TWO TAKES ON ‘OUR TOWN’ PUPPETS

Star Ledger theater reviewer Peter Filichia finds the puppets that populate the ‘Our Town’ production at the Two River Theater “adorable” but distracting.

In his review, in today’s editions, Filichia calls TRT artistic director Aaron Posner’s approach to Thornton Wilder’s stage classic “an almost great production of a great play. If only he’d kept “Avenue Q” in Manhattan.”

But Tom Chesek, writing in today’s Asbury Park Press, says the theater’s “innovative revival may help you see this richly detailed work with a fresh set of eyes.”

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IN TOWN | IN AUGUST: WEEK TWO

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Even from the perspective of non-fans of the game, this weekend’s baseball show at the Two River Theater looks genuinely fascinating.

The program calls for a full and wide-ranging schedule of baseball-themed readings (‘Casey at the Bat,’ anyone?), movies, speeches and even a ‘stump the expert’ game.

Red Bank sports artifact shop Fameabilia, which is hosting the event, will hold an expo in the lobby.

Participants include former Brooklyn Dodger Johnny Podres, who will be signing autographs from 1 to 3p; award-winning Associated Press journalist Warren Levinson; actor Joe Russo; theater co-founder Robert Rechnitz; artistic director Aaron Posner; and David Kaplan, Director of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, who’ll speak on ‘Baseball and Social Justice.’

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BASIE, TWO RIVER GET BIG FUNDING BUMPS

Both the Count Basie Theatre and the Two River Theater Company were major beneficiaries of whopping state funding increases as part of an effort to “create parity” among arts organizations, according to today’s Star-Ledger.

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The Basie’s fiscal year 2008 grant from the state Council on the Arts soared by 42 percent, to $223,325, up more than $94,000 from 2007, and the Two Rivers’ allotment doubled, to $139,477, from $69,183.

“We think it represents an acknowledgment by the council of the growth we’ve had over the past couple of years,” Two River managing director Guy Gsell told the Asbury Park Press. “We’re serving a wider geographic area, and have had an incredible period of growth.”

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LOOSE PANTIES = BOFFO BOX

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A play about a young woman’s falling underwear helped arouse record interest in the Two River Theater in the season just ended.

Bootstrapped by ‘The Underpants,’ comedian Steve Martin’s racy farce, as well as receipts from the musical ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’,’ the Bridge Avenue theater company posted its strongest returns ever, both in both seats sold and revenue, the TRTC reported.

Attendance for the season’s plays soared 31 percent, from 23,242 in the 2006 season to 30,463 this year, said theater spokeswoman Jayme Powers.

Revenue from ticket sales, meanwhile, was $747,817 this season, a jump of almost $200,000.

“Every time we think it can’t get any better, this community surprises us by buying more tickets and supporting our work more deeply,” TRTC board president Ann Unterberg said in a prepared statement.

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‘HS MUSICAL’ PHENOM HITS BASIE STAGE

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

First came the Disney Channel movie ‘High School Musical‘ in January, 2006.

Then the video and the soundtrack broke sales records, giving rise to a concert tour and an ice show. ‘High School Musical 2,’ the cable sequel, is coming out in August. There’s talk of Broadway. And though critical response has been lukewarm, ‘High School Musical’ is now practically an industry.

When Red Bank’s Phoenix Productions announced auditions for ‘High School Musical,’ 306 kids auditioned for 48 parts, says assistant executive director Elaine Eltringham. Running this weekend only at the Count Basie Theatre, the four-performance run is nearly sold out, with only balcony seats remaining.

Clearly, some people can’t get enough of ‘High School Musical.’

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S-L: FUN ‘UNDERPANTS’ NEED CLEANING

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Theater critic Peter Filichia of the Star-Ledger is more tickled by the Two River Theater Co.’s production of ‘The Underpants‘ than he is by some of the choices made by Steve Martin, who adapted the play from ‘Die Hosen,’ a 1910 German work by Carl Sternheim.

Some of Martin’s gaglines don’t hit the mark, Filichia says.

From the review:

No question that he’s cheapened the play by adding references to flatulence, urination, constipation and diarrhea. Some say the greatest sex organ is between the ears. If so, Martin didn’t always use his. What had been a souffle of a play is now a little heavier.

Still, Filichia praises the production as “fun-filled” (while mistakenly referring to the play’s director, Jackson Gay, as “he.”)

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IN THE END, IT’S GOOD TO BE KING

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In “The Underpants,” Steve Martin’s adaptation of a 97-year-old German comedy that began previews last night at the Two River Theater, the character of the king is a looming but largely unseen presence.

The story concerns a woman who, in an effort to get a glimpse of the king passing by in a parade, experiences a brief undergarment malfunction in public, an event that — ahem — gives rise to multiple attempts at seduction.

It also mortifies the woman’s husband, Theo, a bureaucrat who worries that the king himself saw what others so indelibly saw. But though his portrait hangs on the stage throughout the play, the king doesn’t appear in person until near the end.

Red Bank’s own Joe Russo, a 61-year-old teacher in the performing arts program at Red Bank Regional, plays the king. redbankgreen was fortunate to get an audience with His Highness earlier this week as the company prepared for its monthlong run.

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STATE’S BEST DOWNTOWN, RIGHT HERE

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It’s turning into a break-out-the-Champagne kind of week for downtown Red Bank.

First came news last week that Tiffany & Co plans to open one of its high-end emporiums on Broad Street.

Now there’s a poll released Monday by Monmouth University and New Jersey Monthly magazine that finds Red Bank is the ‘best downtown’ in Central Jersey.

The poll of 801 adults found that six percent considered Red Bank the best downtown in the state, tied with Newark. In the central swath of the state, Red Bank won the ‘best’ designation from 28 percent of respondents, widely outpolling Princeton, New Brunswick and six other towns.

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WHERE HAVE I SEEN THIS?

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There were two big surprises (for the redbankgreen staff, that is) arising from last week’s ‘Where.’

One was the strong number of responses, most of them correct. The other was the guess from someone who we like to think of as a Mr. Red Bank-type (no, we won’t embarrass him by revealing his identity) who thought the picture captured a scene from Atlantic Highlands.

Atlantic Highlands? Where the heck is that?

No, the photo was snapped looking east down the alleyway between the Two River Theater and the building that houses B&B Saddlery, Danny Sanchez Photographer, Kurani Interactive and maybe some other businesses that we’re not familiar with.

Among those who got it right were Jenn Woods, a devotee who gets onto the ‘Where’ podium with regularity; Bob Rechnitz (who should know; he built the theater and is directing ‘True West’ there now); Bob Colmorgen (who informs us newbies that before it was a saddle store, it was an auto parts place and, before that, a coat factory); Chuck Lambert; David Hollander; Alex Turoczi; JOHNNYSTUF and Eileen Weller.

First in, though, was John de la Parra. Congrats to John and thanks to all who emailed us.

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‘TRUE WEST’ GETS LEDGER BOOST

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In today’s Star-Ledger, theatre critic Peter Filichia is big on the Two River Theater Co.’s staging of ‘True West,’ the Sam Shepard classic that opened last week at the Bridge Avenue venue.

“There’s plenty of gas in the tank that director Robert M. Rechnitz has filled to the brim,” Filichia puns, after noting that the production features lots of burps from the two beer-guzzling leads.

Those characters, brothers named Austin and Lee, are played by Wayne Maugans and Rob Sedgwick, whom Filichia says are “accomplished” in the roles.

Speaking of the physicality of the play, in which the two men tussle vigorously, Filichia says, “Audiences looking for something atypical will be swept along by the sheer force.”

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