Kidsday Review

Enchanted by ‘Elf the Musical’ on LI

Erik Gratton, in light green, as Buddy the elf, with the cast of “Elf the Musical” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, where the show runs through Dec. 30. Photo Credit: Michael DeCristofaro

November 24, 2018
By: Zumra Demiroglu, Charlie Henning, Esther Loring and Ian Loring

We saw the show “Elf the Musical” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. It was fantastic. This adaptation of “Elf” was written by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, but it is based on the film written by David Berenbaum. This show is running right in our hometown!

The atmosphere was ready for the holiday season with trees decorated with gleaming lights outside the theater. Before we arrived at our seats, we were treated to a delicious hot chocolate covered with either peppermint or extra chocolate. The stage design had beautiful, gigantic snowflakes along with a New York City skyline, which really got us in the mood for what was coming. As the curtain opened Santa was on his chair yelling at the television and cracking jokes.

“Elf the Musical” is about a boy named Buddy who thinks he is an elf. When he was a baby, he accidentally crawled into Santa’s sack and got carriedto the North Pole. As he grows up, he realizes that he isn’t like the other elves, so he goes to Santa for help. Santa tells him his story and gives him directions to find his father, who doesn’t know he exists, in New York City. The rest of this show is Buddy’s adventure finding his father and love, and adapting to society.

Throughout the play, Buddy, with Santa’s blessing, explores New York City in the search for his father. He finds his father working at the Empire State Building. Buddy and his father create a relationship and also find the true meaning of Christmas.

All the actors and their performances in this production were superb. We especially liked the actors who played Buddy (Erik Gratton) and Jovie, his girlfriend (Caitlin Gallogly) because we felt like they told the story well through their emotions and enthusiasm. We also loved how the lighting designer made the lights move and complement the show. We thought the scenery was beautiful.

We thoroughly enjoyed this production and would definitely recommend it. Although it is a Christmas story, we think it is still entertaining and good for all people. Even though there were some jokes and references intended for adults, it was still an engaging and appropriate story for little kids. We rate this show a perfect 5.

The musical is running through Dec.. For information visit engemantheater.com

 

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Newsday Review

Santa’s little helper spreads plenty of Christmas cheer

Erik Gratton stars as Buddy "Elf the Musical"
Erik Gratton stars as Buddy “Elf the Musical” at John W. Engeman Theater in Northport through Dec. 30. Photo Credit: Michael DeCristofaro

November 20, 2018
By Barbara Schuler

WHAT “Elf the Musical”

WHEN | WHERE Through Dec. 30, John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport

INFO $73 ($78 Saturday evenings); 631-261-2900, engemantheater.com

BOTTOM LINE Corny but fun holiday romp based on the hit film.

Precipitation is falling at the John W. Engeman Theater again, only instead of the impressive deluge of May’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” we get a paper-shredder blizzard in the happy holiday romp “Elf the Musical.”

The Northport theater welcomes the season with this family-friendly adaptation by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin of the hit 2003 movie starring Will Ferrell. Here the lovable, galumphing elf Buddy is played by Erik Gratton, who couldn’t be more comfortable in the role, having done it last year at Madison Square Garden. Buddy towers over the other elves and his toymaking skills are woefully lacking — no surprise since he’s really a human orphan who climbed into Santa’s sack one Christmas and ended up being raised at the North Pole.

Santa (the delightfully jolly Gordon Gray, who also serves as narrator) spills the beans, revealing to Buddy that his publishing executive father, unaware he had a child, is on the naughty list because he’s lost the Christmas spirit. Needless to say, Buddy sets off to New York to do what elves do — fix things.

It’s a corny, predictable story with a first act that could stand tightening, but the infectious performances win out under the direction of Matt Kunkel. Gratton is perfect as Buddy, an adorable klutz who mixes childlike wonder with worldly wisdom. Wandering the city, he ends up at Macy’s, where he meets his future wife, Jovie (Caitlin Gallogly), before finally connecting with his family — dad Walter Hobbs (Joe Gately), a stressed-out workaholic with little time for his wife, Emily (Christianne Tisdale), and son Michael (Zachary Podair).

The ensemble gets quite a workout in the show, especially when, as elves, they are required to perform Mara Newbery Greer’s lighthearted choreography on their knees. Ouch! But the best number was the tap-dancing chorus line of fake Santas, in an eclectic mix of red outfits (love the Santa camouflage) by costume designer Leon Dobkowski. The charming set by Nate Bertone adds to the merriment.

In general, the music by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin is generic and not especially memorable, though Gallogly manages to turn “Never Fall in Love (With an Elf)” into a sizzling torch song, and the Macy’s staff’s “Sparklejollytwinklejingley ” is a lot more fun than beleaguered seasonal workers normally display. Needless to say, holiday spirit is restored in time for the finale — as Buddy brings his family together, the cast joyfully proclaims the best way to spread Christmas cheer is “singing loud for all to hear.”

 

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Newsday Review

‘Man of La Mancha’ review: An impossible dream come true

Richard Todd Adams, left, is Don Quixote and Carlos Lopez is Sancho Panza in “Man of La Mancha” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. Photo Credit: Michael DeCristofaro

 

“Man of La Mancha” is one of those musicals you’d think audiences would be sick of seeing. Not so, says Richard Dolce, producing artistic director of the John W. Engeman Theater. In fact, he says the 1966 Tony-winning best musical is one of the shows they’re most frequently asked to bring back.

So 10 years after its first run at the Northport theater, the musical inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ classic 17th century novel “Don Quixote” is getting a return engagement, with a beautifully crafted, emotional production celebrating the enduring story of an idealist who holds fast to his dreams.

If you’ve forgotten the story, here’s a quick brush up: Awaiting trial before the Spanish Inquisition, Cervantes and his manservant, charged with foreclosing on a monastery, are thrown into a dungeon with an unsavory bunch of thieves and murderers. Threatened, Cervantes devises a fantasy about a mad knight in search of lost chivalry, distracting his fellow prisoners by awarding them roles in his bit of make believe.

Directed by Peter Flynn, who also helmed Engeman’s 2008 production, the show rests — as it always does — on the actor playing Cervantes, and Richard Todd Adams delivers. He portrays the madman with just enough duplicity to let you know he’s making it all up. And with his rich baritone, he captures the soul of the familiar score — and not just in the covered-by-everyone-under-the-sun hit “The Impossible Dream.”

Janet Dacal is gripping as Aldonza, the wild, lusty wench who in Quixote’s vision is a fine lady he calls Dulcinea (though in early scenes, her hair and makeup could use a little roughing up). Other fine performances come from Carlos Lopez as the devoted servant who becomes Sancho Panza, the squire always ready with a sarcastic quip; Bruce Winant, playing the innkeeper in the fantasy with sardonic wit, and Morgan Anita Wood and Phyllis L. March, as Quixote’s niece and housekeeper, respectively, who give the tongue-in-cheek “I’m Only Thinking of Him” a wry edge.

This is a striking production, with the grim stone dungeon well rendered by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case — the actors dragging themselves in and out of the orchestra pit is an interesting touch. Adding to the overall effect are Kurt Alger’s appropriately ragged costumes and dramatic lighting by Alan C. Edwards — except for the occasional projections, which seem distracting and unnecessary.

None of that really matters though. Judging from the audience reaction when Adams closed the first act with a moving “The Impossible Dream,” it’s almost certain the show will be back in another 10 years — if not sooner.

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Newsday Review

‘Newsies’: Dancing that’s above the fold

July 24, 2018
By Barbara Schuler

In this age of screen-to-stage musicals, “Newsies” is remarkable because the movie it was based on was an out-and-out flop.

But thanks to video, the 1992 film starring Christian Bale developed a cult following, leading Disney to create a musical that ran for two years after its 2012 Broadway debut, winning Tonys for Alan Menken’s score and Christopher Gattelli’s choreography.

Now making its Long Island debut at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport,  the musical is a rough retelling of the newsboys strike of 1899, a David-and-Goliath struggle pitting a ragtag bunch of tenement urchins against Joseph Pulitzer, the powerful publisher of the New York World. Facing declining circulation, he forces his young hawkers to pay more for their “papes” (period lingo), sparking a rebellion that ultimately led to revisions in the city’s child labor laws.

The Engeman cast, under the fast-paced direction of Igor Goldin, will win you over with its inexhaustible energy and unbridled exuberance, managing to make you forget the flaws, some of which have been with the show all along. The closest thing to a memorable song is the celebratory “King of New York,” and perhaps the amusing “Watch What Happens,” in which Katherine, a character modeled on famed journalist Nellie Bly, sings of her writer’s block. Much of the other music feels repetitious, not helped by a few too many reprises, and while Dan Tracy has more than enough charisma to sell his role as the newsboys’ crusading leader Jack Kelly, vocally he struggles at times.

That can also be said for most of the men in the cast, clearly chosen primarily for their dance skill, which is considerable — a good thing since they rarely get a break from the relentlessly athletic (and again, repetitive) routines thrown at them by choreographer Sandalio Alvarez. Especially impressive is Nick Martinez as Crutchie, who has some cool moves despite having to manage them while maneuvering a crutch. Other highlights in the show (along with DT Willis’ set and Kurt Alger’s costumes) include Mike Cefalo, as the boy with the brains, Zachary Podair as his scene-stealing younger brother, and Whitney Winfield, in lovely voice as the spirited Katherine.

Of course, the most frightening man in “Newsies” is Pulitzer, played by Tom Lucca with enough menace to make me shudder just a bit (full disclosure: I used to work for his grandson). But he was a brilliant editor, and this musical could have used one.

 

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Newsday Review

‘Singin’ in the Rain’ review: A sunny Hollywood spoof

Brian Shepard, left, Tessa Grady and Danny Gardner
Brian Shepard, left, Tessa Grady and Danny Gardner will brighten your day performing “Good Mornin’ ” in “Singin’ in the Rain” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. Photo Credit: Michael DeCristofaro

May 22, 2018
By Barbara Schuler

After slogging around in the rain for most of last week, the last thing anyone needed was another downpour — unless you count the deluge of pure delight that was the Act 1 finale of  “Singin’ in the Rain” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.

Taking on the iconic role so associated with Gene Kelly in the 1952 film (talk about pressure!), Danny Gardner put his own thoughtful spin on Don Lockwood, the silent film star caught up in the transition to “talkies.” He splashed his way through that title number in flawless song-and-dance-man style, seeming to have as much fun kicking the increasingly substantial puddles as any kid on a rainy day.

The musical adaptation, first on Broadway in 1985, doesn’t stray much from the film, considered among the best movie musicals of all time. It’s one of those shows that constantly surprises with songs you may have forgotten were in it — gems like “Make ‘Em Laugh,” made famous onscreen by Donald O’Connor as Cosmo, Don’ s loyal sidekick. Then there are the love songs, “You Are My Lucky Star”  and “You Were Meant for Me”; the peppy “Good Mornin’ ” (sadly without that well-known overturned sofa), and the razzle-dazzle production number “Broadway Melody.”

The Engeman has upped its game when it comes to casting of late, and this show has star turns everywhere you look. Among the standouts: Brian Shepard as Cosmo, who truly does make you laugh in that number; Tessa Grady, walking a fine line as love interest Kathy Selden, bringing a little modern sensibility into a role that could easily be a cliché, and Emily Stockdale as Lina Lamont, the inept silent-film star who bravely manages to sustain throughout a voice so grating you could only wish for nails on a chalkboard.

They all look fabulous, thanks to Kurt Alger’s stunning period costumes, all sequins and feathers that lit up David Arsenault’s soundstage set.  A word, too, for director-choreographer Drew Humphrey, who not only worked his wonders with the onstage happenings, but managed to pull off a series of silent films, with the requisite shaky, grainy footage, that helped move the story along.

But back to that rain. Kudos to whoever decided to leave the curtain open after the first act, allowing audience members who stayed in their seats to witness the herculean efforts involved in getting rid of all that water (wonder how many Wet Vacs they’ll go through?). First time I’ve seen a standing ovation during intermission.

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Newsday Review

In the Heights: Scorching numbers on a summer day

By Barbara Schuler
March 21, 2018

Spring is having trouble making an appearance on Long Island, but summer is in full swing at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater, with a spirited take on the high-octane, dance-obsessed, Tony-winning musical “In the Heights.”

This, you might recall, was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first musical, started when he was still in college, well before “Hamilton” was even a gleam in his creative eye. Set on a scorching summer day, the play takes place in Washington Heights, where Usnavi (a fine performance from Spiro Marcos in the role Miranda originated) runs his bodega amid the turmoil of a neighborhood where no one is quite making it.

Director Paul Stancato has gathered an impressive cast, with voices that will blow you away and enough stage electricity to energize a small city. Tami Dahbura is endearing and heartbreaking as Abuela Claudia, the barrio matriarch who raised Usnavi (he’s named for the first thing his parents saw upon arriving in America, a ship that said U.S. Navy) after his parents died. Cherry Torres internalizes her pain as Nina, the girl who got out, coming home from her first year at Stanford with alarming news that sends her ferociously protective parents Kevin and Camila (Paul Aguirre and Shadia Fairuz) into quite the tailspin.

Other standouts include Chiara Trentalange as Usnavi’s feisty, don’t-mess-with-me love interest; Josh Marin as the out-of-place Benny (shades of “West Side Story” right down to the balcony scene), who has his sights on Nina; and Vincent Ortega as the piragua guy, selling shaved ice to anyone he can convince to pass up Mister Softee. Not to mention an ensemble of accomplished singers and dancers who bring Christopher Vergara’s street-kid costumes and Christopher Ash’s storefront set to life, while making it clear they know how to sell salsa (and we’re not talking the stuff you put on chips.)

But it’s Usnavi who holds it all together and Marcos plays him with a quiet, reserved charm and curtailed cockiness that wisely never attempts to channel Miranda (tough, because an unmistakable resemblance cannot be denied). Marcos is comfortable wherever the music takes him, moving effortlessly from haunting ballads like “It Won’t Be Long Now” and “Alabanza” to the hip-hop flavored “96,000.”

“I know I wrote a show about home,” Miranda said in his rapped acceptance speech when he won the 2008 Tony for best original score. And in the end, that is the loving message of “In the Heights,” no clicking of sparkly red shoes required.

 

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Newsday: ‘Once’ review: Two lonely people make beautiful music together

Newsday
Barbara Schuler
January 23, 2018

The vacuum cleaner isn’t the only thing that’s stuck.

In “Once,” the seductively charming musical that opened last week at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, the same could be said of the characters known only as Guy and Girl, two lost souls who aren’t functioning much better than her broken Hoover.

The Dublin street singer and the Czech immigrant meet as he’s about to abandon his guitar on the sidewalk and give up on his music. She is a lonely pianist, struggling to raise her young daughter with a husband who’s not around. Guy, perhaps a little too conveniently, works in his father’s vacuum repair shop where her promise to pay by playing for him leads to a musical collaboration, a demo tape with major potential and the stirrings of romance.

Andrea Goss, who understudied the role on Broadway, gives Girl a quiet, commanding presence, able to make things happen with but a soft-spoken word. Or a glare. Barry DeBois is less assured as Guy, perhaps because of difficulties with the Irish accent. But both are glorious when singing the pop-folk music of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (stars of the 2007 indie film that the musical is based on), most notably in the haunting “Falling Slowly,” which won the original song Oscar.

Interestingly, while the show is an ode to the power of music (“Ya can’t have a city without music,” says one character), there’s no orchestra. Under Trey Compton’s direction, the actors portraying all the other characters — Girl’s Ma, Guy’s Pa, a ragtag bunch of musicians — double as musicians, playing more than competent guitar, violin, mandolin and the like whenever they’re not speaking. Much of the action takes place in a finely rendered Irish pub (set by Nate Bertone) where the audience is invited to buy a drink and mingle before the play starts.

There’s no happy ending, at least in the traditional sense, to this bittersweet love story, winner of the 2012 best musical Tony. But when tiny Sophia Lily Tamburo, playing Girl’s daughter, fetches a violin and joins in on the show’s last few notes, the message of hope soars with the song.

Read online: https://www.newsday.com/entertainment/theater/once-review-two-lonely-people-make-beautiful-music-together-1.16317180

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Newsday Review: ‘Annie’ Review – The sun comes out in this charmer, onstage and off

Newsday
Barbara Schuler
November 14, 2017

The orphans missed the entrance to one of their big numbers, the dog didn’t come when he was called and one actor’s mustache (hysterically) wouldn’t stay on his face.

No matter. Minor technical mishaps at a preview performance of “Annie” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport took nothing away from the charm of this endearing, enduring classic. It could even be said they added to it.

Let’s start with those orphans, an adorable bunch of little girls with big voices and major charisma. Annie is played by Broadway vet Presley Ryan (“Fun Home”), who wisely gives the famed cartoon character a bit of street smarts to go with her wistful yearning for a family. (One quibble, though, with the wig she wears before switching to her iconic curls. Much too nice — does that orphanage have a hairdresser on staff?)

Her six compatriots light up the stage. When they finally got together on “It’s the Hard-Knock Life,” they were, well, a knockout. And “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” has the show-stopping quality it demands.

Stealing some of the spotlight is Lynn Andrews as Miss Hannigan, the bedraggled, beleaguered matron of the orphanage. She’s a powerful belter, raising the roof in “Little Girls,” and she knows how to shake what she’s got as she flirts shamelessly with everyone from the laundry man, Bundles, to President Franklin D. Roosevelt (a pivotal character in this play).

Other standouts in director-choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo’s production include George Dvorsky as a touching Oliver Warbucks and Elizabeth Broadhurst as his loyal secretary, Grace Farrell. Jon Peterson as Miss Hannigan’s just-out-of-the-joint brother, Rooster, was appropriately sleazy. As for his errant mustache, it was so funny I wouldn’t be half surprised if the director decides to keep it in the show.

“Annie,” winner of the 1977 Tony Award for best musical followed by two Broadway revivals and countless community theater productions, has many charms. And not all of them happen onstage. Consider the pure wonder of the little guy next to me when he realized it was snowing on Christopher and Justin Swader’s lovely set, or the way parents snuggled a little closer to their children when Daddy Warbucks sings to Annie the haunting “Something Was Missing.” Or especially when Roosevelt urges his cabinet to raise their voices in the famed ode to positivity “Tomorrow,” and half the audience sings along.

Consider this production a holiday gift from the Engeman and join them.

 

Read online: https://www.newsday.com/entertainment/theater/annie-review-engeman-1.14980070

Newsday Review: Let Engeman’s ‘Gypsy’ entertain you, yes sir

Newsday

Barbara Schuler

September 20, 2017

 

A wise director knows not to mess with “Gypsy.”

The classic musical — some think it’s one of the best ever written — that opened last week at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport stays true to the vision that Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents first set down in 1959. The story of the ultimate stage mother determined to make at least one of her daughters a star unfolds seamlessly under the direction of Igor Goldin, while highlighting some of Broadway’s most loved songs — “Let Me Entertain You,” “Together Wherever We Go” and the plaintive first-act closer “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”

From the moment she enters with that famous line, “Sing out, Louise,” echoing from the back of the theater, Michele Ragusa as Mama Rose has you in her grip. Following in impressive footsteps — Ethel Merman, the first Rose, was followed by, among others, Angela Lansbury, Patti LuPone and Bernadette Peters — Ragusa is a wall of steel in portraying the steadfast determination required to get her daughters top billing, or any billing, really, on the vaudeville circuit.

The act moves from theater to theater (Nate Bertone’s evocative set could be backstage anywhere), but it’s a dud and the girls well know it. That doesn’t stop Rose from her relentless pushing, first with June (played by an adorable Kyla Carter as a child, then a somewhat grown up Charity Van Tassel), later with Louise (a delightfully dour Amanda Swickle as a kid, an older Austen Danielle Bohmer in a beautifully nuanced performance).

When in the second act Louise and her “Toreadorables” mistakenly end up in a burlesque house, Rose seems ready to throw in the towel and marry the ever-suffering agent Herbie (John Scherer). But the resident strippers — Suzanne Mason, Jennifer Collester Tully and Amber Carson in Kurt Alger’s witty costumes for the always showstopping “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” — have given her an idea. Next thing you know, the wedding isn’t happening and Louise undergoes a remarkable metamorphosis, from awkward showgirl whose “strip” consists of shyly dropping a single strap of her gown to one of the most famous burlesque stars of all time (the musical is inspired by the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee.)

When, at the end, Mama takes the stage for the heartbreaking “Rose’s Turn,” you finally understand her years of torment, of trying to live through her children. “Mama’s lettin’ go,” she sings. But, truthfully, you don’t believe that for a minute.

Newsday: Northport Village approves zoning for hotels around Main Street

August 23, 2017

Northport Village Hall in Northport is seen on Dec. 27, 2014. Photo Credit: Ian J. Stark

By Valerie Bauman

Northport Village trustees approved zoning changes Tuesday night that will allow hotels to operate on and around Main Street.

The village previously had nothing in its code that would allow hotels.

Officials drafted the legislation after Kevin J. O’Neill and Richard T. Dolce, owners of the John W. Engeman Theater, on Main Street purchased a three-floor building across the street from the theater with the goal of converting it into an upscale inn.

The multimillion-dollar project faced a final round of opposition from residents concerned that the hotel — and its planned 200-seat restaurant — would worsen an already congested parking situation downtown.

“In Northport there is a lot of pain about parking, and it’s not a trivial matter,” business owner Carolyn Colwell said at Tuesday’s meeting in Village Hall. “It affects access to small business, civic services and even residents’ access to their homes.”

O’Neill and Dolce still need to obtain the standard permit and project approvals before they can break ground for the hotel.

Residents and Northport business owners had collected signatures on a petition that urged village trustees to address parking problems before allowing a hotel with a large restaurant to move into the village.

O’Neill has said he has a vested interest in making sure that parking runs smoothly because he is committed to making the community a better place to live. The hotel, like the theater, would offer valet parking, he said.

“There’s been a lot of due diligence done on this project,” O’Neill said. “My goal all the time is to make sure that we inconvenience those around us as little as possible with the hopes that we’ll bring something that will enhance the village. That was the hope with the theater, and that’s the hope with the hotel.”

O’Neill said the partners decided to pursue a hotel and restaurant as a way to diversify revenues and ensure financial stability for the theater in the future.

“We go as the show goes,” O’Neill said. “We can’t rely solely on ticket sales.”

Newsday: Northport trustees to vote on allowing hotel in village

July 13, 2017

Kevin J. O’Neill and Richard T. Dolce purchased a three-story building on Main Street in Northport, seen on March 23, 2017, with the goal of converting it into an upscale inn. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

 

By Valerie Bauman

Northport officials could vote as soon as Tuesday on a resolution to allow a proposed hotel project to move forward in the village, officials said.

Trustees will hold a second public hearing that day on proposed zoning changes to make hotels a permitted use within village limits. The current code does not include language for hotels in Northport.

Deputy Mayor Henry Tobin said trustees could vote after the hearing Tuesday or hold the issue for further consideration, depending on public feedback and board discussion about the proposal.

“The area definitely needs a hotel,” Mayor George Doll said. “People stay out on the turnpike down in Melville when they’re here visiting.”

Kevin J. O’Neill and Richard T. Dolce, owners of the John W. Engeman Theater, purchased a three-story building across Main Street from the venue with the goal of converting it into an upscale inn.

The first public hearing in May showed overwhelming public support for the project, with many residents saying a new hotel would fill an unmet need in Northport.

If village officials pass the zoning changes, O’Neill and Dolce would still need to go through standard permit and project approvals before they could break ground. The project would include a restaurant on the street level, about 24 rooms on the upper two floors and a 54-space parking lot.

O’Neill said the partners have spent $150,000 on planning, design and legal costs for the proposed hotel. He said if all necessary approvals are obtained, work could start this fall and be completed in 12 to 14 months.

He said their goal is to work with the community on any concerns — including parking, which was the biggest issue raised among a few opponents at the initial public hearing.

“It’s important to know we’re a neighbor in this town,” he said. “We have every interest in improving the quality of life in the residential and business communities … I start getting agita when we’re doing anything that’s disruptive to the village around us.”

Tuesday’s public hearing will be at 6:00 p.m. in Village Hall, 224 Main St.

 

Read online: http://www.newsday.com/long-island/suffolk/northport-trustees-to-vote-on-allowing-hotel-in-village

Newsday Review: “Grease: An energetic dose of high school spirit”

Newsday

July 11, 2017

Steve Parks

 

If Rydell High’s class of 1959 were to hold a reunion this summer, it would celebrate the 58th year since graduation. But judging from the IQ exhibited in “Grease,” the ever-popular rock-and-doo-wop musical, we’re not sure how many classmates could count that high, never mind collect a diploma.

The John W. Engeman Theater, named for the East Northport Army officer killed in the line of duty in Iraq in 2006, opens its [11th] season with the 1971 musical that inspired the hit film version starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. In “Grease,” there’s no hint of a worldview beyond high school, which no doubt accounts for its escapist appeal.

On the first day of school, Sandy, a new girl at Rydell, gushes about a boy she met at the beach. In front of his black-leather-jacketed T-Bird pals, Danny (said boy) won’t admit he’s sweet on any girl. Meanwhile, the Pink Ladies clique, led by Rizzo, makes an outcast of Sandy because she doesn’t smoke or drink or wear skintight outfits. She’s derided as the squeaky-clean movie star (“Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”). Played with a daring chip on her shoulder by Madeleine Barker, Rizzo fiercely changes her tune on “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” when she finds that her “friend” is late.

Directed by Paul Stancato, Liana Hunt makes an appealing Sandy on “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and with Danny (Sam Wolf) on their bouncy duet, “You’re the One That I Want” — songs from the movie. Of the other Pink Ladies, Frenchy (Sari Alexander) makes a sympathetic impression as the “Beauty School Dropout” in a dreamy duet with Tim Falter. Chris Collins-Pisano and Hannah Slabaugh embody the “Grease” level of humor in “Mooning.”

The T-Birds — including Wolf (a young Marlon Brando look-alike) and Chris Stevens as Rizzo’s boyfriend — sing and dance energetically. But they’d only pass for high schoolers if they’d flunked 10 grades. Heavily made-up, the women fare better as teens, among them Laura Helm as the vamp in the hand-jive contest (athletic choreography by Antoinette DiPietropolo).

Alec Bart’s band rocks steady to the final note of “We Go Together.” Stephen Dobay’s set design catches us in the headlights of “Greased Lightnin’,” the drive-in-movie centerpiece.

Dumb jokes aside, sometimes it’s fun — even therapeutic — to park your mind for a couple of hours. “Grease” greases the way.

 

Read online: http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/theater/grease-review-an-energetic-dose-of-high-school-spirit

Newsday: Northport considers zone changes allowing downtown hotels

May 17, 2017

By Valerie Bauman  valerie.bauman@newsday.com

A rendering of a hotel proposed for Main
A rendering of a hotel proposed for Main Street in Northport by the owners of the John W. Engeman Theater. More than 100 people packed Northport Village hall Tuesday night, May 16, 2017, at a hearing on proposed zoning changes that would allow the hotel on Main Street. Photo Credit: Hoffman Grayson Architects LLP

More than 100 people packed Northport Village hall Tuesday night, voicing overwhelming support for proposed zone changes that would allow hotels to operate on and around Main Street.

Officials drafted two proposals addressing the issue after Kevin J. O’Neill and Richard T. Dolce, owners of the John W. Engeman Theater, purchased a three-story building across the street from the venue with the goal of converting it into an upscale inn.

In order for O’Neill and Dolce’s project — or any hotel proposal — to move forward, village code would first need to be revised, Northport officials said.

Current village law does not include hotels in its list of permitted uses of commercial property downtown, Deputy Mayor Henry Tobin said Tuesday.

O’Neill said Tuesday night that it would be a “multimillion”-dollar project if the village changes the code, and he and his partner succeed in pushing their proposal through further regulatory procedures.

“The concept, in general, was very well-received because there’s no place to stay,” O’Neill said. “I think the area has been starved for lodging opportunities, and the residents are very, very excited about the prospects of that coming into the town.”

“I’m sure all of you have been in a situation where you have people come to visit and you don’t particularly want them to stay in your home,” Northport resident Jeff Barasch, 69, said. “You have to tell them, ‘You don’t have to leave, but you can’t stay.’ Now there’s an opportunity to stay.”

Barasch’s comments — and those from others supporting the new hotel — were met with applause. However, three residents spoke up with concerns about how a hotel could impact Northport’s already limited parking.

“There is no parking here at all,” JoAnne Hall said. “If you don’t think there’s going to be additional traffic on that street and noise with people coming up the hill, coming down the hill, there will be. It’s a reality. The idea is lovely . . . but not for here.”

Village officials said the current hotel proposal would provide one off-street parking space for each room at the inn The inn would have about two dozen rooms, proponents have said.

Village trustees adjourned the hearings without voting, but kept the hearings open for future comment.

Officials said they will send the two draft zoning resolutions to the village Planning Board and Suffolk County Zoning Commission for review.

 

Read online: http://www.newsday.com/long-island/suffolk/northport-considers-zone-changes-allowing-downtown-hotels/

Newsday: Northport theater owners dream of upscale inn nearby

March 27, 2017
By Deborah S. Morris  deborah.morris@newsday.com

Northport Village could soon get a hotel.

The owners of the John W. Engeman Theater have purchased the three-story building across the street from the venue and hope to transform it into an upscale inn.

The three-story building at 225 Main St. would have a restaurant on the ground level, with about 24 rooms spread over the other two floors.

Kevin J. O’Neill said he and his partner in the venture, Richard T. Dolce, are inspired by the inns that populate the seaside downtowns of Maine and the American Hotel in Sag Harbor.

“We wanted to see if we could bring to fruition a first-class inn into Northport,” said O’Neill. “My goal is to make it feel like a place that has been here for 150 years, but will have all the current, state-of-the-art accouterments that we all want.”

Photo Credit: Ed Betz

The partners purchased the building in 2016. Right now, it’s used as office space. O’Neill said he envisions a high-end, full-service hotel experience with the quaint and charming feel for which the village is known.

O’Neill and Dolce presented their idea for the Northport Inn to village trustees at a February public meeting and said so far the reaction has been positive.

“The idea is sensational and we are very happy about it,” Northport Chamber of Commerce president Ron Iannacone said. “It just adds another dimension, a destination venue for people to come to the village.”

Northport Village Deputy Mayor Henry Tobin said he thinks it would be great for Northport to have a hotel.

“I think it would be wonderful, convenient to have a hotel,” Tobin said. “So far everyone I’ve spoken with feels the same way.”

Currently, the zoning category where the building sits does not allow a hotel as a permitted use. Village officials would have to amend the code to allow the hotel to be built, Tobin said.

“We don’t have hotels permitted anywhere in the village that I know of,” Tobin said. “Main Street and Bayview and Woodbine [avenues] did have quite a number of hotels in the past, but by the middle of the 20th century those were all gone, and our code was not adopted by the late 1940s, so it was a moot issue.”

O’Neill said he’s hoping village trustees set a public hearing to consider amending the village code to allow for a lodging category sometime this spring.

He said while the hotel will be an added benefit to the village, the restaurant will not encroach on the bottom lines of already established restaurants, pointing out the theater seats 400.

“It’s a unique property in that it’s already zoned for a restaurant and it has parking lots in the back, so you put those two together and it makes for a unique piece of property,” O’Neill said. “We’re really excited about it.”

 

Read online: http://www.newsday.com/long-island/suffolk/northport-theater-owners-dream-of-upscale-inn-nearby/

Newsday Oklahoma! Review: Oh, what a beautiful show in Northport

Newsday

Steve Parks

May 16, 2017

 

“Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends . . .”

—Oscar Hammerstein II

My first thought as the “Oklahoma!” cast gathered for an opening-night photo at the Engeman Theater was that there’s no way there are any farmers in this picture. But Curly (aka Bryant Martin) corrected me. He was raised on a Pennsylvania dairy farm. Full disclosure: This critic was raised on a Maryland dairy farm. (Martin’s dad sells milk to Land O’Lakes; mine sold to Breyer’s.)

Cowman Curly longs to spark with farm girl Laurey. But on the eve of the box-social square dance and auction, Laurey says her date is Aunt Eller’s surly farmhand, Jud. Nothing changes her mind, not even Curly’s “Surrey With the Fringe on Top.” It’s hard to imagine another song that could follow “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” which opens this groundbreaking Broadway classic. Martin leads both numbers with a voice you’d swear could be heard all the way from the title territory to Northport. Or at least to Kansas City, where “everything’s gone about as fer as it can go.” That’s where none-too-bright Will won $50 at the state fair to woo Ado Annie, the girl who “Cain’t Say No.” For a dowry in that amount, Annie’s dad will marry her off. But Will spends it instead on gifts for her. So now, she’s promised to Ali, the “Persian” peddler.

Tragicomic conflicts ensue in this grand new presentation of the show that practically invented the book musical in which songs are written to develop character and plot rather than accessorize them. Martin’s vigor as Curly is matched by Kaitlyn Davidson’s stubborn but vulnerable Laurey. Kelly Sheehan, her dream ballet double, another “Oklahoma!” innovation, originated by Agnes de Mille and choreographed here by Drew Humphrey, is as riveting as she is dramatic.

Annie (Brianne Kennedy), Ali (Danny Gardner) and Will (Chris Brand) sharply angulate a comic-relief triangle, while Jane Blass as Aunt Eller gamely referees a farmer-vs.-cowman peace. Struggling for peace within himself is Jud, played by Nathaniel Hackmann with the glowering intensity he brought to the evil half of Engeman’s recent “Jekyll & Hyde.”

Director Igor Goldin’s vision is framed by the barnlike DT Willis set and amplified by Jeff Theiss’ orchestra delivering Richard Rodgers’ flawless, tear-inducing score.

“People Will Say We’re in Love” with this show. Let ’em.

 

Read online: http://www.newsday.com/oklahoma-review-oh-what-a-beautiful-show-in-northport/

Newsday Review: Evil has never been so good in ‘Jekyll & Hyde’

Newsday

Steve Parks

March 20, 2017

 

Since the first publication of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” in 1886, the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” has become part of the language, denoting a person whose moral character is diametrically opposed from one situation to the next. Since its Broadway debut 20 years ago, “Jekyll & Hyde” the musical has become a cult phenomenon combining classic literature with a melodramatic pop score spawning fan clubs the world over.

The challenge for director-choreographer Paul Stancato at the Engeman Theater in this latest of a half-dozen Long Island “J&H” productions over the years is to present it with a fresh look without detracting from its core appeal.

He and an earnest cast succeed spectacularly, led by Nathaniel Hackmann in the chemically split-personality role of Jekyll/Hyde. Dr. Henry Jekyll, frustrated by a hospital board’s refusal to endorse his laboratory experiment in separating good from evil in a human guinea pig, decides to make himself the guinea pig. The result is Edward Hyde, who proceeds to murder the entire hospital board. Jekyll becomes a stranger to his bride-to-be, played and sung by Liana Hunt with a delicate balance between devotion and determination, and to himself within his own body. Lucy, a London harlot, meets both Jekyll and Hyde, not realizing that they’re “related.” With a voice ranging from sultry to siren, Caitlyn Caughell captures Lucy’s angst in finally meeting a decent man (“Someone Like You”) while being pursued by a monster.

Hackmann electrifies on such signature numbers as “This Is the Moment” and on the climactic “Confrontation” in which his duality is brilliantly conveyed through a translucent scrim behind which Jekyll struggles to escape Hyde’s enveloping hold on his life. (Victorian set design by Stephen Dobay, dramatic lighting by Keith Truax, throbbingly amplified by Kristen Lee Rosenfeld’s band.) One quibble: The shadow effects of the sliding scrims deployed throughout the show are overused to diminishing effect, until the riveting penultimate scene.

A deep cast contributes splendidly to smaller supporting roles — among them Tom Lucca as Jekyll’s loyal friend, Jeff Williams as his prospective father-in-law, Jake Mills as the whoring bishop and Lauren Gobes as the judgmental ladyship (dazzling costumes by Kurt Alger), plus an ensemble too numerous, unfortunately, to credit here. Together they make the chorus numbers sparkle in this fine new production of a modern classic.

 

Read online: www.newsday.com/jekyll-hyde-review-nathaniel-hackmann-leads-a-terrific-cast/

Newsday Review: Hats (and everything else) off to these guys

Newsday

January 25, 2017

Steve Parks

 

In “The Full Monty,” six unemployed, middle-age men are so desperate for the dignity of earning a wage — even for just one night — that they strip naked in front of friends, family and everyone else they know in their hometown. The Tony-nominated musical, based on a British film, is played for laughs. And waves of opening-night laughter were generated at Northport’s Engeman Theater.

Laid off from a failed Buffalo plant, steelworkers hatch their short-term enterprise after seeing their wives thrilled by Chippendale strippers. For their striptease, they’re dressed as faux cops, hats and all.

Brent Michael DiRoma as Jerry and Ryan Dunkin as Dave, along with Peter Simon Hilton as Harold, their former boss — also laid off — embody the emotional investment these men have in their harmlessly public humiliation. Jerry, separated from his wife (Kate Marshall) and in child-support arrears, has the most at stake. He could lose shared custody of their son, played wise beyond his preteen years by Kyle Wolf. DiRoma invites us to own his pain, fortifying comedy with poignancy. Dunkin as overweight Dave lets us feel his self-consciousness about his body. But it’s his neglected wife, an empathetic Nicole Hale, who suffers his self-loathing about layabout unworthiness. Meanwhile, Hilton’s tortured Harold hasn’t told his wife (Gaelen Gilliland) that they can’t afford the high life anymore.

The guys recruit unabashed Malcolm (Spencer Glass) and Ethan (Noah Bridgestock) as unlikely partners, plus Milton Craig Nealy as “Horse,” a comically stereotypical “Big Black Man.” Together, they pledge to outstrip the Chippendales. All but stealing the show aboard DT Willis’ industrial set is their piano accompanist (Diane Findlay), who’s seen and done it all. Andrew Haile Austin and his six-piece band do the actual playing.

As directed by Keith Andrews and choreographed with naked split-second timing by Antoinette DiPietropolo and crucial backlighting by Doug Harry, it’s a blessed relief to laugh out loud as the men “Let It Go,” doffing even their hats.

Their humanity far outstrips their tease.

 

Read online at: http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/theater/the-full-monty-review-laughter-s-the-bare-essential-in-northport/

Newsday review: Election year gives more spirit to ’69 Tony winner

Newsday

September 27, 2016

Steve Parks

 

I once admired “1776” because it dared to be dull. Faint praise from a boomer who resented the Founding Fathers musical because A) it won the Tony over “Hair” and B) it was Richard Nixon’s favorite.

Nearly a half-century later, I’ve gotten over my snit with the “1776” creators — music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards, book by Peter Stone. I can’t remember how the line went down in 1969, when the show opened on Broadway. Nor could I possibly know how it might’ve played during the impending independence of these United States. But it sure was a hoot when, at the top of the show on opening night at the Engeman Theater, John Adams declares, “One useless man is a disgrace, two are called a law firm and three or more become a Congress.”

Perhaps it’s because it’s a presidential election year. But for once I didn’t notice the parched stretches of speechifying necessary to convey that this Continental Congress was useless until a tragic compromise was reached. That New York abstains throughout due to legislative impotence gets knowing laughs.

So let’s hear it for Jamie LaVerdiere as “obnoxious and disliked” John Adams. If he wasn’t such a persistent pain in sweltering Philadelphia, perhaps we’d be talking about Brexiting today instead of electing our 45th president. LaVerdiere projects a political passion we’d love to see from our current candidates. Speaking of passion, it’s a “1776” conceit that the Declaration of Independence might’ve gone unwritten but for Martha Jefferson’s conjugal visit. The reunion between Michael Glavan as robust Tom and Adriana Milbrath as ripe Martha is so get-a-room suggestive, you’ll want to book one for them.

Not to be outdone, John pines for Abigail in the most passionate song ever written about saltpeter — to suppress the sexual urges of George Washington’s volunteers — while David Studwell’s Ben Franklin and Benjamin Howes’ John Dickinson bookend Pennsylvania’s tyranny-vs.-Tory debate.

Inspiring moments spring from battlefield courier (Matthew Rafanelli) in his moving “Momma Look Sharp,” reminding us there’s a war going on, and “Molasses to Rum,” a perverse defense of slavery by South Carolinian Edward Rutledge (Peter Saide).

Director Igor Goldin propels the 2 1⁄2-hour narrative forward on the 18th-century set by Stephen Dobay, accessorized by Kurt Alger’s costumes/wigs and accompanied dutifully by Eric Alsford’s orchestra.
We get that the signers risked hanging separately if they didn’t hang together.

 

Read online: www.newsday.com/entertainment/theater/1776-review-election-year-gives-more-spirit-to-69-tony-winner

Newsday review: ABBA has them dancing up a storm at Engeman

Newsday

July 26, 2016

Steve Parks

 

Agendas are being pushed in our faces — the Republican convention last week; the Democrats winding up Thursday. But here’s a musical with absolutely no agenda, other than to take your mind off whatever may be going on outside the Engeman Theater at Northport.

Long Island’s only year-round Equity company launched its 10th season with the East Coast regional premiere — that means not counting its 14 years on Broadway — of the jukebox musical “Mamma Mia!,” based on the disco-era hits of the Swedish band ABBA, which, but for this show, might be forgotten. The musical that had people dancing in the aisles, if not right up to its 2015 close, had folks dancing like last call was hours away at opening night of this infectious Engeman production directed and gleefully choreographed by Antoinette DiPietropolo.
Scripted by Catherine Johnson (music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus), “Mamma Mia!” gets right to the point as fatherless bride-to-be Sophie discovers her mother’s diary describing intimate dates with three men when she was 17. (We’re already anticipating “Dancing Queen,” which doesn’t disappoint.) Sophie, confident that she’ll discern which of the three is Dad, invites each to her wedding.

Hannah Slabaugh as Sophie projects a gullible innocence that tricks her into believing she can manage this without complications. Michelle Dawson as her mom, Donna, reprises a role she understudied on Broadway and played on national tour. Her expertise comes through in convincing us of her bewilderment that these men from her past have shown up for Sophie’s wedding. And she delivers with gusto the climactic “Winner Takes It All.”

The daddy candidates are stereotypical. But get over it. As some songwriter of note once asked, “What’s wrong with silly love songs?” Without overdoing it, Frank Vlastnik plays Harry as Not Donna’s Type. Or rather, she’s not his. Jeff Williams as Bill evokes a grandfatherly tone while Sean Hayden as Sam occupies the just-right category of odds-on favorite. After the title song with Donna, all are keen on the honor of giving Sophie away, while Jacob Dickey as the groom wonders why Sophie’s fuss isn’t over him.

DT Willis’ taverna set glows with a Mediterranean vibe (lighting by Adam Honoré), while James Olmstead’s band keeps the disco beat throbbing to the pulse of urgent young love, past and present. If you don’t still get it, well, never mind.

 

Read online: www.newsday.com/entertainment/theater/mama-mia-review-abba-has-them-dancing-up-a-storm-at-engeman

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