WEEKEND: WHAT ARE YOU DOING OLD YEAR’S?

RibeyesThe Ribeye Brothers (above) bring their scrappy brand of “detached garage rock” back upside the Dub for a Sunday night see-off to the Year That Was. The annual performance of BLACK NATIVITY, below, finds room at the inn on the Count Basie stage for a Saturday matinee here in 2013. 

Friday, December 27:

blacknativityFAIR HAVEN: “Musicians love playing there,” said our old friend Siegfried “Sigi” Schock one recent night. “They get a great crowd; there’s cheap beer… AND you get paid.”

As it happens, that best-kept-secret venue is not some Flavor of the Month nightspot, but none other than the Knights of Columbus Red Bank Council 3187 in Fair Haven. The hall, at 200 Fair Haven Road, has been the scene for some successful benefit concerts in the past, although it’s also true that the KofC books bands on a consistent basis throughout the year. Tonight, between the hours of 8 and 11:30 pm, Council 3187 hosts singer-guitarist Robert Ender and his combo — familiar from well-received gigs at the Red Bank Guinness Oysterfest, the Dublin House, D’Jeet and other Shore area shindigs. Then on January 24, Sigi and his bandmates in Ziggy Shock keep the partyball rolling into Twenty-Fourteen.

RED BANK: It’s the FINAL weekend at Two River Theater for the remade/ remodeled family musical adaptation A Wind in the Willows Christmas — a production about which one wise hyperlocal stated, “it’s a show that’s succeeded in finding its heart.” Performances continue Friday (12 and 7 pm) and Saturday (12 and 4 pm), with a closing matinee at noon on Sunday. Take it here for tickets (adults $20 – $55; ages 18 and under $25) — and here for our review of the show, on redbankgreen.

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WEEKEND: A HOMECOMING FOR NJ SUPERSTARS

jacquie1It’s a Count Basie Homecoming for JACQUIE LEE — seen here performing at a 2012 Rockit! concert in Red Bank — when the VOICE runner-up who wowed everyone from Jennifer Hudson to Lady Gaga returns as part of A SOULED-OUT CHRISTMAS on Saturday. Meanwhile, Ms. Lauryn Hill (below) has rescheduled her Sunday “Homecoming” show at the Basie to February 7, 2014.

Friday, December 20:

RED BANK: “Life can get pretty hectic and crazy the week before Christmas,” says Gerda Liebmann, the internationally exhibited multimedia artist who established Gallery 135 in the second-floor space shared by Red Bank Community Church. With that in mind, Liebmann comes to The Oyster Point Hotel for a special opening event that “gives everyone a chance to take a little step back from the madness, and enjoy some artwork that hopefully will induce a little serenity into their holiday season.”

view_image.aspThe artist will be present for a Friday evening reception (6 to 8 pm) for a display of encaustic paintings — an ancient technique that uses beeswax, resin and pigments melted together — that includes a set of banners based on the Christmas narrative, and abstract paintings (on wood and paper) that include tea and tea leaves. The paintings remain on display at the Bodman Place hotel through the end of December, and are available for purchase as a unique Christmas gift — call Gerda at (732)687-3580 for more info.

RED BANK:  One week after celebrating the feast days of Our Lady of Guadalupe with a procession that brought hundreds of marchers out on a frosty Red Bank evening, the Music Ministry at St Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church takes it indoors — with a special Christmas concert presented in association with the Friends of the Red Bank Public Library. The 8 pm event,   a performance of Handel’s Messiah and traditional Christmas carols, spotlights the Trenton Diocesan Festival Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Shawn T. Mack — with soloists Lauren Walters (soprano), Jody Doktor (mezzo soprano), Justin Gonzalez (tenor), and Wilbur Lewis (bass). Call (732)747-0813 ext. 10 to reserve tickets ($20.00 adults; $10.00 students). Church doors open at 7 pm as part of a silent auction and raffle of gift baskets, to benefit the Friends of the RBPL and their work on behalf of the Library.

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A SECOND ‘WIND’ FOR A NEW TRTC TRADITION

Willows 2Becca Ayers (Mrs. Otter), William Thomas Evans (Dr. Badger) and Mike Faist (Mole) co-star in A WIND IN THE WILLOWS CHRISTMAS, the original family musical now onstage in a new encore production at Two River Theater. (photos by T. Charles Erickson; click to enlarge)

By TOM CHESEK

In an interview that appeared here last year on redbankgreen, composer Mike Reid had this to say about his working habits — and the creative process that spawned A Wind in the Willows Christmas:

“I just kind of let it rip, to remind myself of the saying that the first thought is the BEST thought. Let the initial impulse be your guide!”

Reid — the 1970s-era All Pro defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, turned Grammy winning Nashville singer-songwriter — must have had a change of game plan at halftime, as he and his creative partners (lyricist Sarah Schlesinger, book writer Mindi Dickstein) have returned to Red Bank with a re-imagined version of Willows, the original family show they developed for Two River Theater Company in 2012.

Now playing at Two River Theater through December 29, the musical (adapted from the familiar animal characters and tales by Kenneth Grahame) has been restaged with a new cast, new director, new production design, and a newly highlighted focus on the element of Christmas. And — as befits a simple story of one wetland creature’s quest for a home — it’s a show that’s succeeded in finding its heart.

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WEEKEND: VISIONS OF SUGARPLUMS ABOUND

Danu.ColmHenryjpegAbove: Celtic combo Danú brings “An Nollag in Éirinnis” to Santa Basie’s workshop on Friday…while below, young adult novelist Julie Milillo comes home to Middletown for a Saturday discussion of Immortal Sin.

Friday, December 13:

JulieMililloRED BANK: It’s opening weekend for the annual holiday-season family show at Two River Theater, a newly revamped production of the original musical A Wind in the Willows Christmas that mixes Kenneth Grahame’s classic animal characters with “a lot more holiday spirit,” and redesigned costumes that highlight “ears and tails and fur.” Tonight’s 7 p.m. opening is preceded by a special noontime Scout Day preview that allows scout troops a behind-the-scenes look at the production, with games, snacks, photo ops and more. Performances continue at 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday; take it here for tickets (adults $20 – $55; ages 18 and under $25) — and keep it tuned to redbankgreen for more on Mr. Toad and friends.

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WEEKENDER: A NOT YET WINTER WONDERLAND

lennon 120513 4The 33rd anniversary of John Lennon’s death finds a traveling exhibit of the Beatle’s artwork camped out in Red Bank.

Friday, December 6:

RED BANK: In the midst of the holiday cheer, this weekend marks the 33rd anniversary of the murder of John Lennon — and it so happens that the traveling “pop-up gallery” exhibit titled “The Artwork of John Lennon” will be stationed in downtown Red Bank for the occasion. Featuring prints and some 100 pieces from the Lennon collection, the show parks it at 21 Broad Street (formerly Agostino Antiques) for three days beginning December 6. Take it here for a redbankgreen feature with complete schedule details and more.

SHREWSBURY: It’s a rare opportunity to get a close-up look at the buildings in the borough’s state and national designated “Four Corners” Historic District, as the Monmouth County Historical Association conducts Holiday Lantern Tours in the area of Broad Street and Sycamore Avenue. Tours commence at 6 pm and 8 pm, with reservations required ($15 adults; $8 ages 12 and under) available at (732) 742-1277. Christ Church will be serving up dinner (Moravian Chicken Pot Pie!) with seatings at 5 pm and 7 pm, for an additional $10.

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WEEKEND: FIRST NIGHTERS, FARE-THEE-WELLS

SherMackHeatherMorganLisa Sherman and Sandy Mack bring their all-new Sherman Mack project to the Walt Street Pub Friday night. Below: painter Martin Kammler has the floor at BCC, for a close-up look at his creative process. (Top photo by Heather Morgan; click to enlarge)

Friday, November 22:

martinLINCROFT: He’s spoken of the physicality of his artistic process, which makes sense: when he’s not creating vividly visceral canvases, Martin Kammler approaches his other career as an in-demand personal trainer with equal intensity. The native of Essen, Germany visits the Center for the Visual Arts Gallery at Brookdale Community College to talk about his work and demonstrate his unorthodox, “paint on the floor” method in a presentation that begins at 7 pm. Take it here for details.

Before arriving at CVA, stop in at the Monmouth Museum (adjacent to the Brookdale Performing Arts Center) for the opening reception of Artists Celebrate the Holidays, a group show featuring “a vast representation of holiday celebrations from the traditional to contemporary works and installations.” Reception’s on from 6 to 8 pm, and the show remains on display during regular museum hours through January 5, 2014. It’s a first-nighter as well for the Holiday Gift Gallery, an annual array of handcrafted and other one-of-a-kind gifts (including jewelry, scarves, ceramics, home items and more) from local artists. There’s live music and refreshments also featured at the reception from 6 to 8pm, and the Gift Gallery stays open for business during regular museum hours through January 12.

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TALKING TOADS AND KID LIT, AT TWO RIVER

 Tituss Burgess as Mr. Toad (center) with Tom Deckman as Mole (left) and Nick Choksi as Water Rat (right, in car) in A WIND IN THE WILLOWS CHRISTMAS at Two River Theater. (Photos by T. Charles Erickson)

By TOM CHESEK

He’s the impulsive, fad-conscious, spendthrift, anthropomorphized amphibian at the heart of the classic children’s book The Wind in the Willows — and even for those who’ve never gotten round to reading Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 volume of stories, the image of a gleeful Mr. Toad racing through the countryside in his open roadster is one of the most iconic in all of Kid Lit.

The timeless tales of Toad and his animal friends have been variously Disneyfied, Pythonized, and even showtuned in a Broadway bomb with Nathan Lane. Here in Red Bank — where many old-timers still recall the 1970’s watering hole Toad Hall — audiences are now being treated to the world premiere of an all new musical spinoff (commissioned and developed by Two River Theater Company artistic director John Dias), entitled A Wind in the Willows Christmas.

The annual holiday-season family show reunites the TRTC team with the partnership of Grammy winning singer-songwriter (plus 1970’s-era All-Pro defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals) Mike Reid and lyricist Sarah Schlesinger — the composers of the “chamber musical” In This House that premiered at Two River’s branded Bridge Avenue artspace last season.

Working with book writer Mindi Dickstein (Broadway’s Little Women and Toy Story: The Musical) and director Amanda Dehnert, the songsmiths have shaped the character of Mr. Toad to the talents of Tituss Burgess, an acclaimed creature of Broadway (he originated the show-stealing part of Sebastian in The Little Mermaid) and network TV (a recurring role on 30 Rock) whose trademark high tenor marks a departure from traditionally froggy-voiced conceptions of Toad. He’ll be starring alongside fellow woodland pals Nick Choksi as Water Rat, Tom Deckman (Spamalot) as Mole, John Jellison (Memphis) as Badger, and Farah Alvin (Nine) as a distaff Mrs. Otter.

In separate interviews, the Drama Desk at redbankgreen spoke to Burgess and Reid during rehearsals at Two River — and Q&As follow forthwith, with a flip of the pixelated page.

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