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Melissa Coyle

By Rita J. Egan

It was a dream come true at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts. “Dreamgirls” opened on the Main Stage last Saturday, and with a talented cast, showstopping numbers and sparkling costumes, it had everything one would expect from a musical.

Set in the 1960s and ’70s, the story follows three female singers from Chicago, Effie, Deena and Lorell, as they evolve from the Dreamettes — singing backup for a popular rhythm and blues singer named Jimmy Early — to the Dreams headlining shows on their own. Through song and a bit of dialogue, the audience gets a glimpse into the girls’ relationship, and watches as the three young women fall in love with the men in their lives: Jimmy, songwriter C.C. and Curtis, the group’s manager. 

The show also touches on the struggles of black singers to find a place on the pop charts in the ‘60s, while facing segregation in the South and watching as white pop music stars rerecorded their music.

“Dreamgirls” premiered on Broadway in December 1981 and ran for nearly four years, winning six Tony Awards. In 2006, a movie based on the musical was released starring Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx. 

With book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger, Ronald Green III masterfully directs a talented cast of 22 actors in SPAC’s latest production. The local presentation originated at The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale in September last year under the direction of Patrick Grossman, and many of the original cast members, sets and costumes remain the same.

Crystal Fauntleroy (Effie), Aisha Phillip (Deena) and Amanda Camille (Lorell) blend beautifully together as the Dreamettes/Dreams, and when Effie is fired from the group, Steffy Jolin (Michelle) effortlessly replaces her. The actors are excellent in the musical numbers “Move (You’re Steppin’ on My Heart),” “Dreamgirls” and “One Night Only.”

Fauntleroy is dynamic as Effie, portraying her with just the right amount of attitude and strength, and shines in every number. During the emotional “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” she delivers the song with all the passion audience members expect from this number. For anyone who has ever suffered a broken heart, be warned, tissues will be needed.

As the musical progresses, Phillip transitions from timid backup singer, to confident front woman with ease. After Curtis decides he wants a singer with a softer voice leading the group, believing the sound will be more acceptable to pop audiences, he moves Deena to the lead spot and Effie to the back. Phillip has a melodic singing voice that is fit for this role. This is especially apparent during the tender duo with Curtis, “When I First Saw You.”

Camille is sassy as Lorell, and she has the opportunity to show off her powerful voice during “Ain’t No Party.” Jolin as Michelle embodies the spirit of a girl group singer. Her stunning smile and the way she carries herself seems to say, “I don’t care if I’m not the lead singer, I’m a star.”

The ladies are not the only ones who are front and center in this show as the male actors have exceptional stage presence. Dondi Rollins is on fire as he plays a James Brown-inspired Jimmy. Rollins sings and dances his way into the hearts of the audience, especially with the high energy “Fake Your Way to the Top.”

David William Hughes is convincing as the slick Curtis, and his smooth vocals help to deliver a swoon-worthy performance. It’s no surprise that both Effie and Deena fall for their manager. 

Londell Collier is a sweet and endearing C.C., and his vocals are just as sweet, especially when he starts off the ensemble number “Family.”

Hughes, Rollins, Collier and Kevin Knight as Marty, Jimmy’s manager, sound fantastic together during “Cadillac Car.” Seneca Bell plays the masters of ceremony with flair, Justin Steele as Tiny Joe Dixon adds to the sensational vocals, and the whole ensemble rounds out the cast perfectly.

The musical has its comedic moments, too. After Jimmy and friends think they have a hit with “Cadillac Car,” Hans Paul Hendrickson appears on stage as a Pat Boone-inspired character singing the song and looking as wholesome as a ‘50s sitcom character. During the number “I Want You Baby,” Rollins is hysterical as he portrays a restrained Jimmy during a show in a whites-only club in Miami.

Once again, SPAC has produced a musical worthy of Broadway, and those behind the scenes also deserve to be applauded. The fast-paced musical is filled with fun dance moves choreographed by Milan McGouldrick, and conductor Melissa Coyle and the theater musicians magnificently accompany the singers on each number. Green, doubling as costume designer, also ensures all the bright colors and sparkling attire of the era are represented beautifully.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, located at 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “Dreamgirls” through June 17. Running time is 2 1/2 hours with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $38 adults, $34 seniors, $25 students. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Andrew Timmons and Austin Levine in a scene from 'Oliver!'

By Heidi Sutton

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts closes out its 15th season with a production of the award-winning musical “Oliver!” With book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, the show, based on Charles Dickens’ second novel, “Oliver Twist,” features some of the most unforgettable songs and vivid characters to ever hit the stage.

The story centers around a 9-year-old English orphan, Oliver, who has been raised in a workhouse. After disobeying the rules, the boy is sold into apprenticeship with an undertaker. Oliver escapes shortly after and travels to London, where he meets the Artful Dodger and becomes a member of a gang of pickpockets led by the criminal Fagin and aided by Nancy and the abusive villain Bill Sikes. Is Oliver destined for a life of crime or will his fortune change?

You can’t go wrong with a show like “Oliver!” during the holidays and the 40-plus cast at the SPAC, skillfully directed by Jordan Hue with musical direction by Melissa Coyle, presents a production that is fresh and exciting, serving up a fine afternoon at the theater.

While the entire cast does a tremendous job, especially the children, special mention must be made of Austin Levine who stars as Oliver, the young orphan with a pure heart. For the moment he speaks, “Please sir, I want some more,” Levine has the audience rooting for him to find a home and happiness.

Andrew Timmins nails it as the spirited Artful Dodger, top hat and all, and Brian Gill is quite terrifying as Bill Sikes. Ashley Nicastro is perfect in the role of his girlfriend Nancy, a victim of domestic abuse who ultimately meets a bitter end. Doug Vandewinckel reprises his role as Mr. Bumble, a role that fits him like a glove. Although her role is small, Taylor Duff as Bet stands out in the crowd, especially during “It’s a Fine Life.” Last, but certainly not least, Nick Masson plays Fagin with oily charm, performing “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” like an old pro from the days of vaudeville.

Of course, it is the wonderful melodies that are the heart of the show. From the hilarious numbers “I Shall Scream” and “That’s Your Funeral” to the poignant “As Long as He Needs Me,” “Where Is Love” and “Reviewing the Situation” to the big song and dance numbers we all know and love — “Food, Glorious Food,” “Consider Yourself,” “I’d Do Anything” and “Oom-Pah-Pah” — all are performed with boundless energy and beautifully choreographed by Jessica Gill.

Costumes by Ronald R. Green III are brilliant, from the drab brown outfits for the orphans, to the refined suits and dresses for the aristocrats to the seedy outfits of Fagin and his crew; and the set, designed by Timothy Golebiewski, beautifully showcases a cross section of Victorian society.

Exiting the SPAC last Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help but think how lucky we are to have so many wonderful community theaters on Long Island and how special live theater truly is. Consider yourself invited.

The Smithtown Center for the Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “Oliver!” through Jan. 21. Running time is 2½ hours with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $25 adults, $15 ages 12 and under. Please note: Show contains some violence and implied adult themes.

Season 16 opens with “Shakespeare in Love” from Feb. 3 to March 4, “Mamma Mia” from March 24 to April 29 and “Dreamgirls” from May 12 to June 17. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

All photos by Danielle Nigro

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