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Kate Keating

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.

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.

The entire cast of ‘Junie B. Jones, The Musical’ performs at the Engeman Theater. Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer

By Rita J. Egan

“Junie B. Jones, The Musical” opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport this past Saturday to an audience filled with young children eager to see their favorite literary characters in the flesh, and with a fun, lively show, the cast did not disappoint.

The musical, based on the children’s book series by Barbara Park, follows the adventures of Junie B. Jones as she tackles life’s little obstacles she finds along the way in first grade. Among the many challenges she faces are losing her best friend, Lucille, to twins Camille and Chenille, finding out she needs glasses, and being unable to participate in the big kickball tournament. However, with the help of her family and friends, and jotting everything down in her Top-Secret Personal Beeswax Journal, the endearing redhead figures everything out and learns that when life hands you lemons you make lemonade.

Kate Keating is youthful and charming as the main character, Junie. As lead on many of the numbers, her clear soprano voice is perfect for revealing the story through song, and she easily draws the young audience in as she talks directly to them in a number of scenes.

Playing the role of mother, as well as fellow first-graders Grace and Sheldon, is Suzanne Mason whose stage presence as always is a strong one. The actress especially shines as the awkward, stuffy-nosed Sheldon, and she elicited loud giggles during a scene where Sheldon, ready to play the cymbals at the kickball tournament, experiences stage fright. Mason convincingly delivers the song “Sheldon Potts’ Halftime Show” as if she were a child herself.

Kate Keating stars in Junie B. Jones The Musical at the Engeman Theater through March 6. Photo by Leila Scandar
Kate Keating stars in Junie B. Jones The Musical at the Engeman Theater through March 6. Photo by Leila Scandar

Joshua Cahn plays Mr. Scary, Daddy and Gladys Gutzman, and it’s as Gutzman, the cafeteria lady, that Cahn takes center stage. The way he delivers the role is reminiscent of Edna Turnblad from “Hairspray,” and with funny lines and a cute dance number with Keating, he received well-deserved laughs and giggles from the audience members.

Michael Verre tackles dual roles as Junie’s new friend Herb and one of the twins, Chenille. While Verre is sweet as Herb, particularly during the number with Keating, “You Can Be My Friend,” he is hilarious as Chenille, where he good-naturedly dons a wig and dress, and gracefully sings and dances along with Camille and Lucille during the number “Lucille, Camille, Chenille” to the delight of the audience.

Jennifer Casey as Camille and Jose, Allie Eibeler as Lucille and Lennie, and Alyson Clancy as May and Bobbie Jean handle their role changes seamlessly, and no matter what part they are playing, effortlessly add to the fun and high energy of the musical.

Written by Marcy Heisler, with music by Zina Goldrich, “Junie B. Jones” features upbeat, fun-filled numbers that are perfect for a musical geared toward young children. Stand out songs in the first act include the opening number “Top-Secret Personal Beeswax” where Junie tells the audience all about her new journal, and at the end of the act, “Now I See,” where, with the help of her friends, Junie begins to like her new glasses. Act 2 also features the heartwarming number “Writing Down the Story of My Life” that will inspire little ones to record their adventures.

Directed by Jennifer Collester Tully, “Junie B. Junes, The Musical” is a journal-worthy theater experience for the whole family. The set is colorful, the actors are energetic, and the story is a relatable one for children. Most of all, the delightful story will warm the hearts of young and old.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Junie B. Jones The Musical” through March 6. Tickets are $15 each. 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.