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LINCROFT: A FAVORITE OCTOBER HAUNT

Creepy clowns are the in thing this for the next three weekends at the annual walk-through attraction at Brookdale.

In a world where the spectre of all-out war can out-spook any hooded goblin, it might seem that the old Halloween haunts can no longer hold a flickering candle to the horrors of the day’s headlines. If anything, the cobwebbed corridors of a walk-through “haunted house” can creak with a reassuring nostalgia, as its familiar fiends create a welcome momentary refuge from the edgy uncertainties of the real world.

As if on cue, the fearless crew of Brookdale Haunted Theater is ready to serve with the return of the annual attraction that transforms Brookdale Community College’s Performing Arts Center  into an indoor flesh-and-blood fright factory that runs for three big weekends, beginning — wait for it — Friday the 13th.

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RED BANK: ‘BUTTERFLY’ ALIGHTS AT BASIE

Lorraine Stone, left, as Sojourner Truth, is among the cast members in Dunbar Rep’s ‘Butterfly Confessions,’ a play by Yetta Young (right) that returning to the Count Basie Theatre. 

It’s been described as “a love letter to women of color,” one that “reveals heartfelt emotions about intimacy, sexual responsibility and overcoming adversity.” Credited to author and producer Yetta Young — but acknowledged by her as a collaborative effort that features the input of some dozen different women — the intimate theatrical experience entitled Butterfly Confessions has spread its wings and its message to communities from coast to coast, including audiences right here in Red Bank who enjoyed it for the first time in the spring of 2016.

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RED BANK: ENJOY THE SHOW, WEAR YOUR PJ’S

The smart theatergoers will be wearing pajamas, when Two River Theater hosts four family-friendly days’ worth of SKELETONS: A Day of the Dead Bedtime Story, beginning October 12.

Leave the first-nighting formalwear at home — and feel free to attend in your finest PJs, footed onesies and “sleeping pants” — when Two River Theater presents six public performances of Skeletons: A Day of the Dead Bedtime Story beginning this Thursday, October 12. A production of New York’s Teatro SEA company, it’s the latest in a series of family-friendly events imported to Red Bank from some of North America’s finest purveyors of theater experiences for young audiences — and despite the name, it’s a show that’s far more fanciful than frightening.

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MIDDLETOWN: PLAY ON, AT TWO LANDMARKS

The Navesink Arts Center (the long-ago Middletown Library) and the “Old Stone Church” at All Saints are the settings for some hearth-warming community theater events in weekends to come.

Here in the season of the Great Pumpkin Spice, thoughts stray across the Oceanic Bridge, and into the Navesink-Locust precincts of Middletown Township — a place of rustic old landmarks, foliage-festooned hillside trails, and the mist-shrouded banks of Many Mind Creek.

Beginning this weekend, and for many October days and nights to come, two of the area’s most historic haunts are offering up some diversions designed to take some that encroaching seasonal chill from the bones.

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RBR: NO MINOR FEAT FOR TEEN PLAYWRIGHT

Red Bank Regional senior Willow Martin of Little Silver will have her short play “Late Shift” performed by the professional actors of New Jersey Repertory Company October 8. 

Press release from Red Bank Regional High School

When New Jersey Repertory, the acclaimed professional stage company in Long Branch, inaugurates its new West End Arts Center facility in October, it will be with a multi-media Theater and Arts Festival organized around the theme “All About Eve.” At the heart of the eight-day festival will be the world premieres of 28 short plays — a select group winnowed from over 450 submissions — and a collection that includes a one-act drama authored by a 16 year old high school senior who attends the Visual and Performing Arts Academy at Red Bank Regional.

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RED BANK: BASIE STARTS MASSIVE EXPANSION

Dozens of local politicians and players in the arts world turned out for the event. Below, Basie board members Steven Van Zandt and his wife, Maureen Van Zandt. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

A $23 million expansion of Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre formally got underway Wednesday, beginning what’s expected to be a 20-month endeavor to turn the Vaudeville-era venue into a powerhouse for live performance and arts education.

The aim, musician and actor Steven Van Zandt told an al fresco gathering, is “to make Red Bank an example to the rest of the county of what it is possible to do” in elevating the arts.

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ON THE GREEN: TWO TICKETS ON THE AISLE

Joseph 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.

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RED BANK: RAISIN’ A FAMILY @ TWO RIVER

Crystal A. Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden share the stage in the season opening production of ‘A Raisin in the Sun.’ (Photo by Lisa Campbell)

While it doesn’t claim anything resembling a formal “stock company” of actors and other creative types, Red Bank’s professional Two River Theater Company has been more than happy to foster some mutually beneficial relationships with a number of recurring players — perhaps none more so than Brandon J. Dirden, the Tony-nominated, Obie-winning stage-screen talent who’s made himself quite comfortable on Bridge Avenue, even as his star ascended on television (The Americans) and Broadway (All the Way, in which he appeared as no less iconic a presence than Martin Luther King Jr.).

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RED BANK: A CURTAIN-RAISIN’ FREE BBQ

Red Bank’s own blues specialist Gary Wright takes it to the Two River Theater on Thursday for a “block party” previewing the upcoming production of ‘A Raisin in the Sun.’ (Photo by Terri Walliczek.)

When the folks at Two River Theater Company launch a new slate of mainstage shows next month, they’ll be bringing in the 2017-2018 season with a fresh look at a genuine American classic — A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 drama of a black Chicago family’s struggle to achieve their dreams.

Before the “raisin” of the curtain, however, the Red Bank institution will be raisin’ the roof this Thursday evening with a community “block party,” a public-welcome affair that boasts live music, dancing, food and a a meet-and-greet opportunity with cast members from the show that opens officially on September 15.

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MIDDLETOWN: BRUSH UP YOUR SHAKESPEARE

The Navesink Arts Center, home of the Monmouth Players, is the setting for an evening (and a couple of afternoons) with William Shakespeare beginning Saturday.

Despite its claim as the area’s longest established theatrical company — having first “put on a show” back in 1953, well before the involvement of any of its current principals — the Monmouth Players have not been ones to stay snug in their comfort zone of their Middletown beginnings.

Under producers Paul and Lori Renick, the company has continued to challenge the local audience with projects that have ranged from offbeat and edgy, to as literary-minded as the former library in which they make their home.

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RED BANK: A SEVENTH ‘CROSSING’ ON BRIDGE

The outdoor plaza at Two River Theater is the scene of a public-welcome patio party on Wednesday evening, as the seventh annual Crossing Borders Festival arrives for a five-day stand.

At the very least, it’s a bridge between the borders of one mainstage season and the next at Two River Theater — a summertime transition that even takes place on a street named Bridge Avenue.

Of course, the name Crossing Borders (or Cruzando Fronteras) carries with it connotations of those walled obstacles, points of access, and grey areas between heritage and assimilation — to say nothing of reality and fantasy, or past and future. And when the five-day Crossing Borders Festival comes to the Red Bank venue this week for its seventh annual celebration of contemporary “Latinx” theater (more on that in a moment), it will continue its mission of bringing such themes to the forefront, here in a socio-political landscape where they remain as hot-button an issue as ever — while endeavoring to break down the barriers of language and cost for the local audience. Read More »

IN THE AIR: FREE MUSIC, MOVIES AND MORE

Week two of this summer’s Movies in the Park series in Red Bank features an entry from the ‘Star Wars’ catalog. Below, Layonne Holmes fronts the Motor City Revue in a return to Sandy Hook Wednesday.  

There’s a chance to imagine yourself as part of the biggest franchise in film fantasy history. Some power pop on the dock. A heat-blast of Latin-flavored jazz in the park. A little beach-music soul on the sands. And one of the world’s most beloved plays on yonder grassy knoll.

It’s all going on beneath the setting sun and stars of the Greater Red Bank Green — and all fabulously free of charge in the evenings to come.

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LINCROFT: ‘FOOTLOOSE’ AND FANCY FREE

Pegasus Theater kicks off its summer season with ‘Footloose’ Friday night.

The academic session may have concluded back in June, but the Henderson Theatre on the Lincroft campus of Christian Brothers Academy is a very busy place this summer, one that sees the return of some old friends, and an all-new partnership in education and entertainment.

Beginning this Friday, it’s “Let’s Daaaaance!,” as the screen-to-stage musical Footloose stomps the boards of the CBA auditorium — a party made possible by the team-up of CBA’s Pegasus Theater summer stage program, and a name familiar to many a local theatergoer.

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RED BANK: LOCAL STARS ON THE ‘WEST SIDE’

Christa Dalmazio of Middletown and Mason Kugelman of Rumson star as Maria and Tony in the Phoenix Productions staging of ‘West Side Story’ at the Count Basie Theatre.

It’s been a staple of the Phoenix Productions playbook for nearly 25 years, one of those crowd-pleasing Broadway perennials to which the Red Bank-based semipro stage company has made regular revisits.

Still, it’s been some 10 seasons since West Side Story has received a fully-fleshed Phoenix staging. And when the curtain goes up this Friday night at the Count Basie Theatre, it will reveal an old favorite that’s infused with new energy, courtesy of a youthful cast of newcomers highlighted by two residents of the Greater Red Bank green.

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LINCROFT: MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S MERRIMENT

Grab your folding chair, pack a picnic basket, and get thee to the Great Lawn at Brookdale Community College, where the Shakespeare on the Lawn presentation of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM gets well-met by moonlight beginning this Thursday.

If ever was such a thing as “entry level Shakespeare,” then A Midsummer Night’s Dream is that single most easily inaccessible work with a little something for everyone: a hyper-kinetic love story; some slyly supernatural shenanigans courtesy of mischievous magical beings; a charming little play-within-a-play, and some of the author’s wildest opportunities for honest-to-goodness belly laughs, courtesy of the outsize ambitions and actorly egos of the play’s “rude mechanicals.”

It’s also the Shakespeare work that’s most at home in the open air — a thing best done the way the Bard intended, with un-amplified voices, improvised solos by Mother Nature’s minions, and an audience of engaged, enthusiastic (and ever so spirited) folks from all walks of life. And, beginning this Thursday evening, July 13, A Midsummer Night’s Dream becomes the perfect vehicle for the Shakespeare on the Lawn series to get back to its roots, with a new outdoor production on the Lincroft campus of Brookdale Community College.

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RED BANK: NEW MURAL POPS INTO VIEW

A colorful new mural bloomed to life on the Catherine Street wall of Kitch Organic restaurant in Red Bank over the weekend.

Executed by local children — and some adults who pulled a couple of all-nighters — the mural promotes two cultural events: the Indie Street Film Festival, which returns to town for a four-day run starting July 26; and the Crossing Borders Festival, featuring five days of free-admission Latino-flavored plays and food at the Two River Theater beginning August 2.

Artist Misha Tyutyunik, also known as MDot, created the design, reprising his role from the 2016 Indie Street mural on Monmouth Street. Click read more for additional pix. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

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MIDDLETOWN: PLAY ASKS, ‘SAUCE’ OR ‘GRAVY’?

Middletown Arts Center is the setting for a weekend-long serving of the musical dramedy ‘They Call It Gravy, We Call It Sauce!’

Is it “gravy” or “sauce?” Why do Neapolitans cut off the vowels at the end of words? And just what the heck is “bru-shetta?”

These and other long-simmering issues are placed on the front burner with They Call It Gravy, We Call It Sauce!, a traveling “musical dramedy” that camps out at Middletown Arts Center for a weekend-long engagement that begins Friday night.

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RED BANK: A LAST ROUNDUP FOR ‘LITTLE JO’

Teal Wicks (right) stars as the title character — with bride and groom Jane Bruce and Eric William Morris as frontier friends — as “The Ballad of Little Jo” enters its final week of performances at Two River Theater. (photo by T. Charles Erickson)

It’s always a pleasure to see the physical space and human resources of Two River Theater Company employed to their full potential, and with the current mainstage musical The Ballad of Little Jo, TRTC artistic director John Dias and company have crowned their 2016-2017 season with a polished production that packs something of a homegrown pedigree; that doesn’t skimp on the quality or quantity of assembled talent — and that speaks to the American soul in all of its conflicted, enterprising, ambitious, messy and often melancholy glory.

Co-written by, developed and directed here by Dias — and adapted from a 1993 film of the same name — the show that made its formal debut some 17 years ago at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre has traced a journey to the Red Bank stage almost as long as that of the real-life 19th century woman whose story (very loosely) inspired it. It’s a journey that enters its final stretch for the time being, as the production wraps its limited engagement with eight more performances, today through Sunday, June 25.

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MIDDLETOWN: WHEREFORE ART ROMEO? HERE.

For years, it’s been the resident community theater group at a local landmark church nestled in a corner of Middletown. But if that description suggests a slate of shows no more challenging than the umpteenth revival of Arsenic and Old Lace, then let it be known that the Stone Church Players aren’t about to be intimidated by the likes of William Shakespeare.

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RED BANK: ‘LITTLE JO’ GETS ACTUAL BALLADS

Teal Wicks (second from left) is the title character — and Daniel K. Isaac, Jane Bruce and Eric William Morris lend solid support — as the screen-to-stage musical adaptation “The Ballad of Little Jo” begins previews at Two River Theater. (Photo by Amanda Crommett)

In the 1993 film The Ballad of Little Jo, director Maggie Greenwald told the story of Josephine Monaghan, a young 19th-century woman from a proper Boston family who adapts to a life of self-exile in an Idaho frontier town by living her life as a man.

While the movie left the actual ballads at the door, a handful of creative people heard the music in its fact-based tale. And beginning with its first preview performance this Saturday, Little Jo adapts to life in the 21st century in its new incarnation, as a musical stage production from Red Bank’s own Two River Theater Company.

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RED BANK: BASIES GO TO RFH, RBC, RBR

Phoenix Productions exec director Tom Martini — pictured fifth from left, during the 2015 ribbon-cutting of the troupe’s new Chestnut Street headquarters — was honored with the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award during the 12th annual Basie Awards on Wednesday night. (photo by Rich Kowalski) 

Students and faculty from five high schools in the greater Red Bank area were honored for excellence in high school theater productions — and the co-founder of a favorite borough-based performing arts company received a Lifetime Achievement recognition — when the 12th annual Basie Awards ceremony took place at the Count Basie Theatre on the evening of May 24.

The big winner among local schools was Red Bank Catholic High School, whose nine nominations for the spring production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Cinderella resulted in three Basie wins: for Shawn Mack (Outstanding Musical Direction), Samantha Siriani (Outstanding Supporting Actress), and Kelly Gemellaro (Outstanding Choreography, shared with Jacqui Fisher for the Middletown High School South staging of The Producers).

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RED BANK: ‘BASIES’ BUZZ IN THE AIR TONIGHT

The Red Bank Regional production of Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ has garnered seven nominations in the Basie Awards for excellence in local high school theater, as the 12th annual ceremony rolls out the red carpet tonight.

In a pop-culture landscape that’s littered with the sharp metal edges of way too many awards and honors, you could make the case that this is the only trophyfest that matters — the kind that recognizes, nurtures and inspires the next generation of acting, singing, dancing and technical talent.

When the 12th annual Basie Awards ceremony takes the famous stage of the Count Basie Theatre tonight, May 24, students and faculty from nearly 20 public, private and parochial high schools in Monmouth County — seven of them located here within the Greater Red Bank Green — will be vying for a chance to deliver their acceptance speech, in a field that, in the words of Basie education director Yvonne Lamb Scudiery, continues “to set the bar higher and higher, resulting in outstanding professional quality work…and certainly making the job or our evaluation team a very difficult yet gratifying one.”

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RED BANK: A FRONTIER FUNDER AT TWO RIVER

Two River Theater.

Although it’s a brand-spanking-new addition to the growing crop of world premieres from Red Bank’s own Two River Theater Company, the upcoming production The Ballad of Little Jo represents the culmination of a years-long process, through which the borough-based stage troupe nurtured and developed the highly anticipated musical adaptation that closes out its 2016-’17 season in grand style.

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