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Rita J. Egan

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TBR News Media editorial staff share memories of their dads and other special people for Father’s Day.

Rita Egan — Editor

As someone whose parents separated when she was 9 years old and moved in with her grandparents, I’m an example of a village raising a child. From an early age, I realized that relatives and even friends’ parents can play a role in a young person’s life.

I was fortunate that my new friends and their parents made my transition to life in Smithtown an easier one. There were the Irvolinos, the D’Agostinos, Mrs. Naseem, and later in high school, the Juans, the DeNobregas and the Castros who always made me feel welcome in their homes, even at family gatherings. I frequently was in the Irvolinos’ pool and on their boat. The D’Agostinos introduced me to the beauty of Head of the River and would take me with the family to the Jersey Shore. And of course, there were the rides many parents gave me when it was too dark for my grandfather to drive.

One day on Fire Island, my friend Nancy and I were knocked down by a huge wave. One second I’m hitting my head against something hard, and the next I was grabbed out of the water by Mr. Irvolino. He had me in his right hand and Nancy in his left. I will be forever grateful for my village. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads and a belated Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms, too.

Kyle Barr — Editor

When my parents call me on the weekend, we can go through the platitudes of normal life: How is your job, how’s Long Island, how’s your brother?

Dad, you can make comments about how I continue to leave my room a FEMA-designated disaster area. You can talk about my habits of leaving my clothing in the laundry bin after washing them instead of putting it in drawers.

Then we can get into the heavier stuff of national politics and local happenings. We can talk about the issues, and I can get angry and you can deflect. And I can’t seem to stop and ask you how you’re really doing.

You moved away, and I hope you’re doing OK. I hope the pandemic and quarantine has not made you so reclusive you can’t talk to anybody except mom’s parents. I hope the days you spend in retirement allow you to explore things you haven’t necessarily had the opportunity to.

I can ask only so much of you. I can ask you to be patient until I find time to see you. Until then, I can enjoy those platitudes and our conversations.

 David Luces — Reporter

When it comes to Father’s Day, I immediately think of my uncle and my late grandpa, two men I’ve been lucky to have in my life. As a young kid, they were a constant fixture, always there to lend me encouragement and support. Whether it was a Little League baseball game or a band recital, they were there. Sometimes, it would just be us slouched on the couch spending hours watching a Knicks game or WWE professional wrestling. My younger self didn’t know any better, but now looking back I think the one thing I take away from those experiences is to be present and to enjoy those moments with the people you love.

My grandpa passed away before he could see me graduate high school and college, though I know he would be proud of my accomplishments and the person I’ve become. My uncle and family have played a big part in that.

So when I think of this Father’s Day, I think of spending time with my uncle, maybe having a couple of beers and reminiscing of past times with my grandpa. But most importantly, we’ll be with family to make new memories together.

By Rita J. Egan

As the warm weather arrives, many people look forward to picking up fresh vegetables, fruit spreads, honey and more at local farmers markets. This year though the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way many business owners and customers go about selling and buying.

Jennifer Ross, founder of HeartBeet Farms, knew this year she would need to do things differently. Known for selling vegetables out of a food truck at the Stony Brook Village Center and the Smith Haven Mall, Ross decided to organize a new type of outdoor market. 

On May 21, lovers of fresh, local goods found a drive-through farmers market in the southwest corner of the mall parking lot by Bahama Breeze Island Grille. Ross said she thought it would give customers the chance to shop from the convenience of their cars and also provide a safe environment for both them and vendors.

The first night was a big success with scores of cars lining up throughout the evening to purchase items such as vegetables, local honey, pizza-making kits, popcorn, organic coffee and more.

Ross said Ann Schultz, the director of marketing and business development at Smith Haven Mall for the Simon Property Group, told her about a drive-through farmers market that was set up at a Florida Simon mall. She reached out to a few product owners to get their feedback, and she said it was positive so “I said, you know what, let’s give it a try.” 

All vendor fees from the outside market will be donated to local charities, she said, and the nonprofit they donate to will change each month. For the first month, the money will go to Long Island Harvest, which at the end of the May 21 market, in addition to checks, received leftover food from many vendors. Ross said the farmers market will look at all nonprofits that may need help, not only food-related ones.

“That was key to me because nonprofits are struggling in all categories,” she explained.

Ross said as Long Island businesses begin to reopen, HeartBeet Farms will be able to set up a traditional walk-through farmers market at the mall. The parking lot is one that usually only fills up during Christmastime, she added, so there shouldn’t be an issue with parking.

Until then, the drive-through market offers prepaid options for those who may not have the time to wait. Items that need to be chilled are kept in coolers until customers pick them up, she said.

Upon entry last Thursday customers received a flyer detailing what the more than a dozen vendors who were participating had to offer. Ross said in the future the participants will be adding more information to the handouts, and there will also be more vendors setting up booths. Ross said for the first night she wanted to make sure there was enough room for everyone before saying yes to all who were interested. Participants are only asked to commit to a month and not the whole season, she added, as Ross is aware of the difficult economic times many are facing during the pandemic and the possibility of getting ill.

“I don’t want to take their money and then something happens and they can’t be there, and they need their money,” she said.

Ross said she feels the drive though farmers market will help even the mall as the weekly drive-through will bring renewed attention to it. “It will bring business to a mall that is suffering right now,” she said.

Helping out at the farmers market were Ross’ daughters Anna and Abby Morrongiello who founded the nonprofit Don8tions with twin brothers Joshua and Zach Young and friend Meena Tommasino-Storz. The group sells products, such as at the Chocolate & Honey, a holiday concession stand in the Smith Haven Malland, then use their earnings to buy soup for those who attend The Children’s Community Head Start Birth-to-Five Program in Port Jefferson Station. To supplement the soup, the students also provide bread donated by Premier Pastry to the head start families.

Ross and the twins’ mother Michelle Young said the teenagers purchased PopInsanity popcorn wholesale to sell at the farmers market and will donate all profits to their soup drive. While Anna, Abby and Meena worked at other booths for vendors who were unable to work with the public May 21, the Youngs sold the popcorn. Michelle said she even got in a car to drive around to experience everything firsthand, adding that the farmers market came at a good time because since COVID-19 hit, the teens were worried they wouldn’t be able to raise money for the families they have grown to care about. “They’re hard workers,” said Michelle. “I’m always really proud of them because there are a lot of teenagers who would be like I’m not doing that.”

Zachary and Josh, who are completing eighth grade at P.J. Gelinas Junior High School in Setauket, both enjoyed the drive-through farmers market. “It was actually pretty good to get out of the house,” Zachary said. “There were a lot of people helping out, and it was a little bit of returning to normalcy while being safe at the same time.” 

Josh agreed. “I thought it was interesting because I never have done anything like that before, with all the cars,” he said. “It was nice to finally meet new people and somewhat interact.”

For years, HeartBeet Farms operated out of Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach where Ross leased land, but she said now she is currently growing produce at the Smithtown Historical Society. Starting a garden is something Ross encourages everyone to do, and she said it’s an ideal time to do so not only for health reasons but also to lessen trips to the grocery store.

“In general, you just have to do your best to keep your body healthy, and one of the ingredients in that is vegetables,” she said, adding that local, organic and sustainable foods are better. 

Ross also said gardening has other health benefits. “It’s a great stress reliever. The main reason is putting your hands in the soil and being connected. It’s the greatest thing.”

The drive-through farmers market will be held every Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m., rain or shine, in the Smith Haven Mall southwest parking lot (off Middle Country Road) near Bahama Breeze restaurant through the fall. Pre-ordering is available but not required. For more information, call 516-343-6247 or visit www.heartbeetfarms.com/farmers-market.

Vendors scheduled for May 28

Pecks of Maine — locally made fruit spreads including strawberry rhubarb, dark sweet cherry and many more

Jason’s Healthy, Gluten-Free Meals — dinners to go including chicken franchese with basmati rice and broccoli plus dressings and glazes

Rustic Roots — sustainable vegetables, milk, eggs, cheese, meat, seafood

My Favorite Hummus — 8 oz. classic hummus and Salsa Salta tortilla chips

Sansone Market — pizza kit: sauce, dough ball, shredded mozzarella and pizza cutter

Long Island Microgreens — broccoli, superfood salad mix, speckled pea, leek, mustard microgreens and North Fork Potato Chips

Nina’s Fresh Batch — sweet & salty, chocolate chip and five spice oatmeal cookies; pistachio golden raisin, pecan dried cherry and three nut ginger granola

BeeWitched Bee — local honey, infused honey, elderberry syrup, maple syrup, honey sticks

Pixie Soaps & Suds — cold-processed soaps, body scrubs and more

Popinsanity — classic caramel, sweet & salty, chocolate drizzle, and cookies & cream popcorn

Horman’s Best — classic bread & butter sweet, half sour whole, kosher dill, honey mustard pickles and more

Tend Coffee — organic blends, single origin coffee, Kind Leaf tea and more

Jericho Cider Mill — half gallon apple cider, donute bites and small apple crumb pies 

HeartBeet Farms Farm to Table Soups, Salsa and Sauce  — farm to table potato leek soup, Margherita sauce, tomato tomatillo salsa and Carroll’s Kitchen tortilla chips

New! Le Fusion — homemade spring rolls, vegan and vegetarian

New! The Ferm — fermented farm goods including Kombucha and sauerkraut

New! The Simple Cookie — cookie ingredients in a jar

All photos by Rita J. Egan

Johness Kuisel with her granddaughter Caroline

Kyle Barr – Deborah Barr

Kyle Barr, right, with his mom Deborah and his twin brother, Kris

She was working even when she wasn’t. After coming home from her job as a secretary for an attorney in Riverhead, my mom would fret about what my family was going to eat for dinner. It didn’t matter if most of the people left in the house were self-sufficient, Mom was going to make something for everyone, she was going to vacuum the floor, she was going to start the laundry, and by 10 p.m. she would be snoring on the couch, as if her batteries were depleted and no amount of coaxing would get her to restart without a recharge.

I think I’ve got my sensibilities toward work from you, for either good or ill. By your example, I finish what I start, even in times like this. I don’t do things halfway, because each thing should be treated with care.

That is, at work, at least. I know you would still be ashamed to see the way I keep my home.

 

Courtney and Caroline Biondo – Johness Kuisel

Johness Kuisel with her granddaughter Caroline

To us, Johness is Mom and Granny. 

My mom is the driving force not only of my life, but for 44 years has been the heart and soul of Times Beacon Record newspapers. She is the epitome of class. She teaches me to always be my very best and always put forth my very best effort, more importantly as a mother myself.

Our Granny is the one to watch college football with on Saturdays, the NFL on Sundays and basketball during the week. Granny is always up for a trip to the beach to lounge in the sun and collect shells. Granny likes to sit with a cat in her lap after a long day and sip a Bloody Mary. Granny teaches us to never give up, because you’re often closest to succeeding when you want to forfeit. She teaches us to explore through travel and to always be eager to learn new things.

 

Daniel Dunaief – Leah Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief with his mom Leah 

When I was young, my mother started these papers. When I called her at work, Mrs. Kuisel answered, much as she does now. “Can I speak to my mom?” I asked. Mrs. Kuisel asked me who my mother was because so many mothers worked at the papers. The question is one I’m happy to answer every day. I’m proud to say that who I am and who my brothers are begins with being numbers 1, 2 and 3 sons of Leah Dunaief. Sure, my younger brother and I might argue about the order of importance, but we are all grateful to have learned numerous important lessons, including never to wear jeans in the ocean or to use apple juice to clean our faces, from a woman we’re fortunate to call mom. I wish her and all the other moms dealing with the ever-fluid new normal a happy Mother’s Day.

 

Rita J. Egan – Rita M. Egan

Rita Egan with her mom Rita

When I was a kid in Queens, more mothers were beginning to go to work full time, outside of the home. My mother was no different. At first, she worked as a cashier at Alexander’s Department Store, but she knew she needed to make more money, and she soon took a night class to brush up on her typing and shorthand. After a few different jobs, she eventually found herself working for Con Edison in its transportation department. She lived in Queens when she first began working there but eventually moved out to Smithtown. She would be up before the sun, even leaving before sunrise to catch the train, and while she soon became part of a carpool, the more convenient ride didn’t stop the early morning rush to be at the office by 7 a.m. I may not have inherited my mother’s knack for getting up before the crack of dawn, but I would like to think I take after her when it comes to getting up every morning and doing whatever it is that needs to be done, even when times are rough.

While Mother’s Day may be celebrated a little bit differently this year, here’s hoping we can all find some way to celebrate all the special women in our lives.

By Rita J. Egan

The folks at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport have brought back the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll in its latest offering, “Million Dollar Quartet.” The show, which debuted on Jan. 16, celebrates four iconic musical legends with a sensational cast masterfully directed by Keith Andrews.

With book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, the production is inspired by the music of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and that historic day of Dec. 4, 1956, when a series of events created the stuff dreams are made of for many music lovers. 

Recognized as one of the greatest improv jam sessions ever, it was on that fateful day that Perkins and Lewis were recording at Sun Studio in Memphis when Cash stopped by to break the news to owner Sam Phillips that he was leaving the studio’s record label. If that wasn’t enough, Presley stopped by on the way to his mother’s house with his girlfriend Dyanne on his arm.

On Broadway from April 2010 until June 2011, “Million Dollar Quartet” was nominated for three Tony Awards in 2010. That year Levi Kreis won the Best Featured Actor in a Musical award for his portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis.

Right from the opening number of “Blue Suede Shoes” sung by Sam Sherwood (Carl Perkins), Sky Seals (Johnny Cash), Noel Carey (Jerry Lee Lewis) and Sean Michael Buckley (Elvis Presley), the audience knows they are in for a real treat. With classic rock songs such as the opening number, “That’s All Right,” “I Walk the Line” and “Great Balls of Fire,” it’s hard to choose a favorite. Each of the talented actors recognizes just how important it is to bring the spirits of these musicians to the stage, and they were spot-on during every number.

During last Saturday’s performance the foursome sounded especially beautiful when they sang “Down by the Riverside.” Sarah Ellis as Dyanne also served up steamy versions of “Fever” and “I Hear You Knockin,” and provides a refreshing female presence with her friendly portrayal of one of very few people, Marilyn Evans, who witnesses the recording.

Luke Darnell as Phillips is charming as he also serves as narrator, filling the audience in on Dec. 4, 1956, and how he met each of the singers and recognized their unique talents. He also portrays the character with a sense of integrity that leaves the sentiment that the Sun Records and studio owner truly cared about the music and not just the money.

Sherwood plays Carl Perkins with a good amount of cockiness, which is appropriate considering Perkins wrote and first recorded “Blue Suede Shoes” before Elvis Presley became known for the tune after performing it on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Buckley as Presley has all the right moves that the King was known for and also captures how down-to-earth the singer was.

In the role of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carey performs the eccentric singer from Louisiana to the hilt, which garnered plenty of laughs from the audience and captures the wild and controversial side of the musician perfectly. Seals’ Johnny Cash is stoic and gentlemanly and also has a knack for holding the guitar high like Cash did when playing the instrument.

David Sonneborn and Corey Kaiser as musicians Fluke and Brother Jay, respectively, round out the cast perfectly. Both are “Million Dollar Quartet” veterans as Kaiser played Brother Jay on Broadway and was part of Off-Broadway, national and regional productions, and Sonneborn is an original cast member of the national tour.

As the story ends, the entire cast, including Darnell on harmonica, puts on a performance that feels as if the audience was transported to a concert back in time. On press opening night, Buckley was adorable, flirting with an audience member like Elvis would do during “Hound Dog.” Those in attendance also couldn’t help singing along to “Ghostriders in the Sky,” “See You Later Alligator” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

Jordan Janota has cleverly crafted a set that seamlessly transitions from the interior of Sun Studio to the exterior, and costume designer Dustin Cross has chosen outfits that capture the personality of each singer, and the costumes during the last few songs are absolutely fabulous, especially Ellis’ dress.

“Million Dollar Quartet” at the Engeman is the ideal choice for a night out on the town and also shares an interesting peek into life in the mid-50s. Woven into the story of the legends’ lives is a bit of American history with mentions of the cost of living at the time and the influence of gospel music on rock ‘n’ roll musicians.

Phillips tells Dyanne that Sun Studio “is where the soul of a man never dies” toward the end of the musical. At the Engeman, the extraordinarily talented cast has celebrated and honored the souls of all of these legends — both living and passed — wonderfully.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, presents “Million Dollar Quartet” through March 1. Tickets are $80 on Saturday evenings and $75 all other performances. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

By Rita J. Egan

“Matilda the Musical” opened at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport Nov. 14 with all the spunk of a Broadway production.

Inspired by the 1988 book by Roald Dahl, the musical introduces audience members to the real and imaginary worlds of 5-year-old Matilda Wormwood, who is misunderstood by her dim-witted family. While the Wormwoods make life difficult at home by making fun of her passion for reading and her smarts, the days become even more troublesome when she begins school with the dastardly Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress of Crunchem Hall. However, with her love of reading, a magical imagination and caring teacher Miss Honey on her side, Matilda finds her happy ending.

The musical, with book by Dennis Kelly, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and orchestrations and additional music by Chris Nightingale, debuted in England in 2010 and opened on Broadway in 2013. While the show closed on the Great White Way in January of 2017, “Matilda the Musical” is still running at the Cambridge Theater in London. It was also released as a movie in 1996 starring Danny DeVito and Rhea Pearlman as the Wormwoods and Mara Wilson as Matilda.

Igor Goldin has directed a superb cast in the Engeman version, which includes many talented children actors. AnnaBelle Deaner and Elsa Dees alternate in the role of Matilda. On the night of Nov. 15 when I reviewed the musical, AnnaBelle played the part. The actress is darling in the role and portrays Matilda perfectly as the brave and precocious girl she is. She hits every note during her solos and her version of “Quiet” is beautiful and touching.

AnnaBelle along with her fellow youth actors stole many scenes. During one depicting the first day of school, they along with the ensemble performed a sensational “School Song” where everyone involved was strong in both vocals and dance moves. The company also delivers a fantastic “When I Grow Up,” the signature song from the musical.

Sara Gallo as Mrs. Wormwood and Michael Perrie Jr. as Mr. Wormwood are hilarious. While the two characters aren’t the best at parenting, Gallo and Perrie are pros at garnering laughs from the audience. Gallo plays her character to the hilt during the song “Loud” as she and Al Lockhart as Rudolpho, her dancing partner, show off some fantastic dance moves. And Perrie’s vocals are strong on “All I Know,” known as “Telly” in the Broadway and London versions. He also does a wonderful job interacting with the audience toward the end of intermission. Richard Westfahl as Michael Wormwood is also funny as Matilda’s dim-witted brother.

Dane Agostinis as Miss Trunchbull, the Olympic Hammer-Throwing Champion headmistress who believes children are maggots, plays the antagonist role perfectly. Agostinis can deliver her songs smoothly without breaking character despite the funny lines and laughs from the audience. Kate Fahrner as Miss Honey is simply endearing and sings a beautiful “My House” in the second act.

Emily Kelly as The Acrobat and Alex Herrera as The Escapologist are delightful, especially when Herrara joins Matilda on the song “I’m Here.” Nicole Powell was a charming Ms. Phelps, the librarian who looks forward to Matilda’s stories. Jamie Colburn as the Doctor and Sergei rounds out the cast perfectly.

On the night that I attended the show, I was fortunate to have with me 15-year-old Jonathan Guttenberg, who has seen countless productions, including “Matilda the Musical” on Broadway and London. Jonathan said “School Song” and “Revolting” were his favorite numbers in the Engeman production because they were both powerful and thought the theater did a phenomenal job.

Scenic designer Nate Bertone has put together a fun and colorful set with clever oversized books that fold out one way to serve as the Wormwood’s living room and another to provide the backdrop for the library. Mara Newbery Greer also has choreographed several energetic dance numbers, which the actors have mastered, including the youngest members of the youth ensemble, with special mention to Lily Tamburo. 

With the chilly weather settling in along the North Shore, “Matilda the Musical” has arrived just in time with its funny, heart-warming story and will be a hit with local theatergoers of all ages. 

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, presents “Matilda the Musical” until Dec. 29. Performances are Thursdays at 8 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $75 and $80 with free valet parking. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

By Rita J. Egan

On Sept. 12, the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport debuted “Sunset Blvd.” Filled with memorable performances, the cast members are definitely ready for their close-ups.

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and book and lyrics by Don Black and Christoper Hampton, “Sunset Blvd.” tells the story of Norma Desmond, an aging silent screen star who is desperately holding on to her glory days. Set in 1949 and 1950, Desmond meets struggling writer Joe Gillis. The screen star feels a spark of hope in her reclusive life when she asks Joe to edit a screenplay that she hopes will pave the way to her comeback.

The production, based on the 1950 movie of the same name starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden, spins an intriguing web of seduction, unrequited love and jealousy. The musical’s culmination is a dramatic Hollywood ending.

Opening on Broadway in 1994 and running for more than two years, the show won several Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Glenn Close. The production was revived in 2017 for a brief Broadway run with Close once again starring as Desmond.

The Northport version, under the direction of Matt Kunkel, is filled with a talented cast that brings the Great White Way to the North Shore. Judy McLane as Norma Desmond steals the spotlight the moment she steps on stage with her striking appearance, strong stage presence and sensational vocals. It’s no surprise that McLane’s a Broadway veteran appearing in hits such as “Mamma Mia!” (Donna and Tanya), “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Chess.”

McLane shines in her solos especially during “With One Look,” “As If We Never Said Goodbye” and in her duet with Bryant Martin, as Joe Gillis, in “New Ways to Dream.”

David Hess, who appeared in “Sunset Blvd.” on Broadway, is perfect as the stoic Max, Norma’s butler, who has been in love with her since the first time they met on a movie set. Hess’ vocals are fantastic. During the first act, he performs a beautiful version of “The Greatest Star of All” while giving Joe a tour of Desmond’s run-down mansion.

Martin is a suave and charismatic Joe on whom Norma sets her sights not only to work with but to be her lover early in the musical. The character also serves as the narrator of the complex tale. Martin gets to show off his singing chops in a duet with McLane titled “The Perfect Year” during Act I, and later in Act II while performing “Too Much in Love to Care” with the talented Sarah Quinn Taylor, who plays a delightful Betty.

Because she’s his friend’s fiancée, Joe tries to fight off falling in love with Betty but finds it difficult to resist her as they work on a screenplay together. The budding romance between Joe and Betty soon creates tension between him and Norma, which leads to a dramatic twist that seals his fate. Douglas Waterbury-Tieman as Betty’s fiancé Artie Green, Martin, Taylor and the whole ensemble, perform an entertaining “This Time Next Year” toward the end of Act I. Ensemble member Cody Gerszewski steals the scene at times as he convincingly portrays a drunk partygoer.

Eric Jon Mahlum is also a scene-stealer during the number “The Lady’s Paying” as the tailor Manfred who has been hired to make over Joe with a stylish new wardrobe. And during a visit to the Paramount Pictures studio, Larry Daggett, with his strong vocals and an air of confidence, captures the essence of old-time Hollywood perfectly playing director Cecil B. DeMille.

Among the show’s stars are the musicians conducted by Charlie Reuter and the costumes by Kurt Alger. The costumes encapsulate the spirit of the period, especially with Norma’s glamorous outfits. As for Paige Hathaway’s scenic design, it’s a clever one using sliding wood doors and a movable staircase that help transform the stage seamlessly from Norma’s mansion to the Paramount Pictures backlot.

The musical leaves a lot to ponder about growing old gracefully and the difference between true love and obsession, and the Northport cast of “Sunset Blvd.” delivers the iconic classic with grace and talent.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, presents “Sunset Blvd.” through  Oct. 27. Showtimes are Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $80 for Saturday evenings and $75 for all other performances with free valet parking. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

By Rita J. Egan

From now through Oct. 27, the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is celebrating a change that has nothing to do with the seasons but more with hot flashes, weight gain, hot flashes, restlessness, mood swings, hot flashes, memory loss, night sweats and did I mention hot flashes? The theater closes out its 17th season with the hilarious  “Menopause The Musical.”

Amy Burgmaier

With book and lyrics by Jeanie Linders, the story follows four strangers who get acquainted during a lingerie sale at New York City’s Bloomingdale’s. Despite different personalities and backgrounds, they find out they have something in common — the change of life. Bonding over the symptoms of menopause, the play has appealed to women in their 40s, 50s and beyond since it first debuted in Orlando in 2001. With clever remakes of classic songs from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, the show can be an entertaining production for men but is probably best enjoyed as a ladies’ night out.

Seth Greenleaf skillfully directs a talented cast of four women, Monica Palmer, Nancy Slusser, Jenny McGlinchey and Amy Baugmaier, who display immense comedic ability and singing voices to match.

Monica J. Palmer

Palmer approaches her role as the businesswoman with the right amount of confidence and attitude, while Slusser is a sassy Soap Star. McGlinchey is the perfect choice for Earth Mother as she easily and hysterically transforms from zen hippie trying to manage her symptoms to an imperfect woman just waiting for a symptom to pass. Baugmaier, as the housewife, is sweet and endearing. All four also show enough vulnerability for the audience to believe that their characters would befriend three strangers in the middle of the Big Apple.

The audience will quickly identify with songs such as “Change, Change, Change,” a hilarious take on Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools,” and “Stayin’ Awake/Night Sweatin,” a twist on the hits “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever” from the movie “Saturday Night Fever.” Like most songs in the musical, they detail the changes women go through with a healthy dose of humor.

Jenny McGlinchey

As the show progresses, each scene and number garners more laughter, whether it’s  Earth Mother singing “My Husband Sleeps Tonight” to the tune of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” to share her woes about insomnia, or all the actresses performing “Sane and Normal Girls”/“Thank You Doctor” (“California Girls”/“Help Me Rhonda”) as each of the women professes her gratefulness for the prescriptions prescribed by her doctor.

During the reprise of “I’m Flashing,” a spin on the song “I’m Sorry,” Palmer’s character apologizes for her hot flashes. Slusser also has some fun flirting with the audience during the reprise of “Hot Flash” (“Hot Stuff”) where her singing talent is front and center.

One of the funniest scenes takes place when Baugmaier tries on lingerie in the store’s dressing room and Palmer suddenly appears dressed like Tina Turner singing “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” The laughs kept coming as Baugmaier sings a beautiful version of “Only You” to her newfound friend — a vibrator. From beginning to end, the cast keeps the audience in stitches.

Nancy Slusser

Set designer Bud Clark and costume designer Sue Hill also deserve a round of applause. Clark has built a set that is simple yet incorporates pieces that easily create the feel of a department store, while Hill’s costumes fit the characters perfectly (Palmer’s Tina Turner outfit is sensational). Musical director Melissa Coyle and her orchestra as always navigate the hits seamlessly the entire show.

By the end of the night, it’s impossible not to have a new attitude about this season of life as the audience is invited to join the actors on stage for a celebratory dance.

The theater is now in the midst of a fundraising campaign to restore its light bulb marquee, and it’s no surprise that they want to highlight their offerings with quality productions such as “Menopause The Musical.”

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St. Smithtown, will present “Menopause The Musical” through Oct. 27. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets range from $36 to $40. For more information, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

By Rita J. Egan

On Saturday, May 18, the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts debuted “Les Misérables School Edition,” and its only flaw is the title. With exceptionally talented teenagers and preteens, the production resembles that of a main-stage musical.

Luke Ferrari and Leah Kelly

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, with book by Alain Boublil, music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and Boublil, the musical digs into the depths of human nature. A myriad of emotions is explored from despair, fear and loathe to love, hope and forgiveness. The young actors in the Smithtown production have the skill and talent to take on the complex characters, and they seem to understand what drives them, which is essential when it comes to a classical musical such as this one.

“Les Misérables” opened in New York City in 1987 and ran until 2003, making it the fifth-longest show on Broadway. Two revivals on the Great White Way followed, one from 2006 to 2008 and another from 2014 to 2016.

Aubrey Alvino and Zak Ketchum

Set in the early 19th century in France, “Les Misérables” follows Jean Valjean who is released from prison after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. While Valjean at first feels hopeless for a second chance, the kindness of a bishop inspires him to break his parole and live a new life. While continually avoiding the wrath of police inspector Javert, Valjean goes on to become a successful factory owner, who grants the dying wish of Fantine by giving her daughter Cosette a better life. In later years, Valjean becomes a protective father who resists letting his daughter go as she falls in love with Marius, a young idealist and revolutionist.

In the Smithtown production, directed by Cara Brown, Luke Ferrari is outstanding as Valjean. He captures the former prisoner’s despair and anger earlier in the show and later in the play begins to soften as a more mature and paternal Valjean. His singing is flawless in every song, especially during “Bring Him Home” in the second act when he appeals to God to keep Marius safe.

Angelina Mercurio, center, as Fantine

Hunter Pszybylski is the perfect choice for Javert as he seems to portray the stern character with ease. The actor’s voice is mature beyond his years, and he knows how to command the spotlight, which is his during his solos “Stars” and “Soliloquy (Javert’s Suicide).”

Angelina Mercurio is wonderful as Fantine and delivers a heartbreaking solo with “I Dreamed a Dream,” and she and Ferrari sound incredible during “Come to Me (Fantine’s Death).” Zak Ketcham makes for a handsome Marius, and he proves to be another strong vocalist on all his songs including “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” where he beautifully captures the heartbreak of surviving the tragedy of losing his friends at the barricades.

Aubrey Alvino also captures the heartbreak of Eponine’s experience as she yearns for Marius who only has eyes for Cosette. Her solo “On My Own” during the May 19 show was a tearjerker, and her duo with Ketcham “A Little Fall of Rain” was just as lovely.

Leah Kelly is the naive Cosette, and her vocals are sweet and delightful, especially during “A Heart Full of Love.” Gabby Blum, who plays a young Cosette, performs a perfect “Castle on a Cloud.” Luke Hampson, as Thénardier, and Alexa Adler, as Madame Thénardier, are delightful as the greedy and crafty innkeeper and his wife. The pair play an essential role in the musical to provide some comedic relief, and both actors know how to garner a good number of chuckles from the audience.

All of the cast members provide superb vocals and exceptional performances, which are front and center during numbers such as “At the End of the Day,” “ABC Cafe/Red and Black,” “Lovely Ladies,” “Drink With Me” and “Do You Hear the People Sing.” Everyone on stage and behind the scenes of “Les Misérables School Edition” should be proud of the production, and with this kind of young, local talent, the future looks bright for regional theater.

With only six performances left, the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present “Les Misérables School Edition” through June 2. All tickets are $20. For more information, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

All photos by Courtney Braun

Centereach High School

Middle Country Central School District residents passed the district’s $257,435,446 budget, 1,513 to 545.

The 2019-20 budget stays under the tax levy and is a more than $7 million increase from last year’s budget.

The tax levy increase is 2.47 percent, and according to the board, there will be no reduction of programs or services and includes a multiyear contract for transportation.

Part of the proposed budget includes $189,419,536 for salaries and benefits, $19,514,657 for BOCES, $18,377,310 for debt service and $24,446,737 for contractual items, tuition and transfers.

In an uncontested board of education trustee election, Robert Feeney, Kristopher Oliva and Dawn Sharrock won their seats back, with 1,501, 1,424 and 1,463 votes, respectively.

Superintendent of Schools Roberta Gerold commented on the results in an email.

“Thank you to the entire Middle Country community for supporting the district’s 2019-2020 budget and the ever-expanding opportunities we are able to offer our students,” Gerold said. “The district’s board, central administration, teachers and staff members will continue to provide students with an educational experience — based on the principle of empowering the problem solvers of tomorrow — from the moment they enter pre-K to the day of their high school graduation.

“This is all made possible by the community’s continued support and years of thoughtful financial planning and sound decision making — allowing for a budget that was below the district’s tax levy cap while still offering our expansive programs and services. The district looks forward to many more years of playing a role in helping your children reach their goals and preparing them for a promising future,” she added.

By Rita J. Egan

Stand back, theatergoers, “Evita” is in town. On Saturday, May 11, the award-winning musical opened at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts.

“Evita” revolves around the controversial life of María Eva Duarte de Perón, who went from poverty to a success as an Argentine film and radio star. Her marriage to Juan Perón, a military leader who became the country’s president in 1946, thrust her further in the spotlight until her death at 33 in 1952.

When the audience first meets Evita, she is an ambitious teenager in 1934 who wants to leave the small city of Junin to travel to Buenos Aires with Agustin Magaldi, a tango singer. Soon after her arrival in the big city, she leaves Magaldi and sleeps her way to the top before meeting Col. Perón at a charity concert. While not accepted by the upper class after her marriage to Perón, Evita sees herself as the champion of the “descamisados,” the working class.

The musical, which features lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, first premiered on Broadway in 1979 with Patti LuPone as Evita and Mandy Patinkin as Che. It went on to win seven Tony Awards, including best musical in 1980. The production inspired the 1996 movie starring Madonna (Evita), Antonio Banderas (Che) and Jonathan Pryce (Perón) and was revived on Broadway in 2012 with Argentine actress Elena Roger and singer Ricky Martin as Che.

In the Smithtown production, Laura Laureano plays Evita, and the young actress possesses the poise and maturity needed to handle the role of the strong woman. Her vocals are powerful on all of the musical’s memorable favorites including “Buenos Aires,” “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and “Rainbow High.” Her performance of “Lament” at the end of Act II is an emotional one that will have audience members reaching for their tissues.

Dylan Bivings plays a suave Che. The character serves as the musical’s narrator, and Bivings proves to be a strong lead on various numbers. He shines during “And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)” and his duet with Laureano, “High Flying Adored.” Dennis Creighton was perfect as Perón, delivering the role with the right amount of tenderness that helps audience members understand just how much this man loved Eva. Creighton’s tenor singing voice is ideal for his solos.

Anthony Arpino as Magaldi also shined vocally during “On This Night of a Thousand Stars.” During the number “Santa Evita” on opening night, Zoe Avery played the child who approaches Evita, and Avery’s singing was delightful as she hit every note sweetly and perfectly. The actress alternates the role with Dori Ahlgrim.

Lauren Tirado, as the mistress, delivered a standout performance of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.” The scene is a heartbreaking moment in the life of a character that the audience only meets once, and it’s essential that a vocalist digs deep when performing this song, so it can be understood that Evita will stop at nothing and will even throw another woman out on the streets. Tirado’s superb vocals proved she has the talent to deliver such an emotional number.

All of the ensemble members also deserve a round of applause for their outstanding vocals and impressive dancing. Ronald Green III has masterfully directed a cast that proves a musical lover doesn’t need to head into the city to take in a Broadway-quality show. Green has also outdone himself with the period costumes, especially with Laureano’s gown during the balcony scene when she sings “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”

Adding to the Broadway-like magic were the talented musicians led by conductor Melissa Coyle and scenic and video designer Tim Golebiewski. The set designed by Golebiewski and constructed by TJ Construction, Russ Bakunus and Clark Services is simple yet elegant and incorporates five small screens that display pictures of Eva and Perón through the years that complement the musical perfectly without being distracting.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present “Evita” through June 23. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets range from $25 to $38. For more information, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

All photos by Courtney Braun/ Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts