By Rita J. Egan
Freckleface Strawberry and her friends have arrived in Northport, and they have a positive, uplifting tale to share with theatergoers of all ages. The charming “Freckleface Strawberry The Musical” debuted at the John W. Engeman Theater on July 22.
Based on the debut book in the “Freckleface Strawberry” series by Academy Award–winning actress and New York Times best-selling author Julianne Moore, the play features music and lyrics by Gary Kupper and musical book by Kupper and Rose Caiola.
The story follows the life of a 7-year-old who isn’t happy about the freckles that speckle her whole body. Through musical numbers and dialogue, audience members discover just how much Strawberry despises her freckles. At one point, she covers her face with a ski mask, and in the past, has tried to scrub them off. By the second act, the fast-moving tale develops into an inspiring story of loving yourself for who you are.
Directed by Marquez Stewart, the cast includes an ensemble of seven talented actors, including Northport High School student Meaghan Maher as an adorable and quirky Strawberry and the versatile actress Jacqueline Hughes playing the athletic Danny. Marielle Greguski is Jane and the protagonist’s mother with sweet and soothing vocals, while TracyLynn Conner is perky and energetic as Emily. Andrew McCluskey as nerdy Jake, Matthew Rafanelli as a lovable Harry and Rita Sarli as the perfect ballet girl round out the cast flawlessly.
The adult actors are extremely convincing as young kids dealing with growing pains and garnered several giggles from the audience members, especially in the first act when Hughes, McCluskey, Rafanelli and Sarli play members of the Freckleface Mafia. On opening day, the children in the audience were delighted when Rafanelli combed the aisles searching for someone who would want some freckles.
When Strawberry’s mother discovers how upset her daughter is about her freckles, Greguski and Maher sing a sweet and tender “Perfect.” The number is followed by another touching song, “Lonely Girl” by Sarli and Maher where Strawberry discovers that even when people appear to be perfect, they may not always feel that life is that way. Both songs contain positive, uplifting message that serve as a great lesson for children and a nice reminder for adults.
As the first act ends, Maher on lead is joined by the rest of the cast singing the upbeat tune “I Can Be Anything” and dancing fun choreographed moves by Stewart. When the second act begins, we are greeted by all of Strawberry’s friends once again as they sing “Be Like Her” and “Who’s the Kid in the Mask.”
Greguski has fun executing the rap “Creative Minds,” when she plays a teacher in one scene and does an impressive job. The rap is followed by the children sharing their poems with their classmates, which had many in the audience laughing in the debut performance.
During the poem readings, Jake is moved to share his inspirational piece, “Be Yourself,” and McCluskey’s vocals are strong when he sings lead on the song. Joining him on the chorus, the actors blend well on vocals, which is also apparent in songs such as “When You Got Friends” and “Different.”
It’s difficult growing up feeling different from everyone else, so it’s wonderful when a story such as “Freckleface Strawberry” comes around to remind us that it’s OK to be ourselves. The cast members at the Engeman do a great job in relaying this message, and the musical is a sweet treat that is just in time for summer fun — especially for those who may be getting a bit freckled from the bright sun. Meet the entire cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs.
The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main Street, Northport, will present “Freckleface Strawberry the Musical” through Aug. 27. Runtime is approximately one hour with one 15-minute intermission, and booster seats are available for small children. The season will continue with “Cinderella” from Sept. 23 to Oct. 29 and “Frosty” from Nov. 18 to Dec. 31. Tickets are $15, and show times are Saturdays 11 a.m. and Sundays 10:30 a.m. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.