Two River Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst, concludes its 2016/17 Season with The Ballad of Little Jo, a musical by Mike Reid (composer, co-bookwriter), Sarah Schlesinger (lyricist, co-bookwriter), and John Dias (co-bookwriter). Dias, the theater’s Artistic Director, is also making his Two River directorial debut with this production. The choreography is by Marc Kimelman, with music direction and dance and incidental arrangements by John O’Neill. The Ballad of Little Jo is based on the film of the same name by Maggie Greenwald.
Performances will begin in Two River’s Rechnitz Theater, 21 Bridge Avenue, on Saturday, June 3 and continue through Sunday, June 25. The opening night performance is Friday, June 9 at 8pm. Tickets are available from 732.345.1400 or tworivertheater.org. The production is supported by The Roy Cockrum Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. The lead production sponsor is Monmouth University.
The score, which evokes the folk ballads of pioneer America, is by Grammy Award-winning Nashville songwriter Mike Reid (whose many hits include “I Can’t Make You Love Me”) and lyricist Sarah Schlesinger. Together, Reid and Schlesinger have received the Kleban Prize, Richard Rodgers Award, Gilman & Gonzalez Falla Theatre Foundation Award, and Chicago’s Jeff Award for Best Original Musical.
Set in the late 19th century, The Ballad of Little Jo is inspired by the remarkable real-life story of a woman named Josephine Monaghan. Originally from Boston, Josephine lived in a tough Idaho mining town for nearly 20 years, disguised as a man called “Jo.”
The Ballad of Little Jo features Jane Bruce (Elf, Missed Connections: A Craigslist Musical) as Sara Stewart Ellis, Daniel K. Isaac (“According to My Mother,” “Billions”) as Tin Man Wong, Eric William Morris (Be More Chill, Mamma Mia!) as Jordan Ellis, and Teal Wicks (Wicked, Finding Neverland) as Josephine Monaghan/Jo Monaghan.
The company also includes Cole Burden, Brian Flores, Leenya Rideout, Christopher Russo, Perry Sherman, Kristin Stokes, Ian Michael Stuart, and Barbara Tirrell.
The band consists of John O’Neill (conductor/piano) and Pauline Bradshaw (violin), Troy Chang (cello), Philip Coiro (drums/percussion), Simon Hutchings (reeds), Justin Rothberg (guitar), and Joseph Wallace (bass).
The creative team for The Ballad of Little Jo includes music supervisor Patrick Vaccariello, orchestrator Danny Larsen, scenic designer Michael Carnahan, costume designer Jess Goldstein, lighting designer Jennifer Tipton, sound designer Drew Levy, wig designer Leah J. Loukas, and fight director Thomas Schall. The casting is by Jack Doulin + Sharky. The production stage manager is Amanda Michaels and the assistant stage manager is Denise Cardarelli.
The Ballad of Little Jo had its world premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 2000, in a production that prompted John Lahr to call it “the best piece of musical storytelling I have seen in a decade” in The New Yorker. But Lahr also called it “unfinished.” It was presented at the Bridewell Theatre in London in 2003 and had a reading at The Public Theater in 2008. Subsequent to becoming Two River’s Artistic Director in 2010, John Dias joined the creative team as co-bookwriter and director, and has been helping to further develop the piece through workshops and readings.
“The Ballad of Little Jo is a beautiful musical that I watched take shape even before its world premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago,” says Dias. “It represents something that, to my mind, is vastly underserved in the American theater: there are many great new works that have had a first production, but are worthy of further attention and additional cultivation. Two River Theater and Red Bank audiences have embraced Mike and Sarah since we premiered their chamber musical In This House in 2012, and we have been developing Little Jo since then.”
Ticket prices range from $40 to $70, with discounts available for groups, seniors, and U.S. military personnel, their families, and veterans. A limited number of $20 tickets is available for every performance; $20 tickets may be partial view. Tickets for patrons under 30 are $20 and include the best available seats at every performance. Tickets are available from tworivertheater.org or 732.345.1400.
Book Club: True Grit by Charles Portis
Monday, June 19 at 6:30pm in the Victoria Mastrobuono Library
Literary Manager Anika Chapin will lead a discussion of True Grit by Charles Portis, the story of a young girl in the American West. In conjunction with The Ballad of Little Jo, the Two River Book Club will discuss the Western as a genre, the changing portrayal of men and women, and the dangerous allure of the frontier in art and life. This event is free and open to the public. To reserve a spot, interested patrons should call 732.345.1400 or visit www.tworivertheater.org.
Before Play and Lobby Display
Audiences will learn about The Ballad of Little Jo in Two River’s Before Play lecture series, which takes place 45 minutes prior to every performance, and Lobby Display.
Discussions with members of the cast and a member of Two River Theater’s Artistic staff will take place following the performances on Wednesday, June 14 at 7pm; Sunday, June 18 at 3pm; and Wednesday, June 21 at 1pm.
Working with Google, Two River has created and launched a virtual tour of its facility, which lives on Google Maps and tworivertheater.org. This virtual tour provides an additional level of support and benefit for patrons who use wheelchairs or require other assistance by allowing them to virtually come through the theater’s front doors and view the space in detail in advance of their visit.
An audio-described performance is scheduled for Wednesday, June 21 at 1pm, and an open-captioned performance is scheduled for Saturday, June 24 at 3pm. Tickets are available at a discounted rate of $25 for patrons using these services. To reserve wheelchair-accessible seating or tickets to a performance listed above, patrons should call 732.345.1400 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two River Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst, produces American and world masterpieces, and new plays and musicals. Two River Theater offers new-play commissions and artistic development activities that support the most adventurous artists in the American theater, and cultivates a new generation of theatergoers through innovative arts education programs that introduce young people to the theater and create opportunities for them to engage with renowned theater artists. Two River Theater was founded by Joan and Robert Rechnitz in 1994. Visit tworivertheater.org for more.