Broadway World Review

MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at The John W. Engeman Theater

January 28, 2020
By Melissa Giordano

Now in the middle of their spectacular fourteenth season, the John W. Engeman Theatre continues to dazzle with an excellent rendition of Million Dollar Quartet. It is a dramatization of a real jam session between Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. The Engeman’s terrific incarnation of the jukebox musical by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott runs through March 1st at the exquisite Northport venue.

Among the top-notch cast is Sam Sherwood as Carl Perkins, Sky Seals as Johnny Cash, Noel Carey as Jerry Lee Lewis, and Sean Michael Buckley as Elvis. They are all excellent, but please don’t expect them to look exactly like the legends. It is apparent who each gentleman portrays. The historic jam session that evening was arranged by Sam Phillips, portrayed by Luke Darnell. Sam is the head of Sun Records and noted as a founder of Rock and Roll.

Sarah Ellis is also superb as Dyanne, Elvis’ girlfriend. The rest of the brilliant cast is completed by Corey Kaiser, who portrays Brother Jay (Carl Perkins’ brother who plays the bass for recording sessions) and David Sonneborn, who portrays Fluke, on drums. It is refreshing and amazing to see that the cast is the orchestra. The interaction makes it apparent they’re enjoying the time in this show.

As for Mr. Andrews’ creative team, Jordan Janota puts his “spin” on Sun Studio. In a stationary set, an elevated studio sits upstage with microphones and other studio equipment making up the jam session floor. Enhanced beautifully by John Burkland’s lighting and Dustin Cross’ costumes, the production is truly gorgeous.

You will not be disappointed when you catch a performance at the Engeman. And, you’ll be dancing in your seats with the music that includes “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, “Hound Dog”, and “Great Balls Of Fire”. The stunning theatre, a heart-tugging story, and a top-notch cast make for a thrilling night of theatre.

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The Theatre Guide Review

Million Dollar Quartet – John W. Engeman Theater – Theatre Review

January 27, 2020
By Kristen Weyer

When: December 4th, 1956. Where: Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. What: The impromptu jam session of four legendary musicians. This famous evening would mark the only time in history that Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis ever played together, inspiring the musical Million Dollar Quartet, now playing at The Engeman Theater. This fabulous musical, with a book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, is directed and choreographed here by Keith Andrews.

This show is predominantly an incredible concert given by these four artists. It does however, contain an overarching plotline: the decision over the fate of Sun Records. The show is narrated by music producer, and Sun Records owner, Sam Phillips. Sam address the audience at numerous moments throughout the production describing the events of, and leading up to, that evening. At the same time, he is agonizing over an important offer from RCA Records to buy Sun Records and have Sam come work for them. While he struggles to decide what to do, we are introduced to the four icons. We are informed of fascinating backgrounds and history, and given an insider’s view to the events of that night all the while being treated to a plethora of amazing music.

This cast does a marvelous job, performing beautifully with stunning vocal and musical talent. They are: Sam Sherwood as Carl Perkins, Sky Seals as Johnny Cash, Noel Carey as Jerry Lee Lewis and Sean Michael Buckley as Elvis Presley, with Luke Darnell as Sam Phillips, Sarah Ellis as the lovely Dyanne, David Sonneborn as drummer Fluke and Corey Kaiser as Brother Jay. They give wonderful characterization, with intelligent portrayals and accurate comedic timing. Also, rest assured that you will not be subjected to painful and over-the-top impersonations in this performance. Sherwood, Seals, Carey and Buckley portray these iconic figures with an ease and grace that makes it easy to believe them, while stopping short of full impersonations. Don’t worry though, Elvis still says “Thank you very much”.

Don’t overlook the other characters in this show though, and indeed their performances are such that you won’t be able to. Luke Darnell plays Sam Phillips with expressiveness and charm. Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne, is portrayed by Sarah Ellis whose stunning vocals happily impress more than once. The recording studio musicians playing “back-up” for the four stars are Carl Perkins’ brother, Jay, on bass, and Fluke on the drums, portrayed with talent by Corey Kaiser and David Sonneborn.

A nicely accurate set by designer Jordan Janota, and attractive and time period appropriate costume design by Dustin Cross compliments the action. Sound Design by Laura Shubert gives that concert feel.

Whether these are the artists and songs of your youth, or possibly your first introduction to them, Million Dollar Quartet is a superb evening of theater for all. From “Blue Suede Shoes”, “I Walk the Line” and “Hound Dog” to “Great Balls of Fire”, this incredible piece of music history comes alive on the stage before your eyes and transports you back to another time. This show is fascinating and fabulous fun.

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The Observer Review

Come one, come all, there’s a hit at the Engeman

January 23, 2020
By David Ambro

The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport has provided us with a high level of entertainment for a long time, but the show that is there right now is by far the best live music this town has ever seen.

Million Dollar Quartet is a show about a jam session December 4, 1956 at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, a recording studio made famous by Sam Phillips, the Father of Rock ‘n Roll. In the studio are rock legends Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, all protégés of Mr. Phillips. They are all there for different reasons, Carl Perkins to record a song, Johnny Cash to tell Mr. Phillips he is leaving for a new contract at Columbia Records, Elvis to try to talk Mr. Phillips into coming with him to RCA Records in New York, and Jerry Lee Lewis there to launch his musical career.

Though emotions run high and low, what they all have in common is an appreciation, admiration and respect for their mentor, and it is those feelings for Mr. Phillips that sparks the music.

The quartet of superstars is accompanied at the studio by Elvis’ girlfriend Dyanne, who performs vocals, Carl Perkins’ brother Jay who plays the bass, and Fluke on the drums. They tell the story of rock n’ roll history, the meteoric rise of each performer’s career, biographical flashbacks about their lives and their upbringings, including a commonality they share from the death of loved ones and how that affected their lives.

Beyond the storyline though, Million Dollar Quartet is a rock concert by a talented cast of musicians who awe the audience with classic music, from solos to quartets. And after the recording session seems to be done and the studio goes black, they jump back on stage for an encore that caps off the show in classic concert style.

This is no doubt one of the best shows the Engeman Theater has ever brought us. Buy your tickets now because when word gets out about how good this is they are going to be hard to find.

The cast of Million Dollar Quartet is special in that every one of the performers is an Actors Equity professional. That tells you something. But better than that, they are all tremendous at what they do.

Jerry Lee Lewis is played by Noel Carey. It’s a tough part to play because Jerry Lee Lewis is a bit weird in real life, and in the scripted lines Mr. Carey emotes through it, but he is one of the most talented musicians ever to hit Main Street in Northport Village. Mr. Carey is probably one of the most exciting rock n’ roll pianists around, and he couples that with a melodic voice that is worth the price of admission alone.

Carl Perkins is played by Sam Sherwood. He is the music captain of the show and it’s easy to see why. Mr. Sherwood plays the electric guitar with such skill and spirit that it is a performance theater lovers and music enthusiasts can’t miss.

Sky Seals plays Johnny Cash, not the old slow singing Johnny Cash many of us remember, but the young up-and-coming Johnny Cash full of vim and vigor, and Seals delivers on some solo classics that are tremendous: Folsom Prison Blues, Sixteen Tons and I Walk the Line among them.

Sean Michael Buckley plays Elvis, and it is also at a time when he is at his prime, the hottest rock n roll idol and movie star in America at the time. In mannerism, Mr. Buckley brings us a real Elvis, but like the rest of the cast he is a tremendous musician, a wonderful acoustic guitarist, and like Johnny Cash, he delivers some classic solos that are terrific, Hound Dog, Long Tall Sally, Peace in the Valley to name a few.

Sarah Ellis plays Dyanne, and although she is not a star of the 1956 rock era, she is a star on the Engeman stage. Ms. Ellis is both a tremendous actor and a fantastic singer, who enhances this magical quartet of superstars, and also fills the stage with solo performances of Fever and I Hear You Knockin.

This is a show that crosses the generational divide with rock n’ roll that livens the spirit. Beyond their individual performances, the quartet delivers the million dollar billing with such classics as Down By the Riverside, I Shall Not Be Moved, one of my favorites, Party and Peace in the Valley.

Again, this is a tremendous show not to be missed. If you do, you’ve let one of Engeman’s best pass you by.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Theater Review: The Engeman’s ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ is a musical treasure

January 23, 2020
By Rita J. Egan

The folks at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport have brought back the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll in its latest offering, “Million Dollar Quartet.” The show, which debuted on Jan. 16, celebrates four iconic musical legends with a sensational cast masterfully directed by Keith Andrews.

With book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, the production is inspired by the music of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and that historic day of Dec. 4, 1956, when a series of events created the stuff dreams are made of for many music lovers.

Recognized as one of the greatest improv jam sessions ever, it was on that fateful day that Perkins and Lewis were recording at Sun Studio in Memphis when Cash stopped by to break the news to owner Sam Phillips that he was leaving the studio’s record label. If that wasn’t enough, Presley stopped by on the way to his mother’s house with his girlfriend Dyanne on his arm.

On Broadway from April 2010 until June 2011, “Million Dollar Quartet” was nominated for three Tony Awards in 2010. That year Levi Kreis won the Best Featured Actor in a Musical award for his portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis.

Right from the opening number of “Blue Suede Shoes” sung by Sam Sherwood (Carl Perkins), Sky Seals (Johnny Cash), Noel Carey (Jerry Lee Lewis) and Sean Michael Buckley (Elvis Presley), the audience knows they are in for a real treat. With classic rock songs such as the opening number, “That’s All Right,” “I Walk the Line” and “Great Balls of Fire,” it’s hard to choose a favorite. Each of the talented actors recognizes just how important it is to bring the spirits of these musicians to the stage, and they were spot-on during every number.

During last Saturday’s performance the foursome sounded especially beautiful when they sang “Down by the Riverside.” Sarah Ellis as Dyanne also served up steamy versions of “Fever” and “I Hear You Knockin,” and provides a refreshing female presence with her friendly portrayal of one of very few people, Marilyn Evans, who witnesses the recording.

Luke Darnell as Phillips is charming as he also serves as narrator, filling the audience in on Dec. 4, 1956, and how he met each of the singers and recognized their unique talents. He also portrays the character with a sense of integrity that leaves the sentiment that the Sun Records and studio owner truly cared about the music and not just the money.

Sherwood plays Carl Perkins with a good amount of cockiness, which is appropriate considering Perkins wrote and first recorded “Blue Suede Shoes” before Elvis Presley became known for the tune after performing it on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Buckley as Presley has all the right moves that the King was known for and also captures how down-to-earth the singer was.

In the role of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carey performs the eccentric singer from Louisiana to the hilt, which garnered plenty of laughs from the audience and captures the wild and controversial side of the musician perfectly. Seals’ Johnny Cash is stoic and gentlemanly and also has a knack for holding the guitar high like Cash did when playing the instrument.

David Sonneborn and Corey Kaiser as musicians Fluke and Brother Jay, respectively, round out the cast perfectly. Both are “Million Dollar Quartet” veterans as Kaiser played Brother Jay on Broadway and was part of Off-Broadway, national and regional productions, and Sonneborn is an original cast member of the national tour.

As the story ends, the entire cast, including Darnell on harmonica, puts on a performance that feels as if the audience was transported to a concert back in time. On press opening night, Buckley was adorable, flirting with an audience member like Elvis would do during “Hound Dog.” Those in attendance also couldn’t help singing along to “Ghostriders in the Sky,” “See You Later Alligator” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

Jordan Janota has cleverly crafted a set that seamlessly transitions from the interior of Sun Studio to the exterior, and costume designer Dustin Cross has chosen outfits that capture the personality of each singer, and the costumes during the last few songs are absolutely fabulous, especially Ellis’ dress.

“Million Dollar Quartet” at the Engeman is the ideal choice for a night out on the town and also shares an interesting peek into life in the mid-50s. Woven into the story of the legends’ lives is a bit of American history with mentions of the cost of living at the time and the influence of gospel music on rock ‘n’ roll musicians.

Phillips tells Dyanne that Sun Studio “is where the soul of a man never dies” toward the end of the musical. At the Engeman, the extraordinarily talented cast has celebrated and honored the souls of all of these legends — both living and passed — wonderfully.

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Broadway World Review

MATILDA at John W. Engeman Theater

Nov. 21, 2019  
By Melissa Giordano 

Northport’s John W. Engeman Theatre does it again with a thrilling production of Tony award-winner Matilda, the musical. The lavish incarnation, superbly directed by Igor Goldin, runs at the exquisite Long Island venue through December 29th. And, based on the audience reaction opening weekend, you may want to get your tickets quickly.

Based on the classic 1988 Ronald Dahl children’s book, we follow five-year-old Matilda. She’s precocious, loves to read, and, unfortunately, has a horrible family. However, she knows what she wants and her worth which is beyond amazing. It is also hilarious when she gets revenge on everyone who have been needlessly unkind to her.

Elsa Dees and AnnaBelle Deaner alternate the titular role. Elsa is enjoyable, has great stage presence for someone so young, and brings lots of laughs when needed as this show is kind of an emotional roller. I had the pleasure of previously seeing AnnaBelle in productions of Annie and Once at the Engeman. She is such a firecracker and also a great choice to portray Matilda. It is also a treat seeing Michael Perrie, Jr. back on the Engeman stage as Mr. Wormwood, Matilda’s rotten father. He does put a great comedic spin on the role. In all honesty, the entire company is truly top-notch.

On the brilliant creative team, Nate Bertone‘s set is well done. Enhanced by Jose Santiago’s atmospheric lighting and Mara Newbery Greer’s entertaining choreography, you will be captivated by this production as you leave the theatre. Leave it to the Engeman for another visually stunning show.

The Engeman will not disappoint and this is indeed a must see for the holiday season. A top quality production, talented & beautiful cast, and a classic tale make for an exhilarating evening of theatre.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Theater Review: Kids take center stage as ‘Matilda the Musical’ arrives in Northport for the holidays

November 21, 2019
By Rita J. Egan

“Matilda the Musical” opened at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport Nov. 14 with all the spunk of a Broadway production.

Inspired by the 1988 book by Roald Dahl, the musical introduces audience members to the real and imaginary worlds of 5-year-old Matilda Wormwood, who is misunderstood by her dim-witted family. While the Wormwoods make life difficult at home by making fun of her passion for reading and her smarts, the days become even more troublesome when she begins school with the dastardly Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress of Crunchem Hall. However, with her love of reading, a magical imagination and caring teacher Miss Honey on her side, Matilda finds her happy ending.

The musical, with book by Dennis Kelly, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and orchestrations and additional music by Chris Nightingale, debuted in England in 2010 and opened on Broadway in 2013. While the show closed on the Great White Way in January of 2017, “Matilda the Musical” is still running at the Cambridge Theater in London. It was also released as a movie in 1996 starring Danny DeVito and Rhea Pearlman as the Wormwoods and Mara Wilson as Matilda.

Igor Goldin has directed a superb cast in the Engeman version, which includes many talented children actors. AnnaBelle Deaner and Elsa Dees alternate in the role of Matilda. On the night of Nov. 15 when I reviewed the musical, AnnaBelle played the part. The actress is darling in the role and portrays Matilda perfectly as the brave and precocious girl she is. She hits every note during her solos and her version of “Quiet” is beautiful and touching.

AnnaBelle along with her fellow youth actors stole many scenes. During one depicting the first day of school, they along with the ensemble performed a sensational “School Song” where everyone involved was strong in both vocals and dance moves. The company also delivers a fantastic “When I Grow Up,” the signature song from the musical.

Sara Gallo as Mrs. Wormwood and Michael Perrie Jr. as Mr. Wormwood are hilarious. While the two characters aren’t the best at parenting, Gallo and Perrie are pros at garnering laughs from the audience. Gallo plays her character to the hilt during the song “Loud” as she and Al Lockhart as Rudolpho, her dancing partner, show off some fantastic dance moves. And Perrie’s vocals are strong on “All I Know,” known as “Telly” in the Broadway and London versions. He also does a wonderful job interacting with the audience toward the end of intermission. Richard Westfahl as Michael Wormwood is also funny as Matilda’s dim-witted brother.

Dane Agostinis as Miss Trunchbull, the Olympic Hammer-Throwing Champion headmistress who believes children are maggots, plays the antagonist role perfectly. Agostinis can deliver her songs smoothly without breaking character despite the funny lines and laughs from the audience. Kate Fahrner as Miss Honey is simply endearing and sings a beautiful “My House” in the second act.

Emily Kelly as The Acrobat and Alex Herrera as The Escapologist are delightful, especially when Herrara joins Matilda on the song “I’m Here.” Nicole Powell was a charming Ms. Phelps, the librarian who looks forward to Matilda’s stories. Jamie Colburn as the Doctor and Sergei rounds out the cast perfectly.

On the night that I attended the show, I was fortunate to have with me 15-year-old Jonathan Guttenberg, who has seen countless productions, including “Matilda the Musical” on Broadway and London. Jonathan said “School Song” and “Revolting” were his favorite numbers in the Engeman production because they were both powerful and thought the theater did a phenomenal job.

Scenic designer Nate Bertone has put together a fun and colorful set with clever oversized books that fold out one way to serve as the Wormwood’s living room and another to provide the backdrop for the library. Mara Newbery Greer also has choreographed several energetic dance numbers, which the actors have mastered, including the youngest members of the youth ensemble, with special mention to Lily Tamburo.

With the chilly weather settling in along the North Shore, “Matilda the Musical” has arrived just in time with its funny, heart-warming story and will be a hit with local theatergoers of all ages.

The Theatre Guide Review

Matilda – The John W. Engeman Theater – Theatre Review

November 19, 2019
By Jessica Kennedy

The John W.  Engeman Theater in Northport has selected a critically acclaimed powerhouse with Roald Dahl’s Matilda– winner of seven Olivier Awards, including Best Musical, and five Tony Awards, including Best Book of a Musical!  Directed by Igor Goldin and running from November 14th- December 29th, this delightful and uplifting tale of a courageous young girl reminds us that- no matter our circumstances- it is never too late to change our story!

Matilda tells the tale of a clever child born into a family who is less than thrilled with her arrival.  Add to that her proclivity to read and her assertion that she, in fact, is a GIRL, and she finds herself frequently mocked and criticized by her parents and ignored by her witless brother.  Things don’t look much better for her when she starts school and encounters the sadistic and tyrannical headmistress, Miss Trunchbull; however, hope prevails in the shape of her charming teacher, Miss Honey, and just a touch of magic.  The result of all this is a touching, tragic, and enchanting story, which both breaks your heart and lifts your spirits!

From start to finish this show is highly engaging and beautifully performed!  The set, designed by Nate Bertone, is masterfully constructed, and serves to enhance the overall staging, while Mara Newbery Greer’s clever choreography uses the set and props to underline and intensify the musical performances.  Moreover, the junior cast members of this show were remarkable to watch! Each young man and woman was both highly engaging and believable in his or her role. Their voices and stage presence exceeded my expectations; it is apparent that these young performers are both talented and professional.  Furthermore, Miss Elsa Dees is truly impressive as the title character; her vocals are melodious, while her pacing and delivery make Matilda feel both nuanced and genuine. Michael Perrie Jr. and Sara Gallo (Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood) are terribly terrific as the selfish and imbecilic parents of the beloved prodigy.  They are each artfully able to make such reprehensible characters appear both despicable and diverting. Kate Fahrner skillfully portrays Miss Honey with all the saccharine sweetness you would expect of her namesake, which only intensifies the cruelty of her gruesome counterpart, Miss Trunchbull. Add to that an absolutely hilarious portrayal of the despotic and diabolical headmistress by Dane Agostinis- his rendition of “The Hammer” had me practically in tears- and you have the makings of a fantastic cast and a fabulous show!

While the story of a precocious young girl who spends all her time in the library doesn’t sound like the makings of a riveting plot, this show delivers a highly engaging storyline- and the Engeman Theater completes the experience with a fabulous production team and cast!

The Theatre Guide Review

Sunset Blvd. – John W. Engeman Theater – Theatre Review

September 22, 2019
By Jessica Kennedy

Come and visit the infamous and fabled Sunset Blvd! Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music is brought to life on the stage at Engeman Theater in Northport from September 12th- October 27th. Directed and Staged by Matt Kunkel and based on the Billy Wilder film of the same name, this show will captivate you with its bittersweet story of glamour, romance, and tragedy.

The play opens with the disillusioned Hollywood writer Joe Gillis (Bryant Martin) struggling to find a script to get him through a dry spell.  When he finds himself hiding from a pair of repo men, he ends up in the home of Norma Desmond (Judy McLane), a legendary actress of the silent pictures age who is unwilling- or unable- to accept that her time in the limelight has passed. What first seems like a blessing, quickly turns into a curse when the complicated dynamic between the pair, which promises “The Perfect Year,” leads to heartbreak and ruin for them both.

As soon as you walk into the theater you will notice the ambiance is quite somber. Paige Hathaway’s scenic design captures both the elegance and palpable sadness of the show’s leading lady. While there are a few lighter moments in the show-particularly the ones featuring the fierce and confident Betty Schaeffer (Sarah Quinn Taylor)- the main focus of the story features an exquisite portrayal of a woman whose struggle with reality is equally painful and poetic. Judy McLane is truly fantastic as Norma; she skillfully embodies the full scope of her character’s troubled and fragmented actions. Kurt Alger’s costume design beautifully compliments McLane, and elevates the glamour of her performances, especially in “New Ways to Dream,” and “The Lady’s Paying.”  The mystery of this enigmatic star and her reclusive lifestyle are highlighted additionally by the presence of Max von Mayerling (David Hess)- the unwaveringly loyal constant in Norma’s empty life. The vocal performances in this show are packed with passion and pain. Don’t expect many upbeat company numbers, or tunes to keep you humming on the way home. This show has something else to offer- it will leave you feeling dazzled by Norma’s star power, and haunted by the ghost of a queen without her throne.

Broadway World Review

SUNSET BOULEVARD at The John W. Engeman Theater

September 20, 2019
By Melissa Giordano

 

It may seem that productions of Tony winning musical Sunset Boulevard are a dime a dozen. But when it is playing at the exquisite John W. Engeman Theater, you know it is a must-see. Running through October 27th at the Northport venue, the show boasts a fantastic, affecting cast.

In the two act tuner directed by Matt Kunkel, we follow Norma Desmond living – mentally – in the past of her glorious career as a legendary silent film star. She has yet, transitioned to the talkies. It is a very moving story. She lives in a run-down house and believes she is still the toast of the town.

Judy McLane brilliantly leads the cast as Norma commanding the stage at every moment. Indeed a favorite of the enthusiastic audience is her rendition of “As If We Never Said Goodbye”. She makes a great team with Bryant Martin who portrays Joe, an up-and-coming writer who tries to take advantage of the situation when he end up at Nora house. David Hess is also a highlight as Max. Mr. Hess’ “The Greatest Star Of All” doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house. The entire company is excellent.

On the creative team, Paige Hathaway‘s set is well done. It’s minimal with several rolling pieces for seamless scene changes. Enhanced by Kurt Alger‘s beautiful costumes and John Burkland lighting, this production is stunning. And, of course, it is always thrilling to have a live orchestra accompany the cast this one superbly led by Musical Director Charlie Reuter.

Sunset Boulevard is an emotional show, but one of the greats to see. Again, we may see it performed a lot, but when you have a cast as good as the Engeman’s, it’s worth another look.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Engeman Theater’s ‘Sunset Blvd.’ cast shines in iconic tale

September 20, 2019
By Rita J. Egan

On Sept. 12, the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport debuted “Sunset Blvd.” Filled with memorable performances, the cast members are definitely ready for their close-ups.

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and book and lyrics by Don Black and Christoper Hampton, “Sunset Blvd.” tells the story of Norma Desmond, an aging silent screen star who is desperately holding on to her glory days. Set in 1949 and 1950, Desmond meets struggling writer Joe Gillis. The screen star feels a spark of hope in her reclusive life when she asks Joe to edit a screenplay that she hopes will pave the way to her comeback.

The production, based on the 1950 movie of the same name starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden, spins an intriguing web of seduction, unrequited love and jealousy. The musical’s culmination is a dramatic Hollywood ending.

Opening on Broadway in 1994 and running for more than two years, the show won several Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Glenn Close. The production was revived in 2017 for a brief Broadway run with Close once again starring as Desmond.

The Northport version, under the direction of Matt Kunkel, is filled with a talented cast that brings the Great White Way to the North Shore. Judy McLane as Norma Desmond steals the spotlight the moment she steps on stage with her striking appearance, strong stage presence and sensational vocals. It’s no surprise that McLane’s a Broadway veteran appearing in hits such as “Mamma Mia!” (Donna and Tanya), “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Chess.”

McLane shines in her solos especially during “With One Look,” “As If We Never Said Goodbye” and in her duet with Bryant Martin, as Joe Gillis, in “New Ways to Dream.”

David Hess, who appeared in “Sunset Blvd.” on Broadway, is perfect as the stoic Max, Norma’s butler, who has been in love with her since the first time they met on a movie set. Hess’ vocals are fantastic. During the first act, he performs a beautiful version of “The Greatest Star of All” while giving Joe a tour of Desmond’s run-down mansion.

Martin is a suave and charismatic Joe on whom Norma sets her sights not only to work with but to be her lover early in the musical. The character also serves as the narrator of the complex tale. Martin gets to show off his singing chops in a duet with McLane titled “The Perfect Year” during Act I, and later in Act II while performing “Too Much in Love to Care” with the talented Sarah Quinn Taylor, who plays a delightful Betty.

Because she’s his friend’s fiancée, Joe tries to fight off falling in love with Betty but finds it difficult to resist her as they work on a screenplay together. The budding romance between Joe and Betty soon creates tension between him and Norma, which leads to a dramatic twist that seals his fate. Douglas Waterbury-Tieman as Betty’s fiancé Artie Green, Martin, Taylor and the whole ensemble, perform an entertaining “This Time Next Year” toward the end of Act I. Ensemble member Cody Gerszewski steals the scene at times as he convincingly portrays a drunk partygoer.

Eric Jon Mahlum is also a scene-stealer during the number “The Lady’s Paying” as the tailor Manfred who has been hired to make over Joe with a stylish new wardrobe. And during a visit to the Paramount Pictures studio, Larry Daggett, with his strong vocals and an air of confidence, captures the essence of old-time Hollywood perfectly playing director Cecil B. DeMille.

Among the show’s stars are the musicians conducted by Charlie Reuter and the costumes by Kurt Alger. The costumes encapsulate the spirit of the period, especially with Norma’s glamorous outfits. As for Paige Hathaway’s scenic design, it’s a clever one using sliding wood doors and a movable staircase that help transform the stage seamlessly from Norma’s mansion to the Paramount Pictures backlot.

The musical leaves a lot to ponder about growing old gracefully and the difference between true love and obsession, and the Northport cast of “Sunset Blvd.” delivers the iconic classic with grace and talent.

The Long Islander Review

Engeman’s Saturday Night Fever Burns Hot

July 27, 2019
By Sophia Ricco

 

It’s hard not to tap your toes and bob your head when hearing “Stayin’ Alive” as your favorite disco classics take form in the ’70s spectacular musical “Saturday Night Fever.”

This energetic rendition of the blockbuster film will make anyone want to hit the dance floor and do the hustle. The classic movie gets a musical twist with characters singing and dancing their way through life’s challenges with the help of the Bee Gees and other disco legends. It tells the story of Tony Manero, played by Michael Notardonato, a teen dodging his problems through his love for dancing.

“It’s a coming of age story,” Notardonato said in an opening weekend interview. “It’s about this 19-year-old guy, that’s trying to break out of his no-good neighborhood and rise above the struggles he’s grown up around.”

Throughout the musical, Tony encounters characters who pull him in different directions. He finds himself consumed by Stephanie Mangano, played by Missy Dowse, a refined dancer that wants to escape Bay Ridge and make a new life for herself in Manhattan. As the pair practices for an upcoming dance competition, Tony realizes he wants more than living at home and working at a paint shop.

“The message I hope people take away is no matter how trapped or stuck you are in your current situation, you can overcome that by finding a few guiding lights in your life,” Notardonato said. “It’s about choosing your happiness and finding your own path.”

As Tony figures this out, he and the cast share sensational numbers on the 2001 Odyssey dance floor, with choreography that masters the decade’s scene. The cast moves with precision while performing, “Night Fever” and “You Should Be Dancing,” giving the feel of a crowded club moving in unity to their favorite song. These disco hits take new life when performed by Monty, played by Colin E. Liander, and Candy, played by Gabriella Mancuso, who perform soulful renditions of “Disco Inferno” and “More than a Woman.”

“Learning choreography for Saturday Night Fever, it’s very important to capture the 70s vocabulary, especially because the audience is familiar and grew up with this style,” Notardonato said. “We gotta give them a hustle.”

The actors commit to their roles completely, embodying Brooklyn through their accents, style and mannerisms. With casual, conversational dialogue, they build realistic relationships between friends, lovers and even parents and children. As a first generation Italian, Notardonato feels he can relate to his character and puts his own twist on the iconic role, while keeping famous scenes intact.

“When I play Tony, I like to bring out the youth in his character,” Notardonato said. “I play him a little goofy, because he is a ladies man and a bit of a womanizer, but he’s also 19 and doesn’t know much. He’s learning a lot in the time the audience sees him, you get to watch him grow up.”

You can’t have the Bee Gees, without a group of guys harmonizing and hitting those falsetto  high notes. Tony and his friends, who call themselves “The Faces” are the ultimate guy group, that move and groove in the song “Boogie Shoes.”

“We want the audience to take a trip back in time, have a nostalgic moment and maybe see the glimmer of their youth,” Notardonato said. “For people my age, we can relate to the characters and see that you can change anything about your life, you just have to go ahead and do it.”

Broadway World Review

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER THE MUSICAL at John W. Engeman Theater

July 18, 2019
By Anthony Hazzard & Scott Stolzenberg

 

Put on your bell-bottoms and hustle your way down to the Engeman Theater where “Saturday Night Fever The Musical” is electrifying groupies and keeping disco alive! The stage musical based on the 1977 movie starring John Travolta is an entrancing blast from the past and a blissful trip in a radical time machine.

Right where we left him, Tony Manero is still working in the paint store by day and has dance fever by night. His brother the priest stole the limelight at home and dancing is Tony’s love and passion, besides his hair. Michael Notardonato is our big star here and he is an outstanding Tony. In true Travolta fashion, Notardonato roped us in with his looks and moves from the very beginning and had us rooting for him the whole way. Whether putting on his boogie shoes or igniting a disco inferno, Notardonato carries the production on his theatrical shoulders and dazzles us from start to finish.

Poor Anette, played by a charming Andrea Dotto, wants Tony bad but he’s got his eyes set on the prize for best dancer and a Brooklyn born dancer/do-gooder Stephanie played by knockout Missy Dowse. Both Dotto and Dowse shake and shimmy their way into Tony’s heart and light up the dance floor every chance they get. Kudos to Stephanie for wanting to better herself yet our heart always went out for Anette!

Tony’s four main confidants and thugs are in terrific form. Matthew Boyd Snyder, Christopher Robert Hanford, Steven Dean Moore, and Casey Shane are all top notch performers with snappy moves and spirited voices. Look out for Mr. Snyder’s brilliant falsetto! Other major standouts include Gabriella Mancuso as Candy, Colin E. Liander in a multitude of roles, and a talented ensemble chock full of young stars and starlets.

The retro choreography created by Breton Tyner-Bryan keeps the show soaring above the 70’s clouds along with the best of The Bee Gees song catalog performed by a swinging band led by Chris Rayis. Director Richard Dolce did a fine job essaying this cult musical to the Long Island stage.

When “Saturday Night Fever” the movie opened, fans flocked to it making it one of the most successful movie musicals in history. This groovy stage adaptation does not disappoint and for those of us old enough to have seen the movie about a hundred times, there’s certainly no harm in revisiting an old classic and gazing back into the disco ball now and again.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Theater Review: John W. Engeman Theater heats up the summer with ‘Saturday Night Fever’

 

July 18, 2019
By Melissa Arnold

The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport is bringing out its disco balls and bell-bottoms this summer as it kicks off its 2019-20 mainstage season with “Saturday Night Fever.”

The high-energy musical delivers all the 1970s hits and fashion that’s made it a beloved classic for more than just baby boomers. The musical is based on the famous 1977 film of the same name that rocketed John Travolta into stardom. The film was adapted for the stage by Robert Stigwood in collaboration with Bill Oaks, and the North American version was written by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti.

Directed by Richard Dolce, “Saturday Night Fever” is the story of Tony Manero, a 19-year-old ladies’ man from the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. It’s 1977, and Tony is restless, working a dead-end job in the shadow of the Verrazzano Bridge and dealing with his family’s scathing disapproval. It doesn’t help that his brother Frank Jr. is a priest, making Tony even more of a black sheep.

All of that fades away on the weekends, though, when Tony escapes to the local disco Odyssey 2001 to show off his skills on the dance floor. He’s got real talent and sets his sights on winning an upcoming dance competition that could be his ticket to a more fulfilling life.

Tony is quickly frustrated with his overeager dance partner, Annette, who’s more interested in winning a trip to his bedroom than a dance competition. To Annette’s chagrin, Tony is drawn to Stephanie, a lovely yet guarded dancer he meets at the club. Stephanie reluctantly agrees to enter the contest as Tony’s partner on the condition that it’s strictly business. But their passion at the disco is unmistakable, and romance is hard to resist.

While it’s difficult to compare anyone to John Travolta, Michael Notardonato makes the role of Tony seem effortless. A newcomer to the Engeman, Notardonato has also played Tony elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad — he was even nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Musical by the Connecticut Critics Circle for a past performance of the show. Notardonato’s silky vocals and expert footwork are a treat to take in.

Annette (Andrea Dotto) and Stephanie (Missy Dowse) are in contrast throughout most of the show: One is bold, the other withdrawn; one is full-on Brooklyn, the other tries to forget her roots. Both Dotto and Dowse are great dancers with strong vocals; newcomer Dotto tugs on the heartstrings with a powerful rendition of “If I Can’t Have You,” while Dowse’s multiple duets with Notardonato (“100 Reasons,” “What Kind of Fool”) are where she really shines.

Also at the heart of “Saturday Night Fever” are Tony’s knucklehead best friends who are prone to making bad decisions, including some that change their lives forever. Matthew Boyd Snyder, Christopher Robert Hanford, Steven Dean Moore and Casey Shane act like they’ve known each other forever. They play well off of one another and have no trouble getting laughs out of the crowd while also drawing empathy in the show’s darker moments.

The standout work for this show goes to the ensemble and orchestra — after all, it’s the soundtrack and dancing that drive “Saturday Night Fever.” Chris Rayis leads the band in foot-tapping, dance-in-your-seat favorites from the Bee Gees, including “Stayin’ Alive,” “Boogie Shoes” and “Disco Inferno.” The ensemble’s dance numbers, including “Jive Talkin’” and “Night Fever,” are among the best in the show.

Dance captain Kelsey Andres, choreographer Breton Tyner-Bryan and associate choreographer Emily Ulrich deserve accolades for the obvious hard work and effort that went into preparing the cast to be at the top of their game. Keep an eye out for Gabriella Mancuso who plays Candy, 2001 Odyssey’s professional singer. Her vocals are among the strongest in the entire cast, and definitely the most memorable.

The extra touches to the Engeman’s production of “Saturday Night Fever” help the audience feel like they’re a part of the show. Disco balls can be found both above the stage and in the lounge area, covering the entire theater in those characteristic funky lights we all love. The set is equally dazzling and showcased a wide variety of scenes. The mirrors in the dance studio, neon lights in the club, and a stunning, climbable Verrazzano Bridge made the show more realistic.

The only drawback in the musical version of “Saturday Night Fever” is the number of unanswered questions by the end of the show, but it’s still a fantastic performance that’s not to be missed. Stick around after the curtain call for a few extra songs, and don’t be afraid to dance in the aisle.

Newsday Review

‘Saturday Night Fever’: It moves when there’s music

July 16, 2019
By Barbara Schuler

Really, it’s all about the white suit. Even the briefest glimpse of the famous outfit drew a smattering of applause from the audience at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater for “Saturday Night Fever.” So imagine the reaction when Michael Notardonato, playing Brooklyn bad boy Tony Manero, finally struts center stage in that iconic outfit.

The thin musical adaptation of the 1977 film, which has been revised off and on since its 2000 Broadway run, cleans up the story to the point that it’s little more than a device to get to the next song (there seems to be a lot of that on area stages right now). When there’s no singing, the show is flat and humorless (seeing it the day after the big New York City blackout, the only real laugh came courtesy of a ConEd joke). If you’re looking for dramatic intensity or plot-driven action, rent the movie.

On the other hand, if you spent any time in a disco in the ’70s (or wish you had), the show, with music mostly by the Bee Gees, will make for an entertaining couple of hours. Notardonato, who has toured nationally and internationally in the role, does not have the swagger of John Travolta, who shot to stardom in the movie (yes, TV fans already knew him from “Welcome Back, Kotter,” but this sealed the deal). Vocally, he can carry hits like “Stayin’ Alive,” and as a dancer he’s got the goods to justify his status as king of the club.

Staged by Engeman’s producing artistic director Richard Dolce, the show features strong performances by the women in Tony’s orbit. Long Island actress Missy Dowse as Stephanie does a fine job in her duet with Tony of the closing “How Deep is Your Love,” and Andrea Dotto as Annette makes the emotional “If I Can’t Have You” a heartbreaker. And a word for Gabriella Mancuso, playing nightclub singer Candy, a character not in the film, who raises the roof with “Disco Inferno.”

Choreographer Breton Tyner-Bryan gives the cast — accomplished dancers all — the right moves on the slick set (the towering Verrazzano Bridge is impressive) by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case, who also provided the impossibly shiny disco duds.

In this era of sensitivity to triggers, the theater felt it necessary to post a sign warning that disco lights would be used throughout the theater. Seriously? Who would expect anything less, though they really don’t get going full blast until the by-now ubiquitous megamix of the best songs post curtain call. And, yes, everyone leaves with “burn, baby, burn” ringing in their ears.

The Theatre Guide Review

Saturday Night Fever – John W. Engeman Theater – Theatre Review

July 15, 2019
By Kristen Weyer

Bell-bottoms and disco abound at the John W. Engeman Theater’s production of Saturday Night Fever The Musical. This groovy throwback to the seventies is based on the story by Nik Cohn, and the 1977 Paramount/RSO movie starring John Travolta, and features the music of The Bee Gees.  It was adapted for the stage by Robert Stigwood and Bill Oaks, with the North American version being written by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti.  This production is produced and directed by Richard Dolce, with choreography by Breton Tyner-Bryan.

Tony Manero (Michael Notardonato) is a 19 year old Brooklynite, with a lousy job and an unhappy home life.  His only joy is on the weekends, which he spends dancing at the disco and messing around with his friends, Bobby C (Matthew Boyd Snyder), Joey (Christopher Robert Hanford), Double J (Steven Dean Moore), and Gus (Casey Shane).  When he meets talented dancer Stephanie Mangano (Missy Dowse), they decide to enter a dance competition together.  Little does he know that this will mark a changing point for the rest of his life.

I feel that the enjoyment of this production is going to vary greatly, based mostly on the generation of the audiences.  If you lived through the seventies, were raised on the music of the time period, or just have fond memories of the original movie, then you’ll probably enjoy yourself immensely.  If you didn’t, weren’t, or don’t, then you probably won’t.  I found the plotline slow, and at points tedious.  The music, while time period appropriate and frequently fun, multiple times felt forced into the story rather than flowing from it.  The characters are annoying, abrasive, and difficult to get behind.  Even though you might feel badly for Tony at points, his personality is such that truly caring what happens to him is a fairly unattainable prospect.

The actual performance, however, can be fun.  The acting is great, the dancing lively and fun, and there are enough hip thrusts to rival Elvis.  Michael Notardonato makes a wonderful Tony, with an emotional voice, great dancing skills, and excellent characterization completed with brilliant facial expressions. He brings John Travolta to mind on more than one occasion.  Missy Dowse is amusing as the ignorant, social climber Stephanie.  Her lines are lovely and her singing is pleasant. Snyder, Hanford, Moore and Shane display skillful harmonies and dance moves throughout the show, and Andrea Dotto as Annette has a wonderful moment with an emotional performance of “If I Can’t Have You.”  Gabriella Mancuso as disco singer Candy, and Colin E. Liander as DJ Monty dive wholeheartedly into the era’s music.

Along with the talented ensemble, the orchestra under direction from Chris Rayis performed beautifully. Set and costume designers Michael Bottari and Ronald Case made excellent use of the space, giving us an elevated bridge and even adding that slightly cramped feeling to the disco scenes. The delightful and time period appropriate costumes rounded out the feel of the show.  Saturday Night Fever is a groovy flashback into a bygone era, and don’t get out of your seat too early, the best part comes after the bows!

Broadway World Review

BWW Review: AIDA at the John W. Engeman Theater

May 22, 2019
By Melissa Giordano

 

Closing out The John W. Engeman Theatre’s dazzling season is a thrilling a showing of Elton John & Tim Rice‘s Aida. The beautiful Northport venue outdoes itself with the lush production of the heart-tugging musical. Excellently directed by Paul Stancato, the cast is remarkable drawing the audience in at every turn.

Running through June 23rd, the tale is about love, loyalty, and betrayal. We follow the love triangle between Aida, a Nubian princess stolen from her country, Amneris, an Egyptian princess, and Radames, the soldier they both love. The soaring score only clinches why this show is a Tony Award winner.

Kayla Cyphers is exquisite in the titular role. In particular, her heartbreaking performance of “Easy As Life” doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house. Ms. Cyphers makes a fantastic team with Ken Allen Neely, who skillfully portrays Radames. They carry the audience on an emotional roller coaster as the forbidden love of Aida and Radames grows. Also, Jenna Rubaii is stellar as Amneris, the Egyptian princess to whom Radames has been betrothed. Her performances of “Every Story Is A Love Story” is truly captivating. The full company is genuinely brilliant.

On the talented creative team, Michael Bottari & Ronald Case design the fantastic set. Rolling pieces and everyone contributing make for seamless scene changes. The atmospheric and sometimes chilling lighting by John Burkland enhances the visually moving show. Add in Kurt Alger‘s costumes, and you have a very touching production.

It’s evident that Aida at Long Island’s John W. Engeman Theatre is a must-see for this season. In true Engeman fashion, they do not disappoint. An emotional tale and a superb cast make for a very stirring night of theatre.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Theater Review: Engeman Theater’s ‘Aida’ is a gift from the gods

 

May 15, 2019
By Heidi Sutton

The sands of ancient Egypt have blown into Northport as the Engeman Theater presents the timeless love story “Aida” through June 23. With music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang, the musical is based on Giuseppe Verdi’s 19th-century opera of the same name.

The Egyptian pharaoh (Julius Chase) wishes to expand his reign beyond the Nile and orders Egyptian captain Radames to make war with neighboring Nubia. In his travels, Radames captures a dark and beautiful Nubian princess, Aida, and presents her as a gift to his fiancé of nine years, Princess Amneris. Over time he finds himself falling in love with Aida and begins to question the course his life should take.

When a plot orchestrated by Radames’ father Zoser (Enrique Acevedo) to poison the Pharaoh is brought to light and Radames and Aida’s forbidden love is discovered, Princess Amneris is tasked with deciding their fate. Without giving away the ending, let’s just say that breaking ancient Egyptian laws never ended well.

Costumes by Kurt Alger are gorgeous, from Princess Amneris’ many gowns and headpieces to the Pharaoh’s royal garbs. The set, designed by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case, is adorned with hieroglyphics, palm trees, an occasional stream and a rotating platform that is utilized in many ways including as a ship, a throne and a prison cell.

Kayla Cyphers is perfectly cast as Aida, a enslaved princess stolen from her father, Amonasro (Gavin Gregory) and trying to stay strong for her people. “Nubia will never die! Whether we are enslaved or whether we are far from our native soil, Nubia lives in our hearts. And therefore, it lives.” Regal and strong-willed, she commands the stage in every scene.

We see the most change in Radames, expertly played by Ken Allen Neely, from a selfish cold-hearted man to a hopeless romantic who just wants to run away with his Nubian princess.

Jenna Rubaii is divine as the materialistic Princess Amneris, “first in beauty, wisdom … and accessories,” and draws the most laughs — “Are you trying to get me drunk, Radames? You know it’s not necessary,” and special mention should be made of Chaz Alexander Coffin who plays Mereb, a Nubian slave. From his first appearance on stage Coffin quickly becomes an audience favorite.

The musical numbers are the heart of the show, from the highly charged dance numbers, “Another Pyramid” and “Dance of the Robe,”  to the fun fashion show “Strongest Suit” and the romantic duets “Written in the Stars” and “Elaborate Lives.”

Director and choreographer Paul Stancato has such a wondrous and mysterious time period to work with and he takes full advantage of it, creating an exciting and colorful show  with a first-rate cast of actors-singers-dancers and live band to produce a wonderful evening of live theater.

Newsday Review

‘Aida’ review: It flows as beautifully as the Nile

May 14, 2019
By Barbara Schuler

When Disney optioned a children’s book based on Verdi’s majestic opera “Aida,” the intention was to turn it into an animated film. But after “The Lion King,” Elton John wasn’t keen on another movie, so the project went straight to becoming a musical, running on Broadway for more than four years but rarely done in regional theaters.

And with good reason. Despite the pedigree of its creators — music by John, lyrics by Tim Rice with David Henry Hwang (“M. Butterfly”) contributing to the book — “Aida” has never been able to make up its mind about what it wants to be. Campy parody? Tragic love triangle? Diatribe on slavery?

Let’s just acknowledge it was gutsy of the John W. Engeman Theater to give “Aida” a shot — and happily the risk paid off. The Northport theater’s production is a stunner, making the most of this problematic musical with an extraordinary cast and lofty production values.

Mostly it works because of the impressive performance of Kayla Cyphers in the title role, powerfully sung with a stirring combination of vulnerability and strength. With an old Egyptian myth at its heart, the show opens in a contemporary museum, with visitors wandering an exhibition about Amneris, “the female pharaoh.”

In an instant, time travels backward and we’re in ancient Egypt, where army captain Radames (an appropriately conflicted Ken Allen Neely) has captured a group of Nubian women, among them the king’s daughter, Aida. There’s instant attraction and an immediate problem: He’s engaged to the pharaoh’s daughter Amneris (Jenna Rubaii, smartly playing the pampered princess to the hilt, though she eventually sees the light and denounces the oppression inflicted by her people). For the necessary comic relief, Chaz Alexander Coffin delights as Nubian slave Mereb.

The story unfolds in predictable fashion, with John’s music ranging from the expected piano pop rock to Motown to full out gospel. Director-choreographer Paul Stancato has fun with an anachronistic vision of Amneris singing an ode to her wardrobe that ends with a fashion parade highlighting the creative work of costumer Kurt Alger. It plays out on the massive stone set by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case, brightened with lovely, atmospheric lighting by John Burkland.

Remember, this is based on an opera, so there’s no happily ever after, unless you believe in reincarnation. In the end, we’re back in the modern museum, where a couple looking awfully familiar meets cute in front of a diorama of Amneris. To steal from another Disney epic, it’s a tale as old as time.

Theatre Guide Review

Aida – John W. Engeman Theater

May 13, 2019
By Jessica Kennedy

The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport has selected a timeless story of love, deceit, passion, and loyalty with Aida– winner of four Tony Awards with soul-stirring music by Elton John and Tim Rice.  Directed and choreographed by Paul Stancato, this tremendous performance will have you talking about it long after the curtains close.

A tale of star-crossed lovers is a favorite romantic trope; however, this cast of characters and their struggles make this heart-rending tale about much more than love at first sight.  When the Nubian Princess, Aida- played flawlessly by the captivating Kayla Cyphers- is stolen from her home and forced into slavery, she hides her true self in order to stay alive. Her encounters with the Egyptian warrior Radames, played exquisitely by the charming Ken Allen Neely, soon make it harder for her to guard her identity- and her heart.  All the while Radames is betrothed- and not to just anyone- to the Egyptian Princess Amneris, played by the dynamic Jenna Rubaii. Will Aida succumb to her love for Radames, or choose her love of country above all? Will Radames risk his status and security for a forbidden love that could never truly be? This rapturous tale reveals a plot full of passion, love, betrayal, and pain- and you won’t want to miss a minute of it!

The Engeman Theater always puts on a beautiful show, and this performance is no exception.  While talent abounds on stage- Cyphers, Neely, and Rubaii create a painfully beautiful love triangle that is genuine and layered- there are countless other elements that make this performance practically perfect! The Creative Team for this show deserves a standing ovation for their artful construction and portrayal of both modern day and Ancient Egypt.  Scenic Designers Michael Bottari and Ronald Case not only impress with a set that swivels and turns, but the dramatic set changes from scene to scene are incredibly fluid.  John Burkland’s lighting design adds both drama and subtlety to the scenes in a way which compliments and amplifies the superior talent of the performers.  Speaking of talent- it abounds in this performance from start to finish! Jenna Rubaii’s portrayal of Amneris is both hysterical (“My Strongest Suit”) and heartbreaking (“I Know the Truth”); Chaz Alexander Coffin’s version of Mereb is both light and witty, while his performance of “How I Know You” (Reprise) will have you on the brink of tears.  Enrique Acevedo’s nefarious evocation of Zoser will leave you in stunned wonder of a man’s capacity for power and vanity with his vigorous and spirited renditions of “Another Pyramid” and “”Like Father, Like Son.” However, nothing will move you more than the tragically touching interaction between Aida and Radames (Cyphers and Neely) as they struggle to hold on to a love they know is fleeting (“Elaborate Lives” and “Written in the Stars”).

This show is quite simply a must see! It runs from May 9th- June 23rd, so grab a ticket and let Aida take you to another time and place- where love is layered and deep- and will always lead you back to the people and places you keep close to your heart.

Broadway World Review

A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER at The Engeman

 

March 22, 2019
By Melissa Giordano

It is a real treat that The John W. Engeman Theatre is currently mounting A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder. The top-notch cast is remarkable leaving the audience in stitches. The hit show plays the beautiful Northport venue through April 28th, and it is sure to be a must-see this season.

The two-act farce, wonderfully directed by Trey Compton, tells the tale of Monty who has learned that he is an heir in the famed D’Ysquith family. When he realizes he’s ninth in line, Monty shrugs off his findings thinking the family wouldn’t even know who he is. However, he wonders if he could make it to the top of the family tree by bumping off those who stand in his way. Don’t worry about the murders; this is an all-out comedy.

Indeed collecting the most laughs is Engeman vet Danny Gardner portraying each member of the D’Ysquith family who is before him in the heritance. Mr. Gardner does a tremendous job giving each family member a very distinctive personality and his top-notch comedic delivery. Mr. Gardner makes a great team with Sean Yves Lessard who charmingly portrays Monty. Of course, the women of the cast are stellar. Katherine McLaughlin is adorable as the pious and witty Phoebe D’Ysquith. Moreover, Kate Loprestis superb as sassy Sibella. In truth, I really could go on and on about the entire company as they all extraordinary.

On the talented creative team, Nate Bertone‘s set is well-done. Portraits of Mr. Gardner as each of the D’Ysquith’s hang along the outside of the stage. On the stage, it is mostly a stationary set bringing in rolling pieces for each of the locales. The wigs, perhaps, could have been more to the Engeman’s high standards, but I digress. This is enhanced masterfully by Matthew Solomon‘s relevant costumes from 1900’s London; corsets and suit tails abound. Also, it is always thrilling to see a live band this one excellently headed up by James Olmstead. They deliver the Steven Lutvak/Robert L. Freedman score splendidly.

As you can probably tell, A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder is another hit for Northport’s John W. Engeman Theatre. A remarkable cast and entertaining story make for an enjoyable night of theatre.

The Long Islander Review

Kill and be done in time for tea

 

March 21, 2019
By Sophia Ricco

Slaying has never been so slick, when it’s done with song and ends in becoming an aristocrat as A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder proves, you can always change life’s path.

Tony Award winner for Best Musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder has smashingly slaughtered on Broadway and is ready to entertain audiences at the John W. Engeman Theater until Saturday, April 28.

The show is set in early 20th century England and tells the story of Monty Navarro, played by Sean Yves Lessard, who learns of ancestral ties to the Earl of Highhurst and D’Ysquith family at his mother’s funeral. A woman claiming to know his late parents tells Monty of his mother’s banishment from the D’Ysquith family after choosing to marry a Castilian, in “You’re a D’Ysquith.” Only eight relatives lie between Monty, the title of earl and the family fortune. He plans a little assassination to get himself there.

“It’s been fascinating, in so many ways I am similar to the character,” Lessard said. “But in the most fundamental of ways, I am not, because I am not a serial killer… It’s funny, because even though he is killing these people, every time he does, he contemplates, ‘Should I have done this?’ He’s grappling with his conscience the entire time.”

 

The D’Ysquith family is anything but ordinary. Each member is more comical and hate-able than the next. What’s most impressive, is all eight relatives are played by Danny Gardener, who captures an entire family of personalities. At certain points you wouldn’t believe the same man that played Asquith D’Ysquith Jr., a snooty, rich playboy who unknowingly serenades with Miss Barley and Monty in “Poison in My Pocket,” could become a foolish society lady looking for a charity cause in “Lady Hyacinth Abroad,” within the same act.

“His characters are so specific and different from one another, it makes my job so much easier,” Lessard said. “I treat them as completely different creatures, because he does as well… It’s all different voices, postures, body ticks, inflections and accents, it’s impressive.”

As Monty gets to know members of the D’Ysquith family, he learns the good and bad of his family and society. He proves to be emotionally layered, as he ponders whether to kill his generous employer, Lord Asquith D’Ysquith, Sr. in “The Last One You’d Expect.”

“The way he justifies it is, he’s killing these people, who are all terrible… For every character you take on, you have to be the hero of your own story,” Lessard said. “Every answer to any question has to be, ‘Yes’. So would I have done it? Yes I would have as Monty.” It’s more than just massacre on Monty’s mind, he has two loves that each dominate his world. His mistress, Sibella Hallward played by Kate Loprest, commands his passion, as evident in “I Don’t Know What I’d Do.” That is until, his distant cousin, Phoebe D’Ysquith played by Katherine McLaughlin, turns his world “Inside Out.”

“The redeeming quality of Monty is he loves unconditionally,” Lessard said. “He loves these two women who are the center of his life, he loves Asquith, and he was unconditionally attached to his mother. This is the genesis of it all, was how terribly his mother was treated by the family.”

A favorite with audiences and Lessard himself, the lively song “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” puts Monty literally in the middle of Sibella and Phoebe, as he maneuvers his way between the two rooms that the women are in. It’s a scene that truly has to be witnessed, as Monty swings back and forth from door to door, all the while harmonizing. “It’s a lesson in being able and open to love, but also a cautionary tale to not love too many people at once,” Lessard said.

Smithtown Matters Review

‘A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder’

March 21, 2019
By Jeb Ladouceur

‘A Gentleman’s Guide…’ is unlike any other play you are likely to see this season or … for that matter … ever! Similarly, the musical version of a 1907 novel by Roy Horniman titled ‘Israel Rank – The Autobiography of a Criminal’ is quite possibly a reviewer’s worst nightmare, because no fewer than eight (count ‘em) eight of the dozen major roles are played over a 150-minute span by a single actor (Danny Gardner)!
If the madcap goings on … about conniving heir Monty Navarro (played by Sean Yves Lessard) who is ninth in succession to inherit the family fortune … were not so convincingly conceived by writer Robert L. Freedman (he adapted the farce for the stage), and cleverly choreographed by Vincent Ortega (a comic genius if ever there was one), it might be impossible closely to follow the proceedings that tumble across the John W. Engeman proscenium in a torrent of hilarity.
But the sly Navarro rivets our attention by figuring out novel ways to knock off those relatives who stand between him and the jackpot he covets. These dastardly devices include everything from death by bee sting, to decapitation while weightlifting. It’s all very farcical stuff, but this critic has seldom had as much fun in the theater.
Highlight of the evening is a vaudeville-style song and dance routine featuring two males that once might have been thought a bit naughty, but in our so-called ‘progressive’ age, has to be considered rather tame. It’s titled ‘Better With a Man’ and that said, one need not go into further detail to describe its content. Suffice it to say, hoofers Lessard and Gardner steal the play with their show-stopping routine. It’s very funny … superbly polished material.
Without question, in this musical the supremely talented Danny Gardner has been handed one of the most complex theatrical assignments imaginable. If you thought any actor taking on the dual roles of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had his hands full, you ain’t seen nuthin’ until you’ve watched (and heard) Gardner act, sing, and dance his way through eight juicy parts (of both sexes, yet) as if he were absolutely born to each role.
But while everyone is good in this show … the workmanlike dressers who see to Gardner’s numerous costume changes, though they are never seen onstage, deserve a special nod of appreciation. Some of these unheralded staffers work their miracles in a matter of 15 or 20 seconds … and that often includes applying and removing the star’s makeup as well as his clothing. Geez! We should have a special category for acknowledging the expertise of such professionals.
Meanwhile, perhaps it will serve to give the plaudits to ‘A Gentleman’s Guide…’ Director, Trey Compton. He will know how the kudos should be distributed. This musical could not possibly work without the diligence of its dressers.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

You’ll die laughing at Engeman Theater’s ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’

 

March 20, 2019
By Melissa Arnold

I never thought I’d cheer for a murderer. Nor did I ever imagine laughing so much at a show about murder. There’s a first time for everything, I guess.

Directed by Trey Compton with musical direction by James Olmstead, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” has a deceptively simple title, one that probably makes you think of a classic, suspenseful whodunit.

What you get instead is a fast-paced, absurdly funny comedy that will keep you laughing from start to finish.Based on the 1907 Roy Horniman novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal,” the Tony Award-winning musical, with book by Robert L. Freedman and music by Steven Lutvak, ran on Broadway from 2013 to 2016.

As the show begins, we find ourselves looking in on a young man feverishly writing his memoirs from a London jail cell, seeking to preserve his story if he should face execution the next day. That man, Montague “Monty” Navarro, is the newly minted Earl of Highhurst, and his rise to nobility wasn’t exactly noble. Two years earlier, while grieving his mother’s death in 1907, an impoverished Monty learned that she was related to the powerful, aristocratic D’Ysquith family. The D’Ysquiths, however, disowned her when she chose to marry a commoner. Despite this, Monty was the ninth descendant in line to become the earl.

Monty hoped his newfound lineage would impress Sibella Hallward, the posh and sultry woman he loves, but she ultimately abandoned him to marry a wealthy man. With no one else to turn to, he attempted to make inroads with his new relatives, and in the process had a sinister thought: What if he killed the D’Ysquiths? What if he could become the earl? The show follows Monty through flashbacks of the past two years as he eliminates his cousins in a variety of zany and unexpected ways.

Wojcik/Seay Casting consistently assembles stellar casts for the Engeman’s shows, and this one is no exception, featuring a host of Broadway and national theater vets. Sean Yves Lessard plays Monty, and he is earnest, polished and entirely believable. You’ll empathize with his poverty and join him on an emotional roller coaster as he sneakily offs the D’Ysquiths. Beyond that, Lessard’s smooth, controlled vocals are a real treat, especially in the waltzing “Poison in My Pocket” and steamy “Sibella.”

What makes “Gentleman’s Guide” stand out is that eight of the D’Ysquith cousins are played by the same actor, Danny Gardner. He makes the transition from young to old, gay to straight and even male to female characters look entirely effortless. Each D’Ysquith has his or her unique quirks, and Gardner is so astoundingly versatile that you almost won’t believe it’s the same person. He also deserves accolades for impossibly fast costume changes and impressive tap dancing.

A torrid love triangle sits at the heart of Monty’s escapades. Despite her marriage to a wealthy man, Sibella (Kate Loprest) still comes knocking, especially as Monty ascends the line of succession. At the same time, Monty quickly finds himself falling for his distant cousin Phoebe D’Ysquith (Katherine McLaughlin), a good-hearted and pious lady that just wants to love and be loved.

Loprest makes the self-absorbed Sibella almost lovable with charming wit and confidence. She’s also a delight to listen to, a crystal clear soprano that’s strong without being overpowering. McLaughlin’s Phoebe is demure and sincere, a perfect foil to Sibella. She shines in songs like “Inside Out,” and the trio’s performance in “I’ve Decided to Marry You” is one of the show’s highlights.

Scene and props designer Nate Bertone deserves particular mention for his creative work on the detailed, Edwardian set of “Gentleman’s Guide.” To help audience members keep track of the D’Ysquiths, the stage is framed with massive portraits of Gardner in his various incarnations. Spotlights and laser X’s on those portraits will alert you to who’s still kicking and who’s been taken out. The effect is a lot of fun and adds to the show’s overall silliness

The bottom line: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is hilarious from the first line, and so enjoyable that I’d love to see it again. The show isn’t gory, but there’s plenty of innuendo to go around, and there are occasional loud noises and use of light fog throughout.

Newsday Review

‘Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’ review: It’ll slay you

March 19, 2019
By: Barbara Schuler

You have to have a lot of faith in a show to start it off with a song that suggests the audience, at least those “faint of heart,” might want to leave. “Blood may spill … so if you’re smart, before we start, you’d best depart,” the cast sings in the opening moments of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.

No worries. Everyone at the performance I attended stayed in their seats and survived the delightful romp of a show by Robert L. Freedman (book) and Steven Lutvak (music), winner of the Tony Award for best musical in 2014. Unfortunately, that can’t be said for all the characters, any number of whom get bumped off in the course of the show after the impoverished Monty Navarro (Sean Yves Lessard, as adorable a serial killer as you’re likely to meet) learns from a family friend that he’s a member of the prominent D’Ysquith family and ninth in line to become Earl of Highhurst.

Murder and mayhem result as Monty embarks on a campaign to do away with everyone ahead of him in the line of succession — all remarkably played by the talented and hardworking Danny Gardner, last seen at Engeman as Don Lockwood in “Singin’ in the Rain.” Gardner puts all he ever learned in acting class to work as he plays the entire D’Ysquith family, among them the doddering priest, the stodgy banker, the country bumpkin, the aging actress, all coming to their doom (skating accidents, slippery roofs, Monty is quite creative) in a flurry of witty if not especially memorable songs that meet somewhere between operetta and British music hall.

The love part of the title is represented by two young women who have their sights set on Monty — the social climbing Sibella and distant cousin Phoebe played, respectively, by big-voiced Broadway veterans Kate Loprest and Katherine McLaughlin. The triangle comes to a head in the amusing, farcical “I’ve Decided to Marry You” with Monty an absolute riot as he only barely manages to fend off the two ladies.

Director Trey Compton and choreographer Vincent Ortega maintain a brisk pace. The cast (especially Gardner) makes quick changes that are often visible in the background of Nate Bertone’s clever set, bordered by portraits of the D’Ysquith clan that get X’d out as they do. It’s all great fun, which is something you can’t often say about a play with multiple murders. Certainly, who did them is no mystery.
 

The Theatre Guide Review

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder – John W. Engeman Theater

March 19, 2019
By Kristen Weyer.

Who couldn’t use an escape now and then? Come travel back in time and away from reality and reason with A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, now playing at the John W. Engeman Theater. Mischief, mayhem and murder run rampart in this outrageous musical with book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman, and music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak. Their combined genius is on full display the entire production with dizzying displays of immensely clever dialogue and lyrics.  It is easy to see why this show won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical.

With very “British” humor along the lines of Monty Python and Robin Hood: Men in Tights, it’s a little bit slap-stick, fairly dirty, and very irreverent of its subject – mainly murder.  The cast does warn the audience of this in their very first number aptly entitled “A Warning to the Audience” (and then hilariously seem quite perplexed why we didn’t all get up to leave).  It is by no means gruesome, but rather filled with campy death sequences and some exaggerated stage gore. If this is not your cup of tea however, then consider yourself forewarned.

It is London, in the early 1900s. The plot follows the young, handsome, and poor, Monty Navarro (fabulously played by Sean Yves Lessard).  When he learns that his recently deceased mother was really a disinherited member of the noble D’Ysquith Family, he reaches out to them hoping for a job and to be accepted back into the family.  However, after being cruelly rejected he resolves to enact revenge for his poor mother, and what better way than to take his relatives’ place and become the next Earl in their stead. One small problem: there are eight people ahead of him in the succession. Deciding to, shall we say, help them along their way he embarks upon a number of madcap schemes to whittle down his family tree and seize the Earldom for himself.  Throw in a score of zany characters, entertaining songs and a good dose of love and romance and you have the recipe for a fabulously fun night of theater!

This set design is also fun, and the off kilter lines of the stage mimic the crazy line of the story; Scenic and Prop Designer Nate Bertone did very well with that parallel. Wonderful sound effects by designer Laura Shubert bring multiple scenes to life and enhance the production.  Gorgeous historical costuming by designer Matthew Solomon set the time period and the characters.  The talent of the orchestra, under direction from James Olmstead, is on continual display; they performed impressively.

Lessard plays Monty with a killer combination of easy charm, dashing good looks and incredible vocals.  He switches with apparent ease from gorgeous held notes, to fast paced, tongue-twisting lyrics without losing tonality or clarity.  Monty’s polar opposite love interests are both portrayed with superb talent and brilliant acumen.  The sultry and coquettish Sibella is beautifully played by Kate Loprest, while Katherine McLaughlin charmingly portrays the demure and honest, Phoebe.  Both women bring charm, vivacity and humor to their characters while also treating the audience to their lovely vocals. Taylor Galvin gives some very funny moments as Lady Eugenia, and Matthew Patrick Quinn impresses with his low baritone.

While it is true that the entire cast did a wonderful job, including every member of the ensemble, the star of this production is Danny Gardner who plays the D’Ysquith Family.  Now you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, did she just say family? As in all 8 members of the previously mentioned succession?!” Yes. And actually it’s 8+ because there are a few others who pop up as well along the way.  There is, unfortunately, not room here to do the genius of Danny Gardner justice, I can only hope that the following will suffice.  He is brilliant.  He has personified and brought to life each character in a unique and specific way, no two are quite alike.  He changes his voice, his gait, his tonality and inflection, and he’s not just talking, oh no, he’s singing and dancing, gesticulating and tapping. There was not a large display of his tap dancing prowess in this show which was unfortunate, because he’s good (anyone lucky enough to have seen him as Don Lockwood in the Engeman’s production of Singin’ in the Rain will know just how good). His vocals are an absolute pleasure to hear, his characterizations are hysterical, and his comedic timing is spot-on. It is so impressive and beyond entertaining to watch him do these roles. Simply put, Danny Gardner started out as a triple threat and then left that in the dust.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is many things.  It is clever and different, it is obvious and then surprising, it is strange, dirty, and macabre, and then hysterically funny, touching, and romantic. Director Trey Compton and choreographer Vincent Ortega have delivered a brilliantly executed production. It is fabulous fun, and I promise you won’t be bored.

The Long Islander Review

Audiences ‘Rave On’ For Engeman’s Buddy Holly

January 25, 2019
By Janee Law

It’s no surprise that the John W. Engeman Theater’s production of “Buddy–The Buddy Holly Story” received a standing ovation from the audience during its Jan. 19 showing, as cast members kept the crowd moving and singing to the songs from start to finish.

Audience member Teresa Oliver, of Huntington, said this is a production that can’t be missed.
“Everything was excellent,” she said. “It got everybody moving, everybody dancing, and everybody was getting involved. I loved it”

The audience journeys back to 1957 to witness the true story of American musician Buddy Holly (Michael Perrie Jr.) and his historical raise to fame until his tragic death less than two years later. Instead of leaving the crowd with the sadness over the singer’s sudden death, the production focuses on pulling the audience in to celebrate his life and musical brilliance. Throughout the production, the ensemble also brings the crowd to act as a live audience for Buddy’s concerts and performances.

Audience member Frank Carino Jr., of Huntington, said the cast’s interaction with the crowd was awesome and everyone from his group “lost their voices during the show.”

“It was definitely an entertaining evening for all age groups,” Carino said. “It was honestly better than some of the Broadway shows I’ve seen, hands down.”

Engeman’s production is directed and choreographed by Keith Andrews, with musical direction by Angela C. Howell. The ensemble had the audience grooving and rocking to more than 20 of Buddy Holly’s greatest hits, including “That’ll Be The Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Everyday,” “Oh Boy,” “Not Fade Away,” “Rave On” and “Raining In My Heart.”

In act one, Buddy Holly & the Crickets’ performance of “Oh Boy” will have the crowd saying “oh boy” as cast members energetically strum the chords and use their instruments as a bass—no pun intended—for entertaining stunts.

During the productions electrifying finale, which features Buddy’s “Johnny B. Goode,” Ritchie Valens’ (Diego Guevara) “La Bamba” and The Big Bopper’s (Jayson Elliot) “Chantilly Lace,” the energy from the audience was in full force, singing, clapping and dancing to each number.

Leading the stamina on stage is Michael Perrie Jr., who portrays the corky and ambitious Buddy Holly. Perrie brilliantly embodies Buddy’s musical talents and unwavering drive to follow his dream.

After Saturday’s show, Perrie said having the opportunity to play Buddy has always been a dream for him.

“I love playing Buddy Holly because he was a genius and he was a great inspiration for me,” Perrie said. “This was the first show I ever saw as a kid that got me into theater and so it’s very full circle for me to come back and do it.”

He added that every show brings a new discovery in his role as Buddy. “This production and this cast are phenomenal. They make me feel like there’s a new Buddy in there that I’m finding every time. It’s a wonderful experience.”

Other leading cast members include Sam Sherwood as Joe Maudlin, Armando Gutierrez as Jerry Allison and Eric Scott Anthony as Norman Petty.

Broadway World Review

BWW Review: BUDDY – THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY at the Engeman

January 24, 2019
By Melissa Giordano

Northport’s exquisite John W. Engeman Theatre does it again with a boffo incarnation of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story. Running through March 3rd at the Long Island venue, the musical is strongly directed by Keith Andrews and boasts an absolutely stellar cast many of whom have been in previous productions of this show. While we know Buddy (along with a few of his friends) died young and tragically in a plane crash, Alan Janes has certainly created a joyous celebration of Buddy’s life.

The award-winning show has had a very extensive life originating in the West End in 1989 running there until 2008. It was on Broadway from 1990 to 1991 and has toured and been done locally, regionally, and worldwide ever since. In the Engeman’s production, Michael Perrie, Jr. excellently stars as the rock and roll pioneer. You will find he is a natural in the role as he belts out some of Buddy’s biggest hits including “Peggy Sue”, “That’ll Be The Day”, and “Maybe Baby” among many others.

The show is well thought out having the first act (and a little of the second act) set over several years telling the story about how Buddy started with his band, The Crickets, and the pressures of the music industry as he and the band wanted to move from country to rock-and-roll. It also shows him meeting his wife, Maria Elena portrayed adorably by Lauren Cosio, and the band recording. Then most of the second act shows their final performance at Surf Ballroom in Iowa. It is truly one big party as we also see performances by The Big Bopper, portrayed by the delightfully charismatic Jayson Elliot, and Ritchie Valens, portrayed charmingly by Diego Guevara.

The whole company is truly brilliant as is the clever creative team. Jordan Janota’s set is smartly stationary with some rolling pieces that make for flawless scene changes. This is enhanced beautifully by Doug Harry‘s atmospheric lighting and Dustin Cross‘ great costume choices as we are in the late 1950s. It is also thrilling to see that the enthusiastic audience was also into the participation aspect.

And so, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, is indeed another hit for the Engeman. I am certain that, even if you are not overly familiar with Buddy Holly‘s music, you will have a wonderful time. And his fans I am sure are elated this production honors him so beautifully. Being an old soul myself, I think it is safe to say you will be happy to have seen this must-see production this season.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

‘Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story’ hits all the right notes at the Engeman

January 23, 2019
By Heidi Sutton

February 3rd of this year will mark the 60th anniversary of the death of Buddy Holly, one of rock ‘n’ roll’s true pioneers who, in his short career, had a major influence on the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Elton John.

Holly’s wonderful music, his lasting legacy to the world, is celebrated in Alan Janes’ “Buddy —The Buddy Holly Story.” The jukebox musical debuted in London in 1989 and arrived a year later on Broadway. The show opened at the John W. Engeman Theater last week and runs through March 3.

Directed and choreographed by Keith Andrews, the show recounts the last three years of Holly’s life and rise to fame, from 1956 to 1959.

We first meet him as a strong-willed 19-year-old country singer (played by Michael Perrie Jr.) from Lubbock, Texas, and follow his journey with his band, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, as they venture into rock ‘n’ roll with hits like “That’ll Be the Day,” “Rock Around with Ollie Vee” and “Everyday.”

The impressive sets by Jordan Janota and props by Emily Wright beautifully evolve with each scene while the stage features a permanent arch of gramophone records that light up individually as each hit is performed.

Touring the country in 1957, Holly and his band head to the Apollo Theater in Harlem where the audience is treated to a show-stopping rendition of the Isley Brothers’s “Shout” by Apollo performers Marlena (Kim Onah) and Tyrone (Troy Valjean Rucker) before enjoying “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!” and “Not Fade Away.”

We are witness to when Holly meets his future wife Maria Elena Santiago (Lauren Cosio) for the first time and when he leaves a pregnant Maria in 1959 to go on the Winter Dance Party tour by bus to play 24 Midwestern cities in as many days after promising her he won’t get on an airplane.

The final scene is also one of the show’s finest as Holly’s last performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, with J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson (Jayson Elliott) and Ritchie Valens (Diego Guevara) is recreated in a poignant tribute. The audience is transported back in time and become concertgoers enjoyingoutstanding performances of “Chantilly Lace,” “La Bamba” and “Peggy Sue Got Married.”

The stage suddenly goes dark and a radio announces that all three singers were killed in a plane crash shortly after the concert. Richardson was 28, Holly was 22 and Valens was only 17. The tragedy was later referred to as “The Day the Music Died.” The lights come back on and the concert continues, bringing the packed house at last Friday’s show to their feet in a long-standing ovation.

By the end of the night, more than 20 of Holly’s greatest hits have been played live by the incredibly talented actors on stage, a fitting tribute to the Texan who got to play music his way.

Newsday Review

‘The Buddy Holly Story’ review: A ’50s legend brought back to life

January 23, 2019
By Barbara Schuler

It’s a blast from the past. “Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport is a rollicking celebration of the iconic singer, who consistently fought the system to make music his way.

The show, one of the earliest jukebox musicals, is mostly a late-’50s hit parade with the concert interrupted every so often to detail Holly’s meteoric rise and tragic end. Watching Michael Perrie Jr. in the title role is as close as many of us will ever come to seeing the legend live, no surprise since he’s been performing the show off and on since 2016. Rarely offstage, Perrie is perpetual motion from the moment he launches into the early hit “That’ll Be the Day.”

Director-choreographer Keith Andrews has assembled quite the backup bunch, starting with the other two members of Holly’s band — drummer Jerry Allison (Armando Gutierrez) and Joe Maudlin (Sam Sherwood), the bass player whose aerobic routine on the massive instrument brings down the house. (Note the actors in this show are the band, with pretty much everyone playing something.)

Other notable performances include Jayson Elliott as J.P. Richardson Jr., known as the Big Bopper, Diego Guevara as the hip-shaking Richie Valens and Eric Scott Anthony as Norman Petty, the producer whose tough love helped Holly reach the top. Costumer Dustin Cross does everyone up in ’50s finery — lots of crinolines and cardigans — and Jordan Janoda’s colorful set evokes the era.

The biographical part of the show highlights major Holly moments, starting in a Lubbock, Texas, roller rink (a little odd, though, that the band members outnumbered the skaters), on to a not-so-successful stint at the Nashville studios of Decca, then New York, where a booking at the Apollo caused quite the ruckus because the audience expected Holly to be black.

The show ends with a replication of the Feb. 3, 1959, concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, with Holly performing along with the Big Bopper, who gets the audience going with “Chantilly Lace,” and Valens, upping the decibels with “La Bamba”  (yes, you get to sing along). A string of Holly hits goes dark mid-“Rave On,” as a somber radio voice announces all three men were killed in the crash of their chartered plane. It could have been quite the buzzkill, but the interlude was brief and respectful, then the rock and roll resumed full volume, ending with the classic “Oh, Boy!” Most everyone leaves singing, but you can’t help wonder what might have been had Holly listened to his wife and never gotten on that plane.

The Theatre Guide Review

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story – John W. Engeman Theater

January 21, 2019
By Jessica Kennedy

Buddy- The Buddy Holly Story premiered as the mainstage performance at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport this past weekend to packed houses! These enthusiastic theater goers were ready to celebrate the life and work of an artist who was taken from us way too soon.  Masterfully directed and choreographed by Keith Andrews, and developed beautifully by Music Director Angela C. Howell, this show promises big names, big songs, and a big night of entertainment- and it delivers!

This story, presented through special arrangement with Buddy Worldwide Ltd., showcases the whirlwind musical career of Buddy Holly from January 1956 to February 1959.  We meet Buddy (played inspiringly by Michael Perrie Jr.), as he and the Crickets (played by the effortlessly talented Sam Sherwood and Armando Gutierrez), try to stir up the music scene with a bait and switch rock and roll performance on live radio.  Although many seem skeptical, local DJ Hipockets Duncan (the endearing and paternal Rik Walter) takes a chance and helps the struggling group land a recording contract with Decca Records. It is short-lived, however, as Buddy simply refuses to acquiesce to please his bosses at the price of his unique sound.  An introduction to Norman Petty and his wife Vi- played by the stern but endearing Eric Scott Anthony, and the comedic and affable Franca Vercelloni- is all it takes to skyrocket the Crickets into stardom. There’s trouble in paradise, however, as the Crickets part ways, and Buddy strikes out on his own, forming bonds with other unique artists, such as The Big Bopper (the charismatic and enthusiastic Jayson Elliott) and Ritchie Valens (the vibrant and gifted Diego Guevara).  The play acknowledges the tragic loss of these aforementioned stars, but chooses to focus more on the beauty and memory they left behind- ending in a spellbinding explosion of music and flair!

This show is indeed a celebration of a man who left his mark on the music industry, as well as in the hearts and minds of those who hear his voice.  Although Buddy Holly’s career only lasted a short while, he left the world with masterpieces of expression which truly transcend time. Not only do audience members have the pleasure of hearing Holly’s songs come alive on stage, but we are privy to the more intimate moments of his young life- the adaptation of his song “Cindy Lou” to “Peggy Sue” in order to rekindle a relationship between drummer Jerry Allison and his future wife after a brief breakup; or the fairy tale moment when Buddy sidles up to a beautiful young receptionist, Maria Elena (the captivating Lauren Cosio), and professes “I’m going to marry you”- and does!

This show is full of light, love, excitement, and celebration!  Act II itself becomes a concert in its final scene, and audience members rise to their feet for a standing ovation after truly astounding musical performances of “Shout,” “Chantilly Lace,” “La Bamba,” and “Johnny B. Goode,” only to have the show go on with a reprise of “Oh Boy” as we are on our feet- cementing that concert feel and offering a final moment to enjoy the celebration that this play is offering.  This show is all you hope it will be- and much more! The songs and lifelike performances will leave your head swimming and your heart full. Full of respect for a dynamo who left his mark on us all with a treasure trove of music which will continue to entertain and inspire for generations to come!

The Long Islander Review

You Gotta Love ‘Elf, The Musical’

November 29, 2018
By: Sophia Ricco

It’s certainly true that “the best way to spread holiday cheer, is to sing it loud for all to hear”, which is exactly what the cast of Elf: The Musical did.

The beloved holiday film hit the stage of the John W. Engeman Theater to the delight of kids of all ages. With catchy original songs, intricate choreography and many famous quotes from the movie, the musical could put anybody in the holiday spirit, including audience member, Michele Donaldson who came all the way from Connecticut for the performance.

“It was amazing,” Donaldson said. “I thought it was definitely full of Christmas cheer, something we all need nowadays.”

Based on the 2003 holiday hit movie, Elf starring Will Ferrell, the 2010 musical found major success on Broadway. It tells the story of Buddy the Elf, a human orphan boy who crawls into Santa’s bag and is taken back to the North Pole, where he is raised by the elves.

In search of his father, Buddy travels to New York City where he encounters a world without holiday cheer and a father who never knew he was born. His adventures in the city are comical and accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack. No one could deny there was something magical happening on stage during “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” “A Christmas Song” and “The Story of Buddy the Elf.”

“It was very good, I liked it,” audience member Peter Bono, of Northport, said. “They’re very talented people. It started off a little slow, but then as you got to know the cast it was great.”

This holiday production is directed by Matt Kunkel and choreographed by Mara Newbery Greer. The skilled cast didn’t miss a beat and performed sophiscated choreography that involved lifts, tap dancing and even ice skating. During the song, “Nobody Cares About Santa,” Santas of all kinds find camaraderie on Christmas Eve in a tap dancing number that makes you want to get out of your seat and dance along.

“I thought it was right on target. It was super fun and full of talent,” Donaldson said.

Buddy the Elf is played by Erik Gratton, the perfect fit for the jolly elf with a huge heart and little common sense. His rendition of Buddy, a character so many know and love from the original movie, is spot on.

There is no shortage of laughs during the production as Buddy makes his way around the city, bumbling around with a smile on his face the whole time.

“My favorite part was the whimsical nature of the show,” Donaldson said. “Just how nieve and happy Buddy was, I think we should all be that way.”

The rest of the cast were also sensational, and each had their moment in the spotlight.

Buddy’s love interest Jovie, played by Caitlin Gallogly, stole the show with her vocals in “Never Fall in Love”. The rest of Buddy’s family, Walter Hobbs, performed by Joe Gately, Emily Hobbs by Christianne Tisdale, and Michael Hobbs, by Zachary Podiar, each have their heartwarming moments that gave the show a touch of humanity.

Kidsday Review

Enchanted by ‘Elf the Musical’ on LI

November 24, 2018
By: Zumra Demiroglu, Charlie Henning, Esther Loring and Ian Loring

We saw the show “Elf the Musical” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. It was fantastic. This adaptation of “Elf” was written by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, but it is based on the film written by David Berenbaum. This show is running right in our hometown!

The atmosphere was ready for the holiday season with trees decorated with gleaming lights outside the theater. Before we arrived at our seats, we were treated to a delicious hot chocolate covered with either peppermint or extra chocolate. The stage design had beautiful, gigantic snowflakes along with a New York City skyline, which really got us in the mood for what was coming. As the curtain opened Santa was on his chair yelling at the television and cracking jokes.

“Elf the Musical” is about a boy named Buddy who thinks he is an elf. When he was a baby, he accidentally crawled into Santa’s sack and got carriedto the North Pole. As he grows up, he realizes that he isn’t like the other elves, so he goes to Santa for help. Santa tells him his story and gives him directions to find his father, who doesn’t know he exists, in New York City. The rest of this show is Buddy’s adventure finding his father and love, and adapting to society.

Throughout the play, Buddy, with Santa’s blessing, explores New York City in the search for his father. He finds his father working at the Empire State Building. Buddy and his father create a relationship and also find the true meaning of Christmas.

All the actors and their performances in this production were superb. We especially liked the actors who played Buddy (Erik Gratton) and Jovie, his girlfriend (Caitlin Gallogly) because we felt like they told the story well through their emotions and enthusiasm. We also loved how the lighting designer made the lights move and complement the show. We thought the scenery was beautiful.

We thoroughly enjoyed this production and would definitely recommend it. Although it is a Christmas story, we think it is still entertaining and good for all people. Even though there were some jokes and references intended for adults, it was still an engaging and appropriate story for little kids. We rate this show a perfect 5.

The musical is running through Dec.. For information visit engemantheater.com

The Observer Review

Santa’s Elf Buddy on Northport stage

November 22, 2018
By: David Ambro

Gather up the children and get them to the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport.

The Engeman just opened its holiday show, Elf the Musical, which runs through December 30, and it is terrific.

Erik Gratton, as Buddy, provides a delightfully uplifting rendition of the Elf we have come to love from the movie starring Will Ferrell, right down to a big sip of maple syrup right out of the bottle after a big squeeze onto the pasta he’s eating for breakfast. Mr. Gratton can sing and he can dance, but he also brings heart to Buddy at the Engeman, delivering punch lines and facial expressions that evoke uproarious laughter.

Elf at the Engeman, set in a snow globe, accompanied by a live orchestra, narrated by Gordon Gray, as Santa Claus, a familiar role for him, is a fun-filled journey from the magical Christmastown in the North Pole to the busy streets of New York City, where buddy finds his father Walter Hobbs, played by Joe Gately, an executive at a book publishing company where he has lost his spirit for the holidays and for his family, which has him on Santa’s “naughty list.”

It works.

Mr. Gratton is surrounded by a talented cast of characters. Buddy’s brother Michael, played by 12-year-old Zachary Podair, already a veteran on the Engeman stage, and his mother Emily, played by Christianne Tisdale, are a wonderful supporting cast. Their duets, “I’ll Believe in You” in Act I and “There is a Santa Claus” in Act II, are highlights of a show that just keeps getting better and better with each scene.

Walter Hobbs doesn’t believe Buddy is his son, and has him thrown out of his office in the Empire State Building, landing him in the Santa photo display at the world famous Macy’s Department Store. There, Buddy comes in contact and then in conflict with the store manager, played perfectly in the movie image by Randy Donaldson.

It is also at Macy’s where Buddy meets the girl of his dreams, Jovie, played by Caitlin Gallogly. Although a bit off for an Elf, the relationship evolves typically, a simple boy-meets-girl, a first date, a kiss, etc. But, when Jovie is stood up by Buddy at Tavern on the Green in Central Park, Ms. Gallogly’s star shines in “Never Fall in Love with an Elf,” a voice of beauty that accents the Engeman mantra of bringing Broadway to Main Street.

Elf at the Engeman draws out the Christmas spirit in everyone, enough so that by the end, Santa’s sleigh flies off into the night sky. It is a wonderful holiday production not to be missed.

Tickets may be purchased by calling the theater at 631-261-2900, online at engemantheater.com, or at the theater box office, 250 Main Street in Northport Village.

Elf the Musical is produced by Richard Dolce, the Engeman Theater’s Producing Artistic Director. “We always try to tell our stories so people care about the characters,” Mr. Dolce said during an interview after the press night opening of Elf Saturday, November 17. “We want audiences to care about the journey, no matter what it is, whether it’s Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, whether it’s Jack Kelly in Newsies, or whether it’s Buddy the Elf, we just try to tell the story so that you care about it. So, that by the end of the play you care about who they are and what they’ve gone through. Hopefully we’ve pulled it off again.

Mr. Dolce said Jovie’s number “Never Fall in Love with an Elf” is one of his favorites. “What I love about her is that she is this tiny little person and then she comes out in that number and has this amazing voice,” he said.

Other favorites are “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” although he didn’t say it exactly right, by Buddy and the company, “because it is the first big production number.” He also said one of his favorites is “Nobody Cares about Santa Claus,” “because it is a good tap number and a great way to start Act II.

Mr. Dolce said staging Elf has been challenging, especially because it is a blockbuster that has become so popular as a result of the Will Ferrell rendition in the movie.

“It’s difficult. I don’t envy the writers when they are tasked with taking a beloved movie and turning it into a musical. It’s difficult. But, I think they did a great job. I think this works really well, and I think the director, the choreographer and the musical director did a fantastic job with our production,” Mr. Dolce said. “It’s always tough because people come in knowing the movie. It’s the same with A Christmas Story. People know the movie so well. We don’t write it, so we have to work with the material that the Broadway playwrights came up with. So the intention is to try to give as much of the sentiment of the movie as possible.”

With Will Ferrell unavailable to play Buddy at the Engeman, Mr. Dolce said Mr. Gratton is great for the part. “He brings his own honesty and goofiness to it. And we try to make people feel and remember what they knew from the movie with the musical, so that is the challenge every time,” he said.

“This is one of the first holiday shows that we have done that is modern. We have done Miracle on 34th Street, we have done It’s a Wonderful LifeA Christmas Carol and even A Christmas Story is a little bit older. So, this is one of the first ones that we have been able to do that is a little more modern,” Mr. Dolce said. “It’s a different sensibility. I think it definitely hits my generation – the 40s to 60s who grew up with the Will Ferrell movie Elf. So it is nice to be able to do a holiday show that hits the people who grew up with that movie, as opposed to It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, which were a while ago.”

 

Newsday Review

Santa’s little helper spreads plenty of Christmas cheer

November 20, 2018
By Barbara Schuler

Precipitation is falling at the John W. Engeman Theater again, only instead of the impressive deluge of May’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” we get a paper-shredder blizzard in the happy holiday romp “Elf the Musical.”

The Northport theater welcomes the season with this family-friendly adaptation by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin of the hit 2003 movie starring Will Ferrell. Here the lovable, galumphing elf Buddy is played by Erik Gratton, who couldn’t be more comfortable in the role, having done it last year at Madison Square Garden. Buddy towers over the other elves and his toymaking skills are woefully lacking — no surprise since he’s really a human orphan who climbed into Santa’s sack one Christmas and ended up being raised at the North Pole.

Santa (the delightfully jolly Gordon Gray, who also serves as narrator) spills the beans, revealing to Buddy that his publishing executive father, unaware he had a child, is on the naughty list because he’s lost the Christmas spirit. Needless to say, Buddy sets off to New York to do what elves do — fix things.

It’s a corny, predictable story with a first act that could stand tightening, but the infectious performances win out under the direction of Matt Kunkel. Gratton is perfect as Buddy, an adorable klutz who mixes childlike wonder with worldly wisdom. Wandering the city, he ends up at Macy’s, where he meets his future wife, Jovie (Caitlin Gallogly), before finally connecting with his family — dad Walter Hobbs (Joe Gately), a stressed-out workaholic with little time for his wife, Emily (Christianne Tisdale), and son Michael (Zachary Podair).

The ensemble gets quite a workout in the show, especially when, as elves, they are required to perform Mara Newbery Greer’s lighthearted choreography on their knees. Ouch! But the best number was the tap-dancing chorus line of fake Santas, in an eclectic mix of red outfits (love the Santa camouflage) by costume designer Leon Dobkowski. The charming set by Nate Bertone adds to the merriment.

In general, the music by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin is generic and not especially memorable, though Gallogly manages to turn “Never Fall in Love (With an Elf)” into a sizzling torch song, and the Macy’s staff’s “Sparklejollytwinklejingley ” is a lot more fun than beleaguered seasonal workers normally display. Needless to say, holiday spirit is restored in time for the finale — as Buddy brings his family together, the cast joyfully proclaims the best way to spread Christmas cheer is “singing loud for all to hear.”

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

‘Elf’ at the Engeman is full of laughs and Christmas cheer

November 20, 2018
By Melissa Arnold

Whether you’ve been playing carols for weeks or are just now contemplating putting up the tree, the end of Thanksgiving signals the official arrival of the holiday season. If this is the most wonderful time of the year in your house, there’s no better way to enjoy it than by catching “Elf`The Musical” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.

Based on the beloved 2003 film starring Will Ferrell, “Elf” tells the story of a little boy who crawls into Santa’s gift bag and ends up at the North Pole. Raised as an elf, the ever-growing Buddy has no idea he’s really human, even though he’s a terrible toymaker. When Buddy learns the truth about his identity, he sets out on a journey to New York City to reconnect with his roots and find his family.

Insulated by the always cheery atmosphere of Christmastown, it’s an understatement to say Buddy faces culture shock upon arriving in the Big Apple. But it will take a lot to keep Buddy from spreading Christmas cheer, especially to the person that needs it most: his Scrooge-y father.

“Elf” made its Broadway debut in 2010 with book by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan and music by Michael Sklar and Chad Beguelin. Devoted fans of the film will appreciate the show’s faithfulness to the original script, including Buddy’s classic one-liners that make it so iconic. The musical numbers aren’t especially memorable and feel unnecessary at points, but they do open up the opportunity for some great dance routines.

The production begins with Santa (Gordon Gray) inviting the audience to join him as he reads the story of Buddy the Elf. There’s something so fun about these moments that allow actors to interact with the crowd and draw viewers in. And the little details in Santa’s scenes (his oversized chair with a bag of Doritos and the remote control stuffed in the cushion) feel genuine and cozy. Gray’s portrayal of Santa is effortless, funny and truly believable — his belly laughs will make you wonder if he’s the real deal.

Erik Gratton is no stranger to the role of Buddy. He also starred in the national tour of “Elf” and last year’s Madison Square Garden production. While it’s hard to shake off the image of Will Ferrell in that famous green hat, Gratton leaves it all on the stage with tons of energy and all the zany enthusiasm Buddy deserves. His first experience and subsequent obsession with a paper shredder will have you in stitches. It’s also worth noting that he approaches the show’s rare emotional moments with surprising tenderness. Gratton will break your heart at the end of the first act during “World’s Greatest Dad (Reprise).”

After fantasizing endlessly about what life with his dad will be like, Buddy meets his overworked, agitated publisher father, Walter Hobbs (Joe Gately). Tension rolls off Gately in waves, and when Hobbs loses his temper, Gately fills the theater with powerful, roaring tirades. He’s a wonderful foil to Christianne Tisdale and Zachary Podair, who play Hobbs’s wife Emily and young son Michael. Tisdale and Podair have great chemistry as mother and son, and their duets in “I’ll Believe in You” and “There Is a Santa Claus” were personal favorites.

Of course, Buddy’s life is further turned upside down when he finds himself smitten with a beautiful, yet world-weary Macy’s employee, Jovie (Caitlin Gallogly). Gallogly is delightfully edgy and jaded for the majority of the show, making her character’s eventual thawing that much more enjoyable. She also has one of the strongest voices in the cast, and her vocals in “A Christmas Song” and “Never Fall in Love With an Elf” are a treat for the ears.

The ensemble in “Elf” has several different roles to play, from elves in Santa’s workshop to retail employees and bitter mall Santas. They deserve major props for their elf scenes — since elves are tiny, the actors perform on their knees. It’s no small feat to sing and dance to “Christmastown” from that position!

Choreographer Mara Newbery Greer and associate choreographer Tiger Brown are to be applauded for their hard work with the cast. The intense tap dancing in “Nobody Cares About Santa” is another impressive surprise.

Set designer Nate Bertone creates a whimsical backdrop for the show, grounded by huge arches covered in snowflakes. The giant logos for Macy’s and Greenway Press are eye-catching, as are the creative use of props and background silhouettes to show scene changes in real time. While musical director Charlie Reuter and the small orchestra are tucked out of sight in the pit, they provide the perfect, almost cartoonish, accompaniment to this silly show.

All told, director Matt Kunkel has led the Engeman’s cast of “Elf” in a production that’s loads of fun for the whole family — a perfect fit for the holiday season.

A note on content: “Elf” does contain some brief mild language and lighthearted innuendo that most children won’t notice. The show is generally appropriate for all ages.

If you have some extra money to spare, consider making a donation after the show to the Ecumenical Lay Council Food Pantry, which supports more than 150 local families each week. Cast members will collect donations as you leave. For more information, call 631- 261-4357.

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!

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.

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