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Jae Hughes

By Heidi Sutton

The holidays have arrived at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts in a most delightful way. While a spunky orphan commands the spotlight in the theater’s current main stage production of Annie, a spirited young girl named Emily stars in the second annual children’s theater production of Ken Ludwig’s ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. 

Directed by Christine Boehm, the 45-minute fast-paced show with the underlying message “to make life an adventure” is the perfect choice to introduce young children to live theater.

It’s Christmas Eve and Uncle Brierly (Evan Donnellan) greets the audience with a recitation of “the greatest poem of all time,” Clement C. Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. He gets as far as, “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse” only to be interrupted by Amos the Mouse (Jae Hughes) who is in fact stirring, cookie dough that is, to make cookies for Santa in hopes that he’ll show up this year. You see, Amos and his best human friend Emily (Lorelai Mucciolo) were left off the Naughty or Nice list last year and never received any presents.

It is then that Calliope the Elf (Lisa Naso) shows up to investigate and, after telling Emily and Amos that many other children around the world had the same thing happen to them, convinces them to accompany her back to the North Pole to tell Santa the troubling news and to save Christmas.

When they arrive at Santa’s workshop, they overhear a former elf, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Donnellan), and his sidekick Mulch (Anthony Panarello), plotting to sell the Naughty and Nice list to retailers just like last year.

What follows is a whirlwind attempt to retrieve the list complete with a surprise appearance from Amos’ brother (the amazing Hughes in a dual role), a hilarious case of mistaken identity, a sword fight, an elf cheer, a visit from Santa Claus (Panarello) and a chase scene through the theater to the Benny Hill theme song. There is no shortage of excitement in this show and the cast does a wonderful job portraying this sweet holiday story.

Booster seats are available and snacks are sold during intermission. Stay after the show for a meet and greet and photos with the cast in the lobby.  

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown presents Ken Ludwig’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas on Dec. 15, 22, 28 and 29 at 11 a.m. Children’s theater continues with Shrek The Musical Jr. from Feb. 1 to March 1 and Flat Stanley Jr. from May 16 to June 21. All seats are $18. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org

All photos by Cassiel Fawcett

 

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

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 

By Heidi Sutton

Theodor Seuss Geisel often said, “You have ‘em; I’ll amuse ‘em.” And for over 80 years the man who never had children of his own has been entertaining millions of boys and girls with his whimsical books filled with vivid illustrations and iconic characters like the Cat in the Hat and the Grinch.

‘The cast of ‘Seussical The Musical’ after last Saturday’s performance.

Now the genius that is Dr. Seuss is celebrated on the John W. Engeman’s stage in “Seussical The Musical.” With book, music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Michael Flaherty, the show incorporates the stories from “Horton Hears a Who,” “Horton Hatches the Egg,” “If I Ran the Circus,” “Miss Gertrude McFuzz” and others into a fun, whimsical and colorful adventure the entire family will enjoy. The musical runs through March 3.

Let me just say that this show is so incredible I had to look around the theater several times to make sure I wasn’t watching it on Broadway. Directed and choreographed by Marquez Stewart, a cast of seasoned actors guide the audience in perfect rhyme on a high-energy musical journey from the Jungle of Nool to the Circus McGurkus to the invisible world of the Whos.

The Cat in the Hat (Jae Hughes), who  serves as narrator, introduces us to Horton the Elephant (Evan Schultz) who finds a speck of dust on a clover flower containing the town of Whoville. While he’s busy trying to help the littlest Who, Jojo (Makayla Connolly), the loyal pachyderm is tricked into sitting on Mayzie La Bird’s (Marielle Greguski) egg, is captured by hunters and sold to the circus. When he is finally rescued by Gertrude the girl-bird (Emily Brennan), he is put on trial by Sour Kangaroo (Suzanne Mason) for “sitting on an egg and talking to a speck.” Will he ever catch a break?

Stewart knows her target audience well and keeps them on the edge of their seats. The dance numbers are exciting with special props; actors walk, run and dance through the theater; and audience participation is encouraged as Horton and Mayzie’s egg are auctioned off to the highest bidder.

All of the songs are wonderful, from the fun intro “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!” to the catchy “Horton Hears a Who” (where a person’s a person no matter how small),  the sweet “Notice Me Horton” and my favorite, “It’s Possible.” The finale “Green Eggs and Ham” ends the show on a high note. Costumes designed by Daniel Rodriguez and the cartoony sets look as if they’ve jumped right off the pages of “Horton Hears a Who.”

It has been said that Dr. Seuss’ books are special because they sing. “Seussical The Musical’s” current production at the Engeman brings that adage to the next level. Put this on your list of “not to be missed.”

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

Check out this video from the show! 

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Seussical The Musical” through March 3.  Children’s Theater continues with “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” from March 23 to April 28. All seats are $15. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Photos courtesy of the Engeman Theater

 

By Heidi Sutton

The holiday season has arrived at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, and while adults can enjoy a performance of “White Christmas,” younger audiences can go see Ken Ludwig’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The adorable show runs through Dec. 30.

Directed by Christine Boehm, the play opens on a snowy Christmas Eve with Uncle Brierly (Tom Catt) reading Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to the audience. He gets as far as, “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse” only to be interrupted by Amos the mouse (Jae Hughes) who is in fact stirring, cookie dough that is, to make cookies for Santa in hopes that he’ll show up this year.

Turns out that Amos and his best human friend Emily (Lorelai Mucciolo) were left off the Naughty or Nice list last year by Santa and didn’t receive any presents.

As they lament over their misfortune, an elf named Calliope (Lisa Naso) arrives to investigate. Seems a lot of children were left off the list last year, and Calliope enlists the help of Emily and Amos to prevent this from happening again. With only a few hours left until Christmas Day, the three set off on an airplane to the North Pole on a quest to find this year’s Naughty and Nice list and to save Christmas. When they arrive at Santa’s workshop, they discover that a former elf, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Catt), with the help of his sidekick Mulch (Anthony Panarello), sold the children’s Christmas list to retailers last year and plans to do it again this year. Can they be stopped in time?

Hilarity ensues with a chase scene through the audience, a surprise appearance from Amos’ brother (the incredible Hughes in a dual role), an exciting sword fight, a special visit by Santa and even a little snow in the theater at the end with the underlying message to make life an adventure.

With a running time of approximately one hour with a 15-minute intermission, this action-packed family-friendly show is the perfect first introduction to live theater. Booster seats are available. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for a holiday photo.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present Ken Ludwig’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” through Dec. 30 followed by Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” from Jan. 12 to Feb. 24. All seats are $15. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org