SHAKESPEARE, SHREK, CHAPERONES, ON SHORE STAGES THIS JULY

Comedian and storyteller Mike Birbiglia (“Thank God for Jokes”) offers a look at his new one entitled “The New One,” in a five day engagement at Red Bank’s Two River Theater. (photo courtesy Two River Theater)

Published in the Asbury Park Press, July 6 2018

There’s a timeless taste of Shakespeare in the open-air park…some all-age musical favorites in the air-conditioned dark…cooling Egg Creams and hot-wired teenage tensions, in the most intriguing of settings. A beyond-busy July is NO time to chill by the poolside, as the people of our local stage scene light the fuse on some midsummer nights’ diversions and delights.

Although it’s officially the “downtime” between mainstage seasons at Red Bank’s Two River Theater, you’d never know it from the buzz of activity centered around the ambitious expansion of the performing arts center’s physical plant — to say nothing of a buzzed-about event that serves to extend the  company’s schedule well into the Dog Days interlude. Offering six performances over five days, the preview production of The New One brings the latest creation of writer, comedian, actor (Orange is the New Black) and monologuist Mike Birbiglia to Red Bank in advance of its New York premiere. The author of a best selling book (“Sleepwalk with Me”), a film of that same name, several award winning comedy albums, and stage pieces that include My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend and Thank God for Jokes,  Brooklynite Birbiglia has already toured the solo show (in which he “approaches an entirely new subject in a new way with the same heart and humor we’ve come to expect”) from coast to coast, earning plaudits from crowds and critics alike while selling out many of the theater-size venues along the way. The borough of Red Bank has his full attention with performances at 7 p.m. on July 18 and 19; 9 p.m. on July 20 and 21; 6:30 p.m. on July 21, and 3 p.m. on July 22. All are recommended for audiences age 16 and up, and available tickets can be reserved by calling the box office at 732-345-1400, or taking it to tworivertheater.org.

Exits and Entrances

Down on Long Beach Island, the born-again Surflight Theatre of Beach Haven continues its sophomore “comeback” with the Webber-Rice milestone Jesus Christ Superstar; with the gospel-based rock opera going up for ten more matinee and evening performances, now through July 15. It’s followed in short order by the stage musicalization of the Adam Sandler screen comedy The Wedding Singer, opening Thursday, July 19 and continuing through August 5. Ticket reservations and full schedule details for these and other upcoming events can be found at http://www.surflight.org…the Toms River-based Exit 82 Theatre company returns with a new production of the throughly engaging (and Tony winning, too) retro-meta-musical The Drowsy Chaperone, in the setting of its new Studio Theatre at 73 Main Street in downtown TR. A cheerful salute to (and simultaneous send-up of) 1920s-era Broadway, the show opens tonight, July 6 and plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., plus Sundays at 2 p.m., through July 29. Take it to exit82theatre.com for full details and reservations. 

Family Friendly Favorites

A hit with multi-generation audiences thanks to the series of animated films it draws from, Shrek: The Musical takes its fractured fairytale plot of an affable green ogre-achiever and his misfit friends and foes to the stage of the Spring Lake Community House, in a Spring Lake Theatre Company production that opens tonight July 6 and continues through July 22 with a mix of matinee and evening performances. Reserve tickets ($30 adults; senior, student and child discounts) at springlaketheatre.com…the stage musical version of the landmark Disney animation Beauty and the Beast brings its timeless tale and celebrated Ashman-Menken score to Manasquan’s Algonquin Arts Theatre for ten shows, beginning with a just-added matinee on Saturday, July 14 and continuing through July 29. Tickets ($32-$40, with discounts for seniors and students) reserved at 732-528-9211 or algonquinarts.org…a disappointment in its Broadway run (but an increasingly hot property in the community theater afterlife), Seussical the Musical  brings its vivid recreations of Ted “Dr. Seuss” Geisel’s immortal children’s book creations to the historic Strand Theatre in Lakewood, in a showcase for the student performers of the nonprofit Brick Childrens Community Theatre. The show offers two 7:30 p.m. performances (July 27 and 28), plus two 2 p.m. matinees (July 28 and 29), with tickets (adults $18, with discounts for seniors, students, and kids under 12) reserved at bcct.booktix.com…another hot property from the Disney hit factory, the stage adaptation of the TV production High School Musical goes to summer school as the latest professional production at Ocean Township’s Axelrod Performing Arts Center. Directed and choreographed by actor and educator Lane Napper (Nickelodeon’s “Victorious” and “iCarly”) and spotlighting a cast of “talented teens from New Jersey and beyond,” the show opens on Sunday, July 29 and continues with three additional performances through August 5. Tickets ($28 adults; senior and student discounts) now available at axelrodartscenter.com.

Rumble at the Duncan

Are you a Greaser…or a Soc? To the many fans of young adult author S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders, it’s a crucial question — and beginning Friday, July 20 the Christopher Sergei stage adaptation of the story (previously filmed by Francis Coppola with a cast of future allstars) brings its often controversial teenaged tale of class struggles, gang warfare, growing pains and family ties to the rustic rafters of Holmdel Theatre Company‘s Duncan Smith Theater. Laurie Devino produces, and Kirk White directs a young cast of actors (many of them from Monmouth and Middlesex counties) toplined by Danny Tramontana and Bella Ashton, with a total of nine evening and matinee performances through August 5. Ticket reservations (adults $22, with student and senior discounts) and full schedule details can be found at http://www.holmdeltheatrecompany.org.

A Bard in the Hand, Two in the Park

If it’s summer, it’s time for Shakespeare in the out of doors — and the “Bard in the Yard” remains tanned, fit, and well represented by two local troupes in the weeks ahead. Returning once more to lighter fare, the Brookdale Summer Shakespeare series at Brookdale Community College offers as its 17th annual production a fresh look at As You Like It, the centuries-old study of romance, adventure, and found family in the Forest of Arden. Featuring some of the Bard’s most memorable dialogue, the comedy takes to the Great Lawn of the Lincroft campus (near the Performing Arts building) for eight performances over two weekends, beginning Thursday, July 12, with attendees invited to bring lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets (the school’s Theater Club will offer snacks for purchase at each performance as well). No reservations are necessary (park in lots 1 or 2), but in case of possible tempest-related cancellations, direct all questions to the PAC box office at 732-224-2411…returning to action for a sophomore season of “Toms-upon-Thames” entertainment, the Toms River Shakespeare Festival offers A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the hyperkinetic comic fantasia of mischievous faeries, bedeviled lovers and “rude mechanicals” that still stands as the Bard’s finest entry-level evening. Free plein-air performances begin with a preview on the sands at Ortley Beach (Wednesday, July 18 at 5 p.m.), then move to Huddy Park in Toms River for four more performances, July 19 through 22. Take it to trshakespeare.org for more details.

Dinner, Dessert, and Egg Creams

Continuing its year-round presentation of live theater at its Atlantic Highlands dessert theater, First Avenue Playhouse sees in July with Separate Beds, the MJ Cruise play of aging spouses, seductive strangers and rekindled desires that opens tonight, July 6 in a staging by director Barry Prag. The show plays Fridays and Saturdays through the month at 8:30 p.m. (with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee on July 15), and reservations ($22) can be had by calling 732-291-7552 or visiting http://www.firstavenueplayhouse.org…over at The Grange Playhouse in Howell, the Andres Oosthuizen play The Nest in the Birdcage posits what happens when “estranged sisters come together for the first time in 40 years for the reading of Mom’s will, with fatal results.” It opens on July 13 and plays for two weekends through July 22, with tickets ($18) reserved by calling 732-768-2709…the thrilling 1960s songs of pop hitmaker Lou Christie (“Lightning Strikes,” “Two Faces Have I”) is the inspiration for 3 Egg Creams, a mature-audiences “urban love story for the ages” written and directed by George Cameron Grant, and starring Vince Bandille. The music-infused look at “one man’s lessons in life, loss and love” appears inside the third-floor cafe at the Jersey Shore Arts Center in Ocean Grove (the reborn high school building at the corner of Main Street and Main Avenue) for two shows on July 21 (7:30 p.m.) and 22 (2 p.m.). Tickets ($25) can be reserved by calling 732-455-2748 or visiting LaStradaEnsemble.org, and the deal is sweetened with the promise of a free pre-show egg cream with every ticket purchased…following those dessert treats, stick around for Dinner with Friends, the Donald Margulies play that comes to Freehold’s Center Playhouse in a staging under the direction of Leslie Hochman. The portrait of two married couples at two apparently different stages of their marital bliss opens on July 27 and continues through August 26, with tickets ($24) plus full schedule details at http://www.centerplayers.org.