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Engeman Theater

The cast of ‘Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale’. Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer/ Engeman Theater

By Heidi Sutton

Question: What do you get when you combine the classic Grimm Brothers fairytale “Rapunzel” and Disney’s animated feature “Tangled”? 

Answer: “Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale,” a wickedly funny musical adaptation written by David Crane and Marta Kaufman, the creators of the hit TV show “Friends.” The children’s show opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport this past weekend and runs through Aug. 25.

Simon, trusted valet to the Prince, serves as storyteller and gives the audience the backstory on how Rapunzel ended up in the tower. We meet up with the young girl on the morning of her 16th birthday where her only wish is to be able to leave her imprisonment for one day and see the world.

Her “mother,” Gretta the witch, at first promises to grant her wish but then changes her mind. “I just want to know what’s at the end of the road!” begs Rapunzel. “The DMV – nobody wants to go there,” quips the witch. 

Meanwhile, Prince Brian has run away from the castle and vows only to return once he has slain a dragon or rescued a maiden. “As a hero, I’m a zero,” he laments. When the prince comes upon Rapunzel in the tower, he seizes this rare opportunity and hatches a plan to rescue her. What follows is a fun, exciting and hilarious adventure the entire family will enjoy.

Director Jennifer Collester knows her target audience well and has assembled the perfect group of actors to tell this hairy tale to young theatergoers. 

Making her Engeman debut, Joanna Sanges is terrific as the naive but strong-willed Rapunzel who will stand up to the witch, the king and anything else that comes her way — a wonderful role model for the many little princesses in the audience.

While not in a disco on the Engeman’s stage in the evenings (“Saturday Night Fever”) Christopher Hanford spends his morning weekends rescuing fair maidens as Prince Brian and does a fine job. Hanford spends the second half of the show wearing sunglasses (the witch cast a spell to make him blind) and is a good sport when Rapunzel forgets to help him navigate the stage. 

The indefatigable Bobby Montaniz plays multiple roles throughout the show (Simon, a cow, innkeeper, the king) and draws the most laughs. He quickly becomes the audience favorite.

But it is Suzanne Mason, as Gretta the witch, who gives the strongest performance and “with a twist of her wrist and a turn of her ring” takes this juicy role and runs with it. Like a sour patch kid, her character is both sweet and sour but not scary — just diabolical!

Perhaps the best part of the show is when Rapunzel and the Prince make their way into the audience on their way to the village and interact with the children, asking them questions such as what they like to eat.

The costumes, special sound effects and lighting pull it all together nicely to produce a marvelous morning of live theater.

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

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present “Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale” on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. through Aug. 25. Costumes are encouraged. Children’s theater continues with an audience favorite, “The Wizard Of Oz” from Sept. 28 to Oct. 27, followed by the theater’s annual production of “Frosty” from Nov. 23 to Dec. 29 and Disney’s “Frozen Jr.” from Jan. 25 to March 1. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

The cast of 'Grease'. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Melissa Arnold

When it comes to musical theater, few shows are more beloved with theatergoers than “Grease.” Can you blame us, though? It’s an old, familiar story: Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Things get messy.

Put simply, it’s a snapshot of teenage relationships that’s almost universally relatable. And thanks to the 1978 film adaptation starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, “Grease” is permanently cemented into the hearts of so many.

From left, Madeleine Barker (as Rizzo), Laura Helm (as Marty), Liana Hunt (as Sandy) and Sari Alexander (as Frenchy).

All this makes it the perfect summer kickoff for the John W. Engeman Theater’s 11th season. For those of you who are not familiar with the plot, “Grease,” written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, follows the Rydell High School Class of 1959 through the highs and lows of hormone-fueled infatuation.

At the center of it all is Sandy Drumbrowski (Liana Hunt), the naïve, charming new girl in town who catches the eye of notorious bad boy Danny Zuko (Sam Wolf). While the two develop a whirlwind summer romance, the transition back to Rydell High is a tough one. Peer pressure, social stereotypes and the desire to fit in pull Danny and Sandy in different directions while sending ripples of tension through their circle of friends. While it sounds like a lot of drama, the show is full of fast-paced banter and folly that will keep you laughing and singing along until the end.

Director Paul Stancato leads a cast of theater veterans in a well-polished performance that’s hard to criticize. Such high quality is what you can expect to see regularly at the Engeman.

Liana Hunt plays Sandy in a way that’s down to earth and totally believable. Her voice is strong without being over the top. “Hopelessly Devoted to You” allows her to shine on her own, which is appreciated in a show mostly comprised of duets and chorus numbers.

From left, Chris Collins Pisano (as Roger), Sam Wolf (as Danny), Chris Stevens (as Kenickie), Zach Erhardt (as Doody) and Casey Shane (as Sonny) perform ‘Greased Lightnin’.

As Danny, Sam Wolf builds fantastic chemistry leading the rebellious Thunderbirds. The first words in the iconic “Summer Nights” will leave no doubt about why Wolf got the role — he can sing, and that same passion translates to everything he does on stage.

But this production wouldn’t be what it is without the phenomenal supporting cast, who are every bit as talented as Hunt and Wolf. In fact, they nearly stole the show.

The T-birds (Zach Erhardt, Chris Collins-Pisano, Chris Stevens and Casey Shane) are hysterically funny. Their antics will make you laugh out loud, especially when they briefly dip into the audience. They’re also incredible dancers, pulling off flips and jumps like they’re nothing.

The Pink Ladies (Hannah Slabaugh, Laura Helm, Madeleine Barker and Sari Alexander) are a force of their own as well — each one stands out from the group with individuality and assertiveness. Of particular mention is Barker, who plays the cynical Betty Rizzo with tons of natural swagger, and Slabaugh, who you can’t help but love during “Mooning,” a duet her character Jan performs with Roger (Collins-Pisano).

From left, Madeleine Barker (as Rizzo), Laura Helm (as Marty), Liana Hunt (as Sandy) and Sari Alexander (as Frenchy).

The efforts of choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo and dance captain Tim Falter have definitely paid off in this production. Dancing is central to the plot in “Grease,” and the cast’s quick, complicated routines are worth shouting over. From the opening “Grease Is the Word” to the dance contest during “Born to Hand Jive,” they should be commended for both their skill and the stamina required to pull off the show.

And while you can’t see the band at the Engeman — they are tucked neatly under the stage — their rock ‘n’ roll carries the whole show. In fact, if not for their credits in the program, you might think the music was prerecorded. The six-man ensemble is led by conductor/keyboardist Alec Bart.

Costume designer Matthew Solomon does a fantastic job transporting us back to the ’50s. The dresses worn by the girls at the school dance are gorgeous and colorful, and their twirling skirts are perfect for all the dancing in that scene.

Liana Hunt (as Sandy) and Sam Wolf (as Danny) in a scene from ‘Grease’.

The set, designed by Stephen Dobay, is simple but functional. The stage is flanked by generic buildings on either side, but there are also a set of risers leading up to a second level. This area was transformed throughout the performance last Saturday night and allowed for multiple conversations or settings to occur at once. It works especially well as a stage for the school dance.

Overall, this production is exactly what you’d expect to see from such a classic show — there are no surprises, and that’s a good thing. Find your seats early to relax with a drink while listening to top hits from the ’50s, and make sure you stay through the curtain call for a brief, fun sing-a-long with the cast.

Runtime is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Be aware that strobe lights and haze are used throughout the show.

See “Grease” now through Aug. 27 at the John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport. Tickets range from $73 to $78 and may be purchased by calling 631-261-2900 or by visiting www.engemantheater.com. Free valet parking is available.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

Luke Hawkins (Bert), Katherine LaFountain (Jane Banks), Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins) and Christopher McKenna (Michael Banks) in a scene from 'Mary Poppins'. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

By Melissa Arnold

From left, Danny Meglio (Robertson Ay), Liz Pearce (Winifred Banks), Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins), Katherine LaFountain (Jane Banks) and Christopher McKenna (Michael Banks). Photo by Keith Kowalsky
From left, Danny Meglio (Robertson Ay), Liz Pearce (Winifred Banks), Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins), Katherine LaFountain (Jane Banks) and Christopher McKenna (Michael Banks). Photo by Keith Kowalsky

Sometimes, looking at life through a child’s eyes again makes everything better.

That’s exactly the opportunity you’re given in “Mary Poppins,” which kicked off a six-week run at the John Engeman Theater in Northport this week. And boy, is it a treat.

The Engeman Theater has a reputation for pulling out all the stops for its shows, and “Mary Poppins” definitely reaps those benefits with a stunning, colorful background, detailed scenery and a cast of seasoned professionals, many of whom spent time on Broadway.

Directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey, this show is a Disney classic, with all the heartwarming moments and magical touches you’d expect. Set in early 1900s London, “Mary Poppins” gives a glimpse into the lives of the wealthy Banks family — workaholic husband George, his doting wife Winifred and their adorable-yet-mischievous children, Jane and Michael.

Try as they might, the Bankses can’t seem to find a nanny who will stick around – it might have something to do with the kids’ constant pranks and stubbornness. But Jane and Michael meet their match when Mary Poppins shows up from who knows where. Without any negotiation, she invites herself into their home and begins to work some real magic. Along the way, she introduces them to a host of quirky, mysterious characters that teach them about what’s really important in life.

Luke Hawking (Bert) and Ensemble performing "Step in Time." Photo by Keith Kowalsky.
Luke Hawking (Bert) and Ensemble performing “Step in Time.” Photo by Keith Kowalsky

The story’s unofficial narrator is Bert (Luke Hawkins), a charming chimney sweep with a deep affection for Mary Poppins and the Banks children. Hawkins will have you smiling the minute he takes the stage, and his appearances will tug on your heartstrings throughout the show. His tap dancing skills in “Step in Time” will leave you breathless.

Mary Poppins is played by Analisa Leaming, a newcomer to the Engeman stage with several Broadway credits under her belt. Leamings plays Poppins with all the poise and grace the role demands, with lovely, light vocals even on the highest notes. She also deserves a nod for the slight-of-hand tricks she performs throughout the show, maintaining character even during a rare moment when her props won’t cooperate.

Katherine LaFountain and Christopher McKenna play the Banks children with endless enthusiasm and joy. Both have an obvious love for the stage and there is nothing forced about their performances. You’ll fall in love with them both during “The Perfect Nanny” and “Practically Perfect,” two examples of their fantastic teamwork.

Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins). Photo by Keith Kowalsky.
Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins). Photo by Keith Kowalsky.

The special effects in “Mary Poppins” are what make the show truly great. Children in the audience might actually believe that Mary’s bag can fit anything, that she can instantly make sandwiches from a loaf of bread, or that she can even fly. Seeing her take flight with that famous umbrella is the highlight of the show.

The show’s set can rotate, expand and retract, which allows for easy transitions between several unique locations. The background is perhaps the most eye-catching element, however, with the London sky in silhouette and a colorful, illuminated sky that can create sunsets, nightscapes and even some psychedelic schemes.

Many of the supporting cast members are also worth a mention. In particular, George Banks’ childhood nanny Miss Andrew (Jane Blass) commands the stage during her brief performance. She has so much swagger and authority that when she’s called “the holy terror,” you’ll believe it in an instant. Also, the “bird woman,” played by Suzanne Mason, delivers a performance of “Feed the Birds” that’s both touching and haunting.

The ensemble has a huge role to play in “Mary Poppins.” Whether they’re seamlessly helping with set changes as chimney sweeps, tap dancing or serving as any number of whimsical creatures, they are an essential part of the show and every bit as talented as the lead actors. In fact, their performance in “Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious” and “Step in Time” are among the most impressive of the entire show. The two children’s ensembles, which will rotate throughout the show’s run, should be commended for their hard work and flawless routines.

While the band isn’t visible or credited at any point in the show, they do a flawless job in presenting songs from the original movie as well as many that were written for the stage version. Under the direction of Michael Hopewell, the band consists of keyboard, bass, drums and a variety of woodwind and brass instruments.

All told, “Mary Poppins” is exactly the joyful, inspiring tale so many of us seek out during the holidays. While it’s not a holiday-themed production, the theater is beautifully decorated for the season, and you can enjoy the occasional Christmas song and a festive drink at the piano bar before showtime.

Take a few hours this holiday season to leave your cares behind and gather the family for a night of laughter. You’ll be glad you did.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Mary Poppins” through Dec. 31. Run time is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Ticket prices vary from $71 to $76. To purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900.

From left, Andrew Hendrick, James D. Schultz, Christopher Wynne Duffy, Peter Saide, Benjamin Howes, Jake Mills, Kevin Robert Kelly, and Stephen Valenti in a scene from ‘1776’. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Rita J. Egan

With talented actors, period-appropriate costumes and a detailed set, a theatrical production can make audience members feel as if they have traveled back in time. This is certainly the case with the John W. Engeman Theater’s production of “1776,” which opened last week.

Before there was “Hamilton,” there was “1776.” The classic musical, with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone, debuted on Broadway in 1969 and was turned into a movie in 1972. Dramatizing the efforts of John Adams to persuade his fellow delegates of the Second Continental Congress to vote for American independence, “1776” focuses on the last weeks leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The first lines by Adams, played by James LaVerdiere, help to set the tone for the musical: “I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace — that two are called a law firm — and that three or more become a Congress.” With this quote as well as the opening number “For God’s Sake, John, Sit Down,” the audience discovers that while the musical discusses a serious matter, it is delivered with a sense of familiarity and a good dose of humor.

Jennifer Hope Wills (as Abigail Adams) and Jamie LaVerdiere (as John Adams). Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Jennifer Hope Wills (as Abigail Adams) and Jamie LaVerdiere (as John Adams) in a scene from ‘1776’. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

LaVerdiere perfectly captures the frustrations and persuasiveness of Adams, who his fellow delegates describe as obnoxious and disliked. The scenes between him and Jennifer Hope Wills, who plays Abigail Adams, where the Massachusetts delegate imagines conversations with his wife, allow the audience to learn of the struggles of the women who were left at home dealing with sick children and failing farms and business. During Act 1, the two deliver a sweet and touching version of “Yours, Yours, Yours,” and we discover a softer side of Adams.

When Thomas Jefferson, played by Michael Glavan, yearns to go home to see his wife, we meet the second of only two female characters, when Adams sends for Martha to come to Philadelphia while Jefferson works on the Declaration of Independence. Portrayed by Adriana Milbrath, the actress delivers a delightful “He Plays the Violin” with LaVerdiere and David Studwell, perfectly cast as the charming and witty Benjamin Franklin. Glavan is a strong vocalist, too, who audience members have the pleasure of hearing during “But, Mr. Adams” and “The Egg.”

A surprise standout performance comes from Matthew Rafanelli, playing the disheveled courier delivering messages from George Washington. In the beginning of the play, it’s understandable if one thinks he has a small part, but by the end of Act 1, Rafanelli delivers a perfectly executed “Momma Look Sharp.” His heart-wrenching vocals on the song, which details the loss of young boys on the battlefield, left many with tears in their eyes during the press opening last Saturday night.

It should also be noted that Robert Budnick playfully portrays a cheerful Stephen Hopkins, and Tom Lucca perfectly captures the authoritative nature of John Hancock. Special mentions should be made of Jon Reinhold (Richard Henry Lee) who plays the cocky Virginian with a great deal of humor, Benjamin Howes (John Dickinson) who provides strong lead vocals on “Cool, Cool Considerate Men,” and Peter Saide (Edward Rutledge) who delivers a powerful “Molasses to Rum.”

Igor Goldin has expertly directed the cast of 25 actors, who should all be commended for their strong vocals and mastering of a great amount of dialogue. Due to the craftsmanship of all of those involved in Engeman’s “1776,” the dreams of our country’s forefathers come to life once again.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, presents “1776” through Nov. 6. Tickets range from $71 to $76. For more information, call 631-261-2900, or visit www.engemantheater.com.

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

By Heidi Sutton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rapunzel-detail-21Did you know?

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

Tessa Grady (As Millie Dillmount) in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Heidi Sutton

“Thoroughly Modern Millie” opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport last Saturday, a fitting finale to its 2015-16 season. With music by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics by Dick Scanlan and book by Richard Morris and Scanlan, the play is based on the 1967 film starring Julie Andrews and won six Tony awards, including Best Musical in 2002. It has been making the rounds in community theater and high school productions ever since.

Sarah Stevens (as Miss Dorothy Brown) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) sing “How the Other Half Lives” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo from Michael DeCristofaro
Sarah Stevens (as Miss Dorothy Brown) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) sing “How the Other Half Lives” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo from Michael DeCristofaro

Drew Humphrey directs the talented cast with polish and precision. From the jazzy opening number, “Not for the Life of Me,” the show takes off running and never loses momentum.

The year is 1922 and “modern gal” Millie Dillmount, played by Tessa Grady, has just arrived in the Big Apple from Salina, Kansas, with the sole intent of marrying for money instead of love. Within minutes, she is robbed of her hat, her purse and a shoe. She quips, “10 minutes in this town and I have my New York horror story.” Grady is perfectly cast as a determined woman who takes charge of her own destiny and jumps right in to the flapper lifestyle with a new wardrobe and hairstyle. However, things start to go haywire when her “Chinese” landlady, Mrs. Meers, turns out to be an impostor involved in a white slavery ring in China, and the rich man Millie wants to marry doesn’t seem to notice her.

Daniel Plimpton (as Jimmy Smith) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) sing “I Turned a Corner” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Daniel Plimpton (as Jimmy Smith) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) sing “I Turned a Corner” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

With fancy footwork and pitch-perfect voices, the entire cast shines, with special mention to Daniel Plimpton (playing Jimmy Smith), Sarah Stevens (as Miss Dorothy Brown), Nicole Powell (as Muzzy Van Hossmere) and Tim Rogan (playing Mr. Trevor Graydon), who all gave stellar performances. However, it is Michele Ragusa, in the delicious role of Mrs. Meers, and her two henchmen, Ching Ho, played by Anthony Chan, and Bun Foo, played by Carl Hsu, who steal the show. Meers’ famous line, “Sad to be all alone in the world,” said every time she comes upon an orphan and next victim, draws the most laughs.

The show is a feast for the eyes, with glittering flapper dresses and three-piece suits designed by Kurt Alger perfectly capturing the era. The set is equally impressive. Cleverly designed by Jonathan Collins, panels on the stage resemble a sparkling New York City skyline, and when spun around reveal small additions to a scene such as a desk or a bench.

Nicole Powell (as Muzzy Van Hossmere) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.' Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Nicole Powell (as Muzzy Van Hossmere) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Choreographers Dena DiGiacinto and Humphrey do an incredible job incorporating the jazz age’s dance styles, including the Charleston, the shimmy and the can-can. “The Speed Test” in which Millie shows her typewriting speed, accompanied by a highly energetic tap ensemble, is breathtaking. As a special treat, conductor/keyboardist James Olmstead and his eight-piece powerhouse band belt out jazz and blues tunes flawlessly throughout the night, completing a wonderful evening of live theater.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Thoroughly Modern Millie” through July 10. Running time is approximately two hours, including one 15-minute intermission. Tickets range from $69 to $74 with free valet parking.

The season continues with “Mamma Mia!” from July 21 to Sept. 11, “1776” from Sept. 22 to Nov. 6 and “Mary Poppins” from Nov. 17 to Jan. 1, 2017. To order tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Anthony Chan (as Ching Ho), Michele Ragusa (as Mrs. Meers) and Carl Hsu (as Bun Foo) sing “Muqin” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Anthony Chan (as Ching Ho), Michele Ragusa (as Mrs. Meers) and Carl Hsu (as Bun Foo) sing “Muqin” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

The poster for the short film "Grace." Photo from Marisa Vitali

By Victoria Espinoza

“Grace” did not come easy for Northport native Marisa Vitali, but she has used her struggles to help inspire others.

 The poster for the short film "Grace." Photo from Marisa Vitali
The poster for the short film “Grace.” Photo from Marisa Vitali

The village will be rolling out the red carpet for the premier of Vitali’s short film, “Grace,” based on her experiences battling addiction and recovery. In an interview, the filmmaker said she wanted to tell her story differently and focus more on the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I felt like a turtle without a shell, raw and emotionally exposed,” Vitali said of her struggles. “This was the story I wanted to tell in the film ‘Grace.’ Anyone can watch a film and learn how to shoot a bag of dope or smoke a crack pipe. I wanted to tell a story of hope and recovery and bridge a gap between addicts and non-addicts to start that conversation of recovery.”

The film focuses on a woman in her first year of recovery working at diner, which mirrors Vitali’s real life. She worked at Tim’s Shipwreck Diner in Northport during her first year of recovery. Vitali said she included the snapshot in her film because of how important the first days of improvement are for recovering addicts.

“The first year is the most difficult,” she said. “You’re left with fear, shame, anger and guilt.”

Vitali, who is now nearly 15 years sober, said she went to an outpatient program at Daytop Village Inc. in Huntington Station once she made a commitment to get clean, and continues to attend support meetings.

Discussing the problem is half the battle, Vitali said. She said a lot of people think addiction will never happen to them, or their loved ones, so they end up not having the information they need to deal with the struggles of substance abuse.

“Addiction is still portrayed as a taboo topic,” she said. “There is a lot of stigma attached to it. There is something to be said about how we can all be a little more compassionate for one’s struggle to overcome against all odds.”

Anthony Fernandino, chair of the Northport-East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force, said he hopes the film sparks a conversation about the importance of the prevention side of dealing with drug addiction.

“I felt like a turtle without a shell, raw and emotionally exposed.” — Marisa Vitali

“We want to continue to raise awareness, and provide the community with more education,” he said in a phone interview. “If we can prevent a kid or give a parent the tools they need to prevent this from happening, it is a much easier [task] than treating a kid who is already in the throws of addiction.”

He said this film could help give parents new talking points for more open conversations with their children and provide concrete examples of what to do to keep a safe and healthy environment.

This film also lines up with an ongoing battle facing Suffolk County, and the nation as a whole.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 28,000 overdose deaths in 2014 as a result of heroin or opioid abuse across the United States — the highest number on record in any single year. Last year alone, Suffolk County suffered 103 fatal heroin overdoses and tallied more heroin-related overdose deaths than any county in New York from 2009 to 2013, according to the New York State Opioid Poisoning, Overdose and Prevention 2015 Report.

“Grace” was filmed at Tim’s Shipwreck Diner in the village, and Vitali said the community has been extremely supportive of this endeavor.

Marisa Vitali grew up in Northport, which is also the setting for her short film. Photo from Marisa Vital
Marisa Vitali grew up in Northport, which is also the setting for her short film. Photo from Marisa Vital

“It was important to shoot in Northport because it was a homecoming of sorts, and it felt like I had come full circle.”

Not only has “Grace” been received well by the community, it has also won film awards including Best Drama at the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival, the Audience Award for Best Short Film at the Long Island International Film Expo, and was selected for the short film corner in the Cannes Film Festival.

And the journey isn’t ending anytime soon for this short film.

Vitali said she is working to use the film, along with a lesson plan, as a learning tool for health classes in the Northport-East Northport school district.

“This was one of my intentions,” she said. “I wanted it to be available for educational purposes because there is not a lot of education on coming out of addiction and the recovery process.”

“Grace” will be shown at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport on June 7 in an event hosted by the Northport-East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force. All proceeds will benefit Youth Directions and Alternatives, a nonprofit organization serving communities throughout Huntington by developing services and sober programs for youth in the communities.

Following the film premiere, there will be a question and answer session with Vitali and the director of the Huntington Drug and Alcohol Task Force Barry Zaks, where they will also discuss ways in which the community can work to address the issue of addiction.

The event was created for high school students, as there is some inappropriate language. Tickets for the event can be purchased at www.engemantheater.com/event/grace-premiere.

To learn more about “Grace” visit: www.grace-the-movie.com

To learn more about Marisa Vitali visit: www.marisavitali.com