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Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

“Matilda the Musical” opened at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport Nov. 14 with all the spunk of a Broadway production.

Inspired by the 1988 book by Roald Dahl, the musical introduces audience members to the real and imaginary worlds of 5-year-old Matilda Wormwood, who is misunderstood by her dim-witted family. While the Wormwoods make life difficult at home by making fun of her passion for reading and her smarts, the days become even more troublesome when she begins school with the dastardly Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress of Crunchem Hall. However, with her love of reading, a magical imagination and caring teacher Miss Honey on her side, Matilda finds her happy ending.

The musical, with book by Dennis Kelly, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and orchestrations and additional music by Chris Nightingale, debuted in England in 2010 and opened on Broadway in 2013. While the show closed on the Great White Way in January of 2017, “Matilda the Musical” is still running at the Cambridge Theater in London. It was also released as a movie in 1996 starring Danny DeVito and Rhea Pearlman as the Wormwoods and Mara Wilson as Matilda.

Igor Goldin has directed a superb cast in the Engeman version, which includes many talented children actors. AnnaBelle Deaner and Elsa Dees alternate in the role of Matilda. On the night of Nov. 15 when I reviewed the musical, AnnaBelle played the part. The actress is darling in the role and portrays Matilda perfectly as the brave and precocious girl she is. She hits every note during her solos and her version of “Quiet” is beautiful and touching.

AnnaBelle along with her fellow youth actors stole many scenes. During one depicting the first day of school, they along with the ensemble performed a sensational “School Song” where everyone involved was strong in both vocals and dance moves. The company also delivers a fantastic “When I Grow Up,” the signature song from the musical.

Sara Gallo as Mrs. Wormwood and Michael Perrie Jr. as Mr. Wormwood are hilarious. While the two characters aren’t the best at parenting, Gallo and Perrie are pros at garnering laughs from the audience. Gallo plays her character to the hilt during the song “Loud” as she and Al Lockhart as Rudolpho, her dancing partner, show off some fantastic dance moves. And Perrie’s vocals are strong on “All I Know,” known as “Telly” in the Broadway and London versions. He also does a wonderful job interacting with the audience toward the end of intermission. Richard Westfahl as Michael Wormwood is also funny as Matilda’s dim-witted brother.

Dane Agostinis as Miss Trunchbull, the Olympic Hammer-Throwing Champion headmistress who believes children are maggots, plays the antagonist role perfectly. Agostinis can deliver her songs smoothly without breaking character despite the funny lines and laughs from the audience. Kate Fahrner as Miss Honey is simply endearing and sings a beautiful “My House” in the second act.

Emily Kelly as The Acrobat and Alex Herrera as The Escapologist are delightful, especially when Herrara joins Matilda on the song “I’m Here.” Nicole Powell was a charming Ms. Phelps, the librarian who looks forward to Matilda’s stories. Jamie Colburn as the Doctor and Sergei rounds out the cast perfectly.

On the night that I attended the show, I was fortunate to have with me 15-year-old Jonathan Guttenberg, who has seen countless productions, including “Matilda the Musical” on Broadway and London. Jonathan said “School Song” and “Revolting” were his favorite numbers in the Engeman production because they were both powerful and thought the theater did a phenomenal job.

Scenic designer Nate Bertone has put together a fun and colorful set with clever oversized books that fold out one way to serve as the Wormwood’s living room and another to provide the backdrop for the library. Mara Newbery Greer also has choreographed several energetic dance numbers, which the actors have mastered, including the youngest members of the youth ensemble, with special mention to Lily Tamburo. 

With the chilly weather settling in along the North Shore, “Matilda the Musical” has arrived just in time with its funny, heart-warming story and will be a hit with local theatergoers of all ages. 

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, presents “Matilda the Musical” until Dec. 29. Performances are Thursdays at 8 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $75 and $80 with free valet parking. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

By Rita J. Egan

On Sept. 12, the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport debuted “Sunset Blvd.” Filled with memorable performances, the cast members are definitely ready for their close-ups.

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and book and lyrics by Don Black and Christoper Hampton, “Sunset Blvd.” tells the story of Norma Desmond, an aging silent screen star who is desperately holding on to her glory days. Set in 1949 and 1950, Desmond meets struggling writer Joe Gillis. The screen star feels a spark of hope in her reclusive life when she asks Joe to edit a screenplay that she hopes will pave the way to her comeback.

The production, based on the 1950 movie of the same name starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden, spins an intriguing web of seduction, unrequited love and jealousy. The musical’s culmination is a dramatic Hollywood ending.

Opening on Broadway in 1994 and running for more than two years, the show won several Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Glenn Close. The production was revived in 2017 for a brief Broadway run with Close once again starring as Desmond.

The Northport version, under the direction of Matt Kunkel, is filled with a talented cast that brings the Great White Way to the North Shore. Judy McLane as Norma Desmond steals the spotlight the moment she steps on stage with her striking appearance, strong stage presence and sensational vocals. It’s no surprise that McLane’s a Broadway veteran appearing in hits such as “Mamma Mia!” (Donna and Tanya), “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Chess.”

McLane shines in her solos especially during “With One Look,” “As If We Never Said Goodbye” and in her duet with Bryant Martin, as Joe Gillis, in “New Ways to Dream.”

David Hess, who appeared in “Sunset Blvd.” on Broadway, is perfect as the stoic Max, Norma’s butler, who has been in love with her since the first time they met on a movie set. Hess’ vocals are fantastic. During the first act, he performs a beautiful version of “The Greatest Star of All” while giving Joe a tour of Desmond’s run-down mansion.

Martin is a suave and charismatic Joe on whom Norma sets her sights not only to work with but to be her lover early in the musical. The character also serves as the narrator of the complex tale. Martin gets to show off his singing chops in a duet with McLane titled “The Perfect Year” during Act I, and later in Act II while performing “Too Much in Love to Care” with the talented Sarah Quinn Taylor, who plays a delightful Betty.

Because she’s his friend’s fiancée, Joe tries to fight off falling in love with Betty but finds it difficult to resist her as they work on a screenplay together. The budding romance between Joe and Betty soon creates tension between him and Norma, which leads to a dramatic twist that seals his fate. Douglas Waterbury-Tieman as Betty’s fiancé Artie Green, Martin, Taylor and the whole ensemble, perform an entertaining “This Time Next Year” toward the end of Act I. Ensemble member Cody Gerszewski steals the scene at times as he convincingly portrays a drunk partygoer.

Eric Jon Mahlum is also a scene-stealer during the number “The Lady’s Paying” as the tailor Manfred who has been hired to make over Joe with a stylish new wardrobe. And during a visit to the Paramount Pictures studio, Larry Daggett, with his strong vocals and an air of confidence, captures the essence of old-time Hollywood perfectly playing director Cecil B. DeMille.

Among the show’s stars are the musicians conducted by Charlie Reuter and the costumes by Kurt Alger. The costumes encapsulate the spirit of the period, especially with Norma’s glamorous outfits. As for Paige Hathaway’s scenic design, it’s a clever one using sliding wood doors and a movable staircase that help transform the stage seamlessly from Norma’s mansion to the Paramount Pictures backlot.

The musical leaves a lot to ponder about growing old gracefully and the difference between true love and obsession, and the Northport cast of “Sunset Blvd.” delivers the iconic classic with grace and talent.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, presents “Sunset Blvd.” through  Oct. 27. Showtimes are Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $80 for Saturday evenings and $75 for all other performances with free valet parking. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

By Rita J. Egan

From now through Oct. 27, the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is celebrating a change that has nothing to do with the seasons but more with hot flashes, weight gain, hot flashes, restlessness, mood swings, hot flashes, memory loss, night sweats and did I mention hot flashes? The theater closes out its 17th season with the hilarious  “Menopause The Musical.”

Amy Burgmaier

With book and lyrics by Jeanie Linders, the story follows four strangers who get acquainted during a lingerie sale at New York City’s Bloomingdale’s. Despite different personalities and backgrounds, they find out they have something in common — the change of life. Bonding over the symptoms of menopause, the play has appealed to women in their 40s, 50s and beyond since it first debuted in Orlando in 2001. With clever remakes of classic songs from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, the show can be an entertaining production for men but is probably best enjoyed as a ladies’ night out.

Seth Greenleaf skillfully directs a talented cast of four women, Monica Palmer, Nancy Slusser, Jenny McGlinchey and Amy Baugmaier, who display immense comedic ability and singing voices to match.

Monica J. Palmer

Palmer approaches her role as the businesswoman with the right amount of confidence and attitude, while Slusser is a sassy Soap Star. McGlinchey is the perfect choice for Earth Mother as she easily and hysterically transforms from zen hippie trying to manage her symptoms to an imperfect woman just waiting for a symptom to pass. Baugmaier, as the housewife, is sweet and endearing. All four also show enough vulnerability for the audience to believe that their characters would befriend three strangers in the middle of the Big Apple.

The audience will quickly identify with songs such as “Change, Change, Change,” a hilarious take on Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools,” and “Stayin’ Awake/Night Sweatin,” a twist on the hits “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever” from the movie “Saturday Night Fever.” Like most songs in the musical, they detail the changes women go through with a healthy dose of humor.

Jenny McGlinchey

As the show progresses, each scene and number garners more laughter, whether it’s  Earth Mother singing “My Husband Sleeps Tonight” to the tune of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” to share her woes about insomnia, or all the actresses performing “Sane and Normal Girls”/“Thank You Doctor” (“California Girls”/“Help Me Rhonda”) as each of the women professes her gratefulness for the prescriptions prescribed by her doctor.

During the reprise of “I’m Flashing,” a spin on the song “I’m Sorry,” Palmer’s character apologizes for her hot flashes. Slusser also has some fun flirting with the audience during the reprise of “Hot Flash” (“Hot Stuff”) where her singing talent is front and center.

One of the funniest scenes takes place when Baugmaier tries on lingerie in the store’s dressing room and Palmer suddenly appears dressed like Tina Turner singing “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” The laughs kept coming as Baugmaier sings a beautiful version of “Only You” to her newfound friend — a vibrator. From beginning to end, the cast keeps the audience in stitches.

Nancy Slusser

Set designer Bud Clark and costume designer Sue Hill also deserve a round of applause. Clark has built a set that is simple yet incorporates pieces that easily create the feel of a department store, while Hill’s costumes fit the characters perfectly (Palmer’s Tina Turner outfit is sensational). Musical director Melissa Coyle and her orchestra as always navigate the hits seamlessly the entire show.

By the end of the night, it’s impossible not to have a new attitude about this season of life as the audience is invited to join the actors on stage for a celebratory dance.

The theater is now in the midst of a fundraising campaign to restore its light bulb marquee, and it’s no surprise that they want to highlight their offerings with quality productions such as “Menopause The Musical.”

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St. Smithtown, will present “Menopause The Musical” through Oct. 27. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets range from $36 to $40. For more information, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

By Rita J. Egan

On Saturday, May 18, the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts debuted “Les Misérables School Edition,” and its only flaw is the title. With exceptionally talented teenagers and preteens, the production resembles that of a main-stage musical.

Luke Ferrari and Leah Kelly

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, with book by Alain Boublil, music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and Boublil, the musical digs into the depths of human nature. A myriad of emotions is explored from despair, fear and loathe to love, hope and forgiveness. The young actors in the Smithtown production have the skill and talent to take on the complex characters, and they seem to understand what drives them, which is essential when it comes to a classical musical such as this one.

“Les Misérables” opened in New York City in 1987 and ran until 2003, making it the fifth-longest show on Broadway. Two revivals on the Great White Way followed, one from 2006 to 2008 and another from 2014 to 2016.

Aubrey Alvino and Zak Ketchum

Set in the early 19th century in France, “Les Misérables” follows Jean Valjean who is released from prison after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. While Valjean at first feels hopeless for a second chance, the kindness of a bishop inspires him to break his parole and live a new life. While continually avoiding the wrath of police inspector Javert, Valjean goes on to become a successful factory owner, who grants the dying wish of Fantine by giving her daughter Cosette a better life. In later years, Valjean becomes a protective father who resists letting his daughter go as she falls in love with Marius, a young idealist and revolutionist.

In the Smithtown production, directed by Cara Brown, Luke Ferrari is outstanding as Valjean. He captures the former prisoner’s despair and anger earlier in the show and later in the play begins to soften as a more mature and paternal Valjean. His singing is flawless in every song, especially during “Bring Him Home” in the second act when he appeals to God to keep Marius safe.

Angelina Mercurio, center, as Fantine

Hunter Pszybylski is the perfect choice for Javert as he seems to portray the stern character with ease. The actor’s voice is mature beyond his years, and he knows how to command the spotlight, which is his during his solos “Stars” and “Soliloquy (Javert’s Suicide).”

Angelina Mercurio is wonderful as Fantine and delivers a heartbreaking solo with “I Dreamed a Dream,” and she and Ferrari sound incredible during “Come to Me (Fantine’s Death).” Zak Ketcham makes for a handsome Marius, and he proves to be another strong vocalist on all his songs including “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” where he beautifully captures the heartbreak of surviving the tragedy of losing his friends at the barricades.

Aubrey Alvino also captures the heartbreak of Eponine’s experience as she yearns for Marius who only has eyes for Cosette. Her solo “On My Own” during the May 19 show was a tearjerker, and her duo with Ketcham “A Little Fall of Rain” was just as lovely.

Leah Kelly is the naive Cosette, and her vocals are sweet and delightful, especially during “A Heart Full of Love.” Gabby Blum, who plays a young Cosette, performs a perfect “Castle on a Cloud.” Luke Hampson, as Thénardier, and Alexa Adler, as Madame Thénardier, are delightful as the greedy and crafty innkeeper and his wife. The pair play an essential role in the musical to provide some comedic relief, and both actors know how to garner a good number of chuckles from the audience.

All of the cast members provide superb vocals and exceptional performances, which are front and center during numbers such as “At the End of the Day,” “ABC Cafe/Red and Black,” “Lovely Ladies,” “Drink With Me” and “Do You Hear the People Sing.” Everyone on stage and behind the scenes of “Les Misérables School Edition” should be proud of the production, and with this kind of young, local talent, the future looks bright for regional theater.

With only six performances left, the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present “Les Misérables School Edition” through June 2. All tickets are $20. For more information, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

All photos by Courtney Braun

Centereach High School

Middle Country Central School District residents passed the district’s $257,435,446 budget, 1,513 to 545.

The 2019-20 budget stays under the tax levy and is a more than $7 million increase from last year’s budget.

The tax levy increase is 2.47 percent, and according to the board, there will be no reduction of programs or services and includes a multiyear contract for transportation.

Part of the proposed budget includes $189,419,536 for salaries and benefits, $19,514,657 for BOCES, $18,377,310 for debt service and $24,446,737 for contractual items, tuition and transfers.

In an uncontested board of education trustee election, Robert Feeney, Kristopher Oliva and Dawn Sharrock won their seats back, with 1,501, 1,424 and 1,463 votes, respectively.

Superintendent of Schools Roberta Gerold commented on the results in an email.

“Thank you to the entire Middle Country community for supporting the district’s 2019-2020 budget and the ever-expanding opportunities we are able to offer our students,” Gerold said. “The district’s board, central administration, teachers and staff members will continue to provide students with an educational experience — based on the principle of empowering the problem solvers of tomorrow — from the moment they enter pre-K to the day of their high school graduation.

“This is all made possible by the community’s continued support and years of thoughtful financial planning and sound decision making — allowing for a budget that was below the district’s tax levy cap while still offering our expansive programs and services. The district looks forward to many more years of playing a role in helping your children reach their goals and preparing them for a promising future,” she added.

By Rita J. Egan

Stand back, theatergoers, “Evita” is in town. On Saturday, May 11, the award-winning musical opened at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts.

“Evita” revolves around the controversial life of María Eva Duarte de Perón, who went from poverty to a success as an Argentine film and radio star. Her marriage to Juan Perón, a military leader who became the country’s president in 1946, thrust her further in the spotlight until her death at 33 in 1952.

When the audience first meets Evita, she is an ambitious teenager in 1934 who wants to leave the small city of Junin to travel to Buenos Aires with Agustin Magaldi, a tango singer. Soon after her arrival in the big city, she leaves Magaldi and sleeps her way to the top before meeting Col. Perón at a charity concert. While not accepted by the upper class after her marriage to Perón, Evita sees herself as the champion of the “descamisados,” the working class.

The musical, which features lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, first premiered on Broadway in 1979 with Patti LuPone as Evita and Mandy Patinkin as Che. It went on to win seven Tony Awards, including best musical in 1980. The production inspired the 1996 movie starring Madonna (Evita), Antonio Banderas (Che) and Jonathan Pryce (Perón) and was revived on Broadway in 2012 with Argentine actress Elena Roger and singer Ricky Martin as Che.

In the Smithtown production, Laura Laureano plays Evita, and the young actress possesses the poise and maturity needed to handle the role of the strong woman. Her vocals are powerful on all of the musical’s memorable favorites including “Buenos Aires,” “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and “Rainbow High.” Her performance of “Lament” at the end of Act II is an emotional one that will have audience members reaching for their tissues.

Dylan Bivings plays a suave Che. The character serves as the musical’s narrator, and Bivings proves to be a strong lead on various numbers. He shines during “And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)” and his duet with Laureano, “High Flying Adored.” Dennis Creighton was perfect as Perón, delivering the role with the right amount of tenderness that helps audience members understand just how much this man loved Eva. Creighton’s tenor singing voice is ideal for his solos.

Anthony Arpino as Magaldi also shined vocally during “On This Night of a Thousand Stars.” During the number “Santa Evita” on opening night, Zoe Avery played the child who approaches Evita, and Avery’s singing was delightful as she hit every note sweetly and perfectly. The actress alternates the role with Dori Ahlgrim.

Lauren Tirado, as the mistress, delivered a standout performance of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.” The scene is a heartbreaking moment in the life of a character that the audience only meets once, and it’s essential that a vocalist digs deep when performing this song, so it can be understood that Evita will stop at nothing and will even throw another woman out on the streets. Tirado’s superb vocals proved she has the talent to deliver such an emotional number.

All of the ensemble members also deserve a round of applause for their outstanding vocals and impressive dancing. Ronald Green III has masterfully directed a cast that proves a musical lover doesn’t need to head into the city to take in a Broadway-quality show. Green has also outdone himself with the period costumes, especially with Laureano’s gown during the balcony scene when she sings “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”

Adding to the Broadway-like magic were the talented musicians led by conductor Melissa Coyle and scenic and video designer Tim Golebiewski. The set designed by Golebiewski and constructed by TJ Construction, Russ Bakunus and Clark Services is simple yet elegant and incorporates five small screens that display pictures of Eva and Perón through the years that complement the musical perfectly without being distracting.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present “Evita” through June 23. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets range from $25 to $38. For more information, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

All photos by Courtney Braun/ Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts

Reporter David Luces with his mom Ruth

Mother’s Day is just around the corner. It’s a time to celebrate the most important people in our lives, the women who made us who we are. As is tradition, the editorial staff at TBR News Media has written short letters so that our moms know we are thinking of them.

Kyle Barr’s mom Deborah

Kyle Barr — editor

My mom is scared of being apart from me. She is sad she will leave her house behind, the one she helped raise me in for over 20 years.

Like many, they’re leaving because of Long Island’s high property taxes, and without the SALT deduction, it’s proved infeasible to remain. But still, to her, the house was the lodestone of her life for so many years. She decorated it with attention to detail, even dragging me to the attic to take down decorations for every New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Fourth of July and on and on until Christmas. 

Now she is leaving her temple behind, and I feel for her. She can’t bring everything. Things will have to be sold or given away, and as she struggles with a bad back, picking out the leaves from the bushes in the front yard (all despite my pleas to let me do it instead). I see the frown set into her face like a jagged crack in the pavement.

Feel better, Mom. You may be away from me, but — hopefully — you won’t find a way from my words.

Rita Joy Egan with her mom Rita

Rita J. Egan ­— editor

Mother’s Day brings with it a slew of memories. My mother and I have been through the best of times and the worst of times together, and that’s OK, because we are still here to tell our stories. There are the not so fun times to remember, such as walking around a Queens apartment wrapped in blankets to keep warm in the winter months because the landlady was too cheap to turn up the heat and tears shed over boys who didn’t deserve them during my younger years. But also, there are the memorable vacations, celebrating milestones and catching the concerts of both of our favorite celebrities from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to New Kids on the Block. So cheers to memories of all types and happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

David Luces with his mom Ruth

David Luces — reporter

She’s been there all my life. Someone I can always count on. She’s my role model. She sacrificed so much over the years for my brother and me so we could go to college, and it’s something I am grateful for every day. I don’t say it enough but thank you, Mom, for everything you do. I know I could be a pain when I was younger, but I’m thankful for the lessons you’ve taught me. As I’ve gotten older and matured, I’ve realized the importance of your messages. So, on this Mother’s Day, I just wanted to give my appreciation to the greatest mom and friend a kid could ask for. 

Raga Indian Restaurant and Bar closed April 28 and will reopen this summer as an Old Fields Barbecue. Photo by David Luces

A familiar face is bringing some barbecue cooking to East Setauket.

After Raga Indian Restaurant and Bar on Old Town Road closed April 28, new owner David Tunney and his team got right to work creating plans to turn the building into an Old Fields Barbecue. 

Tunney, who grew up in Setauket and graduated from Ward Melville High School, said he had his eye on the location for the last few years, and he recently made a deal with Raga’s owner. Tunney is best known on the North Shore as the owner of the Old Fields restaurants in Port Jefferson and Greenlawn and Old Fields Barbecue in Huntington. He is also one of the founders of the Besito Restaurant Group along with his brother John and part-owner of Besito Mexican restaurants in Huntington and Roslyn. The former owner of Honu Kitchen and Cocktails in Huntington said he gained experience in the business running establishments such as Oheka Castle before venturing into owning a place of his own.

“I’ve been around the block, and I’m back in my hometown,” Tunney said.

While he now lives in Greenlawn, the 53-year-old said he has a lot of memories of growing up in the Three Village area where his love for the restaurant hospitality business began. His mother, Marilyn, worked in the TBR News Media offices for 25 years, and one of his first jobs was at the Arby’s that once was located where the Setauket Main Street firehouse is today. Tunney said his first job was with the former Dining Car 1890 that was located on Route 25A and Nicolls Road, where he started as a dishwasher.

He said he feels residents will welcome a new restaurant that is moderately priced. The barbecue place will serve dishes such as fried chicken, Mahi fish sandwiches, pulled pork and hamburgers cooked in cast iron as well as sides including cornbread and mac and cheese.

“It’s really for everybody,” he said. “You can bring your kids there. You can come with a date. You can come with business people.”

Tunney’s partner in the new restaurant is Rory Van Nostrand, who has worked with him since 2006 when the latter started as a busboy at Honu. The executive chef will be Israel Castro, who began working with the pair when Tunney bought the Greenlawn location in 2010. Castro became executive chef when Old Fields in Port Jefferson opened a few years ago.

Before opening up Old Fields Barbecue in Huntington, Tunney, Van Nostrand and Castro traveled down the East Coast to states such as Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and others to research restaurants that specialize in barbecue. Van Nostrand said during their travels, in addition to stopping at known places like Franklin Barbecue in Texas, they would ask people where their favorite barbecue places were, and Castro said they weren’t hesitant to stop at no-name places along the side of the road.

“We really ate our way through barbecue,” Castro said.

Van Nostrand said a lot of chefs were willing to share tips with them along the way.

“It’s really more of a technique food than an ingredient recipe food,” Van Nostrand said. “It’s very much an art.”

When it comes to the Old Fields Barbecue menu, Castro listed the brisket and pork among his favorites, while Van Nostrand said he loves the chorizo sausage and corned beef and also eats the smoked chicken, which is cooked with no oil or butter, regularly.

“It’s a small menu as far as a restaurant goes,” Castro said. “There’s a core group of food items that need to be excellent. So, we put all kinds of effort into making them the best we can.”

Tunney said he leaves the cooking to his chefs, even though he admits to making a great grilled cheese — something he made for the first time when he was five years old at a Setauket diner when the owner invited him into the kitchen. Most of all he enjoys the hospitality side of the business, something he credits to his brother John for teaching him.

“The part I really love about it is making people have a great experience and that they just love all the food, the service, the ambiance, how they are taken care of,” he said.

The restaurateur is hoping to open the new restaurant at the end of July or the beginning of August. 

“This is where I grew up, this is where my roots are, and it’s amazing to come back to it,” Tunney said.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, center, receives the Brookhaven Community Leadership Award from Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright and Holiday Inn Express owner John Tsunis. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A familiar face in the Three Village and Port Jefferson areas was honored for her career achievements the day before International Women’s Day.

On March 7, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) received the Brookhaven Community Leadership Award at a ceremony held at the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook. At the event, which was sponsored by the hotel and Gold Coast Bank, Hahn was surrounded by family members, friends and community members, including Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Setauket Fire District Fire Commissioner Jay Gardiner, and Jane Taylor and Carmine Inserra, Three Village Chamber of Commerce 2nd vice president and executive director, respectively.

John Tsunis, owner of the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook and CEO and chairman of Gold Coast Bank, said as a resident of Hahn’s legislative district he is a proud supporter of her and her work. The CEO admired her passing of policies that helped ensure emergency workers were trained in the use of Narcan to revive patients who overdose and a bill that increased background checks of daycare workers. He also called her a tireless advocate for domestic abuse survivors and a “champion of our environment,” citing her work to help to protect ground and drinking water along with her promotion of recreational activities at local parks.

“As we all know, Kara cares deeply for our community, because of her thoughtful leadership Kara was elected to serve as legislature majority leader in 2016 and again in 2017,” he said.

Cartright said when she first ran for town office in 2013 she felt “blessed” to know Hahn. The councilwoman described her county counterpart as a worker bee who looks at her job from different perspectives.

“What’s so special about Kara Hahn is that she not only looks at things from a legislator perspective, but she looks at it from a community member perspective — a perspective that she’s one of us,” Cartright said. “She’s gone through the process. She understands the struggles and tribulations that many of us have to face within our communities.”

Hahn said she was humbled and honored to represent the community. She described the legislative district as an area where people work together to help make it an even better place to live. She cited a recent example where a member of Cartright’s office reached out to her to ask how they could help members of a Port Jefferson Veterans of Foreign Wars post attend the Rocky Point St. Patrick’s Day Parade so they wouldn’t have to park too far away. Hahn reached out to the Holiday Inn Express, and Tsunis offered the hotel’s shuttle bus for the veterans’ use.

“That’s the kind of community we have,” Hahn said. “Everybody wants to chip in. Everybody wants to help. Everybody knows it’s a great place to live and knows that it can be even better. We have a vision for that, and we keep every day trying to find a way to make things better whether it’s for our environment or our schools.”

The Brookhaven Community Leadership award has been presented annually since 2014. Past winners include Charlie Lefkowitz, Three Village Chamber of Commerce vice president; Leah Dunaief, TBR News Media publisher; and Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization.

By Rita J. Egan

When the weather outside is chilly, a night out on the town is better when it’s celebrated inside. With this in mind, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization will hold A “Taste” of Stony Brook Village … Ladies Night In on Tuesday, Feb. 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center.

The event, which will benefit breast cancer research at Stony Brook Medicine, will feature a fashion show celebrating Chico’s 25th anniversary in Stony Brook Village Center, according to Gloria Rocchio, president of the WMHO. The clothing chain’s Stony Brook location was the first Chico’s to open in New York.

Shelagh Stoneham, senior vice president of Chico’s marketing, said in an email that boutique associates, store managers and the district sales manager would be in attendance Feb. 26.

Roberta Fabiano

“Chico’s is thrilled to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our Stony Brook location at the upcoming A ‘Taste’ of Stony Brook Village event,” Stoneham said. “The support for Chico’s in local communities like Stony Brook is both remarkable and critical to the longevity of our brand. We look forward to celebrating with all of the friends we’ve made over the last 25 years.”

Helene Obey, Chico’s multi-unit general store manager, who leads the Stony Brook and Southampton stores, said she’s been working at the village location for more than a year. Obey said she loves hearing about the location’s history from former Stony Brook employee Jennifer Vasta, who is now a general store manager in Merrick, including how the staff opened the boutique 25 years ago during a blizzard.

She said the idea of holding a fashion show with vintage and new clothing came up during a casual chat with Rocchio and her husband, Richard. “It ended up being very organic, and then all of a sudden turned out to be this really large event which we’re so excited about,” Obey said.

She said finding past outfits was easy as many longtime employees have held on to special pieces, and Chico’s Stony Brook team and former employees will participate in the fashion show. The day of the event, the store will offer refreshments, free gifts, raffles and will have a wheel that will be spun every half hour where winners will receive gift certificates from community businesses.

Rocchio, who will be wearing a vintage outfit, said the event is all about being interactive and the goal is to raise $5,000 for breast cancer research. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy food samples, demonstrations, raffles, giveaways and raffle baskets. There will be ’90-themed music; Roberta Fabiano, who has performed worldwide, will sing; and dancers from Roseland School of Dance will teach attendees how to dance the macarena. Virtual reality equipment will also be available.

The Three Village Inn, Sweet Mama’s, the Country House, Pentimento’s, Fratelli’s Italian Eatery, Robinson’s Tea Room, Crazy Beans, Brew Cheese and The Crushed Olive will have representatives on hand with food samplings including mac and cheese, hors d’oeuvres, scones, veggie wraps and more. Chocolate Works will present a seven-tiered display of chocolate samples, and Blue Salon & Spa will have a minispa, minimakeup demos and a raffle for a free cut and blowout.

Admission for the Feb. 26 event is $35 per person. The WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center is located at 97P Main St. in the rear of the Stony Brook Village Center. Reservations are required and can be made via PayPal at www.stonybrookvillage.com/tsbv/ or by calling 631-689-5888.