Theater

ON TOP OF THE WORLD: Zachary Podair with the cast of 'Newsies'

By Melissa Arnold

Zachary Podair

Zachary Podair of Smithtown will have some great “What I Did This Summer” stories to share when he heads to middle school next month. The 11-year-old is spending almost every day onstage at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, where he is the youngest member in the cast of “Newsies.” 

The show is loosely based on the Newsboys Strike of 1899, where New York City paperboys organized a union and went on strike to be treated fairly on the job. Zachary plays the part of Les, who wants to help his older brother support their struggling family. His character is lovable and funny, providing some bright comic relief for the show. I recently spoke with Zachary about his professional theater debut, what it’s like being the youngest on the set and more.

What got you interested in acting?

When I was 6 years old, my sister was taking dance lessons and we would always go to pick her up. I really liked watching and decided I wanted to dance, too, so my mom put me in hip-hop classes. I love anything that involves dancing, so I started looking for shows that had a lot of dance numbers.

Have you been in any other shows?

My first show was four years ago, at the Encore Theater. I got to play [the title role in] “Aladdin.” And ever since then I try to do as many shows as I can. I was Rooster in “Annie,” Donkey in “Shrek,” and Charlie in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” 

What made you want to audition for ‘Newsies?’ Were you nervous?

My favorite kind of shows are dance-heavy, and I knew that “Newsies” was one. I had seen the movie before and thought that I would try out. It also has a really great musical score.

I wasn’t really nervous about it. I didn’t necessarily think I would get the part, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try. I was really surprised when I heard I was cast. They originally said they were going to double cast the part of Les, [meaning two actors would take turns playing the role], but they ended up just casting me by myself. That was really exciting.

What is it like being the youngest person in the cast?

Sometimes it’s different being the only person around my age, but everyone in the cast and the crew has been so sweet to me. I’ve learned so much from being in professional theater. Every person I’ve worked with has taught me something, from the casting agency to the other actors, the director and other crew. I’ve also improved my dancing so much from working with our amazing choreographer [Sandalio Alvarez].

Zachary Podair, right, in a scene from ‘Newsies’

What do you like about your character?

Les and I are so much alike. He’s just a funny guy. I love playing him because he’s got a lot of great dance scenes and he’s also the comic relief in a lot of ways. I love the one-liners. 

What has acting taught you about life?

So, so much. I’ve learned how important it is to be flexible — emotionally and physically. You have to be spontaneous, to be willing to go with anything. And, of course, you have to learn how to deal with rejection. You’re not going to get every part and not everyone is going to love you.

What would you say to other kids (or adults!) who want to try acting but are nervous?

Definitely don’t be afraid to try it! If you don’t get a part, then you have the experience of auditioning and you can learn from that. If you want, you can try again. And if you do get the part, then you get to have an amazing experience. Either way it’s a positive thing and so much fun to be a part of.

Why should people go see “Newsies?”

It’s one of those shows that has something for everyone, no matter who you are or how old you are. There are things the kids like and things the adults will laugh at. And I think it’s interesting because it’s based on true events — we worked really hard to make our version of the show as realistic as possible. It’s a positive show that will make you feel good.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time at the Engeman so far? 

So far, the best moment was the first day that we got to see the set all finished. It was so amazing. I think that was the moment it all really hit me. I thought, “This is real. It’s really happening.” It’s the best feeling.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Newsies” through Sept. 2. Tickets range from $73 to $78. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

From left, The March Hare, The Dormouse and The Mad Hatter invite Alice to a Mad Tea Party in a scene from the show.

By Heidi Sutton

Alice and the Cheshire Cat

Oh my ears and whiskers! For too short a time, Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre will present the musical “Alice’s Most Decidedly Unusual Adventures in Wonderland,” a modern twist on the Lewis Carroll classic novel of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole and has a most peculiar experience. Although the story is over 150 years old, it has remarkable staying power and is considered to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre.

Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin F. Story, the show opens on a rainy day at Camp Lackaday Woods. The campers are bored and the lodge counselor tries to keep them entertained indoors with a sing-along. One of the campers named Alice (Meg Bush) sees a white rabbit (Heather Kuhn) appear and follows it, only to fall down a rabbit hole and meet The Cheshire Cat (Mark Jackett). “Which way should I go?“ she asks him. “It matters not where you go. When you get there you’ll find yourself here,” is the grinning reply, setting the tone for what’s to follow — a mind-bending production that’s simply delightful.

Alice meets The Caterpillar in a scene from the show.

During her “unusual adventures” Alice takes part in a “What’s Your Name” contest with The Caterpillar (Nicole Bianco); has a tea party with The Mad Hatter (Steven Uihlein), The March Hare (Kayla Jones) and The Dormouse (Julianna Bellas); hitches a ride with The White Knight (Matt Hoffman); meets Tweedledee (Jones) and Tweedledum (Hoffman); and is invited to a game of croquet by The Queen of Hearts (Ginger Dalton). When the kingdom’s tarts go missing, Alice is accused of stealing and must stand trial. Will she be found guilty by the queen and lose her head?

Of course, a show like this would not be possible without the supporting cast — members of the theater’s Preteen and Advanced Preteen summer acting workshop who play numerous roles including a deck of cards, flowers and contestants in a game show. The entire cast does a fantastic job.

Alice meets the Queen of Hearts.

Directed by Sanzel, the script is filled with riddles and jokes and the musical numbers, accompanied on piano by Douglas Quattrock, are terrific, especially “Tea!” by Uihlein (“We’re all mad here!”) and “Off With Their Heads” by Dalton (“Nothing cheers me up like a good clean chop!”).

Yes, the play is lots of nonsense, as Alice would say, but it sure is fun to watch. Don’t even try to figure it all out. It’s time to throw logic out the window and just sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

Buy a snack or beverage during intermission. Booster seats are available. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present three more performances of “Alice’s Most Decidedly Unusual Adventures in Wonderland” on Aug. 10 at 11 a.m. and Aug. 11 at 11 a.m. and again at 2 p.m. 

Children’s Theatre continues with “Kooky Spooky Halloween” from Oct. 6 to 27 and “Barnaby Saves Christmas” from Nov. 23 to Dec. 29. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Some of the cast members pose for photos at the end of last Saturday’s performance. Photo courtesy of John W. Engeman Theater

By Heidi Sutton

When the computer-animated fairy tale “Shrek” hit the movie theaters in 2001, it was a huge commercial success. Critics loved it also, calling it “an adorable, infectious work of true sophistication” (NY Daily News). The DreamWorks film went on to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, sprouted several sequels (including one in 3-D) and eventually morphed into “Shrek The Musical.” With book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, the show ran on Broadway from 2008 to 2010.

Loosely based on William Steig’s picture book by the same name, it tells the story of a green ogre named Shrek whose life is turned upside down when all of the fairy tale creatures in the kingdom are banished to his swamp by order of Lord Farquaad. Shrek strikes a deal with Farquaad to rescue Princess Fiona from a tower guarded by a fire breathing dragon in order to get his land back. Along with his sidekick, Donkey, he sets off on an adventure that will change his life forever.

Now everyone’s favorite ogre and his fairy tale friends have set up camp at the Engeman Theater in a children’s theater production of “Shrek The Musical.” The show, which runs through Sept. 2, is a condensed version of the Broadway musical yet manages to keep many of its wonderful songs and beloved scenes.

Directed by Kevin F. Story, the 14-member cast embraces the clever script and runs with it. Evan Schultz is terrific as the grumpy hermit turned hero, Shrek, who has little patience for his chatterbox companion, Donkey, perfectly executed by Marlin D. Slack. Channeling his inner Eddie Murphy, Slack shines in “Make a Move” and steals the show.

Sari Feldman plays a sassy Princess Fiona who is waiting for true love’s first kiss in order to break a witch’s spell. Young audience members will love “I Think I Got You Beat,” which features a farting and burping contest between Shrek and Fiona. “Better out than in I always say,” quips Shrek. 

Daniel Schinina tackles the role of Lord Farquaad, the ruthless ruler of Duloc, on his knees and with ease, and Jenna Kavaler is wonderful as the ferocious dragon who keeps three knights alive in the castle to sing backup when she’s feeling blue.

The members of the ensemble — Veronica Fox, Katie Dolce, Amanda Geraci, Sam Kronenfeld, Samantha Masone, Meaghan McInnes, Robbie McGrath, Jojo Minasi, Daniel Schinina and Jeff Tierney — round out the talented cast and play multiple roles throughout the show.

Many of the beloved storybook characters from the film make an appearance, including Gingy, Big Bad Wolf, Peter Pan, Wicked Witch, the Three Blind Mice, Pinocchio (yes his nose grows!) and the Three Little Pigs. Several of the popular lines from the original script that made the movie so great have been recycled as well, from Shrek’s “Ogres are like onions. We both have layers” and Donkey’s “In the morning I’m making waffles!” and of course, “Men of Lord Farquaad’s stature are of short supply.” 

There’s a lot to enjoy about this show, whether you are amazed at Pinocchio’s nose, grinning at the creativity behind the Gingerbread Man or laughing at Lord Farquaad’s legs. In the end, the beautiful finale, “This Is Our Story,” teaches us that you shouldn’t judge someone before you know them and that what makes us special makes us strong. Take your kids or grandkids to see “Shrek The Musical” — they’ll love it and so will you!

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs. An autograph page is conveniently located toward the back of the program. Booster seats are available.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Shrek The Musical” through Sept. 2. Children’s theater continues with Disney’s “The Little Mermaid JR” from Sept. 22 to Oct. 28 and “Frosty” from Nov. 24 to Dec. 30. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Mike Cefalo as Davey, Dan Tracy as Jack Kelly and the cast of 'Newsies'

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.

The cast of ‘Newsies’

“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.

Whitney Winfield as Katherine Plumber in a scene from ‘Newsies’

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.

Dan Tracy as Jack Kelly in a scene from ‘Newsies’

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.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Newsies” through Sept. 2. Tickets range from $73 to $78. For information or to purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

The cast of ‘Pinkalicious The Musical’. Photo by Courtney Braun

By Heidi Sutton

Main Street in Smithtown was overrun by a sea of children dressed in their best pink attire last Saturday afternoon as they lined up to see the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts’ latest offering, the ever popular “Pinkalicious The Musical.”

The play, based on the first in a series of children’s books by sisters Elizabeth and Victoria Kann, tells the story of Pinkalicious Pinkerton, a little girl who loves to eat pink cupcakes and adores everything pink. “It’s a color like no other!” she exclaims.

One day, despite her parent’s warnings, Pinkalicious eats one too many of the sweet treat and wakes up the next morning with Pinkatitis — a condition that turns her pink from head to toe, giving a whole new meaning to “you are what you eat.” A visit to the doctor confirms the rare affliction that can only be cured with a healthy diet of green food. Will Pinkalicious follow the doctor’s orders or will she remain “a perfectly positive hue” of pink forever? Can one live on cupcakes alone?

Directed by Tommy Ranieri, the five-member teenage cast delivers a well-paced and entertaining performance with lots of audience participation. Allison Lane is terrific as Pinkalicious, playing the part with just the right amount of perkiness, and is quickly adored by the young audience members. Anthony Panarello, who clearly loves being on stage and in the spotlight, plays a delightful Mr. Pinkerton; and Brittany Hughes, as the cellphone-addicted Mrs. Pinkerton, shines. David Reyes plays the role of Peter, Pinkalicious’ annoying brother, with confidence; and Colleen Curry tackles the dual role of  Pinkalicious’ best friend Alison and Dr. Wink with ease.

As with any musical, the songs, composed by John Gregor, are the heart of the show. With wonderful costumes by Ronald Green III, standouts include “Cupcake Dream,” where Pinkalicious dreams her family and best friend are pink cupcakes, and “Buzz Off,” where Pinkalicious is mistaken for a pink flower by a bunch of bees.

The wonderful set by Tim Golebiewski, from a bedroom and kitchen to the doctor’s office, is just the frosting on the cupcake.

In the end, the moral of the story is that too much of a sweet thing is never good. You may not turn pink, but you’ll get sick, and, although green vegetables may not be your favorite food, they are good for you and you should eat them. Oh, and you can’t get sick from loving the color pink.

So grab the kiddies and take them to a performance of “Pinkalicious The Musical” — they’ll be tickled pink!

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present “Pinkalicious The Musical” on Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 11 a.m. through Aug. 19. Running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes with intermission and booster seats are available. Meet the entire cast in the lobby for photos and autographs after the show. Children’s theater continues with “Mary Poppins Jr.” from Sept. 15 to Oct. 28 and “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” from Nov. 17 to Dec. 30. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

By Kyle Barr

It is a real testament to the late, great Freddie Mercury and the band Queen that their songs sit so squarely in the public zeitgeist. “We Are the Champions” is still the go-to sports song for anybody’s home team, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” is that one song that, when played 50 times on a road trip, still never gets old.

It also means that the show “We Will Rock You,” which held its Northeastern regional premiere opening at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts on July 7, really needed to encapsulate just what Mercury and Queen meant to culture just before the turn of the century. Thankfully, the talented 18-member cast at SPAC managed to pull it off with ease.

With book by Ben Elton, the story takes place 300 years in the future in a vague dystopian world where all music but that which is produced by the corporation is banned. All those living on the iPlanet, as it is called, exist under the thumb of the Globalsoft Corporation, headed by the stiff-necked Khashoggi (Dylan Bivings) and the raucous Killer Queen (the-great-as-always Brianne Boyd). Two young rebels, Galileo (Andrew Murano) and Scaramouche (Danielle Nigro) are captured by Globalsoft right out of high school for being too out of the mainstream. This leads them on a quest to find the rebels called The Bohemians and then to find the true meaning of rock and roll and set the world free.

Featuring more than 20 hit Queen songs, the show is accompanied by a live band, with Melissa and Craig Coyle on keyboard, Chad Goodstein and Mike Lawshé on guitar, Rob Curry on bass and Jim Waddell on drums. At first it’s hard to tell from where the band is playing. They are not on stage, nor on the balcony. It is well worth staying until the end to see exactly where these band members were cleverly hid.

Tim Golebiewski, who directed last year’s very fine production of “Young Frankenstein,” returns this year to showcase his talents for stimulating musical sequences and cutting humor. This time the stage is set with what appears to be a very simple layout, just a two-level affair with a white screen hanging above it all. Yet this display holds more than a few surprises. 

Golebiewski and Chris Creevy, the head of lighting design, must have had a lot of fun setting up the LED lights all around the stage, whose multiple colors coordinate with a projector screen behind the stage. Every musical performance has a corresponding color and video that plays in time to the music. It’s a surprising sensation seeing the performance and video, like attending both a musical and rock concert all at once.

Danielle Nigro and Andrew Murano in a scene from the show

In a production such as this, where the story is not much more than a vehicle to get to the next Queen song, the vocal quality is probably the biggest selling point and the cast is very much up to the task. 

Nigro does a great job with the punk-styled, quick-mouthed Scaramouche, and she is great both in lead vocals in songs like “Somebody to Love” and in chorus in songs like “Under Pressure.” Mark Maurice, as Brit, and Courtney Braun, as Oz, are both absolutely hilarious, especially with Maurice’s random bouts of martial arts. Their duet on “I Want It All” is fun and energetic. Terrific in last year’s SPAC performance of “Man of La Mancha,” Boyd  pulls out all the stops with her usual considerable stage presence. She’s a perfect fit for the part of Killer Queen, especially with such loud and sometimes racy renditions of “Play the Game” and “Fat Bottomed Girls.”

If you have even a passing interest in Queen, Freddie Mercury or rock in general, then this is a great night outing to rekindle that old rebel rocker spirit.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present “We Will Rock You” through Aug. 19. Parental discretion is advised. Tickets range from $25 to $38. For more information, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

Photos courtesy of SPAC

The cast of ‘The Princess Who Saved a Dragon’

By Heidi Sutton

Now through Aug. 9, Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre presents the world premiere of “The Princess Who Saved a Dragon.” With book by Jeffrey Sanzel and music by Douglas J. Quattrock, the show combines magic, music, dance and a clever script to create an original fairy tale that is simply delightful.

It’s Princess Abigail’s 21st birthday, and her mother, the absent minded Queen Marjorie, has sent out birthday party invitations to everyone in the kingdom (including all eligible bachelors) — everyone except a wicked witch named Wicked Faery. 

The cast of ‘The Princess Who Saved a Dragon’

When the witch realizes she’s been left out of the festivities, she feels slighted and, after calling 1-800-Dragon, summons a fire-breathing serpent to wreak havoc on the land. The queen decrees that whoever slays the dragon may marry the princess. Will a brave knight come forth to save the day?

Directed by Sanzel, the seven-member cast does a wonderful job portraying the story, all the while emphasizing the importance of “just be who you are.” Michaela Catapano (Princess Abigail) gives us a modern version of a warrior princess, confident and brave and not in a rush to get married. Ginger Dalton (Queen Marjorie) is terrific as her forgetful mother, Nicole Bianco is perfectly cast as the Wicked Faery and Steven Uihlein draws the most laughs in the role of the scaly dragon who has a penchant for flowers. (“I’m a gardener, not a fighter.”) 

Andrew Lenahan as Knight Night, the dragon slayer, and Matt Hoffman as his squire, Julius Pleasant, make a great tag team; and jack-of-all-trades Aria Saltini plays over seven supporting roles throughout the show with ease.

Accompanied on piano by Quattrock and choreographed by Bianco, the song and dance numbers are fresh and exciting, especially Lenahan and Hoffman’s duet “The Night Knight Night Came to Be,” Catapano and Uihlein’s duet,“To Be Me” and the fun hip-hop/rap “Spell to Raise a Dragon” by Bianco.

From left, Nicole Bianco and Michaela Catapano in a scene from the show.

Costumes by Teresa Matteson and Toni St. John hit their mark, from Princess     Abigail’s armor and sword to a shimmering dragon outfit to a purple and black witch costume complete with an impressive set of horns.

Now putting a twist on well-known fairy tales is Sanzel’s forte, but this particular “princess and dragon” scenario is so topsy-turvy that nothing is what it seems and hilarity ensues. Although the tale involves a witch and big flying reptile and is told with the use of stage smoke and flashing lights, there is nothing scary about it.

During last Friday’s opening performance, the children in the audience embraced the new show as giggles and laughter filled the theater. When the dragon, aka Scales, appeared at the end of the first act, the excited youngsters pointed and yelled, “I see it! I see it!” And when the cast made its way up the aisles to the lobby for photos after the show, they were greeted with high fives and hugs, a true testament to the magic of live theater.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Princess Who Saved a Dragon” on July 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28 and Aug. 9 at 11 a.m. and Aug. 3 at 1:30 p.m. Children’s theater continues with “Alice’s Most Decidedly Unusual Adventures in Wonderland” from Aug. 3 to 11 and “Kooky Spooky Halloween” from Oct. 6 to 27. Booster seats are available and costumes are encouraged. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will hold an open cast call for strong singer/actor/dancers (ages 16 and up) on Tuesday, July 10 and Monday, July 16 at 7 p.m. for its upcoming production of “The Addams Family.” Prepare 16 bars from the song of your choice; bring sheet music in the proper key and be prepared to dance. Readings will be from the script. Please bring picture/résumé. Performances will be held from Sept. 16 to Oct. 27. For further information, call 631-928-9202 or visit http://theatrethree.com/auditions.html.

A scene from last year’s performance of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Museum

By Sabrina Petroski

Come join the fun as the most beautiful words in the English language are given new life! In celebration of its 30th anniversary, The Carriage House Players will present “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Hamlet” for its annual Summer Shakespeare Festival at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport. The festival opens on June 29.

With a modern twist on two of the Bard’s most famous plays, performances will be held under the stars in the central courtyard of William K. Vanderbilt’s Eagle’s Nest mansion, one of the last remaining Gold Coast estates on the North Shore.

The festival was the brainchild of Frederic De Feis, who ran the productions through the Arena Players until his retirement. Upon his leave, De Feis passed the reins to longtime company member and protégé, Evan Donnellan.

“[The festival] started because Fred was looking for a space to perform Shakespeare outdoors,” said Donnellan. “He found the Vanderbilt courtyard and decided to use the space because of its atmosphere and architecture, which lends itself particularly well to Shakespeare.” As executive director, Donnellan, who was part of the company for 22 years, decided to rename the troupe The Carriage House Players to “better reflect our space” as they perform in the Vanderbilt Carriage House on the museum’s grounds.

“The Carriage House Players add a delightful dimension to the Vanderbilt Museum’s creative programming throughout the year,” said Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the Vanderbilt Museum, in a recent email. “Every July and August, their annual Shakespeare productions are a very popular summer attraction. Their shows, presented on our outdoor stage, are enhanced by the graceful backdrop of the estate’s century-old Spanish Revival architecture.”

Jacob Wright and Michael Limone in rehearsal for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

“The Shakespeare Festival has been a main event for Long Island for three decades now and we are proud to continue the tradition,” added Donnellan who said the group chose “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” because the timeless story of love gone awry, complete with mischievous fairies and bumbling actors, will create a hilarious evening of theater filled with charm, magic and grand romantic gestures. The play will be directed by company member Christine Boehm, who has previously graced the stage as Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet” and has directed recent productions of “The Woman in Black” and “Precious Little.” 

“With an aesthetic largely inspired by the Celtic Punk movement popularized in the 1980s with through lines discussing politics, pride in the working class and, most importantly, drinking, our ‘Midsummer’ will focus on the text’s most largely identified theme as the title suggests — a dream,” said Boehm. 

After “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” The Players will present Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, “Hamlet.” Donnellan says “the classic tale of revenge, loss, and the thirst for power, complete with glorious sword fights and ghostly visitors, will transport audiences back in time and put them right in the head of the Danish prince as he struggles to determine what is wrong and what is right.” Directed by company member, Jordan Hue, who directed “Macbeth” and “Much Ado About Nothing” at previous festivals, the show will be performed in the more classical tradition but with an emphasis on neo-futurism.   

For Donnellan, his hope is that this festival will appeal to wide audiences and introduce new theatergoers to the Bard’s genius. “Our goal is for audiences to embrace the old with the new while focusing on Shakespeare’s gorgeous prose and powerful storytelling.” 

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, located at 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport, will host “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” from June 29 through July 29 followed by “Hamlet” from Aug. 5 through Sept. 2. Shows are held at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays and 7 p.m. on Sundays, weather permitting. Running time is approximately 2 hours. Guests are encouraged to arrive early and enjoy a picnic on the grounds before the performances. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online or at the door. For more information, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org or call 631-854-5579.

The cast of ‘Curtains’

By Heidi Sutton

Theatre Three closes out its 48th season with a rousing revival of the musical comedy whodunit “Curtains.” The show, which opened on the Mainstage last Saturday night, will keep the audience guessing, and laughing, right up to until the very end.

With book by Rupert Holmes and music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb (both of “Chicago” and “Cabaret” fame), the eight-time Tony-nominated show had a successful Broadway run starring David Hyde Pierce (who won a Tony for his performance) from 2007 to 2008. Now the hilarious musical comes to Port Jefferson and does not disappoint.

A scene from ‘Curtains’

The play takes place at the Colonial Theater in Boston in 1959. A theater troupe is performing a new cowboy musical “Robbin’ Hood!” (think “Oklahoma!”) on opening night. As the ensemble performs the final act, “Wide Open Spaces,” it is clear that the star of the show, Jessica Cranshaw (Meg Bush) is a complete mess — singing out of tune, missing dance steps and flubbing her lines. (“I was distracted all night by a man waving his hands at me,” she laments. “That was the conductor,” the director mutters.) 

A few minutes after the final curtain Cranshaw collapses and is rushed to the hospital. It is later discovered that she has been murdered. “Now she has a conflict — she’s dead.”

Lt. Frank Cioffi (Steve McCoy) of the Boston Police Department, a homicide detective who happens to be a musical theater buff, is assigned to the case. The entire company is suspect, so he immediately places them on lockdown, barring them from leaving the theater until the case is solved.

The reviews are in!

The reviews come pouring in and they are brutal, especially from the Boston Globe. The producers decide to invite the newspaper’s critic, Daryl Grady (Andrew Gasparini), back when the show has been revamped.

The crew immediately starts reworking the songs and improving the scenes, with more than the occasional input from Detective Cioffi. “I’ve done a little community theater,” he admits modestly. “In ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ my Bottom was very well-received.” He is also distracted by one of the actresses, Niki (Jenna Kavaler) and their blossoming relationship is fun to watch.

In the meantime, a second victim, co-producer Sidney Bernstein (Lon Shomer) is found hanging from the rafters, Bernstein’s wife, Carmen (Mary Ellin Kurtz) is shot at and Cioffi is pushed off a catwalk and narrowly survives. The plot thickens.

As the show progresses, Cioffi starts peeling away the layers of this “family” to uncover romantic relationships, jealousy, blackmail, rocky family dynamics and infidelity. Will he be able to solve the crime in time or will the entire company be picked off one by one?

A scene from ‘Curtains’

Singing, dancing and clever humor abound in this production that showcases a cast of 23 uber-talented actors directed by Jeffrey Sanzel. The high-energy performances, choreographed by Whitney Stone, are exhausting to watch but the cast pulls them off with ease. The musical numbers, accompanied by a live orchestra led by Jeffrey Hoffman, are a nice blend of show tunes and love songs. The costumes and wigs designed by Chakira Dohertyn are fun, especially the cowboy and cowgirl outfits; and the Western-themed set, designed by Randall Parson, ties the whole show together nicely. 

The incredible cast also features Nicole Bianco, Christopher M. Fretto, Dylan Robert Poulos, James Taffurelli, James Schultz, Tracylynn Conner, Matt Senese, Melanie Acampora, Eric J. Hughes, Lindsay DeFranco, Kyle Breitenbach, Cassidy O’Brien, Steven Uihlein, Alex Esquivel, Jeffrey Pangurn and Kiernan Urso.

If you’re looking for a fun night out, don’t miss “Curtains.” Griswold’s Cafe, located on the lower level of the theater, will be open before the show and during intermission for a snack or beverage, and take a chance on a 50/50 raffle. You may win big! Running time is two and a half hours with one 15-minute intermission.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Curtains” through June 23. Contains mature content. After a brief hiatus, the 2018-19 Mainstage season will open with “The Addams Family” from Sept. 15 to Oct. 27. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

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