David Josefsburg, Michael Urie, Christopher Fitzgerald and Kevin Isola keep the toga party going for one more weekend, as “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ wraps its run at Two River Theater. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)
By TOM CHESEK
Red Bank’s Two River Theater offers one more long weekend of happy-humbug harbor to all of us who may feel caught between a Dickens and a Nutcracker this time of year.
Directed by Jessica Stone — and boasting an all-male cast of Tony nominees, TV personalities, Two River returnees and toga-clad Broadway babies — the TRT’s naughty and bawdy production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum reclaims the Stephen Sondheim musical comedy (based on the farcical works of ancient Roman playwright Plautus) from the community church basements and school auditoriums it’s long been consigned to. And it uses the novelty of its “stag” staging to mine maximum gold from its broad burlesque belly-laughs.
Director Jessica Stone joins actors Michael Urie and Christopher Fitzgerald in a promotional video for ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,’ the musical comedy opening at the Two River Theater this weekend.
By TOM CHESEK
It was an early feather in the cap for modern master Stephen Sondheim, representing his first project as both composer and lyricist. Its book, based as it is upon some nearly 1,800-year old works by the Roman dramatist Plautus, was co-authored by TV writer Larry Gelbart on the way to his 1970s series success M*A*S*H. And, as befits a show whose breakout number is called “Comedy Tonight” (“something appealing, something appalling, something for everyone…”), it is one raucously irreverent musical toga party.
First seen by Broadway audiences in 1962, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum proved custom-fit to the larger-than-a-rhinoceros talents of the late great Zero Mostel — with the comic heavyweight starring as Pseudolus, a savvy slave in ancient Rome whose schemes to win his freedom (by helping his master win the fair maiden next door) take a classically farcical turn. The role also proved to be an express ticket to a Tony nomination for whoever filled that toga — from Mostel and old-school wiseguy Phil Silvers to (in its most recent revival) Nathan Lane, and even a well-received turn by Whoopi Goldberg that demonstrated the triumph of the Funny over etched-in-stone casting conventions.
With that in mind, when Red Bank’s Two River Theaterturned to director Jessica Stone (last season’s Absurd Person Singular) for some fresh ideas on this 55-year-old favorite — going up in previews this Saturday on the Bridge Avenue stage — the determination was made that “when in Rome,” do as the Romans did: by casting each and every part with a male performer.
Michael Cumpsty, Brandon Dirden and Ruben Santiago-Hudson (pictured at an August 2016 event promoting the Two River Theater production of MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM) are among the returning artists who are scheduled to contribute to the upcoming 2017-18 season at the Bridge Avenue arts center.
It’s a season highlighted by a bevy of returning talents, both on the stage and behind the scenes. A season that boasts an enhanced slate of offerings for young theatergoers; more outreach to the area’s growing Spanish-speaking audience, some never-before-seen works, and several fresh perspectives on familiar stories — including two by a certain Wilde man of English letters, as well as one even Wilder.
When Two River Theater Company raised the curtain on its upcoming 2017-2018 schedule of productions on Sunday night, it did so via a genuine “rite of spring” tradition at the Bridge Avenue artspace, as TRTC’s celebrated artistic director John Dias and a panel of guests heralded the company’s 24th season with a “debt of gratitude” to founders Robert and Joan Rechnitz (“the two most glorious people I know”), a tip of the hat to the faithful supporters (“we know you care about this as much as we do”), and a brief channeling of Sally Field (“you actually like us!”).
Running an extended schedule of school shows and public performances now through December 12, William Shakespeare’s Pericles offers an abridged version of the circa-1607 tragical history tour as the latest in Two River Theater Company’s annual student-actor project known as “A Little Shakespeare.”
As part of a partnership program between Monmouth University and Two River Theater Company, Student Ambassadors Nick Zaccario, Sheri Anderson, Samantha Myers and Molly Huber are pictured outside the box office with TRTC staffers Courtney Perez, Cassie Galasetti and Angela White.
Press release from Two River Theater Company
In a partnership designed to deepen relationships between Two River Theater and the Music and Theater Arts Department at Monmouth University, the Red Bank performing arts center and the West Long Branch-based university have announced a new Student Ambassador Program, facilitated by Department Chair Joe Rapolla and Professor Sheri Anderson.
Three “Student Ambassadors” — sophomore Molly Huber, senior Samantha Myers, and junior Nick Zaccario — have been selected to lead the program for this inaugural season. The students will work closely with Two River’s marketing team to help create special programs and opportunities for their campus peers, starting with the theater’s upcoming production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which hosts its first preview on Saturday, November 14. Opportunities being explored include access to backstage tours and technical rehearsals; workshop/Q&A sessions with actors and/or designers, and more.
Director Stephen Brackett (above) returns to Two River Theater for a one-night reading of THE GREAT PRETENDER this Thursday…while Rumson’s own Maggie McDonald Condon presents her one woman comedy “whodunit” DAMES OF OUR LIVES on Thursday and Sunday (below).
Their acclaimed production of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars has been entered into the books — and November’s take on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is still three weekends away from its first preview performance — but over at the branded Bridge Avenue homestage of Two River Theater Company, the coming days are abuzz and a-twitter with a special degree of activity.
It all begins at 7:30 pm this Thursday, October 22, when the building’s black-box Marion Huber space hosts a free reading of The Great Pretender, a seriocomic new work “about life, death, and the healing power of puppets” from playwright David West Read. Stephen Brackett, who directed last season’s smash musical Be More Chill at Two River, returns to Red Bank for this first look at a script in which a beloved TV kiddie-show host (whose wife and sidekick puppeteer has passed away) invites tension and uncertainty when he takes on a new assistant to lend life and voice to his puppet pal. There’s no charge for admission, but reservations are required by taking it here or calling (732)345-1400.
Returning Broadway veterans Brandon J. Dirden and Jessica Stone — plus rookie playwright Robert Rechnitz, pictured with wife and fellow Two River Theater Company founder Joan — are among the creative forces powering a just-announced 2015-2016 season of shows on Two River stages.
It’s a highly anticipated rite of spring in Red Bank — one that John Dias jokingly referred to as “this totally kooky annual event” — but when the artistic director of Two River Theater Company played host for the 2015-2016 Season Announcement on Monday night, he was entirely serious in first thanking the “loyal, passionate” audience members who “want to be the first to hear what we’re doing each year.”
Kicking off in mid-September, and comprising eight productions on two stages of TRTC’s branded Bridge Avenue arts center, it’s a schedule that boasts fresh takes on familiar classics, and first looks at a couple of world premiere works. There’s some engagingly quirky casting; the return of several fondly regarded members of the extended Two River family — and a debut original work by a forever-young upstart who holds a special resonance with the Red Bank audience.
RBR junior and VPA student Morgan Brunson, Tinton Falls, was recently inducted into the prestigious National Society of High School Scholars. She is pictured above with the organization’s founder and Chairman, Claus Nobel.
Press release from Red Bank Regional High School
Red Bank Regional (RBR) Visual & Performing Arts’ (VPA) major Morgan Brunson of Tinton Falls is a young Renaissance woman.She sings, dances, plays the flute, paints and takes challenging academic courses while maintaining honor roll.
No doubt these gifts, her extracurricular activities and community service earned her a rare invitation to join an elite group of students known as the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS). She was recently inducted into the organization by its founder and Chairman, Claus Nobel, who sought to continue his famous family’s legacy of recognizing and rewarding outstanding achievement and inspiring the world’s youth.
RBR students Patrick Martini (Union Beach) and Matthew Rosen (Little Silver) were recently named to the country’s All-National Honors Ensembles, sponsored by the National Association for Music Education. Both will perform at a gala concert, October 30 in Nashville, TN. (Click to enlarge)
By MARIANNE KLIGMAN RBR Community Information Officer
Red Bank Regional High School is honored to announce that two of its Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) students, Patrick Martini of Union Beach and Matthew Rosen of Little Silver, have reached the pinnacle in their high school music careers with their acceptance to the very prestigious All-National Honors Ensembles sponsored by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME).
The RBR students are among 637 top high school music students in the country to earn this honor. Both will perform, Patrick in the mixed chorus and Matt in the concert band, at a gala concert on October 30, 2013, in Nashville Tennessee.
Crew members from the Count Basie Theatre’s Performing Arts Academy prepare the set for Wednesday night’s seventh annual Basie Awards show.
To all those who believe that there are simply Too Many Award Shows well, we certainly won’t argue the point.
That said, when the red carpet rolls and the paparazzi bulbs pop this Wednesday evening on Monmouth Street in Red Bank, it may just herald the only trophyfest that matters possibly even a ground-floor investment in the next generation of acting, singing, dancing talent on the greater Green.
The Basie Awards extravaganza that goes up Wednesday night at the Count Basie Theatre will mark the seventh annual edition of the program that recognizes excellence in drama and musical productions among Monmouth County high schools. It’s an event that’s boasted such guest hosts and presenters as E Street busker Max Weinberg and Tony nominee Lou Liberatore, as well as SNL veterans Joe Piscopo and Siobhan Fallon Hogan. But it’s really all about the kids, of course and when the Basie envelopes are fumbled open on the landmark stage, a collection of young performers from 19 local high schools (including five in the Red Bank area) will be among those hoping that this can be the first milestone item in a glittering trophy case.
Michael Whelan, Republican. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
The balance of political power is at stake in the November 3 election in Red Bank, which features four candidates for two three-year seats on the borough council. All four have indicated they’ll participate in the West Side Community Group’s annual candidates’ forum at the River Street Commons at 7 p.m. on Thursday, October 1. For more information about the event, take it here.
To help voters compare the contenders in terms of personal background and positions on key issues,redbankgreen emailed them identical sets of questions late last week. Here’s what Michael Whelan had to say in response.