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John W. Engeman Theater

By Rita J. Egan

That jolly, happy soul has returned to Northport. The family musical “Frosty” opened Nov. 18 at the John W. Engeman Theater and families filled the theater eager for the annual holiday treat.

The cast of ‘Frosty’ after last Saturday morning’s performance. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Directed by Richard T. Dolce, the production is a delightful twist on the story “Frosty the Snowman.” On the Northport stage, the snowman comes to life with the help of a scarf that is magical due to love instead of a magician’s hat and quickly becomes best friends with a little girl named Jenny.

When Jenny’s mother, who is also the mayor of Chillsville, is tricked into signing a contract with the evil Ethel Pierpot to build a machine to get rid of all the snow in Chillsville, Jenny must find a way to keep Frosty from melting.

Kevin Burns as the narrator opens the show, and it’s clear from the beginning that the audience will be part of the story. Burns easily interacts with the children and gets them involved. He also draws the most laughs as he goes from being bundled up for winter to wearing less and less each time he makes an appearance on stage to demonstrate how warm Chillsville is getting.

Kate Keating as Jenny is endearing as the sweet young girl who has no friends but possesses a warm heart. With touching vocals during “No Friends,” the audience connects with her at once.

Kate Keating and Matthew Rafanelli in a scene from ‘Frosty’

TracyLynn Conner played Ethel Pierpot on opening day and alternates the role with Cristina Hall. Conner portrays her character with the perfect mix of evilness and silliness reminiscent of Cruella Deville from “101 Dalmatians.” Children knew she was up to no good on opening day but weren’t afraid of her, which was apparent as they chatted with the actress during the autograph session after the show.

Matthew Rafanelli delivers Frosty perfectly with a sweet, friendly speaking and singing voice. He and Keating sound great together when they sing “One Friend Is Better Than No Friends.”

Ashley Brooke rounds out the cast beautifully, playing a loving, nurturing mother and mayor who realizes Chillsville is perfect the way it is no matter what Ethel Pierpot says.

The musical ends on the right note with the whole cast singing the Frosty theme song after doing an excellent job on the ensemble number “Thanks for You.”

Young audience members were delighted with the many opportunities when the actors encouraged them to participate. An especially cute part of the production is when the narrator asks the children in the audience for ideas to solve Frosty and Jenny’s dilemma at the end of the first act. After intermission, those ideas are shared with the characters. “Frosty” also provides a few fun opportunities for the actors to come into the audience, and the show contains many magical moments.

This time of year is perfect to create special memories, and the Engeman’s production of “Frosty” is guaranteed to add magic to any family’s holiday season. While the story is geared toward younger audiences, older siblings, parents and grandparents will find plenty to enjoy in the show, too.

Theatergoers can meet Frosty and friends in the lobby for photos and autographs after the show. An autograph page is located towards the back of the program.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present “Frosty” through Dec. 31. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Presley Ryan as Annie and Moon as Sandy in a scene from 'Annie'

By Melissa Arnold

There are few characters from a musical more enduring across generational lines than the curly-haired, ever positive orphan Annie. The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport is celebrating the holidays with its mainstage production of “Annie” through Dec. 31. Now in its 11th season, the Engeman has once again teamed up with director/choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo (“Grease,” “Memphis”) to bring Annie and her friends to life.

Presley Ryan and George Dvorsky

The story of New York’s most beloved orphan was partially inspired by “Little Orphan Annie,” a comic strip created by Harold Gray in the 1920s. After his death, the strip was carried on by a number of cartoonists until 2010. The comic followed the adventures of a little redhead girl and her dog while also offering commentary on political issues of the day, including the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal.

“Annie” the musical debuted on Broadway in 1977, with book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin. Since then, the show has toured around the world, won a slew of Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score and inspired several film adaptations.

When the play begins, 11-year-old Annie and her fellow orphans are growing up in the shadow of the Great Depression in New York City. Life is tough for these kids, especially living in a run-down, dirty orphanage under the care of calloused Agatha Hannigan. For years, Annie has waited eagerly for the return of her birth parents, who left her at Hannigan’s door with a letter and a locket. But they never come, and when Annie is chosen to spend two weeks with lonely billionaire Oliver Warbucks, her life is forever changed.

The cast of Engeman’s “Annie” will win your heart as soon as the show begins. Young Broadway veteran Presley Ryan embodies Annie’s charisma and unbreakable spirit effortlessly. Ryan’s Annie is appropriately youthful, and her voice is pleasant to listen to — sweet and strong, never shrill. You’ll fall in love with her during the first song, “Maybe,” and it’s hard to resist singing along with her on “Tomorrow.”

Ryan is far from the only young lady to stand out in this show, however. All of the girls at the New York Municipal Orphanage have a key role to play — to remove even one of them would make the ensemble seem incomplete.

Cordelia Comando, Sophia Lily Tamburo, Meaghan McInnes, Emma Sordi and Cassandra LaRocco

At the Engeman, the cast features two teams of orphans that will appear on different nights, but if the “red team” is any indicator, you’re in for a treat regardless of whose turn it is. The chemistry among the girls is natural and endearing — a special note of praise should go to the adorable Sophia Lily Tamburo, who plays Molly, the youngest of the bunch. Her comedic timing and dance moves are so impressive for her age, though all of them are incredibly talented with bright futures ahead.

Lynn Andrews is reprising her role as Miss Hannigan for this production — she and Elizabeth Broadhurst (Grace Farrell) were part of the 30th Anniversary Tour of “Annie” beginning in 2005. Andrews’ character is loud, proud and shameless with bold vocals to match. She’s snarky, funny and foolish, sometimes all at once, which is entertaining to watch. Her rollicking performance of “Easy Street” with Jon Peterson and Gina Milo (Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis, respectively) is one of the best in the show with fantastic harmonies.

Gina Milo, Jon Peterson and Lynn Andrews in a scene from ‘Annie’

George Dvorsky, another seasoned Broadway actor, plays Oliver Warbucks, the billionaire looking to make one orphan’s Christmas a bit brighter. He wasn’t expecting a little girl, however, and the relationship he builds with Annie is full of emotion and nuance. Dvorsky has both comedic and poignant moments in the show, and his performance of “Something Was Missing” will resonate with anyone who has experienced deep love of any kind.

There are also a few special guests in this show. For a brief time, Annie finds a loveable sidekick in a stray dog named Sandy. In this production, Sandy is actually played by two real dogs, Moon and Sandy. Moon was once a stray himself, and Sandy was recently rescued from a kill shelter following this summer’s devastating Hurricane Harvey in Texas. The dogs are amazingly well-behaved onstage thanks to hard work with Happy Dog Training & Behavior and the support of the cast “animal wrangler,” Cassidy Ingram.

While the ensemble serves as the supporting cast for the show, they have plenty of time to shine on their own — keep an eye out for them during the hilarious scenes at the White House and the radio station.

Elizabeth Broadhurst, Presley Ryan and George Dvorsky

New York scenic designers Christopher and Justin Swader are behind the unique and versatile set for this production. Detailed artwork of a hazy NYC skyline remains in the background throughout the show, and scene changes are made by the cast themselves. There’s not a lot of variation, but the transitions are simple and clear, so it gets the job done. Jonathan Brenner leads a seven-man orchestra in performing the classic score.

As of this writing, it still feels a bit early to think about the holidays, but the Engeman is dressed to the nines with garland and lights. And since “Annie” is set just before Christmas, it’s hard not to catch the holiday spirit during your visit. You might even feel like you’re a guest at Warbucks’ elaborate Christmas party.

Each year around the holidays, the John W. Engeman Theater gives back to its community through charitable support. This year, the theater is partnering with the Ecumenical Lay Council Food Pantry at the First Presbyterian Church of Northport, which helps feed more than 160 local families each week. Consider bringing some extra cash to the show, or visit www.fpcnorthport.org to learn more.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present ‘Annie’ now through Dec. 31. Tickets are $73 to $78 with free valet parking. For questions or to purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

Photo by Ellen Williams

By Heidi Sutton

The slipper fits! Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer

For many, Disney’s “Cinderella” will always have a special place in their hearts. Released in 1950, it was Walt’s 12th animated feature film and rumored to be his favorite.

Now, under the direction of Matt Kunkel, the timeless, “rags to riches” fairy tale takes on new life in “Cinderella KIDS” at the Engeman Theater in Northport through Oct. 29. Performed by a cast of nine teens, each one more talented than the next, the show features the original story and wonderful songs, much to the delight of the little princesses in the audience, with a comedic twist.

Now, 67 years later Cinderella (Kira Williams) is still at the mercy of her stepmother (Ava Dell’aquila) and stepsisters Anastasia (Katherine Gallo) and Drizella (Lexie Spelman), who seem to take much pleasure in making her miserable. When a messenger from the castle drops by and announces that all unmarried girls are invited to the Royal Ball, the stepmother tells Cinderella she can go if she finishes her chores. Her mouse friends, Gus and Jaq (Melissa Aliotta and Samantha Foti), make her a beautiful gown from items the stepsisters have discarded. When the stepsisters see how beautiful Cinderella looks, they throw a tantrum and destroy the gown.

The three meanies, Drizella, the stepmother and Anastasia. Photo by Ellen Williams

When all seems hopeless, Cinderella’s fairy godmother (Maeve Barth-Dwyer) appears and with a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo, concocts a beautiful blue gown, glass slippers and a fancy coach and sends the young girl off to the ball. There she meets the handsome prince (Theron Viljoen), they fall in love and dance the night away, that is, until the stroke of midnight. Will Cinderella’s dreams come true? Will she marry her Prince? Will her stepmother and stepsisters finally get their comeuppance?

From the very beginning, the narrator (Danny Feldman) makes it is clear that the audience will be a part of the story. When Cinderella is given a four-foot-long list of chores, the stepsisters ask the audience what else they should make her do. “Bake a muffin!” yells one child. “Scrub the toilet!” offers another. Tough crowd.

When the fairy godmother tries to help Cinderella get to the ball, she asks the children, “What can we use for a coach?” “A pumpkin!” is the immediate response. When Cinderella disappears at the stroke of midnight, the prince and his herald frantically run through the theater searching for her with the help of the children who eventually find the glass slipper. Later on, Cinderella walks through the aisles singing “So This Is Love,” as the young theatergoers sit mesmerized. The interactive concept is genius and works to a T. Even the youngest guests won’t have time to grow restless and that is the greatest wish of all.

So this is love. Photo by Ellen Williams

The beautiful costumes by Jess Costagliola and the delightful choreography by Emma Gassett complete the experience. Disney’s “Cinderella” may be timeless but Disney’s “Cinderella KIDS” is a real fall treat and the perfect show to introduce young children to live theater. I guarantee they’ll love you for it.

Stay after for a meet and greet and autographs with the cast in the lobby. An autograph page is conveniently located toward the back of the program. Running time is one hour with one 15-minute intermission. Booster seats are available and costumes are encouraged. The theater also hosts birthday parties (Happy Birthday, Chloe!).

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present Disney’s “Cinderella KIDS” through Oct. 29. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

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From left, Robert Cogliati, president of the board of trustees, VNSHS; Todd Latchford, group sales manager, Engeman Theater; Barbara Sorelle; event planner, VNSH; Linda Taylor, CEO, VNSHS; and Kevin J. O’Neill, owner, Engeman Theater. Photo from Engeman Theater

On Aug. 9, John W. Engeman Theater owner Kevin J. O’Neill presented a check to Robert Cogliati, president of the board of trustees; Barbara Sorelle, event planner; and Linda Taylor, CEO of Visiting Nurse Service & Hospice of Suffolk Inc. (VNSHS).

At a July 12 performance of “Grease,” VNSHS hosted a VIP pre-show event, consisting of an open bar, a food spread donated by Northport Caterers and several raffle items. A significant portion of the proceeds from every ticket sold for the evening’s performance went back to VNSHS, along with a contribution from the theater, totaling $12,500.

Taylor stated that the funds raised by the event support the organization in various capacities, but that the area most in need of support is the hospice house.

“We really enjoy working with everyone at the theater on these events,” Taylor added. “It is a real team effort to contribute to Visiting Nurse Service and the hospice house.”

The event was part of the Engeman Theater’s Fundraising Program, through which not-for-profit organizations within the community can raise funds to support their specific programs and causes through Main Stage performances at the theater. At each fundraising event, a significant portion of the ticket sales proceeds goes back to the host organization.

VNSHS is a not-for-profit, community-based home health care and hospice agency, responding to community needs as they arise, maintaining a tradition of charitable and compassionate care in the home, and providing community service activities such as blood drives, bereavement support and flu clinics.

“Visiting Nurse Service does phenomenal work, and I think Northport is a better place as the result of their efforts,” said O’Neill. “They are another staple in the community, and we’re proud to support the incredibly valuable work they do.”

The spot at 225 Main Street will be where Northport Village will begin construction for a new inn. Photo from John W. Engeman Theater

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Blueprints and floor plans can be drawn up for the proposed Northport Inn, which overcame its first legal hurdle last week.

Northport Village trustees voted 3 to 1 to approve a code modification that paves the way for the construction of hotels and/or inns within the village’s downtown business district. Mayor George Doll and Trustees Jerry Maline and Damon McMullen voted in favor, and the sole dissenting vote was cast by Deputy Mayor Henry Tobin.

The village code approved Aug. 22 sets basic guidelines to regulate any future construction of a hotel and/or inn including maximum height and required parking spaces.

“There’s a tremendous need for lodging in this area” said Kevin O’Neill, managing director of John W. Engeman Theater. “Long Island is one of the most underserved locations in the United States for lodging.”

An artistic rendering of what the proposed hotel and restaurant at 225 Main Street in Northport Village may look like. Photo from Kevin O’Neill

O’Neill, along with his business partner Richard Dolce, the theater’s producing artistic director, first presented a proposal for a 24-room Northport Inn and restaurant to be built at 225 Main Street in May, feet away from the Engeman.

“With the entrepreneurial juices that we both have, we were trying to figure out different ways that we can hedge the risk of a show being successful or not to help keep us afloat,” O’Neill said. “The vision came into play where we could create a restaurant that synergizes with the theater and an inn.”

The main inspiration for the proposal came from The American Hotel in Sag Harbor, according to O’Neill, in addition to several boutique lodgings that Dolce and O’Neill visited in Camden, Maine, last year. The partners said their goal is to bring first-class harborside lodging to the village along with a restaurant to serve meals and drinks to both overnight visitors and theatergoers.

“We have no intention of this becoming a glitzy Hampton-type thing,” O’Neill said. “We think it could be a charming harbor town like you have in Maine, but seven hours closer.”

Since the initial presentation in May, the main public criticism voiced by residents and the sole dissenting trustee, Tobin, has been what the potential impact the addition of the hotel and restaurant would have on the village’s parking and traffic congestion. Public comments were accepted by the village board from May 16 to July 18.

“We’re already stressed for parking on Main Street,” Tobin said. “I support the hotel, I support the restaurant. The question is what size restaurant will work within downtown Northport?”

The proposed plans as set forth call for a ground-level, 200-seat restaurant, according to O’Neill. Tobin said a parking and traffic study should have been conducted prior to the trustees’ vote to modify the village code to allow for the construction of the hotel/inn.

“We are taking a building that’s a blight upon the community and turning it into a landmark.”

—Kevin O’Neill

“[A parking and traffic study] would give us guidance on how many seats a restaurant could have and yet have minimal parking and traffic problems,” Tobin said. “We could use a study to determine the balance between the economic needs of the hotel and the logistical needs of the village and its residents.”

O’Neill stressed that he and Dolce are “very conscious” of parking concerns in Northport, citing that the village currently has approximately 600 public parking spaces, largely at the west end of the business district. He said it is their plan to convert the existing two parking lots, of 12 spaces each, currently on the property into a total of 54 parking spots. This is more than the number required under the village code passed on Aug. 22, according to O’Neill.

“We have done tireless research and we are confident that the parking we are providing, along with our valet that we’ve provided for the last 10 years, that we will have a seamless process to handle this,” he said.

The John W. Engeman Theater currently offers a valet parking service for  its attendees, managing to service and park vehicles for 390 patrons up to twice a day for weekend matinees and evening performances.

A secondary issue raised by Tobin and residents was a concern that the 200-seat restaurant could be used for catering large events, causing a large influx of vehicular traffic at a time. However, O’Neill said he and Dolce have no interest in providing catering service for weddings, bat mitzvahs or other special occasions.

O’Neill said he hopes to have blueprints and a site plan drawn up for the proposed Northport Inn by Nov. 1 to present to the village, with the hopes of beginning construction in early spring 2018.

“We are taking a building that’s a blight upon the community and turning it into a landmark,” O’Neill said.

Both O’Neill and Dolce said they welcome any village residents with questions or concerns about their proposal to contact them directly for further discussion.

Photo courtesy of Engeman Theater

Lifting Spirits

On Aug. 15, actors and staff from the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport presented a fully staged production of the Broadway musical “Seussical the Musical” for over 100 patients at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

The production, sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union and Northwell Health, took place in the hospital’s lobby, which had been transformed into an intimate theater space, complete with a stage, lighting, professional sound and full costumes. An enthusiast audience of young patients, parents and hospital staff attended the production, which was also broadcast to televisions in all of the center’s in-patient bedrooms.

“On behalf of all of our young patients at Cohen Children’s Medical Center and the people who love them, we are once again delighted to welcome the very talented cast who brought us ‘Seussical the Musical,’” said Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health. “Being in the hospital can be a very lonely experience for children, especially in the summer because of all the activities they’re missing. Thanks to the dedicated and generous troupe at the John W. Engeman Theater, we’re able to brighten their spirits.”

Before the performance began, each patient in the audience was given a “Seussical” T-shirt and a colorful program with Dr. Seuss-themed activities. When the show ended, audience members were able to meet the cast, take photos and have their playbills autographed by the actors.

“We are thrilled to be able to bring ‘Seussical the Musical’ once again to CCMC. It is an opportunity for us to lighten the load that the patients and families are carrying with a night of joy,” said John W. Engeman Theater owner Kevin O’Neill. “We are very appreciative of the Bethpage Federal Credit Union and Northwell Health sponsorships that help make this wonderful evening possible.”

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Above, St. Paul’s Pastor Kristina Hansen, left, receives a check from theater owner Kevin J. O’Neill. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Northport — On July 31 co-owners of the John W. Engeman Theater Richard T. Dolce and Kevin J. O’Neill presented a check to St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, kicking off a capital campaign to rebuild the church bell tower, restore several stained glass windows and repair some of the building’s restrooms.

The goal of the capital campaign is to raise a total of $250,000 to $300,000 to support the costs of the repairs and restorations.

“Everything that we take in we use in some way, shape or form to support the community, to support ministries and missions out into the world, and to provide a facility,” said Pastor Kristina Hansen. “We are more than just a facility; our church is a home to Northport groups and organizations as well as our worshipping community.”

Since the first church was built at its current location in 1852, it has undergone several changes, including the construction of a new sanctuary in 1873 and the addition of a large education building in 1931-32.

Theater owners Dolce and O’Neill feel that the church is a landmark on Main Street. “It’s a beautiful structure,” said O’Neill, “And it’s part of what I think makes Main Street, Main Street.”

The John W. Engeman Theater has committed to donating a total of $25,000 in support of the capital campaign, which will be paid to the church over a period of three years.

“Our affinity for the arts naturally led us to come to the Engeman first, and we’re really overwhelmed with how generous and how immediate the response has been, “said Pastor Hansen. “It just continues to affirm that sense of community that Northport offers.”

In its 10 years of operation, the Engeman has raised funds for a wide variety of causes, including the American Red Cross and the Hurricane Sandy Relief effort, the First Presbyterian Church of Northport, the Ecumenical Lay Council Food Pantry of Northport and the Huntington Light House Preservation Society. The donation to St. Paul’s capital campaign fulfills the theater’s ongoing commitment to supporting local organizations and the community.

“We feel very, very strongly that this community is our home, and we want to do everything we can to strengthen it,” said O’Neill. “We hope that others within the village will participate to support this grand structure and contribute to the campaign.” To learn how to contribute to the capital campaign, visit www.EngemanTheater.com/Donate.

The cast of ‘Freckleface Strawberry The Musical’. Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer

By Rita J. Egan

Freckleface Strawberry and her friends have arrived in Northport, and they have a positive, uplifting tale to share with theatergoers of all ages. The charming “Freckleface Strawberry The Musical” debuted at the John W. Engeman Theater on July 22.

Based on the debut book in the “Freckleface Strawberry” series by Academy Award–winning actress and New York Times best-selling author Julianne Moore, the play features music and lyrics by Gary Kupper and musical book by Kupper and Rose Caiola.

Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer

The story follows the life of a 7-year-old who isn’t happy about the freckles that speckle her whole body. Through musical numbers and dialogue, audience members discover just how much Strawberry despises her freckles. At one point, she covers her face with a ski mask, and in the past, has tried to scrub them off. By the second act, the fast-moving tale develops into an inspiring story of loving yourself for who you are.

Directed by Marquez Stewart, the cast includes an ensemble of seven talented actors, including Northport High School student Meaghan Maher as an adorable and quirky Strawberry and the versatile actress Jacqueline Hughes playing the athletic Danny. Marielle Greguski is Jane and the protagonist’s mother with sweet and soothing vocals, while TracyLynn Conner is perky and energetic as Emily. Andrew McCluskey as nerdy Jake, Matthew Rafanelli as a lovable Harry and Rita Sarli as the perfect ballet girl round out the cast flawlessly.

Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer

The adult actors are extremely convincing as young kids dealing with growing pains and garnered several giggles from the audience members, especially in the first act when Hughes, McCluskey, Rafanelli and Sarli play members of the Freckleface Mafia. On opening day, the children in the audience were delighted when Rafanelli combed the aisles searching for someone who would want some freckles.

When Strawberry’s mother discovers how upset her daughter is about her freckles, Greguski and Maher sing a sweet and tender “Perfect.” The number is followed by another touching song, “Lonely Girl” by Sarli and Maher where Strawberry discovers that even when people appear to be perfect, they may not always feel that life is that way. Both songs contain positive, uplifting message that serve as a great lesson for children and a nice reminder for adults.

As the first act ends, Maher on lead is joined by the rest of the cast singing the upbeat tune “I Can Be Anything” and dancing fun choreographed moves by Stewart. When the second act begins, we are greeted by all of Strawberry’s friends once again as they sing “Be Like Her” and “Who’s the Kid in the Mask.”

Greguski has fun executing the rap “Creative Minds,” when she plays a teacher in one scene and does an impressive job. The rap is followed by the children sharing their poems with their classmates, which had many in the audience laughing in the debut performance.

During the poem readings, Jake is moved to share his inspirational piece, “Be Yourself,” and McCluskey’s vocals are strong when he sings lead on the song. Joining him on the chorus, the actors blend well on vocals, which is also apparent in songs such as “When You Got Friends” and “Different.”

It’s difficult growing up feeling different from everyone else, so it’s wonderful when a story such as “Freckleface Strawberry” comes around to remind us that it’s OK to be ourselves. The cast members at the Engeman do a great job in relaying this message, and the musical is a sweet treat that is just in time for summer fun — especially for those who may be getting a bit freckled from the bright sun. Meet the entire cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main Street, Northport, will present “Freckleface Strawberry the Musical” through Aug. 27. Runtime is approximately one hour with one 15-minute intermission, and booster seats are available for small children. The season will continue with “Cinderella” from Sept. 23 to Oct. 29 and “Frosty” from Nov. 18 to Dec. 31. Tickets are $15, and show times are Saturdays 11 a.m. and Sundays 10:30 a.m. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Behold! The plotting penguins of Madagascar! Photo by Jennifer Tully

By Heidi Sutton

The cast of ‘Madagascar: A Musical Adventure’. Photo by Jennifer Tully

With much pomp and circumstance, the John W. Engeman Theater closes out its 2016-2017 Children’s Theater season with “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure.”

Excitement filled the theater air on opening day last weekend as the children waited anxiously to catch a glimpse of their favorite animal characters and to enjoy a live retelling of the animated classic. And let me assure you, they were not disappointed.

From the opening number, “It’s Showtime,” to the finale, an audience participation party version of “I Like to Move It,” the entire performance is a wild and wacky and wonderful musical celebration of friendship. The nine-member adult cast, skillfully directed by Jennifer Collester Tully, with several playing multiple roles, capture each original film character’s personality perfectly, especially the hypochondriac giraffe. Aside from performing on stage, the cast often wanders through the audience, keeping the young theatergoers at the edge of their seats with big smiles.

The show’s script follows the original movie closely, making it easy to follow. In the first of two acts we are introduced to best friends Alex the Lion (Andrew McCluskey) Marty the Zebra (Marquez Stewart), Gloria the Hippo (Rita Sarli) and Melman the Giraffe (Suzanne Mason) who are residents of New York’s Central Park Zoo.

Gloria, Marty, Alex and Melman in a scene from ‘Madagascar’. Photo by Jennifer Tully

It’s Marty’s birthday and he makes a wish that he could go back to the wild (which he thinks is Connecticut). Moments later he escapes with “cute and cuddly” penguins, Rico (Alyson Leonard), Kowalski (TracyLynn Connor), Private (Samantha Masone) and Skipper (Danny Meglio) who want to go back to Antarctica.

When Marty’s friends go looking for him, the entire group gets caught in the halls of Grand Central Station by the zookeepers and are tranquilized. When they wake up, the zoo animals are in crates on a ship headed to Africa. Caught in rough seas, the crates fall overboard and the four friends wash up on the shores of Madagascar. There they are promptly welcomed by King Julien (played to perfection by the incomparable Jacqueline Hughes), sidekick Maurice (Connor) and his tribe of ring-tailed lemurs who hope that Alex can protect them from the terrible foosa. Things only get wilder in the second act, but you’ll have to go see it to find out.

The wonderful songs, the adorable costumes by Jess Costagliola and the terrific choreography by Marquez Stewart are simply the icing on the cake. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” through April 30. After a short break, the 2017-2018 season will begin with “Pinkalicious The Musical” from July 22 to Aug. 27, “Cinderella” from Sept. 23 to Oct. 29 and “Frosty” from Nov. 18 to Dec. 31. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

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.