SCHOOL’S OUT FOR SANCHEZ AT TWO RIVER

lifeinmiddlebOne class act: Adam Canterbury (Red Bank Middle School), Spencer Mullen (Thompson Middle School) and Sophia Jackman (Ranney School) are among the local students featured in the original musical LIFE IN THE MIDDLE, going up this weekend at Two River Theater. (Rehearsal photos by Janine Kamouh)

By TOM CHESEK

With the official arrival of summer and the much-anticipated winding down of the school year, thousands of area middle schoolers are fully willing and ready to slam shut the yearbook on the 2009-2010 session.

For a select group of local students, however, the middle school experience — complete with shifting alliances, weirdly morphing bodies and classroom politics — is ready to go another round. Beginning with an invitation-only dress rehearsal on Thursday and continuing with four performances through Sunday, a cast of 22 young actors and musicians will be taking the Two River Theater stage in Life in the Middle, an original rock musical that “looks at what it’s really like to be right in the middle,” courtesy of dialogue taken directly from middle schoolers.

With every one of the performers boasting his or her own home-grown fan club, it’s no wonder that the entire (expanded) schedule of shows sold out in a flash. But if director and co-author KJ Sanchez has her druthers, everyone in America will get a chance to catch this oral history-based project in the months and years to come.

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THE STUFF OF TWO GENIUSES, AT TWO RIVER

picassobAlfredo Narciso (as young Pablo Picasso) takes to the floor with Rachel Botchan in PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE, the Steve Martin comedy opening this week at Two River Theater. (Photos by T. Charles Erickson)

By TOM CHESEK

Ever since the invisible curtain went up on its first mainstage production in 2005, the Two River Theater hasn’t been shy about showcasing the stuff of genius — be it Shakespeare, Shepard or Shaw; Moliere or Beckett; Noel Coward or Tennessee Williams.

You can add Picasso and Einstein to that Mensa mix — but if you do that, you’ll have to make room for Steve Martin too.

Yes, the star of The Man With Two Brains and Dead Men Dont Wear Plaid has a history with the Two River Theater Company, which brought a revival of The Underpants — Martin’s springtime-fresh take on a musty old German farce — to Red Bank in 2007.

Three years later, TRTC revisits the oeuvre of the Emmy- and Grammy-winning renaissance guy — with a new staging of Martin’s all-original play Picasso at the Lapin Agile, previewing tonight and continuing through June 6.

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