Times of Huntington-Northport Review

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

 

May 15, 2019
By Heidi Sutton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

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

January 23, 2019
By Heidi Sutton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: The Engeman’s ‘Cinderella’ proves there’s a happily ever after

Times of Huntington-Northport

Heidi Sutton

October 3, 2017

 

For many, Disney’s “Cinderella” will always have a special place in their hearts. Released in 1950, it was Walt’s 12th animated feature film and rumored to be his favorite.

Now, under the direction of Matt Kunkel, the timeless, “rags to riches” fairy tale takes on new life in “Cinderella KIDS” at the Engeman Theater in Northport through Oct. 29. Performed by a cast of nine teens, each one more talented than the next, the show features the original story and wonderful songs, much to the delight of the little princesses in the audience, with a comedic twist.

Now, 67 years later Cinderella (Kira Williams) is still at the mercy of her stepmother (Ava Dell’aquila) and stepsisters Anastasia (Katherine Gallo) and Drizella (Lexie Spelman), who seem to take much pleasure in making her miserable. When a messenger from the castle drops by and announces that all unmarried girls are invited to the Royal Ball, the stepmother tells Cinderella she can go if she finishes her chores. Her mouse friends, Gus and Jaq (Melissa Aliotta and Samantha Foti), make her a beautiful gown from items the stepsisters have discarded. When the stepsisters see how beautiful Cinderella looks, they throw a tantrum and destroy the gown.

When all seems hopeless, Cinderella’s fairy godmother (Maeve Barth-Dwyer) appears and with a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo, concocts a beautiful blue gown, glass slippers and a fancy coach and sends the young girl off to the ball. There she meets the handsome prince (Theron Viljoen), they fall in love and dance the night away, that is, until the stroke of midnight. Will Cinderella’s dreams come true? Will she marry her Prince? Will her stepmother and stepsisters finally get their comeuppance?

From the very beginning, the narrator (Danny Feldman) makes it is clear that the audience will be a part of the story. When Cinderella is given a four-foot-long list of chores, the stepsisters ask the audience what else they should make her do. “Bake a muffin!” yells one child. “Scrub the toilet!” offers another. Tough crowd.

When the fairy godmother tries to help Cinderella get to the ball, she asks the children, “What can we use for a coach?” “A pumpkin!” is the immediate response. When Cinderella disappears at the stroke of midnight, the prince and his herald frantically run through the theater searching for her with the help of the children who eventually find the glass slipper. Later on, Cinderella walks through the aisles singing “So This Is Love,” as the young theatergoers sit mesmerized. The interactive concept is genius and works to a T. Even the youngest guests won’t have time to grow restless and that is the greatest wish of all.

Stay after for a meet and greet and autographs with the cast in the lobby. An autograph page is conveniently located toward the back of the program. Running time is one hour with one 15-minute intermission. Booster seats are available and costumes are encouraged. The theater also hosts birthday parties (Happy Birthday, Chloe!).The beautiful costumes by Jess Costagliola and the delightful choreography by Emma Gassett complete the experience. Disney’s “Cinderella” may be timeless but Disney’s “Cinderella KIDS” is a real fall treat and the perfect show to introduce young children to live theater. I guarantee they’ll love you for it.

 

Read online: http://tbrnewsmedia.com/theater-review-engemans-cinderella-proves-theres-happily-ever/

Buy Tickets: https://engemantheater.com/event/cinderella

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: ‘Gypsy’ shines at the Engeman

Times of Huntington-Northport

Heidi Sutton

September 28, 2017

 

Since its Broadway debut in 1959, “Gypsy” has often been referred to as one of the greatest musicals of all time, with such classic hits as “If Mama Was Married,” “Together Wherever We Go,” “Let Me Entertain You” and everyone’s favorite, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Now the award-winning show arrives at the Engeman Theater in Northport through Oct. 29 and lives up to its reputation in spades.

With book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, “Gypsy” is loosely based on the 1957 memoirs of the 1930s burlesque star Rose Louise Horvick, known professionally as Gypsy Rose Lee. Her mother Rose has big dreams for her youngest daughter June (actress June Havoc) to make it in show biz and drags both sisters around the country to perform their Vaudeville act, which isn’t very good.

Rose hires dancers and an agent, Herbie, to help them get gigs, but the act never gets off the ground. When June has finally had enough and runs off to elope with one of the dancers, Rose turns her attention to the less talented Louise. It is then that the audience realizes that Rose is the one craving stardom and Louise is just a pawn to achieve that goal.

With a totally revised show, Louise and her dancers mistakenly end up in a burlesque house. With not a dime to their name, Rose convinces Louise to give stripping a try and Gypsy Rose Lee is born. Now famous all over the world, Louise eventually tires of her mother’s controlling ways and breaks away, leaving Rose devastated and alone in the final scene.

Directed by Igor Golden, the large cast features Michele Ragusa as Rose, Austen Danielle Bohmer as Louise, Charity Van Tassel as June and John Scherer as Herbie. From her first solo, “Some People,” to the finale, “Rose’s Turn,” Ragusa shines in the role of the quintessential stage mother. Last seen on the Engeman stage as the scheming Mrs. Meers in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Ragusa can easily take a seat alongside her predecessors Ethel Merman, Bernadette Peters, Bette Midler and Tyne Daly.

Bohmer, making her debut on the Engeman stage, gives a rousing performance as Louise. Watching her transform from a shy, awkward teenager to a burlesque star is truly remarkable. Though only seen in the first act, Van Tassel has her work cut out for her as the star of a failing Vaudeville act that sometimes includes a cow. Scherer is brilliant as Herbie and quickly garners sympathy from the audience as he patiently waits for years for Rose to marry him, only to walk away in the end.

There are too many wonderful performances to mention, and the entire ensemble is terrific — particularly when delivering Drew Humphrey’s clever choreography. But special mention must be made of Jennifer Collester Tully, Suzanne Mason and Amber Carson for their showstoppping rendition of “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” and to Bryan Thomas Hunt as Tulsa who gives an incredible performance in “All I Need Is the Girl.”

The set, designed by Nate Bertone, is impeccable and lighting by Zach Blane is brilliantly executed. Kudos to Kurt Alger for capturing America’s fading Vaudeville circuit with beautifully detailed costumes and to the six-member powerhouse band led by Alex Bart that tie the show together in a neat little package that is not to be missed.

Let the Engeman entertain you. Go see “Gypsy.”

 

Read online: http://tbrnewsmedia.com/theater-review-gypsy-shines-engeman/

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