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Suzanne Mason

Joanna Sanges stars as Dorothy in the Northport production

By Heidi Sutton

The iconic story “The Wizard of Oz” has entertained children for over 100 years. MGM’s 1939 version is regarded as one of the greatest films in cinema history.

Based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” the story of a young girl and her dog Toto from Kansas who are swept away by a tornado to the land of Oz and have wondrous adventures with a Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion made a 16-year-old Judy Garland a star. Now the classic tale follows the yellow brick road to the John W. Engeman Theater for a delicious fall treat. The musical runs through Oct. 27.

Dylan Robert stars as the Tin Man

Suzanne Mason directs an adult cast of eight, with each actor remaining true to their characters. The superbly talented Joanna Sanges, last seen on the Engeman stage as Rapunzel, stars as the lovable Dorothy. Her first number, “Over the Rainbow,” is executed beautifully.

Jae Hughes returns as the Scarecrow, a role she can by now play blindfolded. Making his Engeman debut, Dylan Robert steps onto the yellow brick road as the Tin Man and does a great job. Amanda Geraci is a force to be reckoned with as the Wicked Witch of the West as her haunting cackle fills the theater. James Schultz is a terrific Wizard, Sari Feldman has the cool role of Nikko the flying bat and Caitlin Hornik plays Glinda the Good Witch of the North who saves the day.

But it is Bobby Montaniz, in the juicy role of the Cowardly Lion, who steals the spotlight and gives an outstanding performance. His rendition of “If I Were King of the Forest” with all the trills would make Bert Lahr beam with pride.

Bobby Montaniz stars as the Cowardly Lion

The show has become an annual tradition at the Engeman and every year it gets better and better. This year’s performances have been elevated with the addition of a backdrop screen and the lighting has been turned up a notch to make up for the sparse set. Theatergoers are in for a visual treat as they are able to see a black and white movie of Dorothy’s house caught up in the tornado before landing in a colorful Munchkinland and witnessing the arrival of Glinda the Witch in her pink bubble. The stage floor turns different colors as well as the scenes change.

A nice touch is how often the actors come down into the audience on the way to the Emerald City, giving the stage crew a chance to change out the scenery. At one point the Wicked Witch pops up in the middle of the theater with her “I’ll get you my pretty!” making all the children jump. Speaking of children, it was so nice to see so many of them at last Saturday’s opening performance watching live theater and enjoying every minute of it. Don’t miss this one.

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for autographs and pictures. Running time is 90 minutes. Costumes are encouraged.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Route 25A, Northport presents “The Wizard of Oz” on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. through Oct. 27. Children’s theater continues with “Frosty” from Nov. 23 to Dec. 29 and  Disney’s “Frozen Jr” from Jan. 25 to March 1. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Photos by Jennifer Collester

The cast of ‘Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale’. Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer/ Engeman Theater

By Heidi Sutton

Question: What do you get when you combine the classic Grimm Brothers fairytale “Rapunzel” and Disney’s animated feature “Tangled”? 

Answer: “Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale,” a wickedly funny musical adaptation written by David Crane and Marta Kaufman, the creators of the hit TV show “Friends.” The children’s show opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport this past weekend and runs through Aug. 25.

Simon, trusted valet to the Prince, serves as storyteller and gives the audience the backstory on how Rapunzel ended up in the tower. We meet up with the young girl on the morning of her 16th birthday where her only wish is to be able to leave her imprisonment for one day and see the world.

Her “mother,” Gretta the witch, at first promises to grant her wish but then changes her mind. “I just want to know what’s at the end of the road!” begs Rapunzel. “The DMV – nobody wants to go there,” quips the witch. 

Meanwhile, Prince Brian has run away from the castle and vows only to return once he has slain a dragon or rescued a maiden. “As a hero, I’m a zero,” he laments. When the prince comes upon Rapunzel in the tower, he seizes this rare opportunity and hatches a plan to rescue her. What follows is a fun, exciting and hilarious adventure the entire family will enjoy.

Director Jennifer Collester knows her target audience well and has assembled the perfect group of actors to tell this hairy tale to young theatergoers. 

Making her Engeman debut, Joanna Sanges is terrific as the naive but strong-willed Rapunzel who will stand up to the witch, the king and anything else that comes her way — a wonderful role model for the many little princesses in the audience.

While not in a disco on the Engeman’s stage in the evenings (“Saturday Night Fever”) Christopher Hanford spends his morning weekends rescuing fair maidens as Prince Brian and does a fine job. Hanford spends the second half of the show wearing sunglasses (the witch cast a spell to make him blind) and is a good sport when Rapunzel forgets to help him navigate the stage. 

The indefatigable Bobby Montaniz plays multiple roles throughout the show (Simon, a cow, innkeeper, the king) and draws the most laughs. He quickly becomes the audience favorite.

But it is Suzanne Mason, as Gretta the witch, who gives the strongest performance and “with a twist of her wrist and a turn of her ring” takes this juicy role and runs with it. Like a sour patch kid, her character is both sweet and sour but not scary — just diabolical!

Perhaps the best part of the show is when Rapunzel and the Prince make their way into the audience on their way to the village and interact with the children, asking them questions such as what they like to eat.

The costumes, special sound effects and lighting pull it all together nicely to produce a marvelous morning of live theater.

Stay after the show and meet the cast in the lobby for pictures and autographs. An autograph page is conveniently located toward the back of the program.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present “Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale” on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. through Aug. 25. Costumes are encouraged. Children’s theater continues with an audience favorite, “The Wizard Of Oz” from Sept. 28 to Oct. 27, followed by the theater’s annual production of “Frosty” from Nov. 23 to Dec. 29 and Disney’s “Frozen Jr.” from Jan. 25 to March 1. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

By Heidi Sutton

When I heard “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” was returning to the Engeman Theater in Northport I was thrilled. Last year’s production was amazing, with an incredible cast that brought the audience to their feet at the end of the first act with “I Like to Move It” and again at the end of the show. This year’s cast would have big shoes to fill, I thought. Thankfully, much of the original cast has returned and the show is better than ever.

Based on the 2005 DreamWorks animated motion picture, “Madagascar,” it follows four friends from the Central Park Zoo and their adventures to the wild.

The cast of ‘Madagascar’ at the Engeman

As the show opens, the zookeepers introduce the audience to Alex the Lion (Bobby Montaniz), his monochromatic best bud Marty the Zebra (Jahlil Burke) and gal pal Gloria the Hippo (Rita Sarli). When we are about to meet Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (Suzanne Mason), the zookeepers announce she had to take a sick day — she has found another spot. Ba-dum-tshh!

They are living the good life and are well cared for. But Marty, who just celebrated his 10th birthday, has been dreaming of going to the wild. When he overhears the cute and cuddly penguins (Robbie McGrath, Sarah Juliano, Sari Feldman and Aly Leonard) planning a breakout, the zebra decides to join them.

When his three buddies go after him, all four, including the penguins, are captured and end up in crates on a ship bound for Kenya. The penguins will have none of that and take control of the ship, causing it to sway back and forth. The crates fall into the ocean and wash up on the island of Madagascar.

There they meet the illustrious King Julien (Jae Hughes), self-proclaimed Lord of the Lemurs, and his adviser, Maurice (Sarah Juliano) who see Alex as their new protector from the bloodthirsty foosa “who are always bothering us and ripping our limbs off.” But when all the lemurs have to offer the lion is seaweed on a stick, he starts to get hungry for his favorite food, steak, and begins to look at Marty in a whole new way. Will Alex be able to keep it together or will his best friend end up on the dinner plate?

Directed and choreographed by Marquez Stewart, the nine-member cast does an exceptional job bringing this great story to life. The show is fast-paced, silly, funny and always entertaining. The show spills out into the audience often, and all of the songs are executed beautifully.

In the end, “Madagascar” makes us realize that the grass is not always greener on the other side and the incredible power of friendship.

If you’ve seen the show before, you’ll love it even more the second time around. If you’ve never seen it, what are you waiting for? It’s time to go to the wild!

Stay for a meet and greet with the actors after the show.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” through April 28.

Children’s theater continues with “Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale” from July 27 to Aug. 25 and “The Wizard of Oz” from Sept. 21 to Oct. 27. All seats are $15. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Photos by Corinne Wight 

Behold! The plotting penguins of Madagascar! Photo by Jennifer Tully

By Heidi Sutton

The cast of ‘Madagascar: A Musical Adventure’. Photo by Jennifer Tully

With much pomp and circumstance, the John W. Engeman Theater closes out its 2016-2017 Children’s Theater season with “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure.”

Excitement filled the theater air on opening day last weekend as the children waited anxiously to catch a glimpse of their favorite animal characters and to enjoy a live retelling of the animated classic. And let me assure you, they were not disappointed.

From the opening number, “It’s Showtime,” to the finale, an audience participation party version of “I Like to Move It,” the entire performance is a wild and wacky and wonderful musical celebration of friendship. The nine-member adult cast, skillfully directed by Jennifer Collester Tully, with several playing multiple roles, capture each original film character’s personality perfectly, especially the hypochondriac giraffe. Aside from performing on stage, the cast often wanders through the audience, keeping the young theatergoers at the edge of their seats with big smiles.

The show’s script follows the original movie closely, making it easy to follow. In the first of two acts we are introduced to best friends Alex the Lion (Andrew McCluskey) Marty the Zebra (Marquez Stewart), Gloria the Hippo (Rita Sarli) and Melman the Giraffe (Suzanne Mason) who are residents of New York’s Central Park Zoo.

Gloria, Marty, Alex and Melman in a scene from ‘Madagascar’. Photo by Jennifer Tully

It’s Marty’s birthday and he makes a wish that he could go back to the wild (which he thinks is Connecticut). Moments later he escapes with “cute and cuddly” penguins, Rico (Alyson Leonard), Kowalski (TracyLynn Connor), Private (Samantha Masone) and Skipper (Danny Meglio) who want to go back to Antarctica.

When Marty’s friends go looking for him, the entire group gets caught in the halls of Grand Central Station by the zookeepers and are tranquilized. When they wake up, the zoo animals are in crates on a ship headed to Africa. Caught in rough seas, the crates fall overboard and the four friends wash up on the shores of Madagascar. There they are promptly welcomed by King Julien (played to perfection by the incomparable Jacqueline Hughes), sidekick Maurice (Connor) and his tribe of ring-tailed lemurs who hope that Alex can protect them from the terrible foosa. Things only get wilder in the second act, but you’ll have to go see it to find out.

The wonderful songs, the adorable costumes by Jess Costagliola and the terrific choreography by Marquez Stewart are simply the icing on the cake. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” through April 30. After a short break, the 2017-2018 season will begin with “Pinkalicious The Musical” from July 22 to Aug. 27, “Cinderella” from Sept. 23 to Oct. 29 and “Frosty” from Nov. 18 to Dec. 31. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

The entire cast of ‘Junie B. Jones, The Musical’ performs at the Engeman Theater. Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer

By Rita J. Egan

“Junie B. Jones, The Musical” opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport this past Saturday to an audience filled with young children eager to see their favorite literary characters in the flesh, and with a fun, lively show, the cast did not disappoint.

The musical, based on the children’s book series by Barbara Park, follows the adventures of Junie B. Jones as she tackles life’s little obstacles she finds along the way in first grade. Among the many challenges she faces are losing her best friend, Lucille, to twins Camille and Chenille, finding out she needs glasses, and being unable to participate in the big kickball tournament. However, with the help of her family and friends, and jotting everything down in her Top-Secret Personal Beeswax Journal, the endearing redhead figures everything out and learns that when life hands you lemons you make lemonade.

Kate Keating is youthful and charming as the main character, Junie. As lead on many of the numbers, her clear soprano voice is perfect for revealing the story through song, and she easily draws the young audience in as she talks directly to them in a number of scenes.

Playing the role of mother, as well as fellow first-graders Grace and Sheldon, is Suzanne Mason whose stage presence as always is a strong one. The actress especially shines as the awkward, stuffy-nosed Sheldon, and she elicited loud giggles during a scene where Sheldon, ready to play the cymbals at the kickball tournament, experiences stage fright. Mason convincingly delivers the song “Sheldon Potts’ Halftime Show” as if she were a child herself.

Kate Keating stars in Junie B. Jones The Musical at the Engeman Theater through March 6. Photo by Leila Scandar
Kate Keating stars in Junie B. Jones The Musical at the Engeman Theater through March 6. Photo by Leila Scandar

Joshua Cahn plays Mr. Scary, Daddy and Gladys Gutzman, and it’s as Gutzman, the cafeteria lady, that Cahn takes center stage. The way he delivers the role is reminiscent of Edna Turnblad from “Hairspray,” and with funny lines and a cute dance number with Keating, he received well-deserved laughs and giggles from the audience members.

Michael Verre tackles dual roles as Junie’s new friend Herb and one of the twins, Chenille. While Verre is sweet as Herb, particularly during the number with Keating, “You Can Be My Friend,” he is hilarious as Chenille, where he good-naturedly dons a wig and dress, and gracefully sings and dances along with Camille and Lucille during the number “Lucille, Camille, Chenille” to the delight of the audience.

Jennifer Casey as Camille and Jose, Allie Eibeler as Lucille and Lennie, and Alyson Clancy as May and Bobbie Jean handle their role changes seamlessly, and no matter what part they are playing, effortlessly add to the fun and high energy of the musical.

Written by Marcy Heisler, with music by Zina Goldrich, “Junie B. Jones” features upbeat, fun-filled numbers that are perfect for a musical geared toward young children. Stand out songs in the first act include the opening number “Top-Secret Personal Beeswax” where Junie tells the audience all about her new journal, and at the end of the act, “Now I See,” where, with the help of her friends, Junie begins to like her new glasses. Act 2 also features the heartwarming number “Writing Down the Story of My Life” that will inspire little ones to record their adventures.

Directed by Jennifer Collester Tully, “Junie B. Junes, The Musical” is a journal-worthy theater experience for the whole family. The set is colorful, the actors are energetic, and the story is a relatable one for children. Most of all, the delightful story will warm the hearts of young and old.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Junie B. Jones The Musical” through March 6. Tickets are $15 each. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

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

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

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

Call 631-802-2160 for more info.