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Kevin Burns

The cast of ‘Frosty’. Photo courtesy of Engeman Theater

By Heidi Sutton

For too short a time, the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport will present its annual production of “Frosty” for the holidays. Directed by Richard Dolce, the interactive show, filled with song, dance and plenty of fun, is a wonderful way to introduce children to live theater.

Kevin Burns serves as narrator and welcomes the audience to Chillsville, a beautiful town way up north that is always covered with a blanket of snow. From the very beginning Burns puts the children at ease by asking them questions and inviting them to sing and clap to the first song, “Snow.” It is the quintessential way to start the story.

Burns introduces us to Jenny, a little girl who loves to play in the snow. With the help of her mother, she builds a snowman who magically comes to life once Jenny wraps a scarf around him. She decides to name him Frosty and the two become fast friends.

The cast of ‘Frosty’ Photo courtesy of Engeman Theater

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, mean old Ethel Pierpot, who wants to make Chillsville warm and snow free so she can build a new factory, invents a weather machine that starts to make everything melt, including Frosty. Will Jenny, her mom, Frosty and the audience come up with a plan to stop her or will Frosty turn into a puddle of water?

Danielle Aliotta, who played Jenny at last Saturday’s performance, alternates the role with Katie Dolce. Soft-spoken and sweet, Aliotta connects with audience from the beginning. Matthew Rafanelli returns as the gentle and kind Frosty, a role he has by now perfected. Nicole Weitzman is wonderful as Jenny’s mom and Courtney Fekete seems to be having a ball in the delicious role of Ethel Pierpot. It is Burns, however, as narrator, who draws the most giggles. His constant wardrobe changes to reflect how warm Chillsville is getting are hilarious.

A nice touch is how often the actors turn to the children in the audience for advice and they utilize the aisles often, including an exciting chase scene to catch Pierpot. During intermission, the narrator asks the audience to come up with a plan to save Frosty. When the show continues, the children 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.

The songs, including the fun “One Friend Is Better Than No Friends,” the sinister “Pierpot’s Solution” and the ever popular “Frosty the Snowman” tie the whole show together.

With the message that love “is pretty powerful stuff,” this fast-paced holiday production is the perfect way to celebrate the season.

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for pictures and autographs. An autograph page is conveniently located at the back of the program. Running time is 90 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Frosty” through Dec. 30. Children’s theater continues with “Seussical The Musical” from Jan. 26 to March 3 and Dreamworks’ “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” from March 23 to April 28. All seats are $15 and booster seats are available. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Alyson Leonard, Antoine Jones and Marquez Stewart in a scene from 'The Cat in the Hat'

By Heidi Sutton

For generations, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, has entertained and delighted children and adults alike with his whimsical tales and wild imagination. Out of the 60 children’s books published during his lifetime, one of Seuss’ most popular is “The Cat in the Hat.”

Written in 1957 as an early reader book, it has since been translated into more than 15 languages and was adapted into a feature-length film starring Michael Myers in 2003. And just last week, Warner Animation Group, in partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that a fully animated version of the popular book is in the works, the first of many planned to keep the Dr. Seuss legacy alive.

In our neck of the woods, a theatrical adaptation of “The Cat in the Hat” by Katie Mitchell opened last weekend at the Engeman Theater in Northport. The adorable children’s musical will run through the first week of March. The script, which is guided with voice-overs by Steve Wangner in the wings, follows the book closely and provides for a fun afternoon of live theater.

It’s a rainy day and Sally (Danielle Aliotta) and her brother (Kevin Burns) are bored, with only their goldfish Fish (Danny Meglio) to keep them company. Their mother has gone out for a while, so they sit by the window and watch the rain fall. When the brother says “How I wish we had something to do,” the door suddenly swings open and in walks the Cat in the Hat (Antoine Jones), ready to entertain the children with some tricks he knows, and the fun begins.

Now everyone who shares their home with a cat knows that cats make messes, and this feline, although he’s wearing a hat, is no exception. In the first act he impressively balances on one leg while holding books, an umbrella, a fan, a rake, milk on a dish, a toy ship, a toy man, a cake and poor Fish before it all comes crashing down.

The cast of Dr. Seuss’ ‘The Cat in the Hat’. Photo by Jennifer Tully

In the second act, that mischievous kitty releases Thing 1 (Alyson Leonard) and Thing 2 (Marquez Stewart) from a box and things only get crazier from there. They fly kites in the house, breaking things along the way, much to the delight of the young audience. “It’s a beautiful mess,” exclaims the Cat in the Hat.

When the kids see Mother coming down the road, they know that they have to catch Thing 1 and Thing 2 and clean up before she gets home. An exciting chase scene, accompanied by the Benny Hill theme song, ensues. Will they succeed or will time run out?

Directed by Suzie Dunn, the seven adult actors do an excellent job portraying the story. The actors interact with the audience often, making them feel like they are a part of the show. At one point Meglio makes his way through the audience with a bubble machine. Later on, Aliotta invites children on stage to dance with her. Special mention should be made of Jones who clearly loves children and is funny and engaging. From the moment his character’s red-and-white-striped hat appears around the door, the audience knows they are in for a real treat. So run, don’t walk, to see the cat, The Cat in the Hat!

Running time is one hour and 10 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Booster seats are available. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present Dr. Seuss “The Cat in the Hat” through March 4. Up next in children’s theater is “The Wizard of Oz” from March 24 to April 29. All seats are $15. For more information, call 631-261-9700 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

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.

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Kevin Burns and Katie Ferretti. Photo by Rita Egan

By Rita J. Egan

For the next several weeks, actors Katie Ferretti and Kevin Burns will transform into a perfect nanny and a charming chimney sweep in the stage production of “Mary Poppins” at the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center. The local actors are excited to present this timeless tale where a magical nanny, with the help of her friend Bert, adds some much needed fun to the lives of the Banks children. In addition to being thrilled about their current roles, the two actors are also honored to portray the characters that Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke made famous in the 1964 movie.

“‘Mary Poppins’ is my favorite movie of all time, so to get to play such an iconic role that was created by such a great actor, singer, dancer is really just a dream for me,” Burns said.

Ferretti admitted that it can be intimidating to take on such an acting part, but at the same time she said, “It’s definitely exciting to play a role that Julie Andrews made famous. It’s like a dream come true to me, because I look up to her so much as a performer.”

The musical is the first time Ferretti and Burns have acted together. However, both have performed at the Oakdale theater before. In the past 10 years, Burns has appeared in numerous productions at the venue, including “Singin’ in the Rain” (Don), “42nd Street” (Billy) and the “The Rocky Horror Show” (Dr. Frank N. Furter). Ferretti said she has been acting at the theater for more than 2 years and has had roles in musicals such as “Into the Woods” (Cinderella), “Les Misérables” (Cosette) and “Guys and Dolls” (Sarah).

Despite her acting roles, not only at the CMPAC but also at the Merrick Theatre and Center for the Arts in productions of “Seussical” (Gertrude), “Cinderella” (Cinderella) and “Proof” (Catherine), acting is only a hobby for Ferretti. The 25-year-old works full-time as a behavior support worker at the Developmental Disabilities Institute, where she works with teens and adults with autism. While performing in musicals may be part-time work for Ferretti, she said she did take voice lessons in high school that prepared her for her favorite pastime.

For 26-year-old Burns, acting is a full-time profession. In addition to his work at the CMPAC, he has appeared at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, most recently as Frosty in “Frosty the Snowman” and the Troll in “The Snow Queen.” The actor said this summer he will be busy as a part of the Engeman’s children’s theatre and camp. When he first began acting, he worked at the Airport Playhouse in plays such as “Cabaret” (Victor), “Gypsy” (Yonkers) and “A Chorus Line” (Gregory). Burns said he has no formal training in acting, singing or dancing, which Ferretti said she was surprised to hear, especially when it comes to his dancing.

The actress said Burns is an amazing dancer and handles the many dancing numbers in “Mary Poppins” effortlessly.

When they look to the future, both would love to appear in a production of “West Side Story.” Ferretti said playing Maria would be a dream role, while Burns would love to play Riff. Other roles on their wish lists include Finch in “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” for Burns, and for Ferretti, another Maria and another Julie Andrews role — Maria in “The Sound of Music.” Both are looking into possibilities for the near future, but nothing definite is lined up right now. “Who knows where the wind will take me?” Burns said.

Ferretti would like to continue balancing work with appearing in regional theater. And while Burns may toy with the idea of Broadway, he said right now he is happy performing at local theaters. When it comes to movies and television, both actors said they haven’t considered auditioning for film roles as they prefer working with live audiences.

“I like the fact that if you make a mistake the show has to keep going. You have to keep telling the story as opposed to ‘we can cut, we go back, we can reshoot,’” said Burns.
Ferretti agreed and added, “There’s something more honest about live theater than there is about anything filmed.”

For now the duo are having a great time with the cast and crew of “Mary Poppins,” who they said are a friendly group to work with as well as extremely talented. Ferretti said the crew backstage works incredibly hard to create a show for the audience “that’s like magic for them.” She said she wishes they could sell seats backstage so people could witness what exactly goes on.

Among the numbers performed during “Mary Poppins,” the two admit to having their favorites. Burns loves “Step in Time” while Ferretti said she has fun singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which she said after rehearsals she can easily spell. She also admits to getting misty-eyed when singing “Feed the Birds.”

When it comes to the excitement of being part of such an endearing story, the actors admit feeling like children at times, and they hope the audiences will enjoy experiencing the magic of “Mary Poppins” with them. Burns said at the end of opening night, he was brought back to his own childhood. “I got emotional when Katie came out to bow. I was standing next to Mary Poppins. It took me back to when I was in Disney World for the first time, and I went to go talk to the woman who I knew was an actress playing Mary Poppins, yet I still got emotional,” said the actor.

Theatergoers have until July 19 to experience the magic of “Mary Poppins” with Ferretti, Burns and the entire cast at the CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale. Tickets range from $20 to $29. For more information, call 218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.