Tags Posts tagged with "Lin-Manuel Miranda"

Lin-Manuel Miranda

By Heidi Sutton

There is a well-known saying in the theater world — “the show must go on.” And even among a debilitating pandemic that has forced many theaters to temporarily close their doors, the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts has found a way to do that with another well-known saying — “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

In partnership with the Smithtown Historical Society, the theater is currently staging a colorful outdoor production of Disney’s “Moana Jr.,” and it could not have come at a better time as parents struggle to keep their children entertained with limited options. Through Aug. 15, the socially-distanced, one-hour show, presented with no intermission, will be held on the shaded grounds of the historical society’s Roseneath Cottage at various times throughout the week.

Rehearsals were already underway when the pandemic took hold, according to executive producer Michael Mucciolo, and then continued virtually until the end of June. “The first step was to see if the parents and kids had a desire to do the show in this new safer environment and if any did not then we wouldn’t have explored the idea any further. After a resounding yes we worked with our board, as well as legal and health professionals. Then we put out a request for volunteers to support us and without any of them we would not have felt comfortable with performing,” he explained in an email.

The decision to move the production outdoors came after the theater was approached by the Smithtown Historical Society (SHS). “It was the evolution of an idea after the SHS graciously offered the use of their space and to show the community what SHS has to offer in terms of tranquil outdoor spaces,” said Mucciolo.

Originally scheduled for April, the show opened on July 24 and has already sold out numerous performances.

“The response from the community has been amazingly positive. Some had concerns not having a full understanding of what this would be like but people have been very appreciative of all the hard work the cast, crew, and staff have done to make this happen in a safe way. The story of a girl facing uncertainty and loss, finding friendship and bravery is so important right now. It is especially at home in this open space framed within picturesque trees and the sounds of nature,” said Mucciolo.

Featuring songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina, the musical introduces us to Moana (Gabriella Fugon), the strong-willed daughter of Chief Tui (Logan O’Leary) and his wife Sina (Priscilla Russo) who live on the Polynesian island of Motunui.

When a blight on the island causes the coconuts to turn black and the fish to disappear, Moana follows the advice of her grandmother (Gianna Oppedisano) and  embarks on a journey across the Pacific Ocean to find the demigod Maui (Michael Gualtieri) in hopes he will help her return the heart of Te Fiti (Savannah Shaw), the Polynesian goddess of earth and life, and save her people.

Along the way, the pair make a detour to Lalotai, the Realm of Monsters, to retrieve Maui’s magical fishhook from Tamatoa (Dori Ahlgrim/ Alia Romanelli), a giant coconut crab, and battle the lava demon Te Kā (Savannah Shaw).

Directed by Courtney Braun and Jordan Hue, with musical direction by Melissa Coyle, the stage adaptation follows the storyline closely and includes all of the wonderful songs in the film including “How Far I’ll Go,” “Shiny,” “I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)” and “You’re Welcome.”

The cast members, ranging in age from 11 to 17, do a tremendous job bringing the story of “Moana” to life on stage with special mention to Michael Gualtier who plays the demi-god Maui in a way that would make The Rock proud. His rendition of “You’re Welcome” is hilarious. But it is 17-year-old Gabriella Fugon, perfectly cast as Moana, who steals the show. Her beautiful rendition of “How Far I’ll Go” is breathtaking and when she sings “I am Moana” the audience will believe it too. She even looks like Moana!

The costumes by Ronald Green III, choreography by Courtney Braun and the incredible set by Mike Mucciolo tie the show together nicely.

Both the Smithtown Historical Society and the theater have taken many steps to make the performances as safe as possible for both the cast, crew, and audience members. “Studies have show your risk of being exposed to Covid-19 is 95% lower outdoors than indoors, because of wind dispersing and sunlight breaking down the virus does not allow for particles to concentrate like in a store or restaurant. Safety is not just from a business concern as members of the production team are also parents of cast members and so do not take lightly anyone’s health,” said Mucciolo.

The Cast: Dori Ahlgrim, Gabrielle Arroyo, Riley Ferraro, Gabriella Fugon, Michael Gualtieri, Aubrey Gulle, Derek Hough, Anabelle Kreitzman, Jackson Mucciolo, Lorelai Mucciolo, Gianna Oppedisano, Priscilla Russo, Dylan O’Leary, Logan O’Leary, Zach Podair, Alia Romanelli, Jonathan Setzer, Savannah Shaw, Juliana Spataro, Ari Spiegel, and Justin Walsh Weiner.

Bathrooms are available on the premises and souveniers, including flower sunglasses, flower hair clips, leis and paper fans,  are available for purchase.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts presents “Moana Jr.” at the Smithtown Historical Society, 239 East Main St., Smithtown through Aug. 15. Up to 75 tickets are sold for each performance with ticket holders safely distanced in their groups away from others and masks are required. All seats are $18. To order, visit www.smithtownpac.org.

All photos by Courtney Braun

'Hamilton' Photo by Joan Marcus

Reviewed By Jeffrey Sanzel

No single theatrical event of the past ten years has had the presence of the musical Hamilton. The powerhouse blockbuster crossed into everyday culture unlike any previous work in the American theater. Eleven Tony-Awards and the Pulitzer Prize is only the beginning of the list of accolades and honors Hamilton has received.  Ardent fans in New York and across the country guaranteed years if not decades of sold-out performances.

In full disclosure, I saw the Broadway production as well as the national tour. In 1923, literary critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge said of Edmund Kean: “To see him act, is like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.” Until I sat in a theater and watched Hamilton, I had not truly appreciated this statement. (Theatre Three alum/Long Island native Ryan Alvarado was the standby for Hamilton, Burr, and King George in the tour. I had the great joy of seeing his extraordinary performance in the titular role in San Francisco.)

Hamilton: An American Musical (its full title) is the sole creation of the unparalleled Lin-Manuel Miranda who had already risen to prominence with his In the Heights. Miranda used the Ron Chernow biography Hamilton (2004) as his source, but this is no traditional musical biopic. With his unique book, music, and lyrics, he has fashioned a celebration unlike any other, and in doing so, has redefined what theater can be.

The score is flawless alchemy, drawing from hip hop, R&B, pop, and soul as well as traditional musical theater. Each song is a crafted gem of tune and words, perfectly fitting the moment and the character. The book alternates between the historical and the personal, shifting seamlessly from one to the other. Director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler clearly understood Miranda’s intentions as their staging is both breathtaking and clear, synthesizing every moment, every beat.

The casting of people of color is not about color-blind or color-conscious casting. It is not a theatricalization or a nod towards political correctness. It can be taken as a bold statement about the founding of this country, including its references to immigration. It is a fusion of history and time, reflecting both its historical roots and the era in which it first appeared.  However, it is a different world from when Hamilton opened in 2015, and the musical’s resonance is quite different in 2020.

The Hamilton that made its debut July 3 on Disney Plus is edited from three live performances in 2016 plus several scenes that were filmed in an empty theater to provide the opportunity for close-ups. Christmas has come early because this is a gift.

Over the years, there have been various attempts to bring the experience of live theater to television with varying success. The American Playhouse presentation of Into the Woods (1991) was one of the stronger examples, featuring the show’s original cast. The Public Theatre’s presentation of The Apple Plays, composed of four plays by Richard Greenburg, worked extremely well. It’s interesting to note that a fifth Zoom/COVID play presented in April — without an audience — was the best of all of them.

The recent line of live productions made for television — a clumsy Sound of Music, an overly rewritten The Wiz, a painfully wrong-headed Peter Pan — are examples of how not to do it. Oddly, Grease managed to capture some of the excitement and energy of a live performance — highlighted by actors rushing from soundstage to soundstage in golf carts. While it’s not exactly theater, the “live” element was maintained.

This is a long way of saying that there is always a danger of trying to capture those “flashes of lighting.”

However, stage director Kail has wisely chosen to offer as close to a faithful representation of seeing it in the theater as possible. The majority of the taping is in wide-shots that allow for the scope of the production, but there is still a liberal use of close-ups as well as shots from backstage towards the audience, from the wings, etc. Kail emphasizes the big picture but knows when to bring us in to the individuals. The compensation for not being “in the room where it happens” is that we are given an opportunity to see myriad details that we certainly would have missed in the theater.

One of the treasures of this recorded Hamilton is that it preserves the original company. And this cast is exceptional: a group of young (only two casts members were even in their forties) and astoundingly talented singer/dancer/actors execute a story with not only precision and commitment but unparalleled joy.

As Hamilton, Miranda mines both the humor and pathos. The pain he shows in “It’s Quiet Up Town” is only matched by Phillip Soo’s as Eliza Schuler Hamilton singing “Burn.” Daveed Diggs plays the Marquis de Lafayette with great flair but it his outrageous Thomas Jefferson and “What’d I Miss?” that brings down the house.

Leslie Odom Jr. balances the fence-sitting reserve of Aaron Burr with his fierce, underlying desire for power and position; Odom brings reality to Burr’s complicated psyche and his “The Room Where It Happens” is a breath-taking showstopper.

Jonathan Groff literally foams at the mouth as King George, who is simultaneously hilarious and dangerous. Renée Elise Goldsberry’s exposed honesty as Angelica Schuyler shows the entire range of human emotions in “Satisfied,” the counterpoint to her sister’s “Helpless.”

Christopher Jackson brings dignity and humility to George Washington, especially in his farewell “One Last Time.” And while several principals play dual roles, none is better than Okieriete Onaodowan as the brash Hercules Mulligan and the almost blushing James Madison; it truly is like watching two entirely different performers.

Thousands of words have been written on Hamilton but none can capture the magic of this landmark work of art. It should — no, must — be seen. “Flashes of lightning?” Hamilton is a full-on electrical storm.

Rated PG-13, Hamilton: An American Musical is now available on Disney Plus.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, center, takes on his first major film role in ‘Mary Poppins Returns.’ Photo by Jay Maidment/Disney

By Heidi Sutton

Fifty-four years after Disney’s beloved “Mary Poppins” magically dropped out of the sky and into our lives, its long-awaited sequel arrived at local theaters for the holidays.

Titled “Mary Poppins Returns,” the movie is based on the second book in the Mary Poppins series by author P. L. Travers — “Mary Poppins Comes Back.” Co-starring Emily Blunt (“Girl on the Train,” “A Quiet Place”) as Mary Poppins and Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) as Jack the lamplighter, it picks up the story 25 years later in 1935.

Recently widowed, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) still lives in London at 17 Cherry Tree Lane with his three children, Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson) and longtime housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters) while Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) lives in a flat across town. Set during the Great Slump, the family home is in danger of being repossessed unless a loan can be paid back in five days.

While Jane and Michael search frantically for their father’s bank shares, the children spend the day in the park and come home with — who else — Mary Poppins! “I was flying a kite and it got caught on a nanny!” exclaims Georgie. 

“I’ve come to look after the Banks children” says Mary. However, while Michael’s children go on all kinds of magical adventures, it is Michael and Jane who are ultimately watched over by their old friend.

Directed by Rob Marshall (“Chicago,” “Into the Woods”), with screenplay by David Magee (“Finding Neverland,” “Life of Pi”), the film features a fresh score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and new dance numbers, animation scenes and cameo appearances by Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, Karen Dotrice (the original Jane), Colin Firth and, at 91 years old, a tap-dancing Dick Van Dyke.

In the title role Blunt is practically perfect in the way she captures Mary Poppins’ mannerisms, and Lin-Manuel Miranda steals every scene in his first major film role. However, it is the many songs (over 25 in all), from the undersea adventure “Can You Imagine That?,” the emotional lullaby “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” the big dance number “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” (a companion piece to “Step in Time”), Miranda’s Hamilton-esque rap in “A Cover Is Not the Book” and the finale, “Nowhere to Go But Up” that are the heart of the film.

There are many wonderful aspects to this film — all of the actors are terrific; the singing, dancing and choreography are amazing; and the sets are impressive. That being said, I found it hard to fall in love with this film. Maybe because I kept comparing it to the original, but I found the plot to be thin and rushed somehow — as if it had run over the allotted time and then was edited too much. For a Disney film, it didn’t feel magical enough and failed to capture the charm of its predecessor.

Rated PG, “Mary Poppins Returns” is now playing in local theaters. Running time is 2 hours 10 minutes.

By Rita J. Egan

It may be chilly outside, but things are heating up inside the John W. Engeman Theater. The Northport venue debuted its production of “In the Heights” on March 15, and with a talented cast and the energetic sounds of salsa, reggaeton, merengue and hip hop, audience members are guaranteed a fun, hot night on the town.

Before he shared the story of Alexander Hamilton through rap and song in “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda created this spirited musical, which ran from 2008 to 2011 on Broadway and won four Tony Awards.

A love letter to Latinos who live in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, the story takes place during July Fourth weekend on one city block and centers around bodega owner Usnavi and his neighbors. While the play includes a good deal of reality like money issues, the death of loved ones and the sacrifices one must make for a better life, its main themes are about love and hope, and most important of all, having patience and faith.

With book by Quiara Alegria Hudes and music and lyrics by Miranda, through dialogue and song “In the Heights” reveals the economic struggles of Usnavi and his fellow business owners, car service proprietors Kevin and Camila Rosario and beauty salon owner Daniela.

Directed by Paul Stancato, the musical throws in romance as Usnavi pines away for the beautiful Vanessa, who works at the beauty salon, and the Rosarios’ daughter Nina and their employee Benny engage in a forbidden romance. As the audience gets a peek into the heartache of Usnavi losing his parents at an early age, Vanessa yearning to move downtown, the bright Nina losing her college scholarship and the love felt for the neighborhood’s adopted grandmother, Claudia, one can’t help but feel a part of this close-knit community.

Spiro Marcos as Usnavi does a fine job filling big shoes (the role was originally played by Miranda on Broadway). The actor skillfully uses rap during most of his numbers to tell the story. Marcos is in touch with Usnavi’s softer side, making it impossible not to root for him as he longs for Vanessa and dreams of going back to the Dominican Republic, his birthplace, while trying to keep the bodega afloat.

Cherry Torres and Josh Marin in a scene from ‘In the Heights’

Josh Marin is charming as Benny, and Cherry Torres is sweet and lovely as Nina. The two have a good amount of on-stage chemistry during their romantic scenes, which is front and center during the song “Sunrise” where they sing beautifully together. Chiara Trentalange balances a bit of sass and attitude with a touch of softness to deliver a Vanessa who may be determined to put her neighborhood behind her, but audience members can’t help but like her, too.

Tami Dahbura is endearing as Abuela Claudia, while Paul Aquirre and Shadia Fairuz are perfect together as Kevin and Camila. Scheherazade Quiroga is perfect as the spunky Daniela and delivers comedic lines perfectly. Iliana Garcia is refreshing as naïve hairdresser Carla, and Vincent Ortega is delightful as the Piragua Guy, especially during his number “Piragua” and its reprise. Nick Martinez, as Usnavi’s young cousin Sonny, and Danny Lopez, as Graffiti Pete, do a nice job adding some comic relief throughout the production.

The dancers are also among the stars in the show. Skillfully choreographed by Sandalio Alvarez, they energetically and masterfully transfer from salsa, merengue, reggaeton and hip hop dance steps.

The music in the production is top notch and is a mix of dance tunes that will have audience members wanting to dance in the aisles and emotional ballads for which some may need tissues. The band, led by conductor Alec Bart, does a superb job flawlessly moving from one musical genre to another, and the singers also do an excellent job.

During the first act, Torres expertly uses her vocal talents to perform an emotion-evoking version of “Breathe.” It is during this number audience members discover her time at Stanford University didn’t work out for her, and she now feels lost not knowing what to do with her life.

Aguirre’s number “Inútil” is just as heartbreaking as his character feels useless after discovering his daughter didn’t come to him to help her pay for school. Fairuz also displays strong vocals during the song “Siempre.”

Trentalange sings lead on the upbeat song “It Won’t Be Long Now” with Marcos and Martinez. The actress has fun with the song and her vocals are great.

Spiro Marcos (Usnavi) and Tami Dahbura (Abuela Claudia)

Dahbura moves around convincingly like a frail grandmother, and then surprises audience members with her incredible and emotional vocals during “Paciencia y Fe.” Abuela Claudia remembers her youth in Cuba and arriving in the United States, during the song. Her mother would always remind her to have patience and faith, advice Claudia continues to share with those she loves.

During the first act, the ensemble performs “96,000” as they sing about what it would be like to win Lotto. With the singers emanating so much energy, one can’t help but feel optimistic for them.

Quiroga gets the party started with “Carnaval del Barrio” and her vocals are outstanding. The high-energy song with exceptional dancing is sensational. It is soon followed by “Alabanza” where Torres sweetly sings the first lines and then the song builds up to a powerful number featuring the whole cast. Both performed during the second act are show stoppers.

Spanish is sprinkled throughout the dialogue and lyrics of “In the Heights” to add authenticity, but are always followed by English translations, or the lines are delivered with gestures that make things clear for those who don’t understand the language.

Many may want to see this musical because they are curious about Miranda’s earlier work, but “In the Heights” is an entertaining look into the life of Latinos in New York City and a beautiful tribute to the music that was brought to the United States from the islands of Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

The John W. Engeman Theater, located at 250 Main Street, Northport presents “In the Heights” through April 29. Running time is approximately 2.5 hours and tickets are $73; $78 for Saturday evening performances. Free valet parking is available. For more information, please call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

by -
0 762

It’s a great history lesson. It’s a gymnastic dance performance. It’s a riveting narrative. It’s a clever rap session. It’s an authentic hip-hop musical, almost like an opera. It’s a whirlwind of energy. And it’s a remarkably true story. What is it? It’s “Hamilton,” the hottest Broadway show in many years.

We know that just about everything that is endlessly hyped usually disappoints. Just two things immediately come to my mind where for me there was no let down: the Grand Canyon and “Hamilton.” Now the anticipation ratcheted up was enormous. I bought the tickets when my friend turned 90 years old. It seemed like an appropriate birthday present, this story from the deep past. After all, for many dinners and evenings she had kept me fascinated with her eyewitness retelling of history from the first half of the 20th century. Now we were both going to see early American history come alive on the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

Let it be told that my friend will shortly be 92. Yes, she and I waited almost two years to get in to see this show. I also invited my 15-year-old granddaughter and another friend a generation younger than I to join us. With that span in ages, we were going to get an accurate demographic spectrum of reactions.

We LOVED it, all of us, from the opening number to the last sad moments of Hamilton’s life. It was witty, it was impassioned, it was fun, it was sexy, it was literate, it was tragic and it was wonderfully written, sung, acted, costumed and staged.

In truth, Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography, “Alexander Hamilton” (2004), had great material to work with. Hamilton’s life had everything a playwright could have asked for, with perfect timing now for such a story. Hamilton, born out of wedlock in the mid-1750s (exact year uncertain) and orphaned when his mother died in 1768, comes as penniless immigrant from the Caribbean to make his way. He had distinguished himself through his writing at an early age, and men of means sent him to New York. He arrived in the midst of the pre-Revolutionary tumult, was accepted at King’s College (now Columbia University), met some of the key figures of the day and became George Washington’s aide-de-camp, in good part because he spoke French and could translate between Washington and his French ally.

He fought against the British at Yorktown in 1781, married the second daughter of a rich New Yorker, authored the majority of The Federalist Papers, became a successful lawyer, went on to be the first secretary of the treasury, from which position he established the banking system of the nascent United States, was blackmailed in what was one of the nation’s first sex scandals, and ultimately died from a bullet fired by his longtime rival, Vice President Aaron Burr, during a duel on a strip of land above the Hudson in Weehawken. If it sounds like a peripatetic life, that certainly describes the fierce energy of the play about him.

I had the same feeling about this play as I did so many years ago when “My Fair Lady” with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews ended, that I had just witnessed some sort of breakthrough Broadway event. And as the characters of “Hamilton,” the Founding Fathers, come alive the way they did in that other excellent historic play, “1776,” we recognized them for their magnificent talents and their all-too-human faults.

The erudite New York Times drama critic, Ben Brantley, had this to say about the play when it opened on Broadway in August 2015. “I am loath to tell people to mortgage their houses and lease their children to acquire tickets to a hit Broadway show. But ‘Hamilton’ … might just about be worth it.”

So it’s expensive (unless you win tickets through the lottery that has been set up), it requires patience to wait for the actual performance date on the ticket, and most of the original cast is long gone. But none of that matters. There was never a marquee name connected with the show, unless it was that of Miranda. But his acting wasn’t the reason to go, it was his writing: music, words and creativity. And all that is still there, a wonderful respite from the politics of today.