By TOM CHESEK
When last we looked in on Two River Theater Company, the folks over at Red Bank’s regional professional stage were keeping the motor (and the meter) running on an acclaimed production of August Wilson’s Jitney, a modern American classic set in the heart of a scarred but scrappy urban neighborhood.
When the lights come up this Sunday in the Two River Theater’s intimate “black box” performance space, they’ll beam down upon a now-vacant home in a quiet bit of country; a setting in which two sets of strangers a troubled young couple who’ve lost their way, and an older pair who’ve returned to this place to find something they’ve been missing are brought together by chance on a frosty New Year’s Eve, In This House.
At first glance, the two shows would appear to have little in common but a closer look reveals the presence in both casts of Chuck Cooper, the Tony winning actor and singer (1996 Best Featured Actor in the musical The Life) who topped the cast of Jitney as Becker, the dour and disillusioned boss of the play’s gypsy cab depot.
In the “chamber musical” that’s being staged for the first time anywhere one of two world premieres in TRTC artistic director John Dias‘s 2011-2012 season (the other was last October’s Seven Homeless Mammoths…) Cooper co-stars with Brenda Pressley (Broadway’s original cast of Dreamgirls) as the older couple Henry and Luisa. Jeff Kready (Broadway’s Billy Elliott) and Margo Seibert (TRTC’s Orestes) appear as younger couple Johnny and Annie under the direction of May Adrales.
And, as if the production didn’t already have enough to distinguish it, it may just be the only musical you’ll see this season that boasts a score by a former NFL defensive tackle.