinway artist performs Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor as the centerpiece of an afternoon for which tickets can be reserved by calling the MAC box office at (732)706-4100. Then take it to the NJSYO website to earn more about an upcoming winter session of auditions for new instrumentalists.