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Rita J. Egan

Alexandra Juliano, far right, in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Rita J. Egan

Before she flies off to the University of Delaware in a few months, Alexandra Juliano is taking on one of her dream roles — Peter Pan. The Commack High School senior and other young actors, who are all 18 years old or younger, will be hitting the stage at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts in “Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.,” which opens on May 14.

The Commack native is no stranger to the stage. She has performed in various productions at the Dream Makers Performing Arts School in East Northport as well as her high school, most recently playing Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd.” Over the last few years, she has appeared at the Smithtown Theater in the junior versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Les Miserables,” as well as the Mainstage production of “The Little Mermaid” as Aquata, one of Ariel’s sisters.

Recently, Juliano took time out from rehearsals to talk about her portrayal of the iconic character of Peter Pan and about growing up.

How did you feel when you heard you got the part?
I was ecstatic; I was over the moon! I love doing shows here, especially the junior shows. I’ve done a Mainstage show and it was amazing, but the junior shows are really nice because I love working with the little kids and all my friends and everything. Peter Pan actually has always been my favorite Disney movie, ever, and Peter Pan himself has always been one of my dream roles. I love “Peter Pan” and everything that it’s about. So, not only did I know it was going to be a great experience because of that, but it’s a part I always wanted to play. I was so proud, so happy, so humbled to get the chance to play it.

What’s it like working with the cast and crew?
Amazing. I’ve done so many shows here and I’ve never had a bad experience from the adults to the directors to the kids. You just get so close to everyone. It’s such a warm environment.

Do you have a favorite song in the play?
I guess I have to say my favorite song is the first time the Darlings fly with me. The “You Can Fly” sequence, where the famous line is, “Neverland is second star to the right, straight on till morning.” I’ve always loved that line. I can’t wait for that magic with the audience, the little kids thinking that we’re flying.

What is the energy like with a children’s audience?
The energy in the audience is always so high. We do autographs after, and obviously performing onstage is amazing, but that’s one of my favorite parts, is the autographs after. For “The Little Mermaid Jr.” I was Sebastian, and the kids, just the things that they would say to you, they really believe that you’re the character. They thought I was this little red crab. I think that’s the best part. These kids come, and they’re so young some of them, and even the ones who are older, and they know that it’s not real, they still get sucked into it. They still have that Disney Magic. Like I said, even though I love performing, obviously, I love the autographs, and the energy that the kids show, the enthusiasm they show.

Do you think some of the kids in the autograph line will realize you’re a girl?
I’ve actually thought about that. I don’t know exactly what response I’m going to give yet if anyone says that to me. I’m thinking I’m going to have a short enough wig and if they say anything to me, I’ll just have to stay in character and say, “No, I’m Peter.” And I hope, even if they do realize I’m a girl, I hope that when I’m onstage, they’ll forget the fact that it’s a girl playing a boy, and just enjoy it for what it is.

Peter Pan and his friends are resistant to growing up. How do you feel about growing up?
It’s scary. I just paid my deposit for college actually this past weekend, and it’s really scary. My brother, my whole life I’ve grown up with me and him being very, very close … my older brother … When I was younger I was always like, “No, I want to be an adult. I want to wear the high heels and the lipstick,” but he was always like, “I just want to stay young forever.” And now that I’m actually wearing the high heels and the lipstick, I love looking back at the memories of being a kid. There are perks of being an adult but then there’s definitely reasons why I see that Peter didn’t want to grow up. It’s definitely a lot more fun being a kid.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
I would love to be an actress. Hopefully, knock on wood, but I’m actually majoring in dietetics, so nutritional sciences and stuff like that.

Do you plan on acting at college?
Yes, I plan on minoring in theater. Which is good, since I’m doing the minor, I’ll be able to audition for their shows and everything. And, I know already Ken [Washington] said next year for the summer show I’ll be able to audition for it when I get home from college. So, it’s good. Even though I’m not majoring in it, it will always be a part of my life.

Do you see yourself acting professionally?
I would love to be able to pursue it professionally. It’s such a risky and tough business. My parents have told me you’re more than allowed to audition, and they’ve even told me if you get a part while in school, you’re allowed to take time off to pursue a part on Broadway or off Broadway if you get that opportunity, because they know how important it is to me. I have my backup plan, I have the backup job, but I definitely would love to audition and put myself out there for it.

What advice would you give young actors?
Just keep trying out. You’re not always going to get the part you want. You’re not always going to get the lead role your first try or your second try. But, it’s all about making the best of the role you get, in theater so many people don’t see that, but there’s no bad role. Even ensemble in shows, they’re so much more than ensemble. I’m one of those people I’ll watch a show, and during the big dance numbers, I love seeing the facial expressions of the ensemble, and I love seeing the energy. And, the ensemble really makes or breaks a show. So ensemble is sometimes the best role. Just keep trying. Just keep going. Don’t get down on yourself. Because eventually you’ll get there, you’ll get the role you want.

So far, the experience with “Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.” has left the soon-to-be 18-year-old with  wonderful memories. She said not only does she enjoy working with the whole cast but the musical gives her a chance to perform with one of her best friends Cass Fawcett, who plays Tinker Bell. Juliano also said the young actors playing the Darlings — Moira Swinford (Wendy), Cole Napolitano (John) and Erika Hinson (Michael) — with whom she appears in many scenes, are exceptionally talented.

Catch Juliano and her fellow young actors at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts until June 19. The theater is located at 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, and tickets are $15 per person. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

This version corrects the last name of Erika, who plays Michael Darling.

‘The Three Graces’ by Lois Youmans will be on view at fotofoto gallery through May 28.

By Rita J. Egan

Spring is here and flowers are blooming all over the island. Yet, whether found in a garden or a vase, the beauty of a flower is fleeting, unless a photographer captures the image of a bloom. Then, not only can its beauty live eternally, but also every nuance can be seen, and the image may even inspire one to see the flower in a new way.

To celebrate the fine art of floral photography, fotofoto gallery in Huntington will present photographer Holly Gordon’s exhibit, FLORAbundance, through May 28. To complement her solo show, Floral Bouquet, with works from individual gallery artists, will be on display as well.

Gordon said that fotofoto gallery, which was founded almost 15 years ago by a group of Long Island-based photographers, is the oldest fine art photography collective gallery in the area that provides a space for professional contemporary photographers to display their work. Each month a group member has a chance to feature his or her art, and Gordon chose the month of May.

Lawrence Chatterton’s photograph, ‘Astilbe Chinensis’ will be on display at fotofoto’s latest exhibit.
Lawrence Chatterton’s photograph, ‘Astilbe Chinensis’ will be on display at fotofoto’s latest exhibit.

The photographer, who explained her work starts out as photographs but grows into something different in the digital “darkroom,” said May is the perfect time of year for her to display her floral images. Gordon said while a young mother she would plant vegetables and flowers and then take photos of her garden. “A lot of my evolution as an artist has evolved from the garden, and I thought May would be a perfect time to let my gallery space explode with the color and profusion of these wonderful blooms after a cold, gray season,” she said.

Gordon said she uses a 35mm Canon EOS 5D camera with a Tamron 28-300 zoom lens or a Sony RX1 with a fixed lens, and she varies her techniques when photographing subjects. She sometimes shoots with a shallow depth of field so the background blends in, and other times sets her camera out of focus so she can capture a more impressionistic view of what is in front of her. She said everything is manual because she feels, “it’s not the camera, it’s the person who is using the camera. I do not want a little box making decisions for me.”

At times, Gordon will take one shot in focus, and then, without moving or changing the focus or depth of field, she’ll keep taking photos. Once she has the photos on her computer, she uses Photoshop to layer them over each other and changes the opacity to make it look almost like cellophane to create an image that is recognizable yet at the same time represents her vision. Many times her photographs have been compared to a painting, which is no surprise since Gordon has a background in that art form, too.

“I’m always looking for creating my own vision, because you can set up a zillion cameras, and let the camera make all the decisions, and all you do is snap the picture, but I want to have a more personal response and reaction to what it is that I am looking at,” she said.

The photographer said she calls the paired exhibits at fotofoto The Focus Is Flowers, and the name of hers, FLORAbundance, is a play on the words floral and abundance. Gordon has 10 of her prints on display, and in Floral Bouquet 10 gallery artists are participating: Patricia Beary, Sandra Carrion, Lawrence Chatterton, Patricia Colombraro, Susan Dooley, Rosalie Frost, Andrea M. Gordon, Kristin Holcomb, Seth Kalmowitz and Lois Youmans.

Gordon said photographers will each have one piece on display in the group exhibit, and their signature styles inspired the title Floral Bouquet. “Because each artist in the gallery has his and her own unique vision, that’s why it has become a floral bouquet. That’s what’s so fascinating, and it’s absolutely wonderful, because it just shows so many different approaches to photographing flowers,” she said.

The photographer hopes that visitors to the gallery will look at flowers differently after viewing the exhibit and that serious photographers may even be inspired to share their work with art lovers at fotofoto gallery. “I hope that it expands the way they see. That they look at the world much more sensitively and as a natural work of art, and that it might inspire them to see differently when they use their camera . . . not just to rely on the technology of the camera to snap something, but to be a more active player in choosing what to take and to realize that being an artist is a rare and special gift,” she said.

‘Iris,’ a photographic print by Holly Gordon, will be on display at fotofoto’s latest exhibit.
‘Iris,’ a photographic print by Holly Gordon, will be on display at fotofoto’s latest exhibit.

Gordon said she once read something that Monet said to the effect of “look beyond the bloom.” “What I took that to mean, and maybe that’s something that I would like people to take away from seeing my work, what he was saying, ‘look beyond the bloom,’ see it for more than the fact that it’s a tulip, or a rhododendron, or a rose or a daisy,” she said. “See it as colors and shapes and patterns, and how those colors and shapes and patterns and textures play with all the other colors and patterns and textures around it. And, that’s how I view the world; I see it as art elements.”

The exhibit is the first of a number of events for Gordon in the next few months. The photographer is scheduled to display her FLORAbundance pieces at the Bay Shore-Brightwaters Library from June 1 through 30 and will also present a slide show based on the artwork at the library on June 13. Another slide show with Gordon, presented by the Long Island Horticulture Society, is scheduled for Sunday, June 28, at Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay.

In addition to her solo work, the photographer is currently working with watercolor painter Ward Hooper on the artistic endeavor, The Brush/Lens Project, which compares Long Island landscapes in both a photograph and painting to show how the brush and lens relate. The Long Island MacArthur Airport Gallery will host an exhibit by The Brush/Lens Project with Gordon’s photographs as well as Hooper’s paintings from July 1 through August 12.

Gordon said an artist reception at fotofoto will be held on Saturday, May 7, from 5 to 7 p.m., and the gallery will also be part of Huntington Village’s first Art Walk taking place on Saturday, May 14. “I certainly hope that people will tiptoe through the streets of Huntington and come back to fotofoto gallery because I’m going to be there, too,” she said.

FLORAbundance by Holly Gordon and Floral Bouquet by fotofoto gallery artists will run through May 28. The gallery is located at 14 W. Carver St. in Huntington and admission is free. For more information on the exhibit, visit www.fotofotogallery.org or call 631-549-0448. To discover more about Gordon’s photography, visit www.hollygordonphotographer.com.

‘Boothbay Harbor,’ watercolor by Ward Hooper. Photo from Northport Historical Society

By Rita J. Egan

Ward Hooper and his wife Dolly, who passed away in 2012, were a rare couple because both were exceptionally talented and accomplished. To celebrate decades of the couple’s creative contributions to the Village of Northport as well as their involvement in the community, the Northport Historical Society is currently running the exhibit, Sharing a Creative Life: Dolly and Ward Hooper.

Terry Reid, collection consultant and member of the exhibit committee at the historical society, said, “It’s sort of a retrospective celebration of Dolly and Ward’s creative life. It’s a thank you from Northport for all of their years of creativity and community service.”

The exhibit is what Reid calls a “full-circle moment” for her. When she started out at the historical society, she was fortunate to work with both Dolly and Ward, who were board members and curators for 35 years. She was happy once again to work with Ward on this show. “I learned from Ward and Dolly when I started 10 or 12 years ago. They taught me what I know now,” she said.

‘Renaissance Lady’ by Dolly Hooper. Photo from Northport Historical Society
‘Renaissance Lady’ by Dolly Hooper. Photo from Northport Historical Society

The exhibit displays the couple’s individual as well as joint achievements and demonstrates how they integrated their creativity into Northport, according to the consultant. On one side, the cabinets feature Ward’s achievements, which include graphic designs for many well-known brands, and features on the other side are Dolly’s dress designs and dolls she created. In the middle, the displays show what the couple accomplished together, including their work at the society.

Ward’s watercolors

The pieces on display come from the Hoopers’ personal collection, and the exhibit includes 24 of Ward’s watercolor paintings, too. In addition to being a former graphic designer, Ward is a watercolor painter who taught at the Art League of Long Island for 12 years. He is currently collaborating with photographer Holly Gordon on a new artistic venture called the Brush/Lens Project.

Also featured in the exhibit is the society’s dollhouse, which is a permanent fixture at the museum due to Dolly’s involvement in decorating the house with furnishings and miniature dolls.

Reid said Dolly, who began her career dressing store windows along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, loved designing and collecting dolls, even though growing up during the Depression she never had one of her own. Among her creations on display are ones she made out of Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup bottles. The figures inspired the company to create a calendar featuring the dolls, which turned out to be one of their most successful advertising campaigns, according to the consultant.

Ward and Dolly were avid antique collectors, and the designer in the ‘70s opened the Trolley Tracks Antique Shop in Northport, according to Reid. She also created many one-of-a-kind bridal gowns and especially loved Victorian dresses. “She could really bring a dress to life,” the consultant said.

Reid said Ward and Dolly not only contributed culturally to the village but also were actively involved in the community. In addition to working with the historical society as curators from 1974 to 2009, they were also involved with the Northport Architectural Review Board as well as the village’s chamber of commerce. Ward even designed the chamber’s logo. In addition, Dolly helped make wreaths that were displayed along Main Street during the Christmas season and started the Miss Northport Pageant in the ‘80s.

Ward Hooper photo from Northport Historical Society
Ward Hooper photo from Northport Historical Society

Ward, who attended the exhibit’s opening reception on April 3, was appreciative of all his friends who attended the event. “This is really rewarding to see so many people turn out here today. Dolly passed away four years ago, and she would have truly loved it,” he said.

The artist was especially pleased to see Bill O’Brien, a former director of the Northport Historical Society, and Dick Simpson, also a former director as well as the museum’s founder. Ward said he not only worked with the two during his days on the board at the society but also with Dick in Manhattan early in their careers, and the two along with Dolly were curators together for many of the early exhibits at the society’s museum.

Creative power

The artist said when Simpson told the couple “to come out to the North Shore” to visit him, they liked what they saw and in 1969 moved from the city and bought a converted barn in Northport. The couple, who had met in the early ‘50s at Willoughby’s Camera Store, was married since 1953.

Simpson, who traveled from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to attend the opening reception, said he hopes that everyone who visits the museum will see “the creative power these two people had.

“If you are creative, you can go in all different directions. That’s what so wonderful about the creative person and these two were very creative,” Simpson said.

O’Brien remembered visiting the Hoopers at their home and said Dolly was always working on a project. “She was a very creative woman and she was always on the go,” he said.

The former director was pleased with how the exhibit turned out. “I think the exhibit was aptly named because even though they were married, they each pursued their own creative abilities on their own stage, and then they always supported each other,” O’Brien said.

Ward and Dolly’s daughter Laura Jean Wilson was also on hand for the reception and loved that both her mother’s designs and father’s artwork were on display together. “To see everything here is beautiful. It’s well done; a lot of good memories,” Wilson said.

When it comes to what she hopes exhibit goers will discover during a visit to the museum, Wilson said, “Just how creative they were, the talent, how they worked so well together, had a lot of similar interests, and how they loved Northport. Just to see the different collaborations between the two … they loved what they did.”

Sharing a Creative Life: Dolly and Ward Hooper will be on exhibit at the Northport Historical Society, 215 Main Street, Northport, through Aug. 31. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.northporthistorical.org or call 631-757-9859. To find out more about the Brush/Lens Project, visit www.brushlensproject.com.

‘Half Light on the Dock,’ acrylic, by John Mansueto

By Rita J. Egan

Adorned with stunning landscapes, Long Island is home to countless artists who capture the area’s charm in their own beautiful, creative ways. To celebrate the splendor of our area and the immense talent of landscape artists, the Smithtown Township Arts Council will be hosting an invitational exhibit, Loving the Landscape We Call Home, at the Mills Pond Gallery opening April 9.

‘Pond without Duck,’ oil, by Shain Bard
‘Pond without Duck,’ oil, by Shain Bard

On display at the exhibit will be landscape paintings of eight artists that live on Long Island, according to gallery director Allison Cruz. She said in the past the gallery’s exhibits, both invitational and juried, have included artists from all over the nation but she said occasionally she likes to concentrate on local artists.

The director said it’s difficult narrowing down which artists to feature in such an art show, especially when each has his or her own individual style. “There are many, many, many Long Island artists who all paint their local landscapes. There are hundreds to choose from and one is better than the next,” she said.

Cruz said the artwork includes oil paints, watercolors, pastels, acrylics and more and features various recognizable landscapes found on the island including winter, beach and forest scenes.

The gallery director said that in addition to an assortment of styles, mediums and scenery at the exhibit, each artist will have at least five pieces of artwork on display. “They’ll be able to show a real difference even within their own work,” she said.

‘West Meadow Wonderings,’ acrylic on canvas, by Patty Yantz
‘West Meadow Wonderings,’ acrylic on canvas, by Patty Yantz

One of the featured artists will be Stony Brook resident Franco Jona who said he was surprised and honored when he was notified that his work was going to be included in the exhibit. The former professor, who taught physics to engineering students at Stony Brook University for more than four decades, has been painting for several years capturing the scenic sights around his home.

“I was always attracted to the natural scenes in the vicinity, around Stony Brook and Setauket and so on,” the artist said. Jona hopes that visitors to the exhibit will enjoy how he sees the local landscapes that he creates with realism in watercolors and oil pastels. “I like to represent nature the way I see it,” he said. 

‘A Light Winter Blanket,’ watercolor, by Katherine Hiscox
‘A Light Winter Blanket,’ watercolor, by Katherine Hiscox

John Mansueto, who lives in Islip Hamlet, is also pleased his work will be on display at the gallery. Originally an illustrator who also worked for the Fire Island Tide Newspaper, the now full-time artist paints landscapes in acrylics and, in the past, also created work in watercolors, a medium he plans to return to in the future.

“Usually the subject speaks to me,” he said, explaining that he can tell whether a landscape would be better recreated in watercolors or acrylics. His paintings include various scenes from the South Shore, North Shore, as well as eastern Long Island.

Mansueto said he appreciates when art lovers not only enjoy his paintings but also recognize the spots he has painted. He added exhibits like the one at the Mills Pond Gallery also provide him a chance to learn about other artists.

‘Memories,’ oil, by Burton A. Woods
‘Memories,’ oil, by Burton A. Woods

“You see what techniques they are using and how they’re doing it, which is probably going to be different from the way I do it. You dissect it,” he said.

The exhibit will also include works from artists Shain Bard (Huntington Station), Katherine Hiscox (Commack), Rob Roehrig (East Setauket), Mary Webb (E. Northport), Burton A. Woods (Mount Sinai) and Patty Yantz (Setauket).

Cruz said, with a good cross section of Long Island landscapes, she thinks visitors will gain a new perspective of the area as well as artistically capturing its beauty. “I think when they see this show all together they are going to get an appreciation that there are many different ways to see the creative parts of where you live and many different types of ways to paint it,” she said.

The Smithtown Township Arts Council will present the Loving the Landscape We Call Home exhibit, funded in part by the Town of Smithtown, at the Mills Pond House Gallery, 660 Route 25A, St. James, from April 9 to May 4. Art lovers can meet the exhibiting artists at a reception held at the gallery on Saturday, April 9, from 2 to 4 p.m. The gallery is open Wednesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends from noon to 4 p.m. Admission to the exhibit is free. For more information, please call 631-862-6575 or visit www. stacarts.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.

‘A Stone’s Throw,’ watercolor, by Jeanne Salucci

By Rita J. Egan

Visitors to the Port Jefferson Village Center can view an eclectic collection of artwork from the South Shore-based Wet Paints Studio Group in the center’s gallery. Until April 30, the venue will be hosting the exhibit “From the Heart of the Artist.”

Susan Orifici, head of graphic, archival and special projects at the Village Center, said the exhibit includes approximately 100 pieces from the local artists.

“I love the combination of different things. It’s everything from pencil drawings to acrylics and mixed media,” she said.

Orifici said she’s delighted the center is offering the exhibit, and with the majority of the artists from the South Shore, also providing a venue for the group to share their work with art lovers who may be unfamiliar with Wet Paints.

“It gives their membership the opportunity to give a show where they can reach out,” she said.

‘Port Jefferson Village,’ oil, by June Long-Schuman
‘Port Jefferson Village,’ oil, by June Long-Schuman

Doug Broadhurst, president of the Wet Paints Studio Group, agreed that the Village Center provides the organization a great opportunity to show their work on the North Shore. The artist, who has two portraits in the show, “Lydia” and “Nancy: A Moment in Time,” said when he visited the center in the past to view exhibits, he was always pleased with what he saw.

“It’s a beautiful venue to show at,” he said.

Broadhurst said the group, with approximately 200 members, has been in existence for 67 years and meets every Tuesday in Sayville at the Gillette House. He explained that the first Tuesday is a business meeting, while the second and fourth weeks are dedicated to sketching live portrait models. On the third Tuesday of the month, the group hosts artists’ demonstrations.

Carol Corbett, vice president of the Wet Paints Studio Group, has been a member for almost 15 years. She said she discovered the organization when her sister came to visit and asked her if she belonged to any art groups. The sisters found Wet Paints while searching online and decided to check out a meeting with sketch pads and pencils in hand.

“It was such a nice group. It was just so good that I never left,” she said.

The group president and vice-president said new artists are always welcome, and Broadhurst explained that sometimes non-artists attend demonstrations or art talks. Corbett said she loves the range of experience in the organization.

An artist reception for ‘From the Heart of the Artist’ will be held on Saturday, April 2, from 3 to 5 p.m.

“You have the whole scope of professional to really, really amateur, and everybody is fine with it, they get along well. The ones who know more teach; the other ones are open to listening. And, sometimes you learn from the ones who are starting out as well,” said Corbett.

While the majority of members live on the South Shore, portrait artist and group membership chairman, Terry McManus, has been making the trip from his Mount Sinai home to the Sayville meetings for 20 years now. Like Corbett, he has found his fellow members to be very welcoming and encouraging.

“They’re very supportive. It’s a wonderful group to be with,” McManus said.

‘Portrait of Lydia,’ graphics, by Doug Broadhurst
‘Portrait of Lydia,’ graphics, by Doug Broadhurst

For the exhibit, Broadhurst said instead of a theme, the artists simply picked their favorite works of art from their collections or created a new piece. Visitors to the exhibit will find pictures in acrylic, oil paint, pencil, watercolor and more. He said the exhibit artwork also runs the gamut from portraits, landscapes, abstracts and mixed media.

“Anyone who looks at it will find something that they will like.”

Corbett said she saw a number of pieces she thought were wonderful being delivered to the venue while she was there to drop off her two oil seascapes, “Mysterious” and “A Passing Storm.” She said the exhibit, with its various styles, is an example of how the members create art they love. “We’re trying to show our hearts through our art,” Corbett said.

McManus, who has two pastel portraits in the exhibit, “Teenager” and “Puppy Love,” said he finds it amazing to see so many different approaches to art in the exhibit. He explained that various artists can all look at the same landscape or portrait and have a different approach to it. He said the variety of artists present a diversity of styles for art lovers to enjoy at the exhibit.

“I think it’s a talented group. So I think anybody can really enjoy the show,” the artist said.

Corbett hopes the exhibit may inspire some visitors to try an art class or increase their appreciation of art: “Hopefully their hearts will be blessed by viewing it.”

The Port Jefferson Gallery at the Village Center, 101-A East Broadway, Port Jefferson, will host “From the Heart of the Artist” until April 30. A reception will be held on Saturday, April 2 from 3 to 5 p.m. and is open to the public. The building is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and admission is free. For more information on the exhibit, visit the Facilities section of www.portjeff.com or call 631-802-2160. For more information on the Wet Paints Studio Group, visit www.wetpaintsgroup.com.

Berndt Toast Gang artists celebrate milestone anniversary

'Pick-up Lines’ by Anton Emdin

By Rita J. Egan

In 1966, when two Hanna-Barbera cartoonists living on Long Island met for lunch once a month to discuss a project, they began a tradition that still exists today. The cartoonists continued meeting monthly after the job was completed, and soon other local cartoon artists, members of the Long Island chapter of the National Cartoonists Society, joined them. To celebrate the group’s 50th anniversary, the Huntington Public Library is hosting the exhibit Cartoonist Showcase featuring 60 pieces of artwork from the chapter’s prominent members, both illustrators and letterers.

Chapter chair, Adrian Sinnott, said the group, nicknamed the Berndt Toast Gang, consists of approximately 40 members. Visitors to the exhibit will find drawings of favorite characters such as the Lockhorns, Batman, Spider-Man and Wonder Woman in cartoon form as well as paintings and drawings inspired by them.

Laurene Tesoriero, the library’s art gallery coordinator, said when cartoonist Helen Murdock-Prep, creator of the comic strip “Shrinking Violet,” approached the library about the exhibit, she was thrilled to be able to display the cartoonists’ work and their legendary characters. “I feel good, because this is the library; this is where you come to see history; this is where you come to see good things,” Tesoriero said.

The art gallery coordinator said she believes after seeing the variety of work people will reflect on the cartoonists when they see their illustrations in the future. “I think a lot of times when people think of cartoons they think of comics. I think they’ll walk away seeing the variety of styles that’s there,” Tesoriero said.

‘Woody Allen’ by Garrett Bender
‘Woody Allen’ by Garrett Bender

Sinnott, a children’s book illustrator, explained that the chapter’s roots date back to World War II when a loose connection of Long Island illustrators would get together and visit injured soldiers at local veterans’ hospitals. Today a number of the chapter’s members continue this tradition traveling with the USO overseas to Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkey to draw for the soldiers, while others work with the Ink Well Foundation and visit patients in children’s hospitals.

Sinnott said Port Jefferson resident Walter Berndt, creator of the comic strip “Smitty,” which ran from the 1920s until the 1970s, started attending the group’s monthly luncheons when he was older. After he passed away in 1979, one of the cartoonists raised a toast to him, and said, “Here’s a Berndt toast.” The toast inspired the chapter’s nickname, and now at every luncheon the group raise their glasses to members who have passed or who are celebrating recent accomplishments.

Sinnott, who joined the chapter approximately 30 years ago, said the Berndt Toast Gang is a friendly and encouraging group where members can share ideas and give feedback. “It’s quite an amazing group because technically we’re all competitors but we enjoy each other’s company so much,” Sinnott said.

Joe Giella, who for over 40 years illustrated characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman and more for DC Comics, has also been a member of the chapter for decades. For the last 25 years, he has illustrated the “Mary Worth” comic strip.

Working from his studio in East Meadow, Giella said he looks forward to the monthly lunches, because it gives him a chance to get out of the office, and with working under the pressure of deadlines, it also helps to relieve work-related stress. “I go down there and it’s like therapy,” he said.

The lunches also give the newer cartoonists a chance to receive advice from more seasoned artists. Giella, who pursued his artistic aspirations despite his father wanting him to follow a more traditional career path such as firefighter or police officer, said his advice for aspiring artists is simple. “I tell them that if you really want it there’s nothing going to stop you,” the illustrator said.

Chapter member Bunny Hoest, letterer of several cartoon series including “The Lockhorns,” “Howard Huge” and “Agatha Crumb,” was an English teacher when she married her husband, illustrator Bill Hoest, and started in the cartoon business. After he passed away in 1988, she continued working with illustrator John Reiner, and to this day continues to write “The Lockhorns.”

 ‘The Original Batmobile’ by Adrian Sinnott
‘The Original Batmobile’ by Adrian Sinnott

Hoest, who started attending the Berndt Toast Gang luncheons with her husband, said the members are incredibly humble. When she hosts a party at her house every summer, she said she can’t believe that so many talented people are assembled outside on her terrace. “I look at them and I think, ‘this terrace is so full of talent it’s just going to rise into the sky.’ These guys are so modest they don’t even know it,” she said.

Hoest said when she brought her family to the exhibit, they all enjoyed it. “It’s an up-lifting exhibit to see. We’re not talking about terrible things. You get a laugh and get a look at some great beauty. I think it’s just a great exhibit to go to,” she said.

In addition to Sinnott’s, Giella’s and Hoest’s work, visitors will see the illustrations of former Newsday cartoonist Tony D’Adamo, comic book and strip artists Don Heck and Sy Barry among others.

Sinnott hopes that visitors to the exhibit will walk away with a better understanding of cartoonists and their work. “It’s really an extension of them. When they do their work, they’re showing you a part of them. Even if they are making it up completely, it’s still a very personal endeavor.”

The Cartoonist Showcase is on display at the Huntington Public Library, 338 Main Street, in the Main Art Gallery through April 25. For more information, visit www.myhpl.org or call 631-427-5165.

From left, Charles Jacker, Samantha Carroll, TracyLynn Conner, Michael Newman, James D. Schultz, Lauren Gobes and Jeremy Hudson star in ‘First Date’ at the SCPA. Photo by Jordan Hue

By Rita J. Egan

Skip the night of drinks with friends. The musical “First Date,” now playing at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, will provide more laughs than all of your besties’ dating stories combined.

This contemporary romantic comedy, written by Austin Winsberg with music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to today’s dating game. With a huge dose of humor, “First Date” deals with a number of issues that arise in dating — from what to talk about during your first encounter to should you Google your date before meeting to who pays the check at the end of the night. And, while the musical is chock full of amusing moments, it also subtlety touches on the deeper issue of people building walls around their hearts.

Directed by Jordan Hue, “First Date,” through witty dialogue and song, tells the story of serial dater Casey and blind date newbie Aaron meeting for drinks at a New York City restaurant. A helpful waiter, as well as restaurant patrons who double as people in their lives, surround the twosome. During the 90-minute play, the lead characters experience an array of emotions from nervousness and cynicism to attraction and hope.

TracyLynn Conner as Casey perfectly embodies the energy of today’s sophisticated single female. She is strong, edgy and sexy as well as guarded and jaded from years of dating disappointments. Her sister has even called her a relationship assassin due to her experiences. However, as the date unfolds, Conner effortlessly portrays the softening of Casey who starts to realize that maybe she hasn’t always made the best decisions when it comes to the men in her life.

TracyLynn Conner and James D. Schultz star in ‘First Date’ at the SCPA. Photo by Jordan Hue
TracyLynn Conner and James D. Schultz star in ‘First Date’ at the SCPA. Photo by Jordan Hue

While Conner possesses strong vocals on all her numbers, it’s during the song “Safer” where she truly shines. The actress delivers the song with such great emotion that many women will find themselves connecting with the lyrics and reaching for the tissues.

James D. Schultz as the awkward and nervous Aaron is endearing and lovable. The audience can’t help but root for him as the date progresses. He easily handles the subtle transformation his character experiences as Casey helps him say goodbye to his hope of ever reuniting with his ex-fiancée. During the number “In Love with You,” Schultz gets to show off his singing abilities. What seems at first to be a touching ballad transforms into an edgy upbeat song where the actor really gets to let loose to the delight of the audience.

Michael Newman as the waiter serves up plenty of laughs throughout the musical, and with his song and dance number, “I’d Order Love,” he lightens up the mood after the emotionally charged “Safer” as well as lights up the stage with his charm.

Rounding out the cast are Charles Jacker, Samantha Carroll, Jeremy Hudson and Lauren Gobes who all alternate between restaurant patrons and people in Casey’s and Aaron’s lives, with whom the couple at times has imaginary conversations.

Jacker is hilarious as Casey’s best friend Reggie who keeps calling her to provide her a way out of the date. During the number “Bailout Song,” as well as its reprises, Jacker delivers comedic lines that had everyone in the audience hysterically laughing.

Hudson, as Aaron’s friend Gabe, receives a great deal of laughs, too. As Aaron imagines how his buddy would advise him, Hudson convincingly plays a typical young man giving his friend bad advice all for the sake of getting a one-night stand.

Carroll, who plays Casey’s sister Lauren, is believable as the average suburban wife and mother when Casey pictures what her sibling would say at various moments during the date. However, it’s while playing Aaron’s mother (as he remembers a letter she left him) that Carroll takes center stage as the audience hears her strong soprano during a touching duet with Schultz, “The Things I Never Said.”

Lauren Gobes delivers the emasculating and moody character of Aaron’s ex-fiancée Allison perfectly. During Aaron’s imaginary conversations with her and the number “Allison’s Theme #1,” the actress easily conveys the essence of this woman and why her ex is the way he is when it comes to females.

Another standout number featuring the whole ensemble is “The Girl for You” as Aaron imagines the reaction of his deceased grandmother, played by Carroll, to the fact that Casey isn’t Jewish. Just when the audience thinks the number can’t get any funnier, Jacker, as Aaron’s imaginary future and confused son, joined by Hudson, breaks into a well-delivered rap number.    

Hue has skillfully directed cast members who handle multiple roles seamlessly and deliver comedic lines effortlessly. Whether in a relationship or currently single, theatergoers will leave “First Date” feeling a bit more optimistic about their dating life and maybe even able to laugh about their own romantic failures. Before buying tickets though, parents should be aware that the musical includes adult language, so secure a babysitter for the kids and enjoy a grown-up night out of the house.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main Street, Smithtown, will present “First Date” through March 26. Tickets are $35 each. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

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.

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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.

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