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CM Performing Arts Center

M.E. Junge (Ariel) sings “The World Above” in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar

This summer, families will have the opportunity to swim under the sea with Ariel and all her friends as The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre presents one of Disney’s most beloved classics, “The Little Mermaid.”

Gregg Sixt as King Triton in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Gregg Sixt as King Triton in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Ronnie Green as Scuttle in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Ronnie Green as Scuttle in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

The full-length musical, which opened last Saturday night at the CM Performing Arts Center, brings the ocean to life on the Oakdale stage and follows Ariel’s adventure to find true love — and her voice. The show delights children and adults with a dazzling production, special effects and unforgettable music.

Kristen Digilio and Patrick Grossman (who also serves as set designer and choreographer) skillfully direct a talented cast of more than 20 in this fun adaptation of the Danish fairytale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. Music is by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater from the 1989 animated film.

M.E. Junge is perfectly cast as Ariel the mermaid princess and shines in her solos, “The World Above,” “If Only (Ariel’s Lament),” and “Part of Your World.” Bobby Peterson is the romantic Prince Eric with standout vocals, and he is as handsome as can be. Kin-Zale Jackson perfectly plays Sebastian, Ariel’s lobster friend, Jamaican accent and all. His rendition of “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” brings down the house.

Kyle Petty (Chef Louis) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kyle Petty (Chef Louis) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

The wicked sea witch, Ursula, is played flawlessly by Erica Giglio-Pac, who commands the stage with her powerful voice and presence and is chilling during her performance of “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” Kyle Petty is hilarious as the French Chef Louis who chops and guts his way through “Les Poissons.” His chase after Sebastian through the castle draws the most laughs. Petty is a delight to watch and is on stage for too short a time.

The supporting cast does a wonderful job, with special mention to Flounder (Victoria Tiernan), Scuttle (Ronnie Green), the electric eels Flotsam (Matthew W. Surico) and Jetsam (Kevin Burns), King Triton (Gregg Sixt) and Grimsby (Andrew Murano).

Multiple sets are featured for both the above and underwater scenes with a ship, a castle, coral reef and lots of waves. Green’s costumes complement the set perfectly, with vibrant outfits, wigs (more than 40 are used during production) and tons of glitter. From Ursula’s dress, with six additional legs, to King Triton’s crown and trident, everything pulls together nicely. Lighting was designed by Allison Weinberger, with spotlighting neatly handled by Jacqueline Hughes and Marielle Greguski and the choreography was exceptional, especially during “One Step Closer,” in which Eric and Ariel dance the Waltz, and the tap dance number “Positoovity” with Scuttle and his seagull friends.

Erica Giglio-Pac (Ursula) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Erica Giglio-Pac (Ursula) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

This is a wonderfully family-friendly show and although the scenes with Ursula could be a little frightening for a younger child, the clever script — chock full of sea-themed puns, like “as long as you live under my reef, you will live by my rules” and “a squid pro quo” — as well as the singing, dancing and special effects make it all worthwhile.

As a special nod to the children in the audience, the crew turns on bubble machines during “Under the Sea“ from the sides of the theater and on stage, releasing, according to the program, 15 gallons of bubble juice during each show. Although the evening show starts at an earlier time of 7:30 p.m., it runs for two and a half hours with one 15-minute intermission, perhaps too long for the younger audience.

The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, will present Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” through July 9. Tickets range from $16 to $29, with VIP seats for $40.

The theater closes its 38th season with “West Side Story” from July 30 to Aug. 28. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.org.

From left, Matthew W. Surico as Flotsam, M.E. Junge as Ariel and Kevin Burns as Jetsam in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
From left, Matthew W. Surico as Flotsam, M.E. Junge as Ariel and Kevin Burns as Jetsam in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kin-Zale Jackson (Sebastian) and M.E. Junge (Ariel) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kin-Zale Jackson (Sebastian) and M.E. Junge (Ariel) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

Steve Cottonaro with some of the cast members in a scene from ‘Music Man.’ Photo by Lisa Schindlar

By Charles J. Morgan

The Noel S. Ruiz Theater at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale kicked off its 38th season with the opening of Meredith Willson’s famous hit “Music Man” on March 12. Matthew W. Surico directs a large talented cast to produce a wonderful evening of theater.

The story follows Harold Hill, a trigger-tongued, traveling salesman and con man who attempts to bilk the town of River City, Iowa, out of hundreds of dollars with his phony plan to raise and train a band even though he couldn’t tell a drum beat from a sugar beet. His pitch is that he uses a unique “Think System” — one does not have to know music; one has merely to “think” it.

The mayor and town council are on to him, but he dazzles them with rapid-fire sales talk. However, he is thwarted by his  falling in love with the town librarian, Marian Paroo. Here is where sides are taken: the pro-Hill and anti-Hill factions. The hilarious finale has Hill about to direct a brightly uniformed segment of the “band” that pounded out a cacophony that would make any listener cringe, to “Think! Men!” His skullduggery exposed the … well someone once wrote, “America is a happy-ending nation.”

Hill is played by Steve Cottonaro, an accomplished singer who matches his tenor with impressive dancing skills. With straw hat on a rakish angle he dominated the boards. His love is the fetchingly beautiful Shannon Cunningham, possessed of one of the most powerful soprano voices heard in a long time. Her singing had a plaintive dimension combined with strength that complemented Cottonaro’s tenor in the duets, especially in “There Was Love” in Act II.

Steve Cottonaro dances with some of the young cast members in a scene from ‘Music Man.’ Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Steve Cottonaro dances with some of the young cast members in a scene from ‘Music Man.’ Photo by Lisa Schindlar

Mayor Shinn was handled artfully by Jeff Pangburn. His malaprops were amazing, with his “… and I want not a poop out of you!” countered by his wife Eulalie’s “He means peep,” played in a nonstop comedic  role by Jodi Saladino.

Marian’s mother, the widow Paroo, was played by Rosemary Kurtz who, with a hint of Irish accent, embarked on this dramatic role with a sound-off rendition of “Piano Lesson. “

Then there was the School Board (Barber Shop Quartet) consisting of Ralph D’Ambrose, Carl Tese, Joseph Bebry and John DiGiorgio. Their close harmony was flawless and, as a group, they added a  flavor that was a gustatory delight. A group number in Acts I and II called “Pickalittle (Talk-a-Little)” had the gossipy ladies of the town sounding like a gaggle of poultry, musically, that is, and was neatly executed. What has become the signature number of the show, “Seventy-Six Trombones” with Hill and the boys and girls, was the highlight of the show.

Although the entire cast did a phenomenal job, special mention should be made of child virtuoso Jack Dowdell as Winthrop Paroo. Here is a lad of great theatrical promise.

The costumes, designed by Ronald R. Green III, were spot on and set designer Patrick Grossman produced a highly mobile series of well-constructed sets, including the inside of a moving passenger train as the Act I opener. Choreography was handled neatly by M.E. Junge.

Logically the music itself must receive a critique, all of it praiseworthy. CM/PAC’s music director Jeremy Kaplan has gathered an ensemble of no less than 15 first-rate musicians to form what had to be the equivalent of a Broadway pit band suffused with a totality of professionalism.

The Noel S. Ruiz Theater at the CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, will present “The Music Man” through April 10. Tickets range from $18 to $29. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.

Samantha Rosario with the cast of ‘In the Heights.’ Photo by Lisa Schindlar

By Charles J. Morgan

In the theater when the aesthetic  and technical coalesce, it engenders a happy marriage of entertainment; a delight to the audience. Such a meld was achieved at Oakdale’s CMPAC’s production of “In the Heights” that opened to a sold-out house on Jan. 16.

The “Heights” are Washington Heights in Manhattan and those who live there are Puerto Rican and/or Dominican. They are poverty stricken but struggle to make the most of it. There is plenty of Spanish spoken and sung,  but the language that carries the show along is English in the form of rap. This trigger-tongue  delivery in rhyming (and sometimes not rhyming) doublets with occasional tercets is handled in a talk-sing manner best by the lead Joseph Gonzalez with surprising articulation. These high-speed passages are long, yet his strong tenor delivered them handily. They may have been enunciated with the speed of an M-4 with the safety off, but each “bullet” was clearly on target.

Set design was by Jenn Hocker. She constructed a suggestion of the Heights; its stores, apartments, streets, laundry, fire escapes and an upstage center suggestion of the Manhattan Bridge … geographically incongruent but piercingly pertinent. Lighting was handled by Allison Weinberger with remarkable success, even down to a dance number done in the dark with flashlights.

Which brings us to choreographer M.E. Junge. A mainstay on the Main Stage, “ME” is a highly talented terpsichorean artist. In this show she affected a sometimes rapid, sometimes nuanced evolution on the boards, replete with the staccato, offbeat Latin rhythms to a masterful degree.

Overall direction was by Michael Mehmet who was confronted with the daunting task of creating individuation to a massive cast as well as blocking each group and individual actor. His long list of talents enabled him to come through handsomely.

Ariana Valdes and Joseph Gonzalez in a scene from ‘In the Heights.’ Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Ariana Valdes and Joseph Gonzalez in a scene from ‘In the Heights.’ Photo by Lisa Schindlar

A live eight-man pit band was headed by Anthony Brindisi with Laura Mitrache and Brindisi on keyboards, Patrick Lehosky on percussion, Brett Beiersdorfer on drums, Kevin Merkel on trumpet, Andrew Lenahan on reeds, John Snyder on bass and Conrad Scuza on trombone. This crew handled the complexities of the Latin rhythms most expertly. In the standard tempi of the “North American” songs they were great, but when it went “Caribbean” they were noteworthy.

Back on the boards. We have Leyland Patrick as Benny who with Gina Morgigno as Nina sing “Benny’s Dispatch” and “When You’re Home” with the whole company. In Act II they are back with “When the Sun Goes Down,” musical trifecta for them.

No review would be complete without mentioning the role of Daniela played to the hilt by Erica Giglio. Her enormous soprano, bursting with far-reaching range, brought down the house both with twin weapons of sarcastic spoken lines and dominant singing voice. One cannot neglect her talented dance abilities. She led the whole company in “Alabanza” and “Carnaval del Barrio” and shone in “No Me Diga” with Nina, Carla (Christina Martinez) and Vanessa (Samantha Rosario).

Kevin is a unique part. He is the aging paterfamilias and is gifted with a pleasing, plangent romantic tenor by Charlie Rivera. His “Inutil”  in Act I and “Atencion” in Act II were tributes to his voice capabilities. A whole page could be devoted to Ariana Valdes as Abuela. She is opera-trained and, with this background the powerful soprano in a solo number about a winning lottery ticket, brought a deserved standing ovation.

The Ensemble comprising Liza Aquilino, Savannah Beckford, Alex Esquivel, Kin-Zale Jackson, Matthew Kadam, Michelle LaBozzetta, Tori Lewis and Edward Martinez were the aesthetic armature of it all along with Luke Rosario as Sonny; Kyle Perry as Piragua Guy; Lori Beth Belkin as Camilla; and Paul Edme as Grafitti Pete. When the Playbill read “Company” this group filled the spot with expertise rarely seen in regional theater.

This effort actually was an example of what CMPAC is capable of theatrically. The amalgam of expert management and a high-grade talent puts this company in the foreground, downstage center, the house ringing with applause.

The CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, will present “In the Heights” through Feb. 7. Tickets range from $20 to $29. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.

Brodie Centauro as Scrooge in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’ at CMPAC. Photo by Lisa Schindlar

By Charles J. Morgan

Madison Square Garden’s “A Christmas Carol-The Musical” opened on Saturday, Nov. 21, at Oakdale’s CMPAC. That massive venue unveiled an equally massive cast with electronically fed music, and came up with a tightly executed rendition of that theatrical classic.

Brodie Centauro as Scrooge in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’ at CMPAC. Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Brodie Centauro as Scrooge in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’ at CMPAC. Photo by Lisa Schindlar

Your scribe takes pleasure in discussing Ronald Green III’s costumes. It may appear odd that costume design would appear first in a review, but your scribe was so impressed with Green’s effort, producing as it did a totally authentic representation of Dickensian, mid-Victorian dress.

Green’s attention to detail was seen even in a short vignette of a properly bewigged judge and a uniformed London bobby in Act II. All the cast members were costumed in varying versions of mid-19th century attire; some painstaking research was done here. Authenticity was called for and Green delivered.

The leading role of the penurious, miserly, arrogant opinionated, skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge was played stingingly by Brodie Centuro, no stranger to CMPAC. He accurately depicted the penny-pinching, negative nature of Scrooge, and with skillful “range-ability” revealed the lurking charity in the old codger with notable skill. This is what the craft of acting is all about: to exhibit sincere, believable change.

The principal ghost is that of Scrooge’s old partner Jacob Marley, laden with chains, each link made of bills from his accounting desk, and had Don Dowdell torturing the soul of Scrooge very effectively.

He was followed by three ghosts: Christmas Past-Steve Cottonaro, Present-Kyle Petty and Yet-To-Be-Alison Carella. Cottonaro and Petty were outstanding with Cottonaro all over the boards and Petty in royal garb working with dancers. Carella had the somber, deadly part of pointing to gravestones with guess-who’s name on one of them. Carella did it forcefully and with impact.

Mark Slomowitz played Mr. Fezziwig, the contra-Scrooge. Along with his wife, played by Kaylyn Lewis, he held an annual ball full of merry music and dancing. Theirs was the life-affirming attitude. Slomowitz was his usual adaptable self, as when he played Luther Bilis in South Pacific. Lewis is possessed of a powerful singing voice that reached all the way to Sayille … at least.

The loyal, hard-working Cratchit family had its head, Bob, played by Bobby Peterson, Katie Hoffman as his wife and Skylar Greene, Daniel Belyansky and Jack Dowdell (the lovable Tiny Tim) as his children. This grouping was the very opposite of Scrooge. They even toast him at Christmas dinner.

Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, is handled neatly by Joseph Bebry. He was the link between Scrooge’s loneliness and the family. And he brought it off with palpable accuracy.

The ghosts parade Scrooge through his life. At 8, he’s played by Jack Dowdell; at 12 by Daniel Belyansky and at by 18 Matthew W. Surico. This trio managed to sort out just the right tempo to reveal the evolution of Scrooge from promising young businessman to scolding curmudgeon … not an easy acting-directing task. A lot of children and bit players, with many doubling, rounded out the cast.

Notable was Dana Abruzzo as “Blind Hag,” who delivered a Teresias-like prophecy to Scrooge, biting in its impact.

Choreography was done by Kristen Digilio. She moved the characters around the crowded boards with precision and grace. Set design was by the unstoppable Patrick Grossman, who brought out the 19th Century outdoor setting with the same accuracy that showed his talents with non-naturalistic interiors. Overall direction was by Terry Brennan. Her directorial challenge here was with the enormous size of the cast, yet Brennan surmounted it handily.

Outstanding musical numbers included “Link By Link” by Marly, Scrooge and Ghosts. It was a moral, cautionary tale delivered eerily by the two with ethereal accompaniment. Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim’s duo, “You Mean More to Me,” was a tender ballad with understated pathos. “A Place Called Home” by Scrooge at 18 and in old age with Emily, played by Ashley Beard, was a sort of hymn to unrequited love. The lively, merry Mr. Fezziwig’s Annual Ball was a welcome merry romp.

This production was far from an “annual” seasonal show. It represented the essence of technical and aesthetic prowess only to be expected from the folks at CMPAC.

CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, will present Madison Square Garden’s “A Christmas Carol” through Dec. 29. Tickets range from $20 to $29. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.

Matthew W. Surico stars in a sensory-friendly performance of ‘My Christmas Elf: The Musical’ on Dec. 5 at 11 a.m. Photo by Kristen Digilio

By Melissa Arnold

For a child with special needs, the world can be overwhelming.

The things many of us take for granted — a trip to the mall, stopping for a coffee or going to a show — can be frightening and confusing to children with sensory processing issues.

A sensory processing disorder affects how someone experiences their surroundings. Their senses might be too dull, or heightened to the point of discomfort. The disorder, which impacts at least 1 in 20 children, according to the SPD Foundation, can vary widely from person to person. The foundation also reported that 80 percent of people with autism experience symptoms of SPD, though not all people with SPD are autistic.

One thing is shared among them, however: SPD can make life’s little pleasures nearly impossible, not just for those with the disorder, but for their families and caregivers as well.

This year, the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale has been hard at work adapting their children’s theater program for audiences with sensory difficulties.

Office manager Terry Brennan was inspired to bring sensory-friendly shows to the theater after reading about it in a magazine. Broadway theaters occasionally offer an adapted show, but CM is the only theater to do so regularly on Long Island.

Brennan, the former owner of the now-closed Airport Playhouse in Bohemia, is sympathetic to families and children with SPD. “It’s hard when you see a child in the theater who is extra vocal or likes to move around. It can be challenging for their families,” she explained. “We don’t want them to feel embarrassed. I thought, ‘Why don’t we do something, even if it’s just one performance per production?’”

Using brief instructional videos as a guide, Brennan educated the actors and theater staff on what makes sensory-friendly theater work.

“First, as people come in the door, there are sensory-friendly toys in the lobby, like Koosh balls and blocks, that the kids can play with while waiting for the show to start. They can bring the toys into the theater with them,” she said. “Families may also use cellphones or tablets with children who need distraction throughout the show, as long as the volume is turned off.

The key to an adapted production is to tone down elements of a show that may be disturbing to viewers with SPD. The house lights, which are normally off during a show, are kept on to prevent sudden darkness. Strobe lights, fog machines and most other special effects are not used. In addition, there is typically no intermission, as it can disrupt focus and peace for people with SPD. Most shows will run about one hour straight through.

The volume for sensory-friendly shows is lowered, and actors tend to avoid physical interaction with audience members unless directly approached first.

Beyond that, audience members are welcome to sing, dance, yell and move around to their hearts’ content. They can also meet cast members after the show if they’d like.

The theater held its first sensory-friendly performance, “Pinocchio Jr.,” in the summer of last year. At the time, there were just three families in the audience. But Brennan wasn’t measuring success by audience size, she said.

“To me, success is when a parent comes up to me and says, ‘Thank you, I didn’t feel like I had to leave or feel embarrassed at all.’ She could let her son stay and enjoy. It was wonderful.”

Today, sensory-friendly shows at the theater can bring in audiences of more than 100 people.

Kristen Digilio, director of the children’s shows and an occasional cast member, was working in the light booth during “Pinocchio.”

“Getting to see the kids waving, clapping and getting vocally involved was really exciting,” she recalled. “It was easy for them to get up and dance. We encourage audience participation in all of our shows, and this was special.”

She added that learning the basics of sensory-friendly theater was a breeze for the actors.

“It was really cool to learn about, because as a junior production, we were working with young actors,” she said. “There was even an actor in that show (‘Pinocchio’) with autism, so he was pumped for the changes and was really able to share why it made a difference.”

The theater is currently celebrating 38 years of children’s productions, and they plan to hold one sensory-friendly show per production from now on.

There are two upcoming sensory-friendly shows this season, including “My Christmas Elf” on Dec. 5 at 11 a.m. and “The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley” on Feb. 27, 2016, at 11 a.m.

Sensory-friendly shows for “Schoolhouse Rock,” “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” and “James and the Giant Peach,” in the spring and summer of 2016, will also be held. Dates for those shows will be announced soon.

The CM Performing Arts Center is located at 931 Montauk Highway in Oakdale. Admission for all children’s performances is $12. To learn more about the theater and its sensory-friendly productions, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.

The cast of ‘The Addams Family,’ from left, Terry Brennan, Daniel Belyansky, Jon Rivera, Steven Cottonaro, Gina Morgigno, Denise Antonelle and Marc Slomowitz. Photo by Timothy Pappalardo

By Charles J. Morgan

Deep, dark, dank and dusty were the living quarters of the cartoon-famous Addams Family immortalized by Charles Addams and carried forward by the long-running TV series. Just in time for Halloween, Oakdale’s CM Performing Arts Center’s Noel S. Ruiz Theatre has produced it in all its necropolitic splendor and funereal solemnity. And by the way … it’s a musical.

Given CMPAC’s penchant for grand and opulent staging, it was phenomenally successful. The ubiquitous and talented Patrick Grossman designed the set with its precise and swift and sure mobility. With keenly executed lighting plot by Carl Tese, the show’s dark and dreary set was suffused with appropriate ominous light including graveyard mist.

Grossman also directed and his skills with blocking and interpretation were palpably patent. CMPAC’s massive venue poses a problem for the making and breaking of character compositions in a coherent, logical (real?) manner. Theatrically, Grossman succeeded mightily in this. When it came to interpretation he did a credible job inculcating “spookiness.”

Jon Rivera, in the role of Gomez, has the dominant role. His voice, somewhere between a tenor robusto and dramatico, carried him emotionally through all his numbers such as “Wednesday’s Growing Up” and “Gomez’s What If” in Act I. He focuses emotion and sturdiness with masterful acumen.

Denise Antonelle, as his wife Morticia, has a firm soprano coupled with a voluptuous stage presence and a projection ability commingled with exceptional clarity. Their daughter Wednesday was played by Gina Morgigno. Morgigno was ingénue-like in her movements and that plangent voice in Act I’s “Pulled” and “Crazier Than You” in Act II ranked her as a first rate actress-singer. Fifth-grader Daniel Belyansky, who plays Pugsley, is wonderful in his solo number in Act I, a take-off on Gomez’s number “What If.” He has a strong developing voice, and this showcase number may mark him for much to come.

With a massive blonde wig, Terry Brennan plays Grandma, launching her scratchy, boisterious voice in earthy aphorisms, brooking no opposition from anyone. Marc Slomowitz as Uncle Fester had a sort of a parallel role. He had mobility, especially facial, and was hilarious in “Fester’s Manifesto” in Act I and “The Moon and Me” in Act II.

Then there was Lurch the butler. It was a silent role except for his gurgling and growling, the timing of which evoked some loud laughter, especially from your scribe. Steve Cottonaro handled this role with mimetic menace.

As usual, Matthew W. Surico led a live pit band with his expected genius. There was somewhat of a preponderance of Latin rhythms ranging from tango to 6/8 time Bossa Nova, even a waltz. The musical talents of this 12-piece outfit rose to resplendent heights. Choreography was in the hands of the skilled M.E. Junge who also played a small part as one of the Ancestors while costumes were neatly handled by Ronald Green III.

If the audience’s whooping and howling are any indication of the success of this production, it must be a smash hit. Your scribe more tacitly agrees.

The CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale will present “The Addams Family” through Nov. 8. Tickets range from $20 to $29. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.

Emily Dowdell and Bobby Peterson star in ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ Photo by Tim Pappalardo

By Charles J. Morgan

Hold on to your wallets! The famous bank robbers Bonnie & Clyde are back and they are wreaking havoc at the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale. The play follows the original plot, with the two of them featured as folk heroes on one level and as public evildoers on another. This twofold approach is what drives CM/PAC’s startling production of this folk opera based on the book by Ivan Menchell, featuring Don Black’s lyrics and Frank Wildhorn’s music.

Bonnie and Clyde do their murderous thieving throughout the southwest in the Depression-torn early thirties. They are characters who awaken in the concupiscible hearts of the non-criminal majority as two who have escaped the dust bowl, the breadlines and outright poverty by doing one thing: taking.

There is balance however. In three different segments, there is a revival meeting in which a fiery evangelical preacher, in maximum decibel, proclaims the Gospel. There is a very slight element of excess here, but what better way for the authors to show that Bonnie and Clyde are criminal outcasts. These revival scenes are among the best in the show. There is even an element of choreography in them.

Bonnie is seen as a celebrity wannabe who even writes poetry. It is doggerel. Yet even as they were on their murdering spree, making headlines, some local newspapers actually published it.

Clyde is a semi-literate, dirt-poor son of a share cropper who shirks all kinds of gainful employment in favor of “taking,” as does his sycophantic brother “Buck.”

Their criminal career was neatly depicted by the set. The indefatigable Patrick Grossman is the set designer and director. Wearing the former hat, he had a system of flats and slats that went from stage right to stage left and were used vertically, there being no need to do any shifting. A vignette of Bonnie and Clyde in bed, or in the act of robbing a bank, as well as the revival scenes would be seen as one or more of the slatted flats were opened and closed — most effective. He also devised a system of projecting flashing contemporary newspapers. Wearing the other hat, Grossman was confronted with the always pressing problem of interpretation and blocking. His talents in this field extend to excellence. He made them real, even down to a consistently applied southwestern accent.

The multi-talented Emily Dowdell played Bonnie Parker, coupling her powerful soprano with coyness, assertion, self-pity and an outcry for love admirably. Clyde Barrow was played by Bobby Peterson with a far-ranging tenor and believable toughness both in solo and duet.

Briggs Houston played the role of Marvin “Buck” Barrow, Clyde’s brother. His voice was a middle-register tenor. His somewhat lumbering attitude and his death scene were done to perfection. Shannon Cunningham was Blanche, Buck’s wife. She had great stage presence coupled with a caressable soprano. She suffused the loyal wife role with high morality for Buck. Her performance was impressively consistent.

Then there was Carl Tese as the revivalist preacher. Talk about power! He shook the rafters with the Decalogue, the Beatitudes and John 3 with the range of heavy artillery. ME Junge was Trish, a small part for the leading choreographer; but she is a trouper.

In the musical numbers, the preacher and “congregation” performed “God’s Arms Are Always Open” with, well, dynamism, and Bonnie and Clyde’s duet in “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad” told it all.

Musical direction was handled, as usual, by Matthew W. Surico on piano and a solid pit band that featured Kevin Merkel on synthesizer, Christian Wern on bass, Michael Villarico on drums, Diana Fuller and Lauren Carroll on guitars, John Dumlao on violin and Eric Albinder and Andrew Lenahan on woodwinds. It was the pit band effect Surico always achieves that gave body to the whole show. Kudos to the entire cast for a job well done!

The CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale will present “Bonnie & Clyde” through Sept. 27. Tickets range from $20 to $29. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.

Kristen Digilio and Jon Rivera in a scene from ‘South Pacific.’ Photo by Lisa Schindlar

By Charles J. Morgan

The antics and other distracting, diversionary activities stationed on a backwater island during World War II form the structure of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s great hit “South Pacific” which opened on Oakdale’s CM Performing Arts Center’s Noel S. Ruiz Theatre’s massive stage last Saturday.

Wonderfully directed by Ed Brennan, the story takes place during World War II, following the love story between a U.S. Navy nurse from Arkansas, Nellie, and French planter, Emile, a widower raising his two children. A second love story develops between Liat, a local girl living on the island of Bali Ha’i, and Lt. Joseph Cable, who is conflicted with the duty he owes to his country and the love he feels for Liat.

With book by Hammerstein and Josh Logan, it guaranteed a smash hit at CMPAC … and so it was with Kristen Digilio as Nurse Nellie Forbush and Jon Rivera as Emile de Becque.

Digilio showed extraordinary range in both acting, singing and even dancing. Rivera was a baritone with some depth into basso and a lyricism especially in “Some Enchanted Evening,” the lyrical note on the last word alone culminating the depth of lower register of the baritone for a truly enhanced, musically aesthetic experience.

Digilio’s “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” was a rollicking ensemble with a bevy of swimsuit-clad Navy nurses. She revealed a range of talent reaching from this signature number as well as the slapstick “Honey Bun,” to a totally plaintive solo in “Some Enchanted Evening.”

In the sassy, wise-guy role of Seaman Luther Billis, Marc Slomowitz leads the Seabees in “There is Nothing Like a Dame” which unlocks the rather libidinous leitmotif of the show. Brodie Centauro plays Lt. Cable. He is in love with Liat, a Polynesian girl played by Kate Apostolico. He sings “Younger Than Springtime” in a melodious tenor with Apostolico in his arms, coupled with a handsome stage presence and a powerful tenor.

Then there is the inevitable “Bloody Mary,” handled expertly by Angela Garofalo. A derivative of Little Buttercup in “H.M.S. Pinafore” she is earthy, but when she sings “Bali Ha’i” and “Happy Talk” one simply wants to give her a hug. The island’s commanding officer, Capt. Brackett, is played by Michael Sherwood; Comdr. Harbison is played by John J. Steele Jr. These two non-singing roles lend a fairly good sense of realism to the show.

Choreography is by the indomitable M.E. Junge. “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” and “Honey Bun” exhibited her best work. Music was under the baton of the indispensable Matthew W. Surico leading faultlessly a live 17-piece pit band with cleverly comic uses of dissonances in a well-rehearsed series of numbers.

Costume design fell to Ronald Green III, a veteran designer at CMPAC. His expertise in the native inhabitants’ costuming and the nurses’ swimsuits was faultless. The uniforms not so: Lt. Cable would have been written up if he actually appeared in a four-button open jacket, sunglasses hung out of pocket, hat on back of head, iniquitous boots and a leather flight jacket suitable for B-17 crews over Berlin. Only one sailor wore a regulation hat while the others wore what looked like the pope’s zucchetto; missing also were the U.S. Navy hat devices for Brackett and Harbison.

Anyway, the excellence of this production calls for maximum attendance by all who want top musical entertainment.

The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, will present “South Pacific” through Aug. 23. Tickets range from $20 to $29. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.

Kevin Burns and Katie Ferretti in a scene from ‘Mary Poppins’. Photo by William Sheehan

By Charles J. Morgan

Revivals in the theatah are of two kinds: the supercolossal musical smash and the ones that high school groups can do handily. The latter is exemplified by “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” the former by “Mary Poppins,” which opened in the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center’s massive venue in Oakdale on Saturday.

This performance was actually a paean to Pat Grossman, that factotum of the theater who directed it and did set design. His interpretive skills were as usual quite evident, but his ability at managing a highly mobile Victorian interior was noteworthy. Grossman’s minutely trained crew gave us a living room, kitchen, Mansard roof and upstairs bedroom all with the flavor of London in the era of the queen who gave her name to the age.

Choreography was by the indefatigable M.E. Junge. Her work in the tap number “A Step in Time” in Act II was outstanding; and in Act I’s “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” was the signature hit in the entire show. One minuscule comment: Your scribe cannot understand why she continues to execute highly complex dance numbers in semi-darkness. Music was handled by Matthew W. Surico with his exemplary accuracy with electronic feed music.

Katie Ferretti held the title role. Her far-ranging soprano and excitingly beautiful stage presence were truly riveting, especially in “Supercali…” and “A Spoonful of Sugar.” Bert the Chimney Sweep was played by Kevin Burns. His mid-range tenor was put to great use as was his obvious acting ability. He had an engaging stage personality that coalesced neatly with Ferretti.

The cook was played by Linda Pentz. Her ability with tough, no-nonsense females was a touch of reality in this magical realism production. Speaking of reality, there was the infrastructure roles of the Banks family. Carl Tese was George, the paterfamilias, perfectly authoritatively Victorian, demanding Order and Precision.

Aloof from any “sentimentality,” he came across most flexibly in a demanding role involving emotional changes. Amy Dowdell was his wife Winifred. Her Mrs. Banks was a plaintive, highly melodic revelation of her role as a Victorian wife. The children, Jane and Michael, were played by Katherine LaFountain and Austin Levine. These two kids were on the boards for long stretches without exits. Their ability  to concentrate as well as to sing and dance was demonstrably professional. A double role as Ms. Andrew who replaces Mary Poppins briefly as the Nanny and Mrs. Corrie, a street vendor, was handled by Pamela Parker. The power of her voice in “Brimstone and Treacle” revealed an operatic soprano that caused the light bars to waver.

This production was a true example of how the concatenation of scene changes, done with palpable dexterity, the exactitude of Junge, the eye of Grossman for interpretation prescinding from his skill as set designer, the interfacing of all of the above with that aesthetic dimension of acting,  dancing and singing created a ringing smash hit — a tribute to what the CMPAC is capable of — an exciting evening of musical theater.

The CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, will present “Mary Poppins” through July 19. Tickets range from $20 to $29. For more information, call 218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.

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From left, Patrick Grossman, Andrew Smith, Joseph Morris, Brodie Centauro, Sean Burbige and Van Whitaker. Photo by William Sheehan

By Charles J. Morgan

Delving once again into the esoteric vocabulary of the theatah, your scribe finds the word “property.” It does not refer to real estate. It means a script. A dramatist finishes writing one, finds a good agent, then some backers, then a director and cast, and it’s on with the show! The property “The Full Monty” has fallen into the hands of the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale and opened last Saturday, May 9.

Now a property is quite different from the actual performance. The director, in this case, the very able Kristen Digilio, has to bring believable characterizations, and block them round the boards in a way that is consonant with the characterizations. This staves off the subtle assaults of that monster, Stasis, the spoiler of all action. Digilio effects this with undeniable skill.

Your scribe is a critic, not a press agent. Therefore, he must take under his responsibility all, repeat all, aspects of theater he sees while assigned to review one particular play. Your scribe will take on one for outstanding criticism. It’s the property and only the property. One proem however, your scribe was not the model for Augustus St. Gaudens’ statue The Pilgrim. Your scribe is not the one who is haunted by the fear that somewhere, somebody is smiling. Therefore, he is constrained to label the property filthy, auto-erotic, erotic, lascivious, puerile, skatological and concerned with one thing and one thing only: male genitals seen and unseen. The audience’s deeply pejorative reaction was force-fed to your scribe. The non-stop screaming, hooting, boisterous demands for more,the feigned laughter; all of it came from apparently mature women.

But then there was some acting. Brodie Centauro as Jerry has a smooth tenor voice, revealing an aura of pliant lyricism in the upper register. He is the idea man who recruits five co-workers to form a male stripper group along the lines of the famous Chippendales. All this because he found out that his wife and some of his friends’ wives had, on “girls night out,” gone to see the Chippendales. The plot line for the rest of the show is “will they or won’t they go the full monty?”

Sean Burbige, Joseph Morris, Andrew Smith, Van Whitaker and Patrick Grossman complete the “sex-tet.” Choreography was also by Digilio, another tribute to her talents. A cameo was offered by Linda Pentz as a smoking tough-old-broad, beautifully executed. It even reminded your scribe of Sophie Tucker. Brava Linda.

In Act I, “It’s a Woman’s World,” despite scurrilous lyrics, was rendered by Jessica Ader-Ferretti, Heather Van Velsor, Bidalia Albanese, and Emily Dowdell (who also doubled as Molly MacGregor quite efficiently). This was “balanced” by a monument to flaccid machismo by Centauro and Burbige. Their harmonizing? Great. In Act II, the finale, “Let it Go,” done with great power, told it all.

As usual, Matthew Surico led a phenomenal 12-piece outft, making good use of trombonists Chris Zatorski and Chris Parrella as well as percussionist Jared Shaw.

A bit of fairness: Aristophanes in his “Thesmophoriazusae” and “Lysistrata” was raunchy. Martial and Juvenal titillated Roman crowds. Tennessee Williams in “A Streetcar Named Desire” had Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy going at it. So?

The CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale will present “The Full Monty” through May 27. Tickets range from $20 to $29. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.

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