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ON THE GREEN: TWO TICKETS ON THE AISLE

intothewoodsb-6539357Joseph York (The Prince), Alison Levier (Cinderella) and Gina Teschke (Little Red) are among the storybook characters going “Into the Woods,” when Phoenix Productions stages the Sondheim musical at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre. (Photos courtesy Tom Martini)

On a weekend that marks the official curtain-up for Two River Theater’s season-opening production of A Raisin in the Sun, two of the area’s longest established community stage companies are offering up something for those who get a thrill from first-nighting — with fresh local looks at a couple of Broadway favorites from the 1980s and 1990s.

When last we looked in on Red Bank’s own Phoenix Productions, the resident theatrical troupe of the Count Basie Theatre was marking its turf with a revisit to West Side Story — an early success for the young lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and an indicator of great things to come. When the company’s 2017 season resumes this Friday, September 15, it will once again look to the Sondheim playbook — and to the storybook realm of the Brothers Grimm — with a musical journey Into the Woods.

This is the first-ever production of the Tony-winning 1987 hit for Phoenix, who staged a bloody-good take on Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd in 2011 (and an even edgier stab at his Assassins, inside their just demolished old rehearsal studio back in 2000). In a season dominated by Phantom, the sophisticated songsmith Sondheim and book author James Lapine turned to the classic tales of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Jack and his Beanstalk; creating an intricately intertwined study of wishes granted — and desires unfulfilled — that’s framed by the story of the childless baker and his wife (played here by Phoenix regulars Joe Hausvater and Lindsay Wood).

Alison Levier (Cinderella), AJ Melnick (Jack), Gina Teschke (Little Red) and Katie Reed (Rapunzel) portray the principal characters, with support from Joseph York (The Prince), Sara McNeil (The Stepmother) and a large cast under the supervision of producer Christine Paccillo. Performances of Into the Woods are at 8 p.m. on September 15, 16, 22 and 23, with 3 p.m. Sunday matinees on September 17 and 24. Take it here for tickets ($22 – $32) — and take it back to the Basie on November 10, when the Phoenix season concludes with Seussical: The Musical.

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Here at the start of their frankly amazing 64th — or is it 65th? — season of continuous community-theater entertainments, the Middletown-based Monmouth Players return to the work of Ken Ludwig, the comic playwright whose Post Mortem inaugurated their past season in September of 2016. One year later, the Players prepare to Ludwig-out once again, with a curtain-raising staging of his hit Moon Over Buffalo.

Like Ludwig’s popular “backstage” farce Lend Me a Tenor, the 1995 Moon mines its laughs from the pumped-up pomposities and eggshell egos of theater folk — in this case, a miserably married couple of fast-fading stage stars who wage war with their own vices, vitriol and very stupid choices as they compete to catch the attention of famed Hollywood director (and rumored audience member) Frank Capra. Opening Saturday, September 16 at 8:15 p.m., the show continues through October 1; dished up with the Players’ superior spread of homemade desserts inside the beautifully renovated Navesink Arts Center. Take it here or call (732) 291-2911 for ticket reservations ($20, with discounts for seniors, students and veterans) plus full schedule details — and keep it tuned to redbankgreen for updates on additional goings-on at NavArts.

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