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Musical

The entire cast of ‘Barnaby Saves Christmas’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

During the month of December, Santa Claus has taken up residence at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson with Mrs. Claus and the whole gang for the theater’s 12th annual original production of “Barnaby Saves Christmas.”

The entire cast of ‘Barnaby Saves Christmas’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.
The entire cast of ‘Barnaby Saves Christmas’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

With the book by Douglas Quattrock and Jeffrey Sanzel and music and lyrics by Quattrock, this adorable children’s musical has become a yearly tradition for many local families.

Under the direction of Sanzel, an enthusiastic cast of nine adult actors whisk the audience away to the North Pole. It’s Christmas Day and Santa, his elves and reindeer are on their way to deliver presents to all the children. Realizing Santa has left behind one of the presents, a teddy bear, the littlest elf Barnaby convinces the littlest reindeer, Franklynne, to set off on an adventure “to save Christmas.” Along the way they meet a Jewish family and learn all about Hanukkah, and bump into an evil villain who’s trying to ruin Christmas — ultimately learning the true meaning of the holiday season.

Reprising his role as Barnaby, Hans Paul Hendrickson is delightful as an elf trying desperately to fit in. His solo, “Still with the Ribbon on Top,” is heartfelt and his duet with Sari Feldman as Franklynne, titled “I’m Gonna Fly Now,” is terrific. Feldman is wonderful, playing her character with the perfect level of spunkiness and determination. The audience connects with the two from the beginning.

Steven Uihlein and Phyllis March are Santa and Mrs. Claus and double as the Jewish aunt and nephew characters, Sarah and Andrew. Uihlein’s solo, “Within Our Hearts,” is superb and March’s rendition of “Miracles” is moving.

Although it is Santa the children look forward to seeing, it is S. B. (Spoiled Brat) Dombulbury who steals the show. The incomparable Brett Chizever tackles the role of the evil villain with utter glee. Just a big kid himself, Chizever is perfectly cast. This is a fun role and Chizever relishes in it. Dana Bush, as Irmagarde, his partner in crime, is also an audience favorite. The only original cast member in the show, Bush always gives a strong performance as the wannabe songwriter who follows her heart.

Marquez Catherine Stewart gives a superbly humorous performance as Sam, the head elf who is desperately trying to stay on schedule and keep everything running smoothly. Amanda Geraci and Jenna Kavaler in the roles of Blizzard and Crystal, respectively, are an amazing supporting cast.

Choreographed by Stewart, the dance numbers are fresh and exciting, incorporating the Whip and the Nae Nae as well as a tap-dancing number — “Like Me!” — that is top rate.

This sweet, cleverly written holiday musical is a perfectly wrapped package with a bow on top. The story line, the songs and the message are all timeless and wonderful. And the audience agreed, as the children — yes, the children — yelled, “Encore!” over and over at the end.

Stay after for photos with Santa Claus if you wish — the $5 fee will support the theater’s scholarship fund — and meet the rest of the cast in the lobby.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “Barnaby Saves Christmas” on Dec. 5, 12, 19 and 26, with a special Christmas Eve performance on Dec. 24. All shows begin at 11 a.m. Tickets are $10 per person. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Brandon Niederauer plays during a show. Photo from Gary Niederauer.

This young boy from Dix Hills sure knows how to rock.

Brandon Niederauer, 12, has only been playing the guitar for four short years, but he has already had more career milestones than most kids his age.

Brandon has already played on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, with the Allman Brothers Band, and at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. But his most recent accomplishment is perhaps his most impressive.

Brandon Niederauer plays during a show. Photo from Gary Niederauer
Brandon Niederauer plays during a show. Photo from Gary Niederauer

This December, he will be in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s newest musical on Broadway: “School of Rock-The Musical.” Brandon said he first became interested in playing the guitar after seeing the original movie, “School of Rock.”

After competing against more than 50 musicians to get the part and going through an eight-week workshop, Brandon said he got the call that he had gotten the role while he was playing basketball with his brother.

“All the kids and adults in the cast get along really well,” Brandon said in an email. “We have a lot of fun playing pranks and joking around. We are like a family.”

As for working with legendary composer Webber, Brandon said he has already taught him a lot.

“School of Rock — The Musical” officially opens on Dec. 6 at the Winter Garden Theatre.

This month, Brandon performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to promote the musical.

According to Brandon, when Webber was asked to be a guest on the show, the producers thought it would be a good idea to have him on the show as well.

“I was very honored to play the whole set with such an amazing band,” Brandon said. “I was one of the band. There is something special about that. They showed me the music and set list right before the show and I had so much fun playing and fitting it.”

Brandon Niederauer in "School of Rock — The Musical." Photo from Gary Niederauer.
Brandon Niederauer in “School of Rock — The Musical.” Photo from Gary Niederauer.

Brandon will also be performing with his cast in The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this year on the Gibson guitar float.

“Being on the Gibson float is a dream come true,” Brandon said. “I saw that float a year ago and said, ‘I want to do that.’”

Brandon’s father, Gary Niederauer, said he knew right away that his son had special talents.

“I knew after the first lesson,” Niederauer said in an email. “Everything was easy and natural for him. He knew where all the scales were after only being taught one.”

As for seeing his son up on stage, Niederauer said he delivers every single time.

“It is thrilling to be able to watch your son create amazing sound from nothing with other amazing advanced musicians,” he said. “I really can’t believe it. He has no fear and loves to perform for an audience.”

When asked about any plans for the future, Brandon said there’s nothing concrete.

“I have been a guitar player, singer, writer — now I’m acting on Broadway,” he said. “I really have no plan. Things have been happening on their own, so whatever it is, I just want it to be fun!”

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From left, Dondi Rollins as Sebastian; Michelle Rubino as Ariel; and Zack Buscemi as Scuttle in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Rita Egan

The heartwarming tale “The Little Mermaid” opened at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts this past weekend to the delight of fans both young and old. For almost two hours, the brilliant cast treated the audience to an enchanting and colorful show that floated smoothly from a magical world under the sea to a shore where dreams can come true.

Jordan Hue has skillfully directed a cast of talented actors who bring their characters to life with the right amount of tenderness and humor, and in the case of a few, even deviousness, needed for a production based on a Hans Christian Andersen classic and Disney film.

The musical, originally produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and book by Doug Wright, stays true to the movie version released in 1989, which when it comes to the finale, may be more fitting for younger audience members instead of Andersen’s sadder ending.

Our heroine Ariel, played by Michelle Rubino, lives under the sea with her father King Triton (Jahlil Burke) and her six sisters. The youngest of the king’s daughters, the little mermaid dreams of being a human and many times swims above water to see if she could catch a glimpse of these strange creatures. Her faithful companion Flounder (Caitlin Beirne/Erika Hinson) follows her on the adventures, where the seagull Scuttle (Zack Buscemi) joins them to educate them about life above sea level. Here the bird shows them items such as a fork that he believes is used to comb one’s hair, or a pipe that he thinks blows bubbles, and he cleverly names them to disguise his true lack of human knowledge. 

Mikey Marmann as Prince Eric and Michelle Rubino as Ariel in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo
Mikey Marmann as Prince Eric and Michelle Rubino as Ariel in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

While Ariel is making waves in her world, the rambunctious Prince Eric (Mikey Marmann) chooses the life of a sailor over his royal duties and chases the beautiful voice he has heard while navigating the rough seas. Just like Eric has his advisor Grimsby (Mark DeCaterina/Ralph D’Ambrose) to keep an eye on him, King Triton soon assigns Sebastian the crab (Dondi Rollins) the responsibility of keeping Ariel away from the dreaded humans. However, in her quest to make her dreams come true, Ariel slips away from Sebastian, and when she meets the evil sea witch Ursula (Samantha Carroll), the mermaid finds herself making a big yet silent splash in the human world, and finding that even in your darkest moments, dreams can come true.

Rubino, who is making her debut on the SCPA stage, is stunning as Ariel, capturing both the sweetness and eagerness of the mermaid throughout the production, especially during the songs “Part of Your World” and “Beyond My Wildest Dreams.” The actress bears a striking resemblance to the character, which had many little ones on opening night excitedly pointing toward the stage thrilled to see their favorite character in the flesh.

Marmann as Prince Eric proves he possesses the charming qualities to reel in a sea princess as well as theatergoers with his beautiful and soothing vocals during the songs “Fathoms Below” where he sails troubled waters and “One Step Closer” where he patiently teaches Ariel to dance.

Carroll as Ursula nails the deviousness needed to play a villainess and delivers the sea witch with the gusto of Ethel Merman, especially when belting out the tunes “I Want the Good Times Back” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” From the loud applauses she received after her numbers as well as during the final bows, it looks like Carroll has a promising stage career in her future.

Kevin Burns playing Floatsam and Barbara Tiernan as Jetsam were devilishly entertaining as Ursula’s sidekicks as they slithered their way through numbers trying to sideline Ariel’s dreams. The duo also had their time to light up the stage during the number “Sweet Child,” which convincingly lures the little mermaid into Ursula’s tentacles.   

Rollins gets a chance to show off his singing and dancing talents during the numbers “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl.” Despite playing the stuffy, crusty crab, Rollins, joined by the ensemble, delivers “Under the Sea” as the fun, energetic number it is meant to be and has us holding our breath in anticipation as he slowly introduces the first few bars of “Kiss the Girl” and then uses his voice masterfully to build anticipation.

Along with Rollins, D’Ambrose playing Grimsby on Saturday night and Buscemi as Scuttle seamlessly provided the comedic moments expected of the characters. In addition, Beirne played Flounder on opening night with an endearing sweetness, and the youngster delivered the cute number “She’s in Love” like a professional.

Of course, the story would not be complete without King Triton and Ariel’s sisters. While Triton may be stern at times, Burke plays him with the tenderness that obviously overrules the king’s heart when it comes to his children. Alex Juliano, Erin Bonura, Jessica Donlon, Courtney Braun, Alexa Brin and Samantha Foti whether playing the sisters or later as princesses vying for Prince Eric’s heart, not only delivered great singing numbers but also cute comedic lines that elicited laughs from the audience.

Complementing the talents of the actors was a simple yet eye-catching set designed by Timothy Golebiewski. With a coral-like trimmed stage and faux rocks, the cast transformed easily from underwater life to sea level where the simple parting of a curtain revealed the bow of Prince Eric’s boat that seemed to be heading straight toward the audience.

Costumes designed in an array of colors by Ronald R. Green III also take center stage during the musical. The various hues were stunning, especially during the numbers where the whole ensemble was on stage. Sebastian’s costume was the most spectacular in a bright red, and Rollins dapperly sported a top hat and coattails. To take the place of fins, long skirts are cleverly used for the merfolk, even on King Triton’s costume, which Burke handled smoothly.

The exceptional cast, as well as the crew, of the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts has created a production of “The Little Mermaid” that will float into the hearts of many and leave waves of delightfulness that will last long after they leave the theater.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, will present “The Little Mermaid” as its main stage production until Jan. 24, 2016. Tickets are $35 for those 12 and over and $20 for children under 12. For more information and show times, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

The entire cast of ‘Alice’s Wonderland Adventures!’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Lewis Carroll’s beloved classic may be more than 150 years old, but “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” still resonate with children and adults alike. Now Theatre Three’s creative geniuses Tim Peierls and Jeffrey Sanzel have written a brand new Alice-inspired children’s musical — “Alice’s Wonderland Adventures!” — that opened last Saturday. All the familiar characters are here, from the White Rabbit to the Mad Hatter, to the Queen of Hearts to the beloved Cheshire Cat. Throw in an appearance from Humpty Dumpty and Dorothy Gale, add a quick game of Wheel of Fortune for good measure, and you’ve got yourself a hit show.

Sanzel as director leads a talented group of seven adult actors, all of whom play multiple roles, through a delightful and clever production perfect for younger audiences. Seasoned actors Jenna Kavaler, Amanda Geraci, Hans Paul Hendrickson, Andrew Gasparini and Steve Uihlein are all outstanding, as are newcomers Mary Ortiz and Melanie Acampora, making their children’s theater in-house debut.

In the first act we meet Addison Carroll (Kavaler), an actress who is nervous that she will forget her lines as Alice in “Alice in Wonderland.” In a dream sequence, she finds herself transported to a magical land where the White Rabbit accidently takes her script. Addison spends the rest of the show chasing after the harried hare, trying to get it back. Along the way, accompanied by the Cheshire Cat, she has a tea party with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse; plays croquet with the Queen of Hearts, who enjoys shouting, “Off with their heads!” a bit too much; and visits with Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Addison’s adventures help her gain confidence and she awakens from her nap, ready to take on the world.

Sanzel knows his target audience well. Every scene is full of song and dance, fast-paced and short. Riddles and jokes run rampant throughout the production: “Why do flowers work in the kitchen? Because you can’t make tarts without flour!”

The 12 original musical numbers by Peierls, accompanied by Steve McCoy on piano, are the heart of the show. Hendrickson is outstanding in his solos, “We’re All a Little Mad Here” and “The Tweedle’s Song,” in which he impressively performs both Tweedle roles, making his solo a duet. Geraci shines in “So Much to Do,” and the entire company’s “Wonderland Within You” is the perfect finale.

The actors utilize the set from the evening show, “Sweeney Todd,” but that’s OK because the costumes and puppets are so colorful and fun, a set is not even necessary. From the caterpillar with his six arms to the long red robe of the Queen of Hearts, costume designer Teresa Matteson has done an excellent job. It is the 13 puppets, however, designed and constructed by the brilliant Tazukie Fearon, that steal the spotlight. From the moment they make an appearance, the children are mesmerized. This is live theater at its best. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show.

Five-year-old Josephine Cunniffe, of Stony Brook, who said she loved the show, enjoyed the performance with her grandparents. Her favorite character was the White Rabbit.

Ashley Kenter, who’s been coming to Theatre Three since she was a little girl, said her favorite characters were “Alice … and the bunny” and her favorite scenes were when the Cheshire Cat told knock-knock jokes. The 10-year-old, who was having her birthday party at the theater, said she decided to celebrate the milestone at Theatre Three “because there is a lot of room here and they have a lot of good shows.” Her favorite show of all time is “Barnaby Saves Christmas,” which by coincidence is the theater’s next children’s show, from Nov. 27 to Dec. 26.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “Alice’s Wonderland Adventures!” through Oct. 24. Tickets are $10. For more information, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Steve McCoy and Suzanne Mason star in ‘Sweeney Todd’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Sari Feldman, Franklin Inc.

Port Jefferson Village residents can score free tickets to see the musical “Sweeney Todd” at Theatre Three on Main Street.

Residents with a valid ID can pick up tickets at the village recreation department office, on the second floor of the Village Center, as supplies last. The tickets are available for two Thursday night shows: Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 22 at 8 p.m.

Call 631-802-2160 for more info.

Austin Levine and Max Venezia are starring in James and the Giant Peach. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Before “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” before “Matilda” and even before “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Roald Dahl wrote the classic children’s novel, “James and the Giant Peach.”

The story follows the adventures of James Henry Trotter, an orphan who lives with his two mean aunts, Spiker and Sponge. Life for him is sad and lonely — until he meets a grasshopper, spider, earthworm, centipede and a ladybug aboard a giant, magical peach!

Now, over 50 years later, the story comes to life as a musical at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport on Oct. 3. Nearly 30 children auditioned for the role of James and ultimately two young actors, Max Venezia and Austin Levine, were chosen to share the role. Adult actors will play roles in the supporting cast.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing these amazing kids in between rehearsals at the Engeman’s Performing Arts Center across the street from the theater.

Max, whose favorite subject is math, is in the sixth grade at South Ocean Middle School in Patchogue. His path to become an actor began when he found out his friend Ava was taking voice lessons; so he started taking them too. His vocal coach later encouraged him to try out for a role in “Seussical” at Kids for Kids Productions in Oakdale. “That’s what my first show was and I’ve just loved it ever since,” he said.

At the young age of 11, Max already has an impressive resumé that includes roles in “The Music Man,” ”Gypsy” and as Snoopy in “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.” “This will be my 22nd show,” said Max, whose most recent role was as part of Fagin’s Gang in “Oliver!” at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson.

Austin, who also loves math, is a sixth-grader at Commack Middle School. In second grade, he landed a role in “Annie” at the Suffolk Y in Commack and was immediately hooked. Since then, the 11-year-old has been in over 10 shows including “Mary Poppins,” “The Full Monty” and “Peter Pan” at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale.

Austin decided to audition for the role of James because “I had never done something at the Engeman and I wanted to because its nice to go try out, [to] go to different theaters.”

When preparing for the role, Max read “James and the Giant Peach” for the first time. “When I saw it, at my age, I thought this is creepy,” he said. Added Austin sheepishly, “I have not read the book — I should though.”

Austin’s favorite scene in the show includes the song “Shake It Up,” where James accidently spills a magic potion setting off a series of peculiar events.

Both Max and Austin said they enjoy working with the adult cast, which includes James D. Schultz, Alyson Clancy, Suzanne Mason, Michael Verre, Kate Keating, Samantha Carroll, Danny Meglio and Jacqueline Hughes.

“I love them. They are so fun to work with,” said Max, adding that he learns a lot from them and takes notes.

Austin agreed. “Because sometimes it’s hard to work with little kids because they are not mature [enough]. It’s a great learning experience,” he said.

Austin, who said he enjoys working with Max the most, usually does not get nervous during a show. “When it’s an audience of, like, 1,000 people and I can’t see them, I’m fine with that. It’s just when I can see them in person, it’s a little weird.”

Max’s favorite show on Broadway is “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time,” while Austin said he favors “Mary Poppins” because “it is such a great story.”

Rehearsal has been every day after school, usually from 4 to 7 p.m. Max, who hopes to become “an actor and if not that, a teacher, probably either science or math,” does his homework in the car to Northport and on the ride home and sometimes stays up late to finish. Austin, who lives closer, likes to come home from school, relax, go to rehearsal, come home, eat, do his homework for two hours, go to sleep “and do the same thing over again the next day,” he laughed.

Both say their parents have been wonderfully supportive.

Director Jennifer C. Tully said the two boys were chosen because of “their amazing ability at such a young age to capture the sweetness and spunk of James.”

“Both [Max and Austin] are such talented young performers onstage and such genuinely good kids offstage. While both of them have put their own stamps on the role, they both exude the heart and joy that drives this beautiful production,” said James D. Schultz, who plays the role of the Grasshopper.

“I’m blown away by how hard they have worked and their very mature ability to create a rich and layered character,” added Tully. “It has been a pleasure!”

Come see Max and Austin and the entire cast of “James and the Giant Peach” at the John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, from Oct. 3 to Nov. 8.  Performances are on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Nikko Kimzin and Sam Wolf in a scene from ‘West Side Story.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Charles J. Morgan

When dance master Jerome Robbins inspired Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim to come up with “West Side Story,” they in turn went to The Bard for his “Romeo and Juliet,” morphing the Guelphs and Ghibellines — that’s the Montagues and Capulets of Verona — into the street gangs, the Jets and Sharks. The “star-crossed lovers” became Tony and Maria. This gift to musical theater hit the boards at the Engeman two weeks ago, and the boards are still rattling.

Zach Trimmer and Samantha Williams in a scene from ‘West Side Story.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Zach Trimmer and Samantha Williams in a scene from ‘West Side Story.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

The entire production is built around dance. The pirouettes, arabesques and jetes were neatly comingled with the modern interpretive method to produce a mathematically perfect, yet emotionally penetrating terpsichorean feast.

At the head of all this was the choreography skills of Jeffry Denman and his two assistants Lauren Cannon and Trey Compton, who also acted as fight choreographer. This talented team gave the audience a night of dance the excellence of which your scribe has not seen in his near decade of writing “criticism.”

They say that the “devil is in the details” but not in this production. Imagine if you will a six-foot-high chain link fence running from upstage center down to stage left … suggesting urban schoolyards. This “prop” was climbed on, jumped on and over by male dancers of the Jets and Sharks in their attempts to escape … in tempo. They actually scaled the fence, landing on the other side on the beat — an incredible act of choreography.

Overall direction was in the always capable hands of Igor Goldin (“The Producers,” “Evita”). If one prescinds from the dance numbers, his blocking and interpretation efforts were carried through with exemplary professionalism.

Outstanding among the dancers were Scott Shedenhelm of the Jets and Karli Dinardo in the role of Anita. Shedenhelm was at his best in “Gee, Officer Krupke,” by far the funniest and most clever number in the show. Dinardo scored talent-wise in “America.”

The leads were handled skillfully by Zach Trimmer as Tony and Samantha Williams as Maria. Both have fittingly tender voices; he a more lyrical tenor, she a mellow, yet strong soprano. They excelled as the star-crossed lovers.

The leader of the Jets, Riff, was played by Sam Wolf who pits himself and his gang against Bernardo, played by Nikko Kimzin and his Sharks. The battles of Sharks vs. Jets is the dance armature of the play, and these two lead their factions brilliantly in dancing, acting and singing.

Among the musical numbers, the “Jet Song” really set the theme of pride and struggle. “Dance at the Gym” by the whole company brought out the animosity that almost erupted in violence. The tender “Tonight” by Wolf and Williams presented the balcony scene in all its romance. The mordant “America” that also showcased the patent talent of Ashley Perez Flanagan as Graciela, hit hard musically at the state of society in both the USA and Puerto Rico.

From left, Victoria Casillo, Tori Simeone,Samantha Williams and Ashley Perez Flanagan in a scene from ‘West Side Story.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
From left, Victoria Casillo, Tori Simeone,Samantha Williams and Ashley Perez Flanagan in a scene from ‘West Side Story.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Trimmer and Williams also performed romantically in “One Hand, One Heart.” And there was that Officer Krupke number that was most memorable.

The cast also included Mike Baerga, Josh Bates, Christian Bufford, Mark T. Cahill, Nick Casaula, Victoria Casillo, Joey Dippel, Jon Drake, Roy Flores, Eric Greengold, Joan Heeringa, Melissa Hunt, Gregory Kollarus, Leer Leary, Rick Malone, Ashley Marinelli, Kelly Methven, Kaitlin Niewoehner, Joseph Rosario, Tori Simeone and Marquez Stewart who all did a fabulous job.

Piercing live music was led by James Olmstead on keyboard with assistance from Craig Coyle; Robert Dalpiaz and Joel Levy on reeds; the indomitable Joe Boardman on trumpet with Steve Henry and Pete Auricchio; Brent Chiarello and Frank Hall on trombone; bass was Russell Brown with the reliable Josh Endlich on percussion. This ensemble was at its best in the staccato numbers of both Jets and Sharks such as “Dance at the Gym” and especially in “The Rumble.”

The Engeman spares no opposition when it produces a massive piece of entertainment like “West Side Story.”

All elements of the production including costume design by Tristan Raines, set design by DT Willis, lighting by Zack Blane and sound design by Laura Shubert were masterfully integrated into a sophisticated, articulated and authentic whole.

Many critics a few years back tried to see a “social significance” dimension latent in this show. On TV one described it as “… a slice of New York life.” Nonsense, of course. It was Shakespeare with a life of its own as true musical theater.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present evening performances of “West Side Story” on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and matinees on Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Nov. 8. Tickets are $74 on Saturday evenings, $69 all other performances. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

This version corrects the spelling of Jeffry Denman’s name.

Emily Dowdell and Bobby Peterson star in ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ Photo by Tim Pappalardo

By Charles J. Morgan

Hold on to your wallets! The famous bank robbers Bonnie & Clyde are back and they are wreaking havoc at the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale. The play follows the original plot, with the two of them featured as folk heroes on one level and as public evildoers on another. This twofold approach is what drives CM/PAC’s startling production of this folk opera based on the book by Ivan Menchell, featuring Don Black’s lyrics and Frank Wildhorn’s music.

Bonnie and Clyde do their murderous thieving throughout the southwest in the Depression-torn early thirties. They are characters who awaken in the concupiscible hearts of the non-criminal majority as two who have escaped the dust bowl, the breadlines and outright poverty by doing one thing: taking.

There is balance however. In three different segments, there is a revival meeting in which a fiery evangelical preacher, in maximum decibel, proclaims the Gospel. There is a very slight element of excess here, but what better way for the authors to show that Bonnie and Clyde are criminal outcasts. These revival scenes are among the best in the show. There is even an element of choreography in them.

Bonnie is seen as a celebrity wannabe who even writes poetry. It is doggerel. Yet even as they were on their murdering spree, making headlines, some local newspapers actually published it.

Clyde is a semi-literate, dirt-poor son of a share cropper who shirks all kinds of gainful employment in favor of “taking,” as does his sycophantic brother “Buck.”

Their criminal career was neatly depicted by the set. The indefatigable Patrick Grossman is the set designer and director. Wearing the former hat, he had a system of flats and slats that went from stage right to stage left and were used vertically, there being no need to do any shifting. A vignette of Bonnie and Clyde in bed, or in the act of robbing a bank, as well as the revival scenes would be seen as one or more of the slatted flats were opened and closed — most effective. He also devised a system of projecting flashing contemporary newspapers. Wearing the other hat, Grossman was confronted with the always pressing problem of interpretation and blocking. His talents in this field extend to excellence. He made them real, even down to a consistently applied southwestern accent.

The multi-talented Emily Dowdell played Bonnie Parker, coupling her powerful soprano with coyness, assertion, self-pity and an outcry for love admirably. Clyde Barrow was played by Bobby Peterson with a far-ranging tenor and believable toughness both in solo and duet.

Briggs Houston played the role of Marvin “Buck” Barrow, Clyde’s brother. His voice was a middle-register tenor. His somewhat lumbering attitude and his death scene were done to perfection. Shannon Cunningham was Blanche, Buck’s wife. She had great stage presence coupled with a caressable soprano. She suffused the loyal wife role with high morality for Buck. Her performance was impressively consistent.

Then there was Carl Tese as the revivalist preacher. Talk about power! He shook the rafters with the Decalogue, the Beatitudes and John 3 with the range of heavy artillery. ME Junge was Trish, a small part for the leading choreographer; but she is a trouper.

In the musical numbers, the preacher and “congregation” performed “God’s Arms Are Always Open” with, well, dynamism, and Bonnie and Clyde’s duet in “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad” told it all.

Musical direction was handled, as usual, by Matthew W. Surico on piano and a solid pit band that featured Kevin Merkel on synthesizer, Christian Wern on bass, Michael Villarico on drums, Diana Fuller and Lauren Carroll on guitars, John Dumlao on violin and Eric Albinder and Andrew Lenahan on woodwinds. It was the pit band effect Surico always achieves that gave body to the whole show. Kudos to the entire cast for a job well done!

The CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale will present “Bonnie & Clyde” through Sept. 27. Tickets range from $20 to $29. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.

From left, Dana Bush, Michael Giordano, James D. Schultz, Frank Gilleece, Amanda Geraci and Sue Anne Dennehy in a scene from ‘The Pied Piper’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Sari Feldman/Franklin Inc.

Currently in production on the Mainstage, Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre brings us a kinder, gentler musical version of the classic fairy tale “The Pied Piper.” Written by Jeffrey E. Sanzel and Kevin F. Story and adapted from “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” by the Brothers Grimm, it tells the tale of a town that has a bit of a rodent problem. Millions of rats, some the size of toasters, have taken over every nook and cranny. Even the cats are afraid of the rats!

The mayor decrees that anyone who can come up with a successful plan to rid the town of the rats will receive 100 gold pieces. A mysterious stranger appears and convinces the mayor to pay him 974 gold pieces. With a handshake and a promise, a deal is made and the Pied Piper lures the rats away by playing his magical flute. When the mayor has a change of heart and refuses to pay the full amount, the piper seeks revenge by placing the children under a magical spell and leading them out of the town and into a mountain.

With six talented adult actors at the helm, the cast also includes 45 young actors from the theater’s summer Dramatic Academy workshop who portray the children of Hamelin. Frank Gilleece plays Mayor Bruce Armbuckle who does whatever his wife, Mrs. Hilda Arbuckle, played by Sue Anne Dennehy, tells him to do, which includes going back on his word. James D. Schultz plays the bumbling Police Chief Henry Kahnstible and his wife, Mrs. Natasha Kahnstible, is played with aplomb by Amanda Geraci. Dana Bush as Mrs. Lavinia Brewster, the richest woman in town, is terrific.

However, it is the amazing Michael Giordano as the Pied Piper who steals the show. Making his entrance toward the end of the first act, he commands the stage with his wonderful rendition of “I Can Rid You of the Rats.” The audience is entranced as he sings and dances and performs his signature one-handed cartwheel.

While all the young actors did a fine job, special mention should be made of Jamie Terlecki, as Lydia, the lone child left behind. A bright future awaits her on the theater stage.

Accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, the songs are playful and fun. Choreography by Sari Feldman is top notch, especially with “Hope Springs Eternal” and “The Blame,” as are the costumes, designed by Amanda Geraci.

Sanzel and Story’s play goes beyond the traditional tale of the Pied Piper with messages about keeping your word, cheating, forgiveness and, for the parents, that children are more valuable than gold. And that is the real magic behind this wonderful production.

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show and take a selfie. Next on the agenda is “Squawk: The Live Bird Show” on Aug. 23, a brand new musical titled “Alice’s Wonderland Adventures” from Oct. 3 to 30 and a Halloween Party for ages 4 and up on Oct. 24.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Pied Piper” on Aug. 7, 8, 14 and 15 at 11 a.m. and Aug. 8 and 15 at 2 p.m. Tickets are only $10 each. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Eric Schell and Faith Ahmed in a scene from ‘West Side Story’ at the SCPA. Photo from the SCPA

By Charles J. Morgan

About an eon ago your scribe was watching a TV talk show on the family’s round screen box on which a participant referred to “West Side Story” as a “slice of New York life.” Another participant, the great Robert Morley, snorted, “Ectually, old boy, it’s Romeo and Juliet.” Morley was right, and the Playbill at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Art’s opening really was the Bard’s opus with full credit put to music, and not just music but Broadway music and dance.

With a team featuring Arthur Laurent’s book, Leonard Bernstein’s music, Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and Jerome Robbins’ choreography, success was all but secure. In SCPA’s effort it was secured in Smithtown.

Direction was by Jordan Hue who, facing the challenge of a massive cast, showed his craftsmanship in blocking and interpretation. Each Jet and each Shark were real tangible creatures thanks to Hue’s disciplined creativity.

The show is practically all choreography, and thanks to the genius of the indefatigable Melissa Rapelje, excellently performed execution was the armature of the show. She faced the off-beat accents, the dissonances and the diversity of rhythms undaunted. Her skills with interpretive, modern, Latin and even ballet were never more displayed.

Coalescing with the dancing and singing was the superb live music led by Melissa Coyle on keyboard with conductor Craig Coyle on piano. Jim Waddell was outstanding on drums. The number “Cool it!,” performed by the Jets, was accompanied by Waddell using only the sizzling hi-hats. Craig Lindsey and Bob Dalpiaz handled extremely competent reeds. Jill Boardman was on violin and Russ Brown’s bass anchored all the intricate changes of rhythm easily. Finally, Joe Boardman’s trumpet reached aesthetically ethereal heights … as usual.

The two “star-crossed lovers” were Eric Schell as Tony and Faith Ahmed as Maria. Schell’s tenor and Ahmed’s soprano melded smoothly in both duet and solo. In the “balcony” (fire escape) scene their “Tonight” was a truly velvet love song while Schell’s rendition of  “Maria” was lovingly rendered. Ahmed also exhibited obvious talent in “I Feel Pretty.”

In a choreographed dream sequence Courtney Braun sang a solo “Somewhere There’s a Place” with both charm and power delightfully linked. Justin Albinder stood out as the doomed Bernardo. As “Action” Bobby Montaniz leads the Jets in a hilarious mockery of the sadistic Officer Krupke. Some of the lines are quite dated: (“…my mother pushes tea…), yet Montaniz is the key to the humor of it all.

In addition to choreographer, Rapelje also played the role of the second lead, Anita. Her drive, verve and singing while leading the girls all keyed to a spicy rendition of “Puerto Rico” like a dish of asopao jibaro.

Add the intricate lighting by Chris Creevy, the massive, flexible set design by Timothy Golebiewski and the wonderful costumes by Ronald Green III and you have a wonderful evening of live theater.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “West Side Story” through Aug. 30. Tickets are $35. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

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