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Melissa Arnold

The cast of '26 Pebbles'. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Melissa Arnold

In the world of high school theater, it’s pretty common to see a troupe of eager teens take the stage to perform a lighthearted comedy or timeless musical. David Kramer knows that, and he’s certainly enjoyed directing shows in those genres many times before. But in the past several years, the director of Mount Sinai High School’s theater program has moved to exploring deeper topics for the benefit of both actors and audiences.

Kramer has devoted more than 40 years to arts education. He taught music in the Miller Place School District for 39 years and was also involved with the after-school theater program. In 2014, he was hired to direct both the annual drama and musical for Mount Sinai High School. The opportunity has enabled him and his students to be able to bring plays that “hope to spark conversations of timely, mature social issues” to the community, including “The Laramie Project,” “And Then They Came for Me,” “Twelve Angry Jurors” and “Our Town.”

On Nov. 13 and 17, Mount Sinai High School will present “26 Pebbles,” a poignant and timely one-act drama about how the citizens of Newtown, Connecticut, grieve and attempt to recover in the wake of the Dec. 14, 2012 massacre of 20 children and 6 adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

This show builds upon Mount Sinai’s growing reputation for tackling difficult topics and societal issues through its drama program.

“I always thought there should be high-quality shows that expose young adults to different aspects of the human condition as well as theater skills,” Kramer said. “I’m not looking to crush them. I’m looking to help them develop a sensitivity to what’s going on in society. My goal is to use theater to encourage change.”

Kramer selected “26 Pebbles” for its focus on current events, including gun violence and the ensuing debate about safety in schools. Several school districts on Long Island now employ armed guards, so Kramer found the show relevant to local audiences. He was also touched by the story of a former student whose child attended Sandy Hook Elementary School at the time of the shooting.

While some of the auditioning students admitted that they initially weren’t excited over Kramer’s selection, he said they all agreed it was an important story that needed telling. During auditions, Kramer showed students a trailer of the show and asked them to read from portions of the script. The result is a cast that connects deeply to the show’s message and is passionate about sharing it with audiences.

Playwright Eric Ulloa spent months in Newtown conducting dozens of interviews for “26 Pebbles,” which uses a docudrama format to tell the story of Sandy Hook through a variety of perspectives. While the original script calls for each actor to play multiple characters, Kramer chose to expand the cast by assigning individual roles. The stories of parents, teachers, first responders, clergy and community members are all represented by a cast of 24 students in grades 9 through 12. The set for the show is deliberately sparse and unfinished, conveying that both the national conversation on gun violence and Newtown’s recovery are ongoing.

Kramer is extremely proud of his students and their dedication to telling the story of Sandy Hook with respect, honesty and powerful emotion. To prepare for the show, Kramer asked the cast to write mock sympathy notes to families who lost loved ones in the shooting, allowing them to connect and empathize with the people they portray.

“The souls of [the people of Newtown] are embedded in these students for the hour and a half they’re on that stage … they have shown incredible realism and growth. I think whoever comes to this show will be incredibly taken by it.”

Mount Sinai High School, located at 110 N. Country Road, Mount Sinai, will present “26 Pebbles” at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 and 17. Tickets are $10 at the door. Runtime is approximately 90 minutes. There is no violence in the show, but it is recommended for mature audiences only. For information, call 631-870-2800 or 631-870-2882.

By Melissa Arnold

Entertainer and comedian Bob Nelson has spent more than four decades doing what he loves most — making people laugh by taking them out of their problems and into his world.

“The greatest blessing for me is when people — families — have come up to me at a show and said they’ve been doing my routines together at the dinner table for years, that it’s gotten them through hard times, that it brings back memories of people they’ve lost — there’s no better feeling,” said Nelson in a recent phone interview.

The Massapequa native’s career has taken him from coast to coast, performing with greats including Eddie Murphy, Rosie O’Donnell and Rodney Dangerfield. And while he doesn’t travel as much these days, he’s begun treating Long Islanders to a hilarious, fast-paced monthly show at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson.

 

Bob Nelson as Eppy Epperman

Nelson said he’s thrilled to be returning to his comedic roots for this residency, blending observational sketches with his unique portrayal of multiple characters at once. Characters such as the lovable nerd Eppy Epperman, punchy boxer Jiffy Jeff and chicken rancher Wilby Stuckinson aren’t the most politically correct, but they are one of a kind, memorable and hysterically funny.

“My earliest shows involved using three doors on the stage as well as the two wings to create dialogue between different characters,” Nelson explained. “I’ll say something as one character, exit through one of the doors, and then re-enter and respond as someone different. It’s a very physical show, but I love doing a kind of comedy you don’t see every day.”

The development of Nelson’s career was far from linear. In fact, he landed his first comedy gig on a fluke. In his late teens, one of his job responsibilities was fact-checking advertisements in phone books by making cold calls. Nelson sometimes did impressions on the phone to make his co-workers laugh, and during one such call, he impressed a man who was working on opening a new comedy club.

That club, the White House Inn in Massapequa, became Nelson’s first stage.

“The first night I went, I just got the bug for comedy and kept going back,” he said.

Not long after, Nelson changed his major at Nassau Community College from communications to theater, declaring to his family that he planned to make a life of entertaining.

“My dad wasn’t thrilled about that decision. He said, ‘You’re never going to make anything of yourself,’ and told me to move out,” Nelson recalled. “So that’s what I did. I was 20. In the end, I made it work, and my dad is now my biggest fan. We have a great relationship.”

Nelson did more than just make it work — his career has led him to clubs all over the country, he’s acted on stage and in film, and starred in multiple comedy specials on HBO. His most popular special, “Nelson Schmelson,” can be found on YouTube.

Reflecting on his career, Nelson prides himself on delivering clean comedy routines that are appropriate for all ages.

“When I think of the people that have inspired me — Ernie Kovacs, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis — those guys were truly talented, and truly funny. They didn’t need to resort to cursing, dirty jokes or mocking people to make people laugh like so many entertainers do today. That’s just not funny to me,” he said. “I want everyone to be able to come to the show and get away from their troubles for a while.”

Bob Nelson in the role of Jiffy Jeff

Douglas Quattrock, special events coordinator for Theatre Three, remembers first seeing Bob Nelson perform while watching “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” when he was growing up. He immediately memorized every word of the skit. 

“I always thought he was the most fascinating comic I’ve ever seen,” Quattrock said. “You never know what you’re going to get from him. He’s just pure comic genius.”

With the help of Paul Anthony from the Long Island Comedy Festival, the theater was able to contact Nelson about a performance. That show sold out and feedback from the audience was overwhelmingly positive, leading  the theater to invite Nelson for a residency. 

“He’s been so receptive and we’re all thrilled to have him call Theatre Three his new home,” said Quattrock. “You’ll get to see your favorite skits and characters from Bob, but what makes this show special is that he also takes audience requests. He’s hoping to develop new characters during his time here as well, which would be historic for us to be a part of.”

Bob Nelson performs monthly, 90-minute shows at the Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the second stage of Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. Tickets are $39. The next two performances are Nov. 15 and Dec. 6. The bar is open for refreshments during the show. For information on upcoming performances and to purchase tickets, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

'Finis Incertus' by Chase McGill

By Melissa Arnold

An eerie chill is beginning to settle over Long Island, and with it comes the creepy sort of magic that only Halloween can bring. Whether you’re in it for the candy or the costumes, celebrating All Hallows Eve encourages young and old alike to get creative and maybe even spooky.

To celebrate the season, the Huntington Arts Council is sponsoring its 7th annual Nightmare on Main Street at the Main Street Gallery, a juried student art show showcasing some of our area’s most talented young artists.

The exhibit allows students in grades 6 through 12 to submit their favorite Halloween-themed artwork for consideration. In total, 41 artists from Nassau and Suffolk counties were chosen, and more than 85 spooky pieces in varied mediums will be on display. 

‘Complement Me’ by Anna Laimo

This year’s juror, Jessica “Ratgrrl” Valentin, is primarily a digital and collage artist. Her “heartbreaking pop” style has graced galleries throughout Long Island and New York City. Her latest project, Muñeca Arthouse, is a unique gallery space in Patchogue.

Valentin also played a part in shaping the theme for this year’s exhibit. “I love spooky, but not horror,” she said. “I blend my work with spooky themes, color, and sweetness so I can deal with the things that scare me. How do you face the things that scare you?” she asked, setting the tone for the entries.

Anna Laimo, a senior at Half Hollow Hills High School East, was overjoyed to be chosen for this year’s Nightmare on Main Street, an exhibit she said is a perfect fit for her.

“My dad is a horror novelist, and I grew up watching scary movies with him. I love everything about the horror industry,” said the 17-year-old. “I submitted a few pieces for the exhibit last year but I wasn’t chosen, so it feels great to know I’ve improved this year.”

Laimo’s submissions include “Complement Me,” an acrylic and oil painting of skeletons on a date, and “Swell,” a drawing based on another interest of hers — special effects makeup.

North Babylon High School senior Zoe Hartmann is also making her debut at the exhibit this year thanks to an art class assignment. “My teacher had all of us do a Halloween-themed piece to submit. I was really surprised and excited when I found out I was picked. This is my first juried exhibit,” said Hartmann, 17.

Her contribution, a colored pencil drawing called “Rise of the Dead,” depicts a female skeleton alone in a cemetery. Hartmann said that she was inspired by the 2017 Disney-Pixar film, “Coco,” and the idea that, eventually, the dead are forgotten.

Along with Laimo and Hartmann, the works of Olivia Belluomo, Brooke Blumberg, Sage Boiko, Grace Burkart, Giavanna Castro, Ziqian Chen, Maxwell DeFalco, Alysse Fazal, Gloria Gang, Rachel Taylor Goldsmith, Elizabeth Gordin, Jenna Hart, Morgan Hlaing, Jiayi Huo, Evelyn Johnson, Aya Karimealaoui, Evgenia Kennedy, Siyu Lei, Juliette Liberatoscioli, Angelina Lomangino, Jessica Lyle, Sara Madsen, Chase McGill, Madalyn Metzger, Frida Misko, Benjamin Pollard, Sophia Polizzi, Dylan Roca, Matthew Rubenfeld, Jessica Rush, Mehr Sharma, Martina Simone, Juliah Triana, Leia Ulrich, Anna Vig, Emily Villavicencio,  Isabelle Waldorf, Hephzibah Yoo and Ida Zuo will also be on view.”

Prizes were awarded in two categories: grades 6 to 8 and 9 to 12. In the junior division, Best in Show went to Frida Misko for “Spooky But Sweet” with Angelina Lomangino receiving an Honorable Mention for “Wick.” In the senior division, Sage Boiko won Best in Show for “Werewolf of Wysteria” while Honorable Mentions were awarded to Anna Laimo’s “Complement Me” and Siyu Lei’ “This Red or This One.”

“I was honored and excited to be chosen as a juror,” said Valentin. “It was surprising; the layered complexity and the technical skill of these young artists. I love the places that they took the theme. It was hard. There was lots of good work to choose from.”

“Nightmare on Main Street continues to receive an incredible response from the student artists who enter the show as well as the surrounding community,” said Huntington Arts Council Executive Director Marc Courtade. “The artwork featured in this exhibit reflects an incredible level of talent.We are always thrilled to see the work of young adults in our gallery.”

Nightmare on Main Street will be on display through Nov. 3 at the Main Street Gallery, 213 Main St., Huntington. A costume reception will be held on Oct. 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the gallery, where prizes will be awarded to select artists and for best costume. All are welcome. Refreshments will be served. For information, call 631-271-8423 or visit www.huntingtonarts.org.

 

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Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Roy Schwartz

Roy Schwartz has had a deep passion for storytelling since he was a young boy growing up in Israel. While he’s written for a variety of audiences since arriving in America, the 38-year-old particularly enjoys writing for children because of their incredible imaginations and willingness to learn. 

His first published novel, “The Darkness in Lee’s Closet and the Others Waiting There,” tells the story of a 10-year-old girl seeking to bring her father back to life following a fatal heart attack. The horror-fantasy story is geared toward school-age readers, but Schwartz hopes people of all ages will connect with its message of courage, friendship, love and perseverance.

What was your upbringing like? Did you always want to be a writer?

I was born and raised in Tel Aviv, and then in 2004 I came to New York City as an unapologetic believer in the American Dream. I got a BA in English with a concentration in writing for children and young adults from the New School.

I used to want to be a comic book artist, but I didn’t have the artistic talent. I used to fill whole notebooks with stories during classes, to the endless frustration of my teachers. So it made sense to go on and study it in college. It seemed like something I couldn’t help but do. I got through college without having to work very hard just because I was naturally good at it.

After college, I was a freelance writer, but I was hit very hard by the economic collapse that began around 2008. I then went to grad school at NYU, taught for three years at CUNY, and eventually found myself in legal marketing. I found that I really enjoyed it. I’m now the communications director for a regional law firm.

What drew you to children’s literature?

I felt that to really make a difference in the world, I needed to write for children. The best children’s lit isn’t just for children — adults can also enjoy them, and they have merit and value for any age. But there’s no comparison to having a child come up to me and say a book of mine inspired them and gave them new ideas.

Is there a target audience for the book?

It’s for 8- to 12-year-olds, but a 6-year-old might enjoy it, and an adult can also appreciate it. I worked very hard to add those layers so that anyone can enjoy it.

What inspires you?

I’ve always been interested in classic fairy tales like “Aesop’s Fables” or “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” I wanted to give that wheel a new spin. The things we experience are sometimes scary or unfair, and there aren’t always happy endings at every turn in life, but everything can be endured with friends, family and having faith in yourself. There are always good people to go through life with, and at the end of the day it’s all about love. Those are the ideas I hoped to capture in this book.

Can you tell us about the book? Was it based on a personal experience?

This story is about a 10-year-old girl who loses her father to a heart attack. She learns that at night, she can travel to the afterlife, so she decides to try to bring him back. But traveling to the afterlife can be very scary and even dangerous. Along the way, she encounters people in the afterlife from a variety of different backgrounds and points in history that support her. I don’t have a dramatic personal story that inspired the book. If you look at a lot of children’s literature, the main character is either alone or has lost one parent, and that sets them off on an adventure.

What do you like about the main character, Lee?

Lee is an artist. She’s very much a “real person” — she’s not a perfect 10-year-old. She’s thrown into a very surreal situation and has to develop the courage to navi- gate that. I wanted to have a protagonist that was fully realized. Lee doesn’t start out wise beyond her years or have perfect knowledge of what she needs to do.

What message do you hope  readers will come away with?

I hope the book isn’t preachy but I hope that it can help create empathy for different experiences and perspectives. Lee could not have succeeded in her journey without the support of the people she meets along the way

Did you self-publish this book or pursue traditional publishing?

I went with the traditional publishing. The publisher for this book, Aelurus Publishing, is a UK-based, independent company.  An author friend of my wife’s went on to become an editor and sent it to her publisher. That’s how they found me.

What are you working on next?

I have a nonfiction book for adults about the superhero industry called “Is Superman Circumcised? How Jewish Culture Informed the World’s Greatest Hero” (working title) coming out in the spring of 2019 through McFarland Publishing.

Where can we learn more about you?

My website is www.royschwartz.com, and you can find me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as RealRoySchwartz. 

“The Darkness in Lee’s Closet and the Others Waiting There” may be purchased online at www.aeluruspublishing.com, Amazon.com and the Google Play Store. 

Meet Roy Schwartz at the following reading and book-signing events: Turn of the Corkscrew Books and Wine, 110 N. Park Ave., Rockville Centre on Oct. 27 at 3 p.m.; The Dolphin Bookshop, 299 Main St., Port Washington (multiauthor event) on Nov. 10 at noon; and the Suffok Y JCC, 74 Hauppauge Road, Commack on Nov. 13 at 6 p.m.

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Jessica Murphy will play the role of Wednesday in Theatre Three’s ‘The Addams Family.’

By Melissa Arnold

Jessica Murphy in the role of Wednesday. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

From their first appearance in comic strips in the 1930s, the iconic Addams family has won the hearts of many for their “creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky” antics. Their story has been told and retold through television, movies, books and even video games. This fall, Theatre Three in Port Jefferson will present “The Addams Family” musical, which debuted on Broadway in 2010.

The show finds the Addams children approaching adulthood, and for daughter Wednesday, there are certainly some growing pains. She’s fallen head over heels for a boy, her first real love, and to her family’s horror, he’s … well, normal. And the Addamses are anything but normal. Things are bound to get weird when Wednesday brings her beau and his parents home to meet her family. Underneath all of the zany comedy you’d expect from “The Addams Family” is a story about love, family, growing up and acceptance. It’s a lighthearted, silly show that’s perfect for the Halloween season.

Jessica Murphy of Northport plays everyone’s favorite goth girl, Wednesday Addams. The 23-year-old shared her thoughts on the show and making her Theatre Three debut.

Matt Senese (Gomez) and Jessica Murphy

How did you get your start in acting?

I started doing small plays and dance recitals when I was around four years old. It was just a hobby, but I found that I really loved being on the stage, being a presence and making people laugh. I did shows all through high school, and in my senior year I was cast as the lead. I wanted to pursue acting professionally, but I didn’t think I could make a career of it. Originally I was going to study elementary education at Loyola University in Maryland. I had always wanted to be a teacher — my mother and grandmother were both teachers, and I love working with kids. But in the car on the way home from orientation I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else but theater.

How did your family respond?

They were incredibly supportive and encouraged me to take a gap year. Afterward, I went to SUNY Geneseo and eventually graduated from there with a bachelor’s degree in musical theater. Now I’m just focusing on getting involved with as many theaters and productions as I can.

What made you want to audition for this show?

I love the music from “The Addams Family,” and my mom saw [this show] on Broadway and loved it. I had never been to Theatre Three before, so I was excited to get involved in a group that was new to me.

Were you nervous about being a newcomer?

It was a little intimidating going to a theater for the first time that has such a devoted base of actors. Many of them have done multiple shows at Theatre Three and so they know each other well. But it’s been a fantastic experience. Everyone has been so kind and I’ve loved working with them — they are all incredibly talented.

Jessica Murphy and Max Venezia will play the roles of Wednesday and Pugsley in Theatre Three’s “The Addams Family”

Were you hoping to be cast as Wednesday?

Honestly, I just wanted to be a part of it! I was hoping for the role of Wednesday, but wasn’t necessarily expecting it … they asked if I wanted time to think it over, but I was so excited that I said yes immediately.

What do you like about your character?

This show gives a completely different take on Wednesday because she’s much older than she’s usually portrayed. She’s grown into her own independent person who knows who she is and what she wants. We also spend a lot of time on the family aspect of the show — Wednesday will always be her mother’s daughter, but she’s really a daddy’s girl at heart. 

Do you have a favorite scene in the show? 

There’s a scene in the second act when [Addams family patriarch] Gomez sings a song called “Happy Sad.” — It’s a more serious father/daughter moment that’s very touching. Most of the show is so zany, but it’s one of those moments where we see that underneath all the craziness in the family, they have deep love and affection for each other.

What is the best reason to come see this show?

At the end of the day, this show is all about love. It’s fun during this time of year to have a show with these kooky and crazy characters, but they really have a lot of heart to them as well. And of course, there’s a lot of laughs!

“The Addams Family,” opens this Saturday, Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. The show runs through Oct. 27. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. No children under 5 are permitted. To purchase tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Jim Molloy explores imaginative new subjects and styles in solo exhibit

'Primary Colors'

By Melissa Arnold

Artist Jim Molloy of Miller Place has earned a reputation as a nautical and landscape painter, and it’s easy to see why. His oil-on-canvas masterpieces of lighthouses in Maine, the local harbors of Stony Brook, Port Jefferson and Mount Sinai, or the intricate components of a sailboat will transport you to another place. His award-winning work has been showcased up and down the East Coast.

These days, though, Molloy is exploring something completely different. And it all started with a trip to the antique store.

‘Entropy’

“I found some [children’s] blocks and thought they would make a nice still life,” said Molloy, 53. “From there I started working with Tinker Toys, LEGOs, things like that, anything I could find.”

The new focus on what he calls “abstract realism” has given Molloy a surge of fresh ideas, and he’s ready to share them with the world. His first solo exhibit, entitled Primary Colors, will debut at Gallery North in Setauket on Aug. 30.

 

Art has always been a part of Molloy’s life, and he worked for decades using his talents wherever he could — as an illustrator for technical manuals, in the advertising industry, making 3-D models, doing custom airbrush work on vehicles and the list goes on. His real passion was for painting, however, and 12 years ago he left the workforce to paint full time.

It was easy to keep up his old rhythm of waking up and getting to work, said Molloy, who paints daily in his home studio. Self-taught, he honed his skills through hours of reading and study.

“After I quit my job, I visited museums and read every book I could get my hands on [about painting],” he said, adding he is especially inspired by Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer.

There are also the artists that encouraged and collaborated with him along the way. Among them are Irene Ruddock, president of Setauket Artists, who met Molloy at an art festival years ago. He began to exhibit with the group, and in 2015, they named him their Honored Artist.

“People are attracted to Jim’s paintings, not just because of his skillful techniques, but because of their soulfulness,” Ruddock said. “His work contains that special quality that tugs a bit at your heart, where you know that you are not just looking at something — you are feeling something that is warm and rare. In short, his paintings become memorable.”

‘Square Meal’

The journey to Primary Colors began last year at Gallery North, when Molloy was featured in a group exhibit titled The Art of Eating. Each work in the show focused on food, and Molloy’s contribution was a whimsical painting of children’s blocks arranged to resemble a plate of sushi with a pair of chopsticks.

The painting, an oil-on-panel work titled “Square Meal,” captured the attention of Gallery North Executive Director Judith Levy.

“I was amused by it. It was unique, interesting and fun,” said Levy in a recent phone interview. “When Jim approached me about an exhibit, I told him I would love to focus on that painting. It’s important for us to show a range of different ideas, and I’m very excited.” The show will also be on view during the gallery’s 2018 Outdoor Art Show and Music Festival on Sept. 8 and 9.

The process of creating each painting is a true labor of love for Molloy. Once he finds a subject that interests him, he’ll take it home and set it up in the studio. But before the painting begins, Molloy takes a photo of the subject that he can work from as time goes on. Getting the perfect angle and lighting is painstaking, and Molloy often shoots 100 photos or more before getting it just right.

‘Express’

In total, 32 works of art will be showcased during Primary Colors, many of them created within the past year with the exhibit in mind. The title hints at a common theme — each painting features the three primary colors — red, yellow and blue — in a prominent way. The paintings vary in size, from 6-by-12 inches to 3-by-5 feet, and all will be available for purchase.

“People in this area know me for my landscape art, so I’m honestly a little nervous about how they’ll respond to this exhibit,” Molloy admitted. “But I think it’s fun and colorful. In the beginning, when I first started painting [in this way], I never would have noticed the little details. But now I see everything differently. It’s a new perspective.”

Primary Colors will be on display from Aug. 30 to Sept. 21 at Gallery North, 90 North Country Road, Setauket. The public is invited to an opening reception on Aug. 30 from 5 to 7 p.m., and Molloy will be the featured artist at the gallery’s ArTalk series on Sept. 16 from 3 to 5 p.m. For more information about the exhibit, visit ​www.gallerynorth.org​ or call ​631-751-2676.

To see more of Jim Molloy’s artwork, visit ​www.molloyart.com.

Images courtesy of Gallery North

ON TOP OF THE WORLD: Zachary Podair with the cast of 'Newsies'

By Melissa Arnold

Zachary Podair

Zachary Podair of Smithtown will have some great “What I Did This Summer” stories to share when he heads to middle school next month. The 11-year-old is spending almost every day onstage at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, where he is the youngest member in the cast of “Newsies.” 

The show is loosely based on the Newsboys Strike of 1899, where New York City paperboys organized a union and went on strike to be treated fairly on the job. Zachary plays the part of Les, who wants to help his older brother support their struggling family. His character is lovable and funny, providing some bright comic relief for the show. I recently spoke with Zachary about his professional theater debut, what it’s like being the youngest on the set and more.

What got you interested in acting?

When I was 6 years old, my sister was taking dance lessons and we would always go to pick her up. I really liked watching and decided I wanted to dance, too, so my mom put me in hip-hop classes. I love anything that involves dancing, so I started looking for shows that had a lot of dance numbers.

Have you been in any other shows?

My first show was four years ago, at the Encore Theater. I got to play [the title role in] “Aladdin.” And ever since then I try to do as many shows as I can. I was Rooster in “Annie,” Donkey in “Shrek,” and Charlie in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” 

What made you want to audition for ‘Newsies?’ Were you nervous?

My favorite kind of shows are dance-heavy, and I knew that “Newsies” was one. I had seen the movie before and thought that I would try out. It also has a really great musical score.

I wasn’t really nervous about it. I didn’t necessarily think I would get the part, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try. I was really surprised when I heard I was cast. They originally said they were going to double cast the part of Les, [meaning two actors would take turns playing the role], but they ended up just casting me by myself. That was really exciting.

What is it like being the youngest person in the cast?

Sometimes it’s different being the only person around my age, but everyone in the cast and the crew has been so sweet to me. I’ve learned so much from being in professional theater. Every person I’ve worked with has taught me something, from the casting agency to the other actors, the director and other crew. I’ve also improved my dancing so much from working with our amazing choreographer [Sandalio Alvarez].

Zachary Podair, right, in a scene from ‘Newsies’

What do you like about your character?

Les and I are so much alike. He’s just a funny guy. I love playing him because he’s got a lot of great dance scenes and he’s also the comic relief in a lot of ways. I love the one-liners. 

What has acting taught you about life?

So, so much. I’ve learned how important it is to be flexible — emotionally and physically. You have to be spontaneous, to be willing to go with anything. And, of course, you have to learn how to deal with rejection. You’re not going to get every part and not everyone is going to love you.

What would you say to other kids (or adults!) who want to try acting but are nervous?

Definitely don’t be afraid to try it! If you don’t get a part, then you have the experience of auditioning and you can learn from that. If you want, you can try again. And if you do get the part, then you get to have an amazing experience. Either way it’s a positive thing and so much fun to be a part of.

Why should people go see “Newsies?”

It’s one of those shows that has something for everyone, no matter who you are or how old you are. There are things the kids like and things the adults will laugh at. And I think it’s interesting because it’s based on true events — we worked really hard to make our version of the show as realistic as possible. It’s a positive show that will make you feel good.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time at the Engeman so far? 

So far, the best moment was the first day that we got to see the set all finished. It was so amazing. I think that was the moment it all really hit me. I thought, “This is real. It’s really happening.” It’s the best feeling.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Newsies” through Sept. 2. Tickets range from $73 to $78. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

‘Cassio’ by Dino Rinaldi

By Melissa Arnold

‘Stable Door’ by Joseph Reboli

Horses, whether ridden, raced, bred or simply beloved, have long been a part of Long Island’s culture. From the Belmont Stakes in Nassau to the Smithtown Hunt and the Old Field Farm in Suffolk, the majestic animals hold a special place in the hearts of many.

Among them was the late artist Joe Reboli, whose 30-year career was defined by bringing both famous places and ordinary views of the Three Village area to life with great care and realism.

The Reboli Center for Art and History in Stony Brook was founded in 2016 to celebrate Reboli’s life and honor the history of the place he called home. Since then, the center has created a number of exhibits blending Reboli’s work with local artists as well as artifacts from Long Island’s past.

On Tuesday, the center opened an exciting  new exhibit, Artistry: The Horse in Art, which will focus on horses and their environment through a variety of mediums. Among the Reboli works in the exhibit is “The Stable Door,” an oil-on-canvas painting.

Roberto Dutesco’s ‘Love’ will be on exhibit at the Reboli Center through Oct. 28.

“Joe had a way of capturing this community that evoked such wonderful feelings from people,” said Reboli Center co-founder Colleen Hanson. “His painting of a stable door in our exhibit was done for [the late publisher] John McKinney. Joe’s ability to paint white was just astounding — there is more to the color white than many people realize; there are so many shades and hues in it and he captured them all.”

In addition to work from Reboli, the exhibit will highlight three other main artists. Roberto Dutesco, a Romanian-born Canadian artist, is well known for his fashion photography. But in 1994, Dutesco began to explore nature photography with a trip to Sable Island, nearly 200 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia. There he photographed the island’s breathtaking wild horses. He has returned to the island six times since then with the goal of inspiring greater conservation efforts through his work. 

‘Zidette’ by Dino Rinaldi

Dino Rinaldi is a Port Jefferson native whose winding career has taken him from illustration to advertising and finally painting full time. As a teen, Rinaldi recalls opening up an issue of the local newspaper and seeing a painting of gasoline pumps by Reboli. 

“I looked at it and thought, someday I want to be able to paint like that. It moved me,” said Rinaldi, who now lives in Setauket with his wife and daughter. “To be able to create art for a living is a dream come true.” Keep an eye out for “Zidette,” Rinaldi’s graphite powder-and-pencil drawing.

Elena Hull Cournot, who originally hails from East Setauket, now provides creative arts therapy in the West Village and owns a studio in Brooklyn. Horses are a mainstay of Cournot’s work, who is known for her large commissioned paintings of horses and soulful works created during her time as an artist in residence at the Burren College of Art in Ireland. Like storytellers who seek to capture the personal essence of their subjects, Cournot strives to spend time with each horse she paints. One of those horses was “Indie,” whose oil-on-canvas portrait is featured in the gallery.

The center’s history gallery will focus on events and places that include horses in a prominent role. The Smithtown Hunt is the only surviving foxhound hunt on Long Island. While it was originally a live hunt when it was first held in 1900, it is now exclusively a drag hunt. The Old Field Farm was built by Ward Melville in 1931 and continues to be a hot spot for the equestrian community. 

“Every year, we sit down and talk about what kind of exhibits we’d like to have. We look at different community events that are going on, and then work to determine the artists we might feature and a theme based around that,” Hanson explained. “This is such an interesting and fun show — there are so many people who love horses and have owned or ridden them at some point. They are beautiful, intelligent creatures that have a wide appeal.”

Hanson also joked that her own history was a factor in the decision. In the decade she spent as the director of Gallery North in Setauket, not a single exhibit featured a horse. Thanks to this exhibit, she’s now hung more than 30 horse paintings, drawings and photos.

The center will hold several special free events during the exhibit’s run, each coinciding with Third Friday activities in the area. Dino Rinaldi and Roberto Dutesco will be at the center Aug. 17; Leighton Coleman, Sally Lynch and Edmunde Stewart will be welcomed on Sept. 21; and on Oct. 19 there will be a screening of the documentary “Snowman,” which tells the story of a simple workhorse saved from the slaughterhouse by a Long Island man. Snowman went on to become a national show jumping champion.   

See Artistry: The Horse in Art through Oct. 28 at the Reboli Center for Art and History, 64 Main St., Stony Brook. Admission is free. For information, call 631-751-7707 or visit www.rebolicenter.org. 

Mike Cefalo as Davey, Dan Tracy as Jack Kelly and the cast of 'Newsies'

By Melissa Arnold

This summer, the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport is transporting audiences to a New York City of long ago in its production of “Newsies.” This feel good, family-friendly show, which opened last Thursday, is thoroughly entertaining and will have you rooting for the cast from start to finish.

The cast of ‘Newsies’

“Newsies”’ journey to the stage is an interesting one — the show is based on the 1992 Disney movie of the same name, and made its Broadway debut in 2012, where it won two Tony Awards. The book was written by Harvey Fierstein, with music by Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin”) and lyrics by Jack Feldman. 

Both the film and musical are loosely inspired by the real-life events of the Newsboys Strike of 1899. The newspaper business was booming in 1898 while the United States was involved in the Spanish-American War. But when the war ended in September of 1898, so did the clamor for news. And this is where “Newsies” begins. 

In the summer of 1899, a ragtag group of Lower Manhattan paperboys are lamenting the slow news climate, and famed publisher Joseph Pulitzer is brainstorming ways to boost his profits. At that time, newsies purchased their own papers from the publishers to sell on the street. Pulitzer decides to hike the prices the newsies pay, and since most of the kids are poor, homeless or trying to support their families, the backlash is immediate.

Whitney Winfield as Katherine Plumber in a scene from ‘Newsies’

Led by the charismatic and scrappy 17-year-old Jack Kelly, the kids form a union and declare a strike. The show chronicles the uphill battle Jack and his friends face to be taken seriously and shines a light on unfair child labor practices of the era. At the core of “Newsies” is the power of resilience, community and standing up for a cause — and that spirit is as relevant today as it was then.

Under the direction of Igor Goldin, this production’s cast features a number of actors making their Engeman debut. Among them are Dan Tracy, whose confidence and comfort on stage give his portrayal of Jack Kelly a lovable swagger. Tracy does a great job balancing Jack’s tough guy exterior with a more hidden tender side, which shines through in songs such as “Santa Fe” and “Something to Believe In.” 

Mike Cefalo and Zachary Podair, who play the rookie paperboy Davey and his kid brother Les, are also new to the Engeman. The pair have a natural chemistry and strong voices — listen for Cefalo in “The World Will Know” and Podair in “Watch What Happens.” As the youngest member of the cast, Podair is charming and funny, and he’s sure to have a bright future ahead in acting.

Whitney Winfield, in the role of Katherine Plumber, certainly holds her own with a big voice in “King of New York” and “Something to Believe In.” Her character is loosely based off of reporter Nellie Bly, who was a trailblazer for working women and female journalists. Winfield plays the role with a contagious positive spirit and moxie.

Dan Tracy as Jack Kelly in a scene from ‘Newsies’

The ensemble is every bit as enjoyable as the main cast. Worth noting is their incredible talent for dance — choreographer Sandalio Alvarez and dance captain Claire Avakian are to be applauded for their hard work. “Newsies” is full of pirouettes, backflips, cartwheels, jumps and more tricks that will blow you away. Even the curtain call is an impressive showcase for their skill, where you can tell the cast is enjoying the show as much as we are.

The double-decker set designed by DT Willis depicts a Manhattan street, with metal staircases, a fire escape and a cityscape background. The set is multifunctional, transforming easily from a rooftop to the city square, a deli, theater and office with some quick work from the cast, who also functions as stage crew.

With every show at the Engeman, it’s the little touches at the theater that make the experience extra special. Show up early to enjoy one of several “Newsies”-themed cocktails, listen to ragtime or put yourself on the front page with their crafty wooden newspaper prop. Feel free to ask the staff to take a photo — they’re easy to find in old-time flat caps and suspenders. Be sure to check out the playbill for some fascinating information on the show’s historical background.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Newsies” through Sept. 2. Tickets range from $73 to $78. For information or to purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

A swan lands in Lake Ronkonkoma. Photo by Artie Weingartner

By Melissa Arnold

Artie Weingartner

For as long as Artie Weingartner has taken photos, his focus has always been on others.

Weingartner, who lives in Lake Ronkonkoma, is a fixture at local high school sporting events. He has faithfully chronicled the work of the Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society and is the official photographer for the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group.

Now, for the month of July, the focus is on him as Sachem Public Library presents an exhibit featuring a wide array of Weingartner’s photos in a collection titled Scenes of Lake Ronkonkoma.

It’s an odd feeling for 58-year-old Weingartner, who admits it took a serious push from friends and loved ones to move forward with the exhibit. But nothing makes him happier than bringing joy to the people who see his photos.

“I like seeing people’s reactions to pictures and hearing their feedback — it really makes me feel good, and it makes me want to do it more. I love the rush of satisfaction that comes with it. I guess you could say I’m addicted to it,” he laughed.

Lake Ronkonkoma on a fall day

While photography has piqued his interest for decades, it took a long time for Weingartner to really find his niche. His father bought him his first camera, a simple Kodak, when he was just 9 years old. But he admitted feeling frustrated over the process of shooting a roll of film, waiting to have it developed, and then discovering that many of the photos were duds. “I didn’t have the patience for [traditional photography],” he said. “Not being able to see what the result was right away was hard for me.”

When digital photography emerged in the early 2000s, Weingartner was thrilled. Finally, he had the instant gratification of seeing each photo, with no wasted film and the option to delete ones he didn’t like with the push of a button. His love for photography was rekindled, and he hasn’t looked back. 

He began casually taking photos of his kids’ sports matches, plays and concerts. Word spread quickly about his natural talent. “Parents stopped bringing their cameras around and my pictures were used more and more. It became a lot of work, but a lot of fun,” Weingartner said.

A swan lands in Lake Ronkonkoma. Photo by Artie Weingartner

Now that his children are grown, the photographer is focusing more on chronicling the history of Lake Ronkonkoma. On a frigid day in January of 2016, he was invited by Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society member Matt Balkam to photograph the historic Fitz-Greene Hallock Homestead on Pond Road. The 14-room home was built in 1888 and contains all of the original furnishings of the Hallock family. In 2006, the Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society took over the care of the home, and it is now the only historic home in the community that remains open for tours and other public programming.

That experience would lead Weingartner to become regularly involved with the historical society and the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group.

In 2016, News12 contacted Evelyn Vollgraff, the president of the historical society, about filming in the area for a show covering historic places on Long Island. When reporter Danielle Campbell arrived at Long Island’s largest freshwater lake with Vollgraff, she was horrified to see how neglected and filthy the body of water was.

Fog encompasses Lake Ronkonkoma

Campbell, Vollgraff and several others put the word out on social media that they wanted to work on beautifying the area. The response was beyond anything Vollgraff anticipated. “We never asked for help. We just did it,” she recalled. “People got interested — legislators, councilmen. At the first meeting, 90 people were there asking what they could do and how they could help. The community came together in an amazing way. We have joined together as groups of friends that wanted to help our community. But now many of them are a part of the historical society as well, and most importantly, they’re my friends.”

In early 2017, the group held its first cleanup of the lake. Weingartner was there that day, too. They have since removed more than 300 tons of trash from the lake, and turned an old bookstore destroyed by fire into the historic Larry’s Landing, a popular hangout named for the bookstore’s late owner, Larry Holzapfel.

“Artie showed up with a camera at one of the cleanups and just started taking pictures — that’s just who he is,” Vollgraff said. “You have to record history. I can’t save every house in Ronkonkoma, but with Artie taking pictures, the history lives on forever.”

The community has also expressed its gratitude for Artie’s work through Facebook, where he frequently posts his photos on the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group and Sachem Sports pages.

“People were coming out of the woodwork from Florida or South Carolina who lived there 30 years ago to say how much it meant to them to see pictures of the place they grew up,” Weingartner said. “When I first moved to Long Island from Queens in 1970, we used to swim in the lake, but over a few years it got so dirty that we didn’t swim there anymore. Before that, people used to come out from Manhattan just to spend time at the lake. It’s always been an important, historic part of this community.”

While the exhibit is named Scenes of Lake Ronkonkoma, Weingartner said it encompasses a range of subjects, including sports and landscapes from other parts of Long Island, including Port Jefferson and Belle Terre. More than 75 framed 8-by-10 prints are on display. His favorite photo features Lake Ronkonkoma at sunset, with two birds and sunlight streaming down to the shore. All the photos were taken with a Nikon D600.

The photography show also includes guest contributions from photographers Richard Cornell and Richard Yezdanian.“This exhibit will be interesting to people in our area because [the lake and other scenes] are literally in our backyard,” said Anne Marie Tognella who works in programming and public relations at Sachem Public Library. “It captures many of the scenes that we see and appreciate every day with natural and historic value.”

Sachem Public Library, 150 Holbrook Road, Holbrook will present Scenes of Lake Ronkonkoma in its art gallery on the lower level through the month of July. Join them for an artist reception on Saturday, July 21 at 2 p.m. For more information, call 631-588-5024.

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