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‘Much Ado About Nothing’: Shakespeare as holiday fare

Most of the men in the current production of “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison are soldiers. But they’re making love, not war, of course, since this is a comedy about two couples — and how love blooms surprisingly for one, and is almost tragically thwarted for the other. Director Scott Wentworth (who also plays Benedick) moves the action from summertime in the 16th century to Christmas time during World War II; by doing so, he turns one of Shakespeare’s sharpest comedies into feel-good holiday fare, complete with mistletoe and a Christmas tree on the stage, Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” on the radio, and even Shakespeare’s “Sigh No More” song delivered as if it were a Christmas carol. This two-act, 2½-hour take on the play begins with Benedick in a military outpost, alone and whittling. He falls asleep, and the rest of the play (up to the final scene, which is him alone again, waking up) is meant to be a dream. Continue Reading →

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‘Camelot’ without the pomp, in Red Bank

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“The rain may never fall till after sundown/By 8, the morning fog must disappear,” sings Oliver Thornton as King Arthur, the title character of “Camelot.” But he does so with a wink and a shrug: You know his Arthur doesn’t believe in this mythical place any more than the audience does. Under David Lee’s direction, the production of “Camelot” that is currently at Red Bank’s Two River Theater tells this grand story of passion and betrayal — with the fate of much of Europe hanging in the balance — in a rather intimate way. There are only eight actors, and eight musicians; the costumes mix modern casual wear with accessories meant to suggest Arthurian times. Some of the comic relief comes from troupe members scampering around the stage to help with sound or visual effects. Continue Reading →

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‘Fabulous Lipitones’ delivers sweet harmonies plus a multicultural message

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“Our music is less popular than Gregorian chants,” complains Phil (played by Donald Corren), during the course of “The Fabulous Lipitones,” a new musical by Mark St. Germain (“Freud’s Last Session,” “Camping With Henry and Tom”) and John Markus (TV’s “The Cosby Show” and “Taxi”) that is at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick through Dec. 14. “Doo-wop is dead; we are extinct,” Phil says at another point. You see, gym owner and would-be playboy Phil is a member of a London, Ohio barbershop quartet, and therefore part of a seemingly antiquated tradition with an abundance of corny quirks. Continue Reading →

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Mellencamp, King team for gothic ‘Ghost Brothers’

You’ve got to be a bit patient with the musical “Ghost Brothers of Darkland Country,” a collaboration between Stephen King (who wrote the story and the dialogue) and John Mellencamp (who wrote the songs), with help from musical director T Bone Burnett. It’s being promoted as “A southern gothic supernatural musical of fraternal love, lust, jealousy and revenge.” Yes, there’s a lot going on here, and it takes most of the first act to set everything up. But once everything is in place, the first act closing number, “Tear This Cabin Down,” is truly rousing. The second act of the musical — which was presented at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, Tuesday night — has a similar pace. Continue Reading →

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Raymond McAnally thinks big in one-man play

Raymond McAnally really fills the stage in his one-man play, “Size Matters.” And I don’t intend that as a crack about his weight. In the autobiographical work, which is making its East Coast debut at the Hamilton Stage in Rahway through Nov. 22, he brings several characters to vivid life, uses video cleverly and effectively executes some uninhibited physical comedy. McAnally, a part-time lecturer at Rutgers, decided to focus, in his first full-length play to be produced, on his experiences as an overweight actor, constantly having to audition for roles — in plays, movies, TV shows or commercials — where they’re looking for a “Kevin James type,” or someone to play a crazed, shirtless, buffoonish fan at a football game. Continue Reading →

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‘The Understudy’: existential laughs in Princeton

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“I’m not bitter,” an insecure understudy named Harry (played by Adam Green) keeps saying at the start of “The Understudy,” which will be presented at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton through Nov. 2. But you know that, really, he is. The play he’s been hired for is a newly unearthed Kafka drama that is being presented on Broadway. And by the end of this one-act, hour-and-45-minute black comedy, you understand that he and the play’s other characters — fellow actor Jake (J.D. Taylor), who’s a budding Hollywood star, and high-strung stage manager Roxanne (Danielle Skraastad), who happens to Harry’s ex-fiancée — are living lives of Kafkaesque despair, in their own ways. Continue Reading →

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‘Nico: Underground’: A night with a doomed diva

“Is that my camera?” asks the platinum blonde, staring blankly at the ceiling. “No, Nico,” replies her interviewer. “This is radio.”

That exchange perfectly captures the fine line between comedy and tragedy tread by “Nico: Underground,” the often hilarious yet unflinchingly honest look at the famous Teutonic songstress, performed at WFMU-FM’s Monty Hall in Jersey City on Friday

Hoboken singer and actress Tammy Faye Starlite portrays Nico in the play, which re-creates a true-life interview in which the aging singer discussed her life, often nonplussing her interviewer by gazing emptily into space, rolling her eyes, or replying with bizarre non sequiturs. (Asked about her performances in a series of French art films, Nico replies, “That Liza Minnelli never shuts her mouth!”)

The show was tweaked for Monty Hall (named because it’s located on the first floor of WFMU’s studios on Montgomery Avenue), with WFMU deejay Chris T. acting as the interviewer, as if Nico were still alive and promoting a tour on the station. Starlite’s excellent band, fronted by her husband Keith Hartel on guitar and bass, shared the stage, performing the best-known songs from Nico’s discography between the interview segments. Continue Reading →

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Shakespeare Theatre sells props, costumes and more

Do you know what happens to the costumes, props and pieces of scenery that a theater creates for a specific play? No? Well, I don’t either, though I assume they usually just get thrown away. That’s not the case for the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, though, which makes them available to the public in an annual sale. This year’s sale takes place Oct. Continue Reading →

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Stern guest Vinnie Favale is serious about his art

The road from Lincroft to just off-Broadway has been long for Vinnie Favale — well beyond the crowded commuter bus rides and spotty cell phone reception he was once known for as a frequent “Howard Stern Show” guest. It’s been just over a decade since Favale, the gregarious executive vice president of late-night programming at CBS, was first moved to write lyrics about a local teen who had been killed in drunk driving accident. Those verses would eventually find a theme. Songs were recorded. A musical book centered around the afterlife was born. Continue Reading →

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‘Outside Mullingar’: Opposites attract in rural Ireland

“Outside Mullingar,” which is being presented at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick through Nov. 2, is about two people entering middle age in a state of uncertainty. Anthony (John Bolger) and Rosemary (Ellen McLaughlin) have been neighbors their whole lives in rural Ireland. They’re not kindred spirits, exactly, but they are fond of each other, and it seems inevitable that they will become a couple. And yet they have resisted. Continue Reading →

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