Broadway World Review

ELF THE MUSICAL at The John W. Engeman Theater At Northport

November 19, 2018
By Anthony Hazzard & Scott Stolzenberg

 

You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, we’re telling you why, Buddy the Elf is coming to town! In fact, he just opened an effervescent production of “Elf The Musical” at the John Engeman Theater in Northport.

Based on the charming and popular film starring Will Ferrell, “Elf the Musical” has become the new holiday staple first staged on Broadway, then the Theater at Madison Square Garden, and now popping up everywhere. With swift direction by Matt Kunkel and fizzy choreography by Mara Newbery Greer, the Engeman’s “Elf” is spreading holiday joy and warming every heart.

The experienced Erik Gratton plays Buddy, the elf who accidentally went home with Santa one Christmas Eve and grew up at the North Pole until one day, he sets out for New York City to meet his birth father. Along his journey, he meets many interesting characters, some nicer than others, and just wants to make people happy. So the quirky elf puts syrup on spaghetti and is enthralled with the paper shredder that makes unlimited snow! He means no harm and only wants to be a platinum member of his human family.

Mr. Gratton’s fantastic Buddy takes us along his magical journey with pizazz. Each production number is a spectacle and Mr. Gratton relishes in the Christmas spirit right up to next Christmas. His father Walter Hobbs, played by the great Joe Gately, is definitely a softer soul than James Caan in the movie. Walter learns to love Buddy and reconnect with his distant family.

Broadway veteran Christianne Tisdale is a loving and endearing Emily Hobbs, wife of Walter, stepmother to Buddy, and mother to Michael played by the excellent Zachary Podair. Master Podair has an outstanding singing voice and gives us reason to believe that everything will turn out alright in the end.

Buddy’s love interest Jovie is played by the sweet Caitlin Gallogly who not only supports Buddy but proudly in act two ties up all loose ends. Standout performances include Nicole Hale as the wisecracking secretary, Richard B. Watson as scrooge Mr. Greenway, and Randy Donaldson as the energetic store manager. Other scene stealers include the magnificent Jacob Melssen and Matthew Varvar who appear in various roles throughout the production.

Finally, Gordon Gray is a perfect Santa Claus. How could we give Santa a bad review? He serves as the storyteller and we wish him the same merriment he presented to all of us. All the stellar cast members are fun and fabulous including Lauren Gobes, Trevor Michael Schmidt, Danielle Nigro, AJ Lockhart, Andrew Aaron Berlin, Sophia Deery, Kieran Brown, Tiger Brown, and Halle Mastroberadino. As the holiday season approaches, “Elf The Musical” reminds all of us that family is most important and makes us wish that Buddy the “sparklejollytwinklejingley” Elf was a part of our family!

 

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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.

BWW Review: NEWSIES Reigns 'King of New York' at the John W. Engeman Theater At Northport
Nick Martinez as Crutchie

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.

BWW Review: NEWSIES Reigns 'King of New York' at the John W. Engeman Theater At Northport
Whitney Winfield as Katherine Plumber

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.

 

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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.

 

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