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Matthew Bryan Feld

By Julianne Mosher

The stage at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport turns into 1930s Austria with its latest production of The Sound of Music and it will have everyone in the audience feel all the emotions.

Based on the real Von Trapp family, and the real events they endured when the Nazi’s invaded their hometown of Austria at the start of World War II, the cast and crew of the latest local production does the original Tony Award-winning show justice with a fantastic lineup of talented actors.

Directed by Drew Humphrey, the show starts off with the Nuns of Nonnberg Abbey ensemble who sing a haunting, and beautiful Preludium hymm with a stellar performance by Cáitlin Burke who plays the Mother Abbess. The set quickly changes from the church courthouse to the rolling blue and purple hills, where our favorite nun-turned-nanny, Maria Rainer (played by Kayleen Seidl), sings the famous classic, “The Sound of Music.”

Made famous by the Oscar-winning 1965 remake of the original Broadway show that starred Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, the audience follows the curious and rebellious Maria as she leaves the Abbey to help a widowed father take care of his seven children. In the Von Trapp home, Maria teaches Louisa, Kurt, Liesl, Friedrich, Brigitta, Marta and little Gretl “My Favorite Things” and “Do-Re-Mi,” which had the audience singing along in their seats. 

Seidl’s performance of Maria made the audience fall in love with her just as Naval Captain Georg Von Trapp (played by Tim Rogan) and his children eventually do throughout the show. But what also received a standing ovation during last Friday’s show was the performance of those children who rehearsed for weeks after school and their extra curriculars to share the spotlight with some of the most talented actors the industry has to offer. Of that performance, Kayla Kennedy (Brigitta), Laura Park (the mature and almost-17-Liesl), and Micaela Maio, who played little Gretl, were standout stars.

Choreographed by Mandy Modic, the musical number of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” featuring Park and her Rolf Gruber (played by understudy Max Desantis) was playful and impressive using props from the villa’s courtyard to assist them dance around during their flirtatious banter. The set design was able to quickly change with ease, turning from a church, to the mountains, to the Von Trapp living room and bedrooms, to the outside courtyard where the two teenagers would sneak out to.

And we cannot forget other members of the cast, like Matthew Bryan Feld (Max Detweiler) and Angel Reda (as Elsa Schraeder) who were also lovable … even if they didn’t agree with the captain’s politics and played more selfish parts. Reda, who alone has a long resume of national and regional shows, just finished her latest stint with Chicago on Broadway. 

While The Sound of Music may not be the happiest of stories, the cast and crew at the Engeman Theater does the show right with a fantastic lineup to match an amazing score that is fit for anyone, any age, or whether they are 16 going on 17.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport presents The Sound of Music through July 2. Shows are at 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $85 for Saturday performances and $80 for all others showings, and can be purchased by calling 631-261-2900 or online at www.engemantheater.com.

By Rita J. Egan

Few movies easily translate into an onstage musical. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which opened Thursday at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport on Jan. 19, is one of those delightful exceptions.

Based on the 1988 comedy film starring Michael Caine, Steve Martin and Glenne Aimee Headly, the production, with book by Jeffrey Lane, features a catchy score by David Yazbek. The musical originally debuted on Broadway in 2005 and was nominated for several Tony Awards the same year. Norbert Lee Butz won the award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Freddy Benson.

The story begins at a luxurious coastal resort where suave con artist Lawrence Jameson meets his young competitor Freddy Benson. Lawrence realizes his longtime deceptions of guests may soon come to an end. With the help of his assistant, local police chief Andre Thibault, he decides to take the rough-around-the-edges Freddy under his wing. The con artists’ mission turns out to be filled with hilarious hijinks, a dash of romance and a surprising twist.

Musical lovers looking to beat the winter blues will love the Engeman’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with the actors’ exceptional vocals and comedic timing. Audience members should pay attention as some local references and mild political jokes are thrown in, which garnered a good deal of laughter during the press opening on Jan. 21. The night was one where all the cast members, masterfully directed by Drew Humphrey, shined brightly.

James D. Sasser plays Lawrence Jameson with the right amount of sophistication and cockiness, and at the same time keeps the audience laughing. He also handles his vocals beautifully while maintaining his character’s various deceptive accents.

Danny Gardner, as Freddy Benson, is hilarious, especially during the musical number “Great Big Stuff.” During one scene, with Freddy dressed as a soldier confined to a wheelchair, Lawrence tests him to see if he has any feeling in his legs using a feather and then a whip. The duo are hysterical during the scene, and Gardner’s facial expressions are priceless. 

Gina Milo plays Muriel Eubanks, a wealthy and attractive American socialite, to the hilt. She has fun with all the cliches believed about a newly divorced woman traveling abroad — flirty and clueless — and the audience laughs along with her. Milo’s vocals are excellent in each number she is featured in.

The character Andre Thibault serves as a straight man to Jameson and Benson, and Matthew Bryan Feld is perfect in the role. In the second act, he seamlessly shows the character’s vulnerable side when he and Milo perform a fun and refreshing “Like Zis/Like Zat.”

While Emily Larger doesn’t appear until toward the end of Act 1 as Christine Colgate, she is immediately convincing as a naive American heiress, and one can’t help feel excited for the character as Larger delivers a fabulous rendition of “Here I Am.” In the second act, Larger has the opportunity to show another side of Christine, which she delivers just as smoothly.

Suzanne Mason, as Jolene Oakes, one of Lawrence’s victims, shines in the role. Her musical number “Oklahoma?” is one of the highlights of the show. Her comedic abilities are front and center in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, even when she isn’t playing Jolene and is onstage as one of the ensemble characters.

The ensemble also adds to the production’s delightfulness with their witty lines and facial expressions, and performing the fun dance numbers choreographed by Mandy Modic. Set designer Kyle Dixon and costume designer Dustin Cross have used colorful hues that transport audience members to the French Riviera. And while they may not be onstage, the Engeman orchestra members, directed by James Olmstead, are among the stars of the show.

Entertainment has always served as a way to escape everyday life, if only for a couple of hours. The Engeman’s production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels does just that with upbeat music and plenty of laughs that will leave audience members feeling a bit more lighthearted even after exiting the theater.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport presents Dirty Rotten Scoundrels through March 5. Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and some Wednesdays. Tickets are $85 for Saturday evenings and $80 for all other performances. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.