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Justin Autz

‘Oh the thinks you can think … when you think about Seuss!’

By Heidi Sutton

Families with young children packed into the Engeman Theater last Saturday morning to witness a most beautiful tribute to the imaginative world of Theodor Seuss Geisel aka Dr. Seuss in Seussical the Musical. The children book author’s favorite characters come to life in this colorful and magical show, including Horton the Elephant, The Cat in the Hat, Gertrude McFuzz, Mayzie La Bird and JoJo, a little boy with a big imagination.

Written in 2000 by Tony winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the musical is now one of the most performed shows in the United States and it’s easy to see why. A trip down memory lane for many generations, it is based primarily on the Dr. Seuss children books, “Horton Hears a Who,” “Horton Hatches an Egg” and “Gertrude McFuzz,” but also incorporates references to other Dr. Seuss stories including “McElligot’s Pool” and “Oh the Thinks You Can Think!”

Directed by Andrew McCluskey with choreography by Jillian Sharpe, the colorful cast of characters transport the audience from the Jungle of Nool to the Circus McGurkus to the invisible world of the Whos. The Cat in the Hat (Jae Hughes) guides us through the magical journey with the help of Jojo the Mayor’s son (Finn Brown at last Saturday’s performance), who occasionally jumps into the scene when warranted.

The show opens as Horton the Elephant (Patrick McCowen) hears a cry for help and discovers a floating speck of dust containing the town of Whoville. After safely placing it on a clover flower, Horton is tricked into sitting on lazy Mayzie La Bird’s (Jillian Sharpe) egg for 51 weeks, is captured by hunters and eventually sold to the circus. When he is finally rescued by Gertrude McFuzz (Michaela Vivona), he is put on trial by Sour Kangaroo (Suzanne Mason) for “sitting on an egg and talking to a speck.” Will the faithful pachyderm be exonerated or will he be sentenced to a mental institution by Judge Yertle the Turtle?

The fast-paced show keeps the young audience wide-eyed and on the edge of their seats. One of the most exciting scenes is when the Wickersham Brothers (Justin Autz and Terrence Sheldon) steal the clover and are chased through the theater by Horton. The dance numbers are terrific with special props and audience participation is encouraged as Horton and Mayzie’s egg are auctioned off to the highest bidder. 

The incredible songs are the heart of the show, from the fun intro “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!” to the sweet “Horton Hears a Who” (where a person’s a person no matter how small), the enduring “Notice Me Horton,” and a personal favorite, “It’s Possible.” Horton and Jojo’s duet, “Alone in the Universe,” will give you goosebumps and the group’s upbeat finale is a fitting rendition of “Green Eggs and Ham.” 

Costumes and wigs by Laura McGauley along with the cartoonish set mimic the original Seuss illustrations perfectly.

In the end, the show leaves us with the inspiring message that anything is possible when you let your imagination fly. Don’t miss this one.

Pick up a clover-shaped flashlight souvenir before the show and stay after for a meet and greet with the cast in the lobby for photos and autographs. An autograph page is conveniently located at the back of the program.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport presents Seussical the Musical on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. through April 30 with a special sensory sensitive performance on April 15. Up next is The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley from May 27 to July 2. All seats are $20. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

By Heidi Sutton

What’s your favorite color? If the answer is pink, then you should run, not walk, to the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport to catch a truly wonderful production of Pinkalicious the Musical. 

Based on the popular children’s book by Elizabeth and Victoria Kann, the show tells the story of a little girl named Pinkalicious Pinkerton who loves the color pink (“It’s a color like no other!”) and is obsessed with pink cupcakes.

Despite her parent’s warnings, Pinkalicious overindulges on the sugary delights and wakes up the next day pink from head to toe. The doctor diagnoses her with pinkititis and in order to keep it from becoming worse she has to eat healthy green foods. But Pinkalicious just can’t stop eating those cupcakes, and when she wakes up the second morning, she’s turned red. She realizes the only way out of this predicament is to follow doctor’s orders. But is it too late? Will she be red forever?

Directed by Danny Meglio with choreography by Jillian Sharpe, the show is an instant hit thanks to a talented cast of five who tackle this fast-paced script with ease. 

Perfectly cast in the role of Pinkalicious, Emilie Goodrich embraces her inner child to bring this colorful, energetic character to life and sparkles on stage. The other members of the family, the organized Mrs. Pinkerton (the delightful Kassie Kueffne), the busy Mr. Pinkerton (an incredible Justin Autz), and overlooked brother Peter (the multi-talented Jae Hughes) along with best friend Alison (the amazing Kara Vito), play multiple roles throughout the show with unbounded enthusiasm.

What’s special about this show is that each actor has a chance to shine with a solo, from Goodrich’s lovely “When Dreams Come True,” to Kueffne’s lullaby “You Get Just What You Get,” Vito’s “Pinkititis,” Jae Hughes’ heartfelt “I Got the Pink Blues,” and Autz in the “Finale.”

There are also so many wonderful moments in the show. At one point the family goes to the doctor’s office on a pink four seat bicycle. On the way back home, they take a detour through the aisles of the theater to go to a park with a real slide. While at the park Pinkalicious is surrounded by a bee, a bird and two butterflies who are attracted to her pink color in the cute number “Buzz Off.”  Another time, Pinkalicious has a dream about pink cupcakes who all of a sudden walk out of the refrigerator and start singing and dancing. Great stuff.

Pinkalicious is more than a story about eating your vegetables. It is about the power of communication, the love of family and the affirmation that a little pink goes a long way. Don’t miss this one. 

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport presents Pinkalicious The Musical through July 3. All seats are $20. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

The cast, from left, Lizzie Dolce, Matt Rafanelli, Justin Autz, Meaghan McInnes and Jae Hughes. Photo from Engeman Theater

By Heidi Sutton

As the weather outside becomes frightful, the Engeman Theater in Northport invites families inside for a heartwarming production of Frosty. The terrific cast, directed by Jennifer Collester with stage manager Jillian Sharpe, brings the holiday musical to life with catchy sing-alongs and plenty of audience participation. 

The narrator (Lizzie Dolce) introduces us to Jenny (Meaghan McInnes), a young girl who lives in Chillsville, “a little town way up north that is always covered with a fresh blanket of snow.” The daughter of the Mayor (Matt Rafanelli), Jenny’s favorite thing to do is to play outside. With help from her father, she builds a snowman and names him Frosty. When Jenny puts a scarf around him, Frosty (Justin Autz) magically comes to life and the two become fast friends.

On the other side of town, Ebenezer Pierpot (Jae Hughes), the president of Pierpot Enterprises (a manufacturer of snow shovels, snowblowers, and ice scrapers), wants to build a bigger factory in the park but can’t do that with all the snow. During a meeting at town hall, Pierpot tricks the Mayor into signing a contract to build a machine that will melt all the snow in the town, putting Frosty’s life in jeopardy. 

With Chillsville getting warmer by the minute, will Jenny come up with a plan to save Frosty or will he turn into a large puddle of water with a carrot?

I always look forward to reviewing this show because I love to see the children’s faces light up when they realize that they have been invited to become part of the production. They move to the edge of their seats with eager anticipation as they wait for the next question from the narrator or the cast and the next sing-a-long to join in.

During the performance the audience is asked what Jenny should do today (Build a snowman!), to come up with a plan to save Frosty (Move to another town!), help Jenny write a letter to her dad, and wish for snow (and it works!) They also join the narrator in the fun opening number, “Snow!” and the entire cast in a lively rendition of “Frosty the Snowman.”

With the ultimate message that love “is pretty powerful stuff,” this is the perfect show to introduce a child to live theater and is a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday season.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport presents Frosty through Jan. 2. Running time is 90 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Children’s theater continues with Disney’s Frozen Jr. from Jan. 29 to Feb. 27 and Madagascar – A Musical Adventure from March 26 to May 1. All seats are $20. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

By Heidi Sutton

Looking for a fun fall activity with the kids? May I recommend Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale, a musical adventure complete with “wicked witches, heroic princes, kings, magic and the longest hair in the world.” Written by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, creators of the hit TV show Friends, with music by Michael Skloff, the children’s show opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport this past weekend and runs through Oct. 31.

The cast of ‘Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale’. Photo from Engeman Theater

While the story has lots of modern twists and turns, it still retains much of the beloved fairy tale we all know and love. A cobbler and his wife live next door to a witch who has a beautiful garden. One day the cobbler sneaks into the garden to steal some vegetables and is caught by the witch who cons him into giving her the couple’s firstborn. She names the child Rapunzel and raises her as her own in a tower. Fast forward 16 years and Rapunzel’s only wish on her birthday is to leave the tower and see the world below. Her “mother” at first promises to grant her wish but then changes her mind and instead tries to bribe her with fudge, flowers, a bird and birthday cake.

Meanwhile, Prince Brian has run away from the castle. He feels that he is a failure, having reached the age of seventeen without doing one heroic deed, and vows only to return once he has slain a dragon, captured an ogre or rescued a maiden. “As a hero, I’m a zero,” he groans. When the prince comes upon Rapunzel in the tower, he hatches a plan to have his valet Simon distract the witch while he rescues the girl. What follows is a magical morning of live theater the whole family will enjoy.

Danny Meglio directs a seasoned cast of four who play multiple characters in the retelling of this hairy tale. A wonderful Joanna Sanges returns to the Engeman to reprise her role as the naive Rapunzel who has never seen a cow or a carriage but quickly learns to stand up to anyone standing in her way. Her strong-willed determination and confidence is a perfect role model for the children in the audience. 

Tasked with rescuing fair maidens, Justin Autz is terrific as the handsome Prince Brian. While he spends the first part of the show riding horses and climbing towers, Autz spends the second act trying to find his way back to the castle wearing dark glasses that are stuck to his face (the witch has cast a spell to make him blind) and tripping over Rapunzel’s long hair. 

Joanna Sanges as Rapunzel and Justin Autz as Prince Brian star in ‘Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale’. Photo from Engeman Theater

Brilliantly played by Jillian Sharpe, Gretta the witch, “with a twist of her wrist and a turn of her ring,” can be best described as a sour patch kid (first she’s sour but then she’s sweet) who sounds just like the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. While she does some pretty crummy things, she is not scary and the children in the audience are not frightened. 

The multi-talented Jae Hughes plays multiple roles throughout the show including the storyteller, Simon, the king (who is always mispronouncing Rapunzel’s name), the innkeeper, and the cow and knocks each one out of the kingdom. The ability to switch roles so quickly, with different voices and demeanors, is no easy feat, but Hughes makes it seem effortless.

The script is clever and funny, with much of the dialogue in rhyme, and the songs are energetic and catchy with special mention to “Wooing a Witch,” The First Step is the Hardest” and the quartet’s “Tonight’s the Night.” The costumes, excellent sound effects and lighting tie it all together for a happily ever after.

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 Oct. 31. Running time is one hour with a 15 minute intermission. Boosters seats are available and costumes are encouraged. And if it’s your birthday, the cast will serenade you. (Happy Birthday Emma!)

Children’s theater continues with the theater’s annual production of Frosty from Nov. 20 to  Jan. 2 and Disney’s Frozen Jr. from Jan. 29 to Feb. 27, 2022. All seats are $20. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.