Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Theater Review: The Engeman’s ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ is a musical treasure

January 23, 2020
By Rita J. Egan

The folks at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport have brought back the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll in its latest offering, “Million Dollar Quartet.” The show, which debuted on Jan. 16, celebrates four iconic musical legends with a sensational cast masterfully directed by Keith Andrews.

With book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, the production is inspired by the music of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and that historic day of Dec. 4, 1956, when a series of events created the stuff dreams are made of for many music lovers.

Recognized as one of the greatest improv jam sessions ever, it was on that fateful day that Perkins and Lewis were recording at Sun Studio in Memphis when Cash stopped by to break the news to owner Sam Phillips that he was leaving the studio’s record label. If that wasn’t enough, Presley stopped by on the way to his mother’s house with his girlfriend Dyanne on his arm.

On Broadway from April 2010 until June 2011, “Million Dollar Quartet” was nominated for three Tony Awards in 2010. That year Levi Kreis won the Best Featured Actor in a Musical award for his portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis.

Right from the opening number of “Blue Suede Shoes” sung by Sam Sherwood (Carl Perkins), Sky Seals (Johnny Cash), Noel Carey (Jerry Lee Lewis) and Sean Michael Buckley (Elvis Presley), the audience knows they are in for a real treat. With classic rock songs such as the opening number, “That’s All Right,” “I Walk the Line” and “Great Balls of Fire,” it’s hard to choose a favorite. Each of the talented actors recognizes just how important it is to bring the spirits of these musicians to the stage, and they were spot-on during every number.

During last Saturday’s performance the foursome sounded especially beautiful when they sang “Down by the Riverside.” Sarah Ellis as Dyanne also served up steamy versions of “Fever” and “I Hear You Knockin,” and provides a refreshing female presence with her friendly portrayal of one of very few people, Marilyn Evans, who witnesses the recording.

Luke Darnell as Phillips is charming as he also serves as narrator, filling the audience in on Dec. 4, 1956, and how he met each of the singers and recognized their unique talents. He also portrays the character with a sense of integrity that leaves the sentiment that the Sun Records and studio owner truly cared about the music and not just the money.

Sherwood plays Carl Perkins with a good amount of cockiness, which is appropriate considering Perkins wrote and first recorded “Blue Suede Shoes” before Elvis Presley became known for the tune after performing it on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Buckley as Presley has all the right moves that the King was known for and also captures how down-to-earth the singer was.

In the role of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carey performs the eccentric singer from Louisiana to the hilt, which garnered plenty of laughs from the audience and captures the wild and controversial side of the musician perfectly. Seals’ Johnny Cash is stoic and gentlemanly and also has a knack for holding the guitar high like Cash did when playing the instrument.

David Sonneborn and Corey Kaiser as musicians Fluke and Brother Jay, respectively, round out the cast perfectly. Both are “Million Dollar Quartet” veterans as Kaiser played Brother Jay on Broadway and was part of Off-Broadway, national and regional productions, and Sonneborn is an original cast member of the national tour.

As the story ends, the entire cast, including Darnell on harmonica, puts on a performance that feels as if the audience was transported to a concert back in time. On press opening night, Buckley was adorable, flirting with an audience member like Elvis would do during “Hound Dog.” Those in attendance also couldn’t help singing along to “Ghostriders in the Sky,” “See You Later Alligator” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

Jordan Janota has cleverly crafted a set that seamlessly transitions from the interior of Sun Studio to the exterior, and costume designer Dustin Cross has chosen outfits that capture the personality of each singer, and the costumes during the last few songs are absolutely fabulous, especially Ellis’ dress.

“Million Dollar Quartet” at the Engeman is the ideal choice for a night out on the town and also shares an interesting peek into life in the mid-50s. Woven into the story of the legends’ lives is a bit of American history with mentions of the cost of living at the time and the influence of gospel music on rock ‘n’ roll musicians.

Phillips tells Dyanne that Sun Studio “is where the soul of a man never dies” toward the end of the musical. At the Engeman, the extraordinarily talented cast has celebrated and honored the souls of all of these legends — both living and passed — wonderfully.

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Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Theater Review: Kids take center stage as ‘Matilda the Musical’ arrives in Northport for the holidays

November 21, 2019
By Rita J. Egan

“Matilda the Musical” opened at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport Nov. 14 with all the spunk of a Broadway production.

Inspired by the 1988 book by Roald Dahl, the musical introduces audience members to the real and imaginary worlds of 5-year-old Matilda Wormwood, who is misunderstood by her dim-witted family. While the Wormwoods make life difficult at home by making fun of her passion for reading and her smarts, the days become even more troublesome when she begins school with the dastardly Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress of Crunchem Hall. However, with her love of reading, a magical imagination and caring teacher Miss Honey on her side, Matilda finds her happy ending.

The musical, with book by Dennis Kelly, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and orchestrations and additional music by Chris Nightingale, debuted in England in 2010 and opened on Broadway in 2013. While the show closed on the Great White Way in January of 2017, “Matilda the Musical” is still running at the Cambridge Theater in London. It was also released as a movie in 1996 starring Danny DeVito and Rhea Pearlman as the Wormwoods and Mara Wilson as Matilda.

Igor Goldin has directed a superb cast in the Engeman version, which includes many talented children actors. AnnaBelle Deaner and Elsa Dees alternate in the role of Matilda. On the night of Nov. 15 when I reviewed the musical, AnnaBelle played the part. The actress is darling in the role and portrays Matilda perfectly as the brave and precocious girl she is. She hits every note during her solos and her version of “Quiet” is beautiful and touching.

AnnaBelle along with her fellow youth actors stole many scenes. During one depicting the first day of school, they along with the ensemble performed a sensational “School Song” where everyone involved was strong in both vocals and dance moves. The company also delivers a fantastic “When I Grow Up,” the signature song from the musical.

Sara Gallo as Mrs. Wormwood and Michael Perrie Jr. as Mr. Wormwood are hilarious. While the two characters aren’t the best at parenting, Gallo and Perrie are pros at garnering laughs from the audience. Gallo plays her character to the hilt during the song “Loud” as she and Al Lockhart as Rudolpho, her dancing partner, show off some fantastic dance moves. And Perrie’s vocals are strong on “All I Know,” known as “Telly” in the Broadway and London versions. He also does a wonderful job interacting with the audience toward the end of intermission. Richard Westfahl as Michael Wormwood is also funny as Matilda’s dim-witted brother.

Dane Agostinis as Miss Trunchbull, the Olympic Hammer-Throwing Champion headmistress who believes children are maggots, plays the antagonist role perfectly. Agostinis can deliver her songs smoothly without breaking character despite the funny lines and laughs from the audience. Kate Fahrner as Miss Honey is simply endearing and sings a beautiful “My House” in the second act.

Emily Kelly as The Acrobat and Alex Herrera as The Escapologist are delightful, especially when Herrara joins Matilda on the song “I’m Here.” Nicole Powell was a charming Ms. Phelps, the librarian who looks forward to Matilda’s stories. Jamie Colburn as the Doctor and Sergei rounds out the cast perfectly.

On the night that I attended the show, I was fortunate to have with me 15-year-old Jonathan Guttenberg, who has seen countless productions, including “Matilda the Musical” on Broadway and London. Jonathan said “School Song” and “Revolting” were his favorite numbers in the Engeman production because they were both powerful and thought the theater did a phenomenal job.

Scenic designer Nate Bertone has put together a fun and colorful set with clever oversized books that fold out one way to serve as the Wormwood’s living room and another to provide the backdrop for the library. Mara Newbery Greer also has choreographed several energetic dance numbers, which the actors have mastered, including the youngest members of the youth ensemble, with special mention to Lily Tamburo.

With the chilly weather settling in along the North Shore, “Matilda the Musical” has arrived just in time with its funny, heart-warming story and will be a hit with local theatergoers of all ages.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Theater Review: Engeman Theater’s ‘Aida’ is a gift from the gods

 

May 15, 2019
By Heidi Sutton

The sands of ancient Egypt have blown into Northport as the Engeman Theater presents the timeless love story “Aida” through June 23. With music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang, the musical is based on Giuseppe Verdi’s 19th-century opera of the same name.

The Egyptian pharaoh (Julius Chase) wishes to expand his reign beyond the Nile and orders Egyptian captain Radames to make war with neighboring Nubia. In his travels, Radames captures a dark and beautiful Nubian princess, Aida, and presents her as a gift to his fiancé of nine years, Princess Amneris. Over time he finds himself falling in love with Aida and begins to question the course his life should take.

When a plot orchestrated by Radames’ father Zoser (Enrique Acevedo) to poison the Pharaoh is brought to light and Radames and Aida’s forbidden love is discovered, Princess Amneris is tasked with deciding their fate. Without giving away the ending, let’s just say that breaking ancient Egyptian laws never ended well.

Costumes by Kurt Alger are gorgeous, from Princess Amneris’ many gowns and headpieces to the Pharaoh’s royal garbs. The set, designed by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case, is adorned with hieroglyphics, palm trees, an occasional stream and a rotating platform that is utilized in many ways including as a ship, a throne and a prison cell.

Kayla Cyphers is perfectly cast as Aida, a enslaved princess stolen from her father, Amonasro (Gavin Gregory) and trying to stay strong for her people. “Nubia will never die! Whether we are enslaved or whether we are far from our native soil, Nubia lives in our hearts. And therefore, it lives.” Regal and strong-willed, she commands the stage in every scene.

We see the most change in Radames, expertly played by Ken Allen Neely, from a selfish cold-hearted man to a hopeless romantic who just wants to run away with his Nubian princess.

Jenna Rubaii is divine as the materialistic Princess Amneris, “first in beauty, wisdom … and accessories,” and draws the most laughs — “Are you trying to get me drunk, Radames? You know it’s not necessary,” and special mention should be made of Chaz Alexander Coffin who plays Mereb, a Nubian slave. From his first appearance on stage Coffin quickly becomes an audience favorite.

The musical numbers are the heart of the show, from the highly charged dance numbers, “Another Pyramid” and “Dance of the Robe,”  to the fun fashion show “Strongest Suit” and the romantic duets “Written in the Stars” and “Elaborate Lives.”

Director and choreographer Paul Stancato has such a wondrous and mysterious time period to work with and he takes full advantage of it, creating an exciting and colorful show  with a first-rate cast of actors-singers-dancers and live band to produce a wonderful evening of live theater.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

‘Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story’ hits all the right notes at the Engeman

January 23, 2019
By Heidi Sutton

February 3rd of this year will mark the 60th anniversary of the death of Buddy Holly, one of rock ‘n’ roll’s true pioneers who, in his short career, had a major influence on the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Elton John.

Holly’s wonderful music, his lasting legacy to the world, is celebrated in Alan Janes’ “Buddy —The Buddy Holly Story.” The jukebox musical debuted in London in 1989 and arrived a year later on Broadway. The show opened at the John W. Engeman Theater last week and runs through March 3.

Directed and choreographed by Keith Andrews, the show recounts the last three years of Holly’s life and rise to fame, from 1956 to 1959.

We first meet him as a strong-willed 19-year-old country singer (played by Michael Perrie Jr.) from Lubbock, Texas, and follow his journey with his band, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, as they venture into rock ‘n’ roll with hits like “That’ll Be the Day,” “Rock Around with Ollie Vee” and “Everyday.”

The impressive sets by Jordan Janota and props by Emily Wright beautifully evolve with each scene while the stage features a permanent arch of gramophone records that light up individually as each hit is performed.

Touring the country in 1957, Holly and his band head to the Apollo Theater in Harlem where the audience is treated to a show-stopping rendition of the Isley Brothers’s “Shout” by Apollo performers Marlena (Kim Onah) and Tyrone (Troy Valjean Rucker) before enjoying “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!” and “Not Fade Away.”

We are witness to when Holly meets his future wife Maria Elena Santiago (Lauren Cosio) for the first time and when he leaves a pregnant Maria in 1959 to go on the Winter Dance Party tour by bus to play 24 Midwestern cities in as many days after promising her he won’t get on an airplane.

The final scene is also one of the show’s finest as Holly’s last performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, with J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson (Jayson Elliott) and Ritchie Valens (Diego Guevara) is recreated in a poignant tribute. The audience is transported back in time and become concertgoers enjoyingoutstanding performances of “Chantilly Lace,” “La Bamba” and “Peggy Sue Got Married.”

The stage suddenly goes dark and a radio announces that all three singers were killed in a plane crash shortly after the concert. Richardson was 28, Holly was 22 and Valens was only 17. The tragedy was later referred to as “The Day the Music Died.” The lights come back on and the concert continues, bringing the packed house at last Friday’s show to their feet in a long-standing ovation.

By the end of the night, more than 20 of Holly’s greatest hits have been played live by the incredibly talented actors on stage, a fitting tribute to the Texan who got to play music his way.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

‘Elf’ at the Engeman is full of laughs and Christmas cheer

November 20, 2018
By Melissa Arnold

Whether you’ve been playing carols for weeks or are just now contemplating putting up the tree, the end of Thanksgiving signals the official arrival of the holiday season. If this is the most wonderful time of the year in your house, there’s no better way to enjoy it than by catching “Elf`The Musical” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.

Based on the beloved 2003 film starring Will Ferrell, “Elf” tells the story of a little boy who crawls into Santa’s gift bag and ends up at the North Pole. Raised as an elf, the ever-growing Buddy has no idea he’s really human, even though he’s a terrible toymaker. When Buddy learns the truth about his identity, he sets out on a journey to New York City to reconnect with his roots and find his family.

Insulated by the always cheery atmosphere of Christmastown, it’s an understatement to say Buddy faces culture shock upon arriving in the Big Apple. But it will take a lot to keep Buddy from spreading Christmas cheer, especially to the person that needs it most: his Scrooge-y father.

“Elf” made its Broadway debut in 2010 with book by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan and music by Michael Sklar and Chad Beguelin. Devoted fans of the film will appreciate the show’s faithfulness to the original script, including Buddy’s classic one-liners that make it so iconic. The musical numbers aren’t especially memorable and feel unnecessary at points, but they do open up the opportunity for some great dance routines.

The production begins with Santa (Gordon Gray) inviting the audience to join him as he reads the story of Buddy the Elf. There’s something so fun about these moments that allow actors to interact with the crowd and draw viewers in. And the little details in Santa’s scenes (his oversized chair with a bag of Doritos and the remote control stuffed in the cushion) feel genuine and cozy. Gray’s portrayal of Santa is effortless, funny and truly believable — his belly laughs will make you wonder if he’s the real deal.

Erik Gratton is no stranger to the role of Buddy. He also starred in the national tour of “Elf” and last year’s Madison Square Garden production. While it’s hard to shake off the image of Will Ferrell in that famous green hat, Gratton leaves it all on the stage with tons of energy and all the zany enthusiasm Buddy deserves. His first experience and subsequent obsession with a paper shredder will have you in stitches. It’s also worth noting that he approaches the show’s rare emotional moments with surprising tenderness. Gratton will break your heart at the end of the first act during “World’s Greatest Dad (Reprise).”

After fantasizing endlessly about what life with his dad will be like, Buddy meets his overworked, agitated publisher father, Walter Hobbs (Joe Gately). Tension rolls off Gately in waves, and when Hobbs loses his temper, Gately fills the theater with powerful, roaring tirades. He’s a wonderful foil to Christianne Tisdale and Zachary Podair, who play Hobbs’s wife Emily and young son Michael. Tisdale and Podair have great chemistry as mother and son, and their duets in “I’ll Believe in You” and “There Is a Santa Claus” were personal favorites.

Of course, Buddy’s life is further turned upside down when he finds himself smitten with a beautiful, yet world-weary Macy’s employee, Jovie (Caitlin Gallogly). Gallogly is delightfully edgy and jaded for the majority of the show, making her character’s eventual thawing that much more enjoyable. She also has one of the strongest voices in the cast, and her vocals in “A Christmas Song” and “Never Fall in Love With an Elf” are a treat for the ears.

The ensemble in “Elf” has several different roles to play, from elves in Santa’s workshop to retail employees and bitter mall Santas. They deserve major props for their elf scenes — since elves are tiny, the actors perform on their knees. It’s no small feat to sing and dance to “Christmastown” from that position!

Choreographer Mara Newbery Greer and associate choreographer Tiger Brown are to be applauded for their hard work with the cast. The intense tap dancing in “Nobody Cares About Santa” is another impressive surprise.

Set designer Nate Bertone creates a whimsical backdrop for the show, grounded by huge arches covered in snowflakes. The giant logos for Macy’s and Greenway Press are eye-catching, as are the creative use of props and background silhouettes to show scene changes in real time. While musical director Charlie Reuter and the small orchestra are tucked out of sight in the pit, they provide the perfect, almost cartoonish, accompaniment to this silly show.

All told, director Matt Kunkel has led the Engeman’s cast of “Elf” in a production that’s loads of fun for the whole family — a perfect fit for the holiday season.

A note on content: “Elf” does contain some brief mild language and lighthearted innuendo that most children won’t notice. The show is generally appropriate for all ages.

If you have some extra money to spare, consider making a donation after the show to the Ecumenical Lay Council Food Pantry, which supports more than 150 local families each week. Cast members will collect donations as you leave. For more information, call 631- 261-4357.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Engeman Theater champions the little guy with ‘Newsies’

July 24, 2018
By Melissa Arnold

This summer, the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport is transporting audiences to a New York City of long ago in its production of “Newsies.” This feel good, family-friendly show, which opened last Thursday, is thoroughly entertaining and will have you rooting for the cast from start to finish.

“Newsies”’ journey to the stage is an interesting one — the show is based on the 1992 Disney movie of the same name, and made its Broadway debut in 2012, where it won two Tony Awards. The book was written by Harvey Fierstein, with music by Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin”) and lyrics by Jack Feldman.

Both the film and musical are loosely inspired by the real-life events of the Newsboys Strike of 1899. The newspaper business was booming in 1898 while the United States was involved in the Spanish-American War. But when the war ended in September of 1898, so did the clamor for news. And this is where “Newsies” begins.

In the summer of 1899, a ragtag group of Lower Manhattan paperboys are lamenting the slow news climate, and famed publisher Joseph Pulitzer is brainstorming ways to boost his profits. At that time, newsies purchased their own papers from the publishers to sell on the street. Pulitzer decides to hike the prices the newsies pay, and since most of the kids are poor, homeless or trying to support their families, the backlash is immediate.

Led by the charismatic and scrappy 17-year-old Jack Kelly, the kids form a union and declare a strike. The show chronicles the uphill battle Jack and his friends face to be taken seriously and shines a light on unfair child labor practices of the era. At the core of “Newsies” is the power of resilience, community and standing up for a cause — and that spirit is as relevant today as it was then.

Under the direction of Igor Goldin, this production’s cast features a number of actors making their Engeman debut. Among them are Dan Tracy, whose confidence and comfort on stage give his portrayal of Jack Kelly a lovable swagger. Tracy does a great job balancing Jack’s tough guy exterior with a more hidden tender side, which shines through in songs such as “Santa Fe” and “Something to Believe In.”

Mike Cefalo and Zachary Podair, who play the rookie paperboy Davey and his kid brother Les, are also new to the Engeman. The pair have a natural chemistry and strong voices — listen for Cefalo in “The World Will Know” and Podair in “Watch What Happens.” As the youngest member of the cast, Podair is charming and funny, and he’s sure to have a bright future ahead in acting.

Whitney Winfield, in the role of Katherine Plumber, certainly holds her own with a big voice in “King of New York” and “Something to Believe In.” Her character is loosely based off of reporter Nellie Bly, who was a trailblazer for working women and female journalists. Winfield plays the role with a contagious positive spirit and moxie.

The ensemble is every bit as enjoyable as the main cast. Worth noting is their incredible talent for dance — choreographer Sandalio Alvarez and dance captain Claire Avakian are to be applauded for their hard work. “Newsies” is full of pirouettes, backflips, cartwheels, jumps and more tricks that will blow you away. Even the curtain call is an impressive showcase for their skill, where you can tell the cast is enjoying the show as much as we are.

The double-decker set designed by DT Willis depicts a Manhattan street, with metal staircases, a fire escape and a cityscape background. The set is multifunctional, transforming easily from a rooftop to the city square, a deli, theater and office with some quick work from the cast, who also functions as stage crew.

With every show at the Engeman, it’s the little touches at the theater that make the experience extra special. Show up early to enjoy one of several “Newsies”-themed cocktails, listen to ragtime or put yourself on the front page with their crafty wooden newspaper prop. Feel free to ask the staff to take a photo — they’re easy to find in old-time flat caps and suspenders. Be sure to check out the playbill for some fascinating information on the show’s historical background.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Theater Review: ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ makes a splash at the Engeman Theater

May 25, 2018
By Victoria Espinoza

The latest production at the John W. Engeman Theater will have you dancing and singing — rain or shine. “Singin’ in the Rain” premiered this past weekend to a full house and one of the most energetic crowds in past years.

The classic movie, which is regarded as one of the greatest movie musicals of all time, comes to life as soon as the curtain rises, bringing the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s golden age to Northport. It’s 1927 and Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are the toast of Tinseltown until silent films are threatened with the rise of talking pictures. The Northport stage is set to look like an old Hollywood film studio lot. David Arsenault, the set designer, creates a simple but inviting backdrop, and many times throughout the show the sets are used to enhance musical numbers and bring even more laughs to the audience.

While the songs, actors and sets all excel in this production, the choreography comes out on top. Drew Humphrey is both the director and choreographer for this show and brings audiences a nonstop party with intricate and joyful dance numbers that were accompanied by nonstop applause throughout the night. Standouts include “Fit as a Fiddle,” “Make Em Laugh,” “Good Morning” and, of course, the timeless classic, “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Danny Gardner, who plays Don Lockwood, brings all the magic of Gene Kelly’s iconic scene with his mile-long grin, infatuated attitude and love-struck dance moves. Perhaps the most excited the audience got was when the rain started to pour on stage and Gardner appeared in a fedora with an umbrella under his arm.

Tessa Grady and Brian Shepard round out the main trio as Kathy Selden and Cosmo Brown, respectively, and the chemistry between the three is great fun to watch. Shepard brings the biggest smiles to audiences’ faces with fun jokes and a charming and lovable attitude. He steals the scene in “Moses Supposes,” and you can’t help but look for him in every scene to see what fun little moments he brings to his character. All three stars have beautiful voices, and Grady does a great job bringing her talents to Kathy Selden to make her a confident, charming character with some great comedic moments as well.

Of course, the other character who delighted audiences with laughs was Lina Lamont, played by Emily Stockdale. The voice she was able to achieve for Lamont was impressive and hilarious and her short solo number in the second act was sharp and enjoyable. She brought great depth to what could’ve been a one-dimensional character.

An extra fun treat for audiences was the short films inside the musical. Producer Richard Dolce and Humphrey do a great job making the film shorts hilarious, and as an added bonus a recognizable spot, Northport Village Park, makes a cameo appearance. It makes the black-and-white shorts twice the fun when you see the recognizable white gazebo as a backdrop for a sword fight and a lovers reunion. The ensemble cast who are a part of these shorts also deserve a special shout out for the delight they bring to the small screen.

Musical Director Jonathan Brenner handles the numbers wonderfully, bringing all the right emotion each scene calls for. “Moses Supposes” excels not only for Shepard’s lovable conviction but also the way Brenner handles the music. The same can be said for “Good Morning.” This scene delivers on all the fun the original film brings, and although the characters aren’t trotting together from room to room, this production’s version encapsulates all the charm.

And even with all the fun, this production saves the best for last with a closing number you won’t want to miss. Kurt Alger, costume designer for the show, adds an extra pop with costume choices for the end, bringing extra color and fun to the stage. But, of course, the elegant period pieces in the show’s entirety are also a marvel to see, especially a French-style costume worn by Stockdale.

With more than just fan favorite songs, this musical promises to deliver a fun-filled evening for all who attend.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Engeman Theater soars to new heights in latest production

By Rita J. Egan
March 22, 2018

It may be chilly outside, but things are heating up inside the John W. Engeman Theater. The Northport venue debuted its production of “In the Heights” on March 15, and with a talented cast and the energetic sounds of salsa, reggaeton, merengue and hip hop, audience members are guaranteed a fun, hot night on the town.

Before he shared the story of Alexander Hamilton through rap and song in “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda created this spirited musical, which ran from 2008 to 2011 on Broadway and won four Tony Awards.

A love letter to Latinos who live in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, the story takes place during July Fourth weekend on one city block and centers around bodega owner Usnavi and his neighbors. While the play includes a good deal of reality like money issues, the death of loved ones and the sacrifices one must make for a better life, its main themes are about love and hope, and most important of all, having patience and faith.

With book by Quiara Alegria Hudes and music and lyrics by Miranda, through dialogue and song “In the Heights” reveals the economic struggles of Usnavi and his fellow business owners, car service proprietors Kevin and Camila Rosario and beauty salon owner Daniela.

The musical throws in romance as Usnavi pines away for the beautiful Vanessa, who works at the beauty salon, and the Rosarios’ daughter Nina and their employee Benny engage in a forbidden romance. As the audience gets a peek into the heartache of Usnavi losing his parents at an early age, Vanessa yearning to move downtown, the bright Nina losing her college scholarship and the love felt for the neighborhood’s adopted grandmother, Claudia, one can’t help but feel a part of this close-knit community.

Spiro Marcos as Usnavi does a fine job filling big shoes (the role was originally played by Miranda on Broadway). The actor skillfully uses rap during most of his numbers to tell the story. Marcos is in touch with Usnavi’s softer side, making it impossible not to root for him as he longs for Vanessa and dreams of going back to the Dominican Republic, his birthplace, while trying to keep the bodega afloat.

Josh Marin is charming as Benny, and Cherry Torres is sweet and lovely as Nina. The two have a good amount of onstage chemistry during their romantic scenes, which is front and center during the song “Sunrise” where they sing beautifully together. Chiara Trentalange balances a bit of sass and attitude with a touch of softness to deliver a Vanessa who may be determined to put her neighborhood behind her, but audience members can’t help but like her, too.

Tami Dahbura is endearing as Abuela Claudia, while Paul Aguirre and Shadia Fairuz are perfect together as Kevin and Camila. Schehereazade Quiroga is perfect as the spunky Daniela and delivers comedic lines perfectly. Iliana Garcia is refreshing as naïve hairdresser Carla, and Vincent Ortega is delightful as the Piragua Guy, especially during his number “Piragua” and its reprise. Nick Martinez, as Usnavi’s young cousin Sonny, and Danny Lopez as Graffiti Pete, do a nice job adding some comic relief throughout the production.

The dancers are also among the stars in the show. Skillfully choreographed by Sandalio Alvarez, they energetically and masterfully transfer from salsa, merengue, reggaeton and hip hop dance steps.

The music in the production is top notch and is a mix of dance tunes that will have audience members wanting to dance in the aisles and emotional ballads for which some may need tissues. The band, led by conductor Alec Bart, does a superb job flawlessly moving from one musical genre to another, and the singers also do an excellent job.

During the first act, Torres expertly uses her vocal talents to perform an emotion-evoking version of “Breathe.” It is during this number audience members discover her time at Stanford University didn’t work out for her, and she now feels lost not knowing what to do with her life.

Aguirre’s number “Inútil” is just as heartbreaking as his character feels useless after discovering his daughter didn’t come to him to help her pay for school. Fairuz also displays strong vocals during the song “Siempre.”

Trentalange sings lead on the upbeat song “It Won’t Be Long Now” with Marcos and Martinez. The actress has fun with the song and her vocals are great.

Dahbura moves around convincingly like a frail grandmother, and then surprises audience members with her emotional vocals during “Paciencia y Fe.” Abuela Claudia remembers her youth in Cuba and arriving in the United States, during the song. Her mother would always remind her to have patience and faith, advice Claudia continues to share with those she loves.

During the first act, the ensemble performs “96,000” as they sing about what it would be like to win the Lotto. With the singers emanating so much energy, one can’t help but feel optimistic for them.

Quiroga gets the party started with “Carnaval del Barrio” and her vocals are outstanding. The high-energy song with exceptional dancing is sensational. It is soon followed by “Alabanza” where Torres sweetly sings the first lines and then the song builds up to a powerful number featuring the whole cast. Both performed during the second act are show stoppers.

Spanish is sprinkled throughout the dialogue and lyrics of “In the Heights” to add authenticity, but are always followed by English translations, or the lines are delivered with gestures that make things clear for those who don’t understand the language.

Many may want to see this musical because they are curious about Miranda’s earlier work, but “In the Heights” is an entertaining look into the life of Latinos in New York City and a beautiful tribute to the music that was brought to the United States from the islands of Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: The Engeman delivers a musical and emotional powerhouse with ‘Once’

Times of Huntington-Northport
Melissa Arnold
January 25, 2018

If you’ve ever fallen in love, had your heart broken or faced unfulfilled passion, you’ll relate to “Once.” And even if you haven’t, the cast at the John W. Engeman Theater will still grab your heart and squeeze. The show, which is part of the theater’s 11th season, is both unique and compelling. It’s easy to see why “Once” grossed 11 Tony nominations and eight wins in 2012, its first year on Broadway. The show is a stage adaptation of the 2007 film of the same name that starred Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. Both versions were written and directed by John Carney.

Under the direction of the Engeman’s Trey Compton, “Once” begins with a nameless street performer referred to as Guy (Barry Debois) singing a heartbreaking ballad about an ex-girlfriend. A bold and honest young Czech woman (Andrea Goss as Girl) overhears the song and immediately pesters him for the juicy details that inspired it. It turns out that Guy has lost his love of music since his old flame left for New York City. Performing just hurts too much, and he’s ready to throw in the towel on his dreams.

But Girl won’t hear any of that, and she’s convinced that he’d win his love’s heart again if he sang her that song. Their conversation is the beginning of an intensely passionate and emotionally raw week as the two write, rehearse and record songs together.

What makes “Once” stand out is its presentation, which you’ll notice before the show even begins. Get there early and you’ll find the cast on stage in the middle of a rocking pub party, Dublin style. They hoot and holler while they sing, play Irish tunes and dance on tables. The best part is that the audience is invited to go up and join them. The set includes a working bar that offers a single variety of beer, red wine and white wine for $10.

The musical performances in this show are also one of a kind, as there is no stage band providing accompaniment. Instead, each person in the 13-member cast also plays an instrument, and all of the songs are performed from memory, which is beyond impressive. To make it work, chairs are set in a semicircle around the perimeter of the stage. When a character exits a scene, he or she simply takes a seat, fading inconspicuously into the background.

They also function as their own stage crew, dancing and playing brief musical interludes as they carry props on and off the set. It’s a bit hard to describe in words, but the overall effect is visually compelling and speaks to the incredible talent of this cast.

Both Goss and Debois are no strangers to “Once” — she was part of its recent Broadway run, while he was the music captain of the 2016 U.S. national tour. They bring to the show an intense realism you can hear in every note they sing. Guy’s opening number, “Leave,” and Girl’s tearful performance of “The Hill,” will leave you awestruck.

The members of the ensemble, which include “Once” veterans Elisabeth Evans (Reza), John Thomas Hays (Billy), Stephen McIntyre (Bank Manager) and Bristol Pomeroy (Da) among others, are every bit as talented as Debois and Goss. They put out a powerful sound with rich harmonies and tons of energy. During their a cappella performance of “Gold,” you could hear a pin drop in the packed house. The standing ovation during the press night performance last Saturday night was well deserved.

Read online: http://tbrnewsmedia.com/theater-review-engeman-delivers-musical-emotional-powerhouse/

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: Engeman Theater’s ‘Frosty’ is a magical holiday treat

Times of Huntington-Northport
Rita J. Egan
November 20, 2017

That jolly, happy soul has returned to Northport. The family musical “Frosty” opened Nov. 18 at the John W. Engeman Theater and families filled the theater eager for the annual holiday treat.

Directed by Richard T. Dolce, the production is a delightful twist on the story “Frosty the Snowman.” On the Northport stage, the snowman comes to life with the help of a scarf that is magical due to love instead of a magician’s hat and quickly becomes best friends with a little girl named Jenny.

When Jenny’s mother, who is also the mayor of Chillsville, is tricked into signing a contract with the evil Ethel Pierpot to build a machine to get rid of all the snow in Chillsville, Jenny must find a way to keep Frosty from melting.

Kevin Burns as the narrator opens the show, and it’s clear from the beginning that the audience will be part of the story. Burns easily interacts with the children and gets them involved. He also draws the most laughs as he goes from being bundled up for winter to wearing less and less each time he makes an appearance on stage to demonstrate how warm Chillsville is getting.

Kate Keating as Jenny is endearing as the sweet young girl who has no friends but possesses a warm heart. With touching vocals during “No Friends,” the audience connects with her at once.

TracyLynn Conner played Ethel Pierpot on opening day and alternates the role with Cristina Hall. Conner portrays her character with the perfect mix of evilness and silliness reminiscent of Cruella Deville from “101 Dalmatians.” Children knew she was up to no good on opening day but weren’t afraid of her, which was apparent as they chatted with the actress during the autograph session after the show.

Matthew Rafanelli delivers Frosty perfectly with a sweet, friendly speaking and singing voice. He and Keating sound great together when they sing “One Friend Is Better Than No Friends.”

Ashley Brooke rounds out the cast beautifully, playing a loving, nurturing mother and mayor who realizes Chillsville is perfect the way it is no matter what Ethel Pierpot says.

The musical ends on the right note with the whole cast singing the Frosty theme song after doing an excellent job on the ensemble number “Thanks for You.”

Young audience members were delighted with the many opportunities when the actors encouraged them to participate. An especially cute part of the production is when the narrator asks the children in the audience for ideas to solve Frosty and Jenny’s dilemma at the end of the first act. After intermission, those ideas are shared with the characters. “Frosty” also provides a few fun opportunities for the actors to come into the audience, and the show contains many magical moments.

This time of year is perfect to create special memories, and the Engeman’s production of “Frosty” is guaranteed to add magic to any family’s holiday season. While the story is geared toward younger audiences, older siblings, parents and grandparents will find plenty to enjoy in the show, too.

Theatergoers can meet Frosty and friends in the lobby for photos and autographs after the show. An autograph page is located towards the back of the program.

 

Read online: http://tbrnewsmedia.com/engeman-theaters-frosty-magical-holiday-treat/

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: Kick off the holidays with ‘Annie’ at Northport’s Engeman Theater

Times of Huntington-Northport
Melissa Arnold
November 15, 2017

There are few characters from a musical more enduring across generational lines than the curly-haired, ever positive orphan Annie. The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport is celebrating the holidays with its mainstage production of “Annie” through Dec. 31. Now in its 11th season, the Engeman has once again teamed up with director/choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo (“Grease,” “Memphis”) to bring Annie and her friends to life.

The story of New York’s most beloved orphan was partially inspired by “Little Orphan Annie,” a comic strip created by Harold Gray in the 1920s. After his death, the strip was carried on by a number of cartoonists until 2010. The comic followed the adventures of a little redhead girl and her dog while also offering commentary on political issues of the day, including the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal.

“Annie” the musical debuted on Broadway in 1977, with book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin. Since then, the show has toured around the world, won a slew of Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score and inspired several film adaptations.

When the play begins, 11-year-old Annie and her fellow orphans are growing up in the shadow of the Great Depression in New York City. Life is tough for these kids, especially living in a run-down, dirty orphanage under the care of calloused Agatha Hannigan. For years, Annie has waited eagerly for the return of her birth parents, who left her at Hannigan’s door with a letter and a locket. But they never come, and when Annie is chosen to spend two weeks with lonely billionaire Oliver Warbucks, her life is forever changed.

The cast of Engeman’s “Annie” will win your heart as soon as the show begins. Young Broadway veteran Presley Ryan embodies Annie’s charisma and unbreakable spirit effortlessly. Ryan’s Annie is appropriately youthful, and her voice is pleasant to listen to — sweet and strong, never shrill. You’ll fall in love with her during the first song, “Maybe,” and it’s hard to resist singing along with her on “Tomorrow.”

Ryan is far from the only young lady to stand out in this show, however. All of the girls at the New York Municipal Orphanage have a key role to play — to remove even one of them would make the ensemble seem incomplete.

At the Engeman, the cast features two teams of orphans that will appear on different nights, but if the “red team” is any indicator, you’re in for a treat regardless of whose turn it is. The chemistry among the girls is natural and endearing — a special note of praise should go to the adorable Sophia Lily Tamburo, who plays Molly, the youngest of the bunch. Her comedic timing and dance moves are so impressive for her age, though all of them are incredibly talented with bright futures ahead.

Lynn Andrews is reprising her role as Miss Hannigan for this production — she and Elizabeth Broadhurst (Grace Farrell) were part of the 30th Anniversary Tour of “Annie” beginning in 2005. Andrews’ character is loud, proud and shameless with bold vocals to match. She’s snarky, funny and foolish, sometimes all at once, which is entertaining to watch. Her rollicking performance of “Easy Street” with Jon Peterson and Gina Milo (Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis, respectively) is one of the best in the show with fantastic harmonies.

George Dvorsky, another seasoned Broadway actor, plays Oliver Warbucks, the billionaire looking to make one orphan’s Christmas a bit brighter. He wasn’t expecting a little girl, however, and the relationship he builds with Annie is full of emotion and nuance. Dvorsky has both comedic and poignant moments in the show, and his performance of “Something Was Missing” will resonate with anyone who has experienced deep love of any kind.

There are also a few special guests in this show. For a brief time, Annie finds a loveable sidekick in a stray dog named Sandy. In this production, Sandy is actually played by two real dogs, Moon and Sandy. Moon was once a stray himself, and Sandy was recently rescued from a kill shelter following this summer’s devastating Hurricane Harvey in Texas. The dogs are amazingly well-behaved onstage thanks to hard work with Happy Dog Training & Behavior and the support of the cast “animal wrangler,” Cassidy Ingram.

While the ensemble serves as the supporting cast for the show, they have plenty of time to shine on their own — keep an eye out for them during the hilarious scenes at the White House and the radio station.

New York scenic designers Christopher and Justin Swader are behind the unique and versatile set for this production. Detailed artwork of a hazy NYC skyline remains in the background throughout the show, and scene changes are made by the cast themselves. There’s not a lot of variation, but the transitions are simple and clear, so it gets the job done. Jonathan Brenner leads a seven-man orchestra in performing the classic score.

As of this writing, it still feels a bit early to think about the holidays, but the Engeman is dressed to the nines with garland and lights. And since “Annie” is set just before Christmas, it’s hard not to catch the holiday spirit during your visit. You might even feel like you’re a guest at Warbucks’ elaborate Christmas party.

Each year around the holidays, the John W. Engeman Theater gives back to its community through charitable support. This year, the theater is partnering with the Ecumenical Lay Council Food Pantry at the First Presbyterian Church of Northport, which helps feed more than 160 local families each week. Consider bringing some extra cash to the show, or visit www.fpcnorthport.org to learn more.

 

Read online: http://tbrnewsmedia.com/kick-off-holidays-annie-northports-engeman-theater/

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: ‘Gypsy’ shines at the Engeman

Times of Huntington-Northport

Heidi Sutton

September 28, 2017

 

Since its Broadway debut in 1959, “Gypsy” has often been referred to as one of the greatest musicals of all time, with such classic hits as “If Mama Was Married,” “Together Wherever We Go,” “Let Me Entertain You” and everyone’s favorite, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Now the award-winning show arrives at the Engeman Theater in Northport through Oct. 29 and lives up to its reputation in spades.

With book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, “Gypsy” is loosely based on the 1957 memoirs of the 1930s burlesque star Rose Louise Horvick, known professionally as Gypsy Rose Lee. Her mother Rose has big dreams for her youngest daughter June (actress June Havoc) to make it in show biz and drags both sisters around the country to perform their Vaudeville act, which isn’t very good.

Rose hires dancers and an agent, Herbie, to help them get gigs, but the act never gets off the ground. When June has finally had enough and runs off to elope with one of the dancers, Rose turns her attention to the less talented Louise. It is then that the audience realizes that Rose is the one craving stardom and Louise is just a pawn to achieve that goal.

With a totally revised show, Louise and her dancers mistakenly end up in a burlesque house. With not a dime to their name, Rose convinces Louise to give stripping a try and Gypsy Rose Lee is born. Now famous all over the world, Louise eventually tires of her mother’s controlling ways and breaks away, leaving Rose devastated and alone in the final scene.

Directed by Igor Golden, the large cast features Michele Ragusa as Rose, Austen Danielle Bohmer as Louise, Charity Van Tassel as June and John Scherer as Herbie. From her first solo, “Some People,” to the finale, “Rose’s Turn,” Ragusa shines in the role of the quintessential stage mother. Last seen on the Engeman stage as the scheming Mrs. Meers in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Ragusa can easily take a seat alongside her predecessors Ethel Merman, Bernadette Peters, Bette Midler and Tyne Daly.

Bohmer, making her debut on the Engeman stage, gives a rousing performance as Louise. Watching her transform from a shy, awkward teenager to a burlesque star is truly remarkable. Though only seen in the first act, Van Tassel has her work cut out for her as the star of a failing Vaudeville act that sometimes includes a cow. Scherer is brilliant as Herbie and quickly garners sympathy from the audience as he patiently waits for years for Rose to marry him, only to walk away in the end.

There are too many wonderful performances to mention, and the entire ensemble is terrific — particularly when delivering Drew Humphrey’s clever choreography. But special mention must be made of Jennifer Collester Tully, Suzanne Mason and Amber Carson for their showstoppping rendition of “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” and to Bryan Thomas Hunt as Tulsa who gives an incredible performance in “All I Need Is the Girl.”

The set, designed by Nate Bertone, is impeccable and lighting by Zach Blane is brilliantly executed. Kudos to Kurt Alger for capturing America’s fading Vaudeville circuit with beautifully detailed costumes and to the six-member powerhouse band led by Alex Bart that tie the show together in a neat little package that is not to be missed.

Let the Engeman entertain you. Go see “Gypsy.”

 

Read online: http://tbrnewsmedia.com/theater-review-gypsy-shines-engeman/

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: ‘Grease’ is the word at the Engeman

Times of Huntington-Northport

July 13, 2017

Melissa Arnold

 

When it comes to musical theater, few shows are more beloved with theatergoers than “Grease.” Can you blame us, though? It’s an old, familiar story: Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Things get messy.

Put simply, it’s a snapshot of teenage relationships that’s almost universally relatable. And thanks to the 1978 film adaptation starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, “Grease” is permanently cemented into the hearts of so many.

All this makes it the perfect summer kickoff for the John W. Engeman Theater’s 11th season.

For those of you who are not familiar with the plot, “Grease,” written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, follows the Rydell High School Class of 1959 through the highs and lows of hormone-fueled infatuation.

At the center of it all is Sandy Dumbrowski (Liana Hunt), the naïve, charming new girl in town who catches the eye of notorious bad boy Danny Zuko (Sam Wolf). While the two develop a whirlwind summer romance, the transition back to Rydell High is a tough one. Peer pressure, social stereotypes and the desire to fit in pull Danny and Sandy in different directions while sending ripples of tension through their circle of friends.

While is sounds like a lot of drama, the show is full of fast-paced banter and folly that will keep you laughing and singing along until the end.

Director Paul Stancato leads a cast of theater veterans in a well-polished performance that’s hard to criticize. Such high quality is what you can expect to see regularly at the Engeman.

Liana Hunt plays Sandy in a way that’s down to earth and totally believable. Her voice is strong without being over the top. “Hopelessly Devoted to You” allows her to shine on her own, which is appreciated in a show mostly comprised of duets and chorus numbers.

As Danny, Sam Wolf builds fantastic chemistry leading the rebellious Thunderbirds. The first words in the iconic “Summer Nights” will leave no doubt about why Wolf got the role – he can sing, and that same passion translates to everything he does on stage.

But this production wouldn’t be what it is without the phenomenal supporting cast, who are every bit as talented as Hunt and Wolf. In fact, they nearly stole the show.

The T-Birds (Zach Erhardt, Chris Collins-Pisano, Chris Stevens and Casey Shane) are hysterically funny. Their antics will make you laugh out loud, especially when they briefly dip into the audience. They’re also incredible dancers, pulling off flips and jumps like they’re nothing.

The Pink Ladies (Hannah Slabaugh, Laura Helm, Madeleine Barker and Sari Alexander) are a force of their own as well – each one stands out from the group with individuality and assertiveness. Of particular mention is Barker, who plays the cynical Betty Rizzo with tons of natural swagger, and Slabaugh, who you can’t help but love during “Mooning,” a duet her character Jan performs with Roger (Collins-Pisano).

The efforts of choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo and dance captain Tim Falter have definitely paid off in this production. Dancing is central to the plot in “Grease,” and the cast’s quick, complicated routines are worth shouting over. From the opening “Grease is the Word” to the dance contest during “Born to Hand Jive,” they should be commended for both their skill and the stamina required to pull off the show.

And while you can’t see the band at the Engeman – they are tucked neatly under the stage – their rock ‘n’ roll carries the whole show. In fact, if not for their credits in the program, you might think the music was prerecorded. The six-man ensemble is led by conductor/keyboardist Alec Bart.

Costume designer Matthew Solomon does a fantastic job transporting us back to the ’50s. The dresses worn by the girls at the school dance are gorgeous and colorful, and their twirling skirts are perfect for all the dancing in that scene. The set, designed by Stephen Dobay, is simple but functional. The stage is flanked by generic buildings on either side, but there are also a set of risers leading up to a second level. This area was transformed throughout the performance last Saturday night and allowed for multiple conversations or settings to occur at once. It works especially well as a stage for the school dance.

Overall, this production is exactly what you’d expect to see from such a classic show – there are no surprises, and that’s a good thing. Find your seats early to relax with a drink while listening to top hits from the ’50s, and make sure you stay through the curtain call for a brief, fun sing-a-long with the cast.

Runtime is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Be aware that strobe lights and haze are used throughout the show.

See “Grease” now through Aug. 27 at the John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport. Tickets range from $73 to $78 and may be purchased by calling 631-261-2900 or by visiting www.engemantheater.com. Free valet parking is available.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: Engeman’s ‘The Full Monty’ more than satisfies audience members

Times of Huntington-Northport

January 24, 2017

Rita J. Egan

 

The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport exposed a night of adult fun this past Saturday when it held the press opening of “The Full Monty,” its current mainstage production. Judging by the applause, laughter and howling coming from the audience, the musical, directed by Keith Andrews, will be another huge hit for the theater.

Based on the 1997 movie of the same name, the story takes six men on an adventure where they hold nothing back, emotionally or physically. Featuring a book by Terrance McNally with score and lyrics by David Yazbek, “The Full Monty” introduces theatergoers to two unemployed steelworkers from Buffalo, Jerry and Dave, who decide to organize and perform in a strip act after seeing local women go crazy for a Chippendales-inspired show. Even though they look nothing like strippers, they soon join forces with their former co-workers Malcolm and Harold and hold auditions for two more dancers where they meet Horse and Ethan and form Hot Metal.

While a few characters’ names differ from the film, and the location has been changed from the movie’s Sheffield, England, to Buffalo, New York, the musical is still filled with something everyone can identify with whether unemployment, divorce, relationship problems, body issues or even the caring of an ailing parent.

And like the movie, even though the men working together to overcome their anxieties and self-consciousness creates a few serious and tender moments, overall it is told with a great deal of humor both in dialogue and lyrics. It’s a tale that leaves audience members not only cheering for the characters but also exiting the theater feeling uplifted.

“The Full Monty” opens with a high-energy scene where the woman are enjoying a girls’ night out. The story soon switches to the men at the union hall, and the number “Scrap” let’s the audience know there are serious matters to be dealt with and money needed.

Throughout the musical, Brent Michael DiRoma (Jerry) and Ryan G. Dunkin (Dave) are a terrific duo easily handling delicate matters with well-timed humor. The two are at their best during Act One’s hysterical number “Big Ass Rock” where they try to discourage Malcolm from committing suicide by showing him the ridiculousness of different scenarios. Spencer Glass as Malcolm soon joins in on the number, ecstatic that he may actually have friends, leaving the audience laughing uncontrollably.

Peter Simon Hilton, who plays Harold a former supervisor hiding his unemployed status from his wife, captures the character’s nervousness perfectly and easily plays straight man to the others. He and Dunkin also reveal impressive vocals on the sweet number “You Rule My World,” where Harold wonders how he will tell his wife about his situation, and Dave ponders if he’ll ever lose the weight, particularly his stomach, that rules his life.

Noah Bridgestock is adorable as the young stud Ethan and exhibits great physical comedic ability, but it’s Milton Craig Nealy as Horse, during the number “Big Black Man,” who shows all the young men how it’s done with strong vocals and slick dance moves that delighted the Saturday night audience.

During the number “Michael Jordan’s Ball,” the men perform seamlessly together providing a catchy, standout number at the end of Act One. Another stellar performance by one of the male performers is “You Walk With Me” during the second act. While Glass nails the awkwardness of his character Malcolm, the tenor shines during this moving number, and toward the end of the song, Bridgestock joins him and complements his fellow actor nicely. “Breeze Off the River” sung beautifully by Diroma is another touching number during the second half of the musical.

While “The Full Monty” focuses on the six men, the female cast members cannot be ignored. Diane Findlay as Jeanette Burmeister, the men’s pianist, is a delightful surprise. She delivers her lines with the comedic ability of greats such as Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers, and during “Jeanette’s Showbiz Number,” performs with the skill of a Broadway professional.

During Act 2, Nicole Hale as Dave’s wife, Georgie, and Gaelen Gilliland as Harold’s wife, Vicki, beautifully execute the reprise of “You Rule My World.” Kate Marshall, playing Jerry’s ex-wife Pam, skillfully balances strength and gentleness of a woman who is trying her best to move on while co-parenting with her ex.

Suzanne Mason, Jennifer Collester Tully and Lexi Lyric add to the humor as they hilariously bring to life the joys of working women just wanting to have some fun. Vincent Ortega also adds to the high jinks as club owner Tony Giordano, the Cha Cha teacher and a random jogger.

It should also be noted that Kyle Wolf is sweet and endearing as Jerry’s son Nathan. James D. Schultz garnered tons of laughs when he performed an awkward semi strip tease act during the dancer auditions, and Alexander Molina as Buddy “Keno” Walsh, the professional stripper, handled his egotistical character with a tongue-in-cheek performance as well as some dance moves that delighted the ladies in the audience.

“The Full Monty” leaves the best for last with the men’s anticipated performance and the catchy “Let It Go.” The cast and crew tastefully orchestrated the last scene, which left those in attendance howling with laughter but not too red from blushing. The show is perfect for a pleasurable night out with the girls or even date night, but leave the children home due to some adult language and partial nudity.

 

Read online at: http://tbrnewsmedia.com/engemans-the-full-monty-more-than-satisfies-audience-members/

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: ‘Mary Poppins’ is the spoonful of sugar we all need right now

Times Beacon Record

November 23, 2016

Melissa Arnold

 

Sometimes, looking at life through a child’s eyes again makes everything better.

That’s exactly the opportunity you’re given in “Mary Poppins,” which kicked off a six-week run at the John Engeman Theater in Northport this week. And boy, is it a treat.

The Engeman Theater has a reputation for pulling out all the stops for its shows, and “Mary Poppins” definitely reaps those benefits with a stunning, colorful background, detailed scenery and a cast of seasoned professionals, many of whom spent time on Broadway.

Directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey, this show is a Disney classic, with all the heartwarming moments and magical touches you’d expect. Set in early 1900s London, “Mary Poppins” gives a glimpse into the lives of the wealthy Banks family — workaholic husband George, his doting wife Winifred and their adorable-yet-mischievous children, Jane and Michael.

Try as they might, the Bankses can’t seem to find a nanny who will stick around – it might have something to do with the kids’ constant pranks and stubbornness. But Jane and Michael meet their match when Mary Poppins shows up from who knows where. Without any negotiation, she invites herself into their home and begins to work some real magic. Along the way, she introduces them to a host of quirky, mysterious characters that teach them about what’s really important in life.

The story’s unofficial narrator is Bert (Luke Hawkins), a charming chimney sweep with a deep affection for Mary Poppins and the Banks children. Hawkins will have you smiling the minute he takes the stage, and his appearances will tug on your heartstrings throughout the show. His tap dancing skills in “Step in Time” will leave you breathless. Mary Poppins is played by Analisa Leaming, a newcomer to the Engeman stage with several Broadway credits under her belt. Leaming plays Poppins with all the poise and grace the role demands, with lovely, light vocals even on the highest notes. She also deserves a nod for the slight-of-hand tricks she performs throughout the show, maintaining character even during a rare moment when her props won’t cooperate.

Katherine LaFountain and Christopher McKenna play the Banks children with endless enthusiasm and joy. Both have an obvious love for the stage and there is nothing forced about their performances. You’ll fall in love with them both during “The Perfect Nanny” and “Practically Perfect,” two examples of their fantastic teamwork.

The special effects in “Mary Poppins” are what make the show truly great. Children in the audience might actually believe that Mary’s bag can fit anything, that she can instantly make sandwiches from a loaf of bread, or that she can even fly. Seeing her take flight with that famous umbrella is the highlight of the show.

The show’s set can rotate, expand and retract, which allows for easy transitions between several unique locations. The background is perhaps the most eye-catching element, however, with the London sky in silhouette and a colorful, illuminated sky that can create sunsets, nightscapes and even some psychedelic schemes.

Many of the supporting cast members are also worth a mention. In particular, George Banks’ childhood nanny Miss Andrew (Jane Blass) commands the stage during her brief performance. She has so much swagger and authority that when she’s called “the holy terror,” you’ll believe it in an instant. Also, the “bird woman,” played by Suzanne Mason, delivers a performance of “Feed the Birds” that’s both touching and haunting.

The ensemble has a huge role to play in “Mary Poppins.” Whether they’re seamlessly helping with set changes as chimney sweeps, tap dancing or serving as any number of whimsical creatures, they are an essential part of the show and every bit as talented as the lead actors. In fact, their performance in “Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious” and “Step in Time” are among the most impressive of the entire show. The two children’s ensembles, which will rotate throughout the show’s run, should be commended for their hard work and flawless routines.

While the band isn’t visible or credited at any point in the show, they do a flawless job in presenting songs from the original movie as well as many that were written for the stage version. Under the direction of Michael Hopewell, the band consists of keyboard, bass, drums and a variety of woodwind and brass instruments.

All told, “Mary Poppins” is exactly the joyful, inspiring tale so many of us seek out during the holidays. While it’s not a holiday-themed production, the theater is beautifully decorated for the season, and you can enjoy the occasional Christmas song and a festive drink at the piano bar before showtime.

Take a few hours this holiday season to leave your cares behind and gather the family for a night of laughter. You’ll be glad you did.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Mary Poppins” through Dec. 31. Run time is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Ticket prices vary from $71 to $76. To purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900.

Read online: www.tbrnewsmedia.com/mary-poppins-is-the-spoonful-of-sugar-we-all-need-right-now/

 

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: Cast of Engeman’s ‘1776’ brings history to life

Times Beacon Record

September 20, 2016

Rita J. Egan

 

With talented actors, period-appropriate costumes and a detailed set, a theatrical production can make audience members feel as if they have traveled back in time. This is certainly the case with the John W. Engeman Theater’s production of “1776,” which opened last week.

Before there was “Hamilton,” there was “1776.” The classic musical, with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone, debuted on Broadway in 1969 and was turned into a movie in 1972. Dramatizing the efforts of John Adams to persuade his fellow delegates of the Second Continental Congress to vote for American independence, “1776” focuses on the last weeks leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The first lines by Adams, played by James LaVerdiere, help to set the tone for the musical: “I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace — that two are called a law firm — and that three or more become a Congress.” With this quote as well as the opening number “For God’s Sake, John, Sit Down,” the audience discovers that while the musical discusses a serious matter, it is delivered with a sense of familiarity and a good dose of humor.

LaVerdiere perfectly captures the frustrations and persuasiveness of Adams, who his fellow delegates describe as obnoxious and disliked. The scenes between him and Jennifer Hope Wills, who plays Abigail Adams, where the Massachusetts delegate imagines conversations with his wife, allow the audience to learn of the struggles of the women who were left at home dealing with sick children and failing farms and business. During Act 1, the two deliver a sweet and touching version of “Yours, Yours, Yours,” and we discover a softer side of Adams.

When Thomas Jefferson, played by Michael Glavan, yearns to go home to see his wife, we meet the second of only two female characters, when Adams sends for Martha to come to Philadelphia while Jefferson works on the Declaration of Independence. Portrayed by Adriana Milbrath, the actress delivers a delightful “He Plays the Violin” with LaVerdiere and David Studwell, perfectly cast as the charming and witty Benjamin Franklin. Glavan is a strong vocalist, too, who audience members have the pleasure of hearing during “But, Mr. Adams” and “The Egg.”

A surprise standout performance comes from Matthew Rafanelli, playing the disheveled courier delivering messages from George Washington. In the beginning of the play, it’s understandable if one thinks he has a small part, but by the end of Act 1, Rafanelli delivers a perfectly executed “Momma Look Sharp.” His heart-wrenching vocals on the song, which details the loss of young boys on the battlefield, left many with tears in their eyes during the press opening last Saturday night.

It should also be noted that Robert Budnick playfully portrays a cheerful Stephen Hopkins, and Tom Lucca perfectly captures the authoritative nature of John Hancock. Special mentions should be made of Jon Reinhold (Richard Henry Lee) who plays the cocky Virginian with a great deal of humor, Benjamin Howes (John Dickinson) who provides strong lead vocals on “Cool, Cool Considerate Men,” and Peter Saide (Edward Rutledge) who delivers a powerful “Molasses to Rum.”

Igor Goldin has expertly directed the cast of 25 actors, who should all be commended for their strong vocals and mastering of a great amount of dialogue. Due to the craftsmanship of all of those involved in Engeman’s “1776,” the dreams of our country’s forefathers come to life once again.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, presents “1776” through Nov. 6. Tickets range from $71 to $76. For more information, call 631-261-2900, or visit www.engemantheater.com.

 

Read online: www.tbrnewsmedia.com/cast-of-engemans-1776-brings-history-to-life/

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