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RED BANK: A LAST ROUNDUP FOR ‘LITTLE JO’

Teal Wicks (right) stars as the title character — with bride and groom Jane Bruce and Eric William Morris as frontier friends — as “The Ballad of Little Jo” enters its final week of performances at Two River Theater. (photo by T. Charles Erickson)

It’s always a pleasure to see the physical space and human resources of Two River Theater Company employed to their full potential, and with the current mainstage musical The Ballad of Little Jo, TRTC artistic director John Dias and company have crowned their 2016-2017 season with a polished production that packs something of a homegrown pedigree; that doesn’t skimp on the quality or quantity of assembled talent — and that speaks to the American soul in all of its conflicted, enterprising, ambitious, messy and often melancholy glory.

Co-written by, developed and directed here by Dias — and adapted from a 1993 film of the same name — the show that made its formal debut some 17 years ago at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre has traced a journey to the Red Bank stage almost as long as that of the real-life 19th century woman whose story (very loosely) inspired it. It’s a journey that enters its final stretch for the time being, as the production wraps its limited engagement with eight more performances, today through Sunday, June 25.

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RED BANK: ‘LITTLE JO’ GETS ACTUAL BALLADS

Teal Wicks (second from left) is the title character — and Daniel K. Isaac, Jane Bruce and Eric William Morris lend solid support — as the screen-to-stage musical adaptation “The Ballad of Little Jo” begins previews at Two River Theater. (Photo by Amanda Crommett)

In the 1993 film The Ballad of Little Jo, director Maggie Greenwald told the story of Josephine Monaghan, a young 19th-century woman from a proper Boston family who adapts to a life of self-exile in an Idaho frontier town by living her life as a man.

While the movie left the actual ballads at the door, a handful of creative people heard the music in its fact-based tale. And beginning with its first preview performance this Saturday, Little Jo adapts to life in the 21st century in its new incarnation, as a musical stage production from Red Bank’s own Two River Theater Company.

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RED BANK: A FRONTIER FUNDER AT TWO RIVER

Two River Theater.

Although it’s a brand-spanking-new addition to the growing crop of world premieres from Red Bank’s own Two River Theater Company, the upcoming production The Ballad of Little Jo represents the culmination of a years-long process, through which the borough-based stage troupe nurtured and developed the highly anticipated musical adaptation that closes out its 2016-’17 season in grand style.

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RED BANK: JAZZED AND ENCHANTED

Master of ceremonies Bob Tuzzo (above) and the Belle Tones (below) are among the performers joining Joe Muccioli’s Red Bank Jazz Orchestra Saturday night at the Two River Theater.

The partnership of the borough-based nonprofit Jazz Arts Project with the Count Basie Theatre has yielded some swingin’ly successful results, from the young-musician Jazz Arts Academy to April’s recently wrapped Talkin’ Jazz series; and from December’s annual Sinatra Birthday Bash to other big-stage events showcasing our very own Red Bank Jazz Orchestra.

That said, just as Red Bank’s connection to America’s classical music is bigger even than the legendary “Kid from Red Bank” Count himself, so too does the Jazz Arts brand bust out of the boundaries of the Basie from time to time — witness the summertime slate of open-air concerts at Riverside Gardens, or the Summer Jazz Cafe series that candle-lights up the warm weekend nights at Two River Theater.

This Saturday night, the organization under the artistic direction of conductor-arranger-scholar Joe “Mooche” Muccioli returns to the Two River stage for the latest edition of what’s fast become a rhythmic rite of spring — the fundraiser concert event known as ‘An Enchanted Evening of Song.’

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RED BANK: PADILLA ‘WOMEN’ ON THE WING

The cast of ‘The Women of Padilla’ share a cathartic moment in the Tony Meneses play that concludes its world premiere engagement this week at Two River Theater. (photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Beginning with a 1 p.m. performance Wednesday, seven opportunities remain for the general public to catch The Women of Padilla, the latest in an ever-growing portfolio of plays that have made their world premiere on the Red Bank stage of Two River Theater.

Written by Tony Meneses (whose previously produced project here was Guadalupe in the Guest Room), the drama is an ensemble piece that reflects an ongoing commitment by the theater company to develop and promote new works by Latino creators. It’s also a succinct and slightly surreal piece with an underlying universal quality — a glimpse at the home front in a time of seemingly eternal war, as well as the ways in which we find family, build community, and latch onto gossamer wings of hope whenever something important goes missing from our lives.

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RED BANK: A SENSES-FRIENDLY SUMMER CAMP

As part of its 2017 Summer Theater Camp, Red Bank’s Two River Theater will offer its first classes for students with autism ages 10-17, plus a special “sensory-friendly” performance of the play ‘The Way Back Home’ on June 10.

Press release from Two River Theater Company

Two River Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst, has announced two new initiatives designed to support young people on the autism spectrum, and welcome them to the theater.

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RED BANK: THEATER ADDITION APPROVED

A rendering of the proposed addition to the left of the existing theater and fly tower at center, as seen from the northeast. (Rendering by Kaplan Gaunt Desantis Architects. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Red Bank’s Two River Theater won raves from neighbors, and zoning board approval, Thursday night for a plan to expand its non-performance space.

But West Street residents pressed for, and failed to obtain, changes to aspects of the plan that they worry will direct more traffic onto their block, some of it from motorists using the theater lot simply to avoid street traffic.

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RED BANK: EIGHT WOMEN, A WAR AND LOVE

Previews for ‘The Women of Padilla’ start this weekend at the Two River Theater. Below, playwright Tony Meneses.(Click to enlarge.)

In a 2015 redbankgreen interview, Tony Meneses confessed he “had a sense from the start that I was never gonna make money as a playwright, that it had to mean something more to me than that.”

The Guadalajara-born, Brooklyn-based dramatist was speaking about Guadalupe in the Guest Room, a comedy-drama with a personal slant that made its fully staged world premiere at Red Bank’s Two River Theater.

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RED BANK: TWO RIVER INTROS NEW SEASON

Michael Cumpsty, Brandon Dirden and Ruben Santiago-Hudson (pictured at an August 2016 event promoting the Two River Theater production of MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM) are among the returning artists who are scheduled to contribute to the upcoming 2017-18 season at the Bridge Avenue arts center.

It’s a season highlighted by a bevy of returning talents, both on the stage and behind the scenes. A season that boasts an enhanced slate of offerings for young theatergoers; more outreach to the area’s growing Spanish-speaking audience, some never-before-seen works, and several fresh perspectives on familiar stories — including two by a certain Wilde man of English letters, as well as one even Wilder.

When Two River Theater Company raised the curtain on its upcoming 2017-2018 schedule of productions on Sunday night, it did so via a genuine “rite of spring” tradition at the Bridge Avenue artspace, as TRTC’s celebrated artistic director John Dias and a panel of guests heralded the company’s 24th season with a “debt of gratitude” to founders Robert and Joan Rechnitz (“the two most glorious people I know”), a tip of the hat to the faithful supporters (“we know you care about this as much as we do”), and a brief channeling of Sally Field (“you actually like us!”).

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RED BANK: LAUNDROMAT & APARTMENTS OK’D

The new structure would be built between a six-unit apartment building, at left, and Juanito’s Market, at right, with all three properties sharing parking in back. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

The Red Bank zoning board approved the creation of a new laundromat and four apartments on a vacant Shrewsbury Avenue lot Thursday night.

But before the project can get underway, grocer and restaurateur Juan Torres will have to reduce a possible tab for water and sewer hookups that could total $562,000.

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RED BANK: MAKING ‘MERRY’ IN MARCH

Zuzanna Szadowski, Jason O’Connell and Nicole Lewis are the whole company in the Two River Theater staging of Shakespeare’s ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor,’ playing through March 26. (Photos by T. Charles Erickson. Click to enlarge.)

Whether it was an amateur outing in a gnat-infested public park or a top-ticket import from London’s West End, veteran observers of William Shakespeare’s works have by now gotten used to seeing the great dramatist’s plays twisted, teased and teleported into all manner of settings — more than a few of which might have made him flip his folio.

From Romeo and Juliet in modern Miami and Hamlet on Wall Street to a World War II Richard III and a Tempest on a planet named Altair IV, it seems as if there’s no place in space or time from which the Bard is barred — and at Red Bank’s Two River Theater, where last year we saw Pericles re-imagined as the world’s most epic saloon story, the comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor continues for two more weeks, during its long-term stay at the sort of roadside motel that would normally specialize in hourly rates.

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RED BANK: TWO RIVER PLANS ADDITION

A rendering of the proposed addition to the left of the existing theater and tower above, as seen from the northeast. (Rendering by Kaplan Gaunt Desantis Architects. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

The backstage area of Red Bank’s Two River Theater is about to get bigger, if a plan in the works gets a green light from borough officials.

Scheduled for consideration by the zoning board next week, the plan calls for the construction of an architecturally bold addition to the existing theater for rehearsal spaces, costume-making and the building of props and scenery, according to documents on file.

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RED BANK: TWO WAYS TO MAKE ‘MERRY’

Two River Theater hosts two very different takes on Shakespeare’s comedy ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor,’ beginning with Saturday’s first preview of a three-actor free for all. 

When William Shakespeare put quill to parchment and began work on The Merry Wives of Windsor, he probably wasn’t laboring under the illusion he might create something to be dissected by critics and scholars for hundreds of years to come. The more immediate tastes of the popular audience were calling out to him, and with Wives the busy Bard had the opportunity to spin one of his most crowd-pleasing creations — Sir John Falstaff, the portly and roguish companion to the future king in the two parts of his historical drama Henry IV — into a rowdy (and cheerfully out-of-time) little knock-down farce.

Beginning this Saturday night, the Two River Theater offers Red Bank audiences not one but two rather unique takes on one of Shakespeare’s silliest comedies: one an intimately scaled three-actor adaptation that goes in search of the play’s “dark undercurrent;” the other an abridged full-cast version showcasing a talented company of high school age performers.

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RED BANK: BRUSH UP YOUR SHAKESPEARE

It’s one of William Shakespeare’s most raucous comedies; one that indicates that even the celebrated Bard wasn’t above cranking out a “popular demand” money shot. Picking up the character of Sir John Falstaff from the two parts of Henry IV — and plunking the portly, cowardly, boastful and besotted knight down into a farcical fracas of amorous misadventure and comical come-uppance — The Merry Wives of Windsor does its job within a relatively short running time, and with a relatively economical cast of 20 characters.

Or does it? According to Eric Tucker (pictured), co-founder and artistic director of NYC’s Bedlam Theater, the circa-1600 play can be brought to life just fine by a company of no more than three very busy actors — and tonight, February 13, Two River Theater offers the public a free-of-charge chance to watch director Tucker in action, as he works with his modestly scaled (but expansively skilled) cast in an Open Rehearsal at the Bridge Avenue arts center.

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RED BANK: ‘HURRICANE’ WATCH AT TWO RIVER

Mia Barron as Sandy in ‘Hurricane Diane’ by Two River Theater playwright-in-residence Madeleine George (below).

madeleine-georgeTo get right to the sell point, it’s a play that’s set in Red Bank — maybe not that real-world Call In the Authorities/ Retail Churn Red Bank we know so well from redbankgreen, but a representation of coastal suburban living that manages to capture a distinctly Monmouth County set of mind.

It’s there in a cozy cul-de-sac neighborhood that a quartet of local women find themselves drawn to a strange visitor who blows into town like a game-changing superstorm — a “lesbian separatist permaculture gardener from Vermont” who stands out from the pack of lesbian separatist permaculture gardeners, in that she is in fact the Greek god Dionysus, come to enact a new agenda “in the dying days of the American empire, as the planet warms and the oceans rise.”

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RED BANK: TWO RIVER KEEPS THE LIGHTS UP

The luminescent artistry of Lightwire Theater is on display from December 27 to 30 as the Two River Theater hosts the New Orleans-based troupe in a music-infused, family friendly show.

very-electric-xmasWhile we’re not recommending leaving the Christmas lights up into the season of Independence Day fireworks, there’s something to be said for staying plugged in past December 25.

Beginning Tuesday, December 27 — the same day Red Bank observes the Festival of Lights with its official town menorah at the train station — the Two River Theater plays host to the family-friendly touring show A Very Electric Christmas, in a multi-day engagement that marks its first-ever exposure to Shore area audiences.

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RED BANK: BANDIERA AND ‘HOPE’ AT BASIE

bobby_bandiera_and_jon_bon_jovi_at_hope_concert_8_2015Bobby Bandiera, joined here by longtime tourmate Jon Bon Jovi at a past Hope Concert, brings the ninth edition of his all-star benefit show back to the Basie Friday.

donegoodlogoIt’s just about the last of the big holiday-themed entertainment events to take the stage of the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank each December — a frankly awesome rock and roll extravaganza that plants a glittering star atop the tree at an eleventh hour when various Scrooges, Nutcrackers and vocal choirs have scurried off to their last-minute shopping excursions.

Ask Bobby Bandiera and he’ll probably tell you that a dose of charitable spirit is more important than ever in the final countdown to Christmas and Hanukkah — and that the day-to-day survival of our neediest neighbors doesn’t take a holiday break when the rest of the community settles into its family traditions.

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RED BANK: CRAFTS, CAROLS, COLLECTIONS

two-river-crafting-carolingIn the spirit of Christmas (and in conjunction with the current production of THE LION IN WINTER), Two River Theater held an evening of crafting, caroling and holiday treats this past weekend, led by local event decorating company #TableSettingIsMyLife. Guests of all ages learned how to make their own Christmas cracker crafts (an English tradition), while the Monmouth Civic Chorus delighted the crafters with festive holiday songs throughout the night. Two River also collected canned good donations for The Foodbank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

RED BANK: TIME TO REMEMBER IS WRITE NOW

project-write-nowThe educational programs offered by the nonprofit Project Write Now are the beneficiary of a Night to Remember fundraiser Tuesday night at Two River Theater.

From press materials furnished by DNB Events and Project Write Now

If you’ve wondered about those “I remember…” collection boxes that you may have noticed at select businesses throughout Red Bank, they’ve got a story to tell — or rather, they’ve been placed there to collect the stories that you and your neighbors have to tell.

 

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RED BANK: SEEKING MERRY WIVES, AND MORE

little-shakespeare-windsorPress release from Two River Theater Company

Two River Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst, announces an opportunity for student actors, stage managers, designers, and run crew in grades 9-12 to be involved in the theater’s upcoming performances of A Little Shakespeare: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The 75 minute play, adapted from the William Shakespeare comedy by director Nicole A. Watson, runs March 7-12, 2017 on the stage of Two River’s Rechnitz Theater.

Auditions for interested high-school students will be held at Two River Theater on November 16 and 18. In addition, the theater is offering opportunities for high school students who are interested in working as an assistant stage manager, assistant director, assistant designer, or on the production’s run crew.

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RED BANK: A SIXTH ANNUAL ‘CROSSING’

Flamenco_DancersThe outdoor plaza at Two River Theater comes alive on Wednesday evening with a colorful keynote to the Crossing Borders Festival, the annual free celebration of Latino theater curated by Stephanie Ybarra (below).

Stephanie YbarraIt’s become an eagerly anticipated annual feature of the programming from Two River Theater; a celebration of cultural diversity and connections that occurs on the border between the professional company’s mainstage seasons — and on a street named Bridge Avenue, no less.

Even as issues of national identity and immigration have been forced to the front once more during a superheated election-year summer, the frontiers represented by the Crossing Borders Festival go beyond mere lines on maps. Returning for a sixth annual edition this week, the five-day celebration of emerging Latino theater examines the barriers, access points and grey areas between heritage and assimilation; reality and fantasy; the pull of memory and the need to move on.

Kicking off with the now-traditional outdoor Neighborhood Party on Wednesday, August 3 — and continuing through Sunday, August 7 with a menu of play readings (one of them presented in both English and Spanish), lectures and audience forums — the festival maintains its mission of “bringing together writers and stories from all over the country to explore questions of individual and national identity, and what it means to be a part of the Latino diaspora,” in the words of guest curator Stephanie Ybarra.

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RED BANK: COMEDY FOR A CAUSE

Jimmy FaillaJimmy Failla (above) and Mike Gaffney (below) are among the stand-up guys fundraising for a cause Saturday at Two River Theater.

Mike GaffneyFor a breed of performers who hone their craft via roast-ready insults, scatological science, interactive combat with audience hecklers, and a filter-free delivery that’d give even the Donald pause, stand-up comedians can be real sweethearts sometimes — and no more so than when they’re joining forces for a worthy cause, as with this Saturday’s Laugh Out Loud Comedy Show at Two River Theater in Red Bank.

Back for its eighth annual outing, the popular event transforms the mainstage of the Bridge Avenue arts center into a high-class Chuckle Hut for a raucous one-night stand.

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RED BANK: MOVIE SATURDAY ON INDIE STREET

The trailer for “65 Percent,” a documentary by Mike and Jon Altino of Middletown, screens at the Red Bank Middle School at 1 p.m.

indie street logo 2Saturday-morning cartoons, a locally made documentary and shorts-in-a-bunch enliven Saturday’s schedule of the Indie Street Film Festival, which got underway in Red Bank Wednesday night and continues through Sunday afternoon.

Click the “read more” for the full schedule and a sampling of delightful and outrageous movie trailers. Read More »