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The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts

By Rita J. Egan

It was a dream come true at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts. “Dreamgirls” opened on the Main Stage last Saturday, and with a talented cast, showstopping numbers and sparkling costumes, it had everything one would expect from a musical.

Set in the 1960s and ’70s, the story follows three female singers from Chicago, Effie, Deena and Lorell, as they evolve from the Dreamettes — singing backup for a popular rhythm and blues singer named Jimmy Early — to the Dreams headlining shows on their own. Through song and a bit of dialogue, the audience gets a glimpse into the girls’ relationship, and watches as the three young women fall in love with the men in their lives: Jimmy, songwriter C.C. and Curtis, the group’s manager. 

The show also touches on the struggles of black singers to find a place on the pop charts in the ‘60s, while facing segregation in the South and watching as white pop music stars rerecorded their music.

“Dreamgirls” premiered on Broadway in December 1981 and ran for nearly four years, winning six Tony Awards. In 2006, a movie based on the musical was released starring Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx. 

With book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger, Ronald Green III masterfully directs a talented cast of 22 actors in SPAC’s latest production. The local presentation originated at The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale in September last year under the direction of Patrick Grossman, and many of the original cast members, sets and costumes remain the same.

Crystal Fauntleroy (Effie), Aisha Phillip (Deena) and Amanda Camille (Lorell) blend beautifully together as the Dreamettes/Dreams, and when Effie is fired from the group, Steffy Jolin (Michelle) effortlessly replaces her. The actors are excellent in the musical numbers “Move (You’re Steppin’ on My Heart),” “Dreamgirls” and “One Night Only.”

Fauntleroy is dynamic as Effie, portraying her with just the right amount of attitude and strength, and shines in every number. During the emotional “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” she delivers the song with all the passion audience members expect from this number. For anyone who has ever suffered a broken heart, be warned, tissues will be needed.

As the musical progresses, Phillip transitions from timid backup singer, to confident front woman with ease. After Curtis decides he wants a singer with a softer voice leading the group, believing the sound will be more acceptable to pop audiences, he moves Deena to the lead spot and Effie to the back. Phillip has a melodic singing voice that is fit for this role. This is especially apparent during the tender duo with Curtis, “When I First Saw You.”

Camille is sassy as Lorell, and she has the opportunity to show off her powerful voice during “Ain’t No Party.” Jolin as Michelle embodies the spirit of a girl group singer. Her stunning smile and the way she carries herself seems to say, “I don’t care if I’m not the lead singer, I’m a star.”

The ladies are not the only ones who are front and center in this show as the male actors have exceptional stage presence. Dondi Rollins is on fire as he plays a James Brown-inspired Jimmy. Rollins sings and dances his way into the hearts of the audience, especially with the high energy “Fake Your Way to the Top.”

David William Hughes is convincing as the slick Curtis, and his smooth vocals help to deliver a swoon-worthy performance. It’s no surprise that both Effie and Deena fall for their manager. 

Londell Collier is a sweet and endearing C.C., and his vocals are just as sweet, especially when he starts off the ensemble number “Family.”

Hughes, Rollins, Collier and Kevin Knight as Marty, Jimmy’s manager, sound fantastic together during “Cadillac Car.” Seneca Bell plays the masters of ceremony with flair, Justin Steele as Tiny Joe Dixon adds to the sensational vocals, and the whole ensemble rounds out the cast perfectly.

The musical has its comedic moments, too. After Jimmy and friends think they have a hit with “Cadillac Car,” Hans Paul Hendrickson appears on stage as a Pat Boone-inspired character singing the song and looking as wholesome as a ‘50s sitcom character. During the number “I Want You Baby,” Rollins is hysterical as he portrays a restrained Jimmy during a show in a whites-only club in Miami.

Once again, SPAC has produced a musical worthy of Broadway, and those behind the scenes also deserve to be applauded. The fast-paced musical is filled with fun dance moves choreographed by Milan McGouldrick, and conductor Melissa Coyle and the theater musicians magnificently accompany the singers on each number. Green, doubling as costume designer, also ensures all the bright colors and sparkling attire of the era are represented beautifully.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, located at 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “Dreamgirls” through June 17. Running time is 2 1/2 hours with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $38 adults, $34 seniors, $25 students. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Andrew Murano as Will Shakespeare in a scene from ‘Shakespeare in Love’. Photo by Danielle Nigro

By Heidi Sutton

In perfect timing with Valentine’s Day, the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts continues its 2017-18 season with the romantic comedy, “Shakespeare in Love.” The play, based on the 1998 award-winning film about William Shakespeare written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard and starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes, was adapted for the stage by Lee Hall in 2014 and has been making the rounds in playhouses ever since. Last weekend it opened on the Mainstage complete with mistaken identities, disguises, a sword fight and a dog.

Regarded by many as the greatest writer in the English language and the foremost dramatist of his time, Shakespeare was thought to have written more than 30 plays and more than 100 sonnets. Or did he? That is the question. Rumors and conspiracy theories have circulated for years. Now the Bard himself is in the spotlight as the story follows his journey and inspiration in writing one of his greatest masterpieces, ultimately proving that sometimes it does take a village.

Kenneth Washington directs a large cast of 22 plus Baby Jack as Spot the dog in this love letter to Shakespeare.

Andrew Murano and Katie Ferretti in a scene from ‘Shakespeare in Love’. Photo by Danielle Nigro

 

Andrew Murano tackles the role of Will Shakespeare, a young playwright who is suffering from writer’s block. Deep in debt and constantly being upstaged by his rival Kit Marlowe (Evan Donnellan) he struggles to complete his latest play, a comedy titled “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter,” which he has promised to two theater owners, Henslowe (Michael Newman) and Burbage (Doug Vandewinckel).

When Shakespeare meets Viola de Lesseps (Katie Ferretti), the daughter of a rich merchant betrothed to another, their forbidden love affair becomes the inspiration for much of the dialogue written for the play, which slowly evolves to become the romantic tragedy of “Romeo and Juliet.” His greatest admirer (she can recite every one of his plays by heart), Viola disguises herself as a man and lands the lead role of Romeo, further inspiring the playwright to begin work on “Twelfth Night” at the end of the second act. “Are you my actor or my muse?” Shakespeare asks her. “I am both but I should be neither,” she replies. Will someone discover her secret? Will Shakespeare steal her heart?

The talented group of actors, many of whom are regulars at the Smithtown venue, seem quite at ease blending a play within a play with backstage antics and onstage dramas. Murano and Ferretti are perfectly cast as the show’s forbidden lovers, reciting Shakespeare with skill and passion. The production is also enhanced by its supporting cast including Christine Boehm as the dog-loving Queen Elizabeth and Camile Arnone as Viola’s nurse. Special mention should be made of Evan Donnellan who, although he is only in a few scenes, leaves the audience wanting more.

A scene from ‘Shakespeare in Love’. Photo by Danielle Nigro

Set in the 1500s, the play’s Renaissance-era world is beautifully enhanced with period costumes by Chakira Doherty and the simple but functional set by Timothy Golebiewski serves as both castle with a balcony and an Elizabethean theater. The musical score, directed by Melissa Coyle, further elevates the show, especially during a dance in the castle where Shakespeare firsts lays eyes on his muse Viola.

Throughout the play, Shakespeare is told that all an audience wants is comedy along with love … and a bit with a dog and in that aspect “Shakespeare in Love” delivers. Recommended for mature audiences, running time is approximately two hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “Shakespeare in Love” through March 4. The season continues with “Mamma Mia” from March 24 to April 29 and “Dreamgirls” from May 12 to June 17. Tickets are $35 adults, $32 seniors and $20 students. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

The cast of "Elephant & Piggie's 'We Are in Play'" at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

Currently in production at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, “Elephant & Piggie’s ‘We Are in a Play!'” is based on the popular “Elephant & Piggie” book series by award-winning children’s author Mo Willems, with script and lyrics by Willems and music by Deborah Wicks La Puma.

Directed and choreographed by Melissa Rapelje, with musical direction by Melissa Cowell, the first part of the show follows Gerald (the elephant) and Piggie as they embark on a musical adventure solving problems and learning friendship etiquette with the help of the dancing trio, the Squirelles.

Eventually, the characters realize that they are in a play and engage the audience, having them join in by shouting out funny words like “banana,” clapping and doing the “Flippy Floppy Floory dance.” A nice touch is the conversational bubbles between Gerald and Piggie projected on a large screen on stage.

Bobby Montaniz is perfectly cast as Gerald. With the boundless energy of a young child, he jumps, skips and rolls on the floor, eliciting much laughter from the young audience. His rendition of “Ice Cream Hero” was very entertaining. Montaniz is always wonderful to watch, especially in children’s theater, and this performance is no exception. Piggie is played wonderfully by the talented Courtney Braun whose subtle wit and humor is spot on. The spunky Squirrelles, played by Allie Brault, Hayley Phaneuf and Samantha Foti, and the Ice Cream Penguin, played by Bella Lardaro, are a great supporting cast and do a terrific job.

Costumes by Ronald R. Green III are simple but effective. Montaniz’s gray jacket and pants, Braun’s pink outfit with striped tights and dark brown dresses for the Squirrelles reflect the characters’ animal traits and personalities.

For many young children in the audience, this was their first exposure to live theater, and the cast left quite an impression. Cooper Alberti, 2, of Babyon sat in the balcony with his father after deciding his original seat was a little too close to the stage. Grinning from ear to ear the entire time, he rocked back and forth to the music and clapped enthusiastically. His favorite characters were the Squirrelles and, according to his dad, Cooper loved all the singing and dancing.

Parents, a warning — the play is approximately an hour long with no intermission — so try to hit the bathrooms before the show. Stay after the show for autographs and photos with the cast.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, will present “Elephant & Piggie’s ‘We Are in a Play!'” on weekends through April 11 (no show on Easter) with special Spring Break performances from April 6 to April 9 at 10:30 a.m. All tickets are $15. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

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