The Long Islander Review

Engeman’s Saturday Night Fever Burns Hot

 Michael Notardonato (Tony Manero), in a scene from the John W. Engeman Theater production of Saturday Night Fever. Photos by Michael Decristofaro
Michael Notardonato (Tony Manero), in a scene from the John W. Engeman Theater production of Saturday Night Fever. Photos by Michael Decristofaro
July 27, 2019
By Sophia Ricco

 

It’s hard not to tap your toes and bob your head when hearing “Stayin’ Alive” as your favorite disco classics take form in the ’70s spectacular musical “Saturday Night Fever.”

This energetic rendition of the blockbuster film will make anyone want to hit the dance floor and do the hustle. The classic movie gets a musical twist with characters singing and dancing their way through life’s challenges with the help of the Bee Gees and other disco legends. It tells the story of Tony Manero, played by Michael Notardonato, a teen dodging his problems through his love for dancing.

“It’s a coming of age story,” Notardonato said in an opening weekend interview. “It’s about this 19-year-old guy, that’s trying to break out of his no-good neighborhood and rise above the struggles he’s grown up around.”

Throughout the musical, Tony encounters characters who pull him in different directions. He finds himself consumed by Stephanie Mangano, played by Missy Dowse, a refined dancer that wants to escape Bay Ridge and make a new life for herself in Manhattan. As the pair practices for an upcoming dance competition, Tony realizes he wants more than living at home and working at a paint shop.

“The message I hope people take away is no matter how trapped or stuck you are in your current situation, you can overcome that by finding a few guiding lights in your life,” Notardonato said. “It’s about choosing your happiness and finding your own path.”

As Tony figures this out, he and the cast share sensational numbers on the 2001 Odyssey dance floor, with choreography that masters the decade’s scene. The cast moves with precision while performing, “Night Fever” and “You Should Be Dancing,” giving the feel of a crowded club moving in unity to their favorite song. These disco hits take new life when performed by Monty, played by Colin E. Liander, and Candy, played by Gabriella Mancuso, who perform soulful renditions of “Disco Inferno” and “More than a Woman.”

“Learning choreography for Saturday Night Fever, it’s very important to capture the 70s vocabulary, especially because the audience is familiar and grew up with this style,” Notardonato said. “We gotta give them a hustle.”

The actors commit to their roles completely, embodying Brooklyn through their accents, style and mannerisms. With casual, conversational dialogue, they build realistic relationships between friends, lovers and even parents and children. As a first generation Italian, Notardonato feels he can relate to his character and puts his own twist on the iconic role, while keeping famous scenes intact.

“When I play Tony, I like to bring out the youth in his character,” Notardonato said. “I play him a little goofy, because he is a ladies man and a bit of a womanizer, but he’s also 19 and doesn’t know much. He’s learning a lot in the time the audience sees him, you get to watch him grow up.”

You can’t have the Bee Gees, without a group of guys harmonizing and hitting those falsetto  high notes. Tony and his friends, who call themselves “The Faces” are the ultimate guy group, that move and groove in the song “Boogie Shoes.”

“We want the audience to take a trip back in time, have a nostalgic moment and maybe see the glimmer of their youth,” Notardonato said. “For people my age, we can relate to the characters and see that you can change anything about your life, you just have to go ahead and do it.”

The Long Islander Review

Kill and be done in time for tea

March 21, 2019
By Sophia Ricco

Slaying has never been so slick, when it’s done with song and ends in becoming an aristocrat as A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder proves, you can always change life’s path.

Tony Award winner for Best Musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder has smashingly slaughtered on Broadway and is ready to entertain audiences at the John W. Engeman Theater until Saturday, April 28.

The show is set in early 20th century England and tells the story of Monty Navarro, played by Sean Yves Lessard, who learns of ancestral ties to the Earl of Highhurst and D’Ysquith family at his mother’s funeral. A woman claiming to know his late parents tells Monty of his mother’s banishment from the D’Ysquith family after choosing to marry a Castilian, in “You’re a D’Ysquith.” Only eight relatives lie between Monty, the title of earl and the family fortune. He plans a little assassination to get himself there.

“It’s been fascinating, in so many ways I am similar to the character,” Lessard said. “But in the most fundamental of ways, I am not, because I am not a serial killer… It’s funny, because even though he is killing these people, every time he does, he contemplates, ‘Should I have done this?’ He’s grappling with his conscience the entire time.”

 

The D’Ysquith family is anything but ordinary. Each member is more comical and hate-able than the next. What’s most impressive, is all eight relatives are played by Danny Gardener, who captures an entire family of personalities. At certain points you wouldn’t believe the same man that played Asquith D’Ysquith Jr., a snooty, rich playboy who unknowingly serenades with Miss Barley and Monty in “Poison in My Pocket,” could become a foolish society lady looking for a charity cause in “Lady Hyacinth Abroad,” within the same act.

“His characters are so specific and different from one another, it makes my job so much easier,” Lessard said. “I treat them as completely different creatures, because he does as well… It’s all different voices, postures, body ticks, inflections and accents, it’s impressive.”

As Monty gets to know members of the D’Ysquith family, he learns the good and bad of his family and society. He proves to be emotionally layered, as he ponders whether to kill his generous employer, Lord Asquith D’Ysquith, Sr. in “The Last One You’d Expect.”

“The way he justifies it is, he’s killing these people, who are all terrible… For every character you take on, you have to be the hero of your own story,” Lessard said. “Every answer to any question has to be, ‘Yes’. So would I have done it? Yes I would have as Monty.” It’s more than just massacre on Monty’s mind, he has two loves that each dominate his world. His mistress, Sibella Hallward played by Kate Loprest, commands his passion, as evident in “I Don’t Know What I’d Do.” That is until, his distant cousin, Phoebe D’Ysquith played by Katherine McLaughlin, turns his world “Inside Out.”

“The redeeming quality of Monty is he loves unconditionally,” Lessard said. “He loves these two women who are the center of his life, he loves Asquith, and he was unconditionally attached to his mother. This is the genesis of it all, was how terribly his mother was treated by the family.”

A favorite with audiences and Lessard himself, the lively song “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” puts Monty literally in the middle of Sibella and Phoebe, as he maneuvers his way between the two rooms that the women are in. It’s a scene that truly has to be witnessed, as Monty swings back and forth from door to door, all the while harmonizing. “It’s a lesson in being able and open to love, but also a cautionary tale to not love too many people at once,” Lessard said.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is showing Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 8 p.m., as well as Saturday, 3 p.m. and Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets: $73-78. Call 631-261-2900 or visit engemantheater.com to purchase.

 

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The Long Islander Review

You Gotta Love ‘Elf, The Musical’

November 29, 2018
By: Sophia Ricco

It’s certainly true that “the best way to spread holiday cheer, is to sing it loud for all to hear”, which is exactly what the cast of Elf: The Musical did.

The beloved holiday film hit the stage of the John W. Engeman Theater to the delight of kids of all ages. With catchy original songs, intricate choreography and many famous quotes from the movie, the musical could put anybody in the holiday spirit, including audience member, Michele Donaldson who came all the way from Connecticut for the performance.

“It was amazing,” Donaldson said. “I thought it was definitely full of Christmas cheer, something we all need nowadays.”

Based on the 2003 holiday hit movie, Elf starring Will Ferrell, the 2010 musical found major success on Broadway. It tells the story of Buddy the Elf, a human orphan boy who crawls into Santa’s bag and is taken back to the North Pole, where he is raised by the elves.

In search of his father, Buddy travels to New York City where he encounters a world without holiday cheer and a father who never knew he was born. His adventures in the city are comical and accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack. No one could deny there was something magical happening on stage during “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” “A Christmas Song” and “The Story of Buddy the Elf.”

“It was very good, I liked it,” audience member Peter Bono, of Northport, said. “They’re very talented people. It started off a little slow, but then as you got to know the cast it was great.”

This holiday production is directed by Matt Kunkel and choreographed by Mara Newbery Greer. The skilled cast didn’t miss a beat and performed sophiscated choreography that involved lifts, tap dancing and even ice skating. During the song, “Nobody Cares About Santa,” Santas of all kinds find camaraderie on Christmas Eve in a tap dancing number that makes you want to get out of your seat and dance along.

“I thought it was right on target. It was super fun and full of talent,” Donaldson said.

Buddy the Elf is played by Erik Gratton, the perfect fit for the jolly elf with a huge heart and little common sense. His rendition of Buddy, a character so many know and love from the original movie, is spot on.

There is no shortage of laughs during the production as Buddy makes his way around the city, bumbling around with a smile on his face the whole time.

“My favorite part was the whimsical nature of the show,” Donaldson said. “Just how nieve and happy Buddy was, I think we should all be that way.”

The rest of the cast were also sensational, and each had their moment in the spotlight.

Buddy’s love interest Jovie, played by Caitlin Gallogly, stole the show with her vocals in “Never Fall in Love”. The rest of Buddy’s family, Walter Hobbs, performed by Joe Gately, Emily Hobbs by Christianne Tisdale, and Michael Hobbs, by Zachary Podiar, each have their heartwarming moments that gave the show a touch of humanity.

 

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