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Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts

Stephen Treglia as Sancho Panza and Michael Bertolini as Don Quixote’ in a scene from ‘Man of La Mancha’ Photo by Courtney Braun

By Kyle Barr

 

In the conflict between cynical realism and colorful idealism, “Man of La Mancha” is fully in support of the latter even while being so close to giving into the former. It is a production that teeters on this line even in the most silly of circumstances, and it is this fine line that requires quite a lot from everyone involved from music to set design to acting so that the meaning does not get confused.

It is good then that the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is up to the challenge.

Michael Bertolini as Don Quixote’ in a scene from ‘Man of La Mancha’ Photo by Courtney Braun

While classic productions like “Man of La Mancha” (a 1960s Broadway production ran for over 2,000 performances) give local theaters the opportunity to perform something familiar, these shows can have the side effect of giving the impression that it is “amateur hour.” However, the SPAC, even on its opening night, not only manages to have a show with great performances on every level, but it also manages to capture the depth and heart of the play.

The story first centers upon the “bad poet and idealist” Miguel de Cervantes who, along with his manservant, is arrested by the Spanish Inquisition under the charge of foreclosing on a church. In prison, all their possessions are taken by the other inmates, including the tough yet sympathetic “Governor,” who declares they will put on a mock trial for Cervantes and that if he is found guilty everything including his precious manuscript will be taken or burned.

The aging gentleman declares he wishes to present his trial in the form of a play about a man named Alonso Quijana, who has become so fed up with the evil of the world and has spent so much time around books on ancient chivalry that he goes insane, dons a breastplate and helmet and makes himself a knight errant named Don Quixote. He has the other inmates act out characters throughout his defense, all while time is ticking down before he must meet his real trial in front of the Inquisition.

The cast of ‘Man of La Mancha’. Photo by Courtney Braun

What is remarkable about the production, and what director Kenneth J. Washington and the other folks at the SPAC have managed to convey, is how well the theme and meaning builds over time. At first the audience must agree with the inmates, thinking Cervantes is an idiot idealist who has little excuse for his actions. Slowly it is clear through the obtuse silliness of Don Quixote that Cervantes might have a point, and eventually it is clear the production is a metanarrative about theater and fiction itself.

It is a theme expressed even by the set design, headed by resident designer Tim Golebiewski. At first the set seems well designed, with good work on the foreground and the paintings of stonework that seems truly lifelike. But it all seems a little dull and gray, easily blending into each other.

However, this works to the play’s themes. The audience is there inside this dungeon, and just like the inmates the place is dull and harrowing. Once Don Quixote is on stage, running around with broken lance and bent sword, both inmates and audience imagine a more colorful scene much in the way that Quixote seems to imagine it. It is all enhanced by lighting designer Chris Creevy who does a fine job on the subtle hints of lighting to fit the scene.

Of course, this setup would not work at all unless the actors convey that they too are being transported into Cervantes’ world, and on opening night last Saturday the entire cast went above and beyond what was expected.

Stephen Treglia as Sancho Panza and Michael Bertolini as Don Quixote’ in a scene from ‘Man of La Mancha’ Photo by Courtney Braun

While actors are often expected to play multiple parts on the stage throughout a play, lead Michael Bertolini has the harder job of switching between Cervantes, Quixote and Quijana often in the middle of a scene. Nevertheless, he manages it flawlessly, with each character having a distinct presence on stage. Cervantes is composed and gentlemanly, while Quixote is loud, boisterous while cripplingly old. It was a joy to watch Bertolini put on makeup right on stage, quickly transforming himself into another character in a scene only usually reserved for behind the stage.

SPAC veteran Brianne Boyd, who plays Alonsa, the kitchen wench of the local inn, fills her roll with a great melancholy that is pitch perfect, not to mention her voice that captures that loneliness and hopelessness especially in her song “It’s All the Same,” which musical director Melissa Coyle and choreographer Danielle Nigro must have spent countless hours getting just right. The song stands out as the most memorable and affecting number of the entire production.

The other standouts of the cast are easily Stephen Treglia as the manservant Sancho Panza, the unflappable sidekick to both Cervantes and Quixote, and Steve Ayle, his first time at the SPAC, as both the Duke and Dr. Carrasco, who has a stern face when talking of the merits of cynicism and realism over idealism.

If you have never seen “Man of La Mancha,” then SPAC’s production is a great introduction to the magnificent story. If you have seen La Mancha before, then this is a good way to remember why you loved it so much.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “Man of La Mancha” through Oct. 22. Tickets are $35 adults, $32 seniors, $20 students with valid ID. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Above, the cast performs a musical number in a scene from ‘Young Frankenstein’

By Kyle Barr

From left, Michael Newman as the blind hermit and Ryan Nolin as the monster in a scene from ‘Young Frankenstein’

Mel Brooks, the director and writer of some of cinema’s most beloved comedy movies, has always had something of a theatrical flair to his films. There have been musical scenes in “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” “History of the World Part 1” and one glorious moment in “Young Frankenstein” when Frankenstein’s monster replaces his ragged clothing for a tuxedo and top hat and stiffly tap dances to “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

It’s no wonder then that “Young Frankenstein” works so well as a musical stage production. The characters are there, the humor is there, and the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is more than up to the task of adapting the musical with a performance that emphatically captures the hilarious moments of the original 1974 film.

The story, written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan with music and lyrics by Brooks, follows the film very closely with only a few changes. The famous Victor Von Frankenstein, the mad scientist who created the original Frankenstein’s monster, is dead, and the villagers of Transylvania are much happier to see him gone.

Nick Masson as Frederick and Sarah Juliano as Inga in a scene from ‘Young Frankenstein’

While they think their troubles are over, Frankenstein’s grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Nick Masson), gets a letter that says he has inherited his grandfather’s castle in Transylvania. While he is originally staunch in refusing to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, with the help and coaxing of compatriots Igor (Andrew Murano), Inga (Sarah Jane Juliano) and Frau Blucher (Anne Marie Finnie), Frederick does indeed join the family business. It only takes a few mistakes before the monster (Ryan Nolin) is loose, and the villagers who for once thought they were free of monsters are yet again set upon by a big green menace.

Director and set designer Timothy Golebiewski skillfully leads a number of SCPA regulars along with several stage veterans making their premier at the theater. At last Sunday afternoon’s performance, all of the actors played their parts very well with several standouts.

SCPA veteran Michael Newman gives two excellent performances in the dual roles of Inspector Kemp and the blind hermit, while Juliano is hilarious as Inga, and her yodeling could give any clog-wearing German a run for their money.

‘Puttin On the Ritz’ at the SCPA.

With the passing of Gene Wilder last year still heavy on the heart, it’s hard to imagine another person portraying Frederick Frankenstein (“It’s pronounced Fronkensteen!”). However, Masson chooses to put a different spin on the iconic role to great effect. He sounds and acts much like everyone remembers their least favorite high school teacher to be, that one with the nasal voice and the rather high opinion of himself. He has a great sense for timing and his beginning song “The Brain,” about his love for the titular organ, is played up to its full bizarre and hilarious extent.

Murano as Igor (“It’s pronounced ‘Eye-gor!”) is a stand out soley for how much he seems to enjoy his role. Costume designer Ronald R. Green III does a superb job on his makeup from the character’s cloak to his deathly-white face and pointed nose.

While Igor is only the sidekick, he often steals the show with how much body language he puts into the jokes. It’s easy to see how Murano revels in the opportunity to touch the other characters in uncomfortable ways. One hilarious scene is when the character gets his hands on another’s fur cloak and chews into it and humps it like a dog.

Nick Masson and Andrew Murano in a scene from ‘Young Frankenstein’

While you originally wouldn’t expect much emoting from Frankenstein’s monster, who for most of the movie can only grunt and howl, Nolin does a great job of using his body language to effect the subtle and often confused emotions of the creature. It’s also great to see how well he transforms into an upstanding gentleman and how he affects an English accent as soon as he’s given intelligence.

The set design is particularly exceptional. Golebiewski and crew must have spent many good hours on setting up the two-tiered layout of the set, which has layers and a surprising amount of depth. It is remarkable to watch just from where different characters appear. Several of the bookcases can be spun around, which is not only used to transition from one parlor scene into a laboratory scene but is also used in one of the more famous jokes from the film where Inga and Frederick try to figure out how to use a secret door hidden in a bookcase.

The theater’s band, with conductor and keyboardist Melissa Coyle at the helm, Craig Coyle on keyboard, Michael Molloy on bass and Jim Waddell on drums, bring the whole show together nicely.

One thing to note is that this musical is raunchy, even more raunchy than the film on which it is based. While there are more than a few innuendos, there are many explicit references to sex and private parts, so adults may want to look up the script to the play before bringing young children along.

However, if you don’t mind a bit of sexual humor and you fondly remember the 1974 movie version, you won’t walk away disappointed. If you are looking to grab some of old monster movie nostalgia while watching something that wholly parodies those old horror conventions, you can’t get much better than SCPA’s “Young Frankenstein.”

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “Young Frankenstein” through Aug. 20. Tickets are $35, adults, $32 seniors, $20 students with valid ID. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

All photos by Courtney Braun.

Photo by Courtney Braun

By Heidi Sutton

Christian Arma as Gerald and Samantha Foti as Piggie. Photo by Courtney Braun

If you are a parent or grandparent of young children, then you are most likely familiar with the young reader books by award-winning author and illustrator Mo Willems. There’s the “Knuffle Bunny” and “Pigeon” series (“Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” is a personal favorite) and his latest “Cat the Cat” series, among others.

Willems devoted most of his time, however, to writing the “Elephant and Piggie” series, 25 books in total. From the first, “My Friend Is Sad,” to the last, “The Thank You Book,” Gerald the elephant and his “bestus” friend, a pig named Piggie, learn common etiquette rules for friendship.

Now through Aug. 20, young visitors to the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts can enjoy the musical Elephant & Piggie’s “We Are in a Play!” which pays homage to the popular book series with script and lyrics by Willems and music by Deborah Wicks La Puma.

Photos by Courtney Braun
Above, left, the Squirrelles, from left, Sarah Juliano, Emily Keleher and Maria Simeone. Photo by Courtney Braun

The script is based mostly on Elephant and Piggie’s “We are in a Book!” but draws from other stories including “I Am Invited to a Party,” “Elephants Cannot Dance,” “Should I Share My Ice Cream?” and “I Love My New Toy,” resulting in an adorable show that is too cute for words.

Directed and choreographed by Courtney Braun, with musical direction by Melissa Cowell, the first half of the show follows Gerald (Christian Arma) and Piggie (Samantha Foti) as they learn to share, how to get ready for a fancy-costume pool party hosted by the Squirelles (Sarah Juliano, Maria Simeone and Emily Keleher) and grasp the act of forgiveness.

Eventually, Gerald and Piggie notice that there is an audience watching them and then, much to the delight of the younger children, have them shout out the word “banana,” clap their hands and do the “Flippy Floppy Floory dance,” the perfect ending to a wonderful morning of live theater.

Samantha Foti as Piggie. Photo by Courtney Braun

The adult cast of five all give top rate performances and boy can they sing! Costumes by Ronald R. Green III reflect the character’s animal traits and personalities with Arma’s glasses, gray vest and pants, Foti’s pink skirt with striped tights and the Squirrelles brown dresses and long brown wigs.

Please note that running time is one hour with no intermission, so try to hit the bathrooms ahead of time. Snacks will be sold in the lobby and booster seats are available. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs. An autograph page is conveniently located on the back page of the program.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present Elephant & Piggie’s “We Are in A Play!” through Aug. 20 followed by Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” from Sept. 16 to Oct. 29. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

From left, Marielle Greguski, Jessica Ader-Ferretti, Jacqueline Hughes and Katie Ferretti star in ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On’ Photo courtesy of SCPA

By Rita J. Egan

The Wonderettes are back in town and they are as marvelous as they were during their high school days in the ’50s. The musical comedy “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On” opened at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts last Saturday, just in time for some warm weather fun.

Ronald Green III has done a terrific job in directing the four actors in the production, which is one of the sequels to the long-running off-Broadway hit “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” Written and created by Roger Bean, the story begins in 1969, as Cindy Lou, Betty Jean, Missy and Suzy reunite to perform at the retirement party of their former teacher at Springfield High, Miss McPherson.

From left, Katie Ferretti, Jacqueline Hughes, Marielle Greguski and Jessica Ader-Ferretti in a scene from ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On.’ Photo from SCPA

The first act provides a handful of hits from the ’60s, and as the party ends, Cindy Lou announces she has dreams of making it big in the music business. In the second act, at their 20-year high school reunion in 1978, the Wonderettes are as sensational as ever when they perform iconic hits from the ’70s. Katie Ferretti (Cindy Lou), Jessica Ader-Ferretti (Betty Jane), Marielle Greguski (Missy) and Jacqueline Hughes (Suzy) all deliver dream-worthy performances in this four-women show. Their vocals and harmonization are excellent, and they nail the corny girl-band dance moves of the past.

Ferretti has the right amount of sass and confidence to play Cindy Lou and is convincing as the girl who always gets the guy, and yet at times plays the role with enough tenderness that one can’t help but feel sorry for her when things don’t go quite her way.

Ader-Ferretti is witty as Betty Jane who always has a quick comeback for any situation, and despite that wit, the audience can also sense the singer’s big heart, especially for her on-again, off-again love, Johnny. Greguski is a sweet, quirky Missy who keeps everything together. When things look like they may go south with her husband Mr. Lee, she’s so lovable, theatergoers can’t help but feel sorry for her. Hughes is a giddy and ditzy Suzy, and while an actor on stage may not portray her high-school-sweetheart-now-husband, Richie, whether she looks out into the audience with affection or longing, one would be convinced that he is actually sitting in one of the seats.

When it comes to the story line, some of the highlights of the show are when the Wonderettes interact with the audience members. The improvised scenes with ticket holders lead to some of the funniest moments in the musical.

The list of songs that complement the story line is a baby boomer’s dream, and like the Wonderettes, the four women know how to belt out a tune from the first song “Gimme Some Lovin’” to the closing number that blends “We Are Family” with the reprise of “Gimme Some Lovin’.” The actresses harmonize beautifully, and they each have their time to shine in the spotlight multiple times during the musical with well-executed solos.

Ferretti delivers beautiful renditions of songs such as “You’re No Good,” “Band of Gold” and “Groupie (Superlove)” while Ader-Ferretti is soulful and strong during her numbers, especially with “I Keep Forgettin’,” “When Will I Be Loved” and “I Will Survive.” Greguski also is strong and soulful on songs such as “For Once in My Life” and “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” and Hughes delivers heartfelt versions of “More Than Yesterday” and “Lonely Night (Angelface).” The numbers are perfect examples of how theatergoers will believe Richie is sitting right in the audience with them.

The theater’s band, with conductor and keyboardist Melissa Coyle, Craig Coyle on keyboard, Ray Sabatello on guitar, Chad Goodstein on bass and Jim Waddell on drums, were just as wonderful as the stars of the show. SCPA’s “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On” is a delightful, high-energy production that will have you leaving the theater humming and feeling better than when you entered.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main Street, Smithtown, presents “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On” through June 17. All seats are $35. For show schedule and more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

From left, Matt Paredi, Louis Brady, Emma Geer and David Gow in a scene from 'Peter and the Starcatcher'. Photo by Justin Albinder

By Heidi Sutton

We’re all familiar with J.M. Barrie’s beloved story of “Peter Pan” about the wonderful adventures of a young boy who can fly and never grows up. The bedtime story filled our dreams with fairies, pirates, Indians, mermaids and who can forget Nana, the Darling’s St. Bernard. Many of us remember Disney’s 1953 animated version with great fondness.

The cast of ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’. Photo by Justin Albinder

But have you ever wondered how Peter Pan came to fly, why he lives on Neverland, how Captain Hook really lost his hand, how the crocodile came to swallow a clock and why he’s so big? Have you puzzled over where Wendy’s brother John got that top hat, why Peter and Captain Hook are bitter enemies and why Peter Pan came to visit the Darling family in London in the first place?

“Peter and the Starcatcher,” which opened last Saturday at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, answers all these burning questions and more. Billed as a prequel to “Peter Pan,” the Tony award-winning musical written by Rick Elice and based on the children’s novel “Peter and the Starcatchers” by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, catches up with Peter right before he becomes Pan.

Best suited for ages 10 and above, the hilarious, yet sometimes confusing, production invites the audience into an imaginary world where ropes represent walls, people stand in for squeaky doors and pirates fight with plungers and broom handles instead of swords.

Ken Washington brilliantly directs a multitalented 12-member cast, each playing multiple roles (over 100) throughout the show with boundless energy and harmony, effectively moving from one character and stage position to another to tell the story.

On orders of the Queen, two ships, The Neverland and The Wasp and their crews are bound for the Kingdom of Rundoon, each carrying identical trunks — one containing precious “star stuff” and the other filled with sand to distract pirates. Joining the crews on their mission is 13-year-old Molly Aster (the future Mrs. Darling) who is studying to be a “starcatcher” under the direction of her father, Lord Leonard Aster, and three young orphan boys — Peter, Ted and Prentiss — who are to be sold into slavery. When The Wasp turns out to be a pirate ship led by a pre-Hook Black Stache, Molly’s father is captured, leaving Molly and Peter to make sure the pirates never get their hands on the treasure, which has magical powers.

David Gow is terrific as Peter the orphan who, with a little nurturing from Molly (played by the wonderful Emma Geer) comes out of his shell and saves the day. Peter’s friends, Ted and Prentiss (Louis Brady and Matt Paredi,) compliment each other perfectly; one obsessed with being the leader and the other with food, especially pork.

Ryan Nolin as Black Stache and Rick Grossman as Smee in a scene from ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’. Photo by Justin Albinder

While the entire cast delivers top-notch performances, it is Ryan Nolin, as Black Stache, who steals the show with his flamboyant and over-the-top performance in every scene, made possible only by his sidekick Smee, played by Rick Grossman. When he loses his hand, Black Stache asks Smee, “What do I do now?” “I’m stumped sir,” is the reply. Special mention should be made of Jordan Hue’s spirited performance in the role of Fighting Prawn, leader of the Mollusk tribe.

Washington perhaps describes the show best in his director’s notes: ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ … begins with a mob of actors center stage, a community waiting to happen, and we end with those same people, back with a purpose … we know it’s the beginning of something. It is that collective strength and community purpose that I hope you’ll remember. It’s what this play is all about, but it’s also what all theatre is, why we love it and need it so.”

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “Peter and the Starcatcher” through Feb. 25. Tickets are $35 adults, $32 seniors, $20 students. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

David Gow

By Rebecca Anzel

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is currently gearing up for the second show of its 15th anniversary season, the award-winning musical play “Peter and the Starcatcher,” which will open on Jan. 14. Based on the 2006 children’s novel of “Peter and the Starcatchers,” by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and adapted for the stage by Rick Elice, the play, according to the SCPA’s press release, is a swashbuckling grown-up prequel to “Peter Pan.”

The show appeared on Broadway from 2012 to 2013 and won five Tony Awards including Best Play and Best Original Score (Wayne Barker). At the time, The New York Times wrote that it was “the most exhilarating Broadway storytelling in decades.”

The role of Peter Pan will be played by 25-year-old actor David Gow, a Houston, Texas, native who graduated last May from the North Carolina School of Arts with a bachelor’s of fine arts in drama. Gow, who now resides in Harlem, was most recently in “The Beast’s Beauty” at Lincoln Center, in the role of the Beast, and in an off-broadway play titled “Chokehold.” I recently spoke with the actor about his latest role as “the boy who wouldn’t grow up.”

Why did you decide to try out for this role?

Playing Peter was at the top of my list of dream roles, so I was constantly searching for auditions for it as soon as I moved to New York. Once I saw Smithtown was doing it I was all in, and I roped my friend Emma Geer, who plays the role of Molly, into doing it too!

What is the play about?

The story slowly fills in the questions people have about Peter Pan but in a very subtle way, while simultaneously adding plot lines that are so brilliantly spontaneous the audience couldn’t possibly predict them. It’s definitely an action/adventure and has really a bit of everything in it. It switches effortlessly from action, farce and drama.

What is your favorite scene?

I love the scene where Black Stache/Captain Hook and Peter meet for the first time. There’s something so iconic about how the two of them are drawn to each other despite being mortal enemies. I also love the last scene of the play, but you’ll have to come see the show to see what happens!

What is your favorite musical number?

I like “Swim On” the best — it is the closing song of Act 1.

I understand that 12 actors will be taking on the roles of over 100 characters?

The 12 actors playing 100 roles has been the biggest challenge, but also I think the most rewarding. We really have nothing but a couple of ropes, trunks and ladders. We get to create everything else ourselves, which lets the audience jump from scene to scene instantaneously. I play a few other roles quickly, like a pirate and sailor here and there.

What is it like working with the rest of the cast?

The cast could not have been more welcoming to the actors who were new (myself included). A lot of them have done shows here for years, but I felt like we all clicked pretty immediately. There’s not a weak link in the group.

What is it like working with the director, Ken Washington?

Ken is definitely a veteran director and comes very prepared to every rehearsal. Very positive and enthusiastic about the show. It’s been such a wonderful room to come into every night.

Is this a show for all ages?

I’d say more than almost any other show, this show is ABSOLUTELY for all ages. It has the excitement and humor for adults to enjoy, while also having elements perfectly geared toward children as well. Totally appropriate.

Why should people come out to see this show?

“Peter and the Starcatcher” is to “Peter Pan” as “Wicked” is to the “Wizard of Oz.” All of your previous questions about Peter Pan are answered in this show. Come find out why Peter Pan can fly, why Captain Hook only has one hand and why none of the boys are growing up. The show has everything: nonstop action and adventure; it will make you roll on the floor laughing and also provides incredibly touching moments. I actually don’t know anyone who I would not recommend this show to. It really is for everyone!

The Smithtown Center for Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, will present “Peter and the Starcatcher” from Jan. 14 to Feb. 25. Tickets are $35 adults, $32 seniors and $20 for students with a valid ID. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.com.

Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson sing ‘Follow Your Heart’ in a scene from ‘Urinetown.’ Photo courtesy of the SCPA

By Rebecca Anzel

“Urinetown: The Musical,” currently in production at the Smithtown Performing Arts Center through Nov. 6, has received rave reviews. The two lead characters, Hope Cladwell and Bobby Strong, are played by real-life couple Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson. I sat down with the two actors on Saturday night before the show to ask them about their latest roles.

Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson sing ‘Follow Your Heart’ in a scene from ‘Urinetown.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA
Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson sing ‘Follow Your Heart’ in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA

How did you two meet?

S: The first time we actually met was here at Smithtown Theater years ago when we both auditioned for Light in the Piazza, which was my first show. Jeremy didn’t make the cut but we read together on stage and I remembered it and I found him on Facebook—

J: She Facebook stalked me throughout college.

S: I just was like, “I read with this guy and he’s nice.” We became closer friends at the Engeman. We started doing children’s theater there together and he was in a production of White Christmas that I was a dresser.

J: Even before that though — Little Women.

S: Oh god yeah, and then we did Little Women together at CM. Our friendship and love, eventually, has come through working at all these different theaters. But we did actually meet at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts years ago. And here we are.

J: It was a long time ago. 2007.

What is it like being engaged to each other and starring opposite each other in a show?

S: I mean, it’s like any other day really. We met doing shows together so I guess it’s normal. It’s easier to learn the lines. I trust him on stage. Our families are even more excited than we are.

J: Yeah, it’s a fun opportunity that’s few and far between. It’s a chance to have both of our lives kind of converge at one point to be able to do a show like this together. We try and make the most of the time we have doing this show because —

S: We don’t know when it’ll come again to work together, so it’s very nice.

Photo courtesy of SCPA  Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.' Photo courtesy of SCPA
Photo courtesy of SCPA
Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA

What other theaters have you both worked in?

S: Together, we worked at CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale and the John W. Engeman in Northport. This is definitely our biggest roles together. Playing opposite each other is really, it’s silly but we’re both serious enough that we don’t just burst out laughing.

J: We can keep it together for five minutes.

 

You said that you performed at this theater in a teen production. Have you done any other shows here?

S: I have. I’ve been here my whole theater life. I’ve done many of the Wonderettes shows — they’re doing another Wonderettes coming this May and June. Light in the Piazza was my first really big one. Most recently, I’ve been in Violet, which was a really big favorite, and we were both actually in First Date together a few months ago as well.

J: Last March. More than a few months at this point.

S: But yeah, I was in Little Mermaid. The list goes on and on. And Jeremy’s worked here before as well.

J: I haven’t done quite as much but I have done a few shows in the past. I did Assassins here, I did Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was another one I did here.

How old were you each when you decided that you wanted to be an actor? What attracted you to the profession?

S: I think I was probably about 6 or 7 when I started to be interested in it. My mom took me to see Beauty and the Beast on Broadway and at that point I was like, “Oh, well I have to be Belle.” I mean, I’m still waiting. I think my first acting class was probably at 8 years old and then I started singing lessons in sixth grade, so once I got to high school, I realized that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Beauty and the Beast, those princesses and those villains, inspired me to be where I am.

J: And I was in high school, I guess. My brother — my older brother, 10 years my senior so much older brother — used to do theater and growing up I would always go with my parents to see him do shows pretty consistently, so it was always kind of a part of my life. And then I did one myself and I was like, “Hey this is fun.” My first show was Grease, and then Guys and Dolls. I just enjoyed doing it, and having been a part of it my entire life, I just kind of slid into it myself.

Samantha Carroll in a scene from 'Urinetown The Musical," Photo courtesy of SCPA
Samantha Carroll in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical,” Photo courtesy of SCPA

Do you ever get nervous on stage?

S: For sure. Nerves are good, though, because it means you care about it and it keeps you focused.

J: The thing is, I forget there are audiences there, so I just am doing it and because I’ve done it so many times now, I’m used to people watching me do whatever. The only time I get more nervous, so to speak, is if I start to really think about it. Sometimes I’ll be on stage doing a scene and, not to say I won’t be in the moment, but I’ll just think, “I’m standing on a stage and there are people staring at me.” And then at that point what I’m doing starts to sink in, and then maybe at that point.

S: We don’t stay up at night thinking how terrifying it is to be on stage, or we wouldn’t do it. I think we get just general butterflies, especially when your parents are in the audience. You just want to be good. We’re perfectionists, unfortunately, to a fault.

What is it like watching each other perform?

S: It’s so cool. I do some stuff in Millbrook Playhouse in Pennsylvania, and Jeremy has come out to to see me in everything. I always just wait to hear what he has to say, because those mean the most to me. His words and his critiques, he doesn’t have many.

J: Not to her face at least.

S: And seeing Jeremy is amazing too. I got to see him in 1776 last year.

J: You don’t get to see me do as much as I see you.

S: He sees me a little more because he works a big-boy job too.

J: One of the many reasons we’re going to get married is just because it’s nice to share similar interests in this because it is a very time-consuming, very all-encompassing profession job. Being an actor or actress takes a lot out of you, so to be on the same page and to have that point of reference or common ground, so to speak, between the two of us is good.

What is it like when you get a standing ovation?

S: It’s not expected, but it’s very nice when it happens.

J: It’s good that an audience is that invested because it takes a lot to sit through a show, even a show you like, and then feel the need to stand up and show your appreciation for it afterwards means a lot.

Jeremy Hudson and cast in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA
Jeremy Hudson and cast in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA

Has anything strange ever happened out in the audience that you noticed while on stage?

J: All the time. People on their cell phones, people falling asleep.

S: Snoring!

J: People eating.

S: Choking. We’ve done so much children’s theater together, the kids are, you know, they just scream the whole time. We’ve seen it all.

J: Audiences feel like because they’re sitting in a dark theater that people don’t see them. But lo and behold, being on stage you see everyone and everything. I look out and scan the audience every once in awhile. If you’re doing something weird, I will see you, and we will be talking about you. Being an audience member requires just as much investment as being a performer on the stage. It’s why I don’t like sitting in the front row myself because I feel like I’m a part of the performance as well, because the actors can see you. They can see you throughout the show.

S: And they will look at you. It’s actually easy to see the front row, but a lot of other rows are harder to see. It depends on the cues, but you can always see the first row.

J: Always.

What is your dream role?

S: Currently — they change all the time — I would love to be Alice in Bright Star who was played by Carmen Cusack on Broadway.  And I would die and go to heaven to be anything in Waitress.

J: I mean, who doesn’t want to be in Le Mis, but I would like to play Jean Valjean in Les Misérables again. I did it in a teen production ten years ago, so I would like to do that again in a real production. That would be fun.

Do you have theaters in mind that you want to work in?

J: Anything between 7th and 8th Avenues between 42nd and 49th Street would be great.

S: Any theater that’s going to be professional and lovely, we would love to work at.

What attracted you to “Urinetown the Musical”? What made you want to audition?

S: I actually did “Urinetown” at the same theater 10 years ago in the teen production and I played Hope — the same part. I found out they were doing it again and Ken [Washington], the director, had talked to me about if I would like to reprise my role but on the main stage. I said absolutely. It’s a strange show, but it’s very funny and I like to be Hope so I wanted to do it again.

J: I saw the actual show 10 years ago and I have always liked it and wanted to be a part of it. It’s always been on my short list of shows to do, so I’m glad I’ve gotten the opportunity to do it at this point.

What is it like working with the director?

S: I have worked with Ken since I was 16 years old and he has seen me grow up. He is still the fun, grumpy man I remember he was, but you know, I think Ken has such a passion for theater. It’s definitely rubbed off in a good way. We love Ken.

J: He cares a great deal and he has a wealth of knowledge as far as theater goes, so it’s definitely something that is good to tap in to from time to time.

What is it like working with the cast?

S: Well, this cast specifically is a lot of, as we like to say, Long Island notables, just people who have kind of been doing this for such a long time. We’re very luck, honestly. A lot of big personalities, but in a really great way.

J: It’s a very eclectic group of people. All bring individual strengths [to the stage].

 

What is your favorite scene and song in the show?

S: My favorite scene and song is definitely “Follow Your Heart.” I’ve always loved it. “Be still, Hear it beating, It’s leading you, Follow your heart” was actually my yearbook quote for high school. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt and I get to do it with the best partner in the world.

J: I enjoy the scene leading up to “Run Freedom Run!” and that song. It’s just fun because it’s a bunch of strange people and it’s just very funny. It’s 80 percent the same every night and 20 percent slightly different, which always keeps things interesting.

Michael Newman and Samantha Carroll in a scene from 'Urinetown The Musical.' Photo from SCPA
Michael Newman and Samantha Carroll in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo from SCPA

Why should people come see the show?

S: If you ask any theater person at all, they’ll say to you, “‘Urinetown’ is the best,” or, “I love ‘Urinetown’.” I’ve been in it three times. It’s just one that people who don’t usually come to see theater don’t always come to, but they really should because it’s very, very funny. Hilarity ensues.

J: It’s just such an original piece of theater. The show came out in the early 2000s but it’s still very timely in terms of the current climate with politics. It has a lot of good things to say. The music is very catchy, and it’s one of those shows where you hear the name and you’re like, “I don’t know — it sounds weird,” but then you actually go to sit down and you see it and within 15, 20 minutes you’re like, “Wow, I’m glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to see this!”

What is up next for both of you?

S: I am very shortly starting Mary Poppins at the John W. Engeman. I’m in the ensemble but I’m covering a few different tracks of a lot of the character roles. I’m going to be doing that the whole Christmas season. And Jeremy will get one soon, but he’s—

J: Currently in between things. I have to, what with work and whatnot, I have to be a little more selective in what—

S: So he can make the dollar bills. It’s honestly either just you’re doing three shows at a time, one after the other, or you don’t do something for six months.

J: As long as we can make a living, or any wage, really, performing, that is the ideal. I would love to do theater but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the only thing I would like to do.

S: But we’ll always do it, regardless of if we have babies or have full-time jobs, we’ll definitely always come back and do theater because that’s what we love.

Is there anything else that you want to say to our readers?

J: This is a wonderful show, here, and Smithtown Performing Arts Center. There is a theater in Smithtown, it’s on Main Street.

S: Please come see Urinetown and everything else because everything they do here is really wonderful.

J: They put a lot of time and effort and thought into shows here. This is specifically a show that desperately needs an audience to enjoy it for it to really reach it’s maximum potential, so come on down everyone.

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.

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.