The Theatre Guide Review

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

Bryant Martin (Joe Gillis) and Judy McLane (Norma Desmond). Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

September 22, 2019
By Jessica Kennedy

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

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

Judy McLane (Norma Desmond). Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

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

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Theatre Guide Review

Aida – John W. Engeman Theater

Kayla Cyphers (Aida) and Ken Allen Neely (Radames). Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

May 13, 2019
By Jessica Kennedy

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

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

Kayla Cyphers (Aida) and Ken Allen Neely (Radames). Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

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

Jenna Rubaii (Amneris) and Ensemble. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

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

 

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The Theatre Guide Review

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

Michael Perrie Jr. (Buddy Holly) and the cast of BUDDY – THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

January 21, 2019
By Jessica Kennedy

 

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

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

Armando Gutierrez (Jerry Allison), Skye Scott (Tommy), Michael Perrie Jr. (Budy Holly) and Sam Sherwood (Joe Maudlin). Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

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

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

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The Theatre Guide Review

Man of La Mancha – John W. Engeman Theater

Cast of Man Of La Mancha. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.
September 17, 2018
By Jessica Kennedy

Northport’s Engeman Theater opened its doors for the fall season with a beloved classic and winner of 5 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Man of La Mancha. Produced by Richard Dolce and directed by Peter Flynn, this iconic play based on Cervantes’ magnum opus, Don Quixote, enthralled its audience with a star- studded cast and a wonderfully whimsical rendering of the literary classic.

The play opens as Miguel de Cervantes, played by the charismatic Richard Todd Adams, finds himself locked up with his loyal manservant, (the comical Carlos Lopez), and awaiting questioning by the Spanish Inquisition for foreclosing on a monastery. They are not welcomed warmly, as their fellow prisoners seek to put Cervantes on trial themselves in a thinly veiled mascarade to plunder his meager belongings.  When the leader of the ragtag group dubbed the “Governor” (the endearing Bruce Winant) sets his eyes on destroying an unfinished manuscript, Cervantes wheedles his way into casting the squalid and miry lot into performing the manuscript with him- aiding him in his defense, and helping them all keep their mind off the threat looming just over their heads. What follows- the story of a bewildered, yet beloved Don Quixote (Adams), and his loyal friend and servant, Sancho Panza (Lopez), as they seek to fight the evil forces of the Great Enchanter and win the favor of the spirited and beautiful Aldonza, or should I say, Dulcinea (the dynamic Janet Dacal), makes for a layered and enchanting theatrical experience.

Richard Todd Adams (Don Quixote). Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

Upon entering the theater you first notice the beautiful piano bar and lounge area, where you may order a drink conceived for the show, such as a “Dulcinea” (Stoli Apple Vodka, Caramel Syrup, & Apple Cider, anyone?) and sip it leisurely as the theater pipes a Spanish melody through the lobby and lounge. Once a gentle chime announces the timely start of the show, you will make your way into the stadium- style seating theater and find that no matter where you are seated, you are exactly positioned for a great viewing experience. From the time the full orchestra pit strikes that first note, you know you are in for a polished and professional performance. The sound is even, and the volume is just right (credit to the Musical Director, Julianne B. Merrill and the Sound Design team led by Don Hanna). Additionally, the scenic design (Michael Bottari & Ronald Case) adds depth and reality to the scenes, with both trapdoors and ladders, and a functional drawbridge which ominously lurches up and down, jarring the prisoners (and the audience) from the storytelling of this frame narrative, reminding us of the danger awaiting our storyteller/hero.

This play is sharply cast and the production staff’s talent shines brightly in the lighting (Alan C. Edwards), the set, and the sound. For a total package theater experience, head to the Engeman Theater and you will not be disappointed. Although tragic in its undertones, the cast brings beauty and humor to this story- you will leave uplifted and unable to get Don Quixote’s timeless lyrics of “The Impossible Dream” out of your head and calling all your loved ones “Dulcinea” (or maybe that’s just me)!

One last note- while the content of this show is overall very suitable for a wide audience, it does contain one scene in particular which is mature in nature. Parents should be advised that there is sexual innuendo and implied sexual violence, so leave the little ones at home and come get swept away in the story of Don Quixote as he seeks “to reach the unreachable star” in a quest full of pluck and valor!

 

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