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Broadway

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File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County police 7th Squad detectives are investigating a single-vehicle crash that killed Shoreham man in Rocky Point early Feb. 12.

Nicholas Mistretta was driving a 2009 Ford Focus eastbound on Route 25A bypass, east of Broadway, when his vehicle left the roadway and struck at tree at approximately 3:45 a.m. Mistretta, 24, who was alone in the vehicle, was pronounced dead at the scene by a physician assistant from the office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check. Detectives are asking anyone with information on this crash to call the 7th Squad at 631-852-8752.

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How difficult must it be to become someone else? Somehow, Abby Mueller, an actress who probably isn’t a household name, transforms into the legendary singer Carole King in the Broadway musical “Beautiful.”

It’s a risky proposition. Many of us already know songs like “So Far Away” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which means we know what the song should sound like, even if we can’t sing it in tune.

And yet, Mueller, who is clearly the star of a show about another star, pulls it off incredibly well, giving us the energy, the soul, the innocence and the ambition of a remarkable talent.

Watching and, more importantly, listening to the show is a transformative experience. Music has that remarkable power, bringing us back to a car when we might have often heard “Up on the Roof” or sending us back in our minds to a dance party where we threw ourselves across the floor of a friend’s house as we invented our own steps to “The Loco-Motion,” where “everybody’s doing a brand new dance, now.”

Even though the dance isn’t so brand new anymore, it feels revived when we watch the high energy action on stage.

My wife and I snuck away before the end of the summer to see the musical, which left us humming and singing the songs through the next day.

The musical itself, like many other Broadway stories, is a collection of dialogue, a loose story and a compilation of rollicking music. The story line follows the musical career of King and her writing partner and husband Gerry Goffin, whom she married when she was 17 and pregnant. The audience feels as if it’s witnessing the birth of these songs, as Goffin pairs his familiar lyrics to the music King wrote.

The first half of the show, which is considerably longer than the second, is like a collection of musical candy tossed to a hungry audience.

I snuck glances around the room at some of the other people fortunate enough to take a musical joyride and I saw that, like me, several of the guests, who were mostly in their late 40s and older, had smiles plastered on their faces.

The second act doesn’t contain as many songs and delves into the more challenging and sadder parts of King’s life, where she endures the hardship of her husband’s infidelities and the creative tension that sometimes won the battle over his creative talent.

King, as we know, lands on her feet, becoming the legendary composer, singer and songwriter who was inducted with Goffin into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 for their songwriting.

The energy on stage throughout the show, with performances by a talented team reviving the style and moves of the Shirelles and the Drifters, rival the thrill of watching the cast of “Mamma Mia!” who belted out the familiar Abba songs.

The difference here, however, is that the script is not a plot written to tie together songs, but evolves as the backstory behind the early days of music that long ago circled the United States and the world.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” definitely lives up to the awards it has won, including the 2015 Grammy for best musical theater album and its two Tony Awards in 2014, which include a well-deserved honor for Mueller.

The only speed bump during this otherwise wonderful ride is the dramatic downshifting in the second act, where the drama, while no doubt true to life, slows the musical momentum. Still, the conclusion and the experience are rewarding, allowing us to reconnect with the legendary singer’s past, and our own.

Port Jefferson graduate and Tony Award-nominated director Rebecca Taichman. Photo from Taichman

When Rebecca Taichman was a student at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, starting in 1984, she felt lost. With a reputation since elementary school of being a bit of an oddball, she found it difficult, and unappealing, to fit in with the rest of the pack.

She was an outsider, she said, until her senior year when she took  an acting class offered by Robert Krusemark, an English teacher at the time.

“I burst to life,” Taichman said in a phone interview. She was recently nominated for a Tony Award in the category of Best Direction of a Play for the critically lauded Broadway production, “Indecent.” The show is also nominated in the Best Play category. “I loved it [and] I really found myself there. Mr. Krusemark had a huge impact on me; he suggested that I apply to go to this Yale School of Drama summer program and because of him and that class, I did that.”

From that class, in which she recited monologues by playwrights like George Bernard Shaw, Taichman began her journey that has since seen her direct dozens of New York-based and regional plays, operas, and musicals. She has taught theater arts at NYU, MIT, and Yale and is among just five nominees in her category at the 71st Annual Tony Awards this Sunday, June 11, at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

“It’s amazing and I’m really proud of her,” one of Taichman’s closest friends Cynthia Lee, a classmate in the Port Jefferson School District from first through 12th grade, said in a phone interview.

Laughing that she and Taichman felt like the offbeat kids in John Hughes’ movies while in high school, Lee recalled her friend’s sudden foray into theater.

“I was kind of surprised…I didn’t realize she had that bug in her and that was something she was going to pursue, [but] then she took off with it in college,” Lee said. “I can’t imagine her not going down that path.”

After graduating high school in 1988, Taichman became absorbed by all things theater, recognizing the art form as her true language.

“I can’t imagine her not going down that path.”

— Cynthia Lee

“I knew it was my vocabulary, that was very clear, I’m still not sure exactly why, but it was clearly my way of thinking,” she said.

It was at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada that she first dabbled outside of acting, taking part in casting, literary management, dramaturgy and eventually directing, cutting her teeth with a production of John Patrick Shanley’s “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.”

“It was clear I was a better director than I was at any of the other things,” she said. “I was not a very good actor and as soon as I started directing, it was so clear I never would’ve cast me. That’s where I found my talent lay.”

Five years later, she ventured back to the Yale School of Drama, this time to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in directing.

Back at Yale, she discovered “The God of Vengeance,” a Yiddish play written by Sholem Asch in 1906, which would become the inspiration for “Indecent.” Taichman’s production is about the events surrounding the early Broadway productions of Asch’s controversial and landmark drama which depicts a brothel owner whose daughter falls in love with one of his prostitutes.

During the original run of Asch’s play in 1923, which featured the first kiss between two women on a Broadway stage, Taichman explained, most of the cast and crew were indicted and thrown in jail for “indecency” and “obscenity.”

“It took my breath away,” Taichman said of the original play by Asch, which she’d adapted as her thesis at Yale and been actively trying to do something more with since 1997.

“I was not a very good actor and as soon as I started directing, it was so clear I never would’ve cast me.”

— Rebecca Taichman

She eventually met and pitched the idea to Pulitzer-winning playwright Paula Vogel about seven years ago, and Vogel quickly got on board. Finding its legs at the Vineyard Theater in Union Square before racking up awards on Broadway, “Indecent” is a music-and-dance-filled yet powerful stroll through the decades as a group of actors perform “The God of Vengeance.”

“[It’s] ultimately a love letter to the theater and the power of making art in increasingly dangerous times…it’s an extremely important story, one about homophobia and anti-immigration, similar to what we’re experiencing now,” she said. “It’s quite special to be recognized for this particular piece, having thought about it for decades. People can apparently feel how deeply my heart is in it.”

Taichman’s sister Laura tried to put the Tony nomination into perspective.

“It’s so exciting and totally well-deserved — she has worked so hard, this play has been her baby for 20 years and it’s a heartening experience to watch this happen,” she said. “For the reception to be a Tony Award nomination rather than a conviction for obscenity feels just.”

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Suffolk County Police 2nd Squad detectives are investigating the shooting of a man in Greenlawn early Wednesday morning.

Omar Fuentes was standing with a group of people in front of 283A Broadway when police said a man approached the group, fired shots then fled on foot south of Broadway. Fuentes, 30, of Greenlawn, was struck twice in the hip and transported by Greenlawn Fire Department to Huntington Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The suspect was described as short, thin and was wearing all black.

Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call the 2nd Squad at 631-854-8252 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS.

On March 12, the Friends of St. Patrick held Rocky Point and Miller Place’s 67th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Green and gold were seen down Route 25A to Broadway, as residents from all over the North Shore braved the cold to take part in this year’s festivities.

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It’s a great history lesson. It’s a gymnastic dance performance. It’s a riveting narrative. It’s a clever rap session. It’s an authentic hip-hop musical, almost like an opera. It’s a whirlwind of energy. And it’s a remarkably true story. What is it? It’s “Hamilton,” the hottest Broadway show in many years.

We know that just about everything that is endlessly hyped usually disappoints. Just two things immediately come to my mind where for me there was no let down: the Grand Canyon and “Hamilton.” Now the anticipation ratcheted up was enormous. I bought the tickets when my friend turned 90 years old. It seemed like an appropriate birthday present, this story from the deep past. After all, for many dinners and evenings she had kept me fascinated with her eyewitness retelling of history from the first half of the 20th century. Now we were both going to see early American history come alive on the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

Let it be told that my friend will shortly be 92. Yes, she and I waited almost two years to get in to see this show. I also invited my 15-year-old granddaughter and another friend a generation younger than I to join us. With that span in ages, we were going to get an accurate demographic spectrum of reactions.

We LOVED it, all of us, from the opening number to the last sad moments of Hamilton’s life. It was witty, it was impassioned, it was fun, it was sexy, it was literate, it was tragic and it was wonderfully written, sung, acted, costumed and staged.

In truth, Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography, “Alexander Hamilton” (2004), had great material to work with. Hamilton’s life had everything a playwright could have asked for, with perfect timing now for such a story. Hamilton, born out of wedlock in the mid-1750s (exact year uncertain) and orphaned when his mother died in 1768, comes as penniless immigrant from the Caribbean to make his way. He had distinguished himself through his writing at an early age, and men of means sent him to New York. He arrived in the midst of the pre-Revolutionary tumult, was accepted at King’s College (now Columbia University), met some of the key figures of the day and became George Washington’s aide-de-camp, in good part because he spoke French and could translate between Washington and his French ally.

He fought against the British at Yorktown in 1781, married the second daughter of a rich New Yorker, authored the majority of The Federalist Papers, became a successful lawyer, went on to be the first secretary of the treasury, from which position he established the banking system of the nascent United States, was blackmailed in what was one of the nation’s first sex scandals, and ultimately died from a bullet fired by his longtime rival, Vice President Aaron Burr, during a duel on a strip of land above the Hudson in Weehawken. If it sounds like a peripatetic life, that certainly describes the fierce energy of the play about him.

I had the same feeling about this play as I did so many years ago when “My Fair Lady” with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews ended, that I had just witnessed some sort of breakthrough Broadway event. And as the characters of “Hamilton,” the Founding Fathers, come alive the way they did in that other excellent historic play, “1776,” we recognized them for their magnificent talents and their all-too-human faults.

The erudite New York Times drama critic, Ben Brantley, had this to say about the play when it opened on Broadway in August 2015. “I am loath to tell people to mortgage their houses and lease their children to acquire tickets to a hit Broadway show. But ‘Hamilton’ … might just about be worth it.”

So it’s expensive (unless you win tickets through the lottery that has been set up), it requires patience to wait for the actual performance date on the ticket, and most of the original cast is long gone. But none of that matters. There was never a marquee name connected with the show, unless it was that of Miranda. But his acting wasn’t the reason to go, it was his writing: music, words and creativity. And all that is still there, a wonderful respite from the politics of today.

Rocky Point dedicated the square at the corner of Broadway and Route 25A, formerly the blighted Oxygen Bar property, to a Veterans Memorial Square. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Once an eyesore to the community, Rocky Point’s corner of Broadway and Route 25A is now a place that honors those who fight for our freedom.

On Oct. 17, Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) along with other members of local government, dedicated the former Oxygen Bar property as a new veterans memorial square, with a flag-raising ceremony.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner helps members of Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 in the flag raising ceremony Oct. 17. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner helps members of Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 in the flag raising ceremony Oct. 17. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“The members of the community have been so supportive of this project and have a vision for a greater, better downtown,” Bonner said at the event. “We all appreciate the sacrifices every veteran has made and honor them today as we dedicate this veterans memorial square by raising the flags of our armed forces. This beautiful green space will also serve as the gateway to a revitalized downtown Rocky Point for years to come.”

Bonner visited the formerly blighted property back in March, and said it excites her now to see how it’s transformed in seven short months.

“A source of problems is gone, and a source of pride has taken its place,” she said.

The square wouldn’t have been made possible if it wasn’t for the help of VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore.

“This piece of property will be here much, much longer than I will, and that’s where the return on this investment is going to come,” Cognitore said of the square. “We should do this to all counties and municipalities throughout our area. We must make sure that our younger generations know about our military, what they go through and what they do for our country.”

Bonner helped to formally present the colors to the playing of the National Anthem. All of the flags raised were donated by Rocky Point resident Roland Jackson.

“Roland Jackson is one of those people who never says ‘if you need anything, let me know,’” Bonner said. “He just does it. He called me up and said he was getting the flags and he’d like to donate them.”

Joe Cognitore, commander of Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, speaks during the dedication ceremony Oct. 17. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Joe Cognitore, commander of Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, speaks during the dedication ceremony Oct. 17. Photo by Desirée Keegan

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) was also at the ceremony, and told a story of how he visited troops in Iraq last Christmas, meeting a Command Sgt. Major on his 11th deployment, and a young teenager on his first.

“Eleven deployments later he was still serving and loving ever minute of it,” Zeldin said of the Major. “When that Command Sgt. Major signed up for the military there was no Sept. 11 on his radar. But when that teenager signed up, that’s all that he had ever known. He knew exactly what he was signing up for. But he loved the flag, he loved our country and he cherished our freedoms and liberties, and he’s willing to lay down his life in defense of it.”

Zeldin said the new parcel in Rocky Point proudly displays its support for its veterans like the ones he’s met.

“For that teenager who signs up, it’s not just about the flag, it’s not just about his freedoms and liberties, but it’s out of deep admiration and respect for those who have come before him or her,” he said. “We get to live in the greatest nation of the world, and for those veterans, we salute you and we thank you for your service.”

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said the memorial square is not just a wonderful thing for the Rocky Point community, but for all members of the nation.

“Our freedoms that this nation was based on are always under assault, and always will be, and that’s why we’re the greatest nation in the world,” he said. “Today, we are saying to the world we are alive, we are America and we are proud to be Americans.”

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If you have had enough of politics and pundits this week, come with me for a nostalgic trip through the golden age of Broadway musicals. I was carried back to those heady days of the 1950s by a recent New York Times article about the lost art of sneaking in for the second act, impossible today due to post-9/11 security. Now I don’t know if you have ever indulged in this type of larcenous activity, so I will explain how it worked — at least for me and my merry little band.

I attended junior high and high school at 68th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. The subway was right at the corner of our Gothic-style building. This is important information for you to know in order to follow our exploits. The other bit of vital info is that our school day officially ended each afternoon at 2 p.m., rather than the usual 3 p.m. for the rest of the schools under the New York City Board of Education’s auspices.

Shortly after I started in seventh grade, I fell in with a happy group of kids who lived across town, on the Upper West Side. While that was decades away from what we know today as the highly cultured and worldly UWS, nonetheless these kids were a lot more culturally savvy than I was. Every Wednesday, which is of course matinee day, they would slip out of our last class some 15 minutes early, slither quietly through the side door of the school and make a beeline for the subway stairs 20 feet away.

Somehow I came to be included in this precocious group. We would ride the local to 59th Street, descend to the lowest level of the station, which in those days housed the BMT line, ride it through Midtown to 49th Street and Broadway and arrive at the predetermined show of our choice just as intermission was ending and the smokers were returning to their seats for the second act.

No one ever checked the tickets for the second act in those days. And there were always empty seats sprinkled throughout the theater that we claimed for our own. If the real seat owner arrived, most often the usher would help us find another seat since it was fairly common practice for young people to move closer to the stage in those days if there was opportunity. I doubt the ushers realized they were helping scofflaws.

In this way, I saw some of the most famous plays with their original casts during what turned out to be the most memorable period of American musical theater. Of course I didn’t know that then, I just knew I was having a fine old time and we didn’t even have to pay the subway fare because we had student passes.

Of course I never told my parents what we were doing every Wednesday afternoon, and somehow we never got caught leaving school early. Perhaps the faculty understood where we were going and thought it more important than the last 15 minutes of classes.

But my parents may have wondered from time to time because I seemed too knowledgeable about the current musicals, their actors and composers. There were the Rodgers and Hammerstein classics: “Oklahoma!,” “Carousel,” “The King and I,” “South Pacific” and “The Sound of Music” (the latter two with Mary Martin); Frank Loesser and his “Guys and Dolls,” “The Music Man,” “West Side Story” and Chita Rivera; Ethel Merman, Gertrude Lawrence, Yul Brynner, Gene Kelly and Gwen Verdon; Irving Berlin and Cole Porter — they were all in my world.

And then there was the best of the best, its eloquence, melody, intelligence and heart standing at the head of those magnificent musicals, Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady.” I can still hear the music, with its clever lyrics, playing in my head. Led by Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, it was the longest running show on Broadway for years thereafter. And we saw them all — at least by half.

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A young man was getting out of his car on Saturday morning when he was hit in the head by a man with a gun in what police are calling a robbery.

The Suffolk County Police Department is looking for three male assailants after the incident outside the 7-Eleven on Broadway in Greenlawn, shortly after midnight.

It began when the 21-year-old victim was getting out of his car in the convenience store parking lot, police said. Three men approached him, one displaying a handgun. That gun-wielding suspect struck the 21-year-old in the head, but he fled without handing over any of his belongings and called 911.

Police did not give further details on the exchange between the victim and the attackers, but called the incident a robbery.

All three assailants were wearing dark clothing, police said. One was described as a thin, dark-skinned black man in his late teens, standing about 5 feet 7 inches. Another was described as being about 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing about 150 pounds and wearing a mask.

Detectives from the SCPD’s 2nd Squad are investigating the incident. Anyone with information i asked to call them at 631-854-8252 or to call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 800-220-TIPS.

From left, Franklyn P. Butler, Phyllis March, Brian Gill, Robbie Torres, Katie Ferretti, Edward Breese and Jess Ader-Ferretti star in ‘Cabaret.’ Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Melissa Arnold

The Smithtown Performing Arts Center took its audience on an emotional roller coaster ride Saturday night during its gripping opening performance of “Cabaret.”

Ronald R. Green III serves as both director and costume designer for the show, which is set in early 1930s Germany, just prior to World War II. Written by Joe Masteroff, “Cabaret” is based on a play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Frank Ebb. It is among the most enduring musicals on Broadway, with its first show in November 1966 leading to multiple revivals here and abroad.

“Cabaret” follows wandering novelist Cliff Bradshaw as he travels to Berlin in search of his next great idea. And boy, does he find it! He is quickly drawn into the raunchy, circus-like Kit Kat Klub and becomes entangled with its regulars, particularly the seductive performer Sally Bowles.

Sally Bowles is a woman who knows how to get what she wants, and she quickly wriggles her way into Cliff’s life,  first by moving in with him and then by slowly winning his heart. And they’re not the only ones falling in love. Cliff’s landlady, Fräulein Schneider, is charmed by the perfect gentleman, widower Herr Schultz.

Unfortunately, what begins as a shockingly funny love story grows dark as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis gain momentum in Germany. The characters eventually find themselves torn apart by politics, and the show’s ending is so gut-wrenching that you can almost feel the air leave the theater.

Sally and Cliff are played by Katie Ferretti and Brian Gill, who are both newcomers to the SCPA stage. Ferretti’s portrayal of Sally is full of moxie, and Gill’s effort is totally believable as Cliff falls helplessly in love.

The audience is directly addressed throughout the show by a flamboyant and hypnotizing emcee played by Robbie Torres. If “Cabaret” is a circus, then Torres is its wild ringleader. As crude as his character can be, he’ll capture your heart and hold on long after the show ends. Be warned, the emcee quickly transitions between several languages, and his thick accent may be hard to understand for some.

Worth particular mention in the talented supporting cast are Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, who are portrayed with great tenderness by Phyllis March and Edward Breese. The duets featuring the couple, “Married” and “It Couldn’t Please Me More,” are the sweetest of them all.

Choreographer Danielle Coutieri ensured that the many dance numbers in “Cabaret” were full of all the shock value and sex appeal audiences would expect from a questionable nightclub. The kick-line at the beginning of the second act was particularly fun to watch.

The orchestra is located on the set’s upper level for this show, where they are regularly visible to the audience and even become a part of the story as the Kit Kat Klub’s house band. Led by music director Melissa Coyle, the music is more than just a sound track — they are a driving force for the club and show as a whole. They play powerfully, at times almost overwhelmingly so.

While this is not a show for children, adults are bound to be thoroughly entertained and delighted by “Cabaret.” Just be prepared to leave the theater in stunned silence. This classic will strike you in the heart.

Smithtown Performing Arts Center, 2 East Main St., Smithtown, will present “Cabaret” through May 22. Show includes strong language, intense sexuality and brief violence, alcohol and drug use. Running time is approximately 2.5 hours with one 15-minute intermission.

The season continues with “Hairspray the Broadway Musical” from July 9 to Aug. 28, “Rent” from Sept. 10 to Oct. 2 and “Urinetown the Musical” from Oct. 15 to Nov. 6. All tickets are $35 and may be purchased by calling 631-724-3700 or visiting www.smithtownpac.org.

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