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Deven Kolluri

The cast of ‘Man of La Mancha’

By Rita J. Egan

The cast and crew of John W. Engeman Theater’s “Man of La Mancha” have set off on a quest resulting in a production worthy of Broadway. The musical opened at the theater Sept. 13, and on the night of the press opening, Sept. 15, theatergoers filled the venue looking forward to the reincarnation of the perennial favorite.

“Man of La Mancha” debuted off-Broadway in 1965 and went on to win five Tony Awards. Written by Dale Wasserman with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, the Northport version is masterfully directed by Peter Flynn.

Taking its cue from literature, the musical takes the story of “Don Quixote” written by Miguel de Cervantes and sets it to music. In the play, which takes place during the Spanish Inquisition at the end of the 16th century, Cervantes is in prison waiting for his trial. Upon his arrival, his fellow prisoners try to take his belongings, including the manuscript of the story he is writing. 

Richard Todd Adams (Don Quixote) and Carlos Lopez (Sancho Panza) in a scene from ‘Man of La Mancha’

Following the tradition of prisoners putting newcomers on trial, Cervantes is charged with being an idealist, and a mock trial begins. The writer, in an attempt to defend himself, has his fellow prisoners play the characters in “Don Quixote.” Through their re-creations, audience members meet Alonso Quijano, the aging man who believes he’s a knight-errant and calls himself Don Quixote. Quijano and his squire Sancho Panza embark on a journey where they meet an array of characters including Aldonza the bitter serving woman and prostitute at an inn who Quixote envisions as a virtuous lady.

Michael Bottari and Ronald Case have gone above and beyond with the detailed set design of a dungeon on the Engeman stage, and Kurt Alger has done an excellent job with costumes, especially with the Knight of Mirrors’ gear in the second act. Choreographed by Devanand Janki, the musical contains high-energy dance numbers that complement the stellar production. The actors and the orchestra, under the musical direction of Julianne Merrill, are in top form during every number.

Richard Todd Adams as Miguel de Cervantes/Don Quixote is charismatic as the main character who takes his fellow prisoners on a fictional journey. His deep, rich vocals are perfect on every song. When he sings “Dulcinea,” upon meeting Aldonza and sees her as a pure, good woman, his voice has the potential to make many swoon. He also stops the show with his delivery of “The Impossible Dream.”

Janet Dacal plays Aldonza with the right amount of sullenness but yet perfectly portrays the character’s softening later in the musical. Her singing, especially her solos, “What Does He Want of Me?” and “Aldonza” are filled with power and emotion.

Carlos Lopez is a delightful and charming Sancho Panza and lends a good amount of comedic relief including during his solos “I Really Like Him” and “A Little Gossip.”

Janet Dacal (Aldonza) and Carlos Lopez (Sancho Panza)

All of the ensemble members do a fantastic job, and each has time to shine in the spotlight. Morgan Anita Wood, Garfield Hammonds and Phyllis March are wonderful during “I’m Only Thinking of Him.” Deven Kolluri does a great job as the cynical Duke and Dr. Carrasco. In the prison scenes where he plays Duke, he portrays the character’s disdain for Cervantes perfectly. His vocals are strong when he joins Wood, Hammonds and March on “We’re Only Thinking of Him.”

Joshua Wayne Oxyer, Cody Mowrey, Juan Luis Espinal, Enrique Cruz DeJesus and Diego Gonzalez as the Muleteers sound fantastic together on the number “Little Bird, Little Bird.” Bruce Winant easily goes back and forth from the tough governor to the kind innkeeper, and Mowrey garners some laughs as the barber who tries to understand Quixote’s delusions. 

The story of “Don Quixote” and “Man of La Mancha” is more than a tale of a man gone mad battling a windmill he thinks is a giant. It’s about seeing the good in people and the world even when strife seems to prevail. Cervantes and Don Quixote look to escape the realities of life by searching for the good in all things and people, and their attitudes are contagious. It’s obvious the cast gets this message as they seamlessly go from conveying doubtfulness over their new dungeon mate to showing hope in the impossible dream by the end. For theater lovers on a quest for a musical that has it all, the Engeman’s “Man of La Mancha” is a dream.

The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, located at 250 Main St, Northport presents “Man of La Mancha” through Oct. 28. Running time is approximately 2.5 hours with a 15-minute intermission and tickets are $73; $78 for Saturday evening performances. Free valet parking is available. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

Liana Hunt as Emma Carew and Nathaniel Hackmann as Henry Jekyll in a scene from 'Jekyll & Hyde' at the Engeman Theater. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Victoria Espinoza

For theatergoers with one personality or more, the newest production at the John W. Engeman Theater has something for all. The Northport playhouse kicked off its seven-week run of “Jekyll and Hyde The Musical” this past weekend to a full house, and the multiple Tony-nominated production felt alive as ever on the Engeman stage.

Led by director Paul Stancato, who also serves as choreographer and has been at the helm of several other shows at the Engeman theater, the classic tale of Dr. Henry Jekyll and his doomed science experiment draws you in from the moment you meet the leading man.

The show starts with a stiff rejection, coming from the hospital board that refuses to support Jekyll’s experiments to understand why man is both good and evil and to separate the good from the evil. However, the doctor does not take defeat lying down and eventually decides to make himself the patient in the experiment. As the name of the show suggests, soon we have two leading men fighting for the spotlight, as Jekyll’s potions give birth to Edward Hyde, the purest projection of evil who lives inside Jekyll.

Above, Nathaniel Hackmann as Henry Jekyll In his laboratory in a scene from ‘Jekyll & Hyde.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Jekyll and Hyde are played to perfection by Nathaniel Hackmann. As soon as you hear him sing a soft and sad goodbye to his dying father in the first scene, you can’t help but be excited to hear him sing an evil tune, as his voice seems to have no limits. Hackmann makes you feel safe and happy as he sings “Take Me As I Am,” with his betrothed, Emma Carew, played by Liana Hunt, and then just a few songs later sinister seems much more fun as Hackmann belts his way through “Alive” and becomes Hyde.

Not only does Hackmann transport you through love, torment, sin and more with his voice, but he also convinces with his body language. He lurks and awkwardly shuffles across the stage as the murdering Hyde, while embodying the perfect gentleman when playing Jekyll. It becomes hard not to root for the antagonist when it’s so fun to watch his every move on stage.

Of course, Hackmann is not the only star of the show. Caitlyn Caughell plays a seductive yet vulnerable Lucy Harris, a lady of the night who entices both Jekyll and Hyde. Harris’ formidable voice is the perfect partner to Hackmann’s, and the moments featuring the couple are among the most enchanting, including the tragic love song “Dangerous Game.” It’s also not hard to understand why both the successful doctor and the mysterious Hyde enchant the young wench when Hackmann plays both — can you blame her?

Caitlyn Caughell as Lucy Harris and Nathaniel Hackmann as Edward Hyde in a scene from ‘Jekyll & Hyde.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Tom Lucca, who plays John Utterson, Jekyll’s loyal friend and lawyer, is also worth mentioning. Scenes where the two share the stage are very entertaining. The ensemble cast also has some stand-out moments, and it starts at the beginning with the hospital board all denying Jekyll. Each board member is worth focusing on for a minute, especially Joey Calveri as Lord Savage, whose facial expressions in every scene bring added fun to the stage. Ensemble songs like “Façade” and “Girls of the Night” highlight the singing strength of the cast.

The set, designed by Stephen Dobay, helps make Hyde even more menacing, with several long screens that cast Hyde as a prowling red shadow on the hunt. Each screen also has two empty frames hanging from the top, subtly reminding the audience of Jekyll’s original inspiration of each person having two sides in them: good and evil. And, of course, the orchestra, under the direction of Kristen Lee Rosenfeld, brings the pop rock hits of the original score to life and makes the evil tunes of the show all the more fun.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Jekyll and Hyde The Musical” through April 30 with Thursday, Friday and Saturday night shows, as well as afternoon shows on Saturdays and Sundays. Valet parking is available. Tickets range from $71 to $76. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

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