A ONE AND FUTURE CLASSIC, AT TWO RIVER

David Lee HRHFRASIER co-creator David Lee (left) returns to Red Bank to direct a young cast of pros (including Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, right) in the Two River Theater Company production of CAMELOT.  Originally published on RedBankGreen.com, November 14, 2014 Even as Red Bank’s own Phoenix Productions offers up a supremely silly take on the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table — courtesy of Monty Python’s Spamalot — the professionals at Two River Theater are getting serious about “The Once and Future King,”   beginning with Saturday’s first preview performance of Camelot. The 1960 golden-age musical from the songwriting team of Lerner and Loewe — a Broadway costume classic that originally starred Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, Roddy McDowall and Robert Goulet — is already an unorthodox choice for the Two River team led by John Dias and Michael Hurst. But a closer look reveals a production that loses the brooding middle-aged actors in favor of a dynamic young ensemble of just eight players — even as it preserves the award winning score that gave the world “How to Handle a Woman” and “If Ever I Would Leave You.” Directing the show that opens on Friday, November 21 and runs through December 14 is David Lee, the Emmy winning sitcom impresario (Frasier, Wings) whose previous Two River outing was the celebrated Present Laughter from two seasons back (he also re-teamed with some of the original Frasier cast for a fundraiser presentation on the Red Bank stage). He’s working with an awesomely experienced cast that includes Oliver Thornton, a young veteran of London’s West End (Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Rent) who’s making his American stage debut as Arthur — plus Nicholas Rodriguez (Disney’s Tarzan) as Lancelot, and (as the man-you-love-to-hate Mordred) Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, who shared the Broadway stage with Angela Lansbury and Elaine Stritch in Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Tony nominee Steve Orich (Jersey Boys) directs a live ensemble of seven musicians. Your upperWETside Control Voice spoke to David Lee about the pros and cons of parades, pageantry and pointy hats. Read on… Continue reading

GO, GO ANNETTE: A ‘THIRD’ METRIC FOR SUCCESS

ThirdOscar and Emmy nominee Annette O’Toole stars in Wendy Wasserstein’s THIRD, continuing through June 22 at Two River Theater.

Originally published on RedBankGreen, 6/20/14

Wednesday marks the final homestretch of performances for Third, the Wendy Wasserstein play that closes out the 20th anniversary season at Two River Theater. For anyone who hasn’t caught the production under the direction of Broadway star and Middletown resident Michael Cumpsty, there are six more chances to catch the acclaimed and dynamic turn by Annette O’Toole now through Sunday, June 22. The Emmy nominated actress (for The Kennedys of Massachusetts, which also featured Cumpsty in a supporting role) and Oscar nominated composer (with her husband Michael McKean, currently on Broadway with Bryan Cranston in All the Way) stars as a middle-aged maverick professor at a Liberal Arts college, whose own bold ideas about Shakespeare’s King Lear are challenged by a young male student (Christopher Sears) who comes to represent everything the academic despises. Emily Walton, JR Horne and Amy Hohn co-star as the friends and family members in the professor’s eventful orbit.

Your upperWETside Control Voice spoke to Annette O’Toole about her role (and her time in Red Bank), with a Q&A around the corner.

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10/24: Fear Factors and Trans-formed Actors

CarrieThere WILL Be Blood: Emily Chester is America’s telekinetic teen, as Nick Montesano’s NENAproductions resurrects CARRIE: THE MUSICAL for one more prom dance, beginning this weekend in Ocean Grove.

The breathlessly anticipated resurrection of one of the most fabled flops in musical theater history…a deep-fathom thinkpiece by Edward Albee, on display at a community church-playhouse…an Obie winner pitches a double-header in Red Bank…all this plus edgy experiments in the suburbs, a cask of Poe to go, and an Evita that shows her professional roots. THAT’s what’s going up on local stages in the days and weeks to come…and THAT’s why a night out on the aisles is more than just Neil Simon anymore (not that there’s anything wrong with that; our friends at Monmouth Players are right now presenting an entire ambitious “Season of Simon” at their newly reborn and rebranded Navesink Arts Center).

CARRIE On Screaming: Townsfolk tremble at her name, and not simply because she packs the gazebo-leveling wallop of a thousand Sandy Katrina Tsunamis in every Sissy-Spacek staredown. No, while America can’t seem to get its fill of Stephen King’s tortured telekinetic teen Carrie White (witness this month’s latest multiplex makeover), it’s CARRIE: THE MUSICAL that’s had Broadway bravehearts whimpering in the wings, since its megamillion-dollar 1988 debut went down in flames after just five performances. Enter Nick Montesano, producer/ director/ impresario of NENAproductions Theater Project — and a fearless sort who’s never shied from energizing the community-theater stage with some of the most unorthodox items from Sondheim (MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE), McNally (KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, CORPUS CHRISTI) and more (AVENUE Q, URINETOWN, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER). Nick and his NENA company have resurrected the dark tunefest (book by screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen; songs by the Oscar-winning team of Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford) for a welcome new look, in an engagement that opens Friday, October 25 and runs for two weekends (Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, with a 3 pm Sunday matinee on November 3) inside the prom-ready auditorium of Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center; the old high school at the corner of Main and Main.

Authentic seventeen year old Emily Chester takes on the title role, with Jennifer Nelson in the vivid part of Carrie’s holy-roller mom. They’re supported under Montesano’s direction by a troupe of NENA regulars (Jessica Berger, Jeff Caplan, Arnold Teixera) and newcomers for a “classic tale of bloodsport and revenge” that, underneath the power ballads and the pig blood, is “a story of bullying more timely than ever.” With that in mind, the cast will be  joined after the October 26 performance by Jessica De Koninck of the New Jersey State Anti-Bullying Task-Force, for a discussion on “the state of bullying, its heightened effect on young people in our area, and as it relates to new and progressing HIB laws.” Tickets ($25) from ticketleap.com or at 732.988.1007.

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5/17: Visions of Latino Culture, Aquí y Allá

borderThe acclaimed documentary feature HARVEST OF EMPIRE screens at Two River Theater Sunday night as part of a three-day Vision Latin-American Film Festival at locations around Monmouth County. 

Its performance spaces may have gone momentarily dark between mainstage productions — but this weekend, Red Bank’s Two River Theater becomes one of the newest participating hosts for an arts event that’s primed to connect with some new audiences: the annual Vision Latin American Film Festival.

A presentation of the Latino Coalition of New Jersey — the nonprofit organization that’s hosted the annual Latino Festival of Monmouth County in Freehold Borough since 2005 — the newly expanded program offers up a slate of seven feature-length dramatic and documentary films selected to increase the understanding and appreciation for the various Latino cultures that thrive in New Jersey.

“Through the eyes of the filmmakers, we will see Latino perspectives on relationships, politics, family, religion and customs that surround their lives,” the coalition says in its press materials for the filmfest, which will feature introductions by guest speakers as well as post-screening Q&A discussions.

The celebration of Latino cinema has forged a separate identity from the summertime festival in Freehold, with a two days/ three nights schedule of recent works from North and South America that screens this weekend in three different Monmouth County locations — including Two River Theater Company’s branded Bridge Avenue artspace.

1/15: A Border Crossing in Red Bank

Christopher CrossGrammy’d-up singer-songwriter Christopher Cross comes to Red Bank’s Two River Theater for an Intimate Evenings concert (and a benefit for Sandy Relief) on Thursday, January 17.

To a huge cross section of humanity, his songs are integrated with the Soundtrack To Our Lives — whether the Number One hit ballad “Sailing” was on the turntable during a certain memorable moment in your adolescence, or whether “Ride Like the Wind” was part of the choral curriculum in Mr. Grueter’s fifth-period music class, or whether “I Will (Take You Forever)” was danced to at your sister’s wedding, or whether you just heard “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” piped into the Shop-Rite not ten minutes ago.

Yet, for all of the units he sold back around the turn of the 1980s; for all of the awards that have made his trophy case buckle and groan — no less than five Grammys, a Golden Globe, and even an Oscar for that theme to the 1981 Dudley Moore comedy — we tend to know precious little about Christopher Cross.

Even if you do happen to know a thing or two about the smooth-tenor voiced (but low-key as regards his public persona) singer and songwriter, you might be surprised to find that the San Antonio native divides his residential time between his Texas stomping grounds and Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. You probably wouldn’t be at all surprised to know that he continues to release new albums of precision-crafted pop music, and to play dozens of live concerts every year — a line of endeavor that brings him to the stage of Two River Theater this Thursday night, January 17.

The 7:30 pm show is the latest in an ongoing series of “Intimate Evenings” events produced by MusicWorks Entertainment, the concert promotion and production company co-founded by former Count Basie Theatre Foundation CEO Rusty Young. In keeping with the MusicWorks mission statement, portions of proceeds will benefit the nonprofit Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation and its network of locally based humanitarian and restoration efforts.

Expect the expected on Thursday, in the form of those signature standards rendered with an angelic tone that hasn’t coarsened or dulled over the oceans of time that have passed since their release. Expect as well the unexpected, in the form of songs from such recent projects as 2011’s Dr. Faith — an album that proves Cross has ceded none of his claim to being king of the adult-contemporary love song, soft-rock candy mountain (“When You Come Home”). It also amps up the chunky guitars in a manner that might pop a monocle or two — and on compositions like “I’m Too Old For This,” introduces us to an Angry (but still sweet-voiced) Chris who rails against “the willful ignorance across the nation…the screaming yahoos on every station.”

UpperWETside spoke to the affable, down-to-earth Cross, somewhere between the Moon and Red Bank Borough…

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8/16: Leon’s Up a Lazy River (or Two)

Redbone comes to Red Bank on Sunday, August 19, when MusicWorks presents the master of back-porch blues, song-sheet pop and hobo-camp folk music in an Intimate Evening at Two River Theater.

The seersucker suit and the straw boater; the smoked glasses and the Groucho-greasepaint ‘stache; the Kentucky-colonel tie and the Walking Stick made famous in song — who else could it have been but Leon Redbone?

Yet, when we happened upon the veteran performer at a Tony Bennett show in Atlantic City — and greeted him with a smooth and sophisticated “Hey, you’re Leon Redbone” — all we got by way of acknowledgment was an “Oh, I don’t know ’bout that…,” delivered in the inimitable drawl that sounds like Al Jolson and Dean Martin knocking back a few Old Fashioneds at the 1919 World Series.

Since he materialized upon the national stage in the mid-1970s, serenading Saturday Night Live viewers with songs like “Ain’t Misbehavin” and “Shine On Harvest Moon,” the man of mystery named Leon Redbone has by and large spoken to the world from beneath a vintage hat, behind a novelty-shop nose ‘n glasses, and between the lines of of a bygone era of Tin Pan, back-porch, popular music. Granting few interviews over the years — and remaining purposely vague and contrary on those occasions he did — the master musicologist and ace guitar-picker introduced several new generations of listeners to songs like “The Sheik of Araby” and “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree,” popping up from time to time in the occasional beer commercial, TV talk show or major motion picture even while pointing the way toward the more stripped-down, laid back rootsy styles that would take hold in the wake of the music industry meltdown.

On Sunday evening, August 19, Redbone brings his timewarp talents and hoary sense of humor to Red Bank as the latest in the summertime series of Intimate Evenings concerts, produced by MusicWorks Entertainment and presented on the stage of Two River Theater. UpperWETside was fortunate to get the man on the Ma Bell (following at least one false start); what follows is certainly one of the most cantankerous and curmudgeonly Q&As we’ve ever conducted in this space — but imagine it delivered with a wink, a chuckle and an attitude that’d make W.C. Fields proud, and flip that wax 78 over for more.

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7/17: A Beach Blanket ‘Bolero’ in RB

A “flash mob” of nonprofessional dancers in rehearsal for BOLERO RED BANK at the Two River Theater.

Addressing a stageful of local residents at Two River Theater last Thursday night, Larry Keigwin framed a pre-rehearsal peptalk with “It’s great how in this digitally saturated age, we’re all doing something together that’s live and interactive.”

The occasion that brought the award winning choreographer together with a group of several dozen Monmouth County neighbors — an eclectic collection that boasts at least one septuagenarian, six or seven primary school kids and a dog — is a project by the name of Bolero Red Bank.

Designed exclusively for the Red Bank area audience, the dance piece uses the magnificent musical merry-go-round of Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” as the soundtrack to a celebration of the greater Red Bank area — and the things that the people who live here love the most about it. And, when Bolero Red Bank hits the stage of the Bridge Avenue performing arts center this Friday and Saturday night, it will prove to be something of a “day at the beach” for audience and participants alike.

With as many as 60 local “pedestrians” expected to take part in the one-weekend show, Bolero Red Bank will encapsulate the spirit of summertime recreation and Shore life through movement, humor, and accessories that range from roller skates, boogie boards and hula hoops, to metal detectors, kites and Frisbees. It’s a colorful theme that quickly emerged from talks that Keigwin conducted with his amateur cast — all of whom responded to an open-call audition at the theater on July 9.

“I get a lot of joy out of cooperating with the performers,” explains the NYC-based choreographer — who, contrary to the stereotype of the dictatorial director, welcomes suggestions from the cast regarding costumes and onstage business.

“I do a little research before I come to town, but I trust the people. The people know their community, and the kind of characters who live in it.”

The founder of the Keigwin + Company troupe has organized “Bolero” presentations to great acclaim in several other American cities, from Akron (“we had 50 tires on stage”) and Santa Barbara (“lots of surf and sand”) to the suburbs of Fairfield County (“shopping carts”). In fact, it was Two River Theater Company artistic director John Dias who, having witnessed that production of “Bolero Suburbia,” invited Keigwin to work his magic on Bridge Avenue — a prospect that left the choreographer “really jazzed about bringing this to Red Bank.”

In advance of the two public performances on July 20 and 21, an intensive schedule of rehearsals found dozens of participants taking time out from their everyday lives  — among them Lorraine Stone of Eatontown.

“What I love most is that this is a chance for the community to get into the act,” says Stone, a performance artist, writer and grandmother who can often be seen dancing at the evening drum circles on the Asbury Park boardwalk. “Any excuse to dance!”

As for Ravel’s “Bolero” — a popular classic that received its widest exposure through the 1970s Bo Derek-Dudley Moore movie “10″ — Keigwin selected a New York Philharmonic recording that clocks in at a satisfying 15 minutes, a window that the choreographer points out “relates to the Andy Warhol quote about everyone being famous for fifteen minutes.”

“Dancers from our company will also be there on stage, guiding people and adding more dance elements to the piece,” explains Keigwin. “It’s the responsibility of a choreographer to make everyone look good, and play to their strengths.”

Bolero Red Bank will be performed as the centerpiece of an 8 pm program that also features four short works (CaffeinatedLove Songs,Triptych and Contact Sports) spotlighting the professional dancers of Keigwin + Company. Tickets ($20, $37, $42) are still available and can be reserved right here.

6/26: ‘Crossing’ Back into Red Bank

Director and curator Jerry Ruiz, playwright Tanya Saracho and actor-writer Carlo Albán return to Red Bank for the second annual CROSSING BORDERS festival Thursday through Sunday at Two River Theater.

When the event known as Crossing Borders makes its second annual stand at Red Bank’s Two River Theater this week, it will do more than roll into town with a precious cargo of four new works by Latino playwrights. It will cross between matters of cultural curiosity and personal identity — and it will cross over into some surprising settings that range from chilly Wisconsin to some of the lesser known stretches of Sesame Street.

A follow-up to last year’s successful series, Crossing Borders takes over the black-box Marion Huber space at the Bridge Avenue arts center for four days between Thursday, June 28 and Sunday, July 1 — a four-day interval in which audiences will be treated to “bare bones” readings of acclaimed new plays, bookended by public-welcome parties, and all presented free of charge.

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