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John W. Engeman Theater

The cast of ‘The Snow Queen,’ from left, Danny Meglio, Jacqueline Hughes, Stephanie Krasner, TracyLynn Connor and Matthew Rafanelli. Photo courtesy of Engeman Theater

By Heidi Sutton

In perfect harmony with the frosty weather outside, “The Snow Queen” opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport last weekend to a warm reception. Based on the beloved Hans Christian Andersen story that inspired Disney’s “Frozen,” the musical, co-written by Rick Lombardo and Kirsten Brandt, is told in seven short stories and revolves around a young girl name Gerda, her best friend, Kai, and the power of love and friendship.

The Snow Queen has kidnapped Kai and taken him to her icy palace. There she orders him to solve the Riddle of Eternity by counting all the snowflakes in the world. When Gerda realizes what has happened, she sets off on a dangerous journey to save her friend.

Reminiscent of an Alice in Wonderland experience, Gerda encounters many obstacles along the way including a sneaky Garden Witch, a band of robbers and the blistering cold. Fortunately, she also meets a talking crow, a lovable reindeer and a wise Woman of the North who help her reach the palace.

Alyson Leonard expertly directs a talented adult cast of five, all of whom, with the exception of the lead, play multiple roles throughout the show. Stephanie Krasner, last seen in the role of Rapunzel, returns to Engeman’s stage as Gerda, who proves to be a faithful friend willing to go to the ends of the Earth to save Kai. Her courage and determination has the audience rooting for her from the beginning. Matthew Rafanelli is terrific as Kai, trapped within the clutches of the Snow Queen but absolutely shines as the Crow who helps Gerda.

TracyLynn Connor gives the Snow Queen an icy regalness but also plays the role of a rose, princess and robber girl with ease. From her first appearance on stage as an old woman to her last as the Wise Woman of the North, Jacqueline Hughes’s performance is always top notch. Her solo “Breathe” takes your breath away and her various accents are impressive.

Last seen in “The Wizard of Oz,” Danny Meglio tackles the role of the troll, prince and sweet reindeer this time around. Helping Gerda reach the castle in the darkness and the cold as the reindeer is one of the most memorable scenes in the show.

Although at times Gerda’s journey may seem a bit long, the wonderful songs including “Flying,” “The Real Reality,” “Here I Am,” “Never Give Up” and “The End,” written by Haddon Kime, more than make up for its shortcomings, and you will find yourself humming these songs for days to come. Those familar with Andersen’s fairy tale won’t be disappointed with the ending and will go back out into the air with a warm heart after realizing that love conquers all.

The show is recommended for ages 8 and up because of its complex storyline, although younger children will enjoy it for the beautiful costumes, special effects and songs. Meet the entire cast in the lobby for autographs and photos after the show. An autograph page is conveniently located at the end of the program.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “The Snow Queen” on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. through March 5. Up next is “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” from March 25 to April 30. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Above, from left, Ryan G. Dunkin, Peter Simon Hilton, Noah Bridgestock, Spencer Glass and Milton Craig Nealy

By Rita J. Egan

The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport exposed a night of adult fun this past Saturday when it held the press opening of “The Full Monty,” its current mainstage production. Judging by the applause, laughter and howling coming from the audience, the musical, directed by Keith Andrews, will be another huge hit for the theater.

Based on the 1997 movie of the same name, the story takes six men on an adventure where they hold nothing back, emotionally or physically. Featuring a book by Terrance McNally with score and lyrics by David Yazbek, “The Full Monty” introduces theatergoers to two unemployed steelworkers from Buffalo, Jerry and Dave, who decide to organize and perform in a strip act after seeing local women go crazy for a Chippendales-inspired show. Even though they look nothing like strippers, they soon join forces with their former co-workers Malcolm and Harold and hold auditions for two more dancers where they meet Horse and Ethan and form Hot Metal.

From left, Brent Michael DiRoma and Ryan G. Dunkin in a scene from ‘The Full Monty’

While a few characters’ names differ from the film, and the location has been changed from the movie’s Sheffield, England, to Buffalo, New York, the musical is still filled with something everyone can identify with whether unemployment, divorce, relationship problems, body issues or even the caring of an ailing parent.

And like the movie, even though the men working together to overcome their anxieties and self-consciousness creates a few serious and tender moments, overall it is told with a great deal of humor both in dialogue and lyrics. It’s a tale that leaves audience members not only cheering for the characters but also exiting the theater feeling uplifted.

“The Full Monty” opens with a high-energy scene where the woman are enjoying a girls’ night out. The story soon switches to the men at the union hall, and the number “Scrap” let’s the audience know there are serious matters to be dealt with and money needed.

Throughout the musical, Brent Michael DiRoma (Jerry) and Ryan G. Dunkin (Dave) are a terrific duo easily handling delicate matters with well-timed humor. The two are at their best during Act One’s hysterical number “Big Ass Rock” where they try to discourage Malcolm from committing suicide by showing him the ridiculousness of different scenarios. Spencer Glass as Malcolm soon joins in on the number, ecstatic that he may actually have friends, leaving the audience laughing uncontrollably.

From left, Spencer Glass and Brent Michael DiRoma in a scene from ‘The Full Monty’. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Peter Simon Hilton, who plays Harold a former supervisor hiding his unemployed status from his wife, captures the character’s nervousness perfectly and easily plays straight man to the others. He and Dunkin also reveal impressive vocals on the sweet number “You Rule My World,” where Harold wonders how he will tell his wife about his situation, and Dave ponders if he’ll ever lose the weight, particularly his stomach, that rules his life.

Noah Bridgestock is adorable as the young stud Ethan and exhibits great physical comedic ability, but it’s Milton Craig Nealy as Horse, during the number “Big Black Man,” who shows all the young men how it’s done with strong vocals and slick dance moves that delighted the Saturday night audience.

During the number “Michael Jordan’s Ball,” the men perform seamlessly together providing a catchy, standout number at the end of Act One. Another stellar performance by one of the male performers is “You Walk With Me” during the second act. While Glass nails the awkwardness of his character Malcolm, the tenor shines during this moving number, and toward the end of the song, Bridgestock joins him and complements his fellow actor nicely. “Breeze Off the River” sung beautifully by Diroma is another touching number during the second half of the musical.

While “The Full Monty” focuses on the six men, the female cast members cannot be ignored. Diane Findlay as Jeanette Burmeister, the men’s pianist, is a delightful surprise. She delivers her lines with the comedic ability of greats such as Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers, and during “Jeanette’s Showbiz Number,” performs with the skill of a Broadway professional.

Diane Findlay and Ryan G. Dunkin in a scene from ‘The Full Monty.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

During Act 2, Nicole Hale as Dave’s wife, Georgie, and Gaelen Gilliland as Harold’s wife, Vicki, beautifully execute the reprise of “You Rule My World.” Kate Marshall, playing Jerry’s ex-wife Pam, skillfully balances strength and gentleness of a woman who is trying her best to move on while co-parenting with her ex.

Suzanne Mason, Jennifer Collester Tully and Lexi Lyric add to the humor as they hilariously bring to life the joys of working women just wanting to have some fun. Vincent Ortega also adds to the high jinks as club owner Tony Giordano, the Cha Cha teacher and a random jogger.

It should also be noted that Kyle Wolf is sweet and endearing as Jerry’s son Nathan. James D. Schultz garnered tons of laughs when he performed an awkward semi strip tease act during the dancer auditions, and Alexander Molina as Buddy “Keno” Walsh, the professional stripper, handled his egotistical character with a tongue-in-cheek performance as well as some dance moves that delighted the ladies in the audience.

“The Full Monty” leaves the best for last with the men’s anticipated performance and the catchy “Let It Go.” The cast and crew tastefully orchestrated the last scene, which left those in attendance howling with laughter but not too red from blushing. The show is perfect for a pleasurable night out with the girls or even date night, but leave the children home due to some adult language and partial nudity.

The John Engeman Theater, 250 Main Street, Northport, will present “The Full Monty” through March 5. Tickets range from $71 to $76. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

The cast of ‘Frosty,’ from left, Courtney Fekete, Kate Keating, Matthew Rafanelli, Jacqueline Hughes and Samantha Carroll. Photo by Beth Hallisey

By Erika Riley

The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport kicked off its holiday season last Saturday with the opening of an annual favorite, “Frosty.” Richard T. Dolce skillfully directs the children-friendly classic with the help of a talented adult cast of five.

The story of “Frosty” will be familiar to fans of the “Frosty the Snowman” movie, with a few twists and turns along the way. Kate Keating returns to reprise her role as Jenny, the energetic young girl who builds a snowman and magically brings him to life. Keating effortlessly slips into the role of a little kid, and audience members will connect with her as soon as she sings a melancholy rendition of “No Friends.”

Kate Keating and Matthew Rafanelli star in 'Frosty'
Kate Keating and Matthew Rafanelli star in ‘Frosty’

Keating works alongside Courtney Fekete, who plays the role of Jenny’s mom and is also the mayor of Chillsville. She is tricked into signing a contract with the evil Ethel Pierpot (Samantha Carroll) who builds a machine to get rid of all the snow in Chillsville, sending Frosty and Jenny into a panic. Together, Jenny, her mom, Frosty and the audience must find a way to keep Frosty from melting.

The narrator, played by “Frosty” newcomer Jacqueline Hughes, draws the most laughs from the audience, as she helps tell the story with excellent comedic timing. During the Saturday opening, the children giggled as Hughes returned to the stage with maracas and a sombrero while Frosty and Jenny sang “One Friend Is Better Than No Friends.” The narrator slips into several roles during the show, including a train conductor, Ethel Pierpot’s assistant, and more, bringing life and energy to each.

Frosty, played by Matthew Rafanelli, instantly wins over the hearts of both the audience and Jenny when he comes to life for the first time with the help of a magic wool scarf. The children all applaud as he sings, slides and dances his way to help save the day.

Perhaps the most unique part of this wonderful show is the constant audience participation. The children are not expected to sit still and quiet in their seats but instead are encouraged to sing along to songs like “Snow” and the titular “Frosty the Snowman.”

During intermission, Hughes asks the audience to come up with solutions for Frosty and Jenny’s dilemma. When the show continues, the children can share their ideas with the cast. The kids also help Jenny write a letter to her mom and even get to wish for snow at the end of the show, and, spoiler alert, are rewarded with snowfall right before their eyes.

At several points in the show, the actors come into the audience, including the final scene when Jenny, Frosty and Jenny’s mom try to catch Ethel Pierpot. They run through the theater, asking where Ethel went, as the children help point the way. Frosty even high-fives audience members as he makes his way up and down the aisles.

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos. The children can also have their programs signed by the cast members. An autograph page is located toward 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.

About the author: Stony Brook resident Erika Riley is a sophomore at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She is interning at TBR during her winter break and hopes to advance in the world of journalism and publishing after graduation.

From left, Danny Meglio, Kate Keating and Jackie Hughes in a scene from 'The Wizard of Oz.' Photo by Jennifer Tully

By Heidi Sutton

The cast of 'The Wizard of Oz'. Photo by Beth Hallisey
The cast of ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Photo by Beth Hallisey

The month of October means that the classic tale of the “Wizard of Oz” is back on the Engeman’s stage in Northport. Presented every year at this time with the support of the Bethpage Federal Credit Union, the beloved children’s theater musical only gets better with age. Suzanne Mason, who played the Wicked Witch of the West in last year’s production, sits in the director’s chair this time and leads an adult cast of eight through an hour and half of pure “joy and rapture.”

Based on the children’s books by L. Frank Baum, “The Wizard of Oz” tells the story of young Dorothy Gale and her dog, Toto, who are swept out of Kansas by a tornado and transported over the rainbow to a magical land of munchkins, witches and ruby slippers. Engeman’s “Wizard” gives us an abridged version of the classic tale (no poppies here) but tackles it with such enthusiasm that will make audiences fall in love with Dorothy, Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow all over again.

Kate Keating stars as Dorothy in 'The Wizard of Oz.' Photo by Jennifer Tully
Kate Keating stars as Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Photo by Jennifer Tully

Kate Keating reprises her role as Dorothy Gale and treats the audience to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the very beginning of the show. Keating’s enthusiastic performance is truly wonderful and at times she sounds just like a young Judy Garland. Jackie Hughes tackles the role of Scarecrow with ease, wobbly legs and all, giving us a sweet rendition of “If I Only Had a Brain,” and Danny Meglio is a terrific Tin Man on a quest to get a heart. Samm Carroll plays the dual role of meanies Ms. Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West with just the right amount of grouchiness.

However, it is Andrew McCluskey as Cowardly Lion who steals the show. In pure comedic form, he delivers a performance that would make Bert Lahr proud. Stephanie Krasner in the role of Nico the Monkey Bat, Joshua Cahn as the Wizard and Courtney Fekete as Glinda round out the supporting cast and do a fine job.

A nice touch is the constant interaction between the actors and the audience. During the frequent set changes, Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man walk through the aisles asking the children which way they should go to see the Wizard. Even the Wicked Witch suddenly appears from around the corner, causing many young audience members to jump out of their seats.

Jackie Hughes as is Scarecrow in 'The Wizard of Oz. Photo by Jennifer Tully
Jackie Hughes as is Scarecrow in ‘The Wizard of Oz. Photo by Jennifer Tully

Designed by Jess Costagliola, the costumes are exactly what one would expect, from Dorothy’s iconic blue gingham dress to Glinda’s beautiful pink gown. That is until the munchkins come out and mix things up a bit. With giant hats and big googly eyes, their rendition of “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead!” is hilarious. Wings flap on Nico the Monkey Bat and wait until you see the Wizard!

With familiar music, lots of humor and not-too-scary special effects, this “Wizard of Oz” is the perfect show with which to introduce a young child to live theater. So turn off the televisions, iPads and cell phones and start your journey down the Yellow Brick Road as soon as you can — this production is not to be missed. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs. (An autograph page is conveniently located at the back of the program.) Running time is 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “The Wizard of Oz” through Nov. 6 followed by a holiday favorite, “Frosty,” from Nov. 26 to Dec. 31. All tickets are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

From left, Ariel (Mackenzie Germain), Scuttle (Rachel Kowalsky) and Flounder (Amanda Swickle) admire a dinglehopper (a.k.a. a fork) in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky

By Rita J. Egan

The only thing better than hearing a beloved children’s story is having it performed by children themselves. This weekend the John W. Engeman Theater presented its first “by kids, for kids” production, Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” to an excited young audience.

Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) is put under a spell by Ursula (Maeve Barth-Dwyer) in a scene from ‘The LIttle Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky
Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) is put under a spell by Ursula (Maeve Barth-Dwyer) in a scene from ‘The LIttle Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky

The musical’s run in Northport will feature two separate casts, with a combined total of 37 children between the ages of 7 and 17, playing alternate performance dates of the production that was adapted from the Broadway musical written by Doug Wright.

First introduced in the Hans Christian Andersen classic fairy tale, “The Little Mermaid,” Ariel is the youngest of King Triton’s seven daughters. Living under the sea, she dreams of one day shedding her fins so she can walk and dance on land just as humans do. With the help of an evil sea witch, Ursula, her fantasies come true much to the dismay of her chaperone Sebastian, the crab. Soon Ariel finds herself meeting a handsome prince as she embarks on an onshore adventure with Sebastian as well as her colorful friends, a fish named Flounder and a seagull called Scuttle.

At this past Sunday’s performance, the young cast performed as if they were seasoned actors. Mackenzie Germaine was a sweet and lovely Ariel, who sang the mermaid’s signature song “Part of Your World” beautifully. As for her Prince Eric, Ben Hefter was endearing as well as charming.

Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) sings ‘Part of Your World’ in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Elise Johnson Linde Autz
Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) sings ‘Part of Your World’ in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Elise Johnson Linde Autz

Maeve Barth-Dwyer was poised and devilishly delightful as Ursula. She performed “Poor Unfortunate Souls” as if she was standing on a Broadway stage. In addition, Lizzie Dolce and Mia Goldstein, Ursula’s slippery spies Flotsam and Jetsam, flawlessly sang back-up on the show-stopping number.

Despite being a teenager, Matthew Fama portrayed King Triton with just the right amount of authority and tenderness needed for the parental role. Justin Autz (Sebastian), Rachel Kowalsky (Scuttle) and Chris Pappas (Chef Louis) added the right amount of humor.

Kowalsky had fun with the eccentric character and shined on “Human Stuff,” while the comedic abilities of Autz and Pappas were front and center during the number “Les Poissons,” which got huge laughs from the audience.

Amanda Swickle as Flounder was adorable, and when she joined Ariel’s sisters during the song “She’s in Love,” she skillfully showed off her excellent singing abilities.

Ella Benjamin, Eve Ascione, Katie Garthe, Keeley O’Malley, Katie Dolce and Alexandra Spelman shone as Ariel’s sisters and harmonized beautifully during their numbers, “Daughters of Triton” and “She’s in Love.” 

Keith Gryski (Grimsby), Natalie Ryan (Carlotta) and James Tully (Pilot) rounded out the ensemble on Sunday, and just like their fellow castmates, have the potential for a bright future in acting.

Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) and Prince Eric (Ben Hefter) share a dance in ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky
Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) and Prince Eric (Ben Hefter) share a dance in ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky

Musical director Ariana Valdes did an excellent job with the score, which features lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and music by Alan Menken. As for the iconic numbers, “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” the whole ensemble did a fabulous job.

Director Alyson Clancy has skillfully directed a talented young cast that delivers a show that is professional and at the same time light and fun for the whole family.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.” until May 8. Tickets are $15 for all ages. For more information, visit www.engemantheater.com or call 631-261-2900.

Carson Higgins (Huey Calhoun) and Breanna Bartley (Felicia) star in 'Memphis.' Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Well, hockadoo! The John W. Engeman Theater was full of soul last Saturday night, engaging theatergoers with a sizzling production of “Memphis” that raised the roof and culminated with a five-minute standing ovation.

Directed by Igor Goldin (“West Side Story” and “Evita”) and choreographed by Antoniette DiPietropolo, the rock ‘n’ roll musical is loosely based on the life of “Daddy-O” Dewey Philips, a Memphis disc jockey who dared to play the music of black artists in the late 1950s, when segregation was still the norm in the South. With book and lyrics by Joe Dipietro and original music and lyrics by David Bryan — a member of rock band Bon Jovi — the production ran on Broadway from 2009 to 2012 and won four Tony Awards, including best musical in 2010.

The story follows Huey Calhoun, who, in his quest to find the sounds of early rock ‘n’ roll, finds himself in a black nightclub on the seedy side of town. Owned by Delray, the club features his sister Felicia, a black singer with whom Huey quickly falls in love and vows to get on the radio so the world can hear the music that Delray says is “just Negro blues sped up.”

Breanna Bartley brings down the house during a musical number from ‘Memphis.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Breanna Bartley brings down the house during a musical number from ‘Memphis.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Carson Higgins is the lead as Huey, a role he has played in the past and has by now perfected. Higgins makes Huey likable and endearing and draws the audience in from the beginning. An incredible actor and singer, Higgins’ rendition of “Memphis Lives in Me” is unforgettable.

Breanna Bartley is perfectly cast as Felicia. With a smooth singing voice, she shines in the musical numbers, especially in “Someday” and “Colored Woman.”

The entire supporting cast is wonderful, with powerful voices and the moves to match. Standouts include Kathryn Markey as Huey’s sassy mother Gladys; C. Mingo Long as Delray; and Jarred Bedgood as Gator, who doesn’t speak or sing until the end of Act I but then treats the audience to a moving rendition of “Say a Prayer.”

Hidden from view but not to be overlooked is the six-piece powerhouse band. Musical Director James Olmstead, who doubles on keyboard, returns to the Engeman to lead a talented group of musicians, including Josh Endlich on percussion, Russ Brown on bass, Joe Boardman on trumpet, Brian Schatz on reeds and Douglas Baldwin on guitar, all playing Bryan and Dipietro’s rousing score.

Set design is handled neatly by D.T. Willis and works well, utilizing sliding panels and a second level to tell the story, and the gorgeous period costumes by Tristan Raines are spot-on, pulling the production together successfully. Don’t miss this wonderful high-energy production, a perfect ending to a night out on the town.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present “Memphis” through May 8. Show includes some adult language and staged violence. Running time is 2.5 hours, including one 15-minute intermission. Free valet parking. Tickets are $74 on Saturday evenings and $69 for all other performances, and may be purchased by calling 631-261-2900 or by visiting www.engemantheater.com.

Carson Higgins leads the cast of ‘Memphis’ at the John Engeman Theater. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Carson Higgins leads the cast of ‘Memphis’ at the John Engeman Theater. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

From left, Nancy Lemenager, Mickey Solis, Alet Taylor and Chris Kipiniak in a scene from ‘God of Carnage’ at the Engeman. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Charles J. Morgan

Four highly skilled Equity members starred equally in Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater’s production of “God of Carnage” that opened Friday, Jan. 21. This tightly written effort was written by Yasmina Reza in French and translated to English by Christopher Hampton. Direction was by Richard T. Dolce, who is also producing artistic director of the Engeman.

On a gleaming geometrical set with little depth and one, little used exit, the four characters — two sets of parents — meet to discuss in a calm, adult, logical manner the fact that the son of one of the couples had clobbered the other’s son with a stick, knocking out two of his teeth. The concessive discussion gradually escalates into a full-scale riot of threats, name-calling, replete with blistering vulgarities, physical assaults and, amid slugs of Puerto Rican rum and (let’s admit it), a technically pointedly directed vomiting scene right down stage center! At the height of it husband goes after wife to make it an eight-way free-for-all.

Chris Kipiniak and Alet Taylor play the first couple, Alan and Annette. The “offended” pair are played by Nancy Lemenager and Mickey Solis as Veronica and Michael. The two couples are equally combative, each with their own strategies.

But what are the strategies? Reza wants to bring out the inner rage that is in us all exemplified by the four battlers. They appear to be happily married upper-middle-class types, but this is a veneer. The furnaces of hate, vindictiveness and self-righteousness not too gradually come to the surface, shattering the patina of class politeness and sociability. This tsunami of ill will is made out to be what is truly natural, all else being a glaze of neighborliness under which lies not a madeleine but deadly nightshade.

It is a compelling play as a vehicle for getting inside the head and heart of the audience. And this it accomplishes piercingly. The intra and the inter of family squabbling is not exactly the story line. Reza uses more than a scalpel to surgically excise and reveal to the light the inner workings of the human psyche … she wields a meat cleaver.

If it would be productive to prescind from criticizing the show and talk about the acting, let’s proceed with vigor! The quartet performed as a theatrical exemplar. Kipiniak as Alan, an attorney, is wrapped up in one thing only … his cellphone. Taylor, as his wife Annette, starts off as a loving monument to marriage and motherhood. Lemenager as Veronica and Solis as Michael have careers; she an art loving crusader for the unfortunates of Darfur, he a toilet bowl salesman. All deserve high praise for their acting skills especially in the manner in which they gradually get at each others’ throats. This invaluable skill even prevented the whole thing from degenerating unto pie-in-the-face slapstick.

Your scribe would not say that Dolce had an easy task in this no-intermission show. He had to infuse real life into all four, and to block them accordingly, a result he achieved masterfully not only with aplomb but with art.   

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “God of Carnage” through March 6. Tickets range from $59 to $64. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Kate Keating and Austin Morgan in a scene from ‘Frosty.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

The holidays are upon us and that means it’s time for “Frosty” to come to life at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. Under the direction of Richard T. Dolce, the annual production, with a spirited cast of five adult actors, presents a lively show with song and dance that is perfect for its target audience.

Uber-talented Kate Keating reprises her role as Jenny, a young girl living in the town of Chillsville who loves the snow and loves winter. With the help of her mother, lovingly played by Courtney Fekete, Jenny builds a snowman who magically comes alive, and the duo are quickly best pals. Making his Engeman debut, Austin Morgan is a terrific Frosty and quickly connects with the audience, especially after he dances to “It’s Your Birthday.”

Jen Casey is the villain Ethel Pierpot, who wants to make Chillsville warm and snow-free so she can build a new factory. Her weather machine starts to make everything melt, including Frosty. With the help of the audience, Ethel Pierpot’s plan is foiled and, after a thrilling chase scene through the theater and an intense snowball fight, the machine is turned off.

From the very beginning the theatergoers become part of the show, thanks to the efforts of the narrator, Michael Verre, who guides the audience through the story with comedic genius. Verre 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.

Asking a full house last Sunday how to stop Ethel Pierpot from turning Frosty into a puddle of water, Verre received some creative suggestions, including have Frosty “go to a new town where there’s plenty of snow,” “put Frosty in an ice cream truck” and “reverse the machine to cold.” At the end of the show, all the children are asked to wish for snow to keep Frosty from melting and are rewarded for their efforts.

There was magic in the air at the Engeman Theater that morning — yes, a snowman came to life and, yes, it snowed inside the theater. But even more magical than that were the priceless expressions of joy, excitement and wonderment on the faces of the children in the audience.

Meet the cast after the show for pictures and autographs. An autograph page is conveniently located at the back of the program.

Take your child or grandchild to see “Frosty” and let them experience the magic of live theater. They will love you for it.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present “Frosty” through Jan. 3. Tickets are $15 each. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Kevin McGuire as Kris Kringle in a scene from ‘Miracle on 34th Street — The Musical’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Charles J. Morgan

With perfect timing, “Miracle on 34th Street — The Musical” arrived at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport last weekend to usher in the holidays. When the playbill tells you that the book, lyrics and music were all done by Meredith Willson of “The Music Man” fame, one knows that they are in for some solid musical theater entertainment. And so it was with this effort, attempting to prove there really was a Santa Claus, lifting it all from what could have evolved into crass, sentimental claptrap up to a paean to the goodness and the true warmth of Christmas.

Direction was in the hands of Richard T. Dolce who is also production director of the Engeman. His talents were, as usual, quite evident in blocking done smoothly, and interpretation, making the characters into individuals.

Dolce made the female lead Susan Walker, played by Meaghan Marie McInnes, the secular positivist, devoid of emotion, unbeliever, into the loving, caring mother and equally loving woman opposite ex-Marine Fred Gaily, handled neatly by Aaron Ramey. The innate talents of both in acting and singing shone through brightly. The complementarity of his near-lyrical tenor and her plangent soprano coalesced not merely musically but also intimately … despite a slapped face from her and a stolen kiss by him. The two were the jeweled bearing that the whole story  turned on.

Then there was Kris Kringle played handily by Kevin McGuire. Fully bearded, avuncular, outgoing, knowledgeable … he even sings in Dutch! He never relents in proclaiming himself to be Santa Claus. His singing voice was a powerful tenor. Matt Wolpe plays Marvin Shellhammer, the officious climber. He is perfectly styled as the pushy “idea” man who thinks up the marketing plan to sell plastic alligators as a Xmas sale only to be rebuffed by R.H. Macy who threatens to fire him because he had fired Kris who was telling customers to buy at Gimbels or FAO Schwartz. Macy is handled by Bill Nolte, gruffly but efficiently, the image of the impervious CEO.

The Ensemble was based on the “platoon” system, the Red and Green crew. On opening night, the Red crew was on and the ubiquitous Antoinette DiPietropolo, one of the most talented choreographers in town, wrought her ever present terpsichorean magic.

Music had David Caldwell on keyboard directing with Brian Schatz on reeds; the indefatigable Joe Boardman on trumpet; Frank Hall and Paul Sieb on trombones; Russell Brown on bass; and the rock solid Josh Endlich on percussion. This outfit revealed (again) a range of skills that has marked the success of many other Engeman productions.

Musical numbers such as “Plastic Alligators” by Shellhammer and his clerks was piercingly funny. Kris Kringle’s “Here’s Love with McInnes” with Ramey and the Ensemble  was practically the signature number of the show. Your scribe was deeply impressed with “She Hadda Come Back” by Ramey and three of his card-playing buddies in Act II but was bowled over with laughter by “My State, My Kansas” by Macy, Shellhammer, Nick Addeo, Todd Thurston as a judge and Kim Carson as a legal secretary. It was a vaudeville quartet plus one and done in a courtroom. Certified hilarious.

Staging and lighting were under the direction of Stephen Dobay and Jimmy Lawlor, whose integration of the know-how pulled together all the elements of what made the “miracle” of this show.

Er, one more thing. Your scribe referred to Kris singing in Dutch. Please let him express himself in the only Dutch expression he knows: Gelukkig Kerstfest (Merry Christmas).

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Miracle on 34th Street — The Musical” through Jan. 3, 2016. Tickets range from $69 to $74. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

From left, Danny Meglio, James D. Schultz, Kate Keating, Max Venezia, Samantha Carroll and Jacqueline Hughes in a scene from ‘James and the Giant Peach.’ Photo by Jennifer C. Tully

By Rita J. Egan

The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport is serving up a juicy treat with its newest children’s production “James and the Giant Peach.” Based on the classic Roald Dahl tale, the musical, under the direction of Jennifer Collester Tully, features a score by the Tony Award-nominated team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul that alternates between the touching and the upbeat and the book by Timothy Allen McDonald that stays true to Dahl’s original magical story.

The whimsical musical captures the imaginations of theatergoers, both young and old, and the cast effortlessly transports the audience from the hero’s original dismal circumstances to a delectable adventure. As the story opens, we meet James Henry Trotter, an orphan, who has just discovered he can leave the orphanage where he has been staying to go live with his two aunts. The audience soon learns though that his new guardians are usually up to no good.

When the duo demand that James chop down a peach tree, while they spend the day at the beach, the young lad is visited by Ladahlord who reveals to him a special potion to use on the peach tree. Later, when it’s discovered the tree has produced a giant peach, the aunts scheme to make money off the oddity. However, their plans are foiled when James is pulled into an adventure with a colorful cast of friendly insects.

With the opening number, “Right Before Your Eyes,” the audience gets a delightful peek at the offbeat characters that will soon become part of James’ life. Michael Verre as Ladahlord, also serves as narrator in the production, and with his sweet tenor voice, lulls the theatergoers into a magical land where a giant peach can exist and change the life of a young man, right before their eyes.

Max Venezia, who played James on opening day, and alternates the role with Austin Levine, captures the gentle spirit of the protagonist, which is clear during his first number “On Your Way Home” in Act 1. Audience members can’t help but feel a bit of sadness for the little boy who no longer has a family to call his own.

Alyson Clancy as Aunt Sponge and Suzanne Mason as Aunt Spiker are so adept at their comedic abilities, with Clancy even taking out a can of whipped cream at one point, that they not only provide plenty of comic relief but they also make the audience forget just what terrible human beings these character really are. With numbers such as “Property of Spiker and Sponge,” “There’s Money on That Tree” and “I Got You” throughout the play, you can’t help but like the dastardly aunts thanks to Clancy and Mason.

The musical features some entertaining dance numbers, too. During the first act, Verre and Venezia share lead vocals in the lively number “Shake It Up.” While the ensemble joins in the vocals and choreography, Verre is the one who takes center stage with his impressive tap dancing skills.

As the second act opens, the audience discovers James has entered the peach and, along with the lad, meets the eclectic group of life-sized insects. There’s Ladybug played divinely by Kate Keating; Grasshopper portrayed dapperly by James Schultz; Spider presented stylishly by Samantha Carroll; and Danny Meglio as Earthworm embracing his character with thick reading glasses and just the right amount of pessimism for the whimsical adventure. In addition, actress Jacqueline Hughes is a standout as Centipede, as she convincingly portrays a male character like a street-smart newsboy.

The second act allows the actors who play the insects a chance to show off their acting and singing talents, and they don’t disappoint. They also receive a few giggles from the audience with their antics as they navigate their small quarters inside the rolling peach.    

While the critters may be surprised at first to share their space with a human, the number “Everywhere That You Are” shows the insects may have a soft spot for our hero. Led by Keating and Schultz, the bugs deliver the song with a tenderness that convinces you of the bonding with the boy, not only on stage but off as well.

The Earthworm also comes out of his bookish shell during the number “Plump and Juicy,” and Meglio and his fellow insects perform an entertaining number that eases the tension during a scary moment in the peach and adds just the right amount of goofiness that is always welcomed in a children’s musical. 

While trouble ensues when the giant peach and its passengers encounter sharks, seagulls and even impalement on the Empire State Building, James and his new friends conquer their fears and work together to save the day. The cast ends the show perfectly on an upbeat note with the song “Welcome Home,” and when all is said and done, we find that sometimes a sense of family can be unearthed in the most unusual places.

All involved with the Engeman’s “James and the Giant Peach” have produced a heartwarming and inspiring story that will keep children as well as adults entertained from beginning to end. It’s a perfectly peachy way to spend a weekend morning with the family.

The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, 250 Main St., as part of its Bethpage Federal Credit Union Youth Theater Series, will present “James and the Giant Peach” on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. through Nov. 8. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.