The Theatre Guide Review

Million Dollar Quartet – John W. Engeman Theater – Theatre Review

January 27, 2020
By Kristen Weyer

When: December 4th, 1956. Where: Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. What: The impromptu jam session of four legendary musicians. This famous evening would mark the only time in history that Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis ever played together, inspiring the musical Million Dollar Quartet, now playing at The Engeman Theater. This fabulous musical, with a book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, is directed and choreographed here by Keith Andrews.

This show is predominantly an incredible concert given by these four artists. It does however, contain an overarching plotline: the decision over the fate of Sun Records. The show is narrated by music producer, and Sun Records owner, Sam Phillips. Sam address the audience at numerous moments throughout the production describing the events of, and leading up to, that evening. At the same time, he is agonizing over an important offer from RCA Records to buy Sun Records and have Sam come work for them. While he struggles to decide what to do, we are introduced to the four icons. We are informed of fascinating backgrounds and history, and given an insider’s view to the events of that night all the while being treated to a plethora of amazing music.

This cast does a marvelous job, performing beautifully with stunning vocal and musical talent. They are: Sam Sherwood as Carl Perkins, Sky Seals as Johnny Cash, Noel Carey as Jerry Lee Lewis and Sean Michael Buckley as Elvis Presley, with Luke Darnell as Sam Phillips, Sarah Ellis as the lovely Dyanne, David Sonneborn as drummer Fluke and Corey Kaiser as Brother Jay. They give wonderful characterization, with intelligent portrayals and accurate comedic timing. Also, rest assured that you will not be subjected to painful and over-the-top impersonations in this performance. Sherwood, Seals, Carey and Buckley portray these iconic figures with an ease and grace that makes it easy to believe them, while stopping short of full impersonations. Don’t worry though, Elvis still says “Thank you very much”.

Don’t overlook the other characters in this show though, and indeed their performances are such that you won’t be able to. Luke Darnell plays Sam Phillips with expressiveness and charm. Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne, is portrayed by Sarah Ellis whose stunning vocals happily impress more than once. The recording studio musicians playing “back-up” for the four stars are Carl Perkins’ brother, Jay, on bass, and Fluke on the drums, portrayed with talent by Corey Kaiser and David Sonneborn.

A nicely accurate set by designer Jordan Janota, and attractive and time period appropriate costume design by Dustin Cross compliments the action. Sound Design by Laura Shubert gives that concert feel.

Whether these are the artists and songs of your youth, or possibly your first introduction to them, Million Dollar Quartet is a superb evening of theater for all. From “Blue Suede Shoes”, “I Walk the Line” and “Hound Dog” to “Great Balls of Fire”, this incredible piece of music history comes alive on the stage before your eyes and transports you back to another time. This show is fascinating and fabulous fun.

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The Theatre Guide Review

Saturday Night Fever – John W. Engeman Theater – Theatre Review

July 15, 2019
By Kristen Weyer

Bell-bottoms and disco abound at the John W. Engeman Theater’s production of Saturday Night Fever The Musical. This groovy throwback to the seventies is based on the story by Nik Cohn, and the 1977 Paramount/RSO movie starring John Travolta, and features the music of The Bee Gees.  It was adapted for the stage by Robert Stigwood and Bill Oaks, with the North American version being written by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti.  This production is produced and directed by Richard Dolce, with choreography by Breton Tyner-Bryan.

Tony Manero (Michael Notardonato) is a 19 year old Brooklynite, with a lousy job and an unhappy home life.  His only joy is on the weekends, which he spends dancing at the disco and messing around with his friends, Bobby C (Matthew Boyd Snyder), Joey (Christopher Robert Hanford), Double J (Steven Dean Moore), and Gus (Casey Shane).  When he meets talented dancer Stephanie Mangano (Missy Dowse), they decide to enter a dance competition together.  Little does he know that this will mark a changing point for the rest of his life.

I feel that the enjoyment of this production is going to vary greatly, based mostly on the generation of the audiences.  If you lived through the seventies, were raised on the music of the time period, or just have fond memories of the original movie, then you’ll probably enjoy yourself immensely.  If you didn’t, weren’t, or don’t, then you probably won’t.  I found the plotline slow, and at points tedious.  The music, while time period appropriate and frequently fun, multiple times felt forced into the story rather than flowing from it.  The characters are annoying, abrasive, and difficult to get behind.  Even though you might feel badly for Tony at points, his personality is such that truly caring what happens to him is a fairly unattainable prospect.

The actual performance, however, can be fun.  The acting is great, the dancing lively and fun, and there are enough hip thrusts to rival Elvis.  Michael Notardonato makes a wonderful Tony, with an emotional voice, great dancing skills, and excellent characterization completed with brilliant facial expressions. He brings John Travolta to mind on more than one occasion.  Missy Dowse is amusing as the ignorant, social climber Stephanie.  Her lines are lovely and her singing is pleasant. Snyder, Hanford, Moore and Shane display skillful harmonies and dance moves throughout the show, and Andrea Dotto as Annette has a wonderful moment with an emotional performance of “If I Can’t Have You.”  Gabriella Mancuso as disco singer Candy, and Colin E. Liander as DJ Monty dive wholeheartedly into the era’s music.

Along with the talented ensemble, the orchestra under direction from Chris Rayis performed beautifully. Set and costume designers Michael Bottari and Ronald Case made excellent use of the space, giving us an elevated bridge and even adding that slightly cramped feeling to the disco scenes. The delightful and time period appropriate costumes rounded out the feel of the show.  Saturday Night Fever is a groovy flashback into a bygone era, and don’t get out of your seat too early, the best part comes after the bows!

The Theatre Guide Review

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder – John W. Engeman Theater

March 19, 2019
By Kristen Weyer.

Who couldn’t use an escape now and then? Come travel back in time and away from reality and reason with A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, now playing at the John W. Engeman Theater. Mischief, mayhem and murder run rampart in this outrageous musical with book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman, and music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak. Their combined genius is on full display the entire production with dizzying displays of immensely clever dialogue and lyrics.  It is easy to see why this show won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical.

With very “British” humor along the lines of Monty Python and Robin Hood: Men in Tights, it’s a little bit slap-stick, fairly dirty, and very irreverent of its subject – mainly murder.  The cast does warn the audience of this in their very first number aptly entitled “A Warning to the Audience” (and then hilariously seem quite perplexed why we didn’t all get up to leave).  It is by no means gruesome, but rather filled with campy death sequences and some exaggerated stage gore. If this is not your cup of tea however, then consider yourself forewarned.

It is London, in the early 1900s. The plot follows the young, handsome, and poor, Monty Navarro (fabulously played by Sean Yves Lessard).  When he learns that his recently deceased mother was really a disinherited member of the noble D’Ysquith Family, he reaches out to them hoping for a job and to be accepted back into the family.  However, after being cruelly rejected he resolves to enact revenge for his poor mother, and what better way than to take his relatives’ place and become the next Earl in their stead. One small problem: there are eight people ahead of him in the succession. Deciding to, shall we say, help them along their way he embarks upon a number of madcap schemes to whittle down his family tree and seize the Earldom for himself.  Throw in a score of zany characters, entertaining songs and a good dose of love and romance and you have the recipe for a fabulously fun night of theater!

This set design is also fun, and the off kilter lines of the stage mimic the crazy line of the story; Scenic and Prop Designer Nate Bertone did very well with that parallel. Wonderful sound effects by designer Laura Shubert bring multiple scenes to life and enhance the production.  Gorgeous historical costuming by designer Matthew Solomon set the time period and the characters.  The talent of the orchestra, under direction from James Olmstead, is on continual display; they performed impressively.

Lessard plays Monty with a killer combination of easy charm, dashing good looks and incredible vocals.  He switches with apparent ease from gorgeous held notes, to fast paced, tongue-twisting lyrics without losing tonality or clarity.  Monty’s polar opposite love interests are both portrayed with superb talent and brilliant acumen.  The sultry and coquettish Sibella is beautifully played by Kate Loprest, while Katherine McLaughlin charmingly portrays the demure and honest, Phoebe.  Both women bring charm, vivacity and humor to their characters while also treating the audience to their lovely vocals. Taylor Galvin gives some very funny moments as Lady Eugenia, and Matthew Patrick Quinn impresses with his low baritone.

While it is true that the entire cast did a wonderful job, including every member of the ensemble, the star of this production is Danny Gardner who plays the D’Ysquith Family.  Now you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, did she just say family? As in all 8 members of the previously mentioned succession?!” Yes. And actually it’s 8+ because there are a few others who pop up as well along the way.  There is, unfortunately, not room here to do the genius of Danny Gardner justice, I can only hope that the following will suffice.  He is brilliant.  He has personified and brought to life each character in a unique and specific way, no two are quite alike.  He changes his voice, his gait, his tonality and inflection, and he’s not just talking, oh no, he’s singing and dancing, gesticulating and tapping. There was not a large display of his tap dancing prowess in this show which was unfortunate, because he’s good (anyone lucky enough to have seen him as Don Lockwood in the Engeman’s production of Singin’ in the Rain will know just how good). His vocals are an absolute pleasure to hear, his characterizations are hysterical, and his comedic timing is spot-on. It is so impressive and beyond entertaining to watch him do these roles. Simply put, Danny Gardner started out as a triple threat and then left that in the dust.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is many things.  It is clever and different, it is obvious and then surprising, it is strange, dirty, and macabre, and then hysterically funny, touching, and romantic. Director Trey Compton and choreographer Vincent Ortega have delivered a brilliantly executed production. It is fabulous fun, and I promise you won’t be bored.

The Theatre Guide Review

Elf the Musical – John W. Engeman Theater

November 19, 2018
By Kristen Weyer

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear”. The John W. Engeman Theater does just this with their holiday production of Elf the Musical.  Based upon the popular film starring Will Ferrell, this musical has a book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, with music and lyrics by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin.  Running until December 30th, and directed by Matt Kunkel, Elf is exactly what you hope it will be: campy, cute and Christmassy.

Featuring the plot and your favorite lines from the movie (with slight tweaks), the play will be familiar to many.  Buddy the Elf (superbly played by Erik Gratton), discovers that he is in fact human (gasp!), and sets off to meet his father who doesn’t even know Buddy exists. Horror-of-horrors his father, Walter Hobbs (the brilliantly blustery Joe Gately) is on…the naughty list.  A workaholic with no time for his wife and the son he is aware of, Walter is shall we say less than thrilled to have a fully grown Elf show up claiming to be his son.  However, with his signature indefatigable cheer and unflagging optimism, Buddy sets off to instill the Christmas spirit within his newly found family and all he meets. Who knows? He might just make a Christmas miracle.

With a fun set by Nate Bertone, great costumes from Leon Dobkowski, and entertaining choreography from Mara Newbery Greer, the humorous story of Elf is brought to life on the Engeman’s stage. Excellent sound design by Laura Shubert bolsters the entire performance, especially during an amusing rendition of “Carol of the Bells”.

From the “little?” elves, all the way up to the big man himself, Santa Claus, this cast gives wonderfully merry performances.  Gordon Gray is one of the best Santa Claus’ I’ve seen, with a perfect storytelling cadence, and the most believable laugh you’ve heard in a while.  Erik Gratton’s fabulous grin and guileless expressions, combined with great comedic timing, make him perfect for Buddy.  The lonely and jaded Jovie is drolly played by Caitlin Gallogly with a lovely singing voice. Christianne Tisdale and Zachary Podair are touching as mother and son, Emily and Michael Hobbs.  While all of the cast gave fabulous performances, Nicole Hale as Deb stole every scene she was in with hilarious antics and killer timing.

Fun and silly, charming and heartwarming, Elf the Musical is a delightful start to the holiday season.

The Theatre Guide Review

Newsies – John W. Engeman Theater

July 24, 2018
By Kristen Weyer

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Disney’s Newsies is now playing at the John W. Engeman Theater. Get ready for a magical, and inspiring trip back in time to the turn of the 20th century.  This entertaining and uplifting musical boasts music from Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and a book by Harvey Fierstein. Based on the actual events of the Newsboys Strike of 1899, this wonderful show will capture your imagination with its intricacies, and tug at your heart strings with its brilliant score. Directed here by Igor Goldin, Newsies is a must see for the whole family.

As the lights rise so too does the mist of a faraway morning on the roofs of New York City.  Poor, young, orphaned and homeless are the boys sleeping on the skyline.  With each other for family, they eek out their meager existence selling newspapers to any and all who will buy, earning them their name: the Newsies. The leader of this rag-tag pack is the clever and persuasive Jack Kelly (superbly played by Dan Tracy). When the newspapers of New York, led by Joseph Pulitzer (Tom Lucca) raise their wholesale prices on the Newsies the struggling boys have had enough.  Jack, together with newcomer Davey (Mike Cefalo) inspire the Newsies to form a union, go on strike and fight for the rights of the children workers of New York City.

This wonderful cast produces non-stop energy and entertainment from beginning to end. Characterization, chemistry and charisma flow from every angle of the stage.  Brilliant choreography by Sandalio Alvarez is energetically executed.

Dan Tracy as Jack Kelly will blow you away, pure and simple.  His vocals impress straight from his stunning opening number of “Santa Fe” all the way through to the end. Tracy’s characterization of Jack as he turns from a boy into a young man throughout the show is excellent. His charming grin, and the rakish twinkle which always seems to be hiding a joke, is intermixed with his maturing words, and actions. He is the perfect Jack Kelly.

Whitney Winfield is superb as Katherine Plumber.  Her beautiful voice and spunky attitude will bring a permanent smile to your face.  Mike Cefalo is an excellent Davey. Wonderful vocals and fantastic facial expressions bring his character to life.  Zachary Podair is terrific as Davey’s little brother Les.  His charm is palpable, and he adds delightful humor.

Tom Lucca is phenomenal as Joseph Pulitzer. He executes the strong, and frequently ruthless, character with calculated precision.  His excellent vocals are clear and crisp, yet melodic. You’ll love to hate him.

The intricate multi-level set by designer DT Willis works perfectly for this production.  Accurate historical costumes by Kurt Alger, and props by Suzanne Mason add dimension. Zach Blane’s brilliant lighting design, and Laura Shubert’s excellent sound design added a layer of magic to the production. Music Director Alexander Rovang and the entire orchestra performed exquisitely.

With power, excitement, emotion and romance, Newsies will appeal to a plethora of tastes. “The Bottom Line” is to go “Watch What Happens”, and you might leave feeling like the “King of New York”, or at least with “Something to Believe In”. Either way, Newsies is definitely not to be missed.

The Theatre Guide Review

Singin’ in the Rain – John W. Engeman Theater

May 22, 2018
By Kristen Weyer

The John W. Engeman Theater is closing its 11th season with that musical classic Singin’ in the Rain! This fabulous production is brilliantly directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey and features everything you could hope for and more from this beloved show.  The iconic 1952 movie starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds has been perfectly transferred to the stage; every one of your favorite lines, songs and dance sequences are present, and, oh yes, it is going to “rain” onstage!

It’s 1927 in the heyday of silent films, and Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are Hollywood’s favorite film couple. Then the talking movies arrive and turn Hollywood upside down.  With their newest film about to release they must desperately convert it into a “talkie” or risk the ruination of the entire movie studio.  We’re taken on a delightful romp through the golden age of Hollywood with romance, humor, dancing, and of course, Singin’ in the Rain.

This cast is amazing.  From leads to ensemble each and every one of them was extremely impressive.  Danny Gardner is excellent as Don Lockwood, combining his charismatic and debonair manner with smooth and perfect vocals. His superb talent is obvious, especially as he sings, dances and splashes his way through that most awaited scene “Singin’in the Rain”. Tessa Grady is a lovely and captivating Kathy Selden.  Her beautiful voice and impressive dance skills are blended to perfection. Brian Shepard does the memory of Donald O’Connor proud with his portrayal of Cosmo Brown.  His charming smile and quirky grin, his excellent voice and energetic performances bring his silly, comical character to life.  As impressive as they are separately, these three together are even more so.  Their dance sequence during “Good Mornin“ is exceptional.

Emily Stockdale is brilliant as the tonally challenged Lina Lamont.  Her personae and timing were spot on.  Leer Leary is wonderful as the studio head R.F. Simpson; he portrays the perfect man in charge but somehow makes him endearing.  Comedy abounds in this amusing show, and it is not just from the leads.  Ben Prayz is flawless as the put-upon director Roscoe Dexter; Peter Surace’s portrayal of the Diction Coach makes the number “Moses Supposes”; and Britte Steele is exactly what you hope for as Dora Bailey.

The costumes in this production are simply fabulous. Designer Kurt Alger’s choices are a feast for the eyes from the wonderful 1920’s period pieces to the elaborate movie costumes they wear.  This, combined with Scenic Designer David Arsenault’s appealing set, Zach Blane’s enchanting lighting, and Laura Shubert’s excellent sound design, created the perfect ambiance.  The orchestra’s outstanding performance, under direction from Jonathan Brenner, bolstered the entire show.

From hysterical silent pictures, and excellent live performances, to that exquisite dance in the rain, Singin’ in the Rain is perfection from start to finish.  Whether you’ve seen it many times, or perhaps this might be your first, Singin’ in the Rain should not be missed.

The Theatre Guide Review

In the Heights

By Kristen Weyer
March 20, 2018

If you’re looking for a way to escape the cold then look no further than the John W. Engeman Theater. The current production of In The Heights is a surefire way to bring warmth and excitement to your day.  This Tony Award winner for Best Musical boasts a book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, and music and lyrics by…wait for it, Lin-Manuel Miranda!  Yes, of Hamilton fame.  Filled with the sound and soul of Latin music this incredible score is a brilliant blend of salsa, merengue and hip-hop combined with the format of musical theater we all know and love.  It’s hypnotic and intoxicating, and just pure fun.

Even if hip-hop isn’t usually your cup of tea, do not under any circumstances, be dissuaded from attending. Trust me, it’s not my first musical choice either, but somehow this show makes it appealing and wonderful.  The intricate, and even amusing lyrics, combine effortlessly with the characters and mood so that the music almost feels like a physical embodiment of the setting.  It’s impressive as well. The flawless verbal gymnastics performed by Spiro Marcos as Usnavi are simply breathtaking.

The steam is rising off the concrete on a sweltering hot 4th of July in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York.  Change is upon the residents, and while some desire it, others find it difficult, hearts are broken and mended, dreams crash and burn and rise again.  We the audience follow along through the three transformative days in our characters’ lives.

This production is phenomenal.  From the authentic look of the set by Christopher Ash, to the amazing vocals performed by the entire cast, In The Heights was a delight from start to finish. The insane talent of this cast cannot be stressed enough.  Not only were their voices and dancing superb, but they all make you care about their characters as well.  The two couples in this show both had excellent chemistry and you’ll find yourself rooting for both of them from the start:  Spiro Marcos and Chiara Trentalange, as Usnavi and Vanessa; Josh Marin and Cherry Torres, as Benny and Nina.  They are sweet and charming, funny and endearing, and real.  Trentalange and Torres both have incredible powerhouse vocals which take over the stage with magical precision.  Another vocal stunner is Tami Dahbura as Abuela Claudia, and Marin’s clear and resonant tones are not quickly forgotten.

There is also plenty of comedy, and Nick Martinez as Sonny, Scheherazade Quiroga as Daniela and Iliana Garcia as Carla deliver marvelously.  Not to be overlooked are Paul Aguirre and Shadia Fairuz as Nina’s parents, and the entirety of the cast.  Of course the musical talent of the orchestra under direction from Alec Bart was on masterful display.

When I first sat down to In The Heights I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect.  Not only did this production meet my expectations, it blew them away.  By any means possible see this show!

The Theatre Guide Review: Once

The Theatre Guide
Kristen Weyer
January 23, 2018

The hit Broadway musical Once is now playing at the John W. Engeman Theater.  With book by Enda Walsh, and music and lyrics by Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová, Once is the winning recipient of 8 Tony Awards. Directed and choreographed here by Trey Compton, this touching musical will both tug at your heart strings and embolden your courage.  Its dual themes are intertwined into a beautiful, seamless whole as it stresses the importance of love, and refuses to let the fear of failure reign.

We begin in a pub in Dublin, and I really do mean “we” as this show does something very different from others you’ve probably attended.  Before the official start of the performance the actors (who are also the musicians), are having a jam session in the set pub and you the audience are more than welcome to come up on stage, watch, and grab a drink from the on-stage working pub bar.  This unique and uncommon occurrence, aids in setting a wonderfully distinctive feeling to the show.

Nate Bertone’s beautiful and charming set evokes the lush mystique of the Emerald Isle, and the cozy old world feel of the pub.  Once the audience members are in their seats, the cast transitions into the first number and the show begins. We meet a disillusioned musician (brilliantly played by Barry DeBois) who is about to give up and walk away from his guitar forever. However, just before he can actually leave, a beautiful stranger (the fantastic Andrea Goss) approaches him asking about his music and challenging and encouraging him to continue.  As her passion for life, love and music renew his own, we are taken along on their emotional journey.

This show is impeccably performed from every aspect.  As I mentioned earlier, the actors are also the musicians and all of the music for this show is performed live on stage as they are acting.  It is magnificent and very striking.  Their musicality is not alone in impressing however.  Vocal ability is fabulous, characterization superb, and comedic timing spot-on. The characters are both Irish and Czech and the consistent accents are quite pleasing.

Defining Once is quite a challenge, and I think, intentionally.  It is not a comedy, but has many funny moments; it is not a tragedy, and yet has bittersweet moments. A haunting love story to music that will leave you touched, wistful, and yet encouraged.

One word of warning however, don’t go if you’re sleepy.  It is a beautiful and sedate musical, the opening jam session is about as peppy as it gets.

A sweet and mellow tale of love and music, Once is a mosaic of many messages: never leave the doors behind you half ajar, finish what you’ve started, don’t give up, and most importantly don’t be afraid to begin.  An excellent production which should be added to your must-see list at Once.

 

Read online: http://thetheatreguide.com/2018/01/23/once-john-w-engeman-theater/

The Theatre Guide Review: Annie – John W. Engeman Theater

The Theatre Guide
November 13, 2017
Kristen Weyer

The holiday shows have arrived, and the John W. Engeman Theater is presenting none other than the charming classic, Annie. This beloved musical has a book by Thomas Meehan, with music and lyrics by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin. Directed and choreographed here by Antoinette DiPietropolo, this wonderful performance is playing until December 31, 2017. A perfect holiday treat for the entire family, Annie is most definitely not to be missed!

While I’m confident that most of you are quite familiar with the plot of Annie, for anyone who has yet to see it, or just wants a refresher, read on. Annie tells the story of an optimistic, red-headed orphan living in New York City during the Great Depression. Just in time for Christmas, she is given the unexpected opportunity to spend a couple weeks living in the home of the famous billionaire Oliver Warbucks. They teach each other about life, family, and love as they sing their way through fabulous songs, to a feel-good ending. It is impossible to leave Annie without a smile on your face and tune in your head.
This cast is spectacular, pure and simple. Presley Ryan gives an impressive performance as Annie. Her beautiful voice, and spot-on comedic timing are well beyond her years. She is simply a pleasure to watch, directly from her opening number of “Maybe”.

George Dvorsky makes an excellent Oliver Warbucks. His perfect characterization has Warbucks’ no-nonsense shell cracking just enough to show his soft heart, and his endearing cluelessness about kids. This, combined with a strong voice and the nice chemistry between himself and Elizabeth Broadhurst as Grace Farrell, makes a great package. Broadhurst’s lovely vocals and charming persona have you falling in love with Grace from her first scene.

Lynn Andrews is an awfully awesome Miss Hannigan. Her killer voice and completely convincing loathing of the orphans, brings her character vividly to life; especially in “Little Girls”. Equally as evil, or perhaps more so, are Jon Peterson and Gina Milo as Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis. Their fantastically slimy characters are exactly what you want them to be and “Easy Street” is a treat.

Every single actor in this cast deserves commendation on a fantastic performance. Each one dove whole heartedly into all of the multiple characters they portray and the effect is magic. Not one maid, street person, or cabinet member didn’t give their all for a complete performance. Todd Fenstermaker makes a superb President Roosevelt, and Michael Santora is especially funny.

No discussion of Annie would be complete without mentioning the orphans, and the incredible girls in this performance deserve the highest praise I can give. Their acting and vocal abilities are quite simply stunning, and the well-known “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” is amazing. Keep an eye out for the absolutely adorable Sophia Lily Tamburo as Molly, who stole every scene she was in. There are two casts of orphans for this show, the group I saw was the red cast consisting of Sophia Lily Tamburo, Meaghan Maher, Meaghan McInnes, Cassandra LaRocco, Cordelia Comando and Emma Sordi. The green cast includes Annabelle Deaner, Erin Haggerty, Amelia Freiberger, Keira Eve Ballan, Megan Bush, and Brynne Amelia Ballan. While I have not seen the green cast perform, I am convinced that your experience will be equally as wonderful no matter which cast you get the pleasure of seeing.

Rounding out the performance was a great set by designers Christopher and Justin Swader, and fabulous historical costumes by designer Kurt Alger. The iconic score was played to perfection by the entire orchestra, under direction from Jonathan Brenner.

Annie is an exceptional production with appeal for all ages and generations. This outstanding show is a must-see this holiday season for the entire family.

 

Read online: http://thetheatreguide.com/2017/11/13/annie-john-w-engeman-theater/

Theatre Guide Review: Gypsy

The Theatre Guide

Kristen Weyer

September 19, 2017

 

Let them entertain you, and go see Gypsy at the John W. Engeman Theater.  With a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, this musical was suggested by the memoirs of legendary burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee.  It contains such hits as “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, “Together Wherever We Go” and of course, “Let Me Entertain You”.  Directed here by Igor Goldin, Gypsy is a historical romp through the vaudeville and burlesque scenes of the 1920s-1930s.

Gypsy, while based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, has less to do with burlesque than you might expect.  Rather it is more a story of the quintessential stage mother. Rose, marvelously played by Michele Ragusa, has two daughters, Louise and June. Her star and lead is “Baby June” who gets most of the attention and affection, while Louise is relegated to being her sister’s supporting cast on stage, and off.  Taking us from the beginning of Rose’s and her girls’ struggles in 1920s vaudeville through the changing times in the early 1930s, we are privy to the ups and downs of their relationships both professional and private.  Though when one of her girls is finally the “Star” she dreamed of, it is not in the fashion any of them ever imagined.

Michele Ragusa is an incredible force to be reckoned with as Rose.  Her brilliant characterization and vocals, combined with a fabulous crazy look in her eyes has you believing every line. Show manager/love interest Herbie, is fantastically portrayed by John Scherer.  His easygoing manner and charming smile have you falling for him from his first scene.

Austen Danielle Bohmer gives a stunning performance as Louise.  Her lovely vocals, and subtle expressions create an outstanding character.  In the beginning, her meek and mild-mannered persona tugs at your heart strings, and then in an almost bittersweet change, she transforms in to the confident and alluring Gypsy.  It is the end of sweetness and innocence, but the beginning of strength and independence. Don’t worry, you won’t get an eyeful of more than you’re supposed to.  The spotlights come up just in time.

Kyla Carter as Baby June, and Amanda Swickle as Baby Louise, both did a wonderful and entertaining job.  Charity Van Tassel as grown-up June has a sweet voice, and great comedic timing.

The clever rotating archway of Nate Bertone’s set was very effective in creating, and portraying the numerous varying locations in this musical.  Combined with the delightful costumes by Kurt Alger, and great sound from designer Laura Shubert, they assist in transporting the audience to another era.  A couple of excellent lighting effects were employed by designer Zach Blane.  Particularly appealing are the slow-motion strobe light portraying the aging process, and the perfect uses of light and shadow throughout.  The orchestra under conduction from Alec Bart performed magnificently.

While definitely not for all audiences, Gypsy is a fun and intriguing look at how far one woman will go to push fame onto her children, whether they want it or not.  With music, fabulous acting, and yes, stripping, this show is most certainly…entertaining.

Read online: http://thetheatreguide.com/2017/09/19/gypsy-john-w-engeman/

DC Metro Theater Arts Review: ‘Grease’ at the John W. Engeman Theater

DC Metro Theater Arts

July 23, 2017

Kristen Weyer

 

Grab your leather jacket and go back in time to Rydell High, 1959 in Grease. The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport has opened its 2017-2018 season with this much loved classic, and it’s fabulous. With book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, this production is directed by Paul Stancato.

The well-known storyline from the 1978 movie remains basically in place, with a few grittier tweaks reminiscent of its raunchier 1971 origins. Danny (Sam Wolf) and Sandy (Liana Hunt) meet at school after some fun “Summer Nights”, sung with great energy and flawless harmony from the cast. As they struggle to find a balance between their very different lives, and navigate friendships and romance with their peers, the audience rides along with the fun and the fantastic music. The most noticeable difference, besides song order, is Sandy’s substantially feistier personality, which is logical considering her eventual transformation.

This cast was incredible. Every character was impeccable, every song stupendous. Meticulous attention to every detail is apparent in each scene, from the perfectly executed favorites such as “You’re the One That I Want”, down to the subtle aspects of Miss Lynch (Tracy Bidleman) sneaking a drink during the dance. Sam Wolf and Liana Hunt play off one another extremely well. Both have stunning voices which never fail to please, whether in harmony in “Summer Nights” or solo in “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “Sandy.” Zach Erhardt as Doody gives an unbelievable performance of “Those Magic Changes.”

Chris Collins-Pisano as Roger and Hannah Slabaugh as Jan are wonderfully comical in the number “Mooning.” Laura Helm beautifully portrays the sensual Marty with exquisite vocals in “Freddy, My Love.” Madeleine Barker and Chris Stevens are delightful as Rizzo and Kenickie. Their strong vocals are on notable display in “Greased Lightnin” and “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” Both Casey Shane as Sonny LaTierri and Sari Alexander as Frenchy play up their characters to excellent comedic effect. Tim Falter’s portrayal of Vince Fontaine and Teen Angel are superb, and his performance of “Beauty School Dropout” is inspired. Kaitlin Nelson and Tim Russell are very funny as Patty and Eugene; while Robert Serrano sings charmingly as Johnny Casino, and Katherine Margo Brown gives a great performance as Cha-Cha DiGregorio.

Supporting this magnificent cast is a very clever set designed by Stephen Dobay, and great costuming by Matthew Solomon. Incredible music is provided by the entire orchestra under direction from Alec Bart. Lighting by Zach Blane is very effective, while Laura Shubert’s terrific sound design allows the entire show to be fully appreciated and enjoyed.

The only problem? It’s over too soon, you’re going to want to stay longer. Grease is most definitely the word you’ll be repeating over and over.

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

Grease plays through August 27, 2017 at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport – 250 Main Street, in Northport, NY. For tickets call the box office at (631) 261-2900 or purchase them online.

 

Read online: http://dcmetrotheaterarts.com/2017/07/23/review-grease-john-w-engeman-theater/

DC Metro Theater Arts Review: ‘Jekyll & Hyde the Musical’ at the John W. Engeman Theater

DC Metro Theater Arts

March 21, 2017

Kristen Weyer

 

The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport’s current production of Jekyll & Hyde the Musical is a nostalgic nod to its first season. Based on the classic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, with book and lyrics by Leslie Bricuse and music by Frank Wildhorn, Jekyll & Hyde is directed and choreographed by Paul Stancato. One of the theater’s most requested productions, Jekyll & Hyde is sure to thrill audiences straight from the opening scene.

Dr. Henry Jekyll is a man with a mission. He is determined to prove that the evil side of man’s nature can be removed and separated from the good. All he needs is a test subject for his serum, but the Board of Governors at the mental hospital refuse to give him one. Convinced he is in the right, and desperate to prove himself, Henry concludes his only choice is to experiment upon himself. The unexpected and dire consequences of this action put him at risk of losing everything he holds dear: his friendships, his fiancée Emma, even his own sanity. A riveting show, Jekyll & Hyde, is a melancholy and disturbing tale of good intentions gone awry.

This production is fabulous. Gorgeous and exquisite costumes by Kurt Alger swirl through the evocative choreography of Paul Stancato. Tantalizing effects of light and shadow play with emotion and heighten drama through the brilliance of Keith A. Truax. The ingenious set of sliding picture frames by Stephen Dobay works very well in varying aspects, and is especially apropos for the number “Façade” which underlays the entire show. The music which at times is soaring and stunning, and at others dissonant and spine-chilling, is superbly executed by Music Director Kristen Lee Rosenfeld and the entire band; with excellent sound design by Laura Shubert bolstering the production as a whole.

The cast of this show is perfection. Nathaniel Hackmann gives an incredible performance as Henry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. With clearly defined characteristics, mannerisms and tone, the seeming ease with which he portrays the duality of his character is stunning. His strong and clear voice rings with emotion and soars through the theater with every number, particularly in the iconic “This Is the Moment, and Hyde’s “Alive!”.

The two women in Jekyll’s life are his fiancée Emma, played by Liana Hunt, and girl-of-the-night Lucy, performed by Caitlyn Caughell. Hunt’s sweet and loyal Emma is convincing and charming, and with a lovely voice to match, a pleasure to listen to. Emma and Lucy’s duet of “In His Eyes” is a wonderful match-up of harmonization. Caughell plays the jaded Lucy faultlessly, with just the right amount of wariness and burgeoning hope. Her show stopping vocals are on outstanding display in “Someone Like You” and “A New Life”.

Both Tom Lucca, as Jekyll’s friend John, and Jeff Williams, as Emma’s father Sir Danvers did wonderfully. Their believable emotions are genuine assets to their characters. The entire ensemble deserves commendation on their skills. The singing, dancing and characterization are spot-on and strengthen the entire performance.

The heartrending, and chilling tale of one man’s fatal choices, Jekyll & Hyde is a hauntingly beautiful musical. The Engeman’s production should not be missed.

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

 

Read online: http://dcmetrotheaterarts.com/review-jekyll-hyde-musical-john-w-engeman-theater/

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

DC Metro Theater Arts

November 21, 2016

Kristen Weyer

 

Everyone’s favorite high-flying nanny has landed at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport! Mary Poppins will be playing until the wind changes on December 31, 2016. The script, based on both the books by P.L. Travers and the 1964 Disney movie, was written by Julian Fellowes, whose repertoire also includes Downton Abbey. Directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey, Mary Poppins is sure to delight audiences of all ages.

The endearing storyline of Mary Poppins is a familiar one to most of us. The Banks family requires a nanny for their two rambunctious children, but gets more than they bargained for in Mary Poppins. She proceeds to not only take care of the children, but to fix the entire family. Few, besides the very young, have not heard of the magical flying nanny who can fix any problem with a “Spoonful of Sugar” and a spit-spot!

Intriguingly, the underlying tone of this play is slightly darker than its movie predecessor. The members of the Banks family are here portrayed as realistic people with actual, serious problems. While previously, Jane (Katherine LaFountain) and Michael (Christopher McKenna) were merely attention starved children with an unfortunate penchant for mischief, here they are frequently selfish and rude.

Mr. Banks (David Schmittou) who we all knew as distracted and overworked, is now a truly angry man wounded by the scars of his own childhood. Also is our lovable, if air-headed suffragette, Mrs. Banks (Liz Pearce). In her place is a competent, intelligent woman struggling with her desires to be a caregiver to her own children, and how to best help a husband who doesn’t see what she is capable of. Don’t let this alarm you. What this does is add a substance to the plot that wasn’t there before. If anything, the added solemnity makes for a more heartwarming ending as we see the journey they were on to become a true family, as she sings in the very moving “Being Mrs. Banks.” Not to worry, all of your favorite aspects are still present, dancing penguins included.

And then there is scene-stealer Jane Blass, as the very scary and hilarious Miss Andrew, who wreaks havock as she tries to replace Mary Poppins. Her showstopping “Brimstone and Treacle.”

The cast does marvelously in every aspect. The talented ensemble twirls, taps, and sings their way through number after number with never flagging energy. Analisa Leaming is the perfect Mary Poppins, as we hear from her opening number “Practically Perfect.” Her beautiful voice and on-point characterization are everything you hope for from the iconic flying nanny.

Luke Hawkins makes a charming Bert, and brilliantly performs an impressive tap number during “Step in Time.” David Schmittou and Liz Pearce have a nice chemistry together, portraying believable emotion and giving the audience a couple worth rooting for. Katherine La Fountain and Christopher McKenna both impress as Jane and Michael. They are each fantastic young actors with delightful voices. An added comedic bonus are the household servants Mrs. Brill and Robertson Ay, humorously played by Linda Cameron and Danny Meglio.

The cast are certainly not alone in deserving accolades. With his practical, yet whimsical set design, Jason Simms adds to the fun and magic of the plot.  Likewise, Kurt Alger’s stunning and intricate costume designs continually impress.

The band, under direction from Michael Hopewell, beautifully performed tunes both familiar and new. While each recognizable song was eagerly anticipated, the unknown newer pieces were also very enjoyable. In fact, along with classics from Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman such as “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” come a whole cluster of new songs. Written by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, the new additions to the score will have you humming all the way home.

With its soaring melodies, enthusiastic dances and ultimate messages of love and perseverance, Mary Poppins is a must see for the whole family.  It reminds us that “anything can happen if you let it.”

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Mary Poppins plays through December 31, 2016, at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport – 250 Main Street, in Northport, NY. For tickets call the box office at (631) 261-2900, or purchase them online.

 

Read online at: www.dcmetrotheaterarts.com/mary-poppins/

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