Theater

The Sisters of Delta Nu in Theatre Three's production of 'Legally Blonde: The Musical' at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Rebecca Anzel

Brittany Lacey stars in ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’ at Theatre Three from Sept. 17 to Oct. 29. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.
Brittany Lacey stars in ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’ at Theatre Three from Sept. 17 to Oct. 29. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Theatre Three in Port Jefferson is gearing up for its next Mainstage production, “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” which will open on Saturday, Sept. 17. The role of Elle Woods will be played by 28-year-old Brittany Lacey, best known to Theatre Three regulars as Mimi in “Rent” and as Belle in “A Christmas Carol” when she was a company member there from 2010 to 2012. I had the opportunity to sit down with Brittany before rehearsals last Friday night to ask her about her latest role.

Why did you decide to audition for the role of Elle Woods?

This is a dream role of mine and having the chance to perform it here at Theatre Three makes it even more special. It’s like I’m coming home and now I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m a huge fan of Reese Witherspoon. I love her! I think she’s very funny and talented. Of course, I don’t know her personally, but she seems like such a good person — like Hollywood hasn’t gotten to her.

What is your favorite scene in the show?

I just discovered it the other day. My favorite scene is “What You Want.” The song has three parts to it and all are great! Our choreographer, Whitney Stone, came up with this amazing dance and it’s just a lot of fun. It’s like one big party on stage. A lot of the cast is involved in the number. I like when you’re on stage with everyone else because you’re able to share everyone else’s energy and I think it makes it a more memorable experience.

What is your favorite song in the show?

“Take It Like A Man.” That has become my favorite one. I don’t know what it is about it — I love singing it. I play it opposite Brett Chizever (in the role of Emmett Forrest). It’s a real joy. Brett is great. How many weeks does the cast rehearse before production? Four or five weeks … I’m not exactly sure. Because most people work during the day, we rehearse from 7:15 at night to 10:30 and then on weekends, we’ll have five-hour rehearsals. It’s a lot of repetition and practice. And, after I go home, it’s all I listen to. I drive my boyfriend crazy making him run lines with me!

What is it like working with the director, Jeffrey Sanzel?

I love working with Jeff. He’s a strict director, but in a good way. Jeff cares about everyone on that stage and what they’re doing. He really works with you to make sure you’re comfortable. It’s all about putting out a great product and everyone feeling proud of their performance. What is it like working with your castmates? I only knew a handful of them going in, and everyone is so nice. This cast is very supportive. I haven’t had that in a while so it’s really, really nice.

Who is playing the role of the UPS guy? Is he cute?

He’s so much younger than me — am I allowed to answer that? But no, the ladies will be quite happy with who they’re watching up there. Kyle Breitenbach is doing a great job with the role. He’s very funny.

Brittany Lacey with the only four-legged member of the show, Taxi. Photo courtesy of Theatre Three
Brittany Lacey with the only four-legged member of the show, Taxi. Photo courtesy of Theatre Three

I noticed the show will have a real dog in the role of Bruiser Woods. What is she like?

Her name is Taxi, like a taxi cab. She’s a chihuahua. Caitlin Nofi (who plays Vivienne in the show) has a friend who was kind enough to lend us Taxi, and she’s a star! She came in with a pink and purple bow around her neck and owned that stage. And she’s so good! She’s calm.

Have you ever performed on stage with an animal before?

I don’t think so! I’ve played a lot of animals, but no I don’t think I’ve ever had one on stage. It definitely makes me nervous because you just want the animal to feel okay up there. You don’t want to scare it. It’s fun though! It’s different, because at the end of the day, you’ll see what she wants to do. If she wants to prance around the stage, she’s going to prance and we’re going to let her.

What is it like being a part of a production at Theatre Three?

It’s a great experience. I feel like this theater tries to make it feel like a home for their actors and that you’re a part of their family. You don’t always get that in other places. Everyone works really hard because they just put their whole heart into it, and that is another reason I love to come back here. Jeff [Sanzel] is the leading force of that. The heart he has for theater, for this theater in general, is ginormous. It’s great because then that falls onto the rest of us and it makes you want to put even more effort into the show.

Why should people come see the show?

Because we really want you to! No, no, I think we’re putting a lot of hard work into it. We’re just getting into tech week, but I believe we’re putting out a really good production and I hope it’s fun for them. We promise to entertain you! We all love what we’re doing, so I think that always translates to the audience. If we’re having fun, hopefully that means they’re having fun watching it.

Do you have a favorite spot in Port Jefferson that you like to go to?

As soon as rehearsal’s over, I go down to Ralph’s. I love my ices and ice cream! It’s like my after rehearsal treat. What are your plans after this? I don’t have any definitive plans yet, but I’m sure it will involve auditioning. A lot of this job, of being an actor, is putting yourself out there and hoping that casting directors like what you have to offer.

Anything else you would like to add?

I’m having fun, I’m loving this experience and I can’t wait to open this show!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Legally Blonde: The Musical” from Sept. 17 to Oct. 29. Tickets range from $20 to $35. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

‘No Day But Today’: Above, the cast of ‘Rent’ sings the finale. Photo courtesy of the SCPA

By Melissa Arnold

With Election Day less than two months away now, the media is saturated with heated debates about crime, poverty, drugs and equality. These were the same issues that inspired Manhattan-based playwright Jonathan Larson to create “Rent,” a rock opera that made its off-Broadway debut in 1996.

Now through Oct. 2, diehard “Rent-heads” and first-timers alike can celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary during its run at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts.

“Rent” is heavily based on Giacomo Puccini’s famous opera “La Boheme,” which follows the struggles of poor artists in Paris. Larson’s story is set in Alphabet City on Manhattan’s Lower East Side at the end of the 1980s, where aspiring director Mark and songwriter Roger are living in squalor. It’s also the height of the AIDS epidemic – drugs are everywhere, being gay is stigmatized, and one way or another, every member of the cast is just trying to survive.

The Cast:

Jordan Hue

Scott Johnston

Jess Ader Ferretti

Angela Garofalo

Michelle Rubino

Robins Prophete

Dondi Rollins Jr.

Jose A. Torres

Meagan Materazo

Megan Cain

Janelle Primm

Samantha Rosario

Jahlil Burke

Brodie Centauro

Kevin Burns

Matthew Paredi

 With all this in mind, it’s not exactly a cheery show. But there is plenty of humor to go around, and its biggest messages — no day but today, forget regret — are inspiring and hopeful.

While this is director Mark Decaterina’s first time leading a production, the cast at SCPA are no strangers to the stage, and many have appeared in “Rent” before with other groups. Their skill makes each of the characters’ struggles and triumphs that much more believable.

As a rock opera, the show’s score is loud and proud — there are very few periods of purely spoken dialogue. Musical director Melissa Coyle (keyboard) leads a small but powerful ensemble with Chad Goodstein on guitar, Jim Waddell on drums and and Rob Curry on bass.

Worth particular mention are Scott Johnston (Roger) and Michelle Rubino (Mimi), who play HIV-positive heroin addicts in various stages of recovery. Their performances were raw and emotional in a way that’s hard to shake. This is especially true in their duets “No Day But Today” and “Without You.”

Jose A. Torres (Angel) does a great job bringing humor into the show as an unapologetically flamboyant drag queen and street drummer. You can’t help but fall in love with him as he dances effortlessly in a serious pair of heels.

While the majority of the individual performances were strong, the cast shines most during ensemble numbers. Their harmonies are perfect and might even make the hair on your neck stand up. The title song “Rent” and famous “Seasons of Love” show off the cast’s enormous talent.

The show was enjoyable overall, but the performance on opening night included multiple issues with sound and video. Some lines were inaudible or too loud, with a few instances of feedback, and the crucial movie projected onstage at the end of the show was barely visible. Hopefully, these were just quirks that will be corrected for upcoming performances.

“Rent” is for mature audiences — the show includes strong language, intense sexual dialogue, and drug use as a major plot point. However, it could also serve as a great springboard to conversation for families with teens.

Run time is approximately 2.5 hours with a 15-minute intermission. All tickets are $35. The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is located at 2 E. Main St., Smithtown. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

Stephanie Krasner (Rapunzel) sings “Me, My Hair and I’ with Andrew McCluskey (Prince Brian) in a scene from ‘Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale.‘ Photo byPhoto by Jessie Eppelheimer

By Heidi Sutton

The temperature on the dashboard read a muggy 101 degrees as I parked the car on Main Street in Northport last Saturday morning on my way to review the John W. Engeman Theater’s latest children’s presentation, “Rapunzel: A Tangled Tale.” Stepping into the theater, the air was cool and inviting as Disney princess music drifted through the speakers and little girls in blue dresses and blonde wigs hurried to their seats. The beautiful theater, with its elegant chandelier and giant tapestries on the walls depicting different fairy tales, is the perfect venue for this timeless love story.

The tale of “Rapunzel” can be traced back to the 11th century in some form or another but was made famous by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. With book and lyrics by ”Friends” creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman with music by Michael Skloff, the Engeman’s version combines the traditional tale with Disney’s “Tangled” and makes for great entertainment.

Jennifer Collester Tully skillfully directs a talented cast of four who all play multiple roles in this hilarious musical.

It’s Rapunzel’s 16th birthday and her only birthday wish is to be able to leave the tower for one day and see the world. Her “mother” the witch at first promises to grant her wish but then changes her mind. Meanwhile, Prince Brian, who in his quest to do a heroic deed, is searching the countryside for a damsel in distress and comes upon the tower. “A maiden in a tower and a wicked witch? This is great!” he exclaims and, along with his loyal valet Simon, hatches a plan to save the girl with the longest hair in the world.

Stephanie Krasner as Rapunzel. Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer
Stephanie Krasner as Rapunzel. Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer

Stephanie Krasner gives a fine performance as the beautiful and very naive Rapunzel and the tall and handsome Andrew McCluskey is the perfect prince.

Keith Weiss tackles the role of narrator, Simon the Valet, the witch’s boyfriend, the king and even a cow with boundless energy and enthusiasm and at times seems to be having way too much fun! Weiss draws the most laughs and does a superb job.

TracyLynn Connor is perfectly cast in the role of Gretta the witch. Not too scary, not too sweet and sporting a magic ring that “can do absolutely anything” Connor commands the stage and steals the show.

A nice touch is the occasional interaction with the young audience. At one point the witch misplaces her magic ring and frantically asks the children to help her find it (it’s on her other hand). When Rapunzel and the Prince wander through the forest to the castle, they stroll through the theater’s aisles asking the children what they should have for breakfast once they get there. (Pancakes was the most popular answer.)

Accompanied by electronic feed, the musical numbers are fun and upbeat. Krasner and McCluskey’s duet, “The First Step Is the Hardest” is terrific and Krasner’s solo “Me, My Hair and I” is very sweet. Weiss’ solo,“Wooing a Witch” is delightful and Connor and Weiss’ duet, “Growing Up,” is pure fun.

The costumes, designed by Jess Costagliola, are on point, from Rapunzel’s 10-foot wig to the witch’s black dress, and the play utilizes the amazing set from the evening’s show, “Mamma Mia!” which conveniently features a tower.

Meet the entire cast in the lobby after the show for pictures and autographs. An autograph page is conveniently located toward the back of the program.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present “Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale” on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. through Sept. 11. Running time is 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

Up next will be the beloved musical, “The Wizard of Oz” from Oct. 1 to Nov. 6 followed by the theater’s annual production of “Frosty” from Nov. 26 to Dec. 31. The season continues in the new year with Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen” from Jan. 28 to March 5, 2017, and ends with “Madagascar — A Musical Adventure!” from March 25 to April 30. Tickets are $15 per person. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Rapunzel-detail-21Did you know?

The Rapunzel plant was once widely grown in Europe for its leaves, which were used like spinach, and its parsnip-like root, which was used like a radish. In the Brothers Grimm tale, the witch chose to name the child Rapunzel after this plant, which was stolen from her garden by Rapunzel’s parents.

Amanda Geraci (Maid Marian) and Steven Uihlein (Robin Hood) star in 'The Misadventures of Robin Hood.' Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Hear ye, hear ye! Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men have taken up residence at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson through Aug. 13 as the theater presents the world premiere of “The Misadventures of Robin Hood.”

With original script and music by Jeffrey Sanzel, Steve McCoy and Douglas Quattrock adapted from the well-known English folklore “Robin Hood,” the new musical comedy follows the timeless tale closely but turns out to be more like Mel Brooks’ 1993 film “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.” With equal parts adventure and silliness, the show is a perfect way to enjoy a lazy summer afternoon.

Sanzel skillfully directs eight adult actors who are clearly in their element. The actors are joined on stage by a supporting cast of 35 young members of the theater’s summer acting classes who help the story along with narration and song. It’s the 12th century and King Richard the Lionheart has gone to fight in the Crusades, leaving his brother Prince John in charge who orders the Sheriff of Nottingham to collect taxes from the poor villagers. When Robin of Locksley protests, he is banished from the kingdom and retreats to Sherwood Forest. There he assembles his group of Merry Men and, with the help of Maid Marion, becomes Robin Hood, robbing the rich to give to the poor.

The cast of Theatre Three's 'The Misadventures of Robin Hood'
The cast of Theatre Three’s ‘The Misadventures of Robin Hood.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

The lines are very cheeky: “Why does everyone have to repeat everything I say?” “It’s more dramatic that way!” and the fast-paced show is action packed with sword fights and archery contests. There’s even a bit of magic thrown in as the sheriff acquires a belt that when put on changes his appearance. Oh and the sheriff gets booed — a lot.

Steven Uihlein is hilarious as the absent minded bumbling swashbuckler Robin Hood who just can’t seem to get anyone’s name right including his bride to be, and Amanda Geraci is wonderful as the very patient Maid Marian, or as the program says, “patient beyond words.”

After an absence of more than five years, Jason Furnari returns to the Theatre Three stage to tackle the villainous role of The Sheriff of Nottingham and steals the show. Furnari, best known for his role as the original Barnaby in “Barnaby Saves Christmas” and as Peter in “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit,” is simply wonderful and delivers a stellar performance.

Newcomer Mark Jackett, standing well over six feet, is perfectly cast as Little John, and veteran Andrew Gasparani is an excellent Friar Tuck. Ginger Dalton, as Mrs. Buttertom, Melanie Acampora as Bettris Much and Emily Gates as Anne Much round out the cast and do a fine job.

Accompanied on piano by McCoy, the songs are fun and catchy with special mention of Geraci’s beautiful rendition of “Robin My Love” and Furnari’s “What Makes a Man a Man.” Costumes by Teresa Matteson are on point from Robin Hood’s traditional Lincoln green outfit to Friar Tuck’s robe to Maid Marian’s beautiful gown.

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photo ops.

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main Street in Port Jefferson, will present “The Misadventures of Robin Hood” Aug. 12 at 11 a.m. and Aug. 13 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Children’s theater continues at Theatre Three with “Pumpkin Patch Magic” from Oct. 1 to 29, “Barnaby Saves Christmas” from Nov. 25 to Dec. 30 and “The 3 Little Pigs” from Jan. 21 to Feb. 4. All tickets are $10. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

From left, Jud Newborn, curator of special programs for the Cinema Arts Centre, and actor Chris Lemmon hold up special themed sheet cakes with photos from Jack Lemmon’s movies. Photo by Alex Wolff

The Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington hosted “Twist of Lemmon,” Chris Lemmon’s live multimedia theatrical tribute to his father, legendary star Jack Lemmon, on July 28. The sold-out show was followed by a special reception featuring two theme sheet cakes — one featuring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the 1968 film “The Odd Couple” and the other featuring Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon in drag from the 1959 comedy “Some Like It Hot.”

Photo by Alex Wolff
Photo by Alex Wolff

The garden bench dedicated in memory of Ellen Michelmore. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

Friends and family gathered at the garden at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson to dedicate a bench in memory of the late Ellen Michelmore on July 24. Michelmore, who served as the theater’s resident musical director for more than 25 years, passed away this May at the age of 63 after a five-year courageous battle with leiomyosarcoma, a cancer that infects muscle tissue. “Ellen loved this theater,” said her husband Jeff Lange. “She was the bravest soul I ever knew,” he added.

Ellen Michelmore and her husband Jeff Lange File photo
Ellen Michelmore and her husband Jeff Lange. File photo

A gold plate on the bench is inscribed with the lyrics from Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”:

Try ‘n’ to get my soul free

We are stardust We are golden

And we got to get ourselves

Back to the garden.

Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Theatre Three’s Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel said the lyrics were chosen because “those were the opening lyrics to our ‘Summer ‘69: Return to Woodstock’ that Ellen sang in the very first production. It’s where it all started — it has so many levels in its meanings.”

Jean Sorbera, who had been Theatre Three’s resident choreographer for many years, purchased the bench and donated it. It now sits alongside memorials for two other members of the Theatre Three family gone too soon, Brent Erlanson and Bonnie Vidal.

During the ceremony, Michelle LaPorte and Gerry Saulter performed a moving rendition of “Progressions para Pauline,” a flute and guitar piece by Argentinian composer Luiz José Merlin, in Ellen’s honor.

A reception followed at the theater’s Second Stage. Sanzel gave a toast to Michelmore with her favorite wine, Prosecco, saying, “There are no words,” as he choked back tears. Scanning the packed room, it was incredible to see how many lives Michelmore had touched over the years.

For actors Hans Paul Hendrickson, Steven Uihlein, Sarah E. Bush and TracyLynn Conner, memories of Ellen were practically identical — how she made them feel welcome when they first arrived and helped them perfect their craft. Conner said she and Ellen formed a close personal relationship and would get together often to sing. Conner wore a pair of Ellen’s shoes to the dedication.

“I absolutely adored Ellen and miss her very, very much. She was like family to me,” said actor Steve Ayle. “We worked together at Theatre Three for the last 25 years, most recently playing opposite each other in the [2015] One Act Play Festival’s ‘Quack.’ Ellen was warm and kind beyond compare, her talent immeasurable, and her big, bright eyes reflected her remarkably positive and enduring spirit, even in the face of her illness. She will live on forever in my heart and soul.”

Douglas Quattrock, who has been at the theater full time since 2002 but has been acting there since the mid-80s, was clearly moved by the dedication. “Besides being one of the most caring and genuine people you could ever meet, Ellen was also an inspiration,” said a tearful Quattrock. “Even though I have never had any formal training in composing music, Ellen always encouraged me to do it. ‘Just play what’s in your heart’ is what she would say. I was honored to work on so many shows with her.”

Michelmore was such an integral part of the Theatre Three family that she was honored with a musical tribute “Ellen Michelmore: Notes From The Heart,” in 2014. The evening featured singers, actors and musicians who had been blessed to work with her. “Jeff [Sanzel] asked me to write a song for Ellen [for the tribute],” continued Quattrock. “The opening lyric that immediately came to my mind was ‘You’re The Music, You’re The Song.’ To me, that was Ellen … She was the music.”

Actor and musician Kevin Story also reflected on his time with Michelmore, saying, “Ellen was a unique light. From the moment I set foot inside Theatre Three over ten years ago, she was encouraging and supportive, a great mentor, colleague and friend. There are really no words, as Jeff said.”

Sanzel said that Theatre Three’s Aug. 19 and 20 performances of “Woodstockmania: Woodstock in Concert,” a musical created by Michelmore, will be dedicated to her memory. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. In addition, Sanzel said a plaque bearing the inscription, “Ellen Michelmore: The Spirit of Music Ever Present” will be placed in the orchestra pit and “a portrait of Michelmore will be commissioned for the lobby.”

Kevin Story surely spoke for all who attended the ceremony that day, saying, “We’ve all been touched by Ellen in an amazing way, and we can only hope her light will continue to shine through us somehow. She will be missed.”

Robin Lounsbury (as Rosie), Michelle Dawson (as Donna) and Heather Patterson King (as Tanya) in a scene from ‘Mamma Mia!’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Rita J. Egan

The Long Island premiere of “Mamma Mia!,” the jukebox musical that features an assortment of iconic songs from the Swedish pop group ABBA, opened at the John W. Engeman Theater last week. And, it appears the name of the game for the Northport venue is success as it has produced another Broadway-quality show right here on the North Shore.

Director Antoinette DiPietropolo skillfully directs a multitalented cast of 20 who recreate the warmth, charm and energy that audiences loved when the production ran on Broadway for 14 years.

Written by Catherine Johnson, with music and lyrics by former ABBA members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, as well as some songs with Stig Anderson, “Mamma Mia!” tells the touching story of 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan who lives in a taverna on a small Greek island with her mother Donna. After reading her mother’s old diary, Sophie, who is about to marry her fiancé Sky, decides to invite three men from the single Donna’s past, one that may be the young woman’s father. While the threesome’s visit may or may not bring the answer Sophie is looking for, it does take Donna on a wonderful musical trip down memory lane.

Hannah Slabaugh (as Sophie), Sean Hayden (as Sam), Jeff Williams (as Bill) and Frank Vlastnik (as Harry) in a scene from 'Mamma Mia!' Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Hannah Slabaugh (as Sophie), Sean Hayden (as Sam), Jeff Williams (as Bill) and Frank Vlastnik (as Harry) in a scene from ‘Mamma Mia!’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Portraying Sophie’s mother, Donna Sheridan, is Michelle Dawson, who played the character in the Broadway National tour. The actress perfectly embodies the quirky, free-spirited, earthy nature of Donna, and she has great stage presence, too. With her animated facial expressions and dynamite smile, it’s easy for the audience to decipher whether Donna is in agony over past mistakes or enjoying beautiful memories. Her vocals are strong on every number, and when it comes to “The Winner Takes It All,” in the beginning of the song she uses her singing talents to deliver the lyrics as if they were a monologue, and then she powerfully builds the song up to its heartbreaking ending.

Dawson also shows off her comedic abilities with Heather Patterson King and Robin Lounsbury, who play her visiting friends Tanya and Rosie, respectively. The three are funny during the song “Chiquitita” where Tanya and Rosie try to cheer their friend up, and then deliver a well-executed “Dancing Queen” as they remember their days as Donna and the Dynamos. A couple of scenes later, they treat the audience to their fantastic vocal talents once more with “Super Trouper.”

King is perfect as the sophisticated yet fun-loving Tanya, and during Act II, she sings “Does Your Mother Know” like a rock goddess. Lounsbury as Rosie is funny and delightfully carefree, especially during the number “Take a Chance on Me” where she playfully lets one of Donna’s former lovers, Bill, know exactly how she feels.

Hannah Slabaugh as Sophie Sheridan is everything you expect the young woman to be — sweet, loving, curious and determined. She captures Sophie’s spirit perfectly, and her vocals are lovely on every song she sings.

 Sean Hayden (as Sam) and Michelle Dawson (as Donna) Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Sean Hayden (as Sam) and Michelle Dawson (as Donna) Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Sean Hayden is charming and sweet as Sam Carmichael, one of Sophie’s potential fathers. On opening day, when Sam sang “Knowing Me, Knowing You” to the young woman, it seemed as if both Carmichael and Slabaugh were misty-eyed.

Frank Vlastnik is well-cast as the buttoned-up yet kind Harry, and during Act II, Vlastnik and Dawson treat the audience to a tender version of “Our Last Summer.” Jeff Williams captures the sexy, adventurous nature of Bill Austin and at the same time easily shows the character’s softer side. He demonstrates good vocals on the numbers he takes part in, too.

Jacob Dickey is adorable and endearing as Sky, Sophie’s fiancé. Dickey possesses the handsome good looks of a boy band member, but when he sings, he performs his parts like a successful solo artist. Jennifer Seifter (Ali), Lydia Ruth Dawson (Lisa), Darius Jordan Lee (Eddie) and Christopher Hlinka (Pepper) as Sophie’s and Sky’s best friends enhance the upbeat feel of the musical, and Hlinka shows a good amount of comedic ability when Pepper attempts to seduce Tanya.

Director DiPietropolo also choreographed the Northport production, and her choreography is at its finest at the end of Act I when the whole cast as well as ensemble delivers a fun, energetic “Voulez-Vous.”

As far as the striking set in shades of blue and sand with floral accents, it’s worthy of a stage on the Great White Way. Designed by DT Willis, the set includes doors that allow the actors to move effortlessly on and off stage as well as a section that easily switches from a front door to a bedroom.

Not to be forgotten is the band featuring Alexander Rovang (conductor/keyboard), Anthony Brindisi (keyboard 2), Douglas Baldwin (guitars), Russ Brown (bass) and Josh Endlich (drums). The musicians do an excellent job recreating the instrumentals of the cherished ABBA tunes.

After the bows on opening night, in true “Mamma Mia!” musical form, the cast had no trouble getting the audience to get up and dance with them to favorite ABBA hits. The pop group once sang “the winner takes it all,” and in the case of the Northport production, the cast, crew and audience all walk away winners.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main Street, Northport, will present “Mamma Mia!” through Sept. 11. Tickets are $76 for Saturday evening performances and $71 for all other performances. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Chris Lemmon during a ‘Twist of Lemmon‘ performance. Photo courtesy of Chris Lemmon

By Rita J. Egan

The question, “What was it like to be Jack Lemmon’s son,” sent actor Chris Lemmon on a life-long journey to discover the ultimate answer.

“It’s an enormous question,” Lemmon said in a recent telephone interview. His retrospective journey produced a 2006 memoir “A Twist of Lemmon: A Tribute to My Father,” which in turn inspired the multimedia production “Twist of Lemmon,” where he acts, sings, plays piano and shares his personal photos.

On July 28, Long Islanders will get a taste of Lemmon’s heartbreaking as well as heartwarming memories when he presents a new and revised version of “Twist of Lemmon” at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington. The actor, who appeared in television shows such as “Duet” and “Knots Landing,” as well as numerous stage productions, said after the book’s publication, he realized he needed to do more with the story about his Academy-Award-winning actor father.

Chris Lemmon and his father Jack Lemmon in happier times. Photo courtesy of Chris Lemmon

“The book turned into kind of a performance piece that was really touching and moving people, and I thought: Gosh, I would love to take this to the next step, and the next step, I don’t think it’s film or TV, I think it’s theater,” the actor said. “And the only way this can be a piece of theater is if I’m playing a character, and obviously the character has got be Jack.” The last year and a half, Lemmon has performed the one-man show, where he narrates the story from his father’s perspective, at small venues. He said he was “purposely flying under the radar” preparing for a big opening. “I was going with my little bag, my little show in a bag, from theater to theater. That’s what I would do, because it’s the only place you learn,” he said.

Last month at the St. James Theatre in London’s West End, a reworked “Twist of Lemmon,” directed by Hugh Wooldridge, premiered. After a successful three-week run abroad, Lemmon said the revised show, which includes added material, is now “ready for the trail” in the states. He has also increased the pace of the play by riding into the laughs, as his father would have done, instead of waiting for them to stop. The play centers around how Lemmon and his father, who passed away in 2001, mended their estrangement that occurred after the older Lemmon divorced Chris’s mom, Cynthia Stone. With yearly visits to Alaska that began when he was 11 years old, the father and son slowly repaired their relationship. In later years, they also shared a love of golf, which included participating in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am Tournament, where in his first year, the younger Lemmon made the final cut, something his father dreamed of doing for 35 years.

When it comes to his father’s shortcomings, including a battle with alcoholism, Lemmon is candid. “It’s my duty as a narrator to show everything, every bump in the road, to explore his alcoholism, to explore his fallacies and foibles and his faults as a human being as well as my own. Every single one of them,” he said. However, the tale isn’t an accusatory one. Lemmon said his father actively pursued a relationship with his son and handled his alcoholism “in the most gallant possible manner.”

Not only did he get help for his problem but he also admitted his struggle on the television show “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” “That takes guts, man. Back then, it wasn’t vogue. It was tantamount to career suicide. So it gives me great pleasure to tell those stories,” Lemmon said. His advice to those who are estranged from family members is to do the work to repair the relationship. During one of the show’s monologues, Lemmon delivers the lines: “We’re all human. We all make mistakes. If we can understand that about each other, accept it, instead of resenting it, then we can rise above.”

Lemmon is grateful he did all of the above when it came to the relationship with his dad. “He was not just my father; he was my very best friend. I miss everything about him. I still have dreams two or three times a week that he’s back, and we’re fishing or golfing or just doing whatever, driving around and crunching the gears in every exotic car ever made,” he said. “He was just so much fun to be with. I don’t play golf anymore. I don’t fish either. I can’t do it. It’s just not the same.” The actor also treats the audience to a taste of the golden age of Hollywood by playing “Jack” imitating celebrated celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Walter Matthau and more. Also among the photos appearing on a screen are Jack’s movie roles and co-stars.

Chris Lemmon00480 Chris at piano-Stills from SomeLikeitHot-credit courtesy Chris Lemmon
Chris Lemmon during a ‘Twist of Lemmon’ performance. Photo courtesy of Chris Lemmon

Lemmon hopes to keep not only his father’s but also all of these legendary actors’ memories alive. “These people were not just iconic as celebrities they were really iconic as human beings,” he said. After the play, Lemmon said he will definitely have the energy for the postshow Q-and-A with the audience. “People say this must take such an emotional toll on you, because it is a very deeply, somewhat tragic in its core, father-son story, but, of course, it’s couched in the golden age of Hollywood so there’s all that shenanigans and fun,” Lemmon said. “And, he was just such a human leprechaun himself, full of so much energy. Actually, for me, because I miss him so damn much, it’s really emotionally rewarding.”

At the end of the play, Lemmon said his ultimate goal is to make audiences both laugh and cry. “Because that’s what pop always believed acting should be about — make them laugh and make them cry.”

Jud Newborn, curator of special programs at the Cinema Arts Centre, is looking forward to the “Twist of Lemmon” event. He said Steinway & Sons, Long Island is sponsoring the evening, which will begin with a demonstration of the company’s new high-resolution player piano, the Spirio. A 15-minute screen presentation will feature several pianists but without any sound as the Spirio simultaneously plays what’s displayed on the screen. Lemmon, who is an accomplished pianist, will also be playing the Spirio live during his performance. Newborn said the play will be followed by an audience Q-and-A with the actor as well as a reception in the Sky Room featuring jazz guitarist Mike Soloway.

The Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington, will present “Twist of Lemmon” on Thursday, July 28 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $46, $38 for members. For more information, call 631-423-7610 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.org.

Say Meatball! The Man in the Yellow Hat, Curious George and Chef Pisghetti pose with members of the audience after the show. Photo courtesy of SPCA

By Rebecca Anzel 

Curious George is still going on adventures after 75 years of entertaining children. Through Aug. 28, the actors at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts transform the story of “Curious George: The Golden Meatball” into an hour-long musical performance.

In this play, George helps his friend Chef Pisghetti cook meatballs for the annual All You Can Eat Meatball Day. George had been excited to help the chef cook and serve guests, but when the day came, there was no one in Chef Pisghetti’s restaurant to serve the meatballs to. Instead, the crowd was captivated by Phinneas T. Lightspeed’s meatball-making machine. Upset by Lightspeed’s rhymes, fancy coat and blue meatballs, Chef Pisghetti declared he would never cook again. George, though, wants to help the chef rediscover his passion and talent. He travels all the way to Rome to enter his friend’s meatballs into the Golden Meatball Contest.

This story is based on the originals written by Margret and H.A. Rey, who took their manuscript of “Curious George” out of Paris during World War II. As Jews, the Reys decided to flee Paris before the Nazis seized the city. H.A. Rey assembled two bicycles, and they fled Paris just a few hours before it fell. Among the meager possessions they brought with them was the illustrated manuscript of “Curious George.”

The stories were later turned into a PBS Kids cartoon, which is still airing.

Say Meatball! The Man in the Yellow Hat, Curious George and Chef Pisghetti pose with members of the audience after the show. Photo courtesy of SPCA
Say Meatball! The Man in the Yellow Hat, Curious George and Chef Pisghetti pose with members of the audience after the show. Photo courtesy of SPCA

Directed by Brianne Boyd, the adult cast of “The Golden Meatball” kept the audience laughing throughout. Marisa Guardino, as George, is complemented perfectly by the other five actors, each of whom played more than one character. It is a testament to costume designer Ronald R. Green III that each of those wardrobe changes happened seamlessly.

Brian Gill, who plays the Man in the Yellow Hat for all Sunday performances, was excellent. Gill brought the same spirit to the role as the character he plays is known for — a responsible and trusting parent to George who can laugh and have fun.

Bobby Montaniz was convincing as Chef Pisghetti. His playful Italian accent and spirited exclamation of “ba da boopie” at the end of a few of his phrases elicited giggles from the audience. Tommy Castelli (Phinneas T. Lightspeed and others), Emily Attridge (Netti and others) and Meagan Materazo (Doorman and others) all worked well with Montaniz in the various roles they performed as partners. The four delivered punchy jokes aimed at parents expertly, like one when Castelli was delivering a package to George by himself, and Materazo asked him where his fellow delivery men were. Castelli looked at the audience, shrugged and replied, “budget cuts.”

Guardino as Curious George stole the show. Her voice perfectly mirrored that of the cartoon character, and her dance moves, from shakes to splits, endeared her character to the children in the audience. The audience also participated during several of the times Guardino and others would ask for directions or confirmation. The cheers for her at the end of the performance were the loudest.

With original music by John Kavanaugh and book and lyrics by Jeremy Desmon, the songs in “The Golden Meatball” were lighthearted and familiar to a few of the children, who could be heard singing along — especially with the Curious George theme song with which the show started and ended.

After the cast sang “George Goes to Rome” and “A Buddy like you,” Chef Pisghetti thanks his friend for traveling all the way to Italy to enter him in the meatball competition. “I’m so lucky to have a buddy like you,” he tells George, whom he affectionately calls Giorgio. George ends up having to cook the chef’s meatballs all by himself at the competition, and he is worried he does not have the chef’s secret ingredient. But after he wins the competition and Chef Pisghetti finally makes it to the contest, he tells George the meatballs he cooked came out so well because he had the secret ingredient — love.

With the cast’s energy and familiar songs, “The Golden Meatball” is the perfect show for young children. Just bring a sweater — the theater is a little chilly. The actors are available after their bows for photos and autographs, although Artistic Director Ken Washington warned that because George is a monkey, “he can’t really sign things.”

Children’s theater will continue at the Smithtown Center for Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, with “Elf the Musical, Jr.” from Nov. 25 to Dec. 30, “Shrek the Musical, Jr.” from Jan. 21 through Feb. 26 and “Annie, Jr.” from March 18 to April 15. All tickets are $15. To order, call the box office at 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

A scene from SCPA’s ‘Hairspray.' Photo courtesy of SCPA

By Rita J. Egan

A few mists of hairspray, and a whole lot of talent, transformed the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts into a Broadway theater this weekend. The venue’s production of “Hairspray” opened this past Saturday night to a packed house.

Jordan Hue expertly directs a cast of more than 30 talented musical theater actors. Based on the 1988 movie by John Waters that starred Ricki Lake and Divine, the musical stage production debuted in 2002 and ran for more than six years on Broadway. With music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman and book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, the play inspired the release of a second movie in 2007, which starred John Travolta.

Rhythm and blues and 60s-style dance music, combined with a good dose of love and humor, create this coming-of-age tale. Set in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1962, our heroine, Tracy Turnblad, dreams of appearing on a local television dance program called “The Corny Collins Show.” When she finally snags a spot on the show, the plus-sized teenager learns about the injustices in the country, not only when it comes to size but also for non-whites. The determined Tracy then begins a crusade to integrate the production and opens up a completely new world for herself as well as her parents and friends.

The cast of 'Hairspray.' Photo courtesy of SCPA
The cast of ‘Hairspray.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA

The Smithtown production opens as Tracy, played by Noelle Eichenlaub, and the ensemble greet the day with the rousing “Good Morning Baltimore.” The actors set the stage for a high-energy show, liveliness that they sustain right until the very end with the upbeat and infectious “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”

Eichenlaub possesses strong vocals on all her numbers, which include the songs mentioned above as well as “I Can Hear the Bells” and “Welcome to the 60s,” and she captures the sweetness and optimism of Tracy with every note, dance step and line.

Ryan Nolin portrayed Tracy’s mother Edna to the hilt on opening night, and while he may have big shoes to fill with the likes of Divine, Harvey Fierstein and John Travolta playing the role in the past, the actor filled them brilliantly with a great amount of comedic ability. The statuesque Nolin perfectly captures the self-conscious yet strong nature of the loving, protective mother. The actor, who alternates performances with Michael Newman, garnered a huge amount of laughs in all the right places. During the number “You’re Timeless to Me” with Eugene Dailey, a charmingly quirky Wilbur Turnblad, the duo were delightful and received an enormous amount of laughs and applause from the audience.

Michelle Rubino is convincing as anxious and awkward Penny Pingleton, Tracy’s best friend. It’s hard to believe this is the same graceful girl who played Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” on the same stage a few months ago. The versatile young actress showed off her strong vocals during her parts in the songs “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” and “Without Love.”

Michael Marmann, who starred with Rubino in “The Little Mermaid” as Prince Charming, now charms the audience as Link Larkin, the lead male dancer on “The Corny Collins Show” and Tracy’s crush. The actor smoothly channels a 60s heartthrob, and while performing the song “It Takes Two” with his fellow male dance show members, he sweetly sings the ballad like the lead singer of a boy band.

When Tracy encounters Seaweed, played by Dondi Rollins Jr., and the record shop kids in detention, we get to hear smooth, soulful vocals from Rollins on “Run and Tell That.” This is where M.E. Junge’s choreography takes center stage, too. While all the cast members during the show handle the choreography with ease, Rollins and Kordell Hammond, who plays Duane, both display excellent dance abilities.

Amanda-Camille Isaac as Motormouth Maybelle performed a riveting “I Know Where I’ve Been.” When joined by the record shop kids, the song was elevated to gospel-song-like quality, and by the sounds of the immense applause, it seemed the opening night audience agreed.

Denise Antonelle portrays the immoral show producer Velma Von Tussel and delivers the number “(The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs” with the wickedness of a Disney evil queen. The number sets the tone perfectly for what Tracy is up against to integrate her favorite show.

Alexa Brin as Velma’s spoiled daughter Amber is amusingly annoying as Tracy’s arch-nemesis, who not only tries to stand in our heroine’s way to dance on the show but also to win the Miss Teenage Hairspray competition. The actress also shines vocally in the numbers “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” and “Cooties.”

Adding even more liveliness and high-powered vocals to the number “Welcome to the 60s” were the Dynamites portrayed by Janelle Primm, Diamond Essence White and Isaac. Lauren Tirado as Seaweed’s sister, Little Inez, also demonstrates great vocals on the songs she’s included on.

Ronnie Green as Corny Collins was smooth and confident. It should be noted that the dance show’s council members played by Samantha Cuomo, David Reyes, Matthew Healey, Samantha Foti, Christian Arma, Caroline Anderson, Tommy Castelli and Lisa Naso, and the record shop kids Tirado, Primm, White, Hammond, Elijah Andrews and Jahlil Burke, as well as the swing members, are as integral to the high energy of the show as the lead characters, and they do not disappoint. Adding to the show’s hijinks were the hysterical Anne Marie Finnie as Penny’s overprotective mom, the jailhouse matron and obnoxious gym teacher, and Erich Grathwohl in the roles of Mr. Pinky and Mr. Harriman F. Spritzer, president of Ultra Clutch hairspray.

The Broadway-quality numbers would not be complete without conductor Melissa Coyle along with musicians Craig Coyle, Brian Schatz, Ray Sabatello, Ricky Enderle and Jim Waddell. Also, congratulations to costume designer Ronnie Green for the fun, vibrant outfits, and scenic designer Timothy Golebiewski for the colorful, versatile set. While leaving the theater on opening night, audience members raved about how wonderful the show was, including one person who said that Smithtown’s “Hairspray” was just as good as a Broadway musical.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E Main Street, Smithtown, presents “Hairspray” until Aug. 28. All seats are $35. For show schedule and more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

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