Give the Gift of Theater This Year

December 20, 2017
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Theater tickets for performances such as Kristen Chenoweth’s upcoming date on March 25 at Count Basie Theatre make a perfect holiday gift.

By Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen |

The thing about giving theater tickets as a holiday gift is you never have to worry about sizes. Even better is seeing that look of joy and amazement of taking someone to his or her first show, especially a child.

Yes, “Hamilton” is still hard to get and pricey, as are  “Frozen” opening March 22 and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” Parts One and Two opening April 22 on Broadway. The “Frozen” website advises for best availability, try booking performances beginning in August 2018. The first round of “Potter” tickets sold out about as fast as Bruce Springsteen tickets.

The secondary market, however, is selling tickets for all four shows, with prices climbing into the $4,000-plus range — per ticket — yes, really. Now that’s one heck of a gift. Keep in mind the annual Kids’ Night on Broadway is Feb. 27. People age 18 and younger can attend participating shows for free with a full-paying adult. More information at KidsNightonBroadway.com

But there’s much more to American theater than Broadway and New Jersey, for a small state, offers a whole lot of plays and musicals in venues from Regional Theatre Tony Award-winning companies to high schools.

Here are a few ideas to brighten any holiday.

COUNT BASIE THEATRE
99 Monmouth St., Red Bank
732-842-9000, www.countbasietheatre.org

Three-time Tony Award-winner Kristin Chenoweth performs March 25 billed as “An Intimate Evening.”  She’s been in eight Broadway book musicals, including as Glinda in “Wicked,” and earned an Emmy for “Pushing Daisies.” Tickets are $65 to $129. Also, her biography “A Little Bit Wicked” and album “The Art of Elegance” are available in stores and online.

“A Night with Janis Joplin,” Jan. 17, is about the singers who influenced her (Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Odetta, Nina Simone, Bessie Smith) with her classic songs “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Piece of My Heart,” “Mercedes Benz.” Tickets are $30-$69.

Also scheduled, “Dirty Dancing – The Musical” March 27, 28, 29, and the 20th anniversary touring production of Rent April 3, 4. 

TWO RIVER THEATER
21 Bridge Ave, Red Bank
(732) 345-1400, www.tworivertheater.org

Is there another theater company producing a season as ethnically diverse as Two River? And as consistently creative? It’s hard to pick just one from the next four plays this season that concern: Puerto Rican identity, a Franciscan monk seeking answers from God, five sisters in 1936 Ireland and an all-female band of black musicians traveling the country post-World War II? No can do.

Comic books and superheroes are hot. In “El Coqui Espectacular and the Bottle of Doom” a Nuyorican comic book artist (who dresses as the masked Puerto Rican superhero El Coquí in Sunset Park, Brooklyn) is really an out-of-work comic book artist secretly dressing up as his favorite creation. He struggles with claims his work is “too Puerto Rican,” while his brother, a marketing exec, faces the opposite. It’s Matt Barbot’s first work to address issues of ethnicity and identity. Jan. 6-Feb. 4.

World premiere stage adaption of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” runs Feb. 17-March 18. Adapted by five-time Obie Award winner David Greenspan, it’s about several people who die in the collapse of a rope bridge in Peru, and the events that lead up to their being there. David Greenspan, the winner of five Obie Awards, leads the cast.

Brian Friel’s memory play of his mother and aunts “Dancing at Lughnasa” by the adult character Michael Evans about a summer in the fictional town of Ballybeg when he was 7 runs April 14-May 13. Expect a fresh take on this 1992 Tony Award winner for Best New Play by director Jessica Stone, whose staging of “Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Forum” here was oh-so-creative.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who has starred in four plays on Broadway (winning a Tony for Best Feature Actor in a Play for “Seven Guitars” and nominated this year for a Tony for directing “Jitney”) will helm Regina Taylor’s “Oo-Bla-Dee” June 9-July 11.This all-female bebop band is trying to persuade America that black females could wail on horns and pound on drums just as well as the white guys.

Ticket $40 to $70, along with some discounts.

Also, Theater for Young Audiences includes the world premiere of “The Rainbow Fish” by the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia. For an early gift for a child, catch one of the 10 performances Dec. 15-18. Tickets $15 and $25. “A Little Shakespeare: A Comedy of Errors” March 6-11. $15 for children age 12 and younger, $20 for adults. “The Young King,” Oscar Wilde, Nicki Bloom, April 20-22. For ages 8 and older. Tickets $25.

Last, but not least, the original cast of last’s season’s closer, “The Ballad of Little Jo” recorded the musical and it is now available at Barnes&Noble and Best Buy as a CD ($13.40).

NEW JERSEY REPERTORY COMPANY
179 Broadway, Long Branch
732-229-3166, njrep@njrep.org

This intimate-space theater seems to stage a world premiere every month. From Jan. 4-Feb. 4 it offers  “The Calling” by award-winning playwright Joel Stone, a psychological thriller peppered with comic relief. In an empty church following a funeral, a man of faith and a burned-out ICU nurse wage a battle of wits and deep convictions about life and death, conscience and faith, that culminates in a shocking resolution. Tickets $40, $60 opening night.

COMMUNITY PHOENIX PRODUCTIONS
59 Chestnut St, Red Bank
732-747-0014, www.phoenixredbank.com.

The 2017 season is over and the 2018 not yet announced, but a nice gift for wannabe actors ages 7-17 are one-day master classes offered from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on school holidays and based on Broadway shows: “Newsies” Jan. 15, “Hamilton” Feb.19, and “Aladdin” March 30.  $70 per class.

MONMOUTH PLAYERS
149 Monmouth Ave., Atlantic Highlands,
732-291-9211, www.monmouthplayers.net

Shakespeare vs. TV. Paul Rudnick’s “I Hate Hamlet” centers on a TV actor whose dream is to play Hamlet on stage. The ghost of John Barrymore encourages him to follow that dream, but a Hollywood friend offers him a TV pilot, fame and fortune. What to do? How about an onstage  sword fight? April 14-29. Tickets $20. Some discounts.

A SHORT DRIVE AWAY… 

PAPER MILL PLAYHOUSE

The Regional Tony Award winner in 2016, is producing the world premiere musical “The Sting,” (March 28-April 29) in Milburn based on the 1973 Academy Award-winning film. It’s followed by the East Coast premiere of “Half Time,” from the director/choreographer of “Kinky Boots.” Based on a true story about 10 seniors who audition to dance at halftime for a major basketball team who learn it’s not tap or swing dancing, it’s hip-hop. May 31-July 1. Tickets $34 to $109 at 973-376-4343, www.papermill.org.

MC CARTER THEATER

Tony Award-winning playwright Christopher Durang brings another world-premiere with another cast of eccentric characters to this Tony Award-winning Princeton theater from May 4-June 3 in “Turning Off the Morning News,” a black comedy about two sets of neighbors: one that appears sane and the other who is not. Artistic Director Emily Mann helms. May 4-June 2. Also Stones in his Pockets” about two small town Irishmen hired as extras for an American movie filming in their County Kerry village. Jan.12-Feb. 11. Regina Taylor’s “Crowns,” a musical celebration of African-American women and their church hats, from March 13-April 1. She also directs. (609)-258-5050, www.mccarter.org. $25-$75

Journalist Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen’s theater news and reviews can be found on TheaterCues.com.


This article was first published in the Dec. 7-14, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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