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Musical

From left, Franklyn P. Butler, Phyllis March, Brian Gill, Robbie Torres, Katie Ferretti, Edward Breese and Jess Ader-Ferretti star in ‘Cabaret.’ Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Melissa Arnold

The Smithtown Performing Arts Center took its audience on an emotional roller coaster ride Saturday night during its gripping opening performance of “Cabaret.”

Ronald R. Green III serves as both director and costume designer for the show, which is set in early 1930s Germany, just prior to World War II. Written by Joe Masteroff, “Cabaret” is based on a play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Frank Ebb. It is among the most enduring musicals on Broadway, with its first show in November 1966 leading to multiple revivals here and abroad.

“Cabaret” follows wandering novelist Cliff Bradshaw as he travels to Berlin in search of his next great idea. And boy, does he find it! He is quickly drawn into the raunchy, circus-like Kit Kat Klub and becomes entangled with its regulars, particularly the seductive performer Sally Bowles.

Sally Bowles is a woman who knows how to get what she wants, and she quickly wriggles her way into Cliff’s life,  first by moving in with him and then by slowly winning his heart. And they’re not the only ones falling in love. Cliff’s landlady, Fräulein Schneider, is charmed by the perfect gentleman, widower Herr Schultz.

Unfortunately, what begins as a shockingly funny love story grows dark as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis gain momentum in Germany. The characters eventually find themselves torn apart by politics, and the show’s ending is so gut-wrenching that you can almost feel the air leave the theater.

Sally and Cliff are played by Katie Ferretti and Brian Gill, who are both newcomers to the SCPA stage. Ferretti’s portrayal of Sally is full of moxie, and Gill’s effort is totally believable as Cliff falls helplessly in love.

The audience is directly addressed throughout the show by a flamboyant and hypnotizing emcee played by Robbie Torres. If “Cabaret” is a circus, then Torres is its wild ringleader. As crude as his character can be, he’ll capture your heart and hold on long after the show ends. Be warned, the emcee quickly transitions between several languages, and his thick accent may be hard to understand for some.

Worth particular mention in the talented supporting cast are Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, who are portrayed with great tenderness by Phyllis March and Edward Breese. The duets featuring the couple, “Married” and “It Couldn’t Please Me More,” are the sweetest of them all.

Choreographer Danielle Coutieri ensured that the many dance numbers in “Cabaret” were full of all the shock value and sex appeal audiences would expect from a questionable nightclub. The kick-line at the beginning of the second act was particularly fun to watch.

The orchestra is located on the set’s upper level for this show, where they are regularly visible to the audience and even become a part of the story as the Kit Kat Klub’s house band. Led by music director Melissa Coyle, the music is more than just a sound track — they are a driving force for the club and show as a whole. They play powerfully, at times almost overwhelmingly so.

While this is not a show for children, adults are bound to be thoroughly entertained and delighted by “Cabaret.” Just be prepared to leave the theater in stunned silence. This classic will strike you in the heart.

Smithtown Performing Arts Center, 2 East Main St., Smithtown, will present “Cabaret” through May 22. Show includes strong language, intense sexuality and brief violence, alcohol and drug use. Running time is approximately 2.5 hours with one 15-minute intermission.

The season continues with “Hairspray the Broadway Musical” from July 9 to Aug. 28, “Rent” from Sept. 10 to Oct. 2 and “Urinetown the Musical” from Oct. 15 to Nov. 6. All tickets are $35 and may be purchased by calling 631-724-3700 or visiting www.smithtownpac.org.

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

By Rita J. Egan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From left, Hans Paul Hendrickson, Steven Uihlein, Andrew Gasparini and Dana Bush in a scene from ‘The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

When Theatre Three announces the return of a perennial favorite, “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit,” everyone knows that spring is just around the corner. Even more fitting, this year marks 150 years since the birth of Beatrix Potter, who created all of the wonderful characters in the production, from Mrs. Rabbit, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail to Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny and the McGregors. Written by Jeffrey E. Sanzel and the late Brent Erlanson, the show mimics Potter’s “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” closely with a kinder, softer story line. Sanzel directs a talented cast of eight adult actors to bring us this delightful musical that has become a wonderful tradition for families all over the Island.

The cast of ‘The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
The cast of ‘The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

The story follows a mischievous Peter Rabbit who, because of his insatiable appetite for parsley, cucumbers, tomatoes, string beans and lettuce, is constantly drawn to Mr. McGregor’s garden despite his mother’s wishes. Many trips to the garden patch with his cousin, Benjamin Bunny, eventually wear down the farmer’s patience, ending in a great chase scene through the theater, which is reenacted in slow motion later on.

The show opens with a sweet rendition of “Morning” by Mrs. Rabbit, played by Amanda Geraci, and never loses its momentum. Marquéz Catherine Stewart, Jenna Kavaler and Melanie Acampora are the good little bunnies Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail, respectively, who spend most of the show trying to find their “wayward brother” Peter, played with unbounded energy by Hans Paul Hendrickson. Dana Bush returns as a patient Mrs. McGregor after a few year’s absence and Andrew Gasparini tackles the role of Mr. McGregor for the very first time, playing the stingy and cranky farmer perfectly, sans the desire to eat the rabbits. Steven Uihlein, who plays the role of cousin Benjamin Bunny, rounds out the cast and does a terrific job.

Imagination plays a big part in the show, as the set design is sparse, utilizing a trapdoor on stage as a rabbit hole and constructing a makeshift scarecrow. Costumes, designed by Teresa Matteson, are on point, from Mr. McGregor’s overalls to the little white tails on the rabbits. Kudos to Michelle Manda for a terrific job on the lighting, especially during a Mission Impossible scene when Peter and Benjamin attempt to retrieve Peter’s clothes from the scarecrow.

The musical numbers, written by Kevin F. Story and accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, are all showstoppers, especially “One More Time Around,”  “Beware! Mr. McGregor!” and “Peter’s Socks,” which Stewart, also the choreographer, has converted to a fun hip-hop piece. All of the songs are incorporated into the finale, a perfect ending to a Theatre Three classic.

Souvenir bunnies in various colors are up for sale during intermission, and the entire cast is in the lobby after the show for a meet-and-greet.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” through March 26. Children’s theater will continue on the Mainstage with “Cinderella” from April 16 to June 11, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” from July 8 to Aug. 5 and “The Misadventures of Robin Hood” from Aug. 5 to 13. All seats are $10. For more information, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

James D. Schultz and TracyLynn Conner. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

The Long Island premiere of the musical “First Date” is set for March 5 at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, and actors TracyLynn Conner and James D. Schultz are thrilled that local theatergoers will get to experience the hilarious production with them.

The one-act play takes an amusing look at the trials and tribulations of today’s dating world when two people meet for a blind date at a restaurant in New York City. Conner, who plays serial-dater Casey, describes “First Date” as funny, witty and very current when it comes to today’s dating climate.

Schultz, who plays dating newbie Aaron, said the play is filled with great musical numbers, perfect comedic timing and sight gags yet doesn’t veer from its main purpose. “At the heart of all that is the relationship between Aaron and Casey,” the actor said.

While the two have shared the stage in productions in the past, such as “The Farnsworth Invention,” “Jekyll and Hyde” and “Man of la Mancha,” this is the first time they will be performing together as romantic leads. In addition to acting together, the two have been friends for years, and Conner is Schlutz’s vocal coach. The actors said they are having a great time working together and discovering their characters. 

“My character Casey has been on many, many, many dates. And James’ character, Aaron, this is his very first blind date in his whole life,” Conner said.

Schultz explained that his character has just gotten out of a relationship and has a lot of personal baggage. “When he meets Casey for the first time, he’s not entirely sure how it’s going to work out because she’s so different from him. He’s neurotic and conservative, and she’s very edgy and very fly by your seat, very artsy. And basically, they both awaken something in each other, and they find what makes the other person stronger, at least in that first date and the first time they meet each other,” the actor said.

Both are also excited to be working with director Jordan Hue and their fellow cast mates, Jeremy Hudson, Samm Carroll, Charles Jacker, Lauren V. Gobes and Michael Newman. Conner explained the rest of the actors play multiple roles, either in the restaurant or as past lovers, best friends or sisters in their imaginations.

“It’s a well-seasoned cast that knows exactly how to deliver a comedic line,” Conner said. She admitted that at times the cast can’t stop laughing in rehearsals.

Schultz agreed that they’re all having a great time. “We all mesh well which is what you hope for in a show.”

The actors are thrilled that the Smithtown run is the Long Island premiere of “First Date,” too, and they are confident audiences will like it. “While it’s rather new, it’s also something modern, something sweet, something that I think whether you’re young or old, you’ll be able to enjoy, and because it’s a quick show, you’ll come and have a nice evening at theater and feel something,” Schultz said.

Conner, who is currently single, pointed out that among the hilarity in the musical there are also touching, poignant moments. She said her song “Safer” will be hard to get through without her crying. “It’s just a really touching song, and I think any woman who has been in the dating world will hear this song and say ‘yes, that’s me’,” the actress said.

Schultz hopes that audiences will connect with the characters too and feel like they are watching a couple on a date. “What we’re striving for is trying to create a slice of life [with] the audience looking at these two people basically finding each other.” Conner added, “You see two people standing on the edge of something great if they let themselves see it.”

Off stage, standing on the edge of something great is a concept both actors are familiar with. While audiences will find out the fate of Casey and Aaron by the end of the play, Conner’s and Schultz’s futures are both continuing tales. The actors, who have performed extensively on Long Island, are auditioning and open to a variety of acting roles including for stage, commercials, television and film.

“I want to put myself out there for whatever is out there, whatever piques my interest,” Schultz said.

Conner agrees to being open to it all. “When you have a passion to do this, I feel like there are some shows I would do in a cardboard box just to be able to play that role.”

For now, Conner’s and Schultz’s calendars are booked up with 14 nights of first dates at the theater in Smithtown, and they invite local musical lovers to join them.

“It’s a great show for a date night out. Get the babysitter and just have a night out and possibly remember what your first date was like with your significant other,” Conner said.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main Street, Smithtown, will present “First Date” March 5 through March 26. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

The cast of ‘Godspell’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Michael Tessler

Theatre Three’s production of “Godspell,” which opened last Saturday night, is local theater at its finest. A musical by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak, it originally opened off Broadway in 1971 and has had many revivals since then. Uniquely reimagined by director Jeffrey Sanzel, Theatre Three’s production succeeds in every category with beautiful lighting, a fluid set, expert choreography, tremendous acting and voices that will leave you yearning for more.

Sanzel, who had previously directed several productions of “Godspell,” brings a refreshing twist to the story, having it take place in the here and now. The cast portray not characters, but their actual selves. Everything you watch is playing out in real time, and it genuinely feels like it’s happening for the first time. The result is miraculous, as it adds a depth and weight to the show that makes it all the more human.

Biblical Spoiler Alerts: Each touch, every moment of embrace, was so unique and powerful. You feel so connected with the magnanimous presence of Jesus, portrayed masterfully by Hans Paul Hendrickson. You sympathize with Judas (Patrick O’Brien) whose dynamic personality and lovability makes his betrayal all the more devastating and personal.

Broken into two acts, the first is a series of parables told by Jesus’ disciples through songs and skits. They will have you in stitches from laughing. Each parable contains a beautiful lesson of morality. In the second act you bear witness to the betrayal of Jesus. Though the tone of the show dramatically changes, the cast still delivers, showing off their impressive range as actors.

What’s most remarkable about this production is its cast. This ensemble effortlessly plays with your heartstrings as their harmonies echo through the belly of the theater. They don’t limit their stage to the stage. More often than not they’re in the audience sharing the experience with you. Their collective voice is so powerful, so beautiful, and instills you with a sense of togetherness. During the production you feel as though you’re a part of something very special.

Hans Paul Hendrickson as Jesus and Patrick O’Brien as Judas in a scene from ‘Godspell.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Hans Paul Hendrickson as Jesus and Patrick O’Brien as Judas in a scene from ‘Godspell.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

In Act One, Amanda Geraci serenades with perfection in her rendition of the musical theater classic “Day by Day.” Bobby Montaniz’s booming voice rings perfectly during his soulful performance of “All Good Gifts.” Act Two, though darker in tone, does have some upbeat moments. Among them is the devilishly sexy “Turn Back, O Man” performed by the talented Elena Faverio. You’ll hold back tears during “By My Side,” a beautiful duet between Jenna Kavaler and Aria Saltini. In the audience, you can’t help but feel the urge to clap and sing along.

The show’s excellent choreography is also to be noted. With each musical number it feels the cast members outdo themselves. No doubt this can be attributed to choreographer Marquez Stewart whose vision translated wonderfully on stage. Her direction of Jesus and Judas during “All for the Best” is a real treat as the duo tap dances in tandem. Many of the musical numbers cleverly include American Sign Language, adding an extra dimension to an already beautiful repertoire of music. “Godspell’s” other great success is in its attention to ambiance. Lighting designer Robert W. Henderson Jr. programs some of the most impressive light sequences I’ve ever seen in a local show. “Heavenly” seems like a fitting adjective.

Behind the cast is Steve McCoy, musical director, who leads a team of expert musicians who brought the score to life in a way that only great instrumentalists can. Randall Parsons’ costume design was also a job well done with Jesus wearing his signature Superman shirt and Judas adorned in what I assume was a cleverly repurposed military coat from “Les Miserables.” Every cast member’s costume so perfectly fit the quirkiness of their personalities. Also deserving of credit is stage manager Peter Casdia who expertly ran the production from behind the scenes.

Arguably the highlight of the show is one particular scene that turns the stage into an old-fashioned slide projector. Comically narrated by Judas, the entire audience erupted into five minutes of non-stop bellyaching laughter. If for this scene alone, go see this show.

“Godspell,” while inspired by the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, isn’t exclusively a Christian show. Its message of community, love and compassion are delivered in a way that doesn’t require you to adhere to the Christian doctrine. Even as a secular Jew, I found myself humming along to “We Beseech Thee” and thinking to myself “I love Jesus!”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Godspell” through March 26. Contains adult themes. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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Hans Paul Hendrickson, second from right, with the cast of ‘Godspell’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Rita J. Egan

When it comes to the lead role in “Godspell,”  one important trait for the actor to have is charisma. During a recent interview with Hans Paul Hendrickson, it was obvious that he not only possesses this important characteristic but also enthusiasm for the musical’s upcoming run at Port Jefferson’s Theatre Three, as well as working with his fellow cast members and director Jeffrey Sanzel.

The company member was in middle school when he first saw the production at a local high school. “I was just blown away by how it was so different than anything else I had known in the musical theater realm,” he said.

After seeing the show, Hendrickson bought the album on iTunes. “I bought it and I lived it. I listened to it over and over again. And then, when I found out that they were doing it this year when I was signing my company contract, I was very much excited, and very eager to get a chance to get a crack out of it,” the actor said.

While it’s a role he always wanted, Hendrickson explained his reasons have changed since rehearsals started. He also said he finds himself getting along even easier with people, and taking the stance of turning the other cheek when someone does him wrong. “Originally I wanted to play it because it’s the lead, and he has great songs, and who wouldn’t want to play Jesus Christ. And also, the person who played it at the high school was someone I admired through doing theater and looked up to, which made me want to play it even more,” he said.

“But as I’ve gotten the role it’s kind of become a situation where, I’m not saying I’m becoming the character, but I’m adopting his teachings. I’m becoming able to relate to what he’s saying because a lot of what he says in the show is straight out of the Bible, and it’s not exactly written in the most plain of terms, but through my work with Jeff I’m able to connect that stuff with my life. And I’m able to adopt these ideals and these thoughts and these concepts of this man, and the character and the actor are becoming one,” he added.

The actor said the play asks, “If this charismatic character came into your life for one day, how will he change you?”

“In our production, we kind of take the name of Jesus out of the play. We are focusing more on the teachings and the identity, the being, the idea of Jesus. Rather than them addressing me as Jesus and me wearing a beard and long hair, we kind of focus on the love aspect,” said Hendrickson.

“Throughout the rehearsal process, Jeff [Sanzel] has been emphasizing the idea to me of leading from behind. Yes, [Jesus] is the leader but he kind of is the gas in the tank of the ensemble. He helps them to realize that they have all the teachings and understandings in themselves. And as he teaches them to tell these parables and these stories, not only do they learn the lessons about the stories but they learn lessons about themselves.”

The actor explained that the Theatre Three production takes place in an old theater, and as the musical opens, we are introduced to characters representing theater regulars such as the shining star, the understudy, the costumer and the director. While the beginning number shows disconnect, the Jesus character, who happens to be the janitor, comes in to help connect everyone. “We kind of wanted to emphasis the idea that he could be anyone. It’s not about, yes, he was the son of God, but he’s also the son of man.”

While Hendrickson has a number of favorite moments in the musical, he said he loves how the cast comes together in “Save the People” and feels a surge of energy that he said organically came along in the rehearsal process. The number first starts with Hendrickson and Patrick O’Brien, who plays Judas, on stage, and then everyone joins in with the band dropping out for about four measures where everyone sings a cappella.

“There’s such a surge of energy. And, it’s something that you don’t get in every production, and it’s something that you can’t take for granted as a performer, because it’s so genuine of everybody coming together for this one purpose. I’m getting goose bumps just talking about it,” Hendrickson said. “They’re almost coming together to be together. They’re not entirely sure why they are coming together but there’s something pulling them, there’s something bringing them in. Their vocals are just so on point at that moment.”

As for his fellow cast members, Hendrickson said they all bring different energies and personalities, and they jokingly refer to themselves as the God Squad. “There’s not a weak link up there.”

The actor credits Sanzel for bringing out the best in all of the cast members. He explained the director doesn’t just simply direct but also pulls the best from each actor, discussing with each their thoughts about the role and any problems they may encounter. Hendrickson said Sanzel also understands how to take into account the actors’ ideas of approaching a role and making the entire cast feel connected. “He’s created a completely judgment-free zone, which we’re able to try, and which we’re able to grow, and which we’re able to love and love each other, and love the work that we’re putting together.”

After “Godspell,” Hendrickson said he will appear at the theater in the one-act play “OK Computer” by Tom Moran  at the Ronald F. Peierls Theater on  the Second Stage at the end of April and as Pinocchio in the Mainstage musical “Shrek” in May. The 23-year-old plans to take the summer off and then audition, something Hendrickson said he’s more confident about than in previous years due to this past year as a Theatre Three company member.

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, will present “Godspell” from Feb. 27 to March 26. For more information, please visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

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.

Brodie Centauro as Scrooge in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’ at CMPAC. Photo by Lisa Schindlar

By Charles J. Morgan

Madison Square Garden’s “A Christmas Carol-The Musical” opened on Saturday, Nov. 21, at Oakdale’s CMPAC. That massive venue unveiled an equally massive cast with electronically fed music, and came up with a tightly executed rendition of that theatrical classic.

Brodie Centauro as Scrooge in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’ at CMPAC. Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Brodie Centauro as Scrooge in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’ at CMPAC. Photo by Lisa Schindlar

Your scribe takes pleasure in discussing Ronald Green III’s costumes. It may appear odd that costume design would appear first in a review, but your scribe was so impressed with Green’s effort, producing as it did a totally authentic representation of Dickensian, mid-Victorian dress.

Green’s attention to detail was seen even in a short vignette of a properly bewigged judge and a uniformed London bobby in Act II. All the cast members were costumed in varying versions of mid-19th century attire; some painstaking research was done here. Authenticity was called for and Green delivered.

The leading role of the penurious, miserly, arrogant opinionated, skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge was played stingingly by Brodie Centuro, no stranger to CMPAC. He accurately depicted the penny-pinching, negative nature of Scrooge, and with skillful “range-ability” revealed the lurking charity in the old codger with notable skill. This is what the craft of acting is all about: to exhibit sincere, believable change.

The principal ghost is that of Scrooge’s old partner Jacob Marley, laden with chains, each link made of bills from his accounting desk, and had Don Dowdell torturing the soul of Scrooge very effectively.

He was followed by three ghosts: Christmas Past-Steve Cottonaro, Present-Kyle Petty and Yet-To-Be-Alison Carella. Cottonaro and Petty were outstanding with Cottonaro all over the boards and Petty in royal garb working with dancers. Carella had the somber, deadly part of pointing to gravestones with guess-who’s name on one of them. Carella did it forcefully and with impact.

Mark Slomowitz played Mr. Fezziwig, the contra-Scrooge. Along with his wife, played by Kaylyn Lewis, he held an annual ball full of merry music and dancing. Theirs was the life-affirming attitude. Slomowitz was his usual adaptable self, as when he played Luther Bilis in South Pacific. Lewis is possessed of a powerful singing voice that reached all the way to Sayille … at least.

The loyal, hard-working Cratchit family had its head, Bob, played by Bobby Peterson, Katie Hoffman as his wife and Skylar Greene, Daniel Belyansky and Jack Dowdell (the lovable Tiny Tim) as his children. This grouping was the very opposite of Scrooge. They even toast him at Christmas dinner.

Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, is handled neatly by Joseph Bebry. He was the link between Scrooge’s loneliness and the family. And he brought it off with palpable accuracy.

The ghosts parade Scrooge through his life. At 8, he’s played by Jack Dowdell; at 12 by Daniel Belyansky and at by 18 Matthew W. Surico. This trio managed to sort out just the right tempo to reveal the evolution of Scrooge from promising young businessman to scolding curmudgeon … not an easy acting-directing task. A lot of children and bit players, with many doubling, rounded out the cast.

Notable was Dana Abruzzo as “Blind Hag,” who delivered a Teresias-like prophecy to Scrooge, biting in its impact.

Choreography was done by Kristen Digilio. She moved the characters around the crowded boards with precision and grace. Set design was by the unstoppable Patrick Grossman, who brought out the 19th Century outdoor setting with the same accuracy that showed his talents with non-naturalistic interiors. Overall direction was by Terry Brennan. Her directorial challenge here was with the enormous size of the cast, yet Brennan surmounted it handily.

Outstanding musical numbers included “Link By Link” by Marly, Scrooge and Ghosts. It was a moral, cautionary tale delivered eerily by the two with ethereal accompaniment. Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim’s duo, “You Mean More to Me,” was a tender ballad with understated pathos. “A Place Called Home” by Scrooge at 18 and in old age with Emily, played by Ashley Beard, was a sort of hymn to unrequited love. The lively, merry Mr. Fezziwig’s Annual Ball was a welcome merry romp.

This production was far from an “annual” seasonal show. It represented the essence of technical and aesthetic prowess only to be expected from the folks at CMPAC.

CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, will present Madison Square Garden’s “A Christmas Carol” through Dec. 29. Tickets range from $20 to $29. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.

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