Kate Pentek is the child vaudevillian who grows up to become burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee as the classic backstage musical ‘Gypsy’ comes to the Count Basie stage for two weekends. (Photo courtesy Phoenix Productions)
The waning weekends of summer are traditionally a prime time to dust off your first-night finery and head back to the “theatah.” And even as Red Bank’s resident professional stage company, the Two River Theater, opens its new season with “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” the Greater Green’s three community troupes (that’s Phoenix Productions, Stone Church Players, and Monmouth Players) also are ready to raise the curtains on a variety of entertainments.
Laura Casey and CJ Nolan (center) head the cast as Middletown’s Stone Church Players present ‘The Lion in Winter,’ beginning Friday.
Beginning Friday, and continuing for five more performances, Phoenix resumes its long and productive residency at the venerable Count Basie Theatre with a new production of a show that’s been branded by many as the greatest American musical of all time: the 1959 Broadway blockbuster “Gypsy.”
At the very least, it’s undeniably the definitive “backstage” examination of that force of nature known as the stage mother — and arguably the only family-friendly classic based on the memoirs of the most famous burlesque stripper of her day. That would be Gypsy Rose Lee, the onetime child vaudeville performer who, along with her bubbly blonde sister June (who would grow up to become the screen actress June Havoc) was groomed for greatness, ready or not, by single-parent dynamo Mama Rose.
Phoenix co-founder Tom Martini directs the show, which boasts a score of songs by Tin Pan Alley stalwart Jule Styne and the young Stephen Sondheim, highlighted by “Let Me Entertain You,” “Together Wherever We Go” and the showstopper “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Loretta Boyle stars in the central role of Mama Rose, with Lily Grace Riddle and Kathryn Pentek as the younger and older versions of Louise, the girl who would be Gypsy Rose, plus Ariana Pappas and Tinton Falls resident Miranda Franco portraying the two respective ages of Dainty June. Phoenix frequent flyer Bob Sammond handles music direction, while Elise Klinger supervises the choreography.
Performances of “Gypsy” are on Fridays and Saturdays (September 16, 17, 23 and 24) at 8 p.m., plus Sundays (September 18 and 25) at 3 p.m. Take it here to reserve tickets ($22 – $32) to any of the individual shows, or go here for additional information on this and other programs from Phoenix Productions.
Meanwhile, at Middletown’s All Saints’ Memorial Church (the historic “Old Stone Church” at the crossroads of Navesink and Monmouth Avenues), the resident Stone Church Players reconvene for a witty 20th-century take on some 12th-century intrigue — one that promises to use the history-blessed host venue to fine advantage.
First staged in 1966 — and memorably filmed a couple of years later with Peter O’Toole, Katharine Hepburn, and a very young Anthony Hopkins — James Goldman’s ensemble drama “The Lion in Winter” is set in the court of King Henry II, where the aging ruler and various family factions, including his exiled queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, wage an intimate domestic war for favor and succession to the throne.
It’s an actor’s delight of a show that stars CJ Nolan and Laura Casey as Henry and Eleanor, with Ankit Sharma, Abraham El Cantante Nava and Christopher J. Friedel supporting in the production that runs Fridays and Saturdays (September 16, 17, 23 and 24) at 8 p.m., plus Sundays (September 18 and 25) at 3 p.m.
Call (732)226-6131 to reserve tickets ($25) — and be sure to check the pixelated pages of redbankgreen in November, when Obie winner/ Tony nominee Michael Cumpsty steps into the role of Henry II for Two River Theater’s own production of “The Lion in Winter.”
“A Season of Classics” gets underway at the Navesink Arts Center, the reborn and rebranded former Navesink Library at Monmouth and Sears Avenues in Middletown that’s now under the stewardship of its longtime resident Monmouth Players. The area’s oldest established community theater troupe— now in its positively mind-boggling 63rd season— has an ambitious slate ahead that includes the likes of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” and Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” — but as autumn creeps in around the picturesque precincts of Navesink and Locust, the players offer up bit of mystery— and a tip of the deerstalker cap to the world’s most famous detective — with the Ken Ludwig play “Post Mortem.” Set in the Connecticut mansion of William Gillette (the real-life stage star who made a career of portraying Sherlock Holmes), the old-dark-house-style suspenser serves up Murder Most Foul and drawing-room sleuthery in an entertaningly classic vein — even as the players serve up their signature spread of homemade desserts inside the historic building’s book-lined and beautifully renovated reception room.
Performances are at 8:15 p.m. on September 17, 24 and 30, as well as October 1 — with 2 p.m. matinees on September 18 and 25, plus October 2. Required reservations ($20; $17 for seniors and students; $10 for veterans) can be made here or by calling (732)291-2911.