johndiasTwo River Theater Company artistic director John Dias, above, directs a musical that he co-wrote, and Madeleine George, below, the theater’s first Playwright in Residence, will see her comedy — which is set in Red Bank mounted next season.

madeleine georgeThere are encore appearances by favorite actors. Re-visits to the words and works of Shakespeare and August Wilson. No less than three shows making their world premieres — including one set within “a larger-than-life version of Red Bank.”

When Two River Theater Company unveiled its 2016-2017 schedule of productions Monday night, it did so in a fashion that’s become a real rite of spring on Bridge Avenue: with the company’s celebrated artistic director John Dias joined on stage by creative people representing the comedies, dramas, musicals and multi-media experiences that will illuminate Two River’s stages beginning in September.

As Dias reminded the full-house audience, “putting a season together is a complicated, thrilling, exciting, scary thing to do each year” — and for fans and supporters of the professional arts center, the future’s a hopeful looking one indeed.

Here’s the lineup:

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (September 10 – October 9). Continuing its exploration of the late African American playwright August Wilson’s “century cycle” of dramas, Two River reunites with two frequent collaborators — Tony winning director Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Obie winning actor Brandon J. Dirden — for a new staging of Wilson’s music-infused 1984 ensemble piece, set at a 1920s recording session for the real-life “mother of the blues” Ma Rainey.

The Lion in Winter (November 12 – December 4). Set in the 12th-century court of King Henry II (and memorably made into a powerhouse film version with Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn), James Goldman’s potently political, witty and trenchant 1966 story of an aging patriarch and the warring family factions jockeying for succession has the makings of another great Two River turn for Obie-winning actor Michael Cumpsty.

A Very Electric Christmas (December 27-30). Two River’s return to family-friendly holiday season programming spotlights the artistry of New Orleans-based Lightwire Theater and its signature mix of dance, puppetry and luminescent imagery. The story of a bird named Max — and the encounters with various flora and fauna that accompany his flight south for the winter — is further illuminated by music that ranges from Tchaikovsky to Nat “King” Cole and Mariah Carey.

Hurricane Diane (January 14 – February 12, 2017). For its first world premiere show of the upcoming season, Two River commissioned playwright Madeleine George (Seven Homeless Mammoths…) to create a comedy set right here on the suburban streets of Red Bank. Inspired by Greek classical drama (and described by its author as “Euripides’ Bacchae meets The Real Housewives of New Jersey“), Diane tells the story of a gardener “on an earthly mission from the gods” whose efforts to get four local housewives to implement her environmentally friendly landscape designs have life-altering impact for all concerned. It’s a portent of more to come, from a dramatist who (thanks to a grant from the Mellon Foundation) has just been named as Two River’s first Playwright in Residence.

The Merry Wives of Windsor (February 25 – March 26, 2017). Mr. Shakespeare’s most raucous comic romp — in which the seductive schemes of the inimitable Sir John Falstaff are turned topsy-turvy by the women he’s trying to charm out of their money — is performed by a cast of just three hardworking actors, under the direction of Bedlam Theatre’s Eric Tucker.

A Little Shakespeare: The Merry Wives of Windsor (March 7-12, 2017). Running concurrently with the mainstage production of Wives will be the latest in Two River’s annual staging of a Bard classic, featuring a cast of high school age performers.

The Women of Padilla (April 8-30, 2017). Continuing an ongoing commitment to producing new works by Latino playwrights, Two River re-teams with playwright Tony Meneses (Guadalupe in the Guest Room) for the premiere of an ensemble drama in which eight women find common ground (through the power of food, faith, laughter and more) while their husbands are off to war.

The Ballad of Little Jo (June 3-25, 2017). Adapted from the 1993 film of the same name, this original musical with songs by Mike Reid and Sarah Schlesinger (In This House, A Wind in the Willows Christmas) — plus a book co-written by John Dias — makes its long-awaited world premiere in a production that also marks the Two River directorial debut of Dias. At Monday’s announcement event, actress Suzanne Douglas performed a song from the show: the true story of Josephine Monagahan, a disgraced young woman from a well-to-do family who disguises herself as a man in a 19th-century Idaho town.

Check the Two River website for updated info on season subscriptions and individual tickets to shows in the 2016-2017 schedule. And of course, keep it right here on redbankgreen for updates on the current 2015-2016 season, still very much in bloom this spring with the imminent arrival of Shakespeare’s reimagined Pericles, about which much more to come in these pixelated pages.