Broadway World Review: The Engeman’s 1776

Broadway World

Melissa Giordano

September 28, 2016

 

In seeing the Tony winning Sherman Edwards/Peter Stone musical 1776, we get an interesting account of the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration Of Independence. It is actually uncanny – and kind of funny – how this story still resonates today; petty arguing amongst congress and how divided “leaders” can be are emphasized in this production. Obviously we’ve come far since then but, at the same time, it seems not far at all.

Running through November 6th at Northport’s dazzling John W. Engeman Theater, the largeIgor Goldin directed cast is headed up strongly by Broadway vet Jamie LaVerdiere excellently portraying John Adams. The tale centers on Adams’ efforts to convince his colleagues in Congress that the thirteen colonies should declare independence. This proves to be a challenging fete as his reputation as a nuisance – to say the least – precedes him; for the first number of the show, the cast sings to him “For God’s Sake, John, Sit Down”.

The entire cast is truly extraordinary. Highlights include David Studwell who makes a wonderfulBenjamin Franklin and Michael Glavan who is superb as Thomas Jefferson. Additionally, an audience favorite is indeed a charming Jon Reinhold as Richard Henry Lee who gives a spirited performance of “The Lee’s Of Old Virginia”. And Jennifer Hope Wills, another Broadway alum portraying supportive wife AbiGail Adams, gives a stunning performance of “Yours, Yours, Yours” with Mr. LaVerdiere. And special kudos to Matthew Rafanelli, portraying the Courier, whose rendition of “Momma Look Sharp” leaves the audience in tears.

As for Mr. Goldin’s top-notch creative team, Stephen Dobay‘s set is outstanding. Majestic Greenish/Greyish walls encompass the stage with several tables for each delegation. The President Of Congress, John Handcock portrayed by Tom Lucca, presides on an elevated platform and above him is a tall board which indicates how each delegation has voted. This is enhanced cleverly by Cory Pattak‘s lighting design and Kurt Alger’s costumes.

And so, 1776 is indeed another hit for the John W. Engeman Theatre’s electrifying 10th season. A stellar, Broadway caliber cast and fascinating story make for a wonderful night of theatre.

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1776 is presented by the John W. Engeman Theatre of Northport, Long Island, through November 6th. For more information and to purchase tickets, please call (631) 261-2900or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Score by Sherman Edwards, Book by Peter Stone, Directed by Igor Goldin (Off-Broadway:YANK!, With Glee, A Ritual of Faith, Jane Austen‘s Pride and Prejudice, Crossing Swords), Musical Direction by Eric Alsford (National Tours: Nunsense, Mamma Mia!, Off-Broadway:That’s Life, I Love You You’re Perfect…, Naked Boys Singing.), Scenic Design by Stephen Dobay, Costume & Wig Design by Kurt Alger, Lighting Design by Cory Pattak, Sound Design by Laura Shubert, Casting by Gayle Seay & Scott Wojcik of Wojcik/Seay Casting, Props Design byKristie Moschetta, Stage Management by Sean Francis Patrick

Starring Jamie LaVerdiere (Broadway: The Producers, The Pirate Queen, Motown), David Studwell (Off Broadway: Applause! NY City Center Encores!), Michael Glavan, Benjamin Howes(Broadway: Scandalous, Mary Poppins), Tom Lucca, Jon Reinhold, Peter Saide, Jennifer Hope Wills (Broadway: Phantom of the Opera, Wonderful Town, The Woman in White, Beauty and the Beast), Robert Budnick, Jim DiMunno, Christopher Wynne Duffy, Gordon Gray, Andrew Hendrick, Kevin Robert Kelly, Philip Paul Kelly, Leer Leary, Rick Malone, Adriana Milbrath, Wayne J. Miller, Jake Mills, Adam Mosebach, Matthew Rafanelli, James D. Schultz, Stephen Valenti, and Doug Vandewinkel.

 

Read online: www.broadwayworld.com/long-island/article/BWW-Review-The-Engemans-1776

Newsday review: Election year gives more spirit to ’69 Tony winner

Newsday

September 27, 2016

Steve Parks

 

I once admired “1776” because it dared to be dull. Faint praise from a boomer who resented the Founding Fathers musical because A) it won the Tony over “Hair” and B) it was Richard Nixon’s favorite.

Nearly a half-century later, I’ve gotten over my snit with the “1776” creators — music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards, book by Peter Stone. I can’t remember how the line went down in 1969, when the show opened on Broadway. Nor could I possibly know how it might’ve played during the impending independence of these United States. But it sure was a hoot when, at the top of the show on opening night at the Engeman Theater, John Adams declares, “One useless man is a disgrace, two are called a law firm and three or more become a Congress.”

Perhaps it’s because it’s a presidential election year. But for once I didn’t notice the parched stretches of speechifying necessary to convey that this Continental Congress was useless until a tragic compromise was reached. That New York abstains throughout due to legislative impotence gets knowing laughs.

So let’s hear it for Jamie LaVerdiere as “obnoxious and disliked” John Adams. If he wasn’t such a persistent pain in sweltering Philadelphia, perhaps we’d be talking about Brexiting today instead of electing our 45th president. LaVerdiere projects a political passion we’d love to see from our current candidates. Speaking of passion, it’s a “1776” conceit that the Declaration of Independence might’ve gone unwritten but for Martha Jefferson’s conjugal visit. The reunion between Michael Glavan as robust Tom and Adriana Milbrath as ripe Martha is so get-a-room suggestive, you’ll want to book one for them.

Not to be outdone, John pines for Abigail in the most passionate song ever written about saltpeter — to suppress the sexual urges of George Washington’s volunteers — while David Studwell’s Ben Franklin and Benjamin Howes’ John Dickinson bookend Pennsylvania’s tyranny-vs.-Tory debate.

Inspiring moments spring from battlefield courier (Matthew Rafanelli) in his moving “Momma Look Sharp,” reminding us there’s a war going on, and “Molasses to Rum,” a perverse defense of slavery by South Carolinian Edward Rutledge (Peter Saide).

Director Igor Goldin propels the 2 1⁄2-hour narrative forward on the 18th-century set by Stephen Dobay, accessorized by Kurt Alger’s costumes/wigs and accompanied dutifully by Eric Alsford’s orchestra.
We get that the signers risked hanging separately if they didn’t hang together.

 

Read online: www.newsday.com/entertainment/theater/1776-review-election-year-gives-more-spirit-to-69-tony-winner

DC Metro Theater Arts Review: ‘1776’ at The John W. Engeman Theater

DC Metro Theater Arts

September 26, 2016

Kristen Weyer

 

This year marks the 240th anniversary of the formation of our country, and what better way to experience a taste of this magnificent history than with the musical 1776 now playing at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport. With a book by Peter Stone, and music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards, this Tony Award winner for Best Musical is directed by Igor Goldin, with assistance from Trey Compton.

1776 takes place in Philadelphia over a three month period. It follows the struggles of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson in their efforts to convince the rest of the Continental Congress members to vote for independence.

John Adams is frustrated. His colleagues don’t seem to grasp the severity of the situation. For over a year they have avoided any decisive action, and many of the delegates vehemently oppose the entire topic. How can he spur them past their doubt and fear into action? With the help of Thomas Jefferson’s eloquence and Benjamin Franklin’s deviousness and ingenuity, Adams forefronts the movement to secede from Great Britain’s tyranny.  What else is a revolutionary to do?

This production of 1776 is exceedingly well done. The entire cast is fantastic, melding together into a believably cohesive unit. They convincingly depict the frustrations and vexations of their characters, while vividly portraying the sweltering conditions of the Pennsylvanian summer. Wonderful singing abounds, and blend together in excellent harmony, notably in “Sit Down, John.”

Jamie LaVerdiere is superb as John Adams. With his crisp and clear vocals in “Sit Down, John” and “Piddle, Twiddle,” combined with his unflagging enthusiasm and energy, LaVerdiere brings Adams strikingly to life. From incredulous and exasperated, to tender and romantic, his believable emotional range was a a great asset to the production.

The wonderful chemistry between LaVerdiere and Jennifer Hope Wills, as Abigail Adams, created a touching and intimate portrayal of the Adams’ strong relationship. Wills’ beautiful singing was a pleasure to listen to, especially in “Yours, Yours, Yours”.

David Studwell was brilliant as Benjamin Franklin.His impeccable comedic timing adds a lightheartedness to what is, predominantly, a serious plotline.

Jon Reinhold is also amusing in his role as Richard Henry Lee, the gregarious and confident Virginian. His delivery of “The Lees of Old Virginia” was quite moving.

Michael Glavan gives a marvelous performance as the taciturn Thomas Jefferson. His quiet strength and communicative facial expressions give silent insight into his character’s complexities. Adriana Milbrath is charming as Jefferson’s wife, Martha. Her strong, lovely vocals ring out in “He Plays the Violin.”

Peter Saide’s outstanding portrayal of South Carolina Delegate, Edward Rutledge, was very impressive. He exudes aristocratic elegance with manner and expression, while delivering an exemplary Southern drawl.  His sensational performance of the tenebrous “Molasses to Rum” was chill-inducing.

Benjamin Howes was splendid as Adams’ main nemesis, John Dickinson.  His eloquent rebuttals of, and heartfelt objections to declaring independence, clearly outline the momentous gravity of Congress’ decision.

Convincing performances were also delivered by both Tom Lucca as the exhausted Congress President John Hancock, and James D. Schultz as the conflicted Georgian Dr. Lyman Hall. Leer Leary impressed with a fantastic brogue as Col. Thomas McKean, while Matthew Rafanelli stole the entire scene with his haunting and emotional rendition of the showstopper “Momma Look Sharp.”

Not only is the acting fabulous, but the designers also shine.  Scenic Designer Stephen Dobay has created a stately and impressive Congressional Hall, complete with crown molding and wainscoting.  This was ably aided by Cory Pattak’s lighting design, with tantalizing effects of shadow and relief. Sound design by Laura Shubert bolstered the entire show, especially in “Molasses to Rum.”

Magnificent historical costumes from Costume and Wig Designer Kurt Alger range from humble cottons and simple colors, for the practical New Englanders, to silk and brocade, for the aristocratic Southerners. The band, under the musical direction of Eric Alsford, does credit to this beloved score, with the addition of fife and drums, which add just the right touch of historic authenticity.

1776 is a brief glimpse into the tumultuous and historic past of our nation’s birth. With wonderful music, and diverse characters, this theatrical page of history is educational and entertaining. Very well-executed, the John W. Engeman Theater’s production of 1776 is “certain-Lee” not to be missed.

Read online: www.dcmetrotheaterarts.com/review-1776-john-w-engeman-theater-northport-ny/

NY Times Review: Dancing in the Aisles to ‘Mamma Mia!’ in Northport

New York Times

Aileen Jacobson

August 19, 2016

 

Catchy tunes and a clever plot helped make “Mamma Mia!” a 14-year-long hit on Broadway, and those qualities continue to provide buoyancy for the production at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport.

The musical’s construction is smart, too: It begins with a lively overture previewing some of the familiar tunes by the Swedish pop group Abba that fill the show, and it ends with curtain-call reprises of two of the bounciest songs, the title number and “Dancing Queen,” along with a bonus song, “Waterloo,” that Catherine Johnson, the resourceful book writer, somehow was unable to squeeze into her plot. She did, however, manage to find ways to integrate, with few or no changes in the lyrics, more than 20 other songs by the Abba writing team, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (with some help from Stig Anderson). The musical closed on Broadway only a year ago, after spawning multiple productions and tours all over the world.

Since the actors encourage an audience singalong and group dance party during the choreographed curtain call — some performers even run into the aisles — the show ends on an intensive upbeat note.

The Engeman production needs that forgiving finale. It suffers from different styles and levels of acting skills, though it retains a fluffy, feel-good energy. Antoinette DiPietropolo, the director and choreographer, is better at moving cast members around in lively steps (and allowing the excellent dancers among them to show off) than she is at reining in the less seasoned actors, whose exaggerated facial expressions sometimes veered into cartoon territory.

The production’s greatest strengths are its leading actors. Hannah Slabaugh, who plays the 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan — who is about to get married and desires to meet the father she never knew — calls to mind a young Laura Benanti, with her fresh look and spunky-but-wise-beyond-her-years spirit. She also has a lovely voice, noticeable from the start in “I Have a Dream,” a soft ballad that begins and ends the plotted part of the musical.

Sophie has grown up on a small Greek island where her single mother, Donna, runs a taverna. After finding her mother’s diary from some nine months before her birth, Sophie discovers that her father could be one of three men, though none would be aware of her existence. Pretending to be her mother, Sophie sends wedding invitations to all three men, certain she’ll be able to determine which one is her dad. They all accept and show up, which is not a welcome surprise for either Donna or Sophie’s fiancé, Sky (Jacob Dickey).

To the role of Donna, the former star of a disco-era girl group called Donna and the Dynamos, Michelle Dawson brings a knockout voice and an aura of maturity and gravity. Ms. Dawson knows the part well — she was an understudy for it on Broadway and played Donna during the national tour. She suffuses her numbers with deep emotions, particularly in her high-voltage “The Winner Takes It All,” when Donna feels she has lost her chance at happiness.

The men playing the possible fathers (Frank Vlastnik, Jeff Williams and Sean Hayden, each personable and distinctive) are less intense, but like Ms. Dawson are adept at keeping their roles within an acceptable realm of realism. As are the two women who play the Dynamos, with Heather Patterson King as the glossy, still-svelte Tanya and Robin Lounsbury as the more down-to-earth Rosie. When they enter, trailing remnants of their glamorous but eccentric pasts, they look a little like Edina and Patsy from the BBC television comedy and recent movie “Absolutely Fabulous.” When they, along with Donna, dress up in their tight, silver Dynamos outfits, they all look like shiny refugees from a “Star Trek” movie, thanks to Tristan Raines’s amusing costume designs.

Earlier, in their everyday clothes (Donna’s include ripped jeans, because she does a lot of repair work on her property), the three women reminisce about their former glory with an impromptu performance of “Dancing Queen,” each grabbing a shoe, a hairbrush or a flashlight to use as a make-believe microphone.

Very few numbers remain as a solo, duet or trio. In many scenes, a supporting chorus of singers and dancers soon pops up, which works well for a jukebox musical like this one. The band, under James Olmstead’s musical direction, provides a driving rhythmic support. DT Willis’s set, dramatically lighted by Adam Honore, is a low-key but pleasing element, with evocative silhouettes in the first and last scenes that enhance the fable-like tone of the musical.

The most troubled relationship is that between Donna and Sam (Mr. Hayden), while the most heartwarming is the one that develops between Rosie and the adventurous Australian, Bill (Mr. Williams), to the tune of “Take a Chance on Me.”

Two of the lines from that song are “But I think you know, that I can’t let go,” which is something nearly all the lyrics could be saying. These classic tunes are earworms — so watch out. Even reading or saying the titles may embed them, once again, in your psyche.

Read online: www.nytimes.com/theater-review-mamma-mia-in-northport.html

Village Tattler Review: Thank You for the Music of Mamma Mia!

The Village Tattler

Claudia D. Wheeler

August 4, 2016

 

The perfect summer musical is already engaging audiences at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater, now through September 11, 2016. Mamma Mia! takes it all and gives it all–another successful production with an enormously talented cast led by the amazing director and choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo, who returns to Engeman after successful choreography of Memphis, Miracle on 34th Street, The Producers, A Christmas Story, Evita!, The Music Man, South Pacific, Hairspray, I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change, and NunsenseMamma Mia! is produced by Richard T. Dolce, the Engeman Theater’s Producing Artistic Director.

The band in this musical is such a key to its success showcasing the pop songs of ABBA, and Engeman’s band knocks it out of the theater with Alexander Rovang as Conductor and Keyboard; Anthony Brindisi on Keyboard 2; Douglas Baldwin on guitars; Russ Brown on bass; and Josh Endlich on drums.

Tickets are going fast and shows have been added to meet the demand (seewww.EngemanTheater.com for the full schedule). Performances are on Thursdays at 8:00pm, Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 3:00pm and 8:00pm, and Sundays at 2:00. Some Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday evenings are available. Tickets are $76 on Saturday evenings, $71 all other performances and may be purchased by calling (631) 261-2900, going online atwww.EngemanTheater.com, or by visiting the Engeman Theater Box Office at 250 Main Street, Northport.

This Tony Award-nominated musical was written by British playwright Catherine Johnson, and is based on the songs of the Swedish pop group ABBA. Music was composed by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, former members of the band ABBA, who were involved with the production from the start. The show premiered on London’s West End in 1999, making its way to its Broadway premiere in 2001, where it ran for 14 years (most of that run at the Winter Garden Theater).

Memorable hit songs include “The Winner Takes It All,” “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Thank You for the Music,” and “Voulez-Vous,” among others.

The cast of Mamma Mia! features the incredible Michelle Dawson who plays the lead Donna Sheridan and played the same part in Mamma Mia! on Broadway. Her acting is spot on and she plays the role seamlessly. Having seen the Broadway version of the musical about 4 years ago, I was impressed with Engeman’s version. Other Broadway credits for Dawson include Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, Ragtime, Showboat, & Cyrano.

 The show centers around a plot that unfolds on a Greek island paradise (kudos to the creative team that includes DT Willis for the amazing scenic design). Donna’s daughter  Sophie is about to get married and is on a quest to discover the identity of her father (all of Act 1 is the day before the wedding); Act 2 takes place the day of the wedding.

The trio of possible fathers are invited to the wedding by bride-to-be Sophie. They return to the island they first visited 21 years before when they met Donna.

Bride-to-be Sophie Sheridan is played by Hannah Slabaugh who makes her Engeman debut in Mamma Mia! Her credits include the National Tour of Annie; Regional Theater: Les Miserables (Eponine), Next to Normal (Natalie). Her groom-to-be is Jacob Dickey whose credits include Regional: The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Theatre Raleigh), Mamma Mia! (Royal Caribbean), Next to Normal(Charleston Stage).

Sophie’s possible dads are played, at times hilariously, by the three actors Sean Hayden, Jeff Williams, and Frank Vlastnik, who are all Donna’s boyfriends from 21 years before. Hayden is Sam Carmichael (Broadway national tours: Lincoln Centers The Light in the Piazza and Mamma Mia! Off Broadway: Confidentially, Cole; Williams is Bill Austin (Broadway/National Tour: The Music Man, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Pirate Queen, A Christmas Carol, The Will Rogers Follies,Me and My Girl); and Vlastnik as Harry Bright (Engeman Theater: The Sunshine Boys; Broadway: A Year with Frog and Toad, Sweet Smell of Success, Big. Off-Broadway: Sondheim’s Saturday Night).

Notable performances are made by both of Donna’s girlfriends Tanya and Rosie. Heather Patterson King, who delights the audience in her role as Tanya, is a long-time friend of Donna’s who returns to the island for the wedding. King’s credits include Regional and NY: Oliver, Fiddler on the Roof, The Wizard of Oz. The character of Rosie is performed by Robin Lounsbury, whose credits include Regional: Fulton Theatre, Barrington Stage, Paper Mill Playhouse, North Shore Music Theatre.

The cast also includes: Lydia Ruth Dawson, Joey Dippel, Jay Gamboa, Christopher Hlinka, Stephanie Israelson, Yurina Kutsukake, Darius Jordan Lee, Suzanne Mason, Edward Miskie, Anjuli Regnier, Avery Royal, and Jennifer Seifter.

The creative team includes DT Willis for scenic design, Tristan Raines for costume design, Adam Honore for lighting design, Adam Shubert for sound design, Gayle Seay and Scott Wojcik as casting directors, Wojcik/Seay Casting, Kristie Moschetta for props design, Denise Wilcox as production/stage manager, and Megan E. Coutts as assistant stage manager.

Read online: www.villagetattler.com/thank-music-mamma-mia/

Long Island Press Review: Mamma Mia! Hit Musical Debuts at Northport’s Engeman Theater

Long Island Press

August 2, 2016

Elise Pearlman

Mamma Mia!, the Broadway smash hit musical showcasing the high-energy songs of pop superstars ABBA, recently began its East Coast regional debut at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport.

It is said that the musical, which has played to international audiences and had a record 14-year run on Broadway, often inspired dancing in the aisles. Well, the Engeman production was so sensational that if the historic theater had wider aisles, dancing would have prevailed. Following a thunderous standing ovation, the cast treated the audience to a finale reprising the show’s hottest numbers. As theatergoers clapped, sang along and danced in place, the actors broke the fourth wall and streamed off the stage, performing throughout the theater and heightening the excitement.

If you can only see one show this summer, it must be Mamma Mia!

The story unfolds in a taverna perched high on a sun-kissed Greek island adrift in the Aegean Sea. The owner of this little piece of paradise is single mom Donna Sheridan, who’s finishing up last-minute details in preparation for the wedding of her 20-year-old daughter, Sophie. There’s quite the emotional conundrum casting a shadow on the festivities.

Donna was never sure who Sophie’s father was because she sowed some wild oats with three guys around the time that Sophie was conceived. Sophie unearths her mother’s diary, which contains intimate details about the possible identity of her father. It’s her dream to have him walk her down the aisle, so unbeknownst to her mother, Sophie has invited her three could-be fathers to the wedding. The past will collide with the present in the funniest way possible when this trio of unexpected guestswhom Donna has not seen in 21 yearsarrives.

How did the songs of the wildly popular Swedish pop music group that reigned for 10 years between the early 1970s and ’80s come to be the basis for a global smash hit?

In the early ’80s, award-winning British theatrical producer Judy Craymer serendipitously met ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson when they were working with Tim Rice on the musical, Chess. After hearing “The Winner Takes It All,” Craymar conceived of ABBA’s songs as a framework for a theatrical production. The songwriters themselves were not totally convinced of the viability of such a project.

It was a long time in the making, but in ’97, Catherine Johnson was commissioned to pen the book. The show opened in ’99 in London. It has been reported that Craymar reaped more than $100 million from her stroke of genius, and Mamma Mia! mania continues to this day. Now it’s reached Northport.

Mamma Mia! is one of the most captivating and exhilarating productions to ever grace the Engeman stage. The cast, the direction, choreography, the set and the music are simply superlative.

The performance of Michelle Dawson (Donna) is informed by a complete understanding of each of the adult female characters. She has played all of them between the Broadway National Tour and as an understudy on Broadway. Dawson shines as the strong woman who pulled herself up by her bootstraps while nursing a bruised heart. She bares her soul in the gut-wrenching song, “The Winner Takes It All,” and renders it beautifully.

Hannah Slabaugh, who boasts a plethora of national and regional tour credits, embodies the youthful exuberance that defines Sophie Sheridan. She has incredible stage presence and the mellifluous voice of an angel. From her first song, “I Have A Dream,” you’ll be smitten.  Jacob Dickey, plays Sky, her fiancé, and you’ll feel their chemistry in their duet, “Lay All Your Love on Me.”

As the story goes, Donna was once part of an all-girl band, “Donna and the Dynamos.” Donna’s singing sidekicks, Rosie and Tanya, are played to perfection by Robin Lounsbury and Heather Patterson King, respectively. Ms. King, who has played the character in Mamma Mia International RCI is hilarious as the thrice-married femme fatale who has some very humorous, off-color moments in “Does Your Mother Know?” with a flirtatious younger man, Pepper (Christopher Hlinka). Ms. Lounsbury similarly tickles the audience’s funny bone to the max in her duet with Bill (Jeff Williams).

All of Donna’s former lovers have pursued different paths in life, and a large portion of the plot has the audience guessing about Sophie’s paternity. Sam (Sean Hayden, who played the character in the Broadway National Tour), who jotted the design of the taverna on a napkin during his time with Donna, became an architect. His tender, caring side comes to the fore in the bittersweet solo, “Knowing Me, Knowing You.”

Similarly, Harry (Frank Vlastnik), now a banker, shines in the reminiscent duet, “Our Last Summer.” In contrast, Bill (Jeff Williams), an Australian journalist, shows off his comedic chops when Rosie puts some aggressive moves on him in “Take A Chance On Me.”

Scenic designer DT Willis’ visually appealing set resonates with the blues and turquoises of the Aegean Sea. An oversized circular portal provides an enchanting view of the waters below the hilltop taverna. The circular theme and the Mediterranean colors are echoed in the floor design.

Further visual unification is supplied by the charming blue distressed interior doors. Adam Honoré’s glorious lighting further enhances the beauty of the set. The silhouetting of characters against the circular portal is an outstanding touch.

I first met Antoinette DiPietropolo when she directed and choreographed another one of my favorite shows at the Engeman, Nunsense. Her direction and choreography is flawless, and she brings the same sense of fun that she brought to Nunsense toMamma Mia! I particularly enjoyed the choreography and wild abandon of the seductive “Voulez-Vous,” as well as “Does Your Mother Know?”

The hits keep coming, so I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite song, but, of course, the title song, “Mamma Mia,” when a conflicted Donna experiences an emotional thunderbolt as she sees her lost love again, is a standout.

Music is what has made Mamma Mia! a sensation. The extraordinarily talented James Olmstead, who has been at the helm for Engeman’s best-loved musicals, is once again the musical director. Known for his expertise in maximizing the sound of the pit band, and his skillful re-orchestration, he is at the top of his game, and it shows, big time.

Expect to be wowed by the colorful costumes designed by Tristan Raines. I absolutely loved the form-fitting silver ensembles worn by Donna and her gal pals in “Super Trouper.” The fringed vest and granny glasses seen in “The Dancing Queen” will trigger a wave of nostalgia.

Mamma Mia! runs through Sept. 11. Theatergoers are urged to purchase tickets early as high demand has already prompted the addition of extra performances, and this show might very well sell out. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, by calling 631-261-2900 or visiting www.engemantheater.com The John W. Engeman Theater is located at 250 Main St., Northport.

Read online: www.longislandpress.com/mamma-mia-hit-musical-debuts-at-northports-engeman-theater

The Observer: A night at the Engeman/Mamma Mia! in review

The Observer

July 28, 2016

David Ambro

 

Now that Mamma Mia! has ended its Broadway run and the script is available for regional theater the test will be the music. Get the music right and you have a good Mamma Mia!

In its production of Mamma Mia! that opened at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, they got the music right.

This is one of those must sees, an Engeman best.

They bound through the plot with great ease, and it’s a good one. A single mother, Donna Sheridan played by Michelle Dawson, runs a hotel on a tiny Greek island. Her 21-year-old daughter, Sophie played by Hannah Slabaugh, is getting married the next day.

Sophie doesn’t know who her father is, but she longs to know. She finds her mother’s diary, reads about relationships she had 21 years ago with three different men, Sam Carmichael played by Sean Hayden, Bill Austin played by Jeff Williams and Harry Bright played by Frank Vlastnik. In her mother’s name, she invites all three to her wedding in hopes of figuring out which one is her father.

By the wedding day, the three men agree to share a third each of fatherhood; Sophie and her fiancé Sky, played by Jacob Dickey, decide not to marry; and, not to waste a good wedding Donna and Sam marry and everyone lives happily ever after.

It’s everything romantic comedy is meant to be, but Mamma Mia! didn’t spend 14 years on a Broadway stage for its quirky plot  penned by Catherine Johnson. It’s the music by Benny Anderson, Björn Ulvaeus and Stig Anderson, and made famous by the swedish rock band ABBA, that made Mamma Mia! a Broadway sensation.

And in the groundbreaking Northport production, the Mamma Mia! debut on a [East Coast] regional stage, the orchestra and cast deliver an uplifting performance that lives up to the Engeman motto. “Where Broadway meets Main Street.” 

Ms. Slabaugh’s Sophie is solid, starting off softly with her “I Have a Dream” solo pining to learn the identity of her dad, then she picks up the tempo with “Honey, Honey,” accompanied by Jennifer Seifter as Ali and Lydia Dawson as Lisa, an Act I highlight. Slabaugh is captivating with her version of “Thank You For the Music,” performed with the three dads.

While Slabaugh emerges as a lovable Sophie, like any great musical this score lends itself to the star, and that’s where Michelle Dawson’s Donna takes over. With a powerful supporting cast of voices at her side, Ms. Dawson’s delivery of the Mamma Mia! classics wows the audience.

The show’s namesake song, “Mamma Mia!,” performed with her three husbands and the ensemble, is wonderfully entertaining, and the other Act I classic, “Dancing Queen,” with Donna and her two friends, Tanya, played by Heather Patterson King, and Rosie, played by Robin Lounsbury, drew rousing opening-night applause. These are two songs that leave you singing them long after the show is over, if you can sing, or humming them if you can’t.

In Act II it just keeps getting better, song after song that you have heard over and over – a lot of Dawson, some Slabaugh alternating in, and a chorus of wonderful supporting voices. “S.O.S.,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “The Winner Takes it All,” “Take a Chance on Me” … Theatergoer or not, these are songs that will be familiar to Engeman audiences and they are a ton of fun to listen to.

The end of Act II also offers a special treat that is worth waiting for, “Our Last Summer,” featuring Mr. Vlastnik’s Harry with Donna. Mr. Vlastnik is a professional with Broadway credits on his resume and when he starts into “Our Last Summer,” his star shines. He has an enchanting voice that alone is worth the price of admission.

By the time this musical medley is over, this night at the Engeman is like a stroll down Memory Lane, romantic comedy sharing the spotlight with musical theater to provide a great night out. Again, whether you’ve seen it on Broadway or not, this is one of those not-to-be-missed runs at the Engeman.

Mamma Mia! runs now through September 11. Tickets are $76 for Saturday evenings and $71 for all other performances and can be purchased at engemantheater.com, by calling 631-261-2900 or by visiting the theater box office at 250 Main Street in Northport Village. There are performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. with additional shows on Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

 

The Observer: Hometown Pepper adds spice at N’port theater of his youth

The Observer

July 28, 2016

David Ambro

 

While it has become a playhouse of the stars – “Where Broadway Meets Main Street” its mantra – the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport has deeper history for Christopher Hlinka.

In Mamma Mia!, which opened at the Engeman last week, Mr. Hlinka plays Pepper, a flirtatious young Greek isle hotel worker who brings acrobatic elements to the part. While his castmates coo at the charm and intimacy of the Engeman and the quaint Northport Village where it is located, Mr. Hlinka recalls the days when it was a second-run 99-cent movie theater where your feet stuck to the floor and the price of admission included a bag of popcorn. He calls Northport home.

Mr. Hlinka, 25, a 2009 graduate of Northport High School, recalls the days a decade ago before 250 Main Street was overhauled into the Engeman Theater. During his tenure at Northport High School, Mr. Hlinka was a member of the Powdered Wigs theatrical troupe – he played Cliff Bradshaw in Cabaret – and he sang with the storied Northport Tour Choir. He also attended the elite Long Island High School for the Arts in Syosset. He credits his high school experience with launching him into a career in theater.

After high school, Mr. Hlinka attended Marymount College in Manhattan, graduating in 2013 with a bachelor of arts degree in theater. The summer after he graduated he was selected as one of the rising young stars to perform at City Center on Broadway. The year after graduation, in 2014, he joined the cast of the Broadway  National Tour of Mamma Mia!, performing as Pepper and as the understudy for Eddy, another of the young flirts at the island hotel where the love story unfolds. He spent three months in the role in San Francisco, toured the country, and then traveled with the show to a landmark performance in Bogota, Colombia.

Last July he ended his run with Mamma Mia!. Mr. Hlinka said since that time he has been performing in concerts, taking dance classes and voice lessons to improve as an actor. Then, when he heard that Mamma Mia! was going to be performed at the professional theater in his hometown he wanted to audition and he landed his old role as Pepper.

“It’s been full circle for sure,” he said during an interview in the Engeman lobby Saturday, July 23.

Mr. Hlinka said his parents, Cathy and Jan Hlinka, who still reside in Northport, are regulars at the Engeman but that he has only been there once before, to see West Side Story. “I remember when it was a movie theater,” he said. “What they have done with it is beautiful. I have seen a lot of regional theater around the country and this is a wonderful theater.”

As for Mamma Mia! at the Engeman, Mr. Hlinka said working with director/choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo has brought a new vision to his role as Pepper. “Working with Antoinette has been a dream,” he said. “She has allowed everyone to have a little bit of their own spin on their roles.”

“She has done a really great job of re-imagining the show,” Mr. Hlinka said. “Mamma Mia! played on Broadway for 14 years and when you get a role it is like being plugged into a machine and you have to play it just the way they want you to, which is wonderful and fun, but here with Antoinette we can take more liberties with our character choices.”

Mr. Hlinka said he has tried to bring a more “badass” version of Pepper to the Engeman show, with tattoos and an attitude. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

When he was performing in the national tour, Mr. Hlinka said his parents traveled to Chicago to see him on stage. He admitted to being a little more nervous when they are in the house and disclosed that they were at the show on opening night last week, although having performed the part hundreds of times now the nerves are far less.

Mr. Hlinka is excited to perform in front of a hometown audience at the Engeman. “Every night there are people here I know, and I look forward to seeing them after the show,” he said.

His older [brother] Jonathan, a member of the United States Coast Guard stationed in Baltimore, was in town last weekend for a bachelorette party and he got a chance to go see the show before he had to go home.

As a member of the Powdered Wigs, Mr. Hlinka said he performed in a show his freshman year with actress Ashley Flanagan, another Northport High School graduate who has starred on the Engeman stage. “I looked up to her a lot. Then I saw her here in West Side Story, which was inspirational,” he said.

Mr. Hlinka said Northport High School and the Long Island High School for the Arts provided him with the foundation to become a professional actor. “Without the stepping stones that Northport High School provided, I definitely would not be where I am today,” he said. “It does take a lot of luck and good fortune and you have to be in the right place at the right time, and each stepping stone is about who you know to make it big, but I’m working on it.”

During an interview this week, Ms. Hlinka, a teaching assistant in the Northport-East Northport School District, said she grew up in Manhattan and has always loved the theater, so she has been taking her two sons to shows since they were young children. She said that Christopher has been on stage since he was six years old, but she is still “very nervous” while she watches him perform.

“I’m nervous and I always shed a tear, more than one usually,” Ms. Hlinka said about watching her son perform. “I don’t have the kind of stamina that he does. It is very emotional to watch and the energy that he puts into every performance is amazing.”

She said the schedule at the Engeman is especially grueling, with shows on back-to-back days and two a day sometimes. “He works very hard. He has to stay in great shape.”

When she saw her son perform as Pepper in the Broadway tour version in Chicago, Ms. Hlinka said the theater and the stage were much larger, the musical numbers were grander, the budget much greater, so the costumes and sets were more extravagant. But, she said, overall the show at the Engeman is just the same.

“You always know that when you go to the Engeman Theater you are going to have an excellent show,” Ms. Hlinka said. “The show quality overall, I think is awesome.”

“Christopher is living his dream,” Ms. Hlinka concluded. “He is living his dream every day and not many people get to do that. That is one of the things we say together all the time he and I – he is living his dream.”

 

Long Islander Review: ‘Mamma Mia!’ Lights Up The Stage With Summertime Excitement

The Long Islander

July 28, 2016

Janee Law

 

The stage at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport illuminated summertime on a Greek island on Saturday, as it was dressed in accents of blue, white stonewalls, budding flowers and a wooden dock. Audience members took in the beautiful setting as they proceeded to their seats to witness Tony Award-nominated musical “Mamma Mia!”

The story of summer fun unfolds when Sophie Sheridan, portrayed by Hannah Slabaugh, sets out on a quest to discover the identity of her father and invites three men from her mother’s past back to the island the day before her wedding.

The show, directed and choreographed by Antoinette DiPietropolo, is filled with fun and a provocative energy. The ensemble brings humor, heartache and heartwarming performances.

Donna Sheridan, played by Michelle Dawson, embodies a strong and independent mother who unravels in the “Mamma Mia!” number when she comes face-to-face with all three men from her past.

Dawson, who played the character five years ago on Broadway and the Broadway tour, said working with a different director has been amazing.

“It’s still the same story, the same music, but it’s a new vision,” Dawson said after the show. “Getting to experiment with the scenes in a different perspective from the director is really awesome.”

Based on the music of Swedish pop group ABBA, the show includes classic hits like “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me,” and “The Winner Takes It All.”

Dawson’s vocal performance is riveting. Starting out low with “Money, Money, Money,” she gradually hits higher notes with each passing song, particularly in “The Winner Takes It All.”

Slabaugh, who portrays the cute and courageous Sophie, said being part of this production and playing her character has been amazing.

“I see so much of myself in her, which is always a good thing. but then there were also places to explore and learn. It’s been a great time,” she said.

Other memorable performances include “Dancing Queen,” during which Donna and her friends Rosie and Tanya, played by Robin Lounsbury and Heather Patterson King respectively, embody girl time by playing dress up and using a shoe, a flashlight and a hairbrush as their microphones.

“I love ‘Slipping Through My Fingers.’ It touches my heart,” Dawson said. “You can feel the audience relating to the characters. There’s a little bit of us in all of those roles.”

The ensemble received a standing ovation at the end of the performance as they engaged with the audience by going into the crowd while singing “Mamma Mia!” and “Dancing Queen” for a second time, and “Waterloo.”

Tia Hamlin, of Huntington, who was in the crowd, called the singing “fantastic.”

“We saw ‘Mamma Mia!’ probably 14 years ago in New York, and the quality here was just fabulous. I think the closing was the best, when everybody is up on their feet and dancing. It was so fun. They never let us down when we come here.”

Performances run through Sept. 11. Show times vary from week to week, but this week performances are slated for 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday; and 2 p.m. on Sunday.

For more show times and to purchase tickets, which range $71-$76, visit the box office at 250 Main St. in Northport Village, call 631-261-2900, or log on to ­Engemantheater.com.

Read online: www.longislandernews.com/life-and-style/mamma-mia-lights-up-the-stage-with-summertime-excitement

Newsday review: ABBA has them dancing up a storm at Engeman

Newsday

July 26, 2016

Steve Parks

 

Agendas are being pushed in our faces — the Republican convention last week; the Democrats winding up Thursday. But here’s a musical with absolutely no agenda, other than to take your mind off whatever may be going on outside the Engeman Theater at Northport.

Long Island’s only year-round Equity company launched its 10th season with the East Coast regional premiere — that means not counting its 14 years on Broadway — of the jukebox musical “Mamma Mia!,” based on the disco-era hits of the Swedish band ABBA, which, but for this show, might be forgotten. The musical that had people dancing in the aisles, if not right up to its 2015 close, had folks dancing like last call was hours away at opening night of this infectious Engeman production directed and gleefully choreographed by Antoinette DiPietropolo.
Scripted by Catherine Johnson (music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus), “Mamma Mia!” gets right to the point as fatherless bride-to-be Sophie discovers her mother’s diary describing intimate dates with three men when she was 17. (We’re already anticipating “Dancing Queen,” which doesn’t disappoint.) Sophie, confident that she’ll discern which of the three is Dad, invites each to her wedding.

Hannah Slabaugh as Sophie projects a gullible innocence that tricks her into believing she can manage this without complications. Michelle Dawson as her mom, Donna, reprises a role she understudied on Broadway and played on national tour. Her expertise comes through in convincing us of her bewilderment that these men from her past have shown up for Sophie’s wedding. And she delivers with gusto the climactic “Winner Takes It All.”

The daddy candidates are stereotypical. But get over it. As some songwriter of note once asked, “What’s wrong with silly love songs?” Without overdoing it, Frank Vlastnik plays Harry as Not Donna’s Type. Or rather, she’s not his. Jeff Williams as Bill evokes a grandfatherly tone while Sean Hayden as Sam occupies the just-right category of odds-on favorite. After the title song with Donna, all are keen on the honor of giving Sophie away, while Jacob Dickey as the groom wonders why Sophie’s fuss isn’t over him.

DT Willis’ taverna set glows with a Mediterranean vibe (lighting by Adam Honoré), while James Olmstead’s band keeps the disco beat throbbing to the pulse of urgent young love, past and present. If you don’t still get it, well, never mind.

 

Read online: www.newsday.com/entertainment/theater/mama-mia-review-abba-has-them-dancing-up-a-storm-at-engeman

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: Engeman presents a ‘Mamma Mia!’ fit for a ‘Dancing Queen’

Times Beacon Record

July 26, 2016

Rita J. Egan

 

The Long Island premiere of “Mamma Mia!,” the jukebox musical that features an assortment of iconic songs from the Swedish pop group ABBA, opened at the John W. Engeman Theater last week. And, it appears the name of the game for the Northport venue is success as it has produced another Broadway-quality show right here on the North Shore.

Director Antoinette DiPietropolo skillfully directs a multitalented cast of 20 who recreate the warmth, charm and energy that audiences loved when the production ran on Broadway for 14 years.

Written by Catherine Johnson, with music and lyrics by former ABBA members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, as well as some songs with Stig Anderson, “Mamma Mia!” tells the touching story of 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan who lives in a taverna on a small Greek island with her mother Donna. After reading her mother’s old diary, Sophie, who is about to marry her fiancé Sky, decides to invite three men from the single Donna’s past, one that may be the young woman’s father. While the threesome’s visit may or may not bring the answer Sophie is looking for, it does take Donna on a wonderful musical trip down memory lane.

Portraying Sophie’s mother, Donna Sheridan, is Michelle Dawson, who played the character in the Broadway National tour. The actress perfectly embodies the quirky, free-spirited, earthy nature of Donna, and she has great stage presence, too. With her animated facial expressions and dynamite smile, it’s easy for the audience to decipher whether Donna is in agony over past mistakes or enjoying beautiful memories. Her vocals are strong on every number, and when it comes to “The Winner Takes It All,” in the beginning of the song she uses her singing talents to deliver the lyrics as if they were a monologue, and then she powerfully builds the song up to its heartbreaking ending.

Dawson also shows off her comedic abilities with Heather Patterson King and Robin Lounsbury, who play her visiting friends Tanya and Rosie, respectively. The three are funny during the song “Chiquitita” where Tanya and Rosie try to cheer their friend up, and then deliver a well-executed “Dancing Queen” as they remember their days as Donna and the Dynamos. A couple of scenes later, they treat the audience to their fantastic vocal talents once more with “Super Trouper.”

King is perfect as the sophisticated yet fun-loving Tanya, and during Act II, she sings “Does Your Mother Know” like a rock goddess. Lounsbury as Rosie is funny and delightfully carefree, especially during the number “Take a Chance on Me” where she playfully lets one of Donna’s former lovers, Bill, know exactly how she feels.

Hannah Slabaugh as Sophie Sheridan is everything you expect the young woman to be — sweet, loving, curious and determined. She captures Sophie’s spirit perfectly, and her vocals are lovely on every song she sings.

Sean Hayden is charming and sweet as Sam Carmichael, one of Sophie’s potential fathers. On opening day, when Sam sang “Knowing Me, Knowing You” to the young woman, it seemed as if both Carmichael and Slabaugh were misty-eyed.

Frank Vlastnik is well-cast as the buttoned-up yet kind Harry, and during Act II, Vlastnik and Dawson treat the audience to a tender version of “Our Last Summer.” Jeff Williams captures the sexy, adventurous nature of Bill Austin and at the same time easily shows the character’s softer side. He demonstrates good vocals on the numbers he takes part in, too. Jacob Dickey is adorable and endearing as Sky, Sophie’s fiancé. Dickey possesses the handsome good looks of boy band member, but when he sings, he performs his parts like a successful solo artist. Jennifer Seifter (Ali), Lydia Ruth Dawson (Lisa), Darius Jordan Lee (Eddie) and Christopher Hlinka (Pepper) as Sophie’s and Sky’s best friends enhance the upbeat feel of the musical, and Hlinka shows a good amount of comedic ability when Pepper attempts to seduce Tanya.

Director DiPietropolo also choreographed the Northport production, and her choreography is at its finest at the end of Act I when the whole cast as well as ensemble delivers a fun, energetic “Voulez-Vous.” As far as the striking set in shades of blue and sand with floral accents, it’s worthy of a stage on the Great White Way.

Designed by DT Willis, the set includes doors that allow the actors to move effortlessly on and off stage as well as a section that easily switches from a front door to a bedroom. Not to be forgotten is the band featuring Alexander Rovang (conductor/keyboard), Anthony Brindisi (keyboard 2), Douglas Baldwin (guitars), Russ Brown (bass) and Josh Endlich (drums). The musicians do an excellent job recreating the instrumentals of the cherished ABBA tunes.

After the bows on opening night, in true “Mamma Mia!” musical form, the cast had no trouble getting the audience to get up and dance with them to favorite ABBA hits. The pop group once sang “the winner takes it all,” and in the case of the Northport production, the cast, crew and audience all walk away winners.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main Street, Northport, will present “Mamma Mia!” through Sept. 11. Tickets are $76 for Saturday evening performances and $71 for all other performances. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

 

Read online: www.tbrnewsmedia.com/engeman-presents-a-mamma-mia-fit-for-a-dancing-queen

NY Theatre Guide Review: ‘Mamma Mia!’ at John W. Engeman Theater

NY Theatre Guide

July 26, 2016

Kristen Weyer

 

The John W. Engeman Theater opens its 10th season with Mamma Mia!  This feel-good musical, with a book by Catherine Johnson, is written around the music of Swedish singing group ABBA.  With music and lyrics by Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, and occasionally Stig Anderson, this show features such classic hits as “Dancing Queen,” “Money, Money, Money,” and naturally “Mamma Mia,” to name only a few.  Directed and choreographed by Antoinette DiPietropolo, Mamma Mia!  is a fun and energetic good time

Taking place on an idyllic Greek island, this romantic comedy has a slightly twisted, yet very humorous plotline.  Sophie (Hannah Slabaugh) is getting married, and she wants her father to walk her down the aisle.  The problem is, she has no idea who he is.  Her mother, Donna (Michelle Dawson), has raised her as a single mom her entire life. Not letting this deter her, Sophie secretly reads her mom’s old diary and discovers that she has three potential fathers!  So unbeknownst to Donna, Sophie invites all three men to her wedding, hoping to discover which one of them is her father.  Could it be handsome architect Sam Carmichael (Sean Hayden)?  The intrepid adventurer Bill Austin (Jeff Williams)?  Or perhaps the straight-laced London banker Harry Bright (Frank Vlastnik)?  When all three accept the invites, returning to the island, and woman, they haven’t seen in twenty years…well what could possibly go wrong?  As confusion and comedy reign supreme, audiences of varying ages will enjoy the amusing antics and marvelous music of this terrific show.

The Engeman’s production of Mamma Mia! is very well done.  A beautiful set by DT Willis, with just the right touch of blue, creates the perfect backdrop for this Greek comedy.  While DiPietropolo shows great talent in both direction and choreography throughout the production, it is quite noticeable during “Money, Money, Money,” and “Lay All Your Love On Me,” which are particularly good.  The dance numbers are pure fun, and the fabulous costuming by Tristan Raines ranges from classic beachy, to outrageously enjoyable throwbacks to the ‘70s. Music Director James Olmstead and the entire band, do a superb job with this fast-paced score.

The ensemble is full of talented dancers and singers.  Hannah Slabaugh and Jacob Dickey make a cute couple, with good chemistry as Sophie and Sky.  Michelle Dawson gives a convincing portrayal of the beleaguered Donna, while also boasting some impressive vocals.  Heather Patterson King and Robin Lounsbury are very funny as Donna’s best friends Tanya and Rosie.  Sean Hayden does a wonderful job portraying Sam’s trepidation of once again seeing Donna.  Jeff Williams’ laid back performance of Bill is perfect for his character, and his believable Australian accent adds that extra touch.  In contrast is Frank Vlastnik as the proper Harry, whose desire to loosen up and be spontaneous is endearing.

With lots of laughs, and fantastic fun, Mamma Mia! is an entertaining escape for the whole family.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

Advisory: Sexual references and innuendo.

Mamma Mia! runs until September 11, 2016 and is presented at the John W. Engeman Theatre in Northport. For more information, click here.

 

Read online: www.nytheatreguide.com/2016/07/theatre-review-mamma-mia-at-john-w-engeman-theater

Smithtown Matters Review: MAMMA MIA!

Smithtown Matters

July 24, 2016

Jeb Ladouceur

 

Granted, many fans of the feel-good ‘Mamma Mia!’ featuring songs like “Dancing Queen,” … “The Winner Takes It All,” … and of course the title track … probably identify the play with the so-so motion picture adaptation starring the great Meryl Streep and Colin Firth. But the fact is, the movie was greeted with mixed reviews at best. It made $600 million with an investment of $50 million. In Hollywood parlance … hardly a blockbuster!

The stage show that opened in London’s West End in 1999, on the other hand, has been attended by 60 million theatergoers over the years, and it’s grossed a whopping two billion bucks! In fact, the musical played almost 6000 performances on Broadway alone, making ‘Mamma Mia!’ the longest running ‘Jukebox’ show in the Great White Way’s history!

But as The Bard has written in ‘The Tempest’ … “What is past is prologue.” In other words, historical events merely set the stage for what is about to take place today. And what’s currently going on at Northport’s snazzy Engeman Theatre is really quite a marvelous piece of show business indeed.

First, let’s get that silly definition disposed of: The term ‘Jukebox Musical,’ I hasten to point out, is not a pejorative; it merely defines a stage or film musical that uses previously released popular songs as its score. And it should be further noted that ‘Mamma Mia’s’ unquestioned success has contributed greatly to the acceptance of the genre throughout the world.

I frankly prefer not to use the ‘Jukebox’ idiom because a number of the people I know in this critiquing business tend to equate the expression with artificiality … but if there’s anything synthetic about Music Director James Olmstead’s appealing numbers at the heart of this show, I’ll eat my hat. The plain fact of the matter is that once any musical is revived, and new life is breathed into its familiar score, the show has essentially become the equivalent of what the theater industry foolishly (in this critic’s view) chooses to call a ‘Jukebox Musical.’

Be that as it may, the lovely Michelle Dawson (Donna Sheridan) wastes no time in assuming center stage with poise and élan in this story that takes place on a Greek island. You see … ‘Donna’s’ little girl (Sophie), played by Hannah Slabaugh, is getting married in the morning, but before she walks down the aisle, she’s determined to find the answer to something that obsesses her—which of three potential candidates (each of whom obviously has a 20-year-old history with Mamma)—is her daddy?

The potential for grown-up farce in this situation is evident. And the audience at the sold-out Engeman press opening responded to the rib-tickling challenge predictably.

Ms. Dawson has played ‘Mamma Mia!’ in the Big Town, as have performers Sean Hayden, and Jacob Dickey … and their experience shows. But the rest of the featured cast, though they’re new to this Tony-nominated play, are equally at home. They include Robin Loonsbury, Heather Patterson King, Jeff Williams, and Frank Vlastnik (a standout as Harry Bright) and they owe a lot to veteran Director-Choreographer Antoinette Dipietropolo and her creative team. These seasoned experts make the players look great!

There are a dozen more cast members who appear for our edification in this summertime toe-tapping delight, and unless I miss my guess, most of them are on their way to feature status … and even stardom.

After so many years of constantly producing Broadway quality shows, and individual virtuoso performances, there’s no reason to believe that appearance on the Engeman stage won’t ultimately lead these kids all the way to the top.

Read online: www.smithtownmatters.com/long-island-theater/2016/7/24/theater-review-mamma-mia.html

The Long Islander Review: Millie Supplies Laughs in Lively Performance

The Long Islander
June 23, 2016
Janee Law

Where the hair is short and the dresses sparkle and flap, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” takes audiences back to the roaring 20s, to witness a lively and energetic performance at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport Village.

At the height of the Jazz age in New York City, audiences are in for a night of laughter and sensational entertainment, which includes singing, tap dancing, scat singing and more.

The production, which on Broadway has won six Tony awards, follows the original story and screenplay by Richard Morris for the 1967 Universal Pictures film.

At Engeman Theater, choreography is done by Dena DiGiacinto and Drew Humphrey, who also directed the production. The story follows the journey of Millie Dillmount (Tessa Grady), a quirky and determined flapper, who moves from Kansas to Manhattan in search of a husband, finding what she initially tried to avoid: love.

In this journey, Millie meets a variety of characters that help her along the way including Miss Dorothy Brown (Sarah Stevens), a curly cued redhead, who shocks the crowd with pipes that can raise the ceiling.

Millie also meets Jimmy Smith (Daniel Plimpton), an eligible suitor who does whatever it takes to pursue Millie, including standing on the ledge of a window in “I Turned the Corner.”

In addition to the talented cast, Mrs. Meers (Michele Ragusa), owner of Hotel Priscilla who kidnaps orphaned women into slavery, had the crowd laughing every time she stepped on stage. With a mix of evil and humor and a poisonous apple has her weapon of choice, Mrs. Meers reflects classic Disney villains in “They Don’t Know.”

“I wanted to be sure that I created her with taste and with care and I think I’ve achieved that,” Ragusa said. “As an actor, to have a role where there’s really no boundaries at all is incredibly freeing. It’s so fun and to hear the response from the audience just feels awesome.”

Ragusa, who also appeared in Engeman’s “Lend Me A Tenor” and “Boeing, Boeing,” said her favorite scene to perform was with the laundry basket and “Muqin,” sung by Ching Ho (Anthony Chan) and Bun Foo (Carl Hsu). Although sung in Chinese, a screen is pulled down from the ceiling for the audience to follow the subtitles.

In the opening of Act II, the audience is jumped back into the excitement where a ban of women join together in an energetic tap dancing number, “Forget About the Boy.” The scene had the audience whistling, shouting and clapping with thrill.

“The voices were incredible,” said Dorothy Gouzoules, of East Northport, who was in the crowd. “You couldn’t imagine anybody else in the roles. It was very entertaining, and it kept you awake.”

Lisa Bentivegna, of Centerport, said she enjoyed the whole performance, from the singing and the acting.

“It was very upbeat, lively and Mrs. Meers was pretty funny,” she added.

When the curtains closed, the ensemble received a standing ovation from the audience.

The last day to witness the production is July 10. Showtimes are Thursdays and Fridays, at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the 250 Main St. box office, or at Engemantheater.com, and range $69-$74.

Read online at www.longislandernews.com/life-and-style/

Long Island Press Review: A Thoroughly Marvelous ‘Millie’ Opens at Engeman Theater

Long Island Press
June 6, 2016
Elise Pearlman

Thoroughly Modern Millie—the most highly acclaimed show of 2002, and winner of both Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Best Musical—has opened at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater.

The theater has pulled out all the stops in its retelling of the madcap escapades of a small town girl who casts aside her provincial background to embrace the ‘modern’ lifestyle of 1920s Manhattan. To truly capture the spirit of the decade that roared, the cast, music, singing, dancing, choreography, lighting, set and costume design have to be exemplary. Engeman’s production delivers on every level. Simply put, Thoroughly Modern Millie is a delight not to be missed.

The era, known alternately as the Roaring Twenties, the Crazy Years (France) and the Golden Years (Germany), was ushered in by unprecedented economic growth and prosperity. In this period of unbridled optimism and risk-taking, dynamic cultural changes took place. Emboldened by the right to vote, women entered the workforce in droves and cast off prim and proper stereotypes. In big cities around the world, people’s zest for life was reflected in music (jazz), dance, architectural styles (art deco) and elaborate, colorful trends in fashion.

As the show opens, Millie Dillmount (Tessa Grady), a starry-eyed ingénue from a “one-light town” in Kansas, has fulfilled her dream of getting to New York City. She literally makes her transformation from sedate small town girl to a free-spirited ‘modern’ before our eyes. Sporting newly bobbed hair, her stunning yellow outfit sets her apart from the ensemble clothed in light colored, metallic-toned costumes. As Millie sings and dances against a shimmering backdrop depicting the Manhattan skyline, she is the centerpiece of the title number “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Prepare to be smitten.

Alas, Millie does not remain starry-eyed for long. She is summarily stripped of her purse, hat and even one shoe by a thief. What’s a penniless girl to do?

A passerby, Jimmy Smith (Daniel Plimpton) who has seen the likes of Mille before and warns her to go back home, dishes out one piece of handy advice—to seek lodging at Hotel Priscilla, where the owner is known to be lenient to financially strapped young single women seeking fame and fortune in the big city.

Millie’s plan for putting an end to her financial woes is by no means a feminist one. She envisions finding a single, well-to-do boss and marrying him. Love doesn’t have to figure into the equation in this brave new world where reason is supposed to preside over romance. Or does it?

Millie finds what she is looking for in the very business-like Trevor Graydon (Tim Rogan) at the Sincere Trust Insurance Company. As Millie takes her place at the typewriter to show off her prowess, she sets the stage for “The Speed Test,” one of the show’s most engaging and intricately timed musical numbers. The entire ensemble tap-dances as Millie types and tap-dances beneath the desk. Rogan is terrific, and his no nonsense demeanor is the perfect foil for Grady’s exuberance.

Meanwhile, something clearly unsavory is brewing at Hotel Priscilla, where young boarders are disappearing at an alarming rate. Don’t let the red-and-black kimono worn by the owner, Mrs. Meers, fool you. This woman—who boasts the world’s worst Chinese accent—is really a frustrated actress who is making a bundle selling girls with no family ties into white slavery. Mrs. Meers, played by Michele Ragusa, is uproariously funny as are her partners-in-crime, brothers Ching Ho (Anthony Chan) and Bun Foo (Carl Hsu).

The recent immigrants are trying to save enough money to bring their mother from Hong Kong. I won’t give away the details, but their antics and their unexpected parody (rendered in song, of course) had the audience laughing uncontrollably.

Jimmy and Millie run into each other again, and before they know it, they are quasi-dating yet both remain conflicted. Jimmy reflects on this in his soul-searching solo, “What Do I Need With Love?”

Millie finds an unlikely confidante in stylish socialite and singer Muzzy Van Hossmere (Nicole Powell), whom she meets through Jimmy. Ms. Powell’s extremely impressive voice is showcased in “Only in New York” and “Long As I’m Here With You.”

Jonathan Collins’ sets never fail to astound and this versatile design pays homage to the art deco motif that defined the ‘20s. It’s a masterpiece that was eight months in the making and it shows.

Collins said that the design called for “a steel emerald city.”

“I wanted to make it as detailed and interesting as possible,” he said of the trio of architectural portals which are ornamented with three different silvers and golds and art deco’s signature repeating bold geometric shapes.

Cory Pattak uses lighting to accent this set throughout the production and the results are stunning. I was particularly wowed by the dreamy, surrealistic use of oranges and magentas in the scene in the speakeasy where intoxicated patrons stumble around and appear to dance in slow motion.

Kurt Alger has done a phenomenal job with costume and wig design. The boldly striped suits, delicious jewel-hued fringed and sequined gowns, feather boas, and cloches speak authentically to the period and are utterly fabulous.

Kudos to Drew Humphrey, whose direction is flawless. He also choreographed the dance numbers with Dena DiGiacinto, and their efforts will leave you wanting more.

Wojcik/Seay Casting has outdone itself in assembling one of the most talented troupes ever to appear on the Engeman Stage. Tessa Grady, the star of the show, is a true gem.
As always, the impeccable performance by the band led by James Olmstead (who does double duty as conductor and keyboardist) is indispensable to creating the era’s ambiance.

Thoroughly Modern Millie runs through July 10. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, by calling 631-261-2900 or visiting www.engemantheater.com

Read online at www.longislandpress.com/2016/06/06/a-thoroughly-marvelous-millie-opens-at-engeman-theater/

NY Times Review: ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ in Northport Tap-Dances Around Dated Mores

NY Times
June 4, 2016
Aileen Jacobson

As you watch “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” it is difficult to remember that the old-fashioned musical set in 1922 dates only to a 2002 Broadway debut. Its staging at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport reinforces that sense of nostalgia, as it blithely features a time when the “modern” goal of a smart gal was to marry for money instead of love, and when “white slavery” was something to joke about.

The audiences that poured into the hit show during its more than two-year Broadway run, during which it picked up six Tony Awards, including best musical, apparently weren’t bothered by those themes. And, indeed, that effervescent production, which made Sutton Foster a star, erased, or at least plowed through, most misgivings with precision tap-dancing and quirky performances that emphasized sending up, rather than accepting, the mores of the 1920s. I remember liking the show.

These days, the kidnapping (or trafficking) of women, as well as men and children, is a more serious topic. Marrying for money, of course, still goes on, but it’s not considered cutting edge. Creating a “Millie” that overcomes shifting attitudes must still be possible, but the Engeman production, under Drew Humphrey’s direction, never gets as fabulously funny as it needs to, though it is largely enjoyable.

The choreography, by Mr. Humphrey and Dena DiGiacinto, often becomes tedious, relying on repetitive stylized moves while the dancers, in one or two rows, face the audience. The set, designed by Jonathan Collins, features repeated Art Deco designs, as do the glittery costumes by Kurt Alger. Everything is too coordinated.

Fortunately, the singing, acting and dancing are all solid. Tessa Grady is charming as Millie Dillmount, who arrives in New York from Salina, Kan., determined to stay no matter what, even after she is mugged and left with no purse, hat or scarf and only one shoe. Jimmy Smith, a dapper young man she trips so he will stop to help her, advises her to return to Kansas. When she refuses, he steers her toward a hotel for actresses. “They’re used to girls who can’t pay,” Jimmy, nicely played by Daniel Plimpton, tells her.

It turns out that the hotel’s proprietor, Mrs. Meers, makes her money by kidnapping some of the aspiring actresses and selling them into slavery in Hong Kong. Mrs. Meers (Michele Ragusa) wears a kimono and speaks in a stereotypical accent that occasionally sounds more Southern American than Southeast Asian. Her posturing, though strange, is supposed to be part of the comedy, because as the script makes clear, she is American-born and not of Chinese heritage at all.

Ms. Ragusa is funny, though not as hilarious as intended. Her best moments come in interactions with two Chinese brothers — engagingly played by Anthony Chan and Carl Hsu — who handle laundry for the hotel and participate in the kidnapping scheme. Watch for their hilarious second-act “Muqin,” in which the brothers sing “My Mammy” in Chinese while supertitles do the translating.

The brothers stop cooperating after one of them suddenly falls in love with the latest victim, Miss Dorothy Brown (a lovely, strong-voiced Sarah Stevens), a friend of Millie’s. Another man who falls instantly for Dorothy is Trevor Graydon (Tim Rogan), Millie’s wealthy boss and the man she hopes to marry. Mr. Rogan masters “The Speed Test,” a quick-paced patter song with music borrowed from Arthur Sullivan and some lyrics from W. S. Gilbert, though most of the words, about stenography, are by Dick Scanlan.

Though the musical uses other borrowed material, most songs are original. Mr. Scanlan wrote all of the new lyrics and wrote the show’s book with Richard Morris, who wrote the screenplay for the 1967 movie, starring Julie Andrews, upon which the musical is loosely based. Among the borrowed songs is “I’m Falling in Love with Someone,” a duet ably sung by Mr. Morris and Ms. Stevens, which Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald sang in the 1935 film “Naughty Marietta.” The number succeeds as a spoof.

The music for the original songs — including the lively “Gimme, Gimme” — was written by Jeanine Tesori, who usually composes for more thoughtful shows, like “Fun Home,” currently on Broadway. James Olmstead, the music director, leads his band tunefully.

The musical ends with a revelation made by Muzzy Van Hossmere, a rich widow and nightclub singer. Earlier, Nicole Powell, a smoky-voiced chanteuse who plays Muzzy with a refreshingly calm dignity, delivers an elegant “Only in New York,” one of the best Tesori-Scanlan songs. It’s a highlight in a production that is often pleasant and entertaining.

Read online at www.nytimes.com/2016/06/05/nyregion/review-thoroughly-modern-millie-in-northport-tap-dances-around-dated-mores

Broadway World Review: THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE at the Engeman

Broadway World
June 1, 2016
Melissa Giordano

Closing out a spectacular 9th season at Long Island’s John W. Engeman Theatre is a first-rate incarnation of the Tony winning musical Thoroughly Modern Millie. Is this show done consistently? Perhaps. But let me tell you everything about this production, running through July 10th, is absolutely top-notch and certainly a must-see for this season.

The zany tale, set in the roaring 1920’s, gives us a peek into the lives of “moderns” – now more popularly known as flappers – living in a jazz filled New York City when women began bobbing their hair, entering the workforce, and just completely throwing all the rules out the window. Running through July 10th at the gorgeous Northport venue, the Broadway caliber company is superbly directed by Engeman Theatre vet Drew Humphrey.

Expertly leading Mr. Humphrey’s cast is Tessa Grady (Broadway: Annie, Dames At Sea, et.al) who exquisitely portrays Millie Dillmount, the role portrayed by Julie Andrews in the 1967 movie. Indeed a favorite among the enthusiastic audience is her rendition of “Not For The Life Of Me” in Act I and “Gimme, Gimme” in Act II. A strong, fabulous voice and a lot of sass make Ms. Grady a natural for the role.

Speaking of the movie incarnation, with some differences, of course, the musical stays close to Ms. Andrew’s movie. The evil Ms. Meers, portrayed by Michele Ragusa, kidnaps the orphans that register at her hotel and she has her two sidekicks from Hong Kong. Ms. Ragusa puts a brilliant comedic spin on the role that leaves everyone in absolute stiches. In addition, Nicole Powell (Broadway: Ragtime revival, Hairspray) gives a thrilling diva performance as Muzzy Van Hossmere, portrayed by Carol Channing in the movie version.

I really could go on and on about the entire company; they are all truly remarkable.

Mr. Humphrey’s creative team is also stellar. He choreographs with Dena DiGiacinto on the wonderful performances. The rousing tap dance numbers are especially well received. And Jon Collins’ stunning set is enhanced beautifully Cory Pattack’s spot-on lighting and Kurt Alger’s dazzling costumes. And naturally it is always wonderful to see a fantastic live orchestra under the direction of Musical Director James Olmstead.

And so, Thoroughly Modern Millie is definitely another hit for the Engeman Theatre. I dare say that if you have seen this before, this production could breathe new life into it for you; the Engeman has a habit of doing that.

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Thoroughly Modern Millie is presented by the John W. Engeman Theatre through July 10th.

Directed by DREW HUMPHREY, Choreography by DREW HUMPHREY & DENA DIGIACINTO, Musical Direction by JAMES OLMSTEAD, Scenic Design by JON COLLINS, Costume/Hair and Wig Design by KURT ALGER, Lighting Design by CORY PATTAK, Sound Design by CRAIG KAUFFMAN, Casting by GAYLE SEAY & SCOTT WOJCIK of WOJCIK/SEAY CASTING, Props Design by KRISTIE MOSCHETTA, Stage Management by JULIANNE MENASSIAN

Starring TESSA GRADY as Millie Dillmount, DANIEL PLIMPTON as Jimmy Smith, MICHELE RAGUSA as Mrs. Meers, SARAH STEVENS as Miss Dorothy Brown, TIM ROGAN as Trevor Graydon, and NICOLE POWELL as Muzzy Van Hossmere with ANTHONY CHAN, ELISH CONLON, DARIA DEGAETANO, MARIA GARVEY, MORGAN HARRISON, ALICIA HEMANN, CARL HSU, DARRELL T. JOE, RYAN KOERBER, OREN KORENBLUM, KIM MCCLAY, NICK MONALDO, HILLARY PORTER, JOHN SCACCHETTI and MICHAEL VERRE.

For more information and to purchase tickets, please call (631) 261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com

Read online at www.broadwayworld.com/long-island/article/BWW-Review-THOROUGHLY-MODERN-MILLIE-at-the-Engeman

Smithtown Matters Theater Review: ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’

Smithtown Matters
June 1, 2016
Jeb Ladouceur

None of our Dear Readers, will remember the height of the Jazz Age in New York City in 1922. Matter of fact, some of you weren’t around even as recently as 2002 … the year a Broadway musical titled ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ took home more Tony Awards than did any other show that season.

But if that’s the case, what you missed then, you can readily make up for now, thanks to the glitzy, glorious gem of a production that’s on the boards at Northport’s snazzy Engeman Theater thru July 10.

Produced by Richard Dolce (most of us know him as the father of Katie Dolce, still a few years away from starring as ‘Millie’) and directed by the inimitable Drew Humphrey, who once choreographed a blockbusting ‘White Christmas’ on Broadway, this musical is probably better than any of the huge successes either impresario has yet been involved with.

Never mind the eleven Tony nominations and six wins (including top musical) that ‘Millie’ garnered in ’02 … or the fact that remarkable Julie Andrews shot the 1967 film into orbit … the primary reason you simply must see this show is a young singing, dancing, acting sensation named Tessa Grady.

Grady plays the title role to perfection in this nifty musical about small town girl ‘Millie Dillmount’ who arrives in The Big Apple half a century before it was commonly referred to as such. Her objective is to get some rich guy to the altar … an aspiration that, if generally undeclared in flapper days, you can bet your boyish bob existed nonetheless.

Anyway, women were just entering the workforce at the time, and Millie, who quickly falls for the ‘modern’ lifestyle, fits right in! In more ways than one, it must be noted, because if anybody ever filled a sequined chemise or a fringed cocktail dress better than Tessa Grady, we haven’t had the pleasure.

On that subject: The Engeman seems to have become acutely aware of a Show Business axiom that someone once labeled ‘dress for success.’ The period costumes in this production easily live up to the near-breathtaking standards that Richard Dolce and Kevin O’Neill have set for the company in such musicals as ‘A Chorus Line’ and ‘White Christmas,’ among others. Indeed, one wonders how Costume and Wig Designer Kurt Alger is able to fit so many changes into this fast-paced show. And the garlanded guys are as artfully arrayed as the festooned flappers.

However, the real eye candy in this visually appealing musical is Millie herself. The young woman is a clothes horse chameleon if ever there was one. She can wear any color and accommodate any style without seeming the least bit uncomfortable in her routines … she even performs one intricate tap dance number while seated … at a typewriter … yes, tapping and typing simultaneously!

Sharing the spotlight with Tessa Grady is a youthful actor named Tim Rogan. You’ll spot him right away when you catch this must see production in Northport. He plays Millie’s broad-shouldered boss at ‘The Sincere Trust Insurance Company.’ Rogan is a show biz natural. He’s got all the tools—speaking, singing, dancing—and he looks like a million bucks! To those attributes, add stage presence and an intuitive comedic sense, and you’ve got a star who belongs in the same league with Grady.

With apologies to the dozens of hoofers in this wonderful show who have not been mentioned, let it be said that the magnificent production obviously couldn’t have been mounted with only two performers … regardless of their excellence. The entire cast combined to give us an unforgettable delight, and this reviewer looks forward to singling out each contributor for praise when The Engeman brings them back in the near future.

And the sooner the better.

Read online at www.smithtownmatters.com/long-island-theater/2016/6/1/theater-review-thoroughly-modern-millie

NY Theatre Guide Review: ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ at John W. Engeman Theater

NY Theatre Guide
May 30, 2016
Kristen Weyer

Thoroughly Modern Millie, a winner of six Tony awards, is closing out the 9th season at the John W. Engeman Theater. Based on the Academy Award winning movie from 1967, the musical’s book was written by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan, with new music by Jeanine Tesori and new lyrics by Dick Scanlan.

It’s the 1920s in New York City, the Jazz Age, where prohibition is in full swing, and flappers abound. Young Millie Dillmount has just arrived from Kansas a wide-eyed innocent, intent on transforming herself into a “modern.” She shortens her skirts, bobs her hair, and finds a job. With a goal of nabbing a wealthy husband, she sets off to execute her plan unsuspecting of the complications life would throw in her way. As she meets friends and fiends, she learns lessons about life and herself, with laughs, love and adventure along the way.

This show is a unique and fun blend of tradition and humor. It contains, and lovingly pokes fun at, the elements of a 1920s’ timepiece. Purposeful sequences of over dramatization are arranged in such a way that they simultaneously forward the action and plot, while still asking to be found comical. You will surely smile, possibly cringe, and definitely laugh.

Tessa Grady is a fabulous triple threat, as she plays the irrepressible Millie with perfection. Her beautiful, vibrant voice rings out with feeling and strength, while her feet fly with speed and accuracy. Not only does she perform well, her facial expressions clearly denoting her character’s thoughts, but she does so with energy and verve.

Daniel Plimpton portrays love interest, Jimmy Smith. His debonair attitude and light footwork enhance his charm, while his wonderful voice floats through the theater.

Sarah Stevens plays Millie’s new friend Miss Dorothy Brown. Her sweet naiveté, and slight accent make her instantly likeable, while her stratospheric soprano alternately adds to the harmony or the humor of her scenes.

Tim Rogan is exquisitely funny as Mr. Trevor Graydon. Both his portrayal of the self-absorbed businessman, and his diction are phenomenal.

Nicole Powell plays the famous Muzzy Van Hossmere with regal bearing, and powerhouse vocals.

Anthony Chan as Ching Ho, and Carl Hsu as Bun Foo, add another entire level of humor to the action with their antics and singing, while Michelle Ragusa is perfect as the malevolent Mrs. Meers, with a marvelous flair for the melodramatic.

The talent level involved with this production is very high. A beautiful, versatile set by designer Jonathan Collins, and absolutely fabulous costumes by Kurt Alger, make an immediate and continuous impression. Wonderful dance sequences are masterfully executed with stunning precision and synchronicity. This points not only to the skill of the cast, but also of director/choreographer Drew Humphrey, and choreographer Dena DiGiacinto. As always, the orchestra under direction from James Olmstead, performed magnificently.

With silliness, poignancy, humor and truth, Thoroughly Modern Millie is a wonderful show. Fun for all ages, this production is definitely worth seeing.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours including one 15 minute intermission.

Thoroughly Modern Millie is playing at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, until July 10, 2016. For more information, click here.

Read online at www.nytheatreguide.com/2016/05/theatre-review-thoroughly-modern-millie-at-john-w-engeman-theater/

Newsday Review: ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ review: Fun, with a caveat

Newsday
May 31, 2016
Steve Parks

WHAT “Thoroughly Modern Millie”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through July 10, John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main St.
TICKETS $69-$74; 631-261-2900, engemantheater.com

What makes Millie so thoroughly modern? She thinks marrying for money, not love, makes her a brash New Woman. But dependence on a man is hardly feminist. Still, in the Engeman Theater’s sparkly “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” 2002 Tony winner for best musical, we can forgive the title character, since it’s 1922 and women won the right to vote just two years earlier. Plus, she’s played with irresistible flapper/tapper exuberance by Tessa Gray (Roaring ’20s costumes by Kurt Alger).

Millie arrives by bus from Kansas to New York, all shiny with the metallic gleam of Jonathan Collins’ Art Deco design. The first thing she does is tear up her return ticket. Go back to Kansas? “Not for the Life of Me,” she sings with the defiant optimism of an ingénue. But where will she live in this high-rent town?

The Hotel Priscilla for Women takes in young ladies of minimal means, though there’s a catch. If the proprietor, cartoonishly sinister Mrs. Meers, finds that the girl has no family, she packs her off to a Hong Kong “white slavery” ring. Michelle Ragusa as Meers, flaunts her faux Chinese accent with the spite of an actress scorned, imposing revenge on girls who might succeed where she failed. Her accomplices, played by Anthony Chan and Carl Hsu, work in a Chinese laundry. If the stereotypes weren’t bad enough, the show’s creators — Richard Morris wrote the 1967 film screenplay, Broadway lyrics by Dick Scanlan and music by Jeanine Tesori — go too far with Al Jolson’s “Mammy” in Chinese. I’m not without a sense of humor, but I find this shtick offensive.

But back to Millie. As directed by Drew Humphrey, accompanied by James Olmstead’s period-sound orchestra, she brightens every room, including the offices at Sincere Trust, where she lands a stenography job (“Speed Test,” ably assisted by Daria DeGaetano). She intends to marry her boss, the millionaire voice of authority (Tim Rogan). But he’s smitten by Millie’s friend Dorothy, played by Sarah Stevens like the Kansas refugee in “Oz.” Meanwhile, Millie is off and on with ardent suitor Jimmy, who literally goes out on a ledge to see her in “I Turned a Corner.” Nicole Powell as a nightclub chanteuse dispenses love advice with soaring conviction in “Long as I’m Here with You.”

Despite her marry-for-money notions, Millie’s OK. The Asian subplot, not so much.

Read online at www.newsday.com/entertainment/theater/thoroughly-modern-millie-review-fun-with-a-caveat

NY Times Review: Race and Rock ’n’ Roll in ‘Memphis’

NY Times
April 1, 2016
Aileen Jacobson

A goofy white guy who has trouble keeping a job as a stock boy finds success as a radio D.J. A gifted black singer stuck in her brother’s underground club gains mainstream recognition and a glossy new life as a star. The two share a tender, bittersweet romance. And all around them, dancers flip and kick their way through songs that evoke the early days of rock ’n’ roll: the 1950s.

It’s easy to understand, why “Memphis,” now electrifying the stage at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, won four Tony Awards, including best musical, in 2010 and stayed on Broadway for nearly three years. It’s a feel-good show with a snappy score and a book that addresses — as gently as possible — issues involving racism. It allows audience members to feel virtuous and leave happy.

Igor Goldin, the director, and Antoinette DiPietropolo, the choreographer, have gone all out to showcase the talents of their limber and exuberant cast. And the actors — moving on a sturdy set designed by DT Willis to a lively beat provided by the music director James Olmstead and his band, and outfitted by the costume designer Tristan Raines — run with it.

The character of Huey, played by Carson Higgins, is loosely based on Dewey Phillips, one of the first white D.J.s to play music by black performers. Credit Michael DeCristofaro
Carson Higgins exudes a sweet charm as Huey, the D.J., who can be both endearing and annoying. Unlike most people around him in Memphis, and in the rest of the South and beyond, he is virtually colorblind. In one number, “The Music of My Soul,” he sings about how closely he identifies with the music he hears when he visits a black-owned club. He sees no reason he shouldn’t be in the club, though the patrons are at first shocked and wary.

Soon, he finds a job at a white-owned (and thus mainstream) radio station, and a measure of fame by playing what is called “race music.” His show draws a huge audience of white teenagers. Despite his affinity for music, however, Huey is tone-deaf in failing to comprehend the consequences of openly showing his affection for Felicia, the singer who becomes his beloved, and not willing to consider Felicia’s more cautious feelings about public displays. Mr. Higgins is adept at letting Huey’s unconscious hubris show through the decent and moral sides of his rebellious views.

As Felicia, Breanna Bartley has both the rich voice and, just as important, the warmth needed for her role. She sings with a heartfelt directness— as in “Colored Woman,” a declaration about breaking free of limits and following dreams — and she convinces us that she really likes, and then loves, the awkward and often childlike Huey.

Felicia, played by Breanna Bartley, is a gifted singer who falls in love with Huey. Credit Michael DeCristofaro
Surrounding them are other fine performers, including the strong-voiced C. Mingo Long as Delray, Felicia’s protective older brother; Arthur L. Ross as Bobby, a janitor at Huey’s radio station who later becomes a singing sensation; and Kathryn Markey as Gladys, Huey’s mother, who starts out a bigot but later softens her stand. Ms. Markey is the only actor who consistently retains a Southern accent, even when she sings, with an apt country music twang. Actors in smaller roles and in the chorus also shine.

Still, there is a whiff of condescension in “Memphis,” even as it righteously highlights important moments in history — like the “stealing” of black music, mainly rhythm and blues, by a white music establishment. Couldn’t one say that this is what is happening here? The musical, written by Joe DiPietro (book and lyrics) and David Bryan (music and lyrics), is absolutely well-intentioned and follows in a long and largely respected tradition of white guys — as the musical’s creators are — writing about discrimination against minorities. “Show Boat,” “West Side Story,” and “Hairspray” come to mind.

The character of Huey is loosely based on Dewey Phillips, one of the first white D.J.s to play music by black performers, though probably more famous as the first D.J. to spin a record by Elvis Presley — who borrowed a tune or two from black artists.

Perhaps partly because of the recent focus on racism in America, the white perspective in the musical can sometimes bring discomfort. The lyrics of “Everybody Wants to Be Black on a Saturday Night,” an entire-cast blowout number, seem to assume that “everybody” means white people. (The premise is also doubtful for 1950s Tennessee.) To the creators’ credit, they do have Felicia point out to Huey that while he has a choice of when to be seen as “black,” or at least pro-black, she doesn’t. And then they sing another rousing song.

“Memphis” continues through May 8 at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main Street. Information: 631-261-2900 or engemantheater.com.

Long Island Press Review: A Riveting ‘Memphis’ Opens at Northport’s Engeman Theater

Long Island Press
April 1, 2016
Elise Pearlman

The multiple award-winning musical, ‘Memphis,’ which opened last week at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater, is the rare musical that showcases spectacular singing and dancing while boasting a storyline and characters so engaging that they stir your innermost sensibilities. Memphis is that rare breed of musical and I was riveted to the stage from the onset.

The winner of four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Memphis features the book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro, of ‘I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change’ fame, with music and lyrics by David Bryan, a founding member of Bon Jovi.

Set in Memphis, Tenn., the musical draws the audience into the black underground dance clubs of the1950s. The story is loosely based on the real-life escapades of Dewey Phillips, a pioneering white DJ who was one of the first to see the allure of black music and boldly play it on Memphis radio.

Huey Calhoun (played by Carson Higgins) is a high school drop-out who has trouble holding down even a menial job. He finds his field of dreams when an intoxicating medley of rock n’ roll, rhythm and blues draws him into a world that he has never known. Although he is the only white person in the underground joint beneath Beale Street and the black clubbers are not thrilled with his intrusion, Huey cannot help, but declare (in song, of course) that this is the “Music of My Soul.”

It is there that his path serendipitously crosses with Felicia Farrell (Breanna Bartley), an astoundingly talented singer whose career is constrained by intolerant times. Huey, clearly smitten with Felicia, is determined to take this music mainstream and get her voice heard—not an easy task as this genre of music is referred to as “race” or “colored” music, and not viewed as appropriate for God-fearing white Christians. But Huey, who dreams big, is not about to be derailed and soon commandeers a radio station when the disc jockey takes a break. The station’s owner’s fury is soon diminished by the deluge of phone calls asking for more. In short order the station is voted No. 1.

Songs like “Scratch My Itch” and “Everyone Wants to be Black on a Saturday Night” will have your toes tapping. Yet other songs resonate with a poignancy that tugs on your heartstrings. In “Colored Woman,” Felicia recalls her mother’s warning that her success will be limited in a light-skinned world. Yet the feisty singer summons up her courage to defy the status quo. While Felicia, her brother/club owner Delray (C. Mingo Long) and their crew explore electrifying artistic freedom within the sheltered confines of the club, outside they have reason to be afraid. They are continuously kept in line and belittled by racist remarks and harbor horrifying memories. Gator (Jarred Bedgood), the bartender, has not spoken since he saw his father lynched as child; Delray bears a mark on his neck which he sustained as a thirsty 14-year-old who dared to drink from a whites-only water fountain.

If the effort to break the racist glass ceiling of the Southern music industry is not enough, Felicia and Huey have fallen for each other. Can this unorthodox love affair survive and what impact will it have on their careers?

There are so many wonderful songs that I am hard-pressed to pick my favorites. In Act II. I particularly liked “Tear Down the House” and “Memphis Lives in Me,” both sung by Huey and Company. I was dazzled by the finale “Steal Your Rock ‘n’ Roll. Sung by Huey, Felicia and Company, its message is about never losing sight of your personal vision. It had the audience on its feet and clapping. What a grand finale indeed!

Higgins, who plays the extraordinarily likeable colorblind idealist whose enthusiasm for music is contagious, has made an astounding debut at the Engeman Theater where he sings and dances with the best of them. Featured on Season 10 of American Idol, he says that Huey Calhoun is his favorite role, and one he has played before at Connecticut’s Ivoryton Playhouse.

The chemistry between Bartley and Higgins rings true and makes for a believable love story. An extremely gifted vocalist with a powerhouse of a voice whose credits include ‘Dreamgirls,’ Bartley has the versatility to render both high energy, upbeat songs and more tender ballads to perfection.

C. Mingo Long excels as Felicia’s rightfully protective brother and makes his point with his deliciously deep voice in “She’s My Sister.”

Some of my other favorite characters include Gator (Jarred Bedgood), Gladys (Calhoun’s mother played by Kathryn Markey), and Bobby (Arthur L. Ross), all of whom will take the spotlight and undergo startling transformations that will lift your spirit.

Kudos to Wojcik/Seay casting for assembling this stellar cast. The award-winning Igor Goldin, who has directed some of Engeman’s finest productions, is once again at the helm and his work is impeccable. Major kudos to Antoinette DiPietropolo who has choreographed the musical to perfection. These dancers do not miss a beat and dance and fight captains, Ivory McKay and Carson Higgens, are also to be complimented. Musical Director James Olmstead has once again outdone himself. DT Willis is to be complimented on his set which undergoes some amazing metamorphoses during the course of the production. Tristan Raines’ costumes are pure eye candy.

Memphis runs through May 8, but buy tickets early as show might very well sell out. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, by calling 261-2900 or visiting engemantheater.com

Read online at: www.longislandpress.com/2016/04/01/a-riveting-memphis-opens-at-northports-engeman-theater/

Village Tattler review: A Memorable Memphis at Northport’s Engeman Theater

Village Tattler
March 31, 2016
Claudia D. Wheeler

The talent is undeniable, the music is catchy and inspirational, and the energy in the theater is palpable—for anyone who is lucky enough to see this amazing production of Memphis, the Musical, at The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. Produced by Richard T. Dolce, the Engeman’s Producing Artistic Director, Memphis runs from now through May 8, 2016. On opening night, the cast received a standing ovation from the entire house.

The musical features a Tony-winning book by Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change) and a Tony-winning score with music by Bon Jovi founding member David Bryan. It is loosely based on Memphis, Tennessee, disc jockey Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play black music in the 1950s. Memphis played on Broadway from 2009 through 2012. It won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

The radio DJ in Memphis, the Musical is Huey Calhoun, played brilliantly by Carson Higgins, who has enormous talent and stage presence. Higgins has played this role before at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Connecticut. His credits also include the National Tour of Green Day’s American Idiot, and he was featured in season 10 of Television’s American Idol and when you hear him sing, you will understand why. There are too many stand-out songs in Memphis sung by Higgins to list them all here.

The plot is familiar: Calhoun falls in love with the dance club singer Felicia Farrell, played by Breanna Bartley, and vows to make her famous. The relationship is full of the trials of an interracial relationship in the 1950s. Farrell is ready for her big break, but has more than her fair share of obstacles as a black singer. Calhoun is instrumental in helping her. Bartley’s vocals have an intensity that is riveting, and we are rooting for her to succeed despite the odds. Bartley’s credits include New York Theater: The Radio City Christmas Spectacular; Regional Theater: Dreamgirls (Michelle); Memphis (Felicia); Annie (Grace), and In the Heights.

The brilliance of Antoinette DiPietropolo’s choreography is evident throughout Engeman’s Memphis, with masterful dance performances in opening number “Underground,” as well as “The Music of My Soul,” “Everybody Wants to be Black on a Saturday Night,” “Make Me Stronger, “Stand Up,” “Memphis Lives in Me,” and “Steal Your Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

DiPietropolo returns to the Engeman Theater as choreographer after notable work in Miracle on 34th Street, The Producers, A Christmas Story, Evita!, The Music Man, South Pacific, Hairspray, I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change and Nunsense. Her Off- Broadway credits: With Glee, and Regional: Annie, Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago, Ragtime; National Tour: How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Associate Director/Choreographer for The Big Apple Circus.

Memphis’ musical direction is by James Olmstead, who also directed the following Engeman Theater productions: West Side Story, The Producers, A Chorus Line, and Evita. Broadway: Radio City’s New York Spring Spectacular (Keyboardist), On Your Feet! (Copyist). Off-Broadway Music Director: 54 Below/Feinstein’s Broadway Swinger, Birdland’s BAA 10th Anniversary Concert, Laurie Beechman’s Perfectly Complicated. Off-Broadway Synth Programmer: Fun Home. Composer: Mambo Italiano, Gary Goldfarb: Master Escapist.

The creative team also includes Igor Goldin as Director. In addition to his fine work on Memphis, Goldin has directed the following productions at the Engeman: West Side Story, The Producers, Evita, The Music Man, Twelve Angry Men and South Pacific. Other credits include the following Off-Broadway productions: YANK!, With Glee, A Ritual of Faith, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Crossing Swords; and Regional Theater: Molly Sweeney, Learning How to Drown; An Irish Musical, Crossing Swords and Tick, Tick…BOOM!).

This production has numerous other performances of note by Kathryn Markey who excels as Huey’s mom Gladys, Jarred Bedgood as Gator who impresses with a soulful and moving “Say a Prayer,” and C.Mingo Long as Felicia’s protective brother Delray with his incredible, prominent vocals, especially in “She’s My Sister,” as well as a well-cast ensemble of talented dancers and singers.

The cast also includes David McDonald as Mr. Simmons, and Arthur L. Ross as Bobby, as well as Tony Chiofalo, Jessica Crilley, Marissa Girgus, Tatiana Green, Chavon Hampton, Jenny L. Harvey, Brandon Heyward, Michal Kolaczkoskiz, Katie Lombardo, Suzanne Mason, Ivory Mckay, Chris Medlin, Brandon Riddle, and Alec Varcas.

The performance schedule for Memphis is: Thursdays at 8:00pm, Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 3:00pm and 8:00pm, and Sundays at 2:00. Some Wednesday and Sunday evenings are available. Tickets are $74 on Saturday evenings, $69 all other performances, and may be purchased by calling (631) 261-2900, going online at EngemanTheater.com, or by visiting the Engeman Theater Box Office at 250 Main Street, Northport.

Read online at: villagetattler.com/2016/03/31/memorable-memphis-northports-engeman-theater-2/

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: ‘Memphis’ is another smash hit for the Engeman

Times Beacon Record
March 30, 2016
Heidi Sutton

Well, hockadoo! The John W. Engeman Theater was full of soul last Saturday night, engaging theatergoers with a sizzling production of “Memphis” that raised the roof and culminated with a five-minute standing ovation.

Directed by Igor Goldin (“West Side Story” and “Evita”) and choreographed by Antoniette DiPietropolo, the rock ‘n’ roll musical is loosely based on the life of “Daddy-O” Dewey Philips, a Memphis disc jockey who dared to play the music of black artists in the late 1950s, when segregation was still the norm in the South. With book and lyrics by Joe Dipietro and original music and lyrics by David Bryan — a member of rock band Bon Jovi — the production ran on Broadway from 2009 to 2012 and won four Tony Awards, including best musical in 2010.

The story follows Huey Calhoun, who, in his quest to find the sounds of early rock ‘n’ roll, finds himself in a black nightclub on the seedy side of town. Owned by Delray, the club features his sister Felicia, a black singer with whom Huey quickly falls in love and vows to get on the radio so the world can hear the music that Delray says is “just Negro blues sped up.”

Carson Higgins is the lead as Huey, a role he has played in the past and has by now perfected. Higgins makes Huey likable and endearing and draws the audience in from the beginning. An incredible actor and singer, Higgins’ rendition of “Memphis Lives in Me” is unforgettable.

Breanna Bartley is perfectly cast as Felicia. With a smooth singing voice, she shines in the musical numbers, especially in “Someday” and “Colored Woman.”

The entire supporting cast is wonderful, with powerful voices and the moves to match. Standouts include Kathryn Markey as Huey’s sassy mother Gladys; C. Mingo Long as Delray; and Jarred Bedgood as Gator, who doesn’t speak or sing until the end of Act I but then treats the audience to a moving rendition of “Say a Prayer.”

Hidden from view but not to be overlooked is the six-piece powerhouse band. Musical Director James Olmstead, who doubles on keyboard, returns to the Engeman to lead a talented group of musicians, including Josh Endlich on percussion, Russ Brown on bass, Joe Boardman on trumpet, Brian Schatz on reeds and Douglas Baldwin on guitar, all playing Bryan and Dipietro’s rousing score.

Set design is handled neatly by D.T. Willis and works well, utilizing sliding panels and a second level to tell the story, and the gorgeous period costumes by Tristan Raines are spot-on, pulling the production together successfully. Don’t miss this wonderful high-energy production, a perfect ending to a night out on the town.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present “Memphis” through May 8. Show includes some adult language and staged violence. Running time is 2.5 hours, including one 15-minute intermission. Free valet parking. Tickets are $74 on Saturday evenings and $69 for all other performances, and may be purchased by calling 631-261-2900 or by visiting www.engemantheater.com.

Read online at: tbrnewsmedia.com/memphis-is-another-smash-hit-for-the-engeman/

Newsday review: Racial musical’s stellar debut at Engeman

Newsday
March 29, 2016
Steve Parks

WHAT “Memphis”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays through May 8, John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main St.
TICKETS $69-$74; 631-261-2900, engemantheater.com

There’s arguably no American city that symbolizes race relations and rock and roll more starkly than Memphis. It’s here you’ll find both the National Civil Rights Museum on the site of the Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and Graceland, where Elvis Presley lived and died.

“Memphis,” the 2010 Tony winner for best musical, makes its Long Island premiere at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport with a rollicking celebration of a genre once derogated as “race music.”

The musical by Joe DiPietro (“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”) and Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan weaves a story loosely based on the life of Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, among the first white DJs to play black music, including that of Southern white boys like Elvis. In the 1950s South, promoting black causes was a dangerous occupation.

Huey (rhymes with Dewey) is a high-school dropout who wanders into a literally underground black nightclub on Beale Street when he detects the rhythmic beat through his feet. Regarded warily as a cracker interloper, Huey wins over all but the owner of Delray’s when he bangs out a raucous “The Music of My Soul” on the piano. Among them is Delray’s sister Felicia. With no idea how he’ll pull it off, Huey promises to get Felicia on the air of a mainstream (as opposed to “colored”) radio station.

Predictably, he falls for Felicia while her brother goes ballistic. “She’s My Sister,” C. Mingo Long’s Delray wails after Felicia is beaten by racist thugs when she’s caught kissing Huey. Breanna Bartley as Felicia justifies her brother and lover’s faith in her as a budding R&B star with a blistering “Love Will Stand When All Else Fails,” while Carson Higgins as Huey is indomitable with the clueless courage of his character’s conviction in his “Memphis Lives in Me” anthem. Supporting players Kathryn Markey as Huey’s mom, Arthur Ross as a singing floor sweeper, Jarred Bedgood as Delray’s once-speechless protégé and David McDonald as Huey’s radio boss create a Memphis that feels like home to the crusading DJ.

Igor Goldin, Engeman’s go-to director of musicals, delivers the goods with help from James Olmstead’s rocking band, Antoinette DiPietropolo’s flashy choreography framed by DT Willis’ cavernous set and accessorized by Tristan Raines’ costumes.

While “Memphis” is somewhat derivative of “Hairspray” and “Dreamgirls,” this fine cast makes it feel authentic.

Read online at: www.newsday.com/entertainment/memphis-review-racial-musical-s-stellar-debut-at-engeman

NY Theatre Guide Review: ‘Memphis’ at John W. Engeman Theater

NY Theatre Guide
March 28, 2016
Kristen Weyer

If you’re looking for an entertaining evening of theater, then look no further than Northport. The John W. Engeman Theater’s current production of Memphis is full of great acting, fantastic singing and fun music. With a book by Joe DiPietro, and score by David Bryan, Memphis originally opened on Broadway in 2009 and received four Tony Awards. Directed here by Igor Goldin with choreography by Antoinette DiPietropolo, Memphis is a rock-and-roll good time for all.

The action takes place, obviously enough, in Memphis, Tennessee during the early 1950s. It is a time fraught with racial tension and segregation. Young Huey Calhoun (Carson Higgins), however, seems not to notice or care. He’s a white boy who loves good music, and if the good music happens to be found on the “dark” side of town, well then, that’s where he’s going to go. When he meets the beautiful and talented, black singer Felicia (Breanna Bartley), he vows to get her on the radio where all of Memphis will hear her. Even with his crazy ways, his charm and determination help him to turn Memphis upside down.

This cast is simply wonderful. Filled with talent, each voice seems to be better than the next. Carson Higgins plays the awkwardly adorable Huey to perfection. His gangly stride, goofy grin, and impeccable comedic timing make his every scene a pleasure to watch. Felicia is portrayed by vocal powerhouse Breanna Bartley. Her stunning performances bring not only her character, but the story to life. Felicia’s brother Del Rey is played by C. Mingo Long, whose incredible voice resonates throughout the theater whenever he sings. Jarred Bedgood does wonderfully in the touching role of Gator, while Arthur L. Ross is superb as the amusing Bobby. The beleaguered Mr. Simmons, and stressed-out Gladys are delightfully played by David McDonald and Kathryn Markey respectively.

DT Willis’ set design works brilliantly for this production. The clever two story set contains sliding panes which allow the audience to “see” who is on the air above the radio station below. Intelligent sound design by Laura Shubert brings the rock-and-roll volume without losing the lyrics. The band, under direction from James Olmstead, marvelously performed the high energy score. All of this, combined with the fun costuming of Tristan Raines, assisted in bringing this production to its successful completion. With its rockin’ music, touching story and clever one liners, Memphis is a fun time that is sure to appeal.

Running Time: Approximately 2 ½ hours including one 15 minute intermission.

Memphis is running at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport until May 8, 2016. The theater is located at 250 Main Street, Northport. For tickets call the box office at (631) 261-2900 or click here.

Read online at: nytheatreguide.com/2016/03/theatre-review-memphis-at-john-w-engeman-theater/

Times of Huntington-Northport: Theater brings a decade of entertainment to Long Island

Times Beacon Record
March 24, 2016
Victoria Espinoza

The streets of Northport have come alive with music and laughter in the past 10 years — and that’s all thanks to the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.

The Main Street theater first opened its doors in 2007 and has been providing Long Island residents with quality entertainment at an affordable price ever since.

When it comes to why theater lovers should chose the Engeman theater over a Broadway show, Director of Operations Michael DeCristofaro said the Northport venue offers an experience you could never get on Broadway.

“We don’t have the space Broadway has,” DeCristofaro said in an interview. “We don’t have wing space or fly space, so we really are able to slow these shows down and find the heart and the essence of the show. People come and see shows like they’ve never seen them before. We’re really able to get into the story of the characters.”

DeCristofaro said some shows like “West Side Story,” “The Producers” and the upcoming show “Memphis” stand out as really being able to accomplish just that.

“We were told by numerous patrons, ‘better than Broadway,’” he said. “People felt that seeing it in an intimate venue like this without all the distracting flash of pizzazz and set pieces moving in and out really helped them focus on the characters and have fun and get involved.”

Another aspect of the theater that may contribute to the more intimate setting is the distance from the seats to the stage. According to Jessie Eppelheimer, the operations administrator, the back seats are only about 75 feet from the stage, “which you could never get at a Broadway show,” she said in an interview.

But there is one crucial way in which DeCristofaro thinks his theater stands shoulder to shoulder with Broadway, and that’s in the talent.

“We have a really good amount of Broadway talent,” he said. DeCristofaro listed Eddie Mekka, a Tony-nominated actor, and Michael McGrath, a multiple Tony award-winning actor, as two actors who had lead roles in previous shows at Engeman.

“If our alumni are not on Broadway, they’re in a national touring production,” DeCristofaro said. “We get some really incredible top-notch talent and it’s great for the local community to try and see that top notch talent here in Northport for half of the price they’d paid on Broadway.”

But it wasn’t always that way.

What is now a year-round full equity theater, producing multiple shows a year, was once just a small village movie house.

Originally built in 1912, silent movies used to play at the theater for 50 cents a person. In 1913, the Northport trolley helped make night shows a possibility, and by 1930, talking films came to the village. But two years later, the theater was struck with a fire that completely destroyed the establishment, forcing it to close its doors.

The new theater opened in November 1932 with 754 seats and was positioned directly next door to where the original one had stood. “Sherlock Holmes,” starring Clive Brook and Ernest Torrence, was first to be shown.

According to Eppelheimer, many of the original aspects of the 1930 theater still stand today, including the entire lobby, walls in the theater room and some of the lighting.

“People were attached to [the original design] and they tried to keep it as familiar as possible when they reopened,” she said.

In 2007, Huntington residents Kevin O’Neill and his wife Patti, owners of the theater, welcomed audiences to see real-time plays for the first time, and residents from all over Long Island have been filling in the seats ever since. The theater was named in tribute to O’Neill’s brother, Chief Warrant Officer Four John William Engeman, who was killed in Iraq in May 2006.

The theater now holds up to 400 audience members, has a full bar and lounge and shows multiple musicals and plays annually. Eppelheimer said there are about 5,000 season ticket holders and the theater has an 80 percent retention rate.

For the 10th anniversary season, the Engeman will feature a lineup exclusively of musicals, including a repeat of the inaugural show “Jekyll and Hyde.”

“We’re paying tribute to the first season,” Eppelheimer said. Other shows in the coming year include “Mamma Mia,” “Oklahoma” and “Mary Poppins.”

Over the years the theater has expanded, offering children shows, theater-school programs and hosting charity events.

“It was always intended to not just be a theater,” DeCristafaro said. “We wanted to be able to do more for the community and get children and parents involved.”

View online at: tbrnewsmedia.com/theater-brings-a-decade-of-entertainment-to-long-island/

The Long Islander Review: Characters Unravel In Dark Comedy, ‘God Of Carnage,’ At Engeman Theater

February 11, 2016

By: Janee Law
jlaw@longislandergroup.com

The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport was roaring with laughter Thursday night as members of the audience witnessed the unraveling chaos between two sets of parents in the popular international comedy, “God Of Carnage.”

Written by Yasmina Reza, the dark hour and a half comedy that’s composed of a single scene is produced and directed by Engeman’s Richard Dolce, who incorporates intense energy and action into the show.

With only four actors in its cast, the play explores the internal and external struggles that couples face. The intense story of parents coming together to solve a fight between their sons reveals that the childrens’ problems are a reflection of their own.

At first, Alan (Chris Kipiniak) and his wife Annette (Alet Taylor) embody the overworked husband and passive wife, while Veronica (Nancy Lemenager) and her husband Michael (Mickey Solis) display characteristics of an overbearing wife and a submissive husband.

As the story unfolds, so do the characters. Roles begin to reverse as they push each other’s buttons and, when alcohol is added to the mix, the meeting spirals into madness as characters turn on one another, demonstrating ill-mannered, childish behavior.

The scene starts out with the parents stiffly sitting to discuss the situation between their sons. The play’s intensity is heightened by Veronica’s character; she takes notes as she paces back and forth, speaking in an automated voice.

Alan thickens the tense situation with his crude behavior, taking phone calls throughout the show, chomping down on his food like a savage and delivering the first of many f-bombs.

Displaying wide eyes, boiling faces and screaming in anger, Alan and Veronica demonstrate great chemistry acting opposite one another. Michaeland Annette are also similar in that both characters started out passive and become aggressive when pushed over the edge by their spouses.

The comic relief also grows as characters unravel under Michael’s sarcasm, Alan’s total disregard for others, Veronica’s quick wit and Annette’s childlike actions.

In the scene where they become intoxicated, Taylor, playing Annette, takes the stage in a dramatic performance as the drunken wife hysterically mocking her husband to show her frustrations.

Audience member Debbie Biggs of Greenlawn said that scene was one of her favorites because the actors were “hysterical.”

Another audience member, Cecily Frankum, said she loves “a dark kind of comedy.”

“It was a really good ensemble and they played really well with each other,” Frankum, of Huntington Station, said.

Chris Kipiniak, who plays the character Alan, said he enjoyed playing a character that’s unlike himself.

“It certainly is a lot of energy but… it’s a lot of fun to play a high energy character,” Kipiniak said. “It’s an excellent play. It’s nice to be working with people who are different than you and have a different style of working and I think that it makes it exciting. It’s been a lot of fun.”

“God of Carnage” runs at the Engeman Theater through March 6. Showtimes: Thursdays and Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets are $59-$64.

The Long Islander: Paying it Forward

The Long Islander

February 6, 2016

Donna Galluccio, Director of the Ecumenical Lay Council’s food pantry, and Pastor Tim Hoyt of First Presbyterian Church in Northport, dropped by the Engeman Theater earlier this week to receive funds donated by theater audiences over the holiday season. Theater owners Kevin O’Neill, managing director, and Richard Dolci [sic], producer and artistic director, turned over $35,000 which was collected over the holiday season by passing the basket during show intermissions.

“We raise funds every year and are happy to be able to support the food pantry and church,” O’Neill said.

It’s more of a story of mutual support. The church has for the past decade allowed the theater’s valet parking operation to use its parking lot on show night, O’Neill explained. The church also houses the Ecumenical Lay Council’s food pantry.

“Pastor Tim is a progressive thinker. He is good enough to let us use the church parking lot at night and he’s also good enough to provide space for the food pantry,” O’Neill said, adding the pantry provides assistance to 160 families a week.

Long Island Press Review: Comedy of Manners: God of Carnage Debuts at Northport’s Engeman Theater

Review: God of Carnage

By: Elise Pearlman

The internationally acclaimed God of Carnage is possibly the most unique theatrical offering that I have seen at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater. The dark farcical comedy makes for uproarious pandemonium and laughter, and the audience (myself included) simply loved it. It is so good that you might want to see it more than once.

French playwright Yasmina Reza hones in on one of the universal fears of parenthood—that your child will be hurt by, or might hurt, another child. The play, originally written in Reza’s native tongue and translated into English by Christopher Hampton, has captured the imagination of theatergoers around the world.

After its debut performance in 2006, God of Carnage made its way to London where it received the Olivier Award for Best New Play of the Year. Its 2009 stint on Broadway boasting a stellar cast, including James Gandolfini, garnered three Tony Awards. Since then, it has graced stages in Spain, Ireland, Serbia and Croatia, to name a few.

The play is set in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn. After another boy breaks two of their 11-year-old son’s teeth during a playground brawl, Annette and Michael go where angels fear by inviting the parents of aggressor to their home to discuss the incident. Although we never meet the boys, Henry and Benjamin, whose antics ignite the fuse, it is the parents who entertain us with their unexpected emotional explosions.

This unlikely rendezvous is the brainchild of Veronica, an art aficionado with a forthcoming book on the Darfur. Her husband, Michael, is a wholesale distributor of household goods. The other set of parents are Alan, a well-to-do lawyer with international clientele and Annette, who simply says that she is into wealth management.

It all starts out with polite, amicable conversation in Annette and Michael’s posh living room. In the name of peaceful coexistence, mouthwatering clafouti, a fruity French dessert, is served and expensive yellow tulips adorn vases.

Yet these niceties cannot mask the fact that the couples are understandably very wary of each other and looking for holes in each others’ polished façades. The best laid plans go horribly astray as the meeting progresses and at a delightfully dizzying pace.

It seems that no clafouti, no matter how delicious, can pacify the god of carnage, whom Alan explains has reigned supreme since the dawn of time and unleashes our basest and most primitive instincts.

Alan turns out to be right. In short order, the thin veil of civility is pierced, and the couples are at each other’s throats. Reza’s script is replete with clever, hilarious surprises and shifting marital allegiances that animate the set, especially after a bottle of primo rum is uncorked. Kudos to Richard Dolce for his impeccable directing of this talented cast whose performances requires split second comedic timing. This is ensemble work at its best.

Which is the funniest scenario? I’ll hint at them. Who had done a hamster wrong? What happens after Annette—understandably a bundle of nerves—upchucks on a collection of Veronica’s treasured coffee table books displayed like window dressing in the living room? How do the characters change after imbibing that primo rum?

Nancy Lemenager is ideal as the highbrow art lover who has unrealistic expectations about human nature and does not recognize a highly combustible situation when she sees one. Mickey Solis is hilarious as Michael, Veronica’s polar opposite, a man who proudly announces that he is “not a member of polite society,” but rather a Neanderthal.

Alan (Chris Kipiniak) skillfully fits the bill as the prototypical lawyer who is welded to his cell phone and more concerned with advising a pharmaceutical company on their defense against charges of a dangerous drug than dealing with his son’s conduct. His wife, Annette (Alet Taylor), who first appears to be the most restrained of the foursome, is emboldened and comes out fighting after some of that rum enters her system. It made for some very funny and feel-good moments.

Stephen Dobay’s set—decorated with the minimalist flair—makes it the perfect venue for maximal action. Showcased is a large-scale wooden sculpture created from found objects à la Louise Nevelson, one of the most influential and distinguished sculptors of the 20th century. Painted a monochromatic dark gray, the disparate pieces that compose the sculpture become unified textural content. Splashes of red, white and black further enliven the room’s décor.

It is pure eye candy. Bravo, Mr. Dobay!

God of Carnage runs through March 6. Tickets can be purchased at the theater’s box office, 250 Main St, Northport, by calling 261-2900 or by visiting engemantheater.com.

Broadway World Review: The Engeman’s GOD OF CARNAGE

Review: The Engeman’s GOD OF CARNAGE

By: Melissa Giordano

Having seen a previous less-than-stellar local production of Yasmina Reza’s Tony winning play God Of Carnage, I’m thrilled that Long Island’s John W. Engeman Theatre has added it to their season this year. Leave it to The Engeman to redeem a show. This intelligent and well-executed incarnation runs through March 6th at the gorgeous Northport venue.

Engeman’s Producing Artistic Director, Richard T. Dolce, wonderfully directs the four person cast in the one act comedy. The tale centers on two couples meticulously discussing an altercation their sons had at school. In turn, as the show progresses, we find the parents becoming increasingly juvenile and belligerent. Of course, that is partly due to the rum that was offered as refreshments.

The first couple of the Broadway caliber ensemble consists of Alet Taylor as Annette, who is in “wealth management” (her husband’s wealth, that is) and Chris Kipiniak (Broadway: Metamorphoses, Macbeth) and Alan, an always-on-the-damn-cellphone corporate lawyer. It is their son that allegedly did the assaulting. The second couple is Nancy Lemenager (Broadway: Chicago, Movin’ Out, et. al.) as Veronica, an author, and Mickey Solis as Michael, a houseware wholesaler. They all work incredibly well off each other and completely let loose particularly with the childish shenanigans.

It seems the most important thing you must have is a very strong comedic cast to mount this show. The Engeman’s fantastic company delivers superbly as expressed by the enthusiastic sold out audience. The chemistry is apparent and its relatability seems to be another reason why this is such a well-received piece. You regularly see parents wrongfully defend their “little angels” and the parents end up looking as bad as the children.

Mr. Dolce’s creative team is just as outstanding as the cast. Set in the living room of Veronica and Michael’s home, Stephen Dobay’s beautiful design, enhanced stunningly by Driscoll Otto’s lighting, consists of a high back wall filled with brick-a-brack and many books with several tables and couches perfectly positioned on the stage for the upscale Brooklyn home.

And so, God Of Carnage, is indeed another hit for Long Island’s John W. Engeman Theatre. A wonderful company and hilarious story make for a wonderful night of theatre.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

God Of Carnage is presented by the John W. Engman Theatre of Northport, Long Island, through March 6th. For more information and to purchase tickets, please call (631) 261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

By Yasmina Reza, Directed by RICHARD T. DOLCE, Scenic Design by STEPHEN DOBAY, Costume Design by TRISTAN RAINES, Lighting Design by DRISCOLL OTTO, Sound Design by LAURA SHUBERT, Casting by WOJCIK/SEAY CASTING, LLC, Stage Management by FRAN RUBENSTEIN

Staring CHRIS KIPINIAK, NANCY LEMENAGER, MICKEY SOLIS, and ALET TAYLOR

Photo by Michael DeCristofaro; NANCY LEMENAGER, MICKEY SOLIS, ALET TAYLOR, CHRIS KIPINIAK

Times Beacon Record Review: ‘Junie B. Jones, The Musical’ takes on Northport

Review: ‘Junie B. Jones, The Musical’ takes on Northport

By Rita J. Egan

“Junie B. Jones, The Musical” opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport this past Saturday to an audience filled with young children eager to see their favorite literary characters in the flesh, and with a fun, lively show, the cast did not disappoint.

The musical, based on the children’s book series by Barbara Park, follows the adventures of Junie B. Jones as she tackles life’s little obstacles she finds along the way in first grade. Among the many challenges she faces are losing her best friend, Lucille, to twins Camille and Chenille, finding out she needs glasses, and being unable to participate in the big kickball tournament. However, with the help of her family and friends, and jotting everything down in her Top-Secret Personal Beeswax Journal, the endearing redhead figures everything out and learns that when life hands you lemons you make lemonade.

Kate Keating is youthful and charming as the main character, Junie. As lead on many of the numbers, her clear soprano voice is perfect for revealing the story through song, and she easily draws the young audience in as she talks directly to them in a number of scenes.

Playing the role of mother, as well as fellow first-graders Grace and Sheldon, is Suzanne Mason whose stage presence as always is a strong one. The actress especially shines as the awkward, stuffy-nosed Sheldon, and she elicited loud giggles during a scene where Sheldon, ready to play the cymbals at the kickball tournament, experiences stage fright. Mason convincingly delivers the song “Sheldon Potts’ Halftime Show” as if she were a child herself.

Joshua Cahn plays Mr. Scary, Daddy and Gladys Gutzman, and it’s as Gutzman, the cafeteria lady, that Cahn takes center stage. The way he delivers the role is reminiscent of Edna Turnblad from “Hairspray,” and with funny lines and a cute dance number with Keating, he received well-deserved laughs and giggles from the audience members.

Michael Verre tackles dual roles as Junie’s new friend Herb and one of the twins, Chenille. While Verre is sweet as Herb, particularly during the number with Keating, “You Can Be My Friend,” he is hilarious as Chenille, where he good-naturedly dons a wig and dress, and gracefully sings and dances along with Camille and Lucille during the number “Lucille, Camille, Chenille” to the delight of the audience.

Jennifer Casey as Camille and Jose, Allie Eibeler as Lucille and Lennie, and Alyson Clancy as May and Bobbie Jean handle their role changes seamlessly, and no matter what part they are playing, effortlessly add to the fun and high energy of the musical.

Written by Marcy Heisler, with music by Zina Goldrich, “Junie B. Jones” features upbeat, fun-filled numbers that are perfect for a musical geared toward young children. Stand out songs in the first act include the opening number “Top-Secret Personal Beeswax” where Junie tells the audience all about her new journal, and at the end of the act, “Now I See,” where, with the help of her friends, Junie begins to like her new glasses. Act 2 also features the heartwarming number “Writing Down the Story of My Life” that will inspire little ones to record their adventures.

Directed by Jennifer Collester Tully, “Junie B. Junes, The Musical” is a journal-worthy theater experience for the whole family. The set is colorful, the actors are energetic, and the story is a relatable one for children. Most of all, the delightful story will warm the hearts of young and old.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Junie B. Jones The Musical” through March 6. Tickets are $15 each. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

NY Theatre Guide Review: ‘God of Carnage’ at the John W. Engeman Theater

Review: ‘God of Carnage’ at the John W. Engeman Theater
By: LORI SPEISER JAN. 31, 2016

God of Carnage, currently on stage at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, was written by Yasmina Reza, a French playwright, novelist and screenwriter. She is known for her satiric plays which explore concerns of the middle-class.

“The play is full of humor and great acting.”

God of Carnage is a four-person play about an evening in which two sets of parents gather to discuss how to handle an incident which took place between their young sons. While on the playground, one boy hit the other in the mouth with a stick resulting in two damaged teeth. This awkward situation opens with both couples behaving in a cautiously polite manner. The play’s tagline is “A Comedy of Manners, Without the Manners,” and as implied, the play endeavors to point out how easy it is for people to lose their civilized veneer. As the evening progresses, the conversation veers off course, their behavior deteriorates, and with the addition of rum, disaster ensues.

The play is well-written and cleverly moves the characters along their descent into immature, self-indulgent behavior. As they turn on each other, their loyalties switch along the way. At times it is couple against couple, women against men, then husband against wife. Their behavior should make your crazy relatives or neighbors seem well-balanced.

Along this downward journey there is plenty of humor. Some unexpected moments had the audience erupting in laughter. Physical humor, sexism humor and much more are spread throughout. As their behavior worsened, the comedy increased.

The four actors: Chris Kipiniak, Nancy Lemenager, Mickey Solis and Alet Taylor did an excellent job portraying their different characters. Their facial expressions and body language were animated, expressing thoughts beyond the words of the script. As lines were spoken, the audience was laughing before the anticipated humorous response could be spoken. Their timing was terrific.

Richard T. Dolce did a great job directing. Four people, one set, lots of movement making full use of the stage, deftly moving the actors from calm conversation to farcical chaos.

The play is full of humor and great acting. As it devolves into watching people tear one another apart, you might even learn something about yourself as you laugh at behavior that would disturb you in reality.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes. No intermission.

Advisory: The language throughout the play is littered with profanity

God of Carnage is running at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, NY until March 6th, 2016. The theatre is located at 250 Main Street, Northport. For tickets, call the box office at (631) 261-2900 or click here.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: Humanity’s inner struggle revealed in black comedy ‘God of Carnage’

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | TIMES OF HUNTINGTON-NORTHPORT

Review: Humanity’s inner struggle revealed in black comedy ‘God of Carnage’
By CHARLES J. MORGAN JAN. 27, 2016

Four highly skilled Equity members starred equally in Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater’s production of “God of Carnage” that opened Friday, Jan. 21. This tightly written effort was written by Yasmina Reza in French and translated to English by Christopher Hampton. Direction was by Richard T. Dolce, who is also producing artistic director of the Engeman.

On a gleaming geometrical set with little depth and one, little used exit, the four characters — two sets of parents — meet to discuss in a calm, adult, logical manner the fact that the son of one of the couples had clobbered the other’s son with a stick, knocking out two of his teeth. The concessive discussion gradually escalates into a full-scale riot of threats, name-calling, replete with blistering vulgarities, physical assaults and, amid slugs of Puerto Rican rum and (let’s admit it), a technically pointedly directed vomiting scene right down stage center! At the height of it husband goes after wife to make it an eight-way free-for-all.

Chris Kipiniak and Alet Taylor play the first couple, Alan and Annette. The “offended” pair are played by Nancy Lemenager and Mickey Solis as Veronica and Michael. The two couples are equally combative, each with their own strategies.

But what are the strategies? Reza wants to bring out the inner rage that is in us all exemplified by the four battlers. They appear to be happily married upper-middle-class types, but this is a veneer. The furnaces of hate, vindictiveness and self-righteousness not too gradually come to the surface, shattering the patina of class politeness and sociability. This tsunami of ill will is made out to be what is truly natural, all else being a glaze of neighborliness under which lies not a madeleine but deadly nightshade.

It is a compelling play as a vehicle for getting inside the head and heart of the audience. And this it accomplishes piercingly. The intra and the inter of family squabbling is not exactly the story line. Reza uses more than a scalpel to surgically excise and reveal to the light the inner workings of the human psyche … she wields a meat cleaver.

If it would be productive to prescind from criticizing the show and talk about the acting, let’s proceed with vigor! The quartet performed as a theatrical exemplar. Kipiniak as Alan, an attorney, is wrapped up in one thing only … his cellphone. Taylor, as his wife Annette, starts off as a loving monument to marriage and motherhood. Lemenager as Veronica and Solis as Michael have careers; she an art loving crusader for the unfortunates of Darfur, he a toilet bowl salesman. All deserve high praise for their acting skills especially in the manner in which they gradually get at each others’ throats. This invaluable skill even prevented the whole thing from degenerating unto pie-in-the-face slapstick.

Your scribe would not say that Dolce had an easy task in this no-intermission show. He had to infuse real life into all four, and to block them accordingly, a result he achieved masterfully not only with aplomb but with art.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “God of Carnage” through March 6. Tickets range from $59 to $64. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

NY Times Review: ‘God of Carnage’ Puts Parents in a Metaphoric Bull Ring

N.Y. / REGION | ARTS | LONG ISLAND

Review: ‘God of Carnage’ Puts Parents in a Metaphoric Bull Ring
By AILEEN JACOBSONJAN. 30, 2016
Photo

From left, Nancy Lemenager, Mickey Solis, Alet Taylor and Chris Kipiniak as two sets of parents in “God of Carnage.” The couples have met to discuss a playground altercation between their 11-year-old sons.

 

The ceramic red bull prancing on a shelf could be considered a symbol for the action that takes place before it, in a chic living room in Brooklyn.

The two married couples in the room are ostensibly striving for “the art of coexistence” as they discuss an earlier playground altercation between their 11-year-old sons. At first, the parents seem to be engaged in no more than a bit of social banter, politely lobbing remarks and rejoinders back and forth. But they end up in a metaphoric bull ring — free of actual blood, of course, this being a comedy by Yasmina Reza.

“God of Carnage,” now at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport in a thoughtful and well-acted production, draws both laughs and gasps as the characters become more and more belligerent. Toward the end, the sparring parents are helped along by a lot of rum.

An episode of projectile vomiting (unrelated to the rum) that damages some treasured art books may simply be an unavoidable accident. But it could also be interpreted as an unconscious passive-aggressive gesture. Either way, it is a spectacular special effect and a trigger for more overtly hostile language.

The beginning of the play is calm enough. Michael (Mickey Solis) and Veronica (Nancy Lemenager) have invited Alan (Chris Kipiniak) and Annette (Alet Taylor) to their apartment in the upscale Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. Henry, the hosts’ son, sustained two broken teeth when Benjamin, the guests’ son, hit him with a stick. Veronica is drafting a statement about the event, and the first item the parents discuss is whether Benjamin did the deed while “armed with a stick,” as Veronica — who proudly mentions that she is at work on a book about “the Darfur tragedy” in Africa — has written. Alan, a shark of a lawyer (as we hear during his constant cellphone conversations), suggests “furnished with a stick,” and they all quickly agree on the less prejudicial wording.

The writing, elegantly translated by Christopher Hampton from Ms. Reza’s French into culturally on-target American English, is often as telling as this exchange. The details are exquisitely precise, which leads to much of the humor that made this play a Broadway hit and a Tony Award winner after it opened in 2009. (Reza’s 1998 “Art” also won the Tony for best play.)

What the play never really explains is why Veronica thinks a written document, which is not intended, apparently, for any public forum, will help to bring peace or closure, and why she as the aggrieved parent would want that. Some revelations also don’t make much sense: Michael inexplicably admits to questionable behavior toward a family pet that he should know will put him in a bad light, while Alan later loudly proclaims, “My son is a savage.” Reasonably smart people (who haven’t hit the rum yet) know better than to say such things.

The Broadway production, with its blindingly star-studded cast (Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden and James Gandolfini) and a much longer rehearsal period than the Engeman production, managed to gloss over the play’s weaknesses. That doesn’t always happen here.

Nevertheless, the intelligent direction by Richard T. Dolce and the brightly energetic acting bring out the fun — call it schadenfreude — in watching an escalating battle among four accomplished and privileged adults. Problems in both marriages surface, even as mitigating circumstances emerge that make the playground episode seem much less one-sided. The parents behave like playground bullies (or matadors gone wild), throwing tantrums, fists and four-letter words. The subtle warning — or promise — of the decorative bull in Stephen Dobay’s excellent set, which is expertly lighted by Driscoll Otto, is fulfilled.

“God of Carnage” continues through March 6 at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main Street. Information: 631-261-2900 or engemantheater.com.

A version of this review appears in print on January 31, 2016, on page LI8 of the New York edition with the headline: Brooklyn Parents in a Metaphoric Bull Ring. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

Newsday Review: This ‘Carnage’ has plenty of punch

Review: God of Carnage

By Steve Parks steve.parks@newsday.com

WHAT: “God of Carnage”
WHEN | WHERE: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through March 6, John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main St.
TICKETS: $59-$64; 631-261-2900, engemantheater.com

Watching other people behave badly – unless they’re your children – is great fun. That’s why “God of Carnage,” the slim reed of domestic farce that won French author Yasmina Reza a 2009 Tony for best play, is a fat-free delight. As directed by Richard Dolce at the Engeman THeter, insults baring shards of humor high and low collide like verbal barbs propelled by a Punch-and-Judy atom smasher.

You smell blood from the start, although the only visceral substance hurled in this 80-minute descent from civility to savagery is – be warned – vomit.

Veronica and Michael have invited another couple, Annette and Alan, to their upscale Brooklyn apartment to discuss an altercation between their sons. Henry, the hosts’ scion, was struck by Benjamin with a stick that knocked out two teeth. Despite the polite veneer of their opening remarks, you know where this is headed once Veronica states that Benjamin was “armed.” Combat is implied but never realized as the couples square off, first against each other. But later, gender alliances form and dissolve and spouses go for the jugular with the ferocity of one who knows the most vulnerable vein.

Nancy Lemenager as Veronica epitomizes the folly of good manners in the face of bad vibes. She’s writing a book on Darfur and fancies herself an African-culture expert. She treasures an out-of-print book no one else cares about. Her husband, Michael, is a nuts-and-bolts guy – a housewares wholesaler whose expertise is literally in the toilet. Mickey Solis as Michael chafes at the restraint of politeness he suffers until he pours his guests – and himself – snoot-fulls of primo rum.

Annette, the so-called “wealth manager” played by Alet Taylor with a teetering balance between defensiveness and not-offending, throws up all over Veronica’s prized coffee-table books, while her husband, Alan, serially intrudes with constant and unapologetic cellphone interruptions. A corporate attorney, Alan is frantic to fend off charges against an errant pharmaceutical company he represents. Chris Kipiniak animates Alan’s savage instincts – he believes in the “god of carnage” who rules us all – with a gusto that can only be defeated by disarmament. (We won’t give away how he’s disarmed.)

Set designer Stephen Dobay brilliantly stages this confrontation with a Louise Nevelson-style art piece topped by out-of-reach books that bespeak intellectual phoniness.
We laugh, as well we may, because it’s not our kids, not our marriage.

Newsday Review: ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ review: Holiday fantasy at the Engeman

Updated December 13, 2015 11:52 AM
By Steve Parks steve.parks@newsday.com
WHAT “Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical”
WHEN | WHERE 3 and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. Dec. 2, 2 p.m. Sunday, 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 3, through Jan. 3, John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main St.
TICKETS $69-$74; 631-261-2900, engemantheater.com
It’s not just that Gimbels was still around, competing across Herald Square from Macy’s, that dates “The Miracle on 34th Street.” The Meredith Willson musical based on the 1947 movie of the same title celebrates the holiday season at Northport’s Engeman Theater with a corny fantasy.

Broadway producers, aiming for a miracle that would extend Willson’s 1963 musical far beyond the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas season, misnamed the show “Here’s Love.” (That idea proved to be a turkey: “Here’s Love” closed eight weeks before the next Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.) Even with its mostly forgettable score, “Miracle” survives as a regional theater holiday chestnut.
It’s the story of Kriss Kringle. Yes, Virginia, that’s his real name. Only in this telling, the girl is Susan and her mother Doris, a Macy’s executive, has hired Kriss as the flagship store’s Santa. He causes a stir when he directs parents to the competition when children ask for a toy outside of Macy’s inventory. Recognizing a publicity boon for Macy’s as the department store that cares, Doris champions her new hire. But when, in an interview with the store’s dour psychologist, Kriss insists he really is Santa Claus, he’s committed to Bellevue. A judge who’s up for re-election presides over a hearing to determine Santa’s fate. Kriss’ attorney is a guy who, improbably, lives next door to Susan and her cynical divorcee mom. Will Santa be locked away on Christmas Eve?

Engeman producer Richard Dolce directs “Miracle” with an eye for spectacle, distracting us from the show’s treacly moments. In “Expect Things to Happen,” choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo turns an imaginary birthday party into a scene rivaling elements of Radio City’s “Christmas Spectacular,” embellished by Kathleen Doyle’s fanciful costumes and Stephen Dobay’s period set.

Kim Carson, Marian in Willson’s superior “Music Man” at the Engeman, presents a formidable single mom who’s nevertheless susceptible to a kiss from her neighbor, Fred — Aaron Ramey, whose lead in “She Hadda Go Back” evokes “Ya Got Trouble” in River City. Bill Nolte as R.H. Macy is a bug-eyed delight, while Meaghan Marie McInnes, double-cast with Sophia Eleni Kekllas, steals the show with little-girl irresistibility as Fred’s pathway to her mom. (Today, that might be considered creepy.) Kevin McGuire’s approachable, white-whiskered Kriss Kringle convinces us that “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” as the song, accompanied by David Caldwell’s orchestra, declares.

BWW Review: The Engeman’s MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET

November 25
10:33 AM2015
BWW Review: The Engeman's MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET

The hustle and bustle of the Christmas season is about to get under way and, as always, the John W. Engeman Theatre excellently delivers a fabulous holiday production. This years’ offering, running through January 4th, is the musical Miracle On 34th Street by Meredith Willson based on the classic movie.

The story centers on single mother Doris Walker who doesn’t want Susan, her young daughter, exposed to “fairy tales” like the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and, most importantly, Santa.

Indeed, the large Richard T. Dolce directed cast is absolutely stellar.

BWW Review: The Engeman's MIRACLE ON 34TH STREETEngeman favorite Kim Carson splendidly portrays Doris, an executive at Macy’s department store. After her Santa for the parade gets overly intoxicated, she unexpectedly meets Kris Kringle and immediately hires him as her new Santa. Ms. Carson’s confident performance is received well particularly her rendition of “You Don’t Know”. Incidentally, Kevin McGuire(Broadway: Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, et. al.) is a remarkable Kris Kringle. A gentle voice and the whole “Santa aura” make him a natural for the role.At the same time, their – also single – neighbor, former Marine Fred Gailey, portrayed by Aaron Ramey, attempts to court Doris by charming Susan branding himself as a father figure. Susan is enjoying this, but Doris is not amused.

And of course the children in the cast are wonderful and excited to be on stage. They have two casts and the role of Susan is divided up between two adorable young ladies; Sophia Eleni Kekllas and Meaghan Marie McInnes.

Another highlight is the innovative set designed by Stephen Dobay. There are many scene changes in the two act show. Inside the “Macy’s windows” there are also three small sets that move out when needed. This is enhanced beautifully by Jimmy Lawlor‘s lighting and Kathleen Doyle‘s costumes. In the score, you will also notice subtle tones here and there of Mr. Willson’s arguably most famous work The Music Man. “She Hadda Go Back” sounds delightfully similar to “Trouble”.

And so, Miracle On 34th Street is certainly another hit for the Engeman. A wonderful cast and a classic story make for a thrilling night of theatre this holiday season.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Miracle On 34th Street is presented by the John W. Engeman Theatre of Northport, Long Island, through January 4th.

By Meredith Willson, Directed by RICHARD T. DOLCE, Choreography by ANTOINETTE DIPIETROPOLO, Musical Direction by DAVID CALDWELL, Scenic Design by STEPHEN DOBAY, Costume Design by KATHLEEN DOYLE, Lighting Design by JIMMY LAWLOR, Sound Design by LAURA SHUBERT, Props Design by KAYE BLANKENSHIP, Casting by FRANCK CASTING, Stage Management by RENEE SANTOS STEWART

Starring KIM CARSON, AARON RAMEY, KEVIN MCGUIRE, MATT WOLPE, BILL NOLTE, TODD THURSTON, JOHN LITTLE, NICK ADDEO, PIM VAN AMERONGEN, SAM ARLEN, MARK T. CAHILL, DARIA DEGAETANO, COURTNEY FEKETE, SOPHIA ELENI KEKLLAS, SUZANNE MASON, MARYELLEN MOLFELLA, MEAGHAN MARIE MCINNES, LAURA OTREMBA, MICHAEL SANTORA, SUMMERISA BELL STEVENS, AMBER CORRIGAN, MIRANDA JO DEMOTT, KATIE DOLCE, SOPHIA GUARNASCHELLI, ERIN HAGGERTY, KATHERINE LAFOUNTAINE, CLAIRE LEVASSEUR, MEAGHAN MAHER, SHANE MCGLONE, CHRISTOPHER MCKENNA, MICHAEL MENESHIAN, CHRISTOPHER PAPPAS, AIDAN PASSARO, MEGAN TRAGESAR, THERON VILJOEN and CHLOE WHEELER.

Photos by Michael DeCristofaro; Photo #1) SOPHIA ELENI KEKLLAS and KIM CARSON; Photo #2) KEVIN MCGUIRE

Long Island Press: ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ Works Its Holiday Magic at Northport’s Engeman Theater

BY ELISE PEARLMAN

It began to feel a lot like Christmas  when the musical version of one of the most heartwarming  holiday classics of all time,  Miracle on  34th Street, enlivened the stage at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater right before Thanksgiving.

A holiday show is a genre all its own. It must be family friendly, and evoke nostalgia and sentimentality while it tugs on our heartstrings, yet have music and glitz that fire up the imagination.

Directed by Richard Dolce, the theater’s producing artistic director, Miracle on 34th Street delivers this and so much more.

Valentine Davies’ sentimental tale, which pits the yearnings of our inner child against the dictates of reason, inspired the Academy Award-winning 1947 movie starring Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood. The book, music and lyrics for the musical were penned by Meredith Willson of The Music Man fame. The extremely gifted composer, songwriter and playwright’s deep understanding of human nature shines throughout this production.

This show transports us back to Manhattan in the early ’60s. It’s Thanksgiving morning, and families are embracing the gaiety of the season and anticipating the big parade. Doris Walker, a single mother and Macy’s Department Store executive, has the challenge of orchestrating the festive procession down to the letter.

Soured by a failed marriage, Doris is all work and no play, a staunch pragmatist who has discouraged her young daughter Susan from believing in anything remotely imaginative, including Santa Claus.

Yet after Susan develops a relationship with  charismatic Fred Gailey, a retired marine captain who is about to embark on a career as an attorney, she cannot help but start to believe in the Jolly Old Elf and long for a father.

Meanwhile, back at Macy’s, a  major stumbling block is miraculously  averted when a rosy-faced gentleman bearing  an uncanny resemblance to Santa Claus—and going  by the unlikely name of Kris Kringle—steps up replace  the shamefully drunken gentleman hired to greet the kids in the toy department.

Kringle, who genuinely loves children, more than fits the bill and accomplishes the inconceivable by promoting good will between Macy’s and its rival, Gimbel’s. Here, Kringle breaks the fourth wall by distributing candy canes to the audience, adding to the festivity.

When Kringle indicates that he really believes that he is Santa, he is subjected to a psychological brow-beating by Dr. Sawyer, an egotistical psychologist, and threatened with commitment to Bellevue Hospital.

Willson’s treatment of the romantic subplot adds new dimension to the story. Doris and Fred immediately get off on the wrong foot, and express their mutual disdain in the delightful duet, “Look, Little Girl.” There seems to be no common ground between Fred, a confirmed bachelor who refers to women as dames, and Doris, a smart cookie who has succeeded in breaking Macy’s glass ceiling. Yet, their body language says otherwise, especially when Fred unexpectedly kisses Doris, and she kisses him back. Can these opposites really attract?

The action really heats up in Act II. I particularly enjoyed “She Hadda Go Back,” a delicious slice of musical repartee between Fred and his card-playing buddies during which Fred parades his knowledge of female reasoning.

Fred must somehow defend Kringle’s sanity and his honor by proving that the man is really Santa. Will this mission impossible be Kris’s undoing? The shenanigans that animate the courtroom are  worth the price of admission.

Kevin McGuire, who plays Kringle, is a consummate professional who has appeared in Les Miserables,  Phantom of the Opera and The Secret Garden. He begins to cast his spell as soon as he steps on stage, and the result is pure magic.

It is through the eyes of little Susan Walker that we navigate what we know to be true and our heart’s desire. She is alternately played  by Meaghan Marie McInnes and Sophia  Eleni Kekllas. Meaghan, who performed the night that I attended, is incredibly endearing. She graces the stage with great poise and she has a beautiful singing voice. When she smiles, you can’t help but be smitten.

Many may remember Kim Carson, who plays the doubting Thomasina Doris Walker, from her starring roles in Engeman’s The Music Man, South Pacific, andCamelot. She delivers an astoundingly charismatic performance and her singing is outstanding.  Her Act II solo, “Love Come Take Me,” brought tears to my eyes.

The chemistry between Carson and Aaron Ramey, who plays Fred, her romantic sparring partner, rings true. Ramey, who has appeared on stage and on television, excels as a man who has unwittingly met his match.

A number of actors rein in the laughs with their own unique blend of comedy.  These include Matt Wolpe (as Marvin Shellhammer) and John Little (Dr. Sawyer). I particularly loved the humorous song, “That Man Over There,” as delivered by R.H. Macy (Bill Nolte) and the ensemble during Kringle’s commitment hearing at the New York Supreme Court.

Kathleen Doyle’s costumes—the  plaid dresses, the wonderful cloth coats—will have you nostalgic for this bygone era.

I believe that this is the ninth production that Antoinette DiPietropolo has choreographed for the Engeman Theater, and as always, her work is outstanding.

Miracle on 34th Street  runs through January 4. Tickets can be purchased at the theater’s box office, 250 Main St, Northport, or by calling 261-2900 or going to:www.engemantheater.com.  

(Photo credit: John W. Engeman Theater)

NY Theatre Guide Review: ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ at John W. Engeman Theater

Theatre Review: ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ at John W. Engeman Theater

 Sophia Eleni Kekllas and Kim Carson. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

With the holidays fast approaching, the John W. Engeman Theater opened its seasonal production of Miracle on 34th Street last weekend.  With book, lyrics and music by Meredith Wilson, it is based on the classic 1947 movie of the same name with story and screenplay by Valentine Davies.  Directed here by Richard T. Dolce, Miracle on 34th Street is a heartwarming, holiday treat for the whole family.

When Doris Walker hires a kindly, white-bearded gentleman to play Santa Claus for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, she has no idea what is about to happen.  A cynical single mother, she has raised her daughter, Susan, to be nothing short of completely practical, with no fairy tales, or fanciful hopes and dreams allowed.  The man she hired, however, goes by the name Kris Kringle and claims to actually be the real Santa Claus, spreading his Christmas love and affecting the attitudes of people around him.  As Susan becomes friends with him, and their handsome neighbor Fred Gaily, Doris is forced to reevaluate her outlook on life, faith and love.

. . . a heartwarming, holiday treat for the whole family.

With pleasant voices, sharp comedic timing, and wonderful characterization this entire cast was a pleasure to watch perform.  Kim Carson and Aaron Ramey as Doris and Fred were immensely enjoyable together, and they created a believable atmosphere of romantic tension.  Kevin McGuire was a perfect Kris, from his beard to the twinkle in his eye and the merry spring in his step.  Meaghan Marie McInnes was an absolutely adorable and delightful Susan, and the entire cast of children gave fabulous performances.  Doris’ over-eager assistant Shellhammer, was amusingly played by Matt Wolfe, while R.H. Macy was represented with aplomb by Bill Nolte.  (The character of Susan is alternately portrayed by Sophia Eleni Kekllas.)

A clever set by designer Stephen Dobay greatly aided the plotline, as scenic “windows” were lifted and allowed different rooms to appear.  Costuming by Kathleen Doyle alluded to the past and gave the feel of a time gone by. Wonderful props by Kaye Blankenship and excellent music from conductor David Caldwell and the entire band rounded out the performance beautifully.  A definite must for your holiday schedule, this fun and charming production will certainly help put you in the Christmas spirit.

Running Time: Approximately 2 ½ hours including one 15-minute intermission.

Miracle on 34th Street is playing at The John W. Engeman Theater through January 3, 2016.  The theater is located at 250 Main Street, Northport NY.  For more information and tickets, click here.

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