The Observer Review

Santa’s Elf Buddy on Northport stage

November 22, 2018
By: David Ambro

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

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

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

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

It works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Observer Review

Newsies is a smash at the Engeman Theater

July 26, 2018
By David Ambro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Observer: New look hotel approved for tax break

By David Ambro
July 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Observer Review

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

Danny Gardner in the iconic role of Don Lockwood, made famous in 1952 by Gene Kelly, performs the title scene “Singin’ in the Rain” at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, By popular demand, Singin’ in the Rain is the third shows in a row at the Engeman Theater to have its engagement extended.

June 7, 2018
By David Ambro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A black and white film shot in Northport Village Park plays on the Engeman stage during Singin’ in the Rain.

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

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

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

 

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The Observer Review

Engeman Theater to new heights

March 22, 2018
By David Ambro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Observer
David Ambro
January 25, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Observer
David Ambro
November 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Observer Review: Love is in the air on Northport stage

The Observer

July 13, 2017

David Ambro

 

Move over Olivia Newton John.

Grease opened at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport last week and Liana Hunt is a blockbuster as Sandy D. in this musical classic journey with the Rydell High School class of 1959. Ms. Hunt is a veteran of the Engeman stage, having played here two shows ago as the lead female Emma in Jekyll & Hyde. She was terrific as Emma, but Sandy Dumbrowski in Grease is a perfect role for Ms. Hunt. When she hits the stage in the closing scene as a transformed bad girl in leather, Ms. Hunt exudes the sexiness the role demands, but it is her voice that steals the show.

In the spotlight she shines, an actress who can sing as well as any other who has come to the Northport theater, and that’s saying something. She has performed in Newsies and Mamma Mia! on Broadway, and as Sandy D at the Engeman she delivers on Main Street a Broadway performance.

A 15-voice chorus singing “Alma Mater” starts the show off, then the classics start rolling, “Grease is the Word,” followed by “Summer Nights,” the introduction of Sandy D. and her crush Danny Zuko, played by Sam Wolf, another Engeman veteran who performed as Riff in West Side Story. Everyone knows this one – “Tell me more, tell me more…” – and the Engeman version is as Grease as it gets.

There are also some great treats in this show. Laura Helm’s version of Marty in “Freddy My Love” is excellent and the full company of T-Birds and Pink Ladies in “We Go Together” is perfect. Also, Zach Erhardt as Doody in his performance on the acoustic guitar of “Those Magic Changes” – “What’s that playing on the radio…” another one of those songs everyone knows when they hear it – is terrific.

Grease is a story line that we all know, and the Engeman cast is talented and fun to watch. Their versions of the classics “Shakin’ at the High School Hop” and “Born to Hand-Jive” is fast, furious and fun. And, “You’re the One That I Want” – another classic everyone knows when they hear it: “I’ve got chills, they’re multiplying…” – is delivered as a great climax to the show.

But, Ms. Hunt as Sandy D makes Grease a must see at the Engeman Theater. Her Act II performance of the classic “Hopelessly Devoted to You” is the highlight of the show.

Get tickets to this one, because they will likely sell out.

 

Observer Review: There’s a bright golden show at the theater

The Observer

David Ambro

May 18, 2017

 

As I sat in the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport looking at the playbill and waiting for Oklahoma! to start on press night on the eve of Mother’s Day Saturday, May 13, my mind was on other things, not my mom.

I was wet and uncomfortable after running in the rain up Main Street to the theater from the LaMantia Gallery down the block where I had just attended the opening of gallery owner James LaMantia’s work. I was trying to catch up with the show I was about to see, and I engaged in friendly conversation with the Engeman usher.

That all changed though after the lights dimmed, and the first words rolled off the tongue of Curly McLain, played by Bryant Martin, as he sang “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.”

“There’s a light golden haze on the meadow,”

“There’s a light golden haze on the meadow,”

“The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye,”

“An’ it looks like it’s climbing clear up in the sky…”

With those words my mom, Helen Ambro, was now in the forefront of my mind. Mr. Martin’s rendition of this iconic song was beautiful, and it brought back fond memories of the days of my youth.

Oklahoma! is the first musical ever written by the renowned theatrical team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and it was the first live show I had ever seen.

When I was a little boy my mother would try to bring me, my brother and my sister and our friends to live theater whenever she could. We went to American Legion and VFW halls, church basements, school auditoriums – my mom would have loved the Engeman – and Oklahoma! was one of her favorites. So, I have seen it more than once.

I haven’t seen this play in many years, though, and never have I seen it with such a talented cast. But, as I watched Curly McLain Saturday night it conjured up fond memories of my mom, reinforcing her place in my memory banks as one of the finest and most influential people in my life.

And, as I sat through Oklahoma! at the Engeman Saturday night watching Mr. Martin portray the iconic character Curly McLain, and angelic Kaitlyn Davidson portray the love of his life Laurey Williams, I soon came to realize why my mom loved this show so much, and why she was so fond of live theater.

Song after song this show is laced with classic music: Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, The Surrey  with the Fringe on Top, Oklahoma…; and dance routine after dance routine, this show is full of fun and drama, all of it strung together to tell a love story. The rendition of Oklahoma!, a classic musical, is a fitting way for the Engeman Theater to start its second decade of bringing Broadway to Main Street.

As Laurey, Kaitlyn Davidson brings Broadway credits to the cast – she played Ella in Cinderella and before that was in the cast of Nice Work if You Can Get it. As Oklahoma! progresses, the spotlight shines brighter and brighter on the talented Ms. Davidson, who is as good a singer as the Engeman stage has seen. And, she leads a cast deep with talent, actors and actresses who can sing and who can dance the hoedown.

A highlight of the show comes near the end of Act I, with the performance of “Our of My Dreams – Ballet,” which features Ms. Davidson as Laurey and her look alike Kelly Sheehan, as her dream figure. Sheehan is a veteran of the Engeman stage and another actress in the cast with Broadway credentials, having performed in 42nd Street and White Christmas.

Another veteran of the stage in Oklahoma! cast is Nathaniel Hackmann, who plays the deadly cowhand Jud Fry, who competes with Curly McLain for Laurey’s love but ends up dead, falling on his own knife during the wedding of the lead couple. Hackmann, a big man perfect for the role as a hardworking cowhand, is fresh off a run in the lead role of Jekyll and Hyde at the Engeman. He can sing, and he can act and his presence on stage is formidable.

Oklahoma! runs through June 25. For tickets, call the Engeman at 631-261-2900, order online at engemantheater.com or visit the box office at 250 Main Street in Northport.

The Observer Review: The Full Monty a hit on Engeman stage

The Observer

David Ambro

January 26, 2017

 

At the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, you get The Full Monty, if you know what I mean.

If you’re looking for a fun-filled night out this winter, this is it.

The Full Monty, starring Brent Michael DiRoma in a reprise of the lead role of Jerry Lukowski, an unemployed Buffalo steelworker who convinces a group of average Joes to become male strippers for quick cash, opened Saturay, January 21 at the Engeman Theater. It’s hilarious.

This is arguably the most playful, engaging and funniest show ever to hit the Engeman stage.

The Full Monty runs through March 5. For tickets call the box office at 631-261-2900, or visit the box office at 250 Main Street, Northport, or visit the theater website, EngemanTheater.com.

Mr. DiRoma, and his cast of misfit strippers, Ryan Dunkin as Jerry’s best friend Dave Bukatinsky is a standout, and are all talented singers, eager actors, and upbeat slapstick dancers. Diane Findlay, as pianist Jeanette Burmeister, is a veteran of her role and she plays it to perfection; and at the other end of the theatrical spectrum stage novice Kyle Wolf shines as Jerry Lukowki’s son Nathan.

Although it’s Mr. DiRoma’s debut on the Engeman stage, he is familiar with the roleof Jerry Lukowski. He played Jerry at Stages in St. Louis to close its 2015 season, a show that got rave reviews.

It’s a wonderful part for Mr. DiRoma, who delivers an engaging and likable musical version of Jerry Lukowski, a character created in a 1997 Academy Award nominated British Film, The Full Monty! set in Sheffield, England, which was adapted to a musical for the American stage and reset in Buffalo, New York.

During a post-opening night interview at the Engeman Saturday, Mr. DiRoma said one of the things he likes about the show is the interaction with the audience. During the opening-night performance he momentarily went off script when an audience member screamed, “keep your hat on,” as he squeezed a black derby over his naked crotch.

“Oh,” he said. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

He laughed and returned to his lines, and with the six members of Hard Metal flipped the audience The Full Monty, R-rated and tastefully done with a backdrop of hard stage lights that turned the row of male strippers into black silhouettes.

“The whole show is like that,” Mr. DiRoma said. “From beginning to end the show is a ball. I mean the show starts out with a guy taking off his clothes.”

“It’s not a fluffy show, you know what I mean. It’s not like Anything Goes, it’s not like the Bronx Tale. It’s The Full Monty,” said Mr. DiRoma, who has performed Huey in Memphis, Hank Maiewski/Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys, Tony in West Side Story, and Princeton/Rod in Avenue Q.

“Every night an audience builds a relationship with the actors on stage, and I felt really close to this audience tonight,” Mr. DiRoma said.

The men turned to stripping after being laid off from a steel mill. The play opens at Giordano’s on Route 11 in Buffalo, a club where the wives of the laid-off steelworkers attend a show of the famous Chippendale male strippers. Divorced and struggling to maintain custody of his son, Jerry comes up with the idea for a strip show of his own, 1,000 women at $50 each, a $50,000 night.

While the group practices its striptease routine, Jeanette reminds them of how bad they are, criticism she heaps on with uproarious punch lines.

Days before the big performance, Jerry’s best friend, Dave Bukatinsky, who struggles with insecurity about his weight, backs out of the opening night strip show. Then Jerry, in a desperate act to sell tickets, promises “The Full Monty,” a totally nude show not even the Chippendales provide. When the curtain goes up though, Jerry backs out suddenly, but the show goes on without him. Encouraged by his son, Nathan, Jerry hits the stage just in time for The Full Monty.

The Full Monty features a zany and comical plot interlaced with family drama, a story told with a wide ranging musical score highlighting the skill of the Engeman cast. Mr. Dunkin, Spencer Glass as stripper Malcolm MacGregor, Peter Simon Hilton as stripper Harold Nichols, and Noah Bridgestock as stripper Ethan Girard, are all wonderful singers, Big-Ass Rock, Michael Jordan’s Ball and You Walk With Me showcasing their wider range. And in Big Black Man, Milton Craig Nealy as Noah “Horse” Simmons turns in one of the show’s most entertaining numbers. And, early in the second act, Mr. DiRoma showcases his talent with the solo Breeze Off the River, a stunning ballad he delivers beautifully.

“I’m a singer first, but Jerry isn’t, so I try really hard to get away from the perfect vocals and the trained voice to give it more of a punching bag feel as opposed to trying to do it with all the technique and voice because I hate when people try to Jerry like that,” Mr. DiRoma said. “He’s a man’s man, and that’s how he wants to be seen. So, I think if you sing the ballad beautifully, that takes away from that manliness.”

DiRoma said though, that although the music is there, the role of Jerry Lukowski is in the acting, not the singing. “I do have to sing every night, and that takes work, but all my focus is on who Jerry is. And if Jerry were to sing a song, how would he go about it,” DiRoma said. “That’s what’s most important to me.”

“It’s a big role in that it is top to bottom and very little time off the stage, and as challenging as it is I share a lot of similarity with Jerry, and there is plenty that I don’t share with Jerry,” DiRoma said with a laugh. DiRoma, who was 25 when he first played Jerry and is 26 now, said as he gets older he can relate more closely to Jerry’s plight, a 32-year-old unemployed man trying to provide for his family.

About the Engeman Theater, Mr. DiRoma said performing in Northport has been a treat.

“I love it man. I love what they’re doing here. The people who run this theater are brilliant. It’s a theater for musicals with cup holders on the seats, so you can drink. That’s the way to see a show,” he said. “You know what I mean, especially for the husbands and dads who get roped into coming to see The Full Monty or something like that. I think they are pleasantly surprised to come into a theater that is welcoming in that way.”

“This is a show that is about the camaraderie of these characters and the music and the comedy aside, there is somebody they can relate to in these guys,” he said. “The theater itself is brilliantly run. Two weeks is a very difficult rehearsal process. Usually it is three weeks, but two weeks is fast.”

Ms. Findlay also said performing at the Engeman has been a treat and she loves this version of The Full Monty.

“I love this theater. It is a little diamond here and [Producing Artistic Director] Rich [Dolce] and everyone concerned are charming, they know what they are doing, we are treated beautifully, the cast that they selected is top notch all the way – it’s a perfect experience,” Ms. Findlay said after the show.

This is her fourth time as Jeanette. “It’s a great show,” she said. “I think this is the best cast I have ever worked with. I think that our director Keith Andrews really selected a cast that personifies each character.”

“I’m very proud to be a part of this perfect cast and beautiful Engeman theater,” she said.

Kyle Wolf, 13, of Glen Head, who has been a professional actor for less than a year, played Jerry’s son Nathan Lukowski in his biggest role ever.

“It’s a lot of fun. The show is so much fun,” he said during an interview in the Engeman lobby after the opening Saturday night. “It’s a very different experience because usually for every part that I have had it has been a younger version of the main character. So this is really cool because I am a main character throughout the show.”

“I really like the story because it is really funny and at the end it is heartwarming,” Kyle said.

He said his favorite members of the cast to work with are the gang of strippers, which includes his dad Jerry. He said his favorite part of the show is the closing scene in which he convinces his dad to go out on stage and strip with the other members of Hard Metal, the unorthodox group of male strippers his dad assembled and then tried to bailout on amid last minute stage fright.

He said another one of this favorite scenes is You Rule My World, with Vicki and Harold. “That’s a fun scene,” he said.

“This is my first time coming here. I’ve always wanted to do stuff here because it’s on Long Island and it’s a very good theater, but I have never gotten involved with it before,” he said. “So, this is a very good experience.”

Kyle performed off Broadway at the Davenport Theater in Manhattan as Young Vince in Molasses in January and he was Young Terk in Tarzan at the White Plains Performing Arts Center.

“This is one of, probably the best theater I have ever worked at. It is a real good theater,” he concluded.

Mr. DiRoma said although inexperienced, Kyle has been easy to work with.

“Kyle is awesome. He is my favorite Nathan that I have ever worked with doing this show,” he said. “It is interesting because everyone knows that if a kid is on stage they are the one who everyone is looking at. So I’m happy to be involved with him.”

The Observer Review: Uplifting flight into Northport for Mary Poppins & company

The Observer

November 24, 2016

David Ambro

 

What Julie Andrews brought to the iconic role of Mary Poppins in the 1964 movie version, Analisa Leaming brings to the role in the production that opened at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport last week.

Mrs. Leaming, who was swarmed by the children of the cast when she arrived at the cast party after the opening-night performance Saturday, November 19, is the perfect Mary Poppins. She looks the part and boy can she sing.

During a pre-performance interview, Ms. Leaming said Mary Poppins is a “big sing” for her, and it is a sing in which she comes up big. She has an angelic voice with great range that allows her to capture the spirit of Feed the Birds and the excitement of A Spoonful of Sugar and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Much the same can be said for Luke Hawkins as Bert, Mary Poppins’ lighthearted and magical chimney sweep sidekick. Bert is a role made famous on the screen 52 years ago by Dick Van Dyke, and it is a role made unforgettable by Mr. Hawkins on the Engeman stage with his rendition with the ensemble of Step in Time, a tap-dance spectacular that was an audience and cast favorite.

Described in a word, this show is uplifting.

“I think it turned out beautifully,” said director and choreographer Drew Humphrey during an interview after the press-night show Saturday, November 19. Asked about his favorite part of the show, Mr. Humphrey thought for a short moment, and like many other chose the tap-dance extravaganza Step in Time.

“It is a story that everyone can relate to. Everyone has experienced some problems when they come home to their family and it is not working right and I think this show does a wonderful job of telling people that dealing with their problems is not impossible.”

Mr. Humphrey said there are high expectations when you take on a show like Mary Poppins. “Whenever you are dealing with source material that is iconic as this is, there is a pressure to do it justice. If you stay true to it and approach it honestly and approach it with love, you set yourself up for success,” he said.

David Schmittou, who plays George Banks, the strict and high-strung father of the children in Mary Poppins’ care, is a veteran of the Engeman stage, having performed in A Christmas Story. During an interview after the show Saturday he said he loves the Engeman Theater and has a fondness for this show, having performed Mr. Banks twice before.

“I love this show,” he said. “I think it is a great story. I’ve loved the story since I was a kid and saw the movie.”

“It is my second experience at the Engeman and I think it is a fantastic experience,” said Mr. Schmittou, who resides in New Jersey. “It’s great, and I think that the story had such an appeal to me as a kid but as an adult is also has appeal to me too because of the family dynamic and the stage show.”

Mr. Schmittou said the favorite part of his role was fixing the family, when he comes out of his stern character at the end and celebrates the Banks coming together as a family unit. It’s a fun scene, where he kicks up his heels and breaks into dance with Bert.

“The family drops the walls that are going up and comes together as a family,” he said. “Mary Poppins heals the family. I don’t want to give too much away for anybody who hasn’t seen it, but it is about the family.”

Although he is not on stage for it, Mr. Schmittou said his favorite part of the show is Step in Time. “I stand in the wings and watch it every night. That is truly a show stopping number,” he said.

“If my wife and I were season ticket holders here and we came to see this show, the first thing we would do is call my brothers and sisters and say get all of the children, nieces and nephews, and take them to see this show,” said theater owner Kevin O’Neill. “That’s what this should be. This is a family show if ever there was one.”

“It’s not a Christmas oriented show, it’s not a holiday show, but overall it’s a show for family that’s tough to beat,” Mr. O’Neill said. “We’re bringing our booster seats out, because the little ones are coming.”

Katherine LaFountain, of Bayport, who plans Jane Banks, one of the children in Mary Poppins’ care, said it has been inspirational to work with Ms. Leaming. “She has done things on Broadway and she is a great role model for me,” Katherine said.

“I think it went very well, and I love this show so much,” Katherine said.

Like many of the others, Katherine said Step in Time is her favorite part of the show. “It is the most beautiful thing to watch and I love tap-dancing,” she said. “So, it’s so fun.”

Christopher McKenna, of Syosset, who plays Michael Banks, said he is really excited to be in the cast because it is his first big role. “My favorite part is Perfect Nanny because it’s me and Jane’s song. I just loved it because it’s our first big scene,” Christopher said.

While Step in Time was a show stopper and an audience favorite, another audience favorite, mine as well, is Feed the Birds, a duet by Ms. Leaming, as Mary Poppins, and the Bird Woman, played by Suzanne Mason. Although this is her only song in the show, Ms. Mason makes it something very special with her angelic voice that shines in concert with Ms. Leaming.

While Step in Time and Feed the Birds are audience favorites, Mary Poppins at the Engeman captures, with great authenticity, the iconic classics in this magical fairy tale. It’s a must see, another stellar example of how the Engeman brings Broadway to Main Street.

For tickets, visit the box office at 250 Main Street, Northport, call the box office at 631-261-2900 or order online at engemantheater.com.

 

 

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