RED BANK: A BARD AT THE END OF THE WORLD

Actor-singer-composer-musician Rinde Eckert talks about creating the music for the Two River Theater production of “Pericles,” which begins previews this weekend. (Video courtesy of the Two River Theater.)

Even as passionate a cheerleader as Two River Theater Company artistic director John Dias is forced to admit that Pericles, Prince of Tyre is “one of Shakespeare’s plays that has frustrated his fans” —  the result of its being “most obviously the result of a quirky collaboration with another playwright (or two).”

A sprawling smorgasbord of mythology and melodrama that boasts sensational plot points (incest! pirates! sexual slavery!) and more scenery than can be chewed through in a single sitting, the late-period romance fairly begs, as Dias declares, for “an interpretive team of theater artists who love it for the splendor of its quirks, while working to bring its disparate selves together.”

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RED BANK: TWO RIVER TOASTS ARTS ANGELS

Joan_and_Bob_Rechnitz_Ed_Zipprich_Ivan_PolonskyTwo River Theater Company co-founders Joan and Robert Rechnitz were joined on the evening of March 28 by Red Bank Councilman Ed Zipprich and philanthropist Ivan Polonsky, for the 2016-17 Season Announcement event at Two River’s Bridge Avenue arts center. Some 100 of the stage company’s major donors and supporters attended a special reception in the lobby prior to the 7:30 p.m. program, mingling with TRTC artistic director John Dias, Tony nominated actor-director Michael Cumpsty and other artists involved in the new slate of shows that begin in September 2016. A full rundown of the new schedule, including season subscription information, can be found here. (Photo by Teja Anderson)

RED BANK: DOLLS GO TO HEAD OF THE CLASS

Broadway DollsAs a lead actor in Broadway’s HAIRSPRAY, Hollie Howard (center) paid her dues, eight shows a week. As the co-star and creator of  The Broadway Dolls, the Colts Neck resident has assembled a troupe of young “triple threat” veterans from some of the biggest hits of the New York stage — and on Saturday, May 21, the Dolls will be the featured attraction for A Little Taste of Broadway, a benefit event presented by the Navesink Business Group and hosted at Two River Theater. A fundraiser for capital improvements at St. James Elementary School, the 6:30 p.m. affair boasts cocktails and food samplings from such Red Bank restaurants and purveyors as Teak, Bistro, Greek Eats, Dish, San Remo, The Cheese Cave, Lil’ Cutie Pops, and The Vintage Cake — in addition to a set of hits from crowdpleasing shows like WICKED, RENT, JERSEY BOYS and more. Take it here for tickets ($85), which include the show, tastings and (beer, wine, soda) beverages.

RED BANK: FAMILIAR FACES RETURN TO TRTC

johndiasTwo River Theater Company artistic director John Dias, above, directs a musical that he co-wrote, and Madeleine George, below, the theater’s first Playwright in Residence, will see her comedy — which is set in Red Bank mounted next season.

madeleine georgeThere are encore appearances by favorite actors. Re-visits to the words and works of Shakespeare and August Wilson. No less than three shows making their world premieres — including one set within “a larger-than-life version of Red Bank.”

When Two River Theater Company unveiled its 2016-2017 schedule of productions Monday night, it did so in a fashion that’s become a real rite of spring on Bridge Avenue: with the company’s celebrated artistic director John Dias joined on stage by creative people representing the comedies, dramas, musicals and multi-media experiences that will illuminate Two River’s stages beginning in September.

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LINCROFT: BARD BIRTHDAY BASH AT BCC

BCC Shakespeare-GroupLocal actors stage a performance of William Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” at Brookdale Community College in 2013. The school’s Performing Arts Center is inviting everyone to get into the act, during the sixth annual Shakespeare Read-A-Thon in April.

Press release from Brookdale Community College

On Thursday, April 21, Brookdale Community College will celebrate the 452nd birthday of William Shakespeare, with the sixth annual Shakespeare Read-A-Thon at the Lincroft campus.

Between 6 to 8 p.m., residents of all ages are invited to dress as their favorite Shakespearean character and join friends, family and fellow community members in a collaborative reading from the Bard’s works, held inside BCC’s Performing Arts Center.

This year’s program will celebrate the women of Shakespeare, shining a spotlight on the most memorable moments involving female characters such as Lady Macbeth, Rosalind, Juliet, Miranda and Desdemona. Individual and group readings of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets are encouraged. Spectators are welcome as well.

“This annual celebration encourages people to try out their reading and acting skills, but more so to conquer their apprehension over Shakespeare’s language,” said Brookdale English Professor James Cody. “It shows that Shakespeare can be fun.”

Refreshments will be served during the April 21 event, for which parking in Lot 1 is recommended. For more information, contact Professor James Cody at jcody@brookdalecc.edu or call (732)224-2681.

RBR’S MONAGHAN AN OUT-LOUD WINNER

Patrick MonaghanPress release from Red Bank Regional High School

On March 17, Red Bank Regional High School senior Patrick Monaghan of Little Silver came in second in the very competitive New Jersey Regional Poetry Out Loud State Championship. This was the second visit to the competition’s stage for the celebrated RBR thespian, who has won the Regional competition for the past two years.

For his performance at the College of New Jersey, Patrick performed William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29: When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes as well as two other selections: Or by Thomas Sayers Ellis and Ode to the Midwest by Kevin Young.

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RED BANK: DAVID CROSS TAKES BASIE STAGE

David Cross“Making America Great Again” has been a rallying cry for more than one TV-tested public speaker this season — and if there are, as suggested, two Donald Trumps, then there must be as many iterations of David Cross as the market will bear.

Back on the road for his first large-scale standup tour since 2009, Cross backs the campaign bus up to Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre for an appearance Wednesday night.

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RED BANK: MILLION $ MARCH ON MONMOUTH

Million_Dollar_QuartetA momentous musical meeting between (left to right) Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley powers MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, when the Broadway hit brings its national tour to the Count Basie Theatre for two Saturday shows; followed closely by legendary crooner Johnny Mathis on Sunday. 

It’s the stuff that pop-music lore and legend is made of — a 1956 in-studio meeting and impromptu jam session between four young alumni of Sam Phillips’ celebrated Sun Records stable: Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis (at the time a session player who’d yet to release a record), and the Memphis label’s most earth-shaking graduate, Elvis Presley. Made all the more amazing due to its happening organically, even accidentally (and tempered by the fact that, according to recorded evidence, Cash bailed after the photo was taken), the session that would come to be called “The Million Dollar Quartet” would eventually inspire a “jukebox” style musical that would play successful engagements on Broadway, in Vegas and numerous other destinations.

When the touring production of Million Dollar Quartet arrives at the Count Basie Theatre for two shows this Saturday, March 18, it will ignore the gospel-oriented material that made up the actual session, in favor of a surefire salvo of hits that mixes the artists’ Sun-era signatures (“Blue Suede Shoes,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “I Walk the Line”) with Elvis blockbusters like “Hound Dog.”

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RED BANK: MEGASTARS TO LIGHT UP BASIE

SOPHIA-LOREN_470x350Screen siren Sophia Loren (above) graces the Count Basie stage Thursday, and Broadway dynamo Patti LuPone (below) follows one night later.  

Patti LuPoneWait, $425 for a single ticket to the Count Basie Theatre? This had better be something special — like, a “once-in-a-lifetime, VIP, limited meet-and-greet” opportunity with one of the world’s most recognized and iconic leading women of film.

Turns out it really is that, as the Red Bank landmark adds to its list of beyond-legendary visitors (Cary Grant, George Carlin, Ringo Starr) with a Thursday-night appearance by Sophia Loren, the Italian-born international movie star and style pacesetter.

And it’s just the first of two events in a row to feature female performers who’ve won worldwide acclaim.

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RED BANK: TEACHING MR. SHAKESPEARE

Folger Workshop Two RiverPress release from Two River Theater

On Tuesday, March 1, forty teachers from five New Jersey counties assembled at Two River Theater in Red Bank, for a full-day Teaching Shakespeare Workshop sponsored by the Washington, DC-based Folger Shakespeare Library.

The workshop was underwritten jointly by the Princeton and Monmouth County Branches of The English-Speaking Union, with generous support from Two River Theater’s Kate Cordaro, Director of Education, and John Dias, Artistic Director.  It was one of many educational programs being offered in 2016 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

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RED BANK: MISSION HOUSE WINS OK

st crispin's 030316Architect Ned Gaunt’s rendering of the proposed St. Crispin’s Social Ministry House on the St. Anthony of Padua campus. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

At a hearing packed with supporters, and without a peep of objection, Red Bank’s zoning board gave unanimous approval Thursday night to a plan by St. Anthony of Padua parish to build a new social services facility on Herbert Street.

“They’ve obviously been very beneficial to the town,” said board member Sean Murphy, citing the church and its volunteers. “Unfortunately, the need is growing, but we’re very fortunate to have them.”

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LINCROFT: PLAY WRINGS HUMOR FROM PHONE

Dead MansIt begins with that bane of live theater companies everywhere: the persistently ringing phone.

But in Dead Man’s Cell Phone, at Brookdale Community College, the unwelcome noise is not only part of the show: it’s the catalyst that sets off a bizarre chain of connections involving Jean (the woman at the next café table, who answers the call when it becomes evident that the phone’s owner is very much dead) and various family members or acquaintances of the dead guy, Gordon.

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RFH DRAMA STUDENTS TO PERFORM AT NYU

BystanderPress release from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School

The Bystander: A Portrait of Apathy, a proposal submitted by Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School English teacher Suzanne Sweeney, has been accepted by the New York

University Forum on Educational Theatre. Students from Sweeney’s current RFH drama class will perform the play about teen harassment and bullying on April 24, as part of the event that will take place at NYU on April 21-24.

The Bystander: A Portrait of Apathy was submitted by Sweeney to the Forum on Educational Theatre, also known as FOET, in the fall of 2015 as a youth theatre production. Proposals need to adhere to a timeframe of 30 to 60 minutes and resonate with the three focus areas for the forum: drama in education, applied theatre, and theatre for young audiences/play production. The proposed production was accepted after what FOET describes as “a comprehensive international peer review process.”

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RED BANK: BASIE’S FAMILY-FRIENDLY BEARS

BerenstainsIt’s a special performance keyed to young audiences with Autism Spectrum Disorder when the Count Basie Theatre hosts the Berenstain Bears Thursday afternoon. 

It’s being described by the Count Basie Theatre as “sensory-friendly… a judgment-free, comfortable environment for families who would otherwise be reluctant to attend a live theatre performance.”

It’s a very special Thursday matinee of The Berenstain Bears LIVE! in Family Matters the Musical — and when the touring production based on the beloved children’s book characters of Stan and Jan Berenstain rolls into Red Bank on Thursday, it will represent the first in a projected series of events benefitting POAC Autism Services in its mission to raise awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

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RED BANK: TWO RIVER WALKS A TIGHTROPE

A promo video for ‘Ropes.” Below, actor Varín Ayala. (Click to enlarge)

Varin_AyalaTo walk a tightrope is to travel in a way that’s as fraught with peril as it is delicately balanced — a daredevil method of getting from point A to point B, even if it remains indisputably the most direct path available.

In Ropes, the drama by Mexican playwright Bárbara Colio that begins previews at Red Bank’s Two River Theater Saturday, a trio of brothers walk a high-tension line between an unattainable ideal of family life on one end and, on the other, the reality of the strained relationships between themselves and their father, a world-renowned tightrope artist who abandoned them as children.

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R-FH PLAYERS ROLL WITH BONNIE & CLYDE

r-fhPress release from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School

As the spring musical production for the 2015-2016 school year, the Tower Players of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School will present the Tony-nominated Broadway musical Bonnie and Clyde on the weekend of March 18-20.

A thrilling show from Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll and Hyde, Civil War, Dracula), Bonnie and Clyde provides a perfect showcase for the 45-student strong Tower Players cast. It boasts a non-traditional score that combines blues, gospel, and rockabilly styles, plus exciting song and dance numbers including the show-stopping “God’s Arms Are Always Open.” It is based on the real-life adventures of starry-eyed Bonnie Elizabeth Parker (Eli Rallo) and the outlaw Clyde Chestnut Barrow (Matt Hughes), who embarked on a crime spree across the United States at the height of the Great Depression — a story that became the basis for a landmark 1967 film that starred Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.

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RED BANK: NJSO PLAYS IT TO THE HILTY

Megan HiltyBroadway bombshell Megan Hilty (above) is the special guest Valentine of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra for a Friday night Count Basie concert. Carolyn Wong (below) takes the Sunday solo spotlight with the Monmouth Symphony.  

CarolynWong_violinistThey’re Playing Our Song, goes the old cliche governing the next-dance maneuvers of young lovers and senior lovebirds alike. But while the right tune blared from a tinny little speaker still does the job nicely, one can’t help but think that those truly heart-fluttering moments can only really be expressed by a full 40-piece complement of strings, brass, woodwinds, keys and kettledrums.

With that in mind, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra returns to the stage of the Count Basie Theatre Friday nigh for an event that’s designed to loosen up those starchy, itchy tuxes and gowns.

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MIDDLETOWN: SOMETHING’S NOT NORMYLE

Bill Normyle Anna Cibrian Bad SeedThe creepy janitor (Bill Normyle) has a proposition for sweet and innocent Rhoda (Anna Cibrian) as the Monmouth Players present the 1950’s suspenser ‘The Bad Seed,’ starting Saturday at Navesink Arts.

Following a December detour into holiday-themed comedy, the Monmouth Players resume their 2015-’16 “Season of Suspense” in signature style this Saturday with the first of eight performances of a drama that thrilled Broadway audiences more than 60 years ago — right around the time that the players were beginning their incredible run as the area’s longest continuously operating theatrical troupe.

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RED BANK: A LAST CALL FOR ‘REASON’

Lives of Reason TRTC 1-16 063 Lives of Reason, by Robert Rechnitz and Kenneth Stunkel, directed by Jonathan Fox at Two River Theatre Company 1/7/16 Costume Design: Karen Perry Lighting Design: Gina Scherr Set Design: Charlie Corcoran © T Charles Erickson Photography tcepix@comcast.net

Ilona (Mairin Lee) is the center of attention, as the Two River Theater original LIVES OF REASON (above) enters its final round of performances…while Monmouth U’s Frank P. Fury (below) inaugurates a new series of Conversation + Play events at Two River. (Top photo by T. Charles Erickson)

FuryAlthough its authors — longtime Monmouth University English professor Robert Rechnitz, and veteran Dean/ History prof Kenneth Stunkel — have waved away any direct connection to their former place of employment or co-workers, the unmistakable flavor of a life spent in academia permeates Lives of Reason, the original ensemble drama that represents the maiden collaboration for its two octogenarian playwrights.

Even as Lives enters into the final eight performances (today through Sunday, February 7) of its limited engagement at Two River Theater, the venue re-establishes that Monmouth U connection with the help of the organization known as The Navesink, whose TEDxNavesink events used the Bridge Avenue arts center for its sold-out 2014 session (and who since relocated to, you guessed it, the Monmouth campus). Thursday, February 4 marks the first in a three-part series of Conversation + Play “salons” that pair an 8 pm performance of Two River’s current mainstage production with a special pre-show lecture — in this case the young MU faculty member and literature specialist Frank P. Fury, Ph.D.

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RED BANK: NEW ‘REASON’ FOR OLD FRIENDS

rechnitz stunkel 010616 2Ken Stunkel, left, and Two River Theater founder Bob Rechnitz are first-time, eighty-something playwrights getting the big-time treatment. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)  

By TOM CHESEK

hot-topicWhen the 2015-2016 season resumes at the Two River Theater in Red Bank this weekend, it will find the celebrated company once again departing from familiar Broadway-tested properties like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Seven Guitars to the latest in an ongoing slate of world premiere dramas by relatively “new” playwrights.

This time out, the play is called Lives of Reason, and the rookie playwrights are a couple of eighty-something colleagues named Bob Rechnitz and Ken Stunkel.

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RED BANK: GO TELL IT ON MONMOUTH

Black Nativity 2010A cast of some 45 actors, singers, dancers and community members brings the theatrical gospel celebration BLACK NATIVITY back to the Count Basie Theatre this Sunday, December 27, in the return of a local tradition from Dunbar Repertory Company. (Photo courtesy Richard Krauss)  

When it was first presented to Broadway audiences back in 1961, the theatrical experience known as Black Nativity was little more than a 40-page outline of a script on paper; an adaptation of the Gospel of St. Luke that was infused with the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes. In their fully fleshed form, however, the words came to life through a mix of traditional spirituals like “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” African American dance forms, colorful costumes, and an improvisatory element that encourages local clergy, schoolchildren and public officials to get into the act everywhere that Nativity has become the stuff of tradition, from Savannah, GA to Seattle, WA and numerous points between.

Beginning about the turn of the new millennium, Black Nativity became the stuff of Monmouth County tradition, when Darrell Lawrence Willis Sr. first presented its “powerful message of joy, hope, victory and liberation” at Manasquan’s landmark Algonquin Theatre, in a staging by Dunbar Repertory Company, the producer-director’s grassroots troupe dedicated to presenting the works of African American playwrights. Re-emerging at the Count Basie Theatre in 2010 (where Willis, a now-retired faculty member at Brookdale Community College, has served as a board member for ten years), the production quickly staked out a place as a year-end centerpiece of community life for performing artists and church congregations from all around Monmouth. Following a one-year hiatus, Black Nativity returns to the Basie stage this Sunday afternoon, December 27, for its fifth Red Bank appearance — a re-energized and highly anticipated extension of the Yueltide season, about which Willis found time to chat with redbankgreen.

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RED BANK: A CHRISTMASSY TRIO AT BASIE

Nebraska XmasThe forecast calls for indoor snow, timely spirits and much music, as A CHRISTMAS CAROL heralds a week of holiday entertainments on the Count Basie stage.

frozen-sing-alongThe dizzyingly jam-packed days of December continue apace at the Count Basie Theatre, where the stage of the area’s most Christmassy performing arts center receives visitations by holiday-themed entertainments hailing from points near and far.

Here are three, one each for the next trio of nights.

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BIG NEA AWARDS TO TWO RED BANK VENUES

Louis Prima JrNext-generation swing-music wildman Louis Prima Jr. and his Witnesses will perform at the Count Basie Theatre in spring 2016, as part of an enhanced Jazz at the Basie slate funded by an Art Works grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. Two River Theater also received an NEA grant, toward the development of a new musical. (Photo by Mitchell Glotzer)

From press materials issued by The Count Basie Theatre and Sen. Bob Menendez

Two major nonprofit arts entities in Red Bank have been named as recipients of a National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) Art Works award for 2015. The Count Basie Theatre and Two River Theater were among 15 New Jersey-based organizations awarded a total of $290,000 toward the development of original arts programming; part of a 51st annual slate of NEA grants totaling $27.7 million and supporting more than 1,100 projects in 49 states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.

The NEA’s Art Works category supports the creation of work and presentation of both new and existing work, lifelong learning in the arts, and public engagement with the arts through 13 arts disciplines or fields. Two River Theater Company was recipient of $20,000 to support the development and funding of The Ballad of Little Jo, an original musical featuring lyrics by Sarah Schlesinger and music by Mike Reid (A Wind in the Willows Christmas), as well as supplementary education programming (discussions, student matinees, classroom teachers’ guides) that focuses on the women of Frontier America.

In celebrating its namesake, the Basie will use its $15,000 NEA grant to help produce a series of programs and activities celebrating Jazz Appreciation Month, with jazz-related lectures, films and biopics scheduled to take place throughout April 2016. On May 19 the celebration will continue with a jazz-centric edition of the Count Basie Theatre’s “No Shush!” kid’s concert series, starring Louis Prima Jr and the Witnesses, as well as the Red Bank Jazz Orchestra under the direction of conductor Joe “Mooche” Muccioli, artistic director of the Jazz Arts Project at the Basie’s Performing Arts Academy. Proceeds from that performance — and a donation from the Gia Maione Prima Foundation, named for Prima’s late mother — will match the NEA gift.

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RED BANK: FUNNY THINGS KEEP HAPPENING

A Funny Thing...Forum TRTC 11-15 175 A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim choreography by Denis Jones directed by Jessica Stone Two River Theatre Company 11/13/15 Scenic Design | Alexander Dodge Costume Design | Clint Ramos Lighting Design | Jeff Croiter and Jake DeGroot Hair and Makeup: David Bova Sound Design | Drew Levy © T Charles Erickson Photography tcepix@comcast.netDavid 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.

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