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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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RED BANK: ‘BEAUTY’ ON THE BASIE STAGE

The interlude between the end of April and beginning of May signals the traditional rising up of a real Red Bank institution — Phoenix Productions, the borough-based theatrical company that for more than two decades has presented its musical entertainments on the boards of one of the region’s most legendary stages: the Count Basie Theatre.

This Saturday sees the curtain go up on the first of the 2017 offerings from the Phoenix fun factory — and, it as they did with last year’s season-opening production of The Little Mermaid, the troupe will be delving into the Disney Broadway playbook for a fresh and family-friendly staging of the romantic fantasy perennial, Beauty and the Beast.

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RED BANK: PADILLA ‘WOMEN’ ON THE WING

The cast of ‘The Women of Padilla’ share a cathartic moment in the Tony Meneses play that concludes its world premiere engagement this week at Two River Theater. (photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Beginning with a 1 p.m. performance Wednesday, seven opportunities remain for the general public to catch The Women of Padilla, the latest in an ever-growing portfolio of plays that have made their world premiere on the Red Bank stage of Two River Theater.

Written by Tony Meneses (whose previously produced project here was Guadalupe in the Guest Room), the drama is an ensemble piece that reflects an ongoing commitment by the theater company to develop and promote new works by Latino creators. It’s also a succinct and slightly surreal piece with an underlying universal quality — a glimpse at the home front in a time of seemingly eternal war, as well as the ways in which we find family, build community, and latch onto gossamer wings of hope whenever something important goes missing from our lives.

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RED BANK: A SENSES-FRIENDLY SUMMER CAMP

As part of its 2017 Summer Theater Camp, Red Bank’s Two River Theater will offer its first classes for students with autism ages 10-17, plus a special “sensory-friendly” performance of the play ‘The Way Back Home’ on June 10.

Press release from Two River Theater Company

Two River Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst, has announced two new initiatives designed to support young people on the autism spectrum, and welcome them to the theater.

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RED BANK: THEATER ADDITION APPROVED

A rendering of the proposed addition to the left of the existing theater and fly tower at center, as seen from the northeast. (Rendering by Kaplan Gaunt Desantis Architects. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Red Bank’s Two River Theater won raves from neighbors, and zoning board approval, Thursday night for a plan to expand its non-performance space.

But West Street residents pressed for, and failed to obtain, changes to aspects of the plan that they worry will direct more traffic onto their block, some of it from motorists using the theater lot simply to avoid street traffic.

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RED BANK: SECOND-STORY CONFESSIONS AT 99

The upstairs “Studio 99” rehearsal facility at the Count Basie Theatre is the venue for the Dunbar Repertory production of BUTTERFLY CONFESSIONS, going up this Friday for the first show of a two-weekend stand.

Seasoned explorers of Red Bank’s cultural scene know that the second story often plays host to a whole other story — for proof, take it upstairs to any of the art opening events at Salon Concrete or McKay Imaging — or dig if you will such special events as tomorrow night’s Red Bank Blooms fashion show upside Teak.

When it’s not bumper-to-bumper busy booking some of the biggest names in show business on its storied stage, the Count Basie Theatre can be found hosting activities that can extend from the street-level Carlton Lounge and back-scenes patio, to the “Studio 99” rehearsal rooms on the landmark building’s second floor. It’s there that one of the area’s best-kept-secret theatrical companies has found a home for many of its projects — and there that Dunbar Repertory Company will present the play Butterfly Confessions for a two-weekend engagement that begins this Friday, April 21.

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RED BANK: EIGHT WOMEN, A WAR AND LOVE

Previews for ‘The Women of Padilla’ start this weekend at the Two River Theater. Below, playwright Tony Meneses.(Click to enlarge.)

In a 2015 redbankgreen interview, Tony Meneses confessed he “had a sense from the start that I was never gonna make money as a playwright, that it had to mean something more to me than that.”

The Guadalajara-born, Brooklyn-based dramatist was speaking about Guadalupe in the Guest Room, a comedy-drama with a personal slant that made its fully staged world premiere at Red Bank’s Two River Theater.

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