MIDDLETOWN: PLAY ON, AT TWO LANDMARKS

The Navesink Arts Center (the long-ago Middletown Library) and the “Old Stone Church” at All Saints are the settings for some hearth-warming community theater events in weekends to come.

Here in the season of the Great Pumpkin Spice, thoughts stray across the Oceanic Bridge, and into the Navesink-Locust precincts of Middletown Township — a place of rustic old landmarks, foliage-festooned hillside trails, and the mist-shrouded banks of Many Mind Creek.

Beginning this weekend, and for many October days and nights to come, two of the area’s most historic haunts are offering up some diversions designed to take some that encroaching seasonal chill from the bones.

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MIDDLETOWN: WHEREFORE ART ROMEO? HERE.

For years, it’s been the resident community theater group at a local landmark church nestled in a corner of Middletown. But if that description suggests a slate of shows no more challenging than the umpteenth revival of Arsenic and Old Lace, then let it be known that the Stone Church Players aren’t about to be intimidated by the likes of William Shakespeare.

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RED BANK: EITHER WAY, WE’RE SCROOGED

a_christmas_carolNebraska Theatre Caravan’s stage spectacle of ‘A Christmas Carol’ makes its annual stand on the Count Basie stage this Friday…even as Middletown’s Stone Church Players offer up an intimate “radio-play” version of the Dickens classic all weekend long. Meantime, the Stone Church Players present an intimate “live radio play” style version of Scrooge’s story.

He creeps in from the shadowy fringes of the Season of Lights this time each year: the bitter old man of worldly business whose quiet Christmas Eve will soon be besieged by chain-rattling spirits and life-altering visions of the Past, Present and Yet To Come.

But even as we celebrate the forced re-entry of Ebenezer Scrooge into the mainstream of humanity, we do tend to take a certain comfort and joy from the knowledge that the miserly man-we-love-to-hate will be back all the earlier at his counting house, refreshed and rebooted, for the next day’s matinee. And so we welcome him once again this Friday night to Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre.

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ON THE GREEN: BIG THEATER ON SMALL STAGES

gyp_35_retKate Pentek is the child vaudevillian who grows up to become burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee as the classic backstage musical ‘Gypsy’ comes to the Count Basie stage for two weekends. (Photo courtesy Phoenix Productions)

basie-gypsy-091416The waning weekends of summer are traditionally a prime time to dust off your first-night finery and head back to the “theatah.” And even as Red Bank’s resident professional stage company, the Two River Theater, opens its new season with “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” the Greater Green’s three community troupes (that’s Phoenix Productions, Stone Church Players, and Monmouth Players) also are ready to raise the curtains on a variety of entertainments.

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MIDDLETOWN: FULL-TIME SANTA, TEMP ELF

Miracle34thEach tells a tale of Christmas set in a Macy’s department store. One is earnest and uplifting, and involves a real Santa mistaken for a fake one. The other is less so, and centers on an elf no one would ever mistake for the real thing.

Both make their way to the Greater Red Bank Green this weekend.

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RED BANK: ‘SQUIPS’ STAY AFTER SCHOOL

A preview of BE MORE CHILL, now in an extended furn at the Two River Theater.

By TOM CHESEK

The academic year may be ending right about nowfor most high schools, but for the cast of the school-set musical Be More Chill, graduation day has been delayed another week.

By popular demand, the amped-up, sci-fi infused, satirical tunefest – a production originally scheduled to ring down the curtain after June 21 – has been ordered to “stay after school” at Red Bank’s Two River Theater Company, with a round of five additional performances between June 25 and 28.

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NAVESINK: BRIT FARCE, SCOTTISH PLAY

NavArtsStoneChurchThe venerable venues of the Navesink Arts Center (long ago, the original Middletown Library) and the “Old Stone Church” at All Saints are the scene for a new season of community theater this weekend.

Between its rustic old landmarks, the mist-shrouded banks of Many Mind Creek, and the hillside trails of the Hartshorne Woods, the Navesink section of Middletown Township seems a natural draw here in the season of the Great Pumpkin Latte — and among its many autumnal delights is the annual kickoff to a new interlude of intriguing community theater; both from the area’s longest-established stage troupe, as well as from a relative upstart with a history-steeped connection.

It all begins this Friday, October 3, when the Stone Church Players return with a new take on a classic that’s old as the ruddy moors — William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Macbeth. The allegedly accursed “Scottish Play” has been blamed for as many freak backstage accidents as it has elevated thespian careers — but while the Bard’s blood-drenched drama of murderous ambition and ill-met-by-moonlight madness seems a perfect fit for All Saints’ Memorial (the historic “Old Stone Church” at the crossroads of Navesink and Monmouth Avenues), the producers have cooked up a cauldron of surprises for theatergoers.

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NAVESINK: A STONE CHURCH ‘SUPERSTAR’

allsaintsThe Stone Church Players wrap up their production of the Webber-Rice rock opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, with two more performances this weekend.

It wasn’t all so very long ago that Jesus Christ Superstar was denounced from pulpits across the Western world, branded as everything from “a witches’ brew” to “an utter blasphemy” — in fact, more than 40 years from its first appearance as a record album, the Webber-Rice rock opera still manages to ruffle the odd feather of the faithful, with its portrayal of Jesus as a quite-human figure racked by self-doubt. But the sandal-songfest has also served to spread the gospel to new generations more effectively than a hundred thousand snoozeworthy sermons — and it’s not uncommon these days to see earnest community productions going up inside houses of worship, as with the musical’s current local revival by the Stone Church Players.

When the Players reconvene at All Saints’ Memorial Church (the historic “Old Stone Church” at the crossroads of Navesink and Monmouth Avenues) this weekend, they’ll be presenting the final performances of the Michael Hazlett-directed show that opened on June 20, and continues through June 29.

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WEEKEND: A WALK, A BUMP, A PADDLE, A KRALL

Little Silver artist Mike Ciccotello at work creating a mural at Red Bank’s Salon Concrete, where his paintings will be on display with a show opening Saturday night. Diana Krall, below, returns to the Count Basie on her Glad Rag Doll tour, part of the Jazz at the Basie series. (Click to enlarge)

Friday, October 4:

krall-14b742a60245ed7ab16d252ae50f9da000b154ed-s6-c30RED BANK: Fans who recall Natalie Merchant from her gold- and platinum-plated tenure as frontwoman of the rock band 10,000 Maniacs might be pleasantly surprised by the silvery hair she’s sported on her current tour — as well as by her fronting an ever-changing array of symphony orchestras from town to town. When the singer takes to the Count Basie boards at 8 pm, she’ll be joined by the New Jersey Chamber Symphony for a concert that draws from her recent hit release, ‘Leave Your Sleep’ — a lushly arranged set of literary inspirations and expansive musical visions. Take it here for tickets.

NAVESINK: The bumper crop of Broadway shows in 1938 included not only ‘On Borrowed Time — currently onstage in a splendidly designed, handsomely realized production at Two River Theatre —but another folksy fantasy of life, love and devotion in a small town. Traditionally staged without props or scenery, Thornton Wilder’s classic ‘Our Town’ lends an avant-garde edge to its cross-section slice of sentimental Americana. Beginning tonight, the community troupe Stone Church Players presents the first of six performances at All Saints’ Memorial Church (the historic “Old Stone Church” at the crossroads of Navesink and Monmouth Aves). Michael McClellan directs a cast of 17 players in the show that continues weekends through October 13; take it here to reserve.

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