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Christine Boehm

By Heidi Sutton

The holidays have arrived at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts in a most delightful way. While a spunky orphan commands the spotlight in the theater’s current main stage production of Annie, a spirited young girl named Emily stars in the second annual children’s theater production of Ken Ludwig’s ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. 

Directed by Christine Boehm, the 45-minute fast-paced show with the underlying message “to make life an adventure” is the perfect choice to introduce young children to live theater.

It’s Christmas Eve and Uncle Brierly (Evan Donnellan) greets the audience with a recitation of “the greatest poem of all time,” Clement C. Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. He gets as far as, “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse” only to be interrupted by Amos the Mouse (Jae Hughes) who is in fact stirring, cookie dough that is, to make cookies for Santa in hopes that he’ll show up this year. You see, Amos and his best human friend Emily (Lorelai Mucciolo) were left off the Naughty or Nice list last year and never received any presents.

It is then that Calliope the Elf (Lisa Naso) shows up to investigate and, after telling Emily and Amos that many other children around the world had the same thing happen to them, convinces them to accompany her back to the North Pole to tell Santa the troubling news and to save Christmas.

When they arrive at Santa’s workshop, they overhear a former elf, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Donnellan), and his sidekick Mulch (Anthony Panarello), plotting to sell the Naughty and Nice list to retailers just like last year.

What follows is a whirlwind attempt to retrieve the list complete with a surprise appearance from Amos’ brother (the amazing Hughes in a dual role), a hilarious case of mistaken identity, a sword fight, an elf cheer, a visit from Santa Claus (Panarello) and a chase scene through the theater to the Benny Hill theme song. There is no shortage of excitement in this show and the cast does a wonderful job portraying this sweet holiday story.

Booster seats are available and snacks are sold during intermission. Stay after the show for a meet and greet and photos with the cast in the lobby.  

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown presents Ken Ludwig’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas on Dec. 15, 22, 28 and 29 at 11 a.m. Children’s theater continues with Shrek The Musical Jr. from Feb. 1 to March 1 and Flat Stanley Jr. from May 16 to June 21. All seats are $18. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org

All photos by Cassiel Fawcett

 

By Heidi Sutton

From “The Snow Queen” to “The Princess and the Pea,” Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales have touched the hearts of millions. A bronze statue in Copenhagen, Denmark, pays homage to his most popular story, “The Little Mermaid.” A major tourist attraction since its unveiling in 1913, it depicts a mermaid sitting on a rock looking longingly toward land.

Now Andersen’s beloved tale, or should I say tail, heads to the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts in the form of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” a colorful musical production based on the animated film.

The timing is perfect. Along with running during spring break, the Disney film is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and a live-action remake is currently in development.

In a magical underwater kingdom, the beautiful young mermaid princess, Ariel, longs to leave her ocean home — and her fins — behind and live in the world above, much to her father King Triton’s dismay.

In exchange for her voice, Ariel bargains with the sea witch, Ursula, to become human and have the chance to win the love of Prince Eric, who she recently saved from a terrible storm. With her friends, Scuttle, Sebastien and Flounder, Ariel must fulfill her bargain with Ursula, but things do not always go as planned.

With music by Alan Menken, book by Doug Wright and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, the musical is an enchanting look at the sacrifices we all make for love and acceptance.

Christine Boehm directs a cast of young actors ages 11 to 18 through an absolutely divine production. From the shimmering costumes to the seaworthy set accented with huge pieces of coral, to the fantastic lighting and special effects, every scene is perfectly executed.

The big ensemble numbers, “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” showcase the incredible choreography by Courtney Braun.

Courtney Sullivan is lovely in the title role, effectively portraying a girl who is torn between obeying her father and following her dreams. And just wait until you hear her sing! Sullivan’s rendition of “Part of Your World” during last Saturday’s performance was mesmerizing.

Speaking of singing, the very handsome Hunter Pszybylski brings a whole new dimension to Prince Eric with his amazing solos, “Her Voice” and “One Step Closer,” and captures the hearts of the audience from the get go.

Supporting characters are also given the opportunity to shine. Raquel Sciacca is just adorable as Flounder, a role she shares with Gabby Blum, and Ari Spiegel is terrific as the crabby crustacean Sebastian who is tasked with keeping an eye on Ariel. Hailey Elberg as Scuttle the Seagull also deserves accolades for her number “Human Stuff” — squawk!

However, it is Erika Hinson as the meanie Ursula who steals the show. Her rendition of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” during last Saturday’s show brought the house down.

Take it from someone who has reviewed a lot of plays — make SPAC’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.” a part of your world. Running time is 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Booster seats are available. Stay after to meet Princess Ariel and Prince Eric in the lobby for photographs.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.” through April 28 with special spring break performances from April 22 to 26 at 1 p.m.

Up next, catch one of only seven performances of “Les Miserables” Teen Edition from May 18 to June 2 and a summer production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” from July 13 to Aug. 28. All seats are $18. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Photos by Courtney Braun

*This article has been revised to correct the name of the actress who played the role of Flounder during the March 16 performance. We regret the error.

By Melissa Arnold

Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why do children die? Is there a God, and does He really answer prayers? Plenty of us grapple with those questions from time to time, and the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts has tracked down the Big Man Himself to get some answers in the one-act comedy, “An Act of God.” The show opened last Saturday.

The 90-minute play is a stage adaptation of “The Last Testament: A Memoir,” a satirical book written by “God,” aka David Javerbaum. Javerbaum has won more than a dozen Emmy Awards over the course of his comedy career, most of them earned as the head writer for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” He’s also the voice behind the snarky Twitter account @TheTweetOfGod, which has amassed 5.6 million followers  – no pun intended. 

“An Act of God” isn’t your typical Broadway show with a neatly packaged storyline. Instead, it’s meant to treat audiences to a live and in-person encounter with God (Evan Donnellan), who’s not exactly the embodiment of divine goodness. In fact, God is fed up with the way He has been misrepresented by organized religions and has come to Broadway to set the record straight. He’s even got a new and improved set of commandments to share, among them “Thou shalt not tell others whom to fornicate.”

Donnellan oozes charisma and command as God, who is at once charming and narcissistic. His jokes are shocking and laugh-out-loud funny, but Donnellan creates striking dissonance during his character’s pessimistic rants and self-absorbed navel gazing. He also deserves serious kudos for the amount of preparation involved for this show – the majority is a monologue.

Supporting God’s appearance are his faithful archangels, Gabriel (Scott Hofer) and Michael (Jordan Hue). Hofer’s Gabriel is obedient but goofy, adding his own comedic touches as the show’s Bible reader and peanut gallery. In contrast, Michael is often sullen as he wanders through the crowd, asking God those tough questions and seeming unsatisfied with His answers. The trio has great chemistry, and watching God try to keep the two of them in line is a lot of fun.

It’s obvious that director Christine Boehm and the cast have taken some liberties with the original script, but that’s a good thing. Early in the show, they make fun of their own decor – it seems they’ve decided to leave much of the set for the children’s theater production of “Aladdin Jr.” in place, since the shows run concurrently until Feb. 24. They also reference the ticket prices, Smithtown and Evan Donnellan’s looks and personality, as well as the original Broadway production’s lead, well-loved “Big Bang Theory” star Jim Parsons. 

Be prepared, God is always watching – He’ll make a point of drawing attention to and potentially embarrassing random audience members during the show. Don’t take it personally.

The bottom line is that while the cast is very talented and the special effects are cool, this show is simply not for everyone. The script aims for satire but often either misses the mark or drifts into territory that’s just offensive. 

Those with deeply rooted religious beliefs might want to give this one a pass, unless you can handle 90 minutes of unapologetic cynicism and crude blasphemy. But if you keep an open mind and a sense of (twisted) humor, you might feel inspired by the show’s overarching message that you should believe in yourself. Or you might feel nothing at all. Your mileage may vary.

See “An Act of God” through March 3 at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown. Tickets are $38 adults, $34 seniors, $25 students. Contains strong language, references to drugs and strong sexual content throughout. For tickets and info, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org. 

All photos by Courtney Braun

By Heidi Sutton

The holiday season has arrived at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, and while adults can enjoy a performance of “White Christmas,” younger audiences can go see Ken Ludwig’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The adorable show runs through Dec. 30.

Directed by Christine Boehm, the play opens on a snowy Christmas Eve with Uncle Brierly (Tom Catt) reading Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to the audience. He gets as far as, “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse” only to be interrupted by Amos the mouse (Jae Hughes) who is in fact stirring, cookie dough that is, to make cookies for Santa in hopes that he’ll show up this year.

Turns out that Amos and his best human friend Emily (Lorelai Mucciolo) were left off the Naughty or Nice list last year by Santa and didn’t receive any presents.

As they lament over their misfortune, an elf named Calliope (Lisa Naso) arrives to investigate. Seems a lot of children were left off the list last year, and Calliope enlists the help of Emily and Amos to prevent this from happening again. With only a few hours left until Christmas Day, the three set off on an airplane to the North Pole on a quest to find this year’s Naughty and Nice list and to save Christmas. When they arrive at Santa’s workshop, they discover that a former elf, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Catt), with the help of his sidekick Mulch (Anthony Panarello), sold the children’s Christmas list to retailers last year and plans to do it again this year. Can they be stopped in time?

Hilarity ensues with a chase scene through the audience, a surprise appearance from Amos’ brother (the incredible Hughes in a dual role), an exciting sword fight, a special visit by Santa and even a little snow in the theater at the end with the underlying message to make life an adventure.

With a running time of approximately one hour with a 15-minute intermission, this action-packed family-friendly show is the perfect first introduction to live theater. Booster seats are available. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for a holiday photo.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present Ken Ludwig’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” through Dec. 30 followed by Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” from Jan. 12 to Feb. 24. All seats are $15. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org

From left, Jacqueline Hughes, Dennis Creighton and Lorelai Mucciolo in the opening scene of ‘Fun Home’

By Heidi Sutton

When “Fun Home” opened Off-Broadway at the Public Theater in September 2013, it was so popular its run was extended several times. When the production closed on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre in 2016 after an 18-month run, it had already made an indelible impression on the world, winning five Tonys, including Best Musical.

Now, making its Long Island premiere, the award-winning musical has taken up residence at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts through Oct. 20.

‘I Want to Play Airplane’
Loreilai Mucciolo and Dennis Creighton in scene from ‘Fun Home’

Based on the 2006 best-selling graphic memoir “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, the show, with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, features Alison at three stages of life: as a 10-year-old child (a shared role played by Lorelai Mucciolo on opening night/Gabby Blum); a college student at Oberlin (Lisa Naso); and as a 43-year-old (Jacqueline Hughes). The latter Alison narrates the show as she attempts to add captions to her cartoon panels.

Told through flashbacks, Alison shares memories of growing up in a dysfunctional home in a small town in Pennsylvania with her two brothers, Christian (Dylan O’Leary/Jonathan Setzer) and John (Kieran Brown/Brayden E. Bratti). Both of her parents, Helen (Stephanie Moreau) and Bruce (Dennis Creighton) are teachers and her father is also a mortician, running the Bechdel Funeral Home (the children called it the “Fun Home” for short). As the years pass, Alison discovers her own sexuality and the secret life of her closeted gay father. As an adult, she struggles to unlock the mysteries surrounding his tragic death three months after she comes out (“I had no way of knowing that my beginning was your end.”) It is as intimate as storytelling gets with a poignancy and vulnerability that is raw and emotional.

The three Alison’s, from left, Lisa Naso, Loreilai Mucciolo and Jacqueline Hughes in the finale ‘Flying Away’

Accompanied by a seven-member band led by Melissa Coyle, the songs are the heart of the show. All of the numbers, including Mucciolo’s beautiful rendition of “Ring of Keys,” the three children’s Jackson 5 inspired “Come to the Fun Home,” the hilarious “Changing My Major (to sex with Joan)” by Naso, the soulful “Days and Days” by Moreau, the moving “Telephone Wire” by Hughes and the heartbreaking “Edges of the World” by Creighton, are perfectly executed.

Director Kenneth J. Washington has assembled a talented team of the utmost caliber to produce a show that is exemplary. From the actors to the musicians to the choreographer to the set and costume designers, their hard work and dedication has resulted in an incredible evening of live theater and a well-deserved standing ovation on opening night.

Enter “Fun Home” with an open mind and experience the magic of this musical production. You’ll want to see it again and again.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown closes out its 2017-18 season with “Fun Home” through Oct. 20. Running time is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. For mature audiences. Tickets are $38 adults, $34 seniors, $25 students. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Photos by Courtney Braun/Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts

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.

By Heidi Sutton

If your children have a sweet tooth and love live theater, why not head over to Smithtown and treat them to a scrumptious production of “Willy Wonka Jr.”? The Kids Performing for Kids show is currently in production at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts through June 24, and offers the perfect opportunity for young actors to hone their craft.

Directed by Christine Boehm, the play follows the original story closely, with all the wonderful music and unique characters (minus Slugworth) from the 1971 classic that we have come to love along with a few nods to the 2005 film (think nutty squirrels).

Charlie finds the last golden ticket.

Based on the 1964 novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl, the show stars Willy Wonka (Alex Mahr), the famous candy man who has not been seen or heard from since he closed his factory to the public years ago, even though Wonka sweets are still being produced. Now he reappears to stage a contest by hiding golden tickets in five of his chocolate bars. Whoever finds a golden ticket will receive a free tour of the Wonka factory along with a lifetime supply of chocolate. But Wonka has an ulterior motive. He would like to retire and is looking for a child to take over his candy empire.

As each golden ticket is found, the audience is introduced to the winner — Augustus Gloop (Dylan O’Leary), Veruca Salt (Cassidy Torns), Violet Beauregarde (Erika Hinson) and Mike Teavee (Michael Puglisi) in one of the funniest scenes in the show, revealing all their little quirks, nasty habits and bad manners as their overindulging parents cringe.

When Charlie Bucket (Olivia Cox), a poor young boy from a loving family, finds the last ticket, he picks his Grandpa Joe (Logan O’Leary) to accompany him on the tour. As the afternoon progresses, each child misbehaves in the factory and is led away by the Oompa Loompas until only Charlie is left. Will he receive the keys to the factory or be punished for sampling the Fizzy Lifting Drinks?

The cast, ranging in age from 6 to 18, does an incredible job portraying the story and its overlying message to think positive, and the many numbers, especially “The Candy Man,” “Pure Imagination,” “Oompa Loompa” and “I Want It Now,” are executed beautifully. Costumes by Ronald Green III are top notch, from the green wigs on the Oompa Loompas to Willy Wonka’s top hat and coat. Designed by Mike Mucciolo, the dazzling set, complete with lollipops and candy mushrooms with “whipped cream,” are right out of Wonka’s pure imagination. Get your golden ticket today!

Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes. Candy and water will be sold during intermission and booster seats are available. Meet Willy Wonka, Charlie Bucket and Grandpa Joe in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs. An autograph page is conveniently located on the back of the program.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, located at 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present “Willy Wonka Jr.” through June 24. Children’s theater continues with “Pinkalicious The Musical” from July 14 to Aug. 19 and “Mary Poppins” from Sept. 15 to Oct. 28. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

All photos by Danielle Nigro