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Jennifer Tully

Alyson Leonard, Antoine Jones and Marquez Stewart in a scene from 'The Cat in the Hat'

By Heidi Sutton

For generations, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, has entertained and delighted children and adults alike with his whimsical tales and wild imagination. Out of the 60 children’s books published during his lifetime, one of Seuss’ most popular is “The Cat in the Hat.”

Written in 1957 as an early reader book, it has since been translated into more than 15 languages and was adapted into a feature-length film starring Michael Myers in 2003. And just last week, Warner Animation Group, in partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that a fully animated version of the popular book is in the works, the first of many planned to keep the Dr. Seuss legacy alive.

In our neck of the woods, a theatrical adaptation of “The Cat in the Hat” by Katie Mitchell opened last weekend at the Engeman Theater in Northport. The adorable children’s musical will run through the first week of March. The script, which is guided with voice-overs by Steve Wangner in the wings, follows the book closely and provides for a fun afternoon of live theater.

It’s a rainy day and Sally (Danielle Aliotta) and her brother (Kevin Burns) are bored, with only their goldfish Fish (Danny Meglio) to keep them company. Their mother has gone out for a while, so they sit by the window and watch the rain fall. When the brother says “How I wish we had something to do,” the door suddenly swings open and in walks the Cat in the Hat (Antoine Jones), ready to entertain the children with some tricks he knows, and the fun begins.

Now everyone who shares their home with a cat knows that cats make messes, and this feline, although he’s wearing a hat, is no exception. In the first act he impressively balances on one leg while holding books, an umbrella, a fan, a rake, milk on a dish, a toy ship, a toy man, a cake and poor Fish before it all comes crashing down.

The cast of Dr. Seuss’ ‘The Cat in the Hat’. Photo by Jennifer Tully

In the second act, that mischievous kitty releases Thing 1 (Alyson Leonard) and Thing 2 (Marquez Stewart) from a box and things only get crazier from there. They fly kites in the house, breaking things along the way, much to the delight of the young audience. “It’s a beautiful mess,” exclaims the Cat in the Hat.

When the kids see Mother coming down the road, they know that they have to catch Thing 1 and Thing 2 and clean up before she gets home. An exciting chase scene, accompanied by the Benny Hill theme song, ensues. Will they succeed or will time run out?

Directed by Suzie Dunn, the seven adult actors do an excellent job portraying the story. The actors interact with the audience often, making them feel like they are a part of the show. At one point Meglio makes his way through the audience with a bubble machine. Later on, Aliotta invites children on stage to dance with her. Special mention should be made of Jones who clearly loves children and is funny and engaging. From the moment his character’s red-and-white-striped hat appears around the door, the audience knows they are in for a real treat. So run, don’t walk, to see the cat, The Cat in the Hat!

Running time is one hour and 10 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Booster seats are available. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present Dr. Seuss “The Cat in the Hat” through March 4. Up next in children’s theater is “The Wizard of Oz” from March 24 to April 29. All seats are $15. For more information, call 631-261-9700 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

From left, Danny Meglio, Kate Keating and Jackie Hughes in a scene from 'The Wizard of Oz.' Photo by Jennifer Tully

By Heidi Sutton

The cast of 'The Wizard of Oz'. Photo by Beth Hallisey
The cast of ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Photo by Beth Hallisey

The month of October means that the classic tale of the “Wizard of Oz” is back on the Engeman’s stage in Northport. Presented every year at this time with the support of the Bethpage Federal Credit Union, the beloved children’s theater musical only gets better with age. Suzanne Mason, who played the Wicked Witch of the West in last year’s production, sits in the director’s chair this time and leads an adult cast of eight through an hour and half of pure “joy and rapture.”

Based on the children’s books by L. Frank Baum, “The Wizard of Oz” tells the story of young Dorothy Gale and her dog, Toto, who are swept out of Kansas by a tornado and transported over the rainbow to a magical land of munchkins, witches and ruby slippers. Engeman’s “Wizard” gives us an abridged version of the classic tale (no poppies here) but tackles it with such enthusiasm that will make audiences fall in love with Dorothy, Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow all over again.

Kate Keating stars as Dorothy in 'The Wizard of Oz.' Photo by Jennifer Tully
Kate Keating stars as Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Photo by Jennifer Tully

Kate Keating reprises her role as Dorothy Gale and treats the audience to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the very beginning of the show. Keating’s enthusiastic performance is truly wonderful and at times she sounds just like a young Judy Garland. Jackie Hughes tackles the role of Scarecrow with ease, wobbly legs and all, giving us a sweet rendition of “If I Only Had a Brain,” and Danny Meglio is a terrific Tin Man on a quest to get a heart. Samm Carroll plays the dual role of meanies Ms. Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West with just the right amount of grouchiness.

However, it is Andrew McCluskey as Cowardly Lion who steals the show. In pure comedic form, he delivers a performance that would make Bert Lahr proud. Stephanie Krasner in the role of Nico the Monkey Bat, Joshua Cahn as the Wizard and Courtney Fekete as Glinda round out the supporting cast and do a fine job.

A nice touch is the constant interaction between the actors and the audience. During the frequent set changes, Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man walk through the aisles asking the children which way they should go to see the Wizard. Even the Wicked Witch suddenly appears from around the corner, causing many young audience members to jump out of their seats.

Jackie Hughes as is Scarecrow in 'The Wizard of Oz. Photo by Jennifer Tully
Jackie Hughes as is Scarecrow in ‘The Wizard of Oz. Photo by Jennifer Tully

Designed by Jess Costagliola, the costumes are exactly what one would expect, from Dorothy’s iconic blue gingham dress to Glinda’s beautiful pink gown. That is until the munchkins come out and mix things up a bit. With giant hats and big googly eyes, their rendition of “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead!” is hilarious. Wings flap on Nico the Monkey Bat and wait until you see the Wizard!

With familiar music, lots of humor and not-too-scary special effects, this “Wizard of Oz” is the perfect show with which to introduce a young child to live theater. So turn off the televisions, iPads and cell phones and start your journey down the Yellow Brick Road as soon as you can — this production is not to be missed. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs. (An autograph page is conveniently located at the back of the program.) Running time is 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “The Wizard of Oz” through Nov. 6 followed by a holiday favorite, “Frosty,” from Nov. 26 to Dec. 31. All tickets are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.