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RED BANK: TRAGIC DIVAS, COMIC THRILLERS

evita-1820209Rehearsals proceed at Phoenix Productions’ new Chestnut Street headquarters for EVITA, going up this weekend on the Count Basie stage with Kelliann De Carlo in the title role. (Click to enlarge)

kelliann-de-carlo-evita-220x220-2836045Even as Two River Theater Company inaugurates a new season with the first previews of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars (about which more to come here at redbankgreen), the longest-established community theatrical troupes on the greater Green continue their winning ways — Phoenix Productions in Red Bank with a revisit to a tragically glamorous Andrew Lloyd Webber heroine, and the Monmouth Players of Middletown with a farcical spin on a Hitchcockian maguffin.

Going up for two weekends on the history-steeped Count Basie Theatre stage beginning Friday, the Webber-Rice “pop-eretta” Evita finds the borough-based Phoenix Productions paying a return visit to mid-century Argentina and the phenomenal rise of the South American nation’s fated First Lady, Eva Peron. The latest passionately produced project from the Phoenix company’s spacious new state-of-the-art headquarters on Chestnut Street, the staging from producers James Marhold and Anthony Greco promises Phoenix’s signature production values and attention to detail — and of course, that signature song of songs, “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.”

Kelliann DeCarlo stars as Evita, the fatherless commoner and ambitious actress who ascended to the inner circles of pomp and power without abandoning her affinity for the little people. She’s supported in the large cast by Michael McEntee as the apocryphally inserted real-life revolutionary Che, David Fusco as Argentinian strongman/president Juan Peron, Nick D’Ambrosia, Jordan Gilbert, and a 25-member ensemble.

Performances of Evita are Fridays and Saturdays (September 11, 12, 18, 19) at 8 pm, plus Sundays (September 13 and 20) at 3 pm. Take it here to reserve tickets ($22 – $32), or go here for additional information on this and other programs and performances in the 2015 Phoenix season, which concludes in November with a high-flying revisit to Peter Pan.

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Meanwhile, back at the Navesink Arts Center — the reborn and rebranded former Navesink Library at Monmouth and Sears Avenues in Middletown — the Monmouth Players prepare to cut the ribbon on an all new season of mystery and comedy (their 62nd, if anyone’s keeping score alongside the area’s longest-running stage troupe) with a first local look at a recent thriller that’s so packed with quick-change thrills that to call it “fast-paced” scarcely does it justice.

Adapted by Patrick Barlow from the 1915 espionage thriller novel by John Buchan — itself the basis for an early triumph by director Alfred Hitchcock — The 39 Steps turns the tale of a wrongfully pursued “man with a boring life,” a vast and vile conspiracy, and “a woman with a thick accent who says she’s a spy” on its ear; injecting the stiff-upper-lip adventure with equal parts Monty Pythonesque zaniness and the hypercaffeinated energy of the most door-slamming bedroom farce. As with the Tony-nominated 2008 Broadway production, a small cast of actors portrays a slew of characters (and even inanimate objects) via a series of lightning-fast costume changes and deftly choreographed entrances and exits; ratcheting up the comical tension and peppering the proceedings with punning allusions to other familiar films and features in the Hitchcock playbook.

Performances of The 39 Steps are September 12, 18, 19, 25 and 26 at 8:15 pm, as well as September 13 and 20 at 2 pm. Required reservations ($20; $17 for seniors and students) can be made by calling (732)291-2911 or emailing [email protected] — and the Players’ famous spread of homemade desserts will be present at all performances inside the beautifully renovated Arts Center to sweeten the deal.

Remember: Nothing makes a Red Bank friend happier than to hear "I saw you on Red Bank Green!"
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