Huntington Now Review

‘The Impossible Dream’ a Beautiful Reality at Engeman Theater

September 28, 2018
By Mary Beth Casper

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

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

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

This production is that good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Huntington Now Review

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

singin in the rain

May 25, 2018
By Mary Beth Casper

Wow!

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

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

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

The performances soared.

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

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

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

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

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

It can’t fail. Or, can it?

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

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

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

Whatever you do, don’t miss this show.

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