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

Matilda – The John W. Engeman Theater – Theatre Review

November 19, 2019
By Jessica Kennedy

The John W.  Engeman Theater in Northport has selected a critically acclaimed powerhouse with Roald Dahl’s Matilda– winner of seven Olivier Awards, including Best Musical, and five Tony Awards, including Best Book of a Musical!  Directed by Igor Goldin and running from November 14th- December 29th, this delightful and uplifting tale of a courageous young girl reminds us that- no matter our circumstances- it is never too late to change our story!

Matilda tells the tale of a clever child born into a family who is less than thrilled with her arrival.  Add to that her proclivity to read and her assertion that she, in fact, is a GIRL, and she finds herself frequently mocked and criticized by her parents and ignored by her witless brother.  Things don’t look much better for her when she starts school and encounters the sadistic and tyrannical headmistress, Miss Trunchbull; however, hope prevails in the shape of her charming teacher, Miss Honey, and just a touch of magic.  The result of all this is a touching, tragic, and enchanting story, which both breaks your heart and lifts your spirits!

From start to finish this show is highly engaging and beautifully performed!  The set, designed by Nate Bertone, is masterfully constructed, and serves to enhance the overall staging, while Mara Newbery Greer’s clever choreography uses the set and props to underline and intensify the musical performances.  Moreover, the junior cast members of this show were remarkable to watch! Each young man and woman was both highly engaging and believable in his or her role. Their voices and stage presence exceeded my expectations; it is apparent that these young performers are both talented and professional.  Furthermore, Miss Elsa Dees is truly impressive as the title character; her vocals are melodious, while her pacing and delivery make Matilda feel both nuanced and genuine. Michael Perrie Jr. and Sara Gallo (Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood) are terribly terrific as the selfish and imbecilic parents of the beloved prodigy.  They are each artfully able to make such reprehensible characters appear both despicable and diverting. Kate Fahrner skillfully portrays Miss Honey with all the saccharine sweetness you would expect of her namesake, which only intensifies the cruelty of her gruesome counterpart, Miss Trunchbull. Add to that an absolutely hilarious portrayal of the despotic and diabolical headmistress by Dane Agostinis- his rendition of “The Hammer” had me practically in tears- and you have the makings of a fantastic cast and a fabulous show!

While the story of a precocious young girl who spends all her time in the library doesn’t sound like the makings of a riveting plot, this show delivers a highly engaging storyline- and the Engeman Theater completes the experience with a fabulous production team and cast!

The Theatre Guide Review

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

September 22, 2019
By Jessica Kennedy

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

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

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

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!

Theatre Guide Review

Aida – John W. Engeman Theater

May 13, 2019
By Jessica Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 21, 2019
By Jessica Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

Man of La Mancha – John W. Engeman Theater

September 17, 2018
By Jessica Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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/

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