The Theatre Guide Review

Elf the Musical – John W. Engeman Theater

November 19, 2018
By Kristen Weyer

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear”. The John W. Engeman Theater does just this with their holiday production of Elf the Musical.  Based upon the popular film starring Will Ferrell, this musical has a book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, with music and lyrics by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin.  Running until December 30th, and directed by Matt Kunkel, Elf is exactly what you hope it will be: campy, cute and Christmassy.

Featuring the plot and your favorite lines from the movie (with slight tweaks), the play will be familiar to many.  Buddy the Elf (superbly played by Erik Gratton), discovers that he is in fact human (gasp!), and sets off to meet his father who doesn’t even know Buddy exists. Horror-of-horrors his father, Walter Hobbs (the brilliantly blustery Joe Gately) is on…the naughty list.  A workaholic with no time for his wife and the son he is aware of, Walter is shall we say less than thrilled to have a fully grown Elf show up claiming to be his son.  However, with his signature indefatigable cheer and unflagging optimism, Buddy sets off to instill the Christmas spirit within his newly found family and all he meets. Who knows? He might just make a Christmas miracle.

With a fun set by Nate Bertone, great costumes from Leon Dobkowski, and entertaining choreography from Mara Newbery Greer, the humorous story of Elf is brought to life on the Engeman’s stage. Excellent sound design by Laura Shubert bolsters the entire performance, especially during an amusing rendition of “Carol of the Bells”.

From the “little?” elves, all the way up to the big man himself, Santa Claus, this cast gives wonderfully merry performances.  Gordon Gray is one of the best Santa Claus’ I’ve seen, with a perfect storytelling cadence, and the most believable laugh you’ve heard in a while.  Erik Gratton’s fabulous grin and guileless expressions, combined with great comedic timing, make him perfect for Buddy.  The lonely and jaded Jovie is drolly played by Caitlin Gallogly with a lovely singing voice. Christianne Tisdale and Zachary Podair are touching as mother and son, Emily and Michael Hobbs.  While all of the cast gave fabulous performances, Nicole Hale as Deb stole every scene she was in with hilarious antics and killer timing.

Fun and silly, charming and heartwarming, Elf the Musical is a delightful start to the holiday season.

Huntington Now Review

‘The Impossible Dream’ a Beautiful Reality at Engeman Theater

September 28, 2018
By Mary Beth Casper

“The Impossible Dream” is back at the John W. Engeman Theater.  For the second time in ten years, the Northport playhouse is presenting “Man of La Mancha.”   Once again, it’s directed by Peter Flynn.

Note to all skeptics planning on catching a performance of this beloved classic:  Please check your cynicism at the door.

If you don’t,  you’ve been forewarned:  You can kiss your negativity  goodbye (at least for the duration of the show ), thanks to the beautiful performances of a well-directed cast, as well as the inspirational script and songs that may move  you closer to fighting for your own impossible dreams, ”No matter how hopeless.  No matter how far.”

This production is that good.

“Man of La Mancha, originally opened on Broadway in 1965 and was the recipient of five Tony Awards. Since then it has continued to dazzle theater-goers, both nationally and abroad.  Written by Dale Wasserman, with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, the script was adapted for the stage from the non-musical teleplay, “I Don Quixote, which was inspired by the writings of Miguel de Cervantes.

For those unfamiliar with the storyline, “Man of La Mancha,” is a play within a play.  It focuses upon Cervantes and his man servant, Sancho, having just been arrested and placed in a dungeon along-side murderers and thieves, as they wait their appearance before the Spanish Inquisition.  Their crime?  Foreclosing on a local Monastery.

Their fellow prisoners taunt Cervantes when they learn he is a writer. Once they discover his treasured manuscript, a play about Don Quixote, they take it from him.  In order to get it back, he challenges the prisoners to take on the roles and act the story out with him.

Richard Todd Adams mesmerized the audience in his roles as Cervantes and Don Quixote, the madman whose goal is to be knighted and return the age of chivalry to late 16th Century Spain.  Of course, he is considered “insane” for his beliefs, but the opinions of others don’t faze Quixote (the Man of La Mancha) one bit.  He blithely goes about his goals:  Fighting windmills and aiding damsels in distress.

Mr. Adams is charmingly believable in both roles and his magnificent baritone voice rose magnificently to the heavens during each and every song he sang.

It is the scullery maid and lady of the night, Aldonza, whom Quixote believes to be his special Lady, who may be his biggest challenge, though.   He changes her name to Dulcinea (which means sweetness) and begins the work of convincing her how special she is.  Not an easy task.  This Dulcinea has led a life of such hardship that try as he does, it’s nearly impossible to convince her of her beauty and self-worth.

This reviewer saw a production in which understudy Morgan Anita Wood filled in as Dulcinea, for the ailing Janet Dacal, who reportedly is coming back to the role.  Understandably, Ms. Wood seemed nervous at the beginning of the performance.  Quite frankly, she did not step up to the task, either acting-wise, or vocally.  However, shortly into her performance, she relaxed and embraced the role with pure gusto.  She deserves praise for her acting and singing ability.  Her rendition of “What Does He Want of Me?”– in which she questions what Quixote could possibly see in her, was both touching and beautiful.   Her angry, heartbreaking rendition of “Aldonza,” was also beautifully sung and was relayed with heart-wrenching emotion.

The highest point of the evening was Mr. Adam’s resounding rendition of “The Impossible Dream” at the end of Act One.  He had the audience in the palm of his capable hands.  And, during ensuing reprisals of that song in Act Two, it was clear how much the audience appreciated his performance, as well as the presentations of the others who joined him in song.

The ensemble cast moved from dungeon prisoners to participants in Cervantes’ play effortlessly.  One of the stand-outs of the evening was Garfield Hammonds (Padre), whose stage presence and charm-filled performance deserves a special nod.

Besides superb acting and singing by the entire cast, this production was well-served by the amazing scenic design of Michael Bottari and Ronald Case, as well as the effective lighting design of Alan C. Edwards and the  costuming of Kurt Alger.

“Man of La Mancha” runs through Oct.28.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Theater Review: A dream-worthy ‘Man of La Mancha’ opens at the Engeman

September 23, 2018
By Rita J. Egan

The cast and crew of John W. Engeman Theater’s “Man of La Mancha” have set off on a quest resulting in a production worthy of Broadway. The musical opened at the theater Sept. 13, and on the night of the press opening, Sept. 15, theatergoers filled the venue looking forward to the reincarnation of the perennial favorite.

“Man of La Mancha” debuted off-Broadway in 1965 and went on to win five Tony Awards. Written by Dale Wasserman with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, the Northport version is masterfully directed by Peter Flynn.

Taking its cue from literature, the musical takes the story of “Don Quixote” written by Miguel de Cervantes and sets it to music. In the play, which takes place during the Spanish Inquisition at the end of the 16th century, Cervantes is in prison waiting for his trial. Upon his arrival, his fellow prisoners try to take his belongings, including the manuscript of the story he is writing.

Richard Todd Adams (Don Quixote) and Carlos Lopez (Sancho Panza) in a scene from ‘Man of La Mancha’

Following the tradition of prisoners putting newcomers on trial, Cervantes is charged with being an idealist, and a mock trial begins. The writer, in an attempt to defend himself, has his fellow prisoners play the characters in “Don Quixote.” Through their re-creations, audience members meet Alonso Quijano, the aging man who believes he’s a knight-errant and calls himself Don Quixote. Quijano and his squire Sancho Panza embark on a journey where they meet an array of characters including Aldonza the bitter serving woman and prostitute at an inn who Quixote envisions as a virtuous lady.

Michael Bottari and Ronald Case have gone above and beyond with the detailed set design of a dungeon on the Engeman stage, and Kurt Alger has done an excellent job with costumes, especially with the Knight of Mirrors’ gear in the second act. Choreographed by Devanand Janki, the musical contains high-energy dance numbers that complement the stellar production. The actors and the orchestra, under the musical direction of Julianne Merrill, are in top form during every number.

Richard Todd Adams as Miguel de Cervantes/Don Quixote is charismatic as the main character who takes his fellow prisoners on a fictional journey. His deep, rich vocals are perfect on every song. When he sings “Dulcinea,” upon meeting Aldonza and sees her as a pure, good woman, his voice has the potential to make many swoon. He also stops the show with his delivery of “The Impossible Dream.”

Janet Dacal plays Aldonza with the right amount of sullenness but yet perfectly portrays the character’s softening later in the musical. Her singing, especially her solos, “What Does He Want of Me?” and “Aldonza” are filled with power and emotion.

Carlos Lopez is a delightful and charming Sancho Panza and lends a good amount of comedic relief including during his solos “I Really Like Him” and “A Little Gossip.”

All of the ensemble members do a fantastic job, and each has time to shine in the spotlight. Morgan Anita Wood, Garfield Hammonds and Phyllis March are wonderful during “I’m Only Thinking of Him.” Deven Kolluri does a great job as the cynical Duke and Dr. Carrasco. In the prison scenes where he plays Duke, he portrays the character’s disdain for Cervantes perfectly. His vocals are strong when he joins Wood, Hammonds and March on “We’re Only Thinking of Him.”

Joshua Wayne Oxyer, Cody Mowrey, Juan Luis Espinal, Enrique Cruz DeJesus and Diego Gonzalez as the Muleteers sound fantastic together on the number “Little Bird, Little Bird.” Bruce Winant easily goes back and forth from the tough governor to the kind innkeeper, and Mowrey garners some laughs as the barber who tries to understand Quixote’s delusions.

The story of “Don Quixote” and “Man of La Mancha” is more than a tale of a man gone mad battling a windmill he thinks is a giant. It’s about seeing the good in people and the world even when strife seems to prevail. Cervantes and Don Quixote look to escape the realities of life by searching for the good in all things and people, and their attitudes are contagious. It’s obvious the cast gets this message as they seamlessly go from conveying doubtfulness over their new dungeon mate to showing hope in the impossible dream by the end. For theater lovers on a quest for a musical that has it all, the Engeman’s “Man of La Mancha” is a dream.

The Village Tattler Review

A Dream of A Musical at Engeman Theater in Northport

September 23, 2018
By Claudia Wheeler

This impossibly entertaining musical, from the first strum of the guitar to the moving finale, brings the classic Cervantes masterpiece set in 16th century Spain to life on the stage. Man of La Mancha will run through October 28, 2018, at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater. It is a dream of a musical complete with moving songs such as “The Impossible Dream,” and “Dulcinea,” and it will especially please lovers of history and romance. Considered one of the world’s most popular musicals, Engeman’s Man of La Mancha exceeds its aim to entertain through the telling of the adventures of a delusional Spanish Knight who is on a quest to restore chivalry to the world and claim his lady love Dulcinea.

Engeman’s version is emotionally stirring, particularly led by such a talented group of actors. Richard Todd Adams is mesmerizing as Don Quixote (Engeman Theater: Jekyll & Hyde (2007); Broadway: The Woman in White, The Pirate Queen, CATS; National Tours: Les Miserables – Jean Valjean, Javert, The Phantom of the Opera – The Phantom, Raoul). His leading lady Janet Dacal is perfectly cast as Aldonza. She is beyond enthralling with a voice that is truly beautiful as well as powerful. Dacal’s credits include: Broadway, In the Heights – Nina, Carla; Wonderland – Alice; Regional: The Sting at Paper Mill Playhouse. The fabulous sidekick, Sancho Panza, is brilliantly acted by Carlos Lopez who hits the comedic lines perfectly and is a familiar face from many TV and film appearances in “The Sopranos,” “Law and Order,” “Guiding Light,” “All Fired Up,” “What Would You Do?” “Brooklyn Sonnet,” “Stepford Wives,” “Death Wishes,” and “Late Phases.” Lopez also appeared as the Barber on Broadway’s Man of La Mancha. His other Broadway credits include: Grease – Sonny, Annie Get Your Gun – Tommy Keeler, Wonderful Town – Speedy, A Chorus Line – Mike and Paul.

Man of La Mancha is produced by RICHARD DOLCE the Engeman Theater’s Producing Artistic Director and directed by PETER FLYNN (Engeman Theater: Man of La Mancha (2008); NY Theater: Curvy Widow at Westside Arts Theatre, Born Yesterday at Maltz-Jupiter Theatre; Regional: Ragtime and 1776 at Ford’s Theatre, Chess with Josh Groban & Julia Murney, Andrea Martin: Final Days Everything Must Go). The choreographer is DEVANAND JANKI (Engeman Theater: Man of La Mancha (2008); Off-Broadway: Zanna, Don’t!, Junie B. Jones, Henry and Mudge, The Yellow Brick Road, Skippyjon Jones, This One Girl’s Story, Cupid and Psyche, Love & Real Estate, Romantic Poetry; Lincoln Center: Amahl and the Night Visitors, Babes in Toyland). The Musical Director is JULIANNE B. MERRILL (NY Theater: A Man of No Importance, Parade; Regional: Smokey Joe’s Café, Matilda; International: Into the Woods).

The cast also includes: ENRIQUE CRUZ DEJESUS, JUAN LUIS ESPINAL, DIEGO GONZALEZ, GARFIELD HAMMONDS, DEVEN KOLLURI, STEVEN LIBERTO, PHYLLIS L. MARCH, NORA MOUTRANE, CODY MOWREY, JOSHUA WAYNE OXYER, NANDITA SHENOY, BRUCE WINANT, and MORGAN ANITA WOOD.

Broadway World Review

MAN OF LA MANCHA at the John W. Engeman Theatre lead by Janet Dacal, Richard Todd Adams, and Carlos Lopez

September 19, 2018
By Melissa Giordano

Northport’s gorgeous John W. Engeman Theatre does it again with a stellar showing of theatre staple Man Of La Mancha, the second show of their dazzling 12th Season. This incarnation of the Tony winner, running through October 28th, is excellently directed by Peter Flynn and boasts an extraordinary cast. Long Island is certainly lucky to have this production lead by Broadway vets Janet DacalRichard Todd Adams, and Carlos Lopez.

The tale follows Cervantes as he puts on “plays” – starring as crazy, old knight Don Quixote – as he and fellow prisoners await their hearings with the Spanish Inquisition. Fellow literary lovers will recognize the musical’s loose adaptation from Dale Wasserman‘s 1959 teleplay I, Don Quixote of which was inspired by Miguel de Cervantesand his 17th-century novel Don Quixote. And you will also see that it is a very busy show, so it is best to stay as focused as possible as they flip back and forth between reality and fantasy (the “play”).

Mr. Adams makes a wonderful Cervantes/Don Quixote. The complexity and Mr. Adams‘ delivery of role really draws the audience in. Ms. Dacal masterfully portrays Aldonza (or Dulcinea in the fantasy). Indeed an audience favorite is her emotional performance of “What Does He Want Of Me” in act one and in the reprise of “Dulcinea” in act two. Mr. Lopez is also a standout as Sancho, Cervantes trusty assistant (and Squire in the “play” sequences), providing many “laugh out loud” moments. Overall, the large company is truly brilliant with pretty much everyone taking on multiple roles between the dungeon scenes and the “play”.

On Mr. Flynn’s creative team, Michael Bottari & Ronald Case design the superb set for the Long Island venue. An elevated, large stair case majestically falls to the prisoners below with the rest of the gloomy stage filled with a cinder block look. This is chillingly enhanced with Kurt Alger‘s clever costumes and Don Hanna’s sound design. Special kudos also to Alan C. Edwards for the top-notch lighting design especially for the “Knight of the Mirrors” number featuring the most amazing Knight costume. And, of course, it is always a treat to see a live orchestra. Headed up by Julianne B. Merrill, the band is flawless as they perform the iconic score.

And so, Man Of La Mancha is certainly another hit for Long Island’s John W. Engeman Theatre. An outstanding cast and the stunning John W. Engeman Theatre make for a magnificent night of theatre.

Newsday Review

‘Man of La Mancha’ review: An impossible dream come true

September 18, 2018
By Barbara Schuler

“Man of La Mancha” is one of those musicals you’d think audiences would be sick of seeing. Not so, says Richard Dolce, producing artistic director of the John W. Engeman Theater. In fact, he says the 1966 Tony-winning best musical is one of the shows they’re most frequently asked to bring back.

So 10 years after its first run at the Northport theater, the musical inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ classic 17th century novel “Don Quixote” is getting a return engagement, with a beautifully crafted, emotional production celebrating the enduring story of an idealist who holds fast to his dreams.

If you’ve forgotten the story, here’s a quick brush up: Awaiting trial before the Spanish Inquisition, Cervantes and his manservant, charged with foreclosing on a monastery, are thrown into a dungeon with an unsavory bunch of thieves and murderers. Threatened, Cervantes devises a fantasy about a mad knight in search of lost chivalry, distracting his fellow prisoners by awarding them roles in his bit of make believe.

Directed by Peter Flynn, who also helmed Engeman’s 2008 production, the show rests — as it always does — on the actor playing Cervantes, and Richard Todd Adams delivers. He portrays the madman with just enough duplicity to let you know he’s making it all up. And with his rich baritone, he captures the soul of the familiar score — and not just in the covered-by-everyone-under-the-sun hit “The Impossible Dream.”

Janet Dacal is gripping as Aldonza, the wild, lusty wench who in Quixote’s vision is a fine lady he calls Dulcinea (though in early scenes, her hair and makeup could use a little roughing up). Other fine performances come from Carlos Lopez as the devoted servant who becomes Sancho Panza, the squire always ready with a sarcastic quip; Bruce Winant, playing the innkeeper in the fantasy with sardonic wit, and Morgan Anita Wood and Phyllis L. March, as Quixote’s niece and housekeeper, respectively, who give the tongue-in-cheek “I’m Only Thinking of Him” a wry edge.

This is a striking production, with the grim stone dungeon well rendered by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case — the actors dragging themselves in and out of the orchestra pit is an interesting touch. Adding to the overall effect are Kurt Alger’s appropriately ragged costumes and dramatic lighting by Alan C. Edwards — except for the occasional projections, which seem distracting and unnecessary.

None of that really matters though. Judging from the audience reaction when Adams closed the first act with a moving “The Impossible Dream,” it’s almost certain the show will be back in another 10 years — if not sooner.

The Theatre Guide Review

Man of La Mancha – John W. Engeman Theater

September 17, 2018
By Jessica Kennedy

Northport’s Engeman Theater opened its doors for the fall season with a beloved classic and winner of 5 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Man of La Mancha. Produced by Richard Dolce and directed by Peter Flynn, this iconic play based on Cervantes’ magnum opus, Don Quixote, enthralled its audience with a star- studded cast and a wonderfully whimsical rendering of the literary classic.

The play opens as Miguel de Cervantes, played by the charismatic Richard Todd Adams, finds himself locked up with his loyal manservant, (the comical Carlos Lopez), and awaiting questioning by the Spanish Inquisition for foreclosing on a monastery. They are not welcomed warmly, as their fellow prisoners seek to put Cervantes on trial themselves in a thinly veiled mascarade to plunder his meager belongings.  When the leader of the ragtag group dubbed the “Governor” (the endearing Bruce Winant) sets his eyes on destroying an unfinished manuscript, Cervantes wheedles his way into casting the squalid and miry lot into performing the manuscript with him- aiding him in his defense, and helping them all keep their mind off the threat looming just over their heads. What follows- the story of a bewildered, yet beloved Don Quixote (Adams), and his loyal friend and servant, Sancho Panza (Lopez), as they seek to fight the evil forces of the Great Enchanter and win the favor of the spirited and beautiful Aldonza, or should I say, Dulcinea (the dynamic Janet Dacal), makes for a layered and enchanting theatrical experience.

Upon entering the theater you first notice the beautiful piano bar and lounge area, where you may order a drink conceived for the show, such as a “Dulcinea” (Stoli Apple Vodka, Caramel Syrup, & Apple Cider, anyone?) and sip it leisurely as the theater pipes a Spanish melody through the lobby and lounge. Once a gentle chime announces the timely start of the show, you will make your way into the stadium- style seating theater and find that no matter where you are seated, you are exactly positioned for a great viewing experience. From the time the full orchestra pit strikes that first note, you know you are in for a polished and professional performance. The sound is even, and the volume is just right (credit to the Musical Director, Julianne B. Merrill and the Sound Design team led by Don Hanna). Additionally, the scenic design (Michael Bottari & Ronald Case) adds depth and reality to the scenes, with both trapdoors and ladders, and a functional drawbridge which ominously lurches up and down, jarring the prisoners (and the audience) from the storytelling of this frame narrative, reminding us of the danger awaiting our storyteller/hero.

This play is sharply cast and the production staff’s talent shines brightly in the lighting (Alan C. Edwards), the set, and the sound. For a total package theater experience, head to the Engeman Theater and you will not be disappointed. Although tragic in its undertones, the cast brings beauty and humor to this story- you will leave uplifted and unable to get Don Quixote’s timeless lyrics of “The Impossible Dream” out of your head and calling all your loved ones “Dulcinea” (or maybe that’s just me)!

One last note- while the content of this show is overall very suitable for a wide audience, it does contain one scene in particular which is mature in nature. Parents should be advised that there is sexual innuendo and implied sexual violence, so leave the little ones at home and come get swept away in the story of Don Quixote as he seeks “to reach the unreachable star” in a quest full of pluck and valor!

Smithtown Matters Review

Theater Review – ‘Man of LaMancha’

September 16, 2018
By Jeb Ladouceur

When I heard recently that Senator John McCain had decided to suspend the medical treatments that were keeping him alive … and that he had already planned every detail of his incipient funeral, including the music that he felt would best eulogize him … my first thought centered on ‘The Impossible Dream,’ from Man of La Mancha. That’s how iconic the anthem to perseverance has become for me.

As things turned out, we all now know, McCain chose to be extolled with a recorded Frank Sinatra rendition of ‘My Way,’ the stirring ballad of autobiographical praise written by Paul Anka. I remember wondering as Sinatra’s voice filled the church during the Arizona Senator’s memorial service, how much more enobling the affair might have been had the classic La Mancha ode to courage been McCain’s choice.

But there is an ancient Roman expression (“de mortuis nil nisi bonum”) which literally translated means “Let nothing be said of the dead but what is good.” Fair enough. It was, after all, John’s funeral, and if he was comfortable with the ringing tributes of ‘My Way’ and somewhat curiously, ‘Danny Boy,’ so be it.

Still, as I attended the opening of ‘Man of La Mancha’ at Northport’s lush Engeman Theatre last Saturday, and ‘The Impossible Dream’ was performed (magnificently, I must say) my mind wandered back to the Capitol Rotunda and the National Cathedral, where a courageous John McCain’s flag-draped coffin had been attended so honorably by members of the military. For those sad hours, I concluded internally that ‘The Impossible Dream’ was indeed John’s song.

But putting sentiment aside, it should be noted that musically … musically, mind you … Man of La Mancha is a sort of one-trick-pony. When the play’s unforgettable anthem isn’t being belted out by the production’s star, Richard Todd Adams, the other numbers frankly pale to near-insignificance by comparison. This is not as fatal as the observation might lead one to believe, however. For it’s during these musical lulls that Miguel de Cervantes’ immortal Don Quixote story line takes over and makes the adaption the memorable piece of theater it has become.

When it was introduced on the Broadway stage in 1965, not surprisingly, the heart-warming tale of a knight who sets out to restore gallantry to mankind, won Tony Awards for both Best Musical and Best Musical Score. The production moved to a number of playhouses on the Great White Way before making its final 2,328th performance at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in 1971.

An interesting aside involves the iconic Rex Harrison who, having earned innumerable plaudits starring in My Fair Lady, was seriously considered for the Don Quixote role when Man of La Mancha was testing the theatrical waters in Connecticut. Unfortunately for Harrison, the musical demands of the score proved too much for poor Henry Higgins’ vocal range … and Richard Kiley wound up in the difficult role.

Performing in Northport with leading man Richard Adams are Broadway veterans Janet Dacal (she plays a peppery Aldonza) and Carlos Lopez (as the Don’s little sidekick, Sancho Panza). Both stars bring memorable performances worthy of Northport’s renowned theater … no small accomplishment when one considers the height at which Engeman invariably sets the bar for its featured artists. For example, the great Phyllis March plays the strong, opinionated Housekeeper to absolute perfection. She delivers her somewhat lesser role so artfully that we can’t take our eyes off of her. Aspiring actors would do well to study Ms. March’s technique.

This dream of a show runs thru Sunday, October 28. If I were a school teacher, I’d give extra credit to any student who brought me a Man of La Mancha ticket stub … and of course, an apple.

The Long Islander Review

‘Newsies’ – A Tale For The Times At Engeman Theater

August 2, 2018
By Janee Law

Engeman Theater’s newest production, “Newsies,” is filled with passion, inspiration and energy.

Last Thursday night at the Northport Village theater, Woodmere resident Tina Millman was among an audience that was captivated from start to finish. “I think they did a nice job with the scenery, everyone had a terrific voice and the dancing was great.”

The production takes the audience to lower Manhattan and back in time to the newsboys’ strike of 1899. The story follows charismatic newsboy Jack Kelly (portrayed by Dan Tracy), the strong and courageous leader of a ragged band of teenaged ‘newsies.’

“Newsies” is based on a 1992 Disney film of the same name that was written by Bob Tzudliker and Noni White.

Engeman’s production is directed by Igor Goldin and choreographed by Sandalio Alvarez. It features a score by eight-time Academy Award-winner Alan Menken and Jack Feldman that includes powerful numbers like “Carrying the Banner,” “Seize the Day,” “King of New York” and “Santa Fe.”

Last week’s performance had many in the audience grinning ear-to-ear from the start. “Carrying the Banner” sets the tone early on in the show’s runtime, delivering a number that’s action-packed and lively, and that gives the audience a taste of the high-energy performances to come.

Engeman’s ensemble takes things up a notch with exciting dance number “Seize the Day,” to which the crowd couldn’t help but clap along to.

Unlike the film, the musical takes a different approach to the role of the reporter by casting a woman, Whitney Winfield, who portrays Katherine. Winfield’s portrayal of the character is mesmerizing. She delivers a strong and empowering message regarding a woman’s drive to break into a male-dominated field in “Watch What Happens.”

Her journey parallels that of male lead, Jack Kelly, as both characters take a stand against an unjust society and fight for their dreams.
Audience member Alice Tibbert, of Queens, said after the show the two characters were her favorite, praising their chemistry and love story.

Tibbert also noted her satisfaction with the production, adding, “It was full of action, had fantastic dancing, and the songs were great.”
Tracy said after the show that Jack Kelly’s journey is inspirational.

“Jack is the leader, but I don’t think he sees himself as that, he’s like the glue,” Tracy said. “I think the cool part about the show is the journey he takes from a kid who doesn’t know how important he is to a man who understands that he has a voice and can make an impact in the world.”
Tracy added that “Santa Fe” is his favorite number to perform, but also enjoys “The World Will Know” and “Seize the Day,” during which the cast comes together and unites as a powerful front.

“That type of stuff with all the boys is so fun, and I think that a lot of the kids in this ensemble are going to be on Broadway very soon,” he said. “This cast is worth seeing.”

Broadway World Review

NEWSIES Reigns ‘King of New York’ at the John W. Engeman Theater At Northport

July 27, 2018
By Jaime Zahl

The second act of Disney’s “Newsies” opens with a show-stopping number titled “King of New York,” in which the Newsies celebrate their newfound celebrity in the press. The cast and production team of the John W. Engeman Theater’s stunning production have equal reason to celebrate. Bringing to life a spectacle of pure entertainment, they earn the title of “King of New York” – or Long Island, rather.

The musical began as a venture at The Papermill Playhouse, featuring emerging talents such as Jeremy JordanBen Fankhauser and Kara Lindsay. When the Broadway run was announced, Mr. Fankhauser – who originated the role of Davey- recalled in an interview that it was meant to be a limited run of approximately 100 performances. No one anticipated the cult following that would emerge, with self-proclaimed “Fansies” making their pilgrimage to New York City to see the musical adaptation of the live-action Disney musical film that captured their imaginations in 1992 and the years to follow.

It’s fitting that the musical has now become a regional theatre favorite, giving those “Fansies” the opportunity to see the show in their own towns. Engeman’s production may be the first of “Newsies” on Long Island, but it certainly won’t be the last.

The remarkable magic of Engeman’s production is that it cleverly combines the lively expanded and revised score and new book of the Broadway production with the delightful campiness of the 1992 film while also tossing in a few original strokes of creativity.

Set in 1899, the musical – based on actual events – tells the story of Manhattan newsboys facing off against newspaper giant Joseph Pulitzer after he raises the cost of selling “papes.”

BWW Review: NEWSIES Reigns 'King of New York' at the John W. Engeman Theater At Northport
Dan Tracy as Jack Kelly

Leading the charge is Dan Tracy as the charismatic Jack Kelly. While many fans will find it hard to put Jeremy Jordan‘s tour de force in the Broadway incarnation out of their minds, Mr. Tracy shapes his own interpretation of the character with a balance of wise cracking charm and fighting spirit. Although it is clear his talents as an actor outshine his vocal abilities, Mr. Tracy still gives each number his all – especially in the conclusion of Act II with the powerful “Santa Fe.”

By his side is newcomer and brains of the newsboy strike Davey (Mike Cefalo), Davey’s young brother Les (Zachary Podair), and the tragically innocent handicap Crutchie (Nick Martinez.)

Mike Cefalo plays Davey with true vitality and provides some of the strongest vocals in the show, highlighted in the crowd pleasing “Seize the Day.”

While Mr. Podair’s Les certainly has pep and shows his promise as a performer, the character is written with such an overindulgence of cute that his presence becomes more of a hindrance than an asset.

Meanwhile, Mr. Martinez comes close to stealing the show with his palpable vulnerability and wide-eyed hopefulness. His song “Letter From the Refuge,” written for the national tour and cemented in regional and community productions, is truly heartwrenching.

Fans of the film may not remember the character of Katherine Plumber, the plucky reporter covering the strike for The New York Sun. A hybrid of reporter Bill Pullman and Davey’s sister from the film, she provides a voice for the newsies in the headlines while also serving as a love interest for Jack. Whitney Winfield is perfectly suited for the role, shining brightly in “Watch What Happens,” a reporter’s anthem for writer’s block.

Rounding out the cast is none other than Mr. Joseph Pulitzer himself, played menacingly by Tom Lucca in a brilliant, timely display of power thirsting authority. The musical also features the impressive Allyson Kaye Daniel as vaudeville songstress turned motherly mentor for the newsies.

However, audiences will likely remember the production for the sheer athleticism and skill exhibited by the chorus of newsboys. Although one could argue there are one too many choreographed reprises of the opening song “Carrying the Banner,” each and every leap, turn and backflip is awe-inspiring.

This is especially true in “King of New York.” Although originally presented as a tap number, choreographer Sandalio Alvarez breathes new life into the scene with dance breaks featuring Stomp-like moves with spoons and pots and pans.

The entire creative team is top-notch with both beautiful and movement-friendly period costumes by Kurt Alger and the impressive technical execution of Zach Blane‘s lighting design and Laura Shubert‘s sound design.

Additionally, scenic designer DT Willis has created a jungle-gym of rooftops and fire escapes to bring turn-of-the-century Manhattan to life on stage, bringing Igor Goldin‘s vision to life and complimenting his staging.

While Newsies may not be a profound experience for the high-brow set looking for the next “The Band’s Visit,” it is certainly a romping good time. Engeman’s production will surely ignite a repeat of opening night’s thunderous standing ovation for its entire run.

The Observer Review

Newsies is a smash at the Engeman Theater

July 26, 2018
By David Ambro

For years people have been telling me to raise the price of The Observer from 75 cents to a dollar, and as I sat watching Newsies at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport on press night Saturday, July 21, it made me think twice.

When Jack Kelly and Katherine Plumjber rallied the child labor of New York City to a strike that brought management to its knees though, I walked out knowing 75 cents it will be.

When I go to the John W. Engeman Theater to review a show, it is always with an eye toward finding the things I like and highlighting that. There is nothing I didn’t like about Newsies. It was terrific.

The Engeman Theater is running a streak of consecutive shows that have had to be extended due to popular demand. Well, this should be the fourth in a row. If you haven’t purchased a ticket yet, hurry to the box office because this is the Engeman at its best.

Dan Tracy as Jack Kelly, Whitney Winfield as Katherine Plumber, Nick Martinez, a veteran on the Engeman stage, as Crutchie, Allyson Kaye Daniel as Medda Larkin, Tom Lucca as Joseph Pulitzer, Mike Cefalo as Davey and young Zachary Podair as his 10-year-old brother Les bring a deep cast of wonderful singing talent to this Broadway classic. Add to that the acrobatic and athletic Newsies dancers and this is among the best shows the Engeman has ever staged.

Mr. Tracy as Jack Kelly and Ms. Winfield as Ms. Plumber are shining stars, while Ms. Daniel as Ms. Larkin in her one solo song “That’s Rich,” is a hit, and Mr. Martinez, as Crutchie is wonderful. And, when they all join voices with a chorus that numbers more than 25 people at times, this is an Engeman show that lives up to that more than decade long mantra of bringing Broadway to Main Street.

What is also tremendous about this show is that it delivers a spirited happy ending to a dramatization of a real-life event with a powerful social message – the strength and importance of unionized labor. Based on the Disney Film written by Bob Tzudliker and Noni White originally produced on Broadway by Disney Theatrical Productions, Newsies is based on the true story about the newsboy strike of July 20, 1899.

When newspaper publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raise the price newsies have to pay for the papers they sell – from 50 to 60 cents per 100 in the show – the newsboys organize and strike, led by Louis Ballatt, the inspiration for Jack Kelly, and David Simons, the inspiration for Davey. When Pulitzer and Hearst refuse to concede to the newsies’ demands, a rally is held by child workers at historic Irving Hall, a 130-year-old theater built in 1888 at 15th Street and Irving Place near Union Square in Manhattan. More than 2,000 young workers fill the theater and 3,000 more gather outside, which compels Pulitzer and Hearst to relent.

There were some special moments of this show for me, ones that added to the enchantment. After my daughter, Sophie, saw Newsies on Broadway with a few of her friends when they were kids, she would walk around singing the lyrics to “Seize the Day.” It does that to you: “Open the gate and seize the day. Don’t be afraid and don’t delay. Nothing can break us. No one can make us give our rights away. Arise and seize the day.”

So when the cast of the Engeman, led by Tracy, Cefalo and the Newsies chorus, broke into Seize the Day in Act I and again in the reprise in Act II, it sent a chill down my spine, flashbacks to Sophie at the kitchen table as a little kid belting it out. I loved that. So did the audience at the Engeman, who responded with uproarious applause.

“King of New York” featuring Cefalo, Podair, Winfield and the Newsies chorus and Martinez as Crutchie in “Letter from the Refuge” were also among my favorites, Broadway-quality performances on the Northport stage. In the Engeman production of In the Heights, Martinez was Sonny. He is an endearing character in Newsies, offering a voice of social commentary.

Mr. Lucca, who is an especially good Pulitzer when he is interacting with Jack Kelly, is also an Engeman veteran, having performed as Utterson in Jekyll & Hyde and John Hancock in 1776. Ms. Winfield makes her debut at the Engeman in Newsies but she is a veteran to the show, having performed Katherine last year at Tuacahn in Utah, where she also played Fiona in Shrek.

While his older brother Davey is key to the story, and Cefalo is a star of the show, Zachary Podair as 10-year-old Les is another endearing Newsies character, in one of the deepest and most abundant collections of talent ever assembled on the Engeman stage. This is Zach’s Engeman debut and it is the highlight of his acting resume, but a role that he performs on par with the talent of the stars around him.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Engeman Theater champions the little guy with ‘Newsies’

July 24, 2018
By Melissa Arnold

This summer, the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport is transporting audiences to a New York City of long ago in its production of “Newsies.” This feel good, family-friendly show, which opened last Thursday, is thoroughly entertaining and will have you rooting for the cast from start to finish.

“Newsies”’ journey to the stage is an interesting one — the show is based on the 1992 Disney movie of the same name, and made its Broadway debut in 2012, where it won two Tony Awards. The book was written by Harvey Fierstein, with music by Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin”) and lyrics by Jack Feldman.

Both the film and musical are loosely inspired by the real-life events of the Newsboys Strike of 1899. The newspaper business was booming in 1898 while the United States was involved in the Spanish-American War. But when the war ended in September of 1898, so did the clamor for news. And this is where “Newsies” begins.

In the summer of 1899, a ragtag group of Lower Manhattan paperboys are lamenting the slow news climate, and famed publisher Joseph Pulitzer is brainstorming ways to boost his profits. At that time, newsies purchased their own papers from the publishers to sell on the street. Pulitzer decides to hike the prices the newsies pay, and since most of the kids are poor, homeless or trying to support their families, the backlash is immediate.

Led by the charismatic and scrappy 17-year-old Jack Kelly, the kids form a union and declare a strike. The show chronicles the uphill battle Jack and his friends face to be taken seriously and shines a light on unfair child labor practices of the era. At the core of “Newsies” is the power of resilience, community and standing up for a cause — and that spirit is as relevant today as it was then.

Under the direction of Igor Goldin, this production’s cast features a number of actors making their Engeman debut. Among them are Dan Tracy, whose confidence and comfort on stage give his portrayal of Jack Kelly a lovable swagger. Tracy does a great job balancing Jack’s tough guy exterior with a more hidden tender side, which shines through in songs such as “Santa Fe” and “Something to Believe In.”

Mike Cefalo and Zachary Podair, who play the rookie paperboy Davey and his kid brother Les, are also new to the Engeman. The pair have a natural chemistry and strong voices — listen for Cefalo in “The World Will Know” and Podair in “Watch What Happens.” As the youngest member of the cast, Podair is charming and funny, and he’s sure to have a bright future ahead in acting.

Whitney Winfield, in the role of Katherine Plumber, certainly holds her own with a big voice in “King of New York” and “Something to Believe In.” Her character is loosely based off of reporter Nellie Bly, who was a trailblazer for working women and female journalists. Winfield plays the role with a contagious positive spirit and moxie.

The ensemble is every bit as enjoyable as the main cast. Worth noting is their incredible talent for dance — choreographer Sandalio Alvarez and dance captain Claire Avakian are to be applauded for their hard work. “Newsies” is full of pirouettes, backflips, cartwheels, jumps and more tricks that will blow you away. Even the curtain call is an impressive showcase for their skill, where you can tell the cast is enjoying the show as much as we are.

The double-decker set designed by DT Willis depicts a Manhattan street, with metal staircases, a fire escape and a cityscape background. The set is multifunctional, transforming easily from a rooftop to the city square, a deli, theater and office with some quick work from the cast, who also functions as stage crew.

With every show at the Engeman, it’s the little touches at the theater that make the experience extra special. Show up early to enjoy one of several “Newsies”-themed cocktails, listen to ragtime or put yourself on the front page with their crafty wooden newspaper prop. Feel free to ask the staff to take a photo — they’re easy to find in old-time flat caps and suspenders. Be sure to check out the playbill for some fascinating information on the show’s historical background.

Newsday Review

‘Newsies’: Dancing that’s above the fold

July 24, 2018
By Barbara Schuler

In this age of screen-to-stage musicals, “Newsies” is remarkable because the movie it was based on was an out-and-out flop.

But thanks to video, the 1992 film starring Christian Bale developed a cult following, leading Disney to create a musical that ran for two years after its 2012 Broadway debut, winning Tonys for Alan Menken’s score and Christopher Gattelli’s choreography.

Now making its Long Island debut at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport,  the musical is a rough retelling of the newsboys strike of 1899, a David-and-Goliath struggle pitting a ragtag bunch of tenement urchins against Joseph Pulitzer, the powerful publisher of the New York World. Facing declining circulation, he forces his young hawkers to pay more for their “papes” (period lingo), sparking a rebellion that ultimately led to revisions in the city’s child labor laws.

The Engeman cast, under the fast-paced direction of Igor Goldin, will win you over with its inexhaustible energy and unbridled exuberance, managing to make you forget the flaws, some of which have been with the show all along. The closest thing to a memorable song is the celebratory “King of New York,” and perhaps the amusing “Watch What Happens,” in which Katherine, a character modeled on famed journalist Nellie Bly, sings of her writer’s block. Much of the other music feels repetitious, not helped by a few too many reprises, and while Dan Tracy has more than enough charisma to sell his role as the newsboys’ crusading leader Jack Kelly, vocally he struggles at times.

That can also be said for most of the men in the cast, clearly chosen primarily for their dance skill, which is considerable — a good thing since they rarely get a break from the relentlessly athletic (and again, repetitive) routines thrown at them by choreographer Sandalio Alvarez. Especially impressive is Nick Martinez as Crutchie, who has some cool moves despite having to manage them while maneuvering a crutch. Other highlights in the show (along with DT Willis’ set and Kurt Alger’s costumes) include Mike Cefalo, as the boy with the brains, Zachary Podair as his scene-stealing younger brother, and Whitney Winfield, in lovely voice as the spirited Katherine.

Of course, the most frightening man in “Newsies” is Pulitzer, played by Tom Lucca with enough menace to make me shudder just a bit (full disclosure: I used to work for his grandson). But he was a brilliant editor, and this musical could have used one.

The Theatre Guide Review

Newsies – John W. Engeman Theater

July 24, 2018
By Kristen Weyer

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Disney’s Newsies is now playing at the John W. Engeman Theater. Get ready for a magical, and inspiring trip back in time to the turn of the 20th century.  This entertaining and uplifting musical boasts music from Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and a book by Harvey Fierstein. Based on the actual events of the Newsboys Strike of 1899, this wonderful show will capture your imagination with its intricacies, and tug at your heart strings with its brilliant score. Directed here by Igor Goldin, Newsies is a must see for the whole family.

As the lights rise so too does the mist of a faraway morning on the roofs of New York City.  Poor, young, orphaned and homeless are the boys sleeping on the skyline.  With each other for family, they eek out their meager existence selling newspapers to any and all who will buy, earning them their name: the Newsies. The leader of this rag-tag pack is the clever and persuasive Jack Kelly (superbly played by Dan Tracy). When the newspapers of New York, led by Joseph Pulitzer (Tom Lucca) raise their wholesale prices on the Newsies the struggling boys have had enough.  Jack, together with newcomer Davey (Mike Cefalo) inspire the Newsies to form a union, go on strike and fight for the rights of the children workers of New York City.

This wonderful cast produces non-stop energy and entertainment from beginning to end. Characterization, chemistry and charisma flow from every angle of the stage.  Brilliant choreography by Sandalio Alvarez is energetically executed.

Dan Tracy as Jack Kelly will blow you away, pure and simple.  His vocals impress straight from his stunning opening number of “Santa Fe” all the way through to the end. Tracy’s characterization of Jack as he turns from a boy into a young man throughout the show is excellent. His charming grin, and the rakish twinkle which always seems to be hiding a joke, is intermixed with his maturing words, and actions. He is the perfect Jack Kelly.

Whitney Winfield is superb as Katherine Plumber.  Her beautiful voice and spunky attitude will bring a permanent smile to your face.  Mike Cefalo is an excellent Davey. Wonderful vocals and fantastic facial expressions bring his character to life.  Zachary Podair is terrific as Davey’s little brother Les.  His charm is palpable, and he adds delightful humor.

Tom Lucca is phenomenal as Joseph Pulitzer. He executes the strong, and frequently ruthless, character with calculated precision.  His excellent vocals are clear and crisp, yet melodic. You’ll love to hate him.

The intricate multi-level set by designer DT Willis works perfectly for this production.  Accurate historical costumes by Kurt Alger, and props by Suzanne Mason add dimension. Zach Blane’s brilliant lighting design, and Laura Shubert’s excellent sound design added a layer of magic to the production. Music Director Alexander Rovang and the entire orchestra performed exquisitely.

With power, excitement, emotion and romance, Newsies will appeal to a plethora of tastes. “The Bottom Line” is to go “Watch What Happens”, and you might leave feeling like the “King of New York”, or at least with “Something to Believe In”. Either way, Newsies is definitely not to be missed.

The Observer: New look hotel approved for tax break

By David Ambro
July 5, 2018

On the verge of receiving a tax abatement from the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency (IDA), the owners of the hotel proposed to be built on the northeast corner of Main Street and Woodside Avenue in Northport Village have finalized a new building design to incorporate features of the historic Conklin House that once stood on the property.

The hotel is being built by 225 Northport LLC, an equal partnership of Kevin O’Neill and Richard Dolce, who own the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, which is across the street from the proposed hotel. They propose to demolish a 17,610-squarefoot office building, which encases the old Conklin House, and construct a 25,500 square foot, three story hotel with 24 rooms and a 200-seat groundfloor restaurant. The site is .84 acres. The project includes the construction of a two-tier parking lot in the rear of the building on Woodside Avenue.

Mr. Dolce and Mr. O’Neill bought the site January 6, 2016 for $1,320,958. They hope to demolish the building this fall and begin construction of the hotel, work estimated at $7,741,605, and a job expected to take 12 to 18 months with anticipated occupancy in the fall of 2019 to winter of 2020. With equipment estimated at $1.23 million and with other miscellaneous expenses, the total cost of the hotel is estimated at $11,689,055. The hotel is expected to create 40 new jobs, generating an annual payroll of $1.4 million.

The preliminary hotel design Mr. O’Neill had presented was a traditional red brick facade with an entrance in the center of the building, fashioned after the American Hotel in Sag Harbor. Mr. O’Neill provided The Observer this week with a rendering of the new design, which features a rounded facade with an entrance facing the corner of Main Street and Woodside Avenue, a white panel facade, mansard roof and windows that replicate those that were once on the Conklin House.

“This will make it a downtown Northport building, not a downtown Huntington building. There is a big difference,” Mr. O’Neill said during an interview at his office in the theater last week. “This is going to pay homage to the old house.”

Mr. O’Neill said the previous design was preliminary to let people see what could become of the blighted office building on the property now. He said that all the while he has been looking at boutique hotels around the country to find the right fit, and that the inspiration for the new design is the Delamar Hotel in Southport, Connecticut.

“We decided to model it in that image because we feel it is a better fit for Northport,” Mr. O’Neill said. “We want to build a building we are going to be proud to walk into every day and that I think is in keeping with Northport Village architecture.”

Mr. O’Neill said the more he looked at the first design plan the more he got cold to it. He said that the mansard roof made him immediately warm up to the new design. He said the Delamar design is that of a harbortown building. “And, I think it is going to give our hotel a fantastic harbortown feel,” he said.

Mr. O’Neill said that during the Northport Village Board of Architectural and Historic Review Board application process for a demolition permit, it was suggested that the project incorporate some of the building elements of the old Conklin House, including the windows. “We are doing that in a significant way with the window design of the third-floor dormers,” Mr. O’Neill said.

In the meantime, the hotel project received preliminary approval June 28 for a $1.3 million property tax abatement, according to a statement released by the IDA.

“The design and style will be in keeping with a classic, old-world harbor town and will fill a much needed lodging void in the area,” says the IDA application for the property tax rebate. “The economic impact on both the existing theater business, as well as on the Village of Northport and the surrounding area, will be tremendously positive. This project will allow the John W. Engeman Theater, which is the major economic driver in the Village of Northport, to continue to remain a viable business entity going forward.”

At its meeting Thursday, June 28, the IDA Board granted preliminary approval of a 15-year property tax exemption totaling $758,066, a sales tax exemption of $516,653, and a mortgage tax exemption of $31,875, a total financial abatement package of $1,309,594. The current property tax bill on the property is $56,545. The hotel development will increase the property tax bill to $174,268. With the IDA abatement the first year tax bill will be $87,134, a 50% savings but still a $30,589 property tax increase from the current building. The property taxes abatement will be phased down in three percent increments over the 15-year life of the abatement.

“Having the tax abatement package that is being proposed by the IDA is integral to our project,” Mr. O’Neill said.

“The proposed project will fill a void in an area absent of hotels and, in turn, stimulate the local economy,” said Tony Catapano, Executive Director of the Suffolk County IDA. “The IDA is pleased to play a role in this project that will generate significant tax revenue for the Northport community.”

According to the IDA the site is directly across the street from the John W. Engeman Theatre, which is also owned by the hotel developers. The theater employs more than 200 people and brings over 110,000 visitors to the village each year.

“The property will generate $1 million more in property taxes than its current use,” said Kelly Morris, Deputy Executive Director of the Suffolk County IDA. “The addition of the Northport Hotel to the many existing assets of downtown Northport will truly make it a unique tourist destination.”

“We’re enthusiastic about the development of the Northport Hotel and restaurant located right across from the John W. Engeman Theatre, a staple of Northport,” Mr. O’Neill said after meeting with the IDA last week. “This project reaffirms our commitment to both Northport and Suffolk County, and it would not have been made possible without the support of the Town of Huntington, Village of Northport and the Suffolk County IDA. Their assistance has helped us realize our goals for this community.”

The Observer Review

“Singin’ in the Rain a smash at the Engeman”

June 7, 2018
By David Ambro

Readers of The Observer have probably figured out by now that there’s something special going on at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport – Singin’ in the Rain.

Theater proprietors Kevin O’Neill and Richard Dolce have made a name for themselves with their mantra to “bring Broadway to Main Street,” and with Danny Gardner as Don Lockwood and Brian Shepard as Cosmo Brown going toe to toe tapping out “Moses Supposes,” Singin’ in the Rain lives up to all expectations. I especially love tap, so this is one of my favorite Engeman shows.

But, there’s a lot more to Singin‘ at the Engeman. First, as I reported last week, the rain in Singin’ in the Rain, the scene that closes the first act, is real. It rains on stage, downpours actually. I was about 10 rows up, so I stayed dry, but it looked like some of the front-row guests got a splash out of it.

Made famous by Gene Kelly, Singin’ in the Rain is a story about a motion picture production company that makes silent films and to keep up with the competition, it has to start making talking films. The trouble is that its female star, Lina Lamont played by Emily Stockdale, can’t sing. So the studio uses a lip sync technique with the behind-the-scenes voice of Kathy Selden, played by Tessa Grady, who sings like an angel, and the plot twists from there. It’s a love story, Don snubbing Lina for Kathy.

What is wonderful for local audiences about Singin’ in the Rain at the Engeman (and readers of The Observer have gotten a preview of this as well) is that the black and white silent film scenes used in the show were filmed in Northport Village Park. It makes it fun.

The film sequences are cropped so it appears to be in the woods, filmed around the boulder and in the pine trees behind the bandstand. But in the background there is a treat, an occasional glimpse of a house on Bayview Avenue, a peek at the harbor, a pan past the bandstand… Rather than Broadway to Main Street, this brings Northport to Broadway at the Engeman, and it makes Singin’ in the Rain a must see, especially for the local audience.

As usual, of course, the show is terrific. From the opening “Fit as a Fiddle” scene to the reprise of Singin’ in the Rain to close the show, this is a wonderful rendition of a 66-year-old classic and audiences are flocking to see it. While the rain sequence for Singin’ in the Rain is an Engeman Best Of, and while “Moses Supposes” is a tap dance connoisseur’s delight, one of my favorite numbers in this show is “Good Mornin'” a classic scene that comes late in the show featuring Don (Danny Gardner), Kathy (Tessa Grady) and Cosmo (Brian Shepard). The music is fun and exciting and this trio is strong, athletic and they dance as well as they can sing. For me, it was just one highlight of another great show at the Engeman.

Also enjoyable was the scene “What’s Wrong With Me?” a solo by Lina (Emily Stockdale) which comes mid-way through Act II. It’s hard to judge the talent of an actress when she is playing the role of a character who can’t sing – can hardly talk with any kind of tone quality for that matter. But in “What’s Wrong With Me?” Ms. Stockdale is able to showcase her talent, even while playing a character of little talent. She can sing, and on stage alone she is a joy to behold.

Singin’ in the Rain has been playing to a packed house and it is the unprecedented third show in a row at the Engeman Theater to be extended beyond the July 1 run due to popular demand. The Engeman announced this week that seven additional shows will be added to the run, July 1 at 7 p.m., July 5 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., July 6 at 8 p.m., July 7 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and July 8 at 2 p.m.

For tickets, to Singin’ in the Rain at the Engeman, call the box office at 631-261-2900, visit the theater website at engemantheater.com or the box office at 250 Main Street Northport. Tickets are $78 for Saturday evenings and $73 for all other shows.

The Long Islander Review

‘Singin’ in the Rain’ Makes Big Splash at Engeman Theater

May 31, 2018
By Janee Law

Engeman Theater’s latest production is making a big splash with audiences.

The May 19 showing of the Northport Village theater’s “Singin’ in the Rain” production, with its high-energy tap-dancing numbers and comedic performances, was met with a standing ovation.

Audience member Lisa Malaszczyk, of Garden City, called it “pure fun” and praised its spectacular dance numbers.

Engeman’s production is directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey, with musical direction by Jonathan Brenner.

The production is an adaptation of the hit 1952 musical film of the same name, a romantic comedy that starred Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and Jean Hagen.

Mirroring that of the film, the ensemble for Engeman’s production is talented and agile, producing lively tap dancing sequences that had audience members beaming with delight from start to finish.

Danny Gardner portrays the charismatic Don Lockwood and is unforgettable and alluring in the role, embodying a young Gene Kelly, who played the character in the film.

Gardner’s solo performance of title number “Singin’ in the Rain” dazzles as he passionately taps across the stage, making a splash in the process, while showing off his huge grin.

The number went over swimmingly with audience member Skip Laisure, of Garden City, who called it his favorite number of the night. “There was real rain on the stage. You don’t see that all the time,” he said.

Along with “Singin’ in the Rain,” tap dancing numbers “Fit as a Fiddle,” “Moses Supposes” and “Good Mornin’” kept audience members’ eyes glued to the stage.

Along with Gardner’s, mesmerizing performances are dealt out by Tessa Grady, who plays the charming and feisty Kathy Selden; and Brian Shepard, who depicts the energetic and comical Cosmo Brown.

Laughter intensified whenever Emily Stockdale walked on stage, as her high-pitched voice and spot-on portrayal of Lina Lamont had the audience howling throughout the show.

The fun-filled dance number “Good Mornin’” sees Gardner, Grady and Shepard take the stage together, and the trio’s chemistry is alluring.

The number is Shepard’s favorite, he said after the show, praising his fellow cast members.

For Shepard, performing in the show is a personal accomplishment, he said, as it was the 1952 film that first inspired him to join the entertainment industry.

“I saw ‘Singin in the Rain’ when I was 12 years old and it ultimately was the reason why I went and took a dance class,” Shepard said. “I was obsessed with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Conner, I wanted to be those guys.”

As Cosmo, who was played by O’Conner in the film, Shepard tackles song-and-dance routine “Make ’Em Laugh,” a high-energy and hysterically-exhausting performance in which he performs several stunts and gags to incite laughs from the crowd.

On the role as a whole, he said, “It’s interesting finding the right balance of clowning, zaniness and being truthful. That’s what’s fun for me and maybe a little bit challenging, trying to stay real and stay really heightened, while emulating Donald O’Connor.”

Performances of “Singin in the Rain” continue at the 250 Main St. theater in Northport Village each Thursday and Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, 2 p.m.; through July 1. There are also select Wednesday, 8 p.m. and Sunday, 7 p.m. shows.

Newsday Review

‘Singin’ in the Rain’ review: A sunny Hollywood spoof

May 22, 2018
By Barbara Schuler

After slogging around in the rain for most of last week, the last thing anyone needed was another downpour — unless you count the deluge of pure delight that was the Act 1 finale of  “Singin’ in the Rain” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.

Taking on the iconic role so associated with Gene Kelly in the 1952 film (talk about pressure!), Danny Gardner put his own thoughtful spin on Don Lockwood, the silent film star caught up in the transition to “talkies.” He splashed his way through that title number in flawless song-and-dance-man style, seeming to have as much fun kicking the increasingly substantial puddles as any kid on a rainy day.

The musical adaptation, first on Broadway in 1985, doesn’t stray much from the film, considered among the best movie musicals of all time. It’s one of those shows that constantly surprises with songs you may have forgotten were in it — gems like “Make ‘Em Laugh,” made famous onscreen by Donald O’Connor as Cosmo, Don’ s loyal sidekick. Then there are the love songs, “You Are My Lucky Star”  and “You Were Meant for Me”; the peppy “Good Mornin’ ” (sadly without that well-known overturned sofa), and the razzle-dazzle production number “Broadway Melody.”

The Engeman has upped its game when it comes to casting of late, and this show has star turns everywhere you look. Among the standouts: Brian Shepard as Cosmo, who truly does make you laugh in that number; Tessa Grady, walking a fine line as love interest Kathy Selden, bringing a little modern sensibility into a role that could easily be a cliché, and Emily Stockdale as Lina Lamont, the inept silent-film star who bravely manages to sustain throughout a voice so grating you could only wish for nails on a chalkboard.

They all look fabulous, thanks to Kurt Alger’s stunning period costumes, all sequins and feathers that lit up David Arsenault’s soundstage set.  A word, too, for director-choreographer Drew Humphrey, who not only worked his wonders with the onstage happenings, but managed to pull off a series of silent films, with the requisite shaky, grainy footage, that helped move the story along.

But back to that rain. Kudos to whoever decided to leave the curtain open after the first act, allowing audience members who stayed in their seats to witness the herculean efforts involved in getting rid of all that water (wonder how many Wet Vacs they’ll go through?). First time I’ve seen a standing ovation during intermission.

Broadway World Review

The Classic SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN at The Engeman

May 23, 2018
By Melissa Giordano

Singin’ In The Rain, the classic Tony nominated musical based on the wildly famous MGM film, is certainly a must see among theatre attendees. With a Screenplay by Betty Comden & Adolph Greene and Music by Naico Herb Brown & Arthur Freedes, the incarnation at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theatre will surely have you leaving the theatre with a smile. Running through July 1st, closing out the Engeman’s dazzling 11th season, the delightful incarnation is strongly directed by Engeman vet Drew Humphrey.

The story, set in the 1920’s, follows silent film star Don Lockwood, charmingly portrayed by Danny Gardner, who barely tolerates his annoying and meddlesome “leading lady”, Lina Lamont, hilariously portrayed by Emily Stockdale. Laughter abounds throughout the show and we also see a budding relationship between Don and up-and-coming actress Kathy Selden, portrayed beautifully by Tessa Grady.

Mr. Gardner honors the Gene Kelly role well while truly making it his own. A great voice and classic look make him a natural for the part. Additionally, his fantastic rendition of the iconic “Singin’ In The Rain”, complete with sheets of rain coming down from the rafters, practically receives a standing ovation from the enthusiastic, sold out audience. As for Ms. Stockdale, her performance brings roars of laughter. While gorgeous for the big screen, Lina Lamont’s speaking – and signing – voice is less than desirable making her, shall we say, perfect for silent films.

And Ms. Grady is a fine Kathy. A quiet confidence and sass serves the role well. Indeed an audience favorite is her exquisite rendition of “You Are My Lucky Star” in addition to the well-known “Good Morning” with Mr. Gardner and and Brian Shepard who portrays Cosmo, Don’s best friend. Mr. Shepard is excellent as Cosmo who also serves as the fictional movie studio’s head musician. He and Mr. Gardner did some incredible tap numbers including “Moses” in Act One and “Broadway Melody” in Act Two.

In addition to the outstanding cast, the musical direction is superbly done by Jonathan Brenner leading a fantastic live orchestra with Kurt Alger‘s gorgeous costumes enhancing the visually stunning production. Yellow colored rain coats and umbrellas adorned the cast for the big final number and it is apparent that everyone in the company is enjoying Mr. Humphrey’s energetic choreography. As you can see, everyone on the cast and creative team is truly top-notch.

Indeed, you will be happily singin’ in any type of weather once you’ve seen this production. A wonderful cast, gripping story, and Long Island’s fabulous John W. Engeman Theatre prove a classic never goes out of style.

The Theatre Guide Review

Singin’ in the Rain – John W. Engeman Theater

May 22, 2018
By Kristen Weyer

The John W. Engeman Theater is closing its 11th season with that musical classic Singin’ in the Rain! This fabulous production is brilliantly directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey and features everything you could hope for and more from this beloved show.  The iconic 1952 movie starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds has been perfectly transferred to the stage; every one of your favorite lines, songs and dance sequences are present, and, oh yes, it is going to “rain” onstage!

It’s 1927 in the heyday of silent films, and Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are Hollywood’s favorite film couple. Then the talking movies arrive and turn Hollywood upside down.  With their newest film about to release they must desperately convert it into a “talkie” or risk the ruination of the entire movie studio.  We’re taken on a delightful romp through the golden age of Hollywood with romance, humor, dancing, and of course, Singin’ in the Rain.

This cast is amazing.  From leads to ensemble each and every one of them was extremely impressive.  Danny Gardner is excellent as Don Lockwood, combining his charismatic and debonair manner with smooth and perfect vocals. His superb talent is obvious, especially as he sings, dances and splashes his way through that most awaited scene “Singin’in the Rain”. Tessa Grady is a lovely and captivating Kathy Selden.  Her beautiful voice and impressive dance skills are blended to perfection. Brian Shepard does the memory of Donald O’Connor proud with his portrayal of Cosmo Brown.  His charming smile and quirky grin, his excellent voice and energetic performances bring his silly, comical character to life.  As impressive as they are separately, these three together are even more so.  Their dance sequence during “Good Mornin“ is exceptional.

Emily Stockdale is brilliant as the tonally challenged Lina Lamont.  Her personae and timing were spot on.  Leer Leary is wonderful as the studio head R.F. Simpson; he portrays the perfect man in charge but somehow makes him endearing.  Comedy abounds in this amusing show, and it is not just from the leads.  Ben Prayz is flawless as the put-upon director Roscoe Dexter; Peter Surace’s portrayal of the Diction Coach makes the number “Moses Supposes”; and Britte Steele is exactly what you hope for as Dora Bailey.

The costumes in this production are simply fabulous. Designer Kurt Alger’s choices are a feast for the eyes from the wonderful 1920’s period pieces to the elaborate movie costumes they wear.  This, combined with Scenic Designer David Arsenault’s appealing set, Zach Blane’s enchanting lighting, and Laura Shubert’s excellent sound design, created the perfect ambiance.  The orchestra’s outstanding performance, under direction from Jonathan Brenner, bolstered the entire show.

From hysterical silent pictures, and excellent live performances, to that exquisite dance in the rain, Singin’ in the Rain is perfection from start to finish.  Whether you’ve seen it many times, or perhaps this might be your first, Singin’ in the Rain should not be missed.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Theater Review: ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ makes a splash at the Engeman Theater

May 25, 2018
By Victoria Espinoza

The latest production at the John W. Engeman Theater will have you dancing and singing — rain or shine. “Singin’ in the Rain” premiered this past weekend to a full house and one of the most energetic crowds in past years.

The classic movie, which is regarded as one of the greatest movie musicals of all time, comes to life as soon as the curtain rises, bringing the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s golden age to Northport. It’s 1927 and Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are the toast of Tinseltown until silent films are threatened with the rise of talking pictures. The Northport stage is set to look like an old Hollywood film studio lot. David Arsenault, the set designer, creates a simple but inviting backdrop, and many times throughout the show the sets are used to enhance musical numbers and bring even more laughs to the audience.

While the songs, actors and sets all excel in this production, the choreography comes out on top. Drew Humphrey is both the director and choreographer for this show and brings audiences a nonstop party with intricate and joyful dance numbers that were accompanied by nonstop applause throughout the night. Standouts include “Fit as a Fiddle,” “Make Em Laugh,” “Good Morning” and, of course, the timeless classic, “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Danny Gardner, who plays Don Lockwood, brings all the magic of Gene Kelly’s iconic scene with his mile-long grin, infatuated attitude and love-struck dance moves. Perhaps the most excited the audience got was when the rain started to pour on stage and Gardner appeared in a fedora with an umbrella under his arm.

Tessa Grady and Brian Shepard round out the main trio as Kathy Selden and Cosmo Brown, respectively, and the chemistry between the three is great fun to watch. Shepard brings the biggest smiles to audiences’ faces with fun jokes and a charming and lovable attitude. He steals the scene in “Moses Supposes,” and you can’t help but look for him in every scene to see what fun little moments he brings to his character. All three stars have beautiful voices, and Grady does a great job bringing her talents to Kathy Selden to make her a confident, charming character with some great comedic moments as well.

Of course, the other character who delighted audiences with laughs was Lina Lamont, played by Emily Stockdale. The voice she was able to achieve for Lamont was impressive and hilarious and her short solo number in the second act was sharp and enjoyable. She brought great depth to what could’ve been a one-dimensional character.

An extra fun treat for audiences was the short films inside the musical. Producer Richard Dolce and Humphrey do a great job making the film shorts hilarious, and as an added bonus a recognizable spot, Northport Village Park, makes a cameo appearance. It makes the black-and-white shorts twice the fun when you see the recognizable white gazebo as a backdrop for a sword fight and a lovers reunion. The ensemble cast who are a part of these shorts also deserve a special shout out for the delight they bring to the small screen.

Musical Director Jonathan Brenner handles the numbers wonderfully, bringing all the right emotion each scene calls for. “Moses Supposes” excels not only for Shepard’s lovable conviction but also the way Brenner handles the music. The same can be said for “Good Morning.” This scene delivers on all the fun the original film brings, and although the characters aren’t trotting together from room to room, this production’s version encapsulates all the charm.

And even with all the fun, this production saves the best for last with a closing number you won’t want to miss. Kurt Alger, costume designer for the show, adds an extra pop with costume choices for the end, bringing extra color and fun to the stage. But, of course, the elegant period pieces in the show’s entirety are also a marvel to see, especially a French-style costume worn by Stockdale.

With more than just fan favorite songs, this musical promises to deliver a fun-filled evening for all who attend.

Huntington Now Review

“What a Glorious Feeling…” This Singin’ in the Rain

May 25, 2018
By Mary Beth Casper

Wow!

That was the overall reaction of the audience to a recent performance of Singin’ in the Rain, currently in production at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.

The cast and crew were spectacular.   That’s no small feat when it comes to embarking upon a staged version of the iconic 1952 movie musical, which starred Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor.

The Engeman production has its own special razzle dazzle, though. Its exceptional cast, rousing song and dance numbers, beautiful costumes and wonderful special effects, came together perfectly under the expert guidance of director/choreographer, Drew Humphrey. Humphrey nipped in the bud any comparisons that could crop up between his production and the legendary film’s  by apparently directing his cast not to imitate the stars of the movie, but to put their own individualized stamp on their roles.

The performances soared.

The play’s storyline is the same as the Betty Comden and Adolph Green screenplay. It focuses — with laser beam humor — on the history of Hollywood’s transformation from silent pictures to “Talkies” during mid-1920s. It’s a love story, as well. One that smacks of old-fashioned innocence and charm.

Leading man Don Lockwood (played oh, so endearingly by Danny Gardner) and his leading lady, Lina Lamont (Emily Stockdale, a beauty with impeccable comic timing) are silent screen superstars. America can’t get enough of them.  The gossip columnists have created a love story around the two, but in reality, Don can’t stand Lina. She, however, refuses to believe that.

There’s another issue, too. When their studio boss, R.F. Simpson (the solid character actor Leer Leary) realizes the future belongs to talking pictures, he decides to take the plunge and bring his leading man and lady with him. How could this venture fail? After all, Don is a great song and dance man, and his speaking voice should transfer perfectly to film.

But, Lina? She may be gorgeous, but oh, that horrible voice! Her nasally, New Yawk accented screech, won’t be music to audiences’ ears. What will they do?

It’s Don and his best friend, lovable Cosmo Brown, (portrayed wonderfully by Brian Shepard) to the rescue. They’ll have spunky, actress, Kathy Selden (a delightful girl next door type, convincingly played by Tessa Grady) dub Lina’s voice. Unbeknownst to Lina, of course.

It can’t fail. Or, can it?

Naturally, love develops between Kathy and Don. And, when Lina gets wind of that romance, as well as of her voice being dubbed, the sparks fly.

While this play is chock full of splendid song and dance routines, none is as powerful as Gardner’s spectacular rendition of the show’s title song, Singin’ in the Rain. He brought the house down at the end of Act One with his joyful performance.   And, yes, it really rained down on him, thanks to a collaborative effort between the show’s scenic designer, David L. Arsenault and the theater’s technical director, Timothy Moran.

A standing ovation, ensued. Followed by another, for the stage hands who mopped up the puddles during intermission.

Whatever you do, don’t miss this show.

The Long Islander Review

Engeman’s In The Heights Excites With Musical Diversity

By Janee Law
March 29, 2018

The John W. Engeman Theater brings summer time to Northport with “In The Heights,” an energetic production that brings audience members to the vibrant community in New York’s Washington Heights.

Before he created the Broadway hit “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda wowed audiences with “In The Heights,” his first musical that went on to win a Tony Award for “Best Musical.”

Engeman’s adaptation of the production brings romance, comedy and a diverse musical performance that excited the crowd at the Main Street theater last weekend.

The production is directed by Paul Stancato and choreographed by Sandalio Alvarez, with musical direction by Alec Bart, and Dana Iannuzzi as associate director.

Through rap, hip-hop, reggaeton and merengue, the music and energetic dance sequences take audiences on a journey of a dream filled community that faces the ultimate struggle of whether or not to carry the traditions of the past or leave it behind.

Audience members Gail and Don Conrad said after Saturday’s show that the “music was excellent” and the “dancers were fabulous.”

They added that their favorite character was Usnavi (Spiro Marcos), who had members of the audience bobbing their heads during his rhythmic rap sequences.

For other audience members like Lidia Rodriguez, the cast made her want to join the fun.

“I wish I could dance like that,” she said. “I love it and it was very touching. They talked about everything: life, death, hope, and home. It was a great show.”

With spirited numbers like “96,000,” “The Club” and “Carnaval del Barrio,” the production entertains from start to finish and tugs at the heartstrings with performances like “Breathe” and “Alabanza.”

With that, the story offers a love story that audiences can connect with, whether it’s Usnavi (Spiro Marcos) and his pursuit of Vanessa (Chiara Trentalange), or childhood friends Benny (Josh Marin) and Nina (Cherry Torres) whose relationship turns romantic with age.

Torres said the relationship between Benny and Nina is natural and one that many can relate to.

“Seeing someone that you grew up with your entire life and then all of a sudden seeing them in a different way is such a beautiful and natural progression that these characters have,” she said, adding that working opposite Marin is a pleasure.

Torres said she saw herself playing the character of Nina when the original production hit Broadway.

“I’ve wanted to play it for years because I had so many similarities with her,” she said, adding that when she landed the role, she was in tears. “It means the world to me to have gotten this part. I’m just honored to be able to get on the stage and play her every time.”

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Engeman Theater soars to new heights in latest production

By Rita J. Egan
March 22, 2018

It may be chilly outside, but things are heating up inside the John W. Engeman Theater. The Northport venue debuted its production of “In the Heights” on March 15, and with a talented cast and the energetic sounds of salsa, reggaeton, merengue and hip hop, audience members are guaranteed a fun, hot night on the town.

Before he shared the story of Alexander Hamilton through rap and song in “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda created this spirited musical, which ran from 2008 to 2011 on Broadway and won four Tony Awards.

A love letter to Latinos who live in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, the story takes place during July Fourth weekend on one city block and centers around bodega owner Usnavi and his neighbors. While the play includes a good deal of reality like money issues, the death of loved ones and the sacrifices one must make for a better life, its main themes are about love and hope, and most important of all, having patience and faith.

With book by Quiara Alegria Hudes and music and lyrics by Miranda, through dialogue and song “In the Heights” reveals the economic struggles of Usnavi and his fellow business owners, car service proprietors Kevin and Camila Rosario and beauty salon owner Daniela.

The musical throws in romance as Usnavi pines away for the beautiful Vanessa, who works at the beauty salon, and the Rosarios’ daughter Nina and their employee Benny engage in a forbidden romance. As the audience gets a peek into the heartache of Usnavi losing his parents at an early age, Vanessa yearning to move downtown, the bright Nina losing her college scholarship and the love felt for the neighborhood’s adopted grandmother, Claudia, one can’t help but feel a part of this close-knit community.

Spiro Marcos as Usnavi does a fine job filling big shoes (the role was originally played by Miranda on Broadway). The actor skillfully uses rap during most of his numbers to tell the story. Marcos is in touch with Usnavi’s softer side, making it impossible not to root for him as he longs for Vanessa and dreams of going back to the Dominican Republic, his birthplace, while trying to keep the bodega afloat.

Josh Marin is charming as Benny, and Cherry Torres is sweet and lovely as Nina. The two have a good amount of onstage chemistry during their romantic scenes, which is front and center during the song “Sunrise” where they sing beautifully together. Chiara Trentalange balances a bit of sass and attitude with a touch of softness to deliver a Vanessa who may be determined to put her neighborhood behind her, but audience members can’t help but like her, too.

Tami Dahbura is endearing as Abuela Claudia, while Paul Aguirre and Shadia Fairuz are perfect together as Kevin and Camila. Schehereazade Quiroga is perfect as the spunky Daniela and delivers comedic lines perfectly. Iliana Garcia is refreshing as naïve hairdresser Carla, and Vincent Ortega is delightful as the Piragua Guy, especially during his number “Piragua” and its reprise. Nick Martinez, as Usnavi’s young cousin Sonny, and Danny Lopez as Graffiti Pete, do a nice job adding some comic relief throughout the production.

The dancers are also among the stars in the show. Skillfully choreographed by Sandalio Alvarez, they energetically and masterfully transfer from salsa, merengue, reggaeton and hip hop dance steps.

The music in the production is top notch and is a mix of dance tunes that will have audience members wanting to dance in the aisles and emotional ballads for which some may need tissues. The band, led by conductor Alec Bart, does a superb job flawlessly moving from one musical genre to another, and the singers also do an excellent job.

During the first act, Torres expertly uses her vocal talents to perform an emotion-evoking version of “Breathe.” It is during this number audience members discover her time at Stanford University didn’t work out for her, and she now feels lost not knowing what to do with her life.

Aguirre’s number “Inútil” is just as heartbreaking as his character feels useless after discovering his daughter didn’t come to him to help her pay for school. Fairuz also displays strong vocals during the song “Siempre.”

Trentalange sings lead on the upbeat song “It Won’t Be Long Now” with Marcos and Martinez. The actress has fun with the song and her vocals are great.

Dahbura moves around convincingly like a frail grandmother, and then surprises audience members with her emotional vocals during “Paciencia y Fe.” Abuela Claudia remembers her youth in Cuba and arriving in the United States, during the song. Her mother would always remind her to have patience and faith, advice Claudia continues to share with those she loves.

During the first act, the ensemble performs “96,000” as they sing about what it would be like to win the Lotto. With the singers emanating so much energy, one can’t help but feel optimistic for them.

Quiroga gets the party started with “Carnaval del Barrio” and her vocals are outstanding. The high-energy song with exceptional dancing is sensational. It is soon followed by “Alabanza” where Torres sweetly sings the first lines and then the song builds up to a powerful number featuring the whole cast. Both performed during the second act are show stoppers.

Spanish is sprinkled throughout the dialogue and lyrics of “In the Heights” to add authenticity, but are always followed by English translations, or the lines are delivered with gestures that make things clear for those who don’t understand the language.

Many may want to see this musical because they are curious about Miranda’s earlier work, but “In the Heights” is an entertaining look into the life of Latinos in New York City and a beautiful tribute to the music that was brought to the United States from the islands of Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

The Observer Review

Engeman Theater to new heights

March 22, 2018
By David Ambro

In its 12th season of bringing Broadway to Main Street, the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport is coming of age.

Now showing on the main stage at the Engeman Theater is the critically acclaimed Broadway hit In the Heights, a 2009 Pulitzer Prize nominated musical written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also wrote and currently stars in Hamilton, the hottest ticket on Broadway. In the Heights opened at the Engeman Thursday, March 15, the first professional production of the show on Long Island.

“It’s exciting to do a show that people haven’t seen a lot before,” said Richard Dolce, who produced the show and is the theater’s producing artistic director. “That’s what was exciting about [the previous show] Once. People came in having heard about it but it’s not like My Fair Lady or West Side Story where everyone remembers it and has seen it. This is something they have heard of and maybe they have heard of Hamilton, but to experience it and for us to be the people to bring it to them is very satisfying. It’s why I do this.”

Set in a closely knit neighborhood on 183rd Street in the Washington Heights section of the Bronx, In the Heights is a story about a diverse Latino community of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico, struggling to improve their lives in America. On the Engeman stage, Spiro Marcos plays the central role of Usnavi, a Dominican immigrant who operates a bodega with his cousin. Sonny, played by Nick Martinez, and under the watchful eye of neighborhood matriarch Abuela Claudia, played by Tami Dahbura. Mr. Marcos is captivating as Usnavi, a role he delivers in rhythmic rap. Mr. Martinez and Ms. Dahbura are terrific in their performances. Sonny warm, funny and engaging and Abuela compassionate and endearing.

A defining moment in the story comes when Abuela dies suddenly during a New York City blackout on a blistering hot July day. Having been raised by Abuela, her death hits Usnavi hard. He decides to give up the bodega, the heart of the neighborhood, and return to his homeland. Central to the plot is romance, Usnavi is enamored by Vanessa, a neighborhood hairdresser played by Chiara Trentalange. Josh Marin plays Benny, an African-American in love with his boss’ daughter, Nina, played by Cherry Torres.

Steeped in the Latino culture and highlighting the struggle of the American melting pot. In the Heights at the Engeman features a deep cast of stars supported by an ensemble that is more than 20 voices strong at times. It is must-see contemporary theater on the Northport stage.

For tickets, go to engemantheater.com, call 631-261-2900 or visit the theater box office at 250 Main Street in Northport village.

In the Heights is told in a mixed dialogue of English and Spanish and a variety of musical styles including Rap, Hip Hop, Salsa, Merengue, Reggaeton, Rock ‘n Roll and traditional Broadway style, all with a Latino beat.

“Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer and the guy who is Hamilton, tells a story about his life growing up and he wanted to use the music of his youth and of his culture,” Mr. Dolce said. “[Miranda] is a really big fan of rap and Latin music and a big fan of Broadway so he took this amalgamation of all this different music. There are characters who primarily rap, but there are also a lot of characters who do pretty standard ballads and storytelling and it’s all put together to portray a slice of life in Washington Heights back in the mid to late 2000s.”

“It is so much fun,” Mr. Marcos said during an interview in the lobby after the show. “We have become family. We have only rehearsed for two weeks. This is the third week of rehearsals and it has included five performances. So we are exhausted, but we have all just held each other up and we have all made it a point to tell the story and to do it justice and do it with respect and also share a little bit of our culture with the people of Northport. It is kind of amazing.”

“So I am elated. The show is fun. it’s upbeat, it warms your heart and it is all about the legacies -we leave, and I think this is so important,” he said. “People have to understand that you leave your mark wherever you are, and that is very important to me.”

Mr. Dolce said that because the script is a mix of English and Spanish, a largely Latino cast was selected to bring authenticity to the show. “Obviously, they are trying to be as authentic as possible. Fortunately, we cast actors who are Latino, so they came with their own background and their connection to the material. So it was a matter of the director, choreographer and musical director working with the actors and material to bring out the authenticity.”

“The big thing for me is showing the respect for the Spanish language because it drives the culture of almost half of the people in this country,” Mr. Marcos said. “In wanting to pay respect to the language and doing it justice, sometimes you get people who do parts like this, and they don’t know the language. It’s just them trying to figure it out and learning the words on a page. But for me it is the connection to that world and knowing exactly what I’m saying and how to say it and not just learning the lines. I know exactly what I am saying and not just words on a page, so I can pay respect to this language.”

“Lin-Manuel had a reason for putting that in this show. He had a reason for including it and I think it is so important to respect that decision of his because he is the first one to do it like that,” Mr. Marcos said.

“West Side Story did it back then and I was in West Side Story. I played Bernardo, and it was crazy because in that show they almost bastardized Puerto Rico. They were all ashamed of Puerto Rico and they wanted to get out of Puerto Rico. And this is a show that is celebrating Puerto Rico and it is just amazing that he created something that celebrates Latin American culture when the only time you’re seen it in a show it has been bastardized. And that was a huge, huge inspiration for me.”

While the dialogue is delivered in English and Spanish and the music has an uplifting Latino beat, the choreography is also modern and new to the Engeman.

“It is probably the most modern dance that we have done,” Mr. Dolce said. “It mixes elements of Hip Hop and Break Dancing with traditional Broadway dancing and with Latin musical dancing, Salsa dancing. When we did Memphis and Hairspray it was 50s Rock youth style of dancing. This is more modern. So again, it is exciting to be able to present something like this. That feels fresh, that hasn’t been done.”

“We are thrilled to be able to do the show. It is a fantastic show, and it is a complicated show, but it is one that, now that we are 12 years in, we felt we could handle and our audiences would enjoy,” Mr. Dolce said.

He said the heavy lifting was done by the authors of the script. “The script is there, the music is there. We just had to stay time to it, and just work our actors’ and our directors’ concepts into the story.”

“1 think it is fantastic,” Mr. Dolce said. “I think it’s exciting. I’ve been around the theater for a long time and it is exciting to watch Broadway theater evolve over the years. Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, and A Chorus Line and Phantom, Les Miz, and then you got into Rent, and now we have In the Heights and Hamilton, and Next to Normal—you have all of these exciting shows. So it is very exciting for me, as someone who has been there for my entire life, there was a time when I could only produce shows like My Fair Lady, Oklahoma and Sound of Music, and now I feel that audiences are more accepting and receptive to these newer styles of musicals.”

The Engeman’s last production was Once, the most successful show at the box office in the theater’s 12 year history. “Once is very different than typical Broadway, and it was one of my most successful shows,” Mr. Dolce said. “I’m hoping, based on audience reaction tonight, that In The Heights will become another wonderfully successful show and that audiences are excited and receptive to seeing musical theater in a new way, with modem music and different cultures and to disappear into a different world and a different story for two and a half hours.”

Newsday Review

In the Heights: Scorching numbers on a summer day

By Barbara Schuler
March 21, 2018

Spring is having trouble making an appearance on Long Island, but summer is in full swing at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater, with a spirited take on the high-octane, dance-obsessed, Tony-winning musical “In the Heights.”

This, you might recall, was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first musical, started when he was still in college, well before “Hamilton” was even a gleam in his creative eye. Set on a scorching summer day, the play takes place in Washington Heights, where Usnavi (a fine performance from Spiro Marcos in the role Miranda originated) runs his bodega amid the turmoil of a neighborhood where no one is quite making it.

Director Paul Stancato has gathered an impressive cast, with voices that will blow you away and enough stage electricity to energize a small city. Tami Dahbura is endearing and heartbreaking as Abuela Claudia, the barrio matriarch who raised Usnavi (he’s named for the first thing his parents saw upon arriving in America, a ship that said U.S. Navy) after his parents died. Cherry Torres internalizes her pain as Nina, the girl who got out, coming home from her first year at Stanford with alarming news that sends her ferociously protective parents Kevin and Camila (Paul Aguirre and Shadia Fairuz) into quite the tailspin.

Other standouts include Chiara Trentalange as Usnavi’s feisty, don’t-mess-with-me love interest; Josh Marin as the out-of-place Benny (shades of “West Side Story” right down to the balcony scene), who has his sights on Nina; and Vincent Ortega as the piragua guy, selling shaved ice to anyone he can convince to pass up Mister Softee. Not to mention an ensemble of accomplished singers and dancers who bring Christopher Vergara’s street-kid costumes and Christopher Ash’s storefront set to life, while making it clear they know how to sell salsa (and we’re not talking the stuff you put on chips.)

But it’s Usnavi who holds it all together and Marcos plays him with a quiet, reserved charm and curtailed cockiness that wisely never attempts to channel Miranda (tough, because an unmistakable resemblance cannot be denied). Marcos is comfortable wherever the music takes him, moving effortlessly from haunting ballads like “It Won’t Be Long Now” and “Alabanza” to the hip-hop flavored “96,000.”

“I know I wrote a show about home,” Miranda said in his rapped acceptance speech when he won the 2008 Tony for best original score. And in the end, that is the loving message of “In the Heights,” no clicking of sparkly red shoes required.

Broadway World Review

IN THE HEIGHTS at The Engeman

By Melissa Giordano
March 21, 2018

When I attended the Broadway incarnation of In the Heights, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Accordingly, when they announced their current season, I had the utmost confidence that the showing at the gorgeous John W. Engeman Theatre was going to be just as stellar. Being The Engeman, I was proven right. The wonderful production runs through April 29th at the Northport venue masterfully directed by Paul Stancato.

The Best Musical Tony winner, conceived and scored by multiple Tony Award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda with the book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, tells the tale about the historic Washington Heights community in New York City. Explored are the people, the culture, and what it is like to live in the area. Several stories weave throughout the show that, at its heart, is about people simply trying to navigate life.

Excellently leading the cast as bodega owner Usnavi – Mr. Miranda’s role from the Broadway showing – is Spiro Marcos in his Engeman début. Mr. Marcos receives roaring applause and laughs for his natural wit and first-rate renditions of “96,000” and the show’s title number with the company. Also, Mr. Marcos’ performance of “Hundreds Of Stories” with Tami Dahbura, portraying Abuela Claudia, the town grandmother, is truly endearing and an audience favorite.

Also a highlight among the amazing cast (and in another Engeman début) is Cherry Torres who is terrific as Nina, a college student who has returned to the neighborhood. Nina’s passion to make sure she makes her parents proud, yet standing up for herself under the pressure, is relatable and Ms. Torres delivers admirably. Also enjoyable is Iliana Garcia – in yet another Engeman début – as salon worker Carla. Carla is a sweet and well-meaning woman, but, shall we say, a little slow and Ms. Garcia brings many laughs in addition to being a stand-out in many of the dance numbers.

In truth, I could go on and on about the brilliant cast, but I’ll sum up by saying that I could possibly see several of them in the Broadway production had it run longer.

On the creative team, the set, designed by Christopher Ash, is stunning and seemingly captures well the spirit of the Washington Heights community. Usnavi’s bodega, the salon, and the car service that Nina’s father owns are included as well as fire escapes above the bodega and car service. This is enhanced beautifully by John Burkland‘s lighting design and Christopher Vergara‘s costume design. Sandalio Alvarez’s choreography is also top-notch and well accompanies the score filled with hip-hop, salsa, merengue, and reggaeton which is performed by a thrilling live orchestra headed up by Music Director Alec Bart.

And so, In the Heights at The John W. Engeman Theatre is incredibly entertaining with an absolutely remarkable cast. This heartfelt story and well executed show make for a thrilling night of theatre.

The Theatre Guide Review

In the Heights

By Kristen Weyer
March 20, 2018

If you’re looking for a way to escape the cold then look no further than the John W. Engeman Theater. The current production of In The Heights is a surefire way to bring warmth and excitement to your day.  This Tony Award winner for Best Musical boasts a book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, and music and lyrics by…wait for it, Lin-Manuel Miranda!  Yes, of Hamilton fame.  Filled with the sound and soul of Latin music this incredible score is a brilliant blend of salsa, merengue and hip-hop combined with the format of musical theater we all know and love.  It’s hypnotic and intoxicating, and just pure fun.

Even if hip-hop isn’t usually your cup of tea, do not under any circumstances, be dissuaded from attending. Trust me, it’s not my first musical choice either, but somehow this show makes it appealing and wonderful.  The intricate, and even amusing lyrics, combine effortlessly with the characters and mood so that the music almost feels like a physical embodiment of the setting.  It’s impressive as well. The flawless verbal gymnastics performed by Spiro Marcos as Usnavi are simply breathtaking.

The steam is rising off the concrete on a sweltering hot 4th of July in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York.  Change is upon the residents, and while some desire it, others find it difficult, hearts are broken and mended, dreams crash and burn and rise again.  We the audience follow along through the three transformative days in our characters’ lives.

This production is phenomenal.  From the authentic look of the set by Christopher Ash, to the amazing vocals performed by the entire cast, In The Heights was a delight from start to finish. The insane talent of this cast cannot be stressed enough.  Not only were their voices and dancing superb, but they all make you care about their characters as well.  The two couples in this show both had excellent chemistry and you’ll find yourself rooting for both of them from the start:  Spiro Marcos and Chiara Trentalange, as Usnavi and Vanessa; Josh Marin and Cherry Torres, as Benny and Nina.  They are sweet and charming, funny and endearing, and real.  Trentalange and Torres both have incredible powerhouse vocals which take over the stage with magical precision.  Another vocal stunner is Tami Dahbura as Abuela Claudia, and Marin’s clear and resonant tones are not quickly forgotten.

There is also plenty of comedy, and Nick Martinez as Sonny, Scheherazade Quiroga as Daniela and Iliana Garcia as Carla deliver marvelously.  Not to be overlooked are Paul Aguirre and Shadia Fairuz as Nina’s parents, and the entirety of the cast.  Of course the musical talent of the orchestra under direction from Alec Bart was on masterful display.

When I first sat down to In The Heights I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect.  Not only did this production meet my expectations, it blew them away.  By any means possible see this show!

Smithtown Matters Review

In the Heights

By Jeb Ladouceur
March 20, 2018

The production team at Northport’s plush Engeman Theater certainly knows how to pick ‘em. Their newest offering is a stimulating show that depicts a three-day slice of life ‘In the Heights.’ Not Brooklyn Heights (the upscale area across the river from Wall Street) … nor Jackson Heights (that’s a landlocked neighborhood in Queens) … this is about Washington Heights, bordered by two rivers, up near the northern tip of Manhattan.

German immigrants first populated the area’s high bluffs, but demographics changed radically over time and by the turn of the Twenty-First Century, so many immigrants from the Caribbean Islands had moved to Washington Heights that candidates for the presidency of the Dominican Republic began to hold campaign parades there! It’s this irrepressible Hispanic element, coupled with pathos and near-feverish dance moves that make ‘In the Heights’ such an interesting musical.

And ‘Heights,’ though a bit controversial, is obviously a winner, having garnered thirteen Tony nominations and four first place trophies (including Best Musical) after its opening at the Richard Rogers Theatre in 2008. Dissimilarly, fifty years earlier, the highly touted ‘West Side Story’ had gained less than half that number of recommendations and won in only the ‘Choreography’ and ‘Set Design’ categories.

Inevitably, there will be those who assume that the current Engeman offering is a North End version of ‘West Side Story.’ Not so. At the risk of being labeled some kind of Thespian heretic, I will confess that ‘West Side Story’ has never been my cup of tea. I dislike the show’s constant drumbeat of machismo nonsense (although it must be said the frenetic ‘Heights’ production too has its share of that) … and the repetitious nature of what Bernstein and company apparently intended to be timeless romantic anthems, often renders their version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ rather tedious.

But ‘In the Heights’ is a somewhat more interesting story—Nina, the ‘bright girl who made it out’ of The Heights—is back from her Freshman year at Stanford; trouble is, ‘the pride of her neighborhood, The Corner,’ isn’t home on break … unable to pay Stanford’s steep tuition (despite working two jobs), she’s suffered academically, and been forced to drop out of the prestigious institution.

The most distressing trouble Nina gets into stems from her failure early on to have told her hard-working parents the truth about her academic collapse several months prior. In other words, it’s the cover-up that proves to be the worst part of her sad experience. Nina finally fesses-up, though, and finds out who really loves her.

Throughout this show, fate intervenes in Twenty-First Century ways. In one particularly recognizable modern-day surprise, the play benefits from a healthy shot of realism often lacking in so many modern musicals. There’s a city-wide power failure, for example—many will remember the real thing when they see John Burkland’s clever staging of the blackout … go and experience for yourself what the other familiar touches are.

To select an all-star group from among the several actors performing at The Engeman thru April 29 is not to diminish a single member of the cast. Many of the ‘also featured’ players are every bit as pleasing to watch as are the stars: Spiro Marcos (Usnavi), Josh Marin (Benny), Cherry Torres (Nina), and standout Chiara Trentalange (Vanessa).

Director Paul Stancato, and Choreographer Sandalio Alvarez, must have been paying close attention when my associate, critic Charles Isherwood, conceded in The Times ”…this musical erupts in … collective joy … the energy it gives off could light up theGeorge Washington Bridge.” He hit the nail squarely on the head. Charles could have been speaking for all of us who had just seen Northport’s rousing rendition of ‘Heights,’ though I might have added kudos for Musical Director Alec Bart and the rest of the creative team that includes: Christopher Ash (scenic design), Christopher Vergara (costumes), John Burkland (lighting design), and Don Hanna (sound).

One wonders how The Engeman comes up with so many capable theatrical craftsmen, show after remarkable show.

One caveat: you won’t like ‘In the Heights’ if you detest rap musicals, as some of us admittedly do. But if the non-stop rat-a-tat of‘street opera’ turns you on, go see the twenty-one performers currently vocalizing and gyrating at Northport’s Engeman Theater. I’m told they’ve turned in a faithful rendition of what goes on in upper Manhattan.

Long Islander Review: One Time Not Enough To Witness ‘Once’ At Engeman Theater

The Long Islander
Janee Law
February 1, 2018

The newest show at John W. Engeman Theater in Northport Village is taking audiences overseas, to the streets and green landscapes of Dublin, Ireland.

Starting off in an Irish pub, “Once” warms up the crowd with pre-show melodies of high energy that set the stage for what’s to come.

The tale that follows delivers a captivating love story that follows Dublin street musician Guy (Barry DeBois) and Czech immigrant Girl (Andrea Goss). The couple meets at a time when both their lives have “stopped,” but soon help each other push forward.

The cast delivers the beautiful narrative through acoustic, folksy music and choreography while adding a touch of comedy to the mix.

Together, the relatable characters share an inspirational message of pursuing one’s dreams and the music’s powerful ability to form connections among people.

“Once,” which at Engeman is directed and choreographed by Trey Compton, with musical direction by James Olmstead, and Natalie Malotke as associate director and movement consultant, is an adaption of the eight-time Tony Award-winning feature that rocked Broadway from 2012-2015.

At Engeman, the talented ensemble shows off several skills. Not only does the cast act, sing and dance, but they also play instruments — guitar, drums, violin, piano, bass, cello, accordion, mandolin and viola, just to name a few — live on stage.

Joanne Freiberger, an audience member at last Thursday’s show with her daughter Amelia, said her favorite part was a slow dance during which cast members also play their instruments.

Freiberger, of Huntington, added, “We think the cast was great, a really talented bunch of musicians. It was definitely an exciting and unique theater experience.”

Other highlights of the show include the fittingly-titled “Gold.” For the number, the ensemble fills the stage with a musical brilliance that made audience members yearn for an encore.

“Once” delivers, but with a twist as the reprisal of “Gold” sees the characters put their instruments aside for an acapella rendition.

Musical numbers “If You Want Me,” “Sleeping,” “When Your Mind’s Made Up” and “The Hill” also show off the ensemble’s breathtaking ability to unite through music.

Another audience member, Diane Wilenski, of Centerport, called the production amazing. “This is Broadway in Northport,” she said.

“I think what stands out for me are the two main characters. I liked how down to earth and natural they were,” Wilenski added. “I loved [Girl’s] zest for life and how she kind of brought that out in Guy.”

Goss, who portrays Girl and plays piano in the show, said the character’s energy is a quality she loves to play with. She also finds Girl’s passion for music and need to help others incredible.

Goss’ favorite number to perform changes show-to-show, she said, but last Thursday it was “When Your Mind’s Made Up.”

She continued, “There’s something about the musicality of it when everybody comes in and our minds focus all the energy on Guy. There’s something really special about that.”

Smithtown Matters Review: ‘Once’

Smithtown Matters
Jeb Ladouceur
January 30, 2018

In March of 2012 the musical ‘Once’ opened on Broadway and stunned the theatrical world with an astonishing eleven Tony Award nominations … and eight wins! What’s more, those triumphs included Best Musical, and Best Actor. As proof of the fact that ‘Once’ was no flash-in-the-pan, the show also won 2012’s Drama Desk, and Drama Critics’ Circle awards for Outstanding Musical, and followed-up with the Drama League Award, as well as 2013’s Grammy for top Musical Theater Album.

It must have been some post-awards party!

The Boffo (if somewhat oddly-staged) Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová production closed in early 2015, following nearly 1200 performances on the Great White Way. With a simple set that mimics a soddy Irish pub, a rather one-dimensional book, and austere costumes … not to mention a scarcity of memorable songs (the unforgettable ‘Gold’ is the exception) … this show, in which the cast is also the orchestra, is not your typical big town extravaganza. Nor is the average ‘eager boy meets reluctant girl’ plot anything new. This is a ‘Musician’s Musical’ staged in Dublin with the usual ‘leaving home’ Irish plot.

It’s the story of a ‘Guy’ in his 30’s … a Dublin street musician played to near-perfection by Barry DeBois. He’s a singer-songwriter-guitarist by night, and a vacuum cleaner repairman (of all things) during the day, ‘Guy’ has recently been jilted by his iron-willed girlfriend. She’s forsaken him in favor of life in The Big Apple, leaving ‘Guy’ with a broken heart and a determination to forget about his soulful music altogether. He vows henceforth to stick exclusively to his regular job—fixing those kaput vacuum cleaners ‘…the ones that just won’t suck.’

Bidding adieu to the bar where he’s been singing and playing, ‘Guy’ has every intention of leaving his guitar and his sorrow behind in the on-stage pub; the romantic memories associated with the familiar instrument are just too painful to bear. But that’s when a delightful young Czech woman, referred to simply as ‘Girl,’ detects ‘Guy’s’ angst and, having fallen for his musicianship (and his sad tale of woe), ‘Girl’ ultimately reveals that she, too, has a balky vacuum … if ‘Guy’ can fix it, and keep on playing and singing, she’ll play piano accompaniment for him … gratis.

Deal? … okay, the deal is struck … strike up the band … etcetera.

We learn about a kindly banker … a change of heart for ‘Guy’ (and ‘Girl’ as well) … an overhauled Hoover or two … and the compulsory recording company that quickly spots ‘Guy’s’ talent … all fairly predictable, and not unpleasant stuff.

In the capable hands of Director/Choreographer Trey Compton, the Engeman audience is treated to a show that will strike a chord with every musically inclined troubadour (as some of us envision ourselves) … will resonate with anyone who has ever suffered the pangs of unrequited love (ouch!) … and will please the lucky patrons in our midst who have found serendipitous redemption from misfortune when and where they least expected it.

And speaking of serendipity, local theatergoers who never thought they’d be enchanted by a musical featuring such rarities as a soft-hearted financial loan officer (believe that or not), and a cupid-like thirty-something Mom with a daughter named Ivonka (I’m not kidding), are in for a huge surprise. Because thanks primarily to the multi-talented Barry DeBois (The Guy) and Andrea Goss (The Girl), the snazzy Engeman Theatre on Main Street in Northport is likely to keep those plush seats filled for the duration of this play’s fairly long run thru March 4th.

Some might even want to see ‘Once’ … ‘twice!’

Village Tattler Review: Once Musical Captivates at Engeman Theater

The Village Tattler
Claudia Wheeler
January 28, 2018

Once more, Engeman Theater in Northport captivates audiences with its latest production of Once in which the cast also serves as the orchestra and a bar is set at center stage. I was truly blown away by the exquisiteness of the music and talent in this very special and unique production. Once runs through March 4, 2018, and if I am able I will see it more than once. It is a must-see theater experience, and when Engeman touts its productions as Broadway on Main Street, they really aren’t kidding; it’s evident with Once. As a ticket holder, you are invited for a drink up at the bar on the stage pre-show or during intermission, which has a delightful way of making you feel like you are part of the production.

Just like the 2007 movie by John Carney, music and lyrics for the musical are by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, including the Academy-Award winning song “Falling Slowly.” The book for the musical was written by Enda Walsh.

The incredible cast (several of whom also performed in Once on Broadway/National Tour) is directed and choreographed by Trey Compton. He has worked at Engeman as the Associate Director of Gypsy, Oklahoma, South Pacific, Twelve Angry Men, The Music Man, Evita, The Producers, West Side Story as well as Off-Broadway productions of YANK! and White’s Lies.

This production of Once, which I had the delight of experiencing on opening night, had the audience enthralled from the very first note on the violin. Winner of 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Once is truly original theater—an atypical and complex love story. It feels more like seeing a live strings concert in a pub (that cozy, personal experience) than traditional musical theater. In the story, the main guy and the main girl connect through music but are bound to other partners. Somehow, despite being from very different worlds, they come together and remind everyone not to give up on your dreams, and that even when life is very complicated, there is still hope.

The cast of Once features Barry Debois as the Guy (National Tour: Once; NYC: The Shape of Things, The Wedding Singer, The Seed of Abraham, Pilgrims of the Night, Deployed; Regional: Midtown Arts Center, Media Theatre, The Armory Theatre, Players Guild Theatre, Cassidy Theatre, Kathleen Howland Theatre, Rivertree Players, Carnation City Theatre) Andrea Goss plays the Girl . Her credits include Broadway: Indecent, Cabaret, Once, Rent; National Tours: Cabaret (Sally Bowles); Regional: Baltimore Center Stage, TUTS, Alliance, McCarter, CTG/Kansas City Rep, North Shore, MUNY, Syracuse Stage; Film: “Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway.”

The amazing ensemble, who play their own instruments on stage, features: Billy Cohen, Annabelle Deaner, Elisabeth Evans, Ryan Halsaver, John Thomas Hays, Stephen Mcintyre, Rachel Mulcahy, Ryan Michael Owens, Terry Palasz, Bristol Pomeroy, Sam Saint Ours, Sophia Lily Tamburo, Douglas Waterbury-Tieman and Lauren Wright.

Observer Review: Three cheers to ‘Once’ at the Engeman

The Observer
David Ambro
January 25, 2018

The name certainly doesn’t define it because I would go see Once at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport again and again…

If you are Irish you’ll love this one. It’s brought out the McCooey in me (my mother’s Irish maiden name).

It is a groundbreaking performance on the Engeman Stage. In its 11th season, Once is the first Engeman show to have all of the music performed on stage, no instrumental accompaniment from the orchestra pit below. Cabaret and Rent had some music on stage, but there was an orchestra as well.

Once is all instruments played by the cast: a handful of acoustic guitars, two violins, three mandolins, an accordion, a cello and a piano. It’s an incredible experience. When some of the instrumentalists aren’t in a scene, they still sit in the wings on stage and provide musical accompaniment and it’s rousing.

Set in a pub in Dublin, Barry DeBois, making his Engeman debut, plays the lead role of Guy, a Hoover vacuum repair man in his father’s shop struggling to become a musician. He is about to hang up his guitar, but then he meets Girl, a Czech immigrant making a new home in Ireland, played by Andrea Goss, a Broadway veteran in Indecent, Cabaret, Once and Rent.

The plot of Once is straightforward, Guy and Girl fall in love but are committed to others, Girl to a husband still in her homeland and Guy to a girlfriend who left Dublin for New York City. Guy is about to give up his music, but Girl encourages him to continue, and he achieves stardom.

Ms. Goss and Mr. DeBois are wonderful together. They are both terrific singers, Ms. Goss even sings with the Czech accent, and she is wonderful on the piano and he is brilliant with an acoustic guitar. And, the ensemble joining them brings Broadway to Northport.

Song after song starts with an instrument or two, DeBois on his guitar, Goss on the piano, or both in duet, then it builds, a violin, then another, the cello, then a mandolin, and soon there are more than a dozen instruments playing together and it is uplifting. And, there are some great little ditties along the way, songs like Falling Slowly, Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy and Abandoned in Bandon.

DeBois shines in a scene where he plays at a live mike night at a local tavern, and in Gold to end Act I he is terrific. And Goss is spirited as she drives the story along. With lines to DeBois such as, “you are such a lovely person. I’m so glad my Hoover was broken,” she is engaging and makes this show fun. And, the cast is one like no other, which brings me to the other groundbreaking element of this show.

Since it is set in a pub, and since they did it on Broadway, the theater opens a half hour early and audience members are invited on stage to buy a pint of beer or a glass of wine. On opening press night Saturday, January 20, Managing Director Kevin O’Neill was the on-stage bartender manning the tap as the entire cast filled the stage and performed an impromptu concert with their instruments, folk songs mainly, with guitars, mandolins, violins and a cello.

That alone makes Once a must-see show at the Engeman, and maybe more than once. It’s like hanging out in the best pub in town with a wonderfully talented group of friends.

This one is fun. Mr DeBois and Ms. Goss are great to watch, and the rest of the cast, which includes Billy Cohen, Annabelle Deaner, Elisabeth Evans, Ryan Halsaver, John Thomas Hays, Stephen McIntyre, Rachel Mulcahy, Ryan Michael Owens, Terry Palasz, Bristol Pomeroy, Sam Saint Ours, Sophia Lily Tamburo, Douglas Waterbury-Tieman and Lauren Wright, really lifts the Engeman to a new level. Bravo.

Once will play through March 4. For tickets call the Engeman at 631-261-2900, order online at engemantheater.com or visit the box office at 250 Main Street in Northport Village.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: The Engeman delivers a musical and emotional powerhouse with ‘Once’

Times of Huntington-Northport
Melissa Arnold
January 25, 2018

If you’ve ever fallen in love, had your heart broken or faced unfulfilled passion, you’ll relate to “Once.” And even if you haven’t, the cast at the John W. Engeman Theater will still grab your heart and squeeze. The show, which is part of the theater’s 11th season, is both unique and compelling. It’s easy to see why “Once” grossed 11 Tony nominations and eight wins in 2012, its first year on Broadway. The show is a stage adaptation of the 2007 film of the same name that starred Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. Both versions were written and directed by John Carney.

Under the direction of the Engeman’s Trey Compton, “Once” begins with a nameless street performer referred to as Guy (Barry Debois) singing a heartbreaking ballad about an ex-girlfriend. A bold and honest young Czech woman (Andrea Goss as Girl) overhears the song and immediately pesters him for the juicy details that inspired it. It turns out that Guy has lost his love of music since his old flame left for New York City. Performing just hurts too much, and he’s ready to throw in the towel on his dreams.

But Girl won’t hear any of that, and she’s convinced that he’d win his love’s heart again if he sang her that song. Their conversation is the beginning of an intensely passionate and emotionally raw week as the two write, rehearse and record songs together.

What makes “Once” stand out is its presentation, which you’ll notice before the show even begins. Get there early and you’ll find the cast on stage in the middle of a rocking pub party, Dublin style. They hoot and holler while they sing, play Irish tunes and dance on tables. The best part is that the audience is invited to go up and join them. The set includes a working bar that offers a single variety of beer, red wine and white wine for $10.

The musical performances in this show are also one of a kind, as there is no stage band providing accompaniment. Instead, each person in the 13-member cast also plays an instrument, and all of the songs are performed from memory, which is beyond impressive. To make it work, chairs are set in a semicircle around the perimeter of the stage. When a character exits a scene, he or she simply takes a seat, fading inconspicuously into the background.

They also function as their own stage crew, dancing and playing brief musical interludes as they carry props on and off the set. It’s a bit hard to describe in words, but the overall effect is visually compelling and speaks to the incredible talent of this cast.

Both Goss and Debois are no strangers to “Once” — she was part of its recent Broadway run, while he was the music captain of the 2016 U.S. national tour. They bring to the show an intense realism you can hear in every note they sing. Guy’s opening number, “Leave,” and Girl’s tearful performance of “The Hill,” will leave you awestruck.

The members of the ensemble, which include “Once” veterans Elisabeth Evans (Reza), John Thomas Hays (Billy), Stephen McIntyre (Bank Manager) and Bristol Pomeroy (Da) among others, are every bit as talented as Debois and Goss. They put out a powerful sound with rich harmonies and tons of energy. During their a cappella performance of “Gold,” you could hear a pin drop in the packed house. The standing ovation during the press night performance last Saturday night was well deserved.

Read online: http://tbrnewsmedia.com/theater-review-engeman-delivers-musical-emotional-powerhouse/

Broadway World Review: ONCE at the John W. Engeman Theater

Broadway World
Melissa Giordano
January 24, 2018

One thing is certain: Northport’s stunning John W. Engeman Theatre never disappoints. This especially with their latest offering of the eight-time Tony winning musical Once. The absolutely exquisite incarnation, running through March 4th, is outstandingly directed by Trey Compton and boasts an incredibly gifted and beautiful cast.

Based on the 2007 movie, the story centers on a woman and a man (not officially named in the show) who, besides instant attraction, are drawn to each other by music. However, it is a complicated and heart-tugging situation.

Broadway vet Andrea Goss superbly portrays the woman, a young Czech mother in Dublin, Ireland. Indeed an audience favorite is her moving rendition of “The Hill” in act two. Ms. Goss and a charming Barry DeBois, who portrays the man, make a sensational team. His torment in choosing what do to – rekindling his romance with his longtime girlfriend who recently moved to New York or stay with his new found love – is well exude by Mr. DeBois. To really feel their journey, pay extra close attention to the gorgeous score by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová who are also the stars of the movie version.

The whole cast are also musicians even serving as what would be the orchestra in addition to their speaking parts. Ms. Goss on the piano, Mr. DeBois on the guitar, and there are drums, percussion, strings… it’s thrilling to see, really.

As for the set, a bar is the centerpiece. Several chairs are moved around consistently so when the cast is not “on stage”, they take a seat on the side. Also, before the show and during intermission, it is a working bar serving drinks to patrons while the cast performs. It adds immeasurably to the show when it is engaging and the audience is respectful. And above the bar section is a – if, perhaps, a little juvenile looking – hill where our leading players have a powerful conversation. The visually alluring show is strikingly enhanced by Mr. Compton’s choreography and Cory Pattak’s lighting design.

And so, Once is undoubtedly a must see for this season. An extraordinarily affecting story and a remarkable cast make for a great night of theatre.

Read online: https://www.broadwayworld.com/long-island/article/BWW-Review-ONCE-at-the-John-W-Engeman-Theatre-20180124#

Newsday: ‘Once’ review: Two lonely people make beautiful music together

Newsday
Barbara Schuler
January 23, 2018

The vacuum cleaner isn’t the only thing that’s stuck.

In “Once,” the seductively charming musical that opened last week at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, the same could be said of the characters known only as Guy and Girl, two lost souls who aren’t functioning much better than her broken Hoover.

The Dublin street singer and the Czech immigrant meet as he’s about to abandon his guitar on the sidewalk and give up on his music. She is a lonely pianist, struggling to raise her young daughter with a husband who’s not around. Guy, perhaps a little too conveniently, works in his father’s vacuum repair shop where her promise to pay by playing for him leads to a musical collaboration, a demo tape with major potential and the stirrings of romance.

Andrea Goss, who understudied the role on Broadway, gives Girl a quiet, commanding presence, able to make things happen with but a soft-spoken word. Or a glare. Barry DeBois is less assured as Guy, perhaps because of difficulties with the Irish accent. But both are glorious when singing the pop-folk music of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (stars of the 2007 indie film that the musical is based on), most notably in the haunting “Falling Slowly,” which won the original song Oscar.

Interestingly, while the show is an ode to the power of music (“Ya can’t have a city without music,” says one character), there’s no orchestra. Under Trey Compton’s direction, the actors portraying all the other characters — Girl’s Ma, Guy’s Pa, a ragtag bunch of musicians — double as musicians, playing more than competent guitar, violin, mandolin and the like whenever they’re not speaking. Much of the action takes place in a finely rendered Irish pub (set by Nate Bertone) where the audience is invited to buy a drink and mingle before the play starts.

There’s no happy ending, at least in the traditional sense, to this bittersweet love story, winner of the 2012 best musical Tony. But when tiny Sophia Lily Tamburo, playing Girl’s daughter, fetches a violin and joins in on the show’s last few notes, the message of hope soars with the song.

Read online: https://www.newsday.com/entertainment/theater/once-review-two-lonely-people-make-beautiful-music-together-1.16317180

The Theatre Guide Review: Once

The Theatre Guide
Kristen Weyer
January 23, 2018

The hit Broadway musical Once is now playing at the John W. Engeman Theater.  With book by Enda Walsh, and music and lyrics by Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová, Once is the winning recipient of 8 Tony Awards. Directed and choreographed here by Trey Compton, this touching musical will both tug at your heart strings and embolden your courage.  Its dual themes are intertwined into a beautiful, seamless whole as it stresses the importance of love, and refuses to let the fear of failure reign.

We begin in a pub in Dublin, and I really do mean “we” as this show does something very different from others you’ve probably attended.  Before the official start of the performance the actors (who are also the musicians), are having a jam session in the set pub and you the audience are more than welcome to come up on stage, watch, and grab a drink from the on-stage working pub bar.  This unique and uncommon occurrence, aids in setting a wonderfully distinctive feeling to the show.

Nate Bertone’s beautiful and charming set evokes the lush mystique of the Emerald Isle, and the cozy old world feel of the pub.  Once the audience members are in their seats, the cast transitions into the first number and the show begins. We meet a disillusioned musician (brilliantly played by Barry DeBois) who is about to give up and walk away from his guitar forever. However, just before he can actually leave, a beautiful stranger (the fantastic Andrea Goss) approaches him asking about his music and challenging and encouraging him to continue.  As her passion for life, love and music renew his own, we are taken along on their emotional journey.

This show is impeccably performed from every aspect.  As I mentioned earlier, the actors are also the musicians and all of the music for this show is performed live on stage as they are acting.  It is magnificent and very striking.  Their musicality is not alone in impressing however.  Vocal ability is fabulous, characterization superb, and comedic timing spot-on. The characters are both Irish and Czech and the consistent accents are quite pleasing.

Defining Once is quite a challenge, and I think, intentionally.  It is not a comedy, but has many funny moments; it is not a tragedy, and yet has bittersweet moments. A haunting love story to music that will leave you touched, wistful, and yet encouraged.

One word of warning however, don’t go if you’re sleepy.  It is a beautiful and sedate musical, the opening jam session is about as peppy as it gets.

A sweet and mellow tale of love and music, Once is a mosaic of many messages: never leave the doors behind you half ajar, finish what you’ve started, don’t give up, and most importantly don’t be afraid to begin.  An excellent production which should be added to your must-see list at Once.

 

Read online: http://thetheatreguide.com/2018/01/23/once-john-w-engeman-theater/

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: Engeman Theater’s ‘Frosty’ is a magical holiday treat

Times of Huntington-Northport
Rita J. Egan
November 20, 2017

That jolly, happy soul has returned to Northport. The family musical “Frosty” opened Nov. 18 at the John W. Engeman Theater and families filled the theater eager for the annual holiday treat.

Directed by Richard T. Dolce, the production is a delightful twist on the story “Frosty the Snowman.” On the Northport stage, the snowman comes to life with the help of a scarf that is magical due to love instead of a magician’s hat and quickly becomes best friends with a little girl named Jenny.

When Jenny’s mother, who is also the mayor of Chillsville, is tricked into signing a contract with the evil Ethel Pierpot to build a machine to get rid of all the snow in Chillsville, Jenny must find a way to keep Frosty from melting.

Kevin Burns as the narrator opens the show, and it’s clear from the beginning that the audience will be part of the story. Burns easily interacts with the children and gets them involved. He also draws the most laughs as he goes from being bundled up for winter to wearing less and less each time he makes an appearance on stage to demonstrate how warm Chillsville is getting.

Kate Keating as Jenny is endearing as the sweet young girl who has no friends but possesses a warm heart. With touching vocals during “No Friends,” the audience connects with her at once.

TracyLynn Conner played Ethel Pierpot on opening day and alternates the role with Cristina Hall. Conner portrays her character with the perfect mix of evilness and silliness reminiscent of Cruella Deville from “101 Dalmatians.” Children knew she was up to no good on opening day but weren’t afraid of her, which was apparent as they chatted with the actress during the autograph session after the show.

Matthew Rafanelli delivers Frosty perfectly with a sweet, friendly speaking and singing voice. He and Keating sound great together when they sing “One Friend Is Better Than No Friends.”

Ashley Brooke rounds out the cast beautifully, playing a loving, nurturing mother and mayor who realizes Chillsville is perfect the way it is no matter what Ethel Pierpot says.

The musical ends on the right note with the whole cast singing the Frosty theme song after doing an excellent job on the ensemble number “Thanks for You.”

Young audience members were delighted with the many opportunities when the actors encouraged them to participate. An especially cute part of the production is when the narrator asks the children in the audience for ideas to solve Frosty and Jenny’s dilemma at the end of the first act. After intermission, those ideas are shared with the characters. “Frosty” also provides a few fun opportunities for the actors to come into the audience, and the show contains many magical moments.

This time of year is perfect to create special memories, and the Engeman’s production of “Frosty” is guaranteed to add magic to any family’s holiday season. While the story is geared toward younger audiences, older siblings, parents and grandparents will find plenty to enjoy in the show, too.

Theatergoers can meet Frosty and friends in the lobby for photos and autographs after the show. An autograph page is located towards the back of the program.

 

Read online: http://tbrnewsmedia.com/engeman-theaters-frosty-magical-holiday-treat/

The Observer Review: ‘A Night at the Engeman/Annie in review’

The Observer
David Ambro
November 16, 2017

On a set that just keeps on giving – from the dim opening scene at a municipal orphanage on St. Mark’s Place to a homeless encampment under a city bridge, to the snow falling in the window of billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks’ Fifth Avenue mansion – Annie at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport is a delightful performance of a Christmas masterpiece.

Presley Ryan, 13, of New York City, performs an Annie worthy of the grand stage, where she has been before, on Broadway in Fun Home and at Madison Square Garden as Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Ms. Ryan’s voice is strong, crisp and clear, and her evolving relationship with Mr. Warbucks, played just right by George Dvorsky, is at first engaging and then heartwarming. Mr. Dvorsky also brings Broadway credentials to the Engeman, having performed in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Passion, Marilyn and Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

With a tremendously talented chorus of six orphan girls, Annie opens with the iconic show tune It’s the Hard-Knock Life, which drew a momentous roar of applause from the Engeman audience on opening night Saturday, November 11th. Then, right into Tomorrow, so popular and iconic it makes you want to sing along – “You can bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow…” And, by then you’re hooked. The story of little orphan Annie being adopted by the billionaire industrialist Daddy Warbucks unfolds like any holiday extravaganza should, happily ever after on Christmas Day.

Annie, which played for 2,377 shows on Broadway from 1977 to 1983, setting a record for most performances at the Alvin Theater, now the Neil Simon Theater, includes a children ensemble and an adult ensemble and at times they perform as one, 14 voices strong.

Engeman Theater Producing Artistic Director Richard Dolce said a lot of work went into selecting Ms. Ryan for the part of Annie.

“It’s an iconic role, so we had to make sure she could sing – Tomorrow and Maybe  are tough songs – and you have to make sure she is an actress, because you have to believe this kid is tough and can make it on the streets and also that you an bond with her,” Mr. Dolce said. “Presley is amazing. She’s a pro, comes incredibly prepared, and is probably one of the most focused and dedicated performers we have had here.”

Ms. Ryan, who turns 14 next month, started acting professional when she was eight years old. “I’ve been acting all my life. It’s just something I love to do,” she said during an interview in the lobby after her press-night performance.

Ms. Ryan, who moved from Short Hills, New Jersey to Manhattan to pursue her career in acting, played Annie as a kid but she said that was nothing like the Engeman production. “I love this show,” Ms. Ryan said. “There are not that many shows where a girl or any kid gets to be a real lead, the title role. This has just been such a great experience for me. I love it so much.”

Ms. Ryan said Tomorrow is her favorite song because of the unknown involved with acting with a dog, Sandy, played by a rescue dog Moon.

“I always improvise in my songs, but a dog is a dog. It’s an animal so you never know what could happen,” Ms. Ryan said. “He could not want to listen one night or he could just do the right thing one night. So I’m always on my feet in that song. But it’s also such a great song that I love to sing. It’s just one of those songs that you get to belt your face off, and I just love that.”

Ms. Ryan said she also loves working with Mr. Dvorsky.

“I love George,” she said. “It’s different, because when we first meet, Annie is why with him and she doesn’t really want to get to know him. She is scared to death because she has never really seen a male figure this way. Mr. Warbucks is a new male figure to her and she has to get more comfortable with him as the show progresses. I think that’s really interesting.”

“And it’s so much fun when we get to work onstage together,” she said.

This is Ms. Ryan’s first performance at the Engeman Theater. She said it is a beautiful theater, especially the lobby. “I just love the whole cast; everybody is just so nice and this is just a great show. Everybody should come and see it. It’s just so great.”

“It’s a great show for families,” Mr. Dolce said. “For the holiday season we pick a show you can bring your children and grandchildren and this is the perfect show for that.”

“In these times we’re living in, a little optimism and a show that lifts your spirits a little isn’t the worst thing in the world, and I think this show gives it to you in spades,” Mr. Dolce said. “It leave you smiling on the way out and it is a show that you are happy sharing with your kids and your family during the holiday season.”

Mr. Dolce doesn’t like to pick one classic tune over another in this iconic Broadway hit, but he did admit that It’s the Hard-Knock Life is a classic he likes and another favorite is Easy Street with Lynn Andrews as Miss Hannigan, Jon Peterson as Rooster and Gina Milo as Lily St. Regis. “The three of them are just so talented. They really sell it,” Mr. Dolce said.

Mr. Dolce said they began rehearsing with the children two weeks before they brought in the adult actors in the cast. “So when they began rehearsing with the adults they were already good to go and the adults were like whoa,” he said.

Mr. Dolce said another dynamic is that other than Annie they have two casts of orphans performing on alternating nights, which added to the challenge of the show.

“Every time we do anything we have to do it twice. Every scene change has to be done twice, every costume change has to be done twice. So we had to make sure that two sets of kids had enough time to really learn everything,” Mr. Dolce said. “But kids are like little sponges. They are just so into it, and the director Antoinette [DiPietropolo] has kids. So we just had a very seamless experience.”

The set for this show is absolutely incredible, one of the most dynamic ever built on the Engeman stage, arches in three layers in dissenting sizes, with lights that dim for a dark mood at the orphanage and then brighten for cheerier times at the Warbucks mansion. Inside the arches there are also movable parts, pillars sliding in and out and chandelier lighting rising and lowering from the ceiling. Mr. Dolce said it is all operated manually by the actors coming and going from the stage to the wings.

“I think this is one of the best sets we have ever had as far as going from location to location,” Mr. Dolce said.

Compared to a Broadway stage, Mr. Dolce said the Engeman is limited in space. So in the set design they try to establish the overarching theme and build a shell, then bring different things into the shell for each scene: Oklahoma! a barn and bring in a chair or something; or Gypsy the back stage of a theater and bring in a table.

In Annie they needed to go from the lower east side orphanage to the wealthiest man in the world’s mansion on Fifth Avenue. “We couldn’t think of a way to do it the way we normally would, so we came up with this whole different concept and make things completely go away and by making accommodations in the arches with the lights,” Mr. Dolce said.

Mr. Dolce said the intent was to make the orphanage feel dark and claustrophobic and then to make the Warbucks estate bright, open and inviting. “The lights and the brightness of it gives us different looks, and then you throw in the radio station and the presidential cabinet, but the orphanage and the mansion are two big ones that we needed to nail,” Mr. Dolce said.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: Kick off the holidays with ‘Annie’ at Northport’s Engeman Theater

Times of Huntington-Northport
Melissa Arnold
November 15, 2017

There are few characters from a musical more enduring across generational lines than the curly-haired, ever positive orphan Annie. The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport is celebrating the holidays with its mainstage production of “Annie” through Dec. 31. Now in its 11th season, the Engeman has once again teamed up with director/choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo (“Grease,” “Memphis”) to bring Annie and her friends to life.

The story of New York’s most beloved orphan was partially inspired by “Little Orphan Annie,” a comic strip created by Harold Gray in the 1920s. After his death, the strip was carried on by a number of cartoonists until 2010. The comic followed the adventures of a little redhead girl and her dog while also offering commentary on political issues of the day, including the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal.

“Annie” the musical debuted on Broadway in 1977, with book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin. Since then, the show has toured around the world, won a slew of Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score and inspired several film adaptations.

When the play begins, 11-year-old Annie and her fellow orphans are growing up in the shadow of the Great Depression in New York City. Life is tough for these kids, especially living in a run-down, dirty orphanage under the care of calloused Agatha Hannigan. For years, Annie has waited eagerly for the return of her birth parents, who left her at Hannigan’s door with a letter and a locket. But they never come, and when Annie is chosen to spend two weeks with lonely billionaire Oliver Warbucks, her life is forever changed.

The cast of Engeman’s “Annie” will win your heart as soon as the show begins. Young Broadway veteran Presley Ryan embodies Annie’s charisma and unbreakable spirit effortlessly. Ryan’s Annie is appropriately youthful, and her voice is pleasant to listen to — sweet and strong, never shrill. You’ll fall in love with her during the first song, “Maybe,” and it’s hard to resist singing along with her on “Tomorrow.”

Ryan is far from the only young lady to stand out in this show, however. All of the girls at the New York Municipal Orphanage have a key role to play — to remove even one of them would make the ensemble seem incomplete.

At the Engeman, the cast features two teams of orphans that will appear on different nights, but if the “red team” is any indicator, you’re in for a treat regardless of whose turn it is. The chemistry among the girls is natural and endearing — a special note of praise should go to the adorable Sophia Lily Tamburo, who plays Molly, the youngest of the bunch. Her comedic timing and dance moves are so impressive for her age, though all of them are incredibly talented with bright futures ahead.

Lynn Andrews is reprising her role as Miss Hannigan for this production — she and Elizabeth Broadhurst (Grace Farrell) were part of the 30th Anniversary Tour of “Annie” beginning in 2005. Andrews’ character is loud, proud and shameless with bold vocals to match. She’s snarky, funny and foolish, sometimes all at once, which is entertaining to watch. Her rollicking performance of “Easy Street” with Jon Peterson and Gina Milo (Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis, respectively) is one of the best in the show with fantastic harmonies.

George Dvorsky, another seasoned Broadway actor, plays Oliver Warbucks, the billionaire looking to make one orphan’s Christmas a bit brighter. He wasn’t expecting a little girl, however, and the relationship he builds with Annie is full of emotion and nuance. Dvorsky has both comedic and poignant moments in the show, and his performance of “Something Was Missing” will resonate with anyone who has experienced deep love of any kind.

There are also a few special guests in this show. For a brief time, Annie finds a loveable sidekick in a stray dog named Sandy. In this production, Sandy is actually played by two real dogs, Moon and Sandy. Moon was once a stray himself, and Sandy was recently rescued from a kill shelter following this summer’s devastating Hurricane Harvey in Texas. The dogs are amazingly well-behaved onstage thanks to hard work with Happy Dog Training & Behavior and the support of the cast “animal wrangler,” Cassidy Ingram.

While the ensemble serves as the supporting cast for the show, they have plenty of time to shine on their own — keep an eye out for them during the hilarious scenes at the White House and the radio station.

New York scenic designers Christopher and Justin Swader are behind the unique and versatile set for this production. Detailed artwork of a hazy NYC skyline remains in the background throughout the show, and scene changes are made by the cast themselves. There’s not a lot of variation, but the transitions are simple and clear, so it gets the job done. Jonathan Brenner leads a seven-man orchestra in performing the classic score.

As of this writing, it still feels a bit early to think about the holidays, but the Engeman is dressed to the nines with garland and lights. And since “Annie” is set just before Christmas, it’s hard not to catch the holiday spirit during your visit. You might even feel like you’re a guest at Warbucks’ elaborate Christmas party.

Each year around the holidays, the John W. Engeman Theater gives back to its community through charitable support. This year, the theater is partnering with the Ecumenical Lay Council Food Pantry at the First Presbyterian Church of Northport, which helps feed more than 160 local families each week. Consider bringing some extra cash to the show, or visit www.fpcnorthport.org to learn more.

 

Read online: http://tbrnewsmedia.com/kick-off-holidays-annie-northports-engeman-theater/

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