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Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts

David Gow

By Rebecca Anzel

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is currently gearing up for the second show of its 15th anniversary season, the award-winning musical play “Peter and the Starcatcher,” which will open on Jan. 14. Based on the 2006 children’s novel of “Peter and the Starcatchers,” by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and adapted for the stage by Rick Elice, the play, according to the SCPA’s press release, is a swashbuckling grown-up prequel to “Peter Pan.”

The show appeared on Broadway from 2012 to 2013 and won five Tony Awards including Best Play and Best Original Score (Wayne Barker). At the time, The New York Times wrote that it was “the most exhilarating Broadway storytelling in decades.”

The role of Peter Pan will be played by 25-year-old actor David Gow, a Houston, Texas, native who graduated last May from the North Carolina School of Arts with a bachelor’s of fine arts in drama. Gow, who now resides in Harlem, was most recently in “The Beast’s Beauty” at Lincoln Center, in the role of the Beast, and in an off-broadway play titled “Chokehold.” I recently spoke with the actor about his latest role as “the boy who wouldn’t grow up.”

Why did you decide to try out for this role?

Playing Peter was at the top of my list of dream roles, so I was constantly searching for auditions for it as soon as I moved to New York. Once I saw Smithtown was doing it I was all in, and I roped my friend Emma Geer, who plays the role of Molly, into doing it too!

What is the play about?

The story slowly fills in the questions people have about Peter Pan but in a very subtle way, while simultaneously adding plot lines that are so brilliantly spontaneous the audience couldn’t possibly predict them. It’s definitely an action/adventure and has really a bit of everything in it. It switches effortlessly from action, farce and drama.

What is your favorite scene?

I love the scene where Black Stache/Captain Hook and Peter meet for the first time. There’s something so iconic about how the two of them are drawn to each other despite being mortal enemies. I also love the last scene of the play, but you’ll have to come see the show to see what happens!

What is your favorite musical number?

I like “Swim On” the best — it is the closing song of Act 1.

I understand that 12 actors will be taking on the roles of over 100 characters?

The 12 actors playing 100 roles has been the biggest challenge, but also I think the most rewarding. We really have nothing but a couple of ropes, trunks and ladders. We get to create everything else ourselves, which lets the audience jump from scene to scene instantaneously. I play a few other roles quickly, like a pirate and sailor here and there.

What is it like working with the rest of the cast?

The cast could not have been more welcoming to the actors who were new (myself included). A lot of them have done shows here for years, but I felt like we all clicked pretty immediately. There’s not a weak link in the group.

What is it like working with the director, Ken Washington?

Ken is definitely a veteran director and comes very prepared to every rehearsal. Very positive and enthusiastic about the show. It’s been such a wonderful room to come into every night.

Is this a show for all ages?

I’d say more than almost any other show, this show is ABSOLUTELY for all ages. It has the excitement and humor for adults to enjoy, while also having elements perfectly geared toward children as well. Totally appropriate.

Why should people come out to see this show?

“Peter and the Starcatcher” is to “Peter Pan” as “Wicked” is to the “Wizard of Oz.” All of your previous questions about Peter Pan are answered in this show. Come find out why Peter Pan can fly, why Captain Hook only has one hand and why none of the boys are growing up. The show has everything: nonstop action and adventure; it will make you roll on the floor laughing and also provides incredibly touching moments. I actually don’t know anyone who I would not recommend this show to. It really is for everyone!

The Smithtown Center for Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, will present “Peter and the Starcatcher” from Jan. 14 to Feb. 25. Tickets are $35 adults, $32 seniors and $20 for students with a valid ID. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.com.

Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson sing ‘Follow Your Heart’ in a scene from ‘Urinetown.’ Photo courtesy of the SCPA

By Rebecca Anzel

“Urinetown: The Musical,” currently in production at the Smithtown Performing Arts Center through Nov. 6, has received rave reviews. The two lead characters, Hope Cladwell and Bobby Strong, are played by real-life couple Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson. I sat down with the two actors on Saturday night before the show to ask them about their latest roles.

Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson sing ‘Follow Your Heart’ in a scene from ‘Urinetown.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA
Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson sing ‘Follow Your Heart’ in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA

How did you two meet?

S: The first time we actually met was here at Smithtown Theater years ago when we both auditioned for Light in the Piazza, which was my first show. Jeremy didn’t make the cut but we read together on stage and I remembered it and I found him on Facebook—

J: She Facebook stalked me throughout college.

S: I just was like, “I read with this guy and he’s nice.” We became closer friends at the Engeman. We started doing children’s theater there together and he was in a production of White Christmas that I was a dresser.

J: Even before that though — Little Women.

S: Oh god yeah, and then we did Little Women together at CM. Our friendship and love, eventually, has come through working at all these different theaters. But we did actually meet at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts years ago. And here we are.

J: It was a long time ago. 2007.

What is it like being engaged to each other and starring opposite each other in a show?

S: I mean, it’s like any other day really. We met doing shows together so I guess it’s normal. It’s easier to learn the lines. I trust him on stage. Our families are even more excited than we are.

J: Yeah, it’s a fun opportunity that’s few and far between. It’s a chance to have both of our lives kind of converge at one point to be able to do a show like this together. We try and make the most of the time we have doing this show because —

S: We don’t know when it’ll come again to work together, so it’s very nice.

Photo courtesy of SCPA  Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.' Photo courtesy of SCPA
Photo courtesy of SCPA
Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA

What other theaters have you both worked in?

S: Together, we worked at CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale and the John W. Engeman in Northport. This is definitely our biggest roles together. Playing opposite each other is really, it’s silly but we’re both serious enough that we don’t just burst out laughing.

J: We can keep it together for five minutes.

 

You said that you performed at this theater in a teen production. Have you done any other shows here?

S: I have. I’ve been here my whole theater life. I’ve done many of the Wonderettes shows — they’re doing another Wonderettes coming this May and June. Light in the Piazza was my first really big one. Most recently, I’ve been in Violet, which was a really big favorite, and we were both actually in First Date together a few months ago as well.

J: Last March. More than a few months at this point.

S: But yeah, I was in Little Mermaid. The list goes on and on. And Jeremy’s worked here before as well.

J: I haven’t done quite as much but I have done a few shows in the past. I did Assassins here, I did Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was another one I did here.

How old were you each when you decided that you wanted to be an actor? What attracted you to the profession?

S: I think I was probably about 6 or 7 when I started to be interested in it. My mom took me to see Beauty and the Beast on Broadway and at that point I was like, “Oh, well I have to be Belle.” I mean, I’m still waiting. I think my first acting class was probably at 8 years old and then I started singing lessons in sixth grade, so once I got to high school, I realized that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Beauty and the Beast, those princesses and those villains, inspired me to be where I am.

J: And I was in high school, I guess. My brother — my older brother, 10 years my senior so much older brother — used to do theater and growing up I would always go with my parents to see him do shows pretty consistently, so it was always kind of a part of my life. And then I did one myself and I was like, “Hey this is fun.” My first show was Grease, and then Guys and Dolls. I just enjoyed doing it, and having been a part of it my entire life, I just kind of slid into it myself.

Samantha Carroll in a scene from 'Urinetown The Musical," Photo courtesy of SCPA
Samantha Carroll in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical,” Photo courtesy of SCPA

Do you ever get nervous on stage?

S: For sure. Nerves are good, though, because it means you care about it and it keeps you focused.

J: The thing is, I forget there are audiences there, so I just am doing it and because I’ve done it so many times now, I’m used to people watching me do whatever. The only time I get more nervous, so to speak, is if I start to really think about it. Sometimes I’ll be on stage doing a scene and, not to say I won’t be in the moment, but I’ll just think, “I’m standing on a stage and there are people staring at me.” And then at that point what I’m doing starts to sink in, and then maybe at that point.

S: We don’t stay up at night thinking how terrifying it is to be on stage, or we wouldn’t do it. I think we get just general butterflies, especially when your parents are in the audience. You just want to be good. We’re perfectionists, unfortunately, to a fault.

What is it like watching each other perform?

S: It’s so cool. I do some stuff in Millbrook Playhouse in Pennsylvania, and Jeremy has come out to to see me in everything. I always just wait to hear what he has to say, because those mean the most to me. His words and his critiques, he doesn’t have many.

J: Not to her face at least.

S: And seeing Jeremy is amazing too. I got to see him in 1776 last year.

J: You don’t get to see me do as much as I see you.

S: He sees me a little more because he works a big-boy job too.

J: One of the many reasons we’re going to get married is just because it’s nice to share similar interests in this because it is a very time-consuming, very all-encompassing profession job. Being an actor or actress takes a lot out of you, so to be on the same page and to have that point of reference or common ground, so to speak, between the two of us is good.

What is it like when you get a standing ovation?

S: It’s not expected, but it’s very nice when it happens.

J: It’s good that an audience is that invested because it takes a lot to sit through a show, even a show you like, and then feel the need to stand up and show your appreciation for it afterwards means a lot.

Jeremy Hudson and cast in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA
Jeremy Hudson and cast in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA

Has anything strange ever happened out in the audience that you noticed while on stage?

J: All the time. People on their cell phones, people falling asleep.

S: Snoring!

J: People eating.

S: Choking. We’ve done so much children’s theater together, the kids are, you know, they just scream the whole time. We’ve seen it all.

J: Audiences feel like because they’re sitting in a dark theater that people don’t see them. But lo and behold, being on stage you see everyone and everything. I look out and scan the audience every once in awhile. If you’re doing something weird, I will see you, and we will be talking about you. Being an audience member requires just as much investment as being a performer on the stage. It’s why I don’t like sitting in the front row myself because I feel like I’m a part of the performance as well, because the actors can see you. They can see you throughout the show.

S: And they will look at you. It’s actually easy to see the front row, but a lot of other rows are harder to see. It depends on the cues, but you can always see the first row.

J: Always.

What is your dream role?

S: Currently — they change all the time — I would love to be Alice in Bright Star who was played by Carmen Cusack on Broadway.  And I would die and go to heaven to be anything in Waitress.

J: I mean, who doesn’t want to be in Le Mis, but I would like to play Jean Valjean in Les Misérables again. I did it in a teen production ten years ago, so I would like to do that again in a real production. That would be fun.

Do you have theaters in mind that you want to work in?

J: Anything between 7th and 8th Avenues between 42nd and 49th Street would be great.

S: Any theater that’s going to be professional and lovely, we would love to work at.

What attracted you to “Urinetown the Musical”? What made you want to audition?

S: I actually did “Urinetown” at the same theater 10 years ago in the teen production and I played Hope — the same part. I found out they were doing it again and Ken [Washington], the director, had talked to me about if I would like to reprise my role but on the main stage. I said absolutely. It’s a strange show, but it’s very funny and I like to be Hope so I wanted to do it again.

J: I saw the actual show 10 years ago and I have always liked it and wanted to be a part of it. It’s always been on my short list of shows to do, so I’m glad I’ve gotten the opportunity to do it at this point.

What is it like working with the director?

S: I have worked with Ken since I was 16 years old and he has seen me grow up. He is still the fun, grumpy man I remember he was, but you know, I think Ken has such a passion for theater. It’s definitely rubbed off in a good way. We love Ken.

J: He cares a great deal and he has a wealth of knowledge as far as theater goes, so it’s definitely something that is good to tap in to from time to time.

What is it like working with the cast?

S: Well, this cast specifically is a lot of, as we like to say, Long Island notables, just people who have kind of been doing this for such a long time. We’re very luck, honestly. A lot of big personalities, but in a really great way.

J: It’s a very eclectic group of people. All bring individual strengths [to the stage].

 

What is your favorite scene and song in the show?

S: My favorite scene and song is definitely “Follow Your Heart.” I’ve always loved it. “Be still, Hear it beating, It’s leading you, Follow your heart” was actually my yearbook quote for high school. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt and I get to do it with the best partner in the world.

J: I enjoy the scene leading up to “Run Freedom Run!” and that song. It’s just fun because it’s a bunch of strange people and it’s just very funny. It’s 80 percent the same every night and 20 percent slightly different, which always keeps things interesting.

Michael Newman and Samantha Carroll in a scene from 'Urinetown The Musical.' Photo from SCPA
Michael Newman and Samantha Carroll in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo from SCPA

Why should people come see the show?

S: If you ask any theater person at all, they’ll say to you, “‘Urinetown’ is the best,” or, “I love ‘Urinetown’.” I’ve been in it three times. It’s just one that people who don’t usually come to see theater don’t always come to, but they really should because it’s very, very funny. Hilarity ensues.

J: It’s just such an original piece of theater. The show came out in the early 2000s but it’s still very timely in terms of the current climate with politics. It has a lot of good things to say. The music is very catchy, and it’s one of those shows where you hear the name and you’re like, “I don’t know — it sounds weird,” but then you actually go to sit down and you see it and within 15, 20 minutes you’re like, “Wow, I’m glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to see this!”

What is up next for both of you?

S: I am very shortly starting Mary Poppins at the John W. Engeman. I’m in the ensemble but I’m covering a few different tracks of a lot of the character roles. I’m going to be doing that the whole Christmas season. And Jeremy will get one soon, but he’s—

J: Currently in between things. I have to, what with work and whatnot, I have to be a little more selective in what—

S: So he can make the dollar bills. It’s honestly either just you’re doing three shows at a time, one after the other, or you don’t do something for six months.

J: As long as we can make a living, or any wage, really, performing, that is the ideal. I would love to do theater but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the only thing I would like to do.

S: But we’ll always do it, regardless of if we have babies or have full-time jobs, we’ll definitely always come back and do theater because that’s what we love.

Is there anything else that you want to say to our readers?

J: This is a wonderful show, here, and Smithtown Performing Arts Center. There is a theater in Smithtown, it’s on Main Street.

S: Please come see Urinetown and everything else because everything they do here is really wonderful.

J: They put a lot of time and effort and thought into shows here. This is specifically a show that desperately needs an audience to enjoy it for it to really reach it’s maximum potential, so come on down everyone.

Alexandra Juliano, far right, in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Rita J. Egan

Before she flies off to the University of Delaware in a few months, Alexandra Juliano is taking on one of her dream roles — Peter Pan. The Commack High School senior and other young actors, who are all 18 years old or younger, will be hitting the stage at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts in “Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.,” which opens on May 14.

The Commack native is no stranger to the stage. She has performed in various productions at the Dream Makers Performing Arts School in East Northport as well as her high school, most recently playing Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd.” Over the last few years, she has appeared at the Smithtown Theater in the junior versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Les Miserables,” as well as the Mainstage production of “The Little Mermaid” as Aquata, one of Ariel’s sisters.

Recently, Juliano took time out from rehearsals to talk about her portrayal of the iconic character of Peter Pan and about growing up.

How did you feel when you heard you got the part?
I was ecstatic; I was over the moon! I love doing shows here, especially the junior shows. I’ve done a Mainstage show and it was amazing, but the junior shows are really nice because I love working with the little kids and all my friends and everything. Peter Pan actually has always been my favorite Disney movie, ever, and Peter Pan himself has always been one of my dream roles. I love “Peter Pan” and everything that it’s about. So, not only did I know it was going to be a great experience because of that, but it’s a part I always wanted to play. I was so proud, so happy, so humbled to get the chance to play it.

What’s it like working with the cast and crew?
Amazing. I’ve done so many shows here and I’ve never had a bad experience from the adults to the directors to the kids. You just get so close to everyone. It’s such a warm environment.

Do you have a favorite song in the play?
I guess I have to say my favorite song is the first time the Darlings fly with me. The “You Can Fly” sequence, where the famous line is, “Neverland is second star to the right, straight on till morning.” I’ve always loved that line. I can’t wait for that magic with the audience, the little kids thinking that we’re flying.

What is the energy like with a children’s audience?
The energy in the audience is always so high. We do autographs after, and obviously performing onstage is amazing, but that’s one of my favorite parts, is the autographs after. For “The Little Mermaid Jr.” I was Sebastian, and the kids, just the things that they would say to you, they really believe that you’re the character. They thought I was this little red crab. I think that’s the best part. These kids come, and they’re so young some of them, and even the ones who are older, and they know that it’s not real, they still get sucked into it. They still have that Disney Magic. Like I said, even though I love performing, obviously, I love the autographs, and the energy that the kids show, the enthusiasm they show.

Do you think some of the kids in the autograph line will realize you’re a girl?
I’ve actually thought about that. I don’t know exactly what response I’m going to give yet if anyone says that to me. I’m thinking I’m going to have a short enough wig and if they say anything to me, I’ll just have to stay in character and say, “No, I’m Peter.” And I hope, even if they do realize I’m a girl, I hope that when I’m onstage, they’ll forget the fact that it’s a girl playing a boy, and just enjoy it for what it is.

Peter Pan and his friends are resistant to growing up. How do you feel about growing up?
It’s scary. I just paid my deposit for college actually this past weekend, and it’s really scary. My brother, my whole life I’ve grown up with me and him being very, very close … my older brother … When I was younger I was always like, “No, I want to be an adult. I want to wear the high heels and the lipstick,” but he was always like, “I just want to stay young forever.” And now that I’m actually wearing the high heels and the lipstick, I love looking back at the memories of being a kid. There are perks of being an adult but then there’s definitely reasons why I see that Peter didn’t want to grow up. It’s definitely a lot more fun being a kid.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
I would love to be an actress. Hopefully, knock on wood, but I’m actually majoring in dietetics, so nutritional sciences and stuff like that.

Do you plan on acting at college?
Yes, I plan on minoring in theater. Which is good, since I’m doing the minor, I’ll be able to audition for their shows and everything. And, I know already Ken [Washington] said next year for the summer show I’ll be able to audition for it when I get home from college. So, it’s good. Even though I’m not majoring in it, it will always be a part of my life.

Do you see yourself acting professionally?
I would love to be able to pursue it professionally. It’s such a risky and tough business. My parents have told me you’re more than allowed to audition, and they’ve even told me if you get a part while in school, you’re allowed to take time off to pursue a part on Broadway or off Broadway if you get that opportunity, because they know how important it is to me. I have my backup plan, I have the backup job, but I definitely would love to audition and put myself out there for it.

What advice would you give young actors?
Just keep trying out. You’re not always going to get the part you want. You’re not always going to get the lead role your first try or your second try. But, it’s all about making the best of the role you get, in theater so many people don’t see that, but there’s no bad role. Even ensemble in shows, they’re so much more than ensemble. I’m one of those people I’ll watch a show, and during the big dance numbers, I love seeing the facial expressions of the ensemble, and I love seeing the energy. And, the ensemble really makes or breaks a show. So ensemble is sometimes the best role. Just keep trying. Just keep going. Don’t get down on yourself. Because eventually you’ll get there, you’ll get the role you want.

So far, the experience with “Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.” has left the soon-to-be 18-year-old with  wonderful memories. She said not only does she enjoy working with the whole cast but the musical gives her a chance to perform with one of her best friends Cass Fawcett, who plays Tinker Bell. Juliano also said the young actors playing the Darlings — Moira Swinford (Wendy), Cole Napolitano (John) and Erika Hinson (Michael) — with whom she appears in many scenes, are exceptionally talented.

Catch Juliano and her fellow young actors at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts until June 19. The theater is located at 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, and tickets are $15 per person. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

This version corrects the last name of Erika, who plays Michael Darling.

From left, Charles Jacker, Samantha Carroll, TracyLynn Conner, Michael Newman, James D. Schultz, Lauren Gobes and Jeremy Hudson star in ‘First Date’ at the SCPA. Photo by Jordan Hue

By Rita J. Egan

Skip the night of drinks with friends. The musical “First Date,” now playing at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, will provide more laughs than all of your besties’ dating stories combined.

This contemporary romantic comedy, written by Austin Winsberg with music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to today’s dating game. With a huge dose of humor, “First Date” deals with a number of issues that arise in dating — from what to talk about during your first encounter to should you Google your date before meeting to who pays the check at the end of the night. And, while the musical is chock full of amusing moments, it also subtlety touches on the deeper issue of people building walls around their hearts.

Directed by Jordan Hue, “First Date,” through witty dialogue and song, tells the story of serial dater Casey and blind date newbie Aaron meeting for drinks at a New York City restaurant. A helpful waiter, as well as restaurant patrons who double as people in their lives, surround the twosome. During the 90-minute play, the lead characters experience an array of emotions from nervousness and cynicism to attraction and hope.

TracyLynn Conner as Casey perfectly embodies the energy of today’s sophisticated single female. She is strong, edgy and sexy as well as guarded and jaded from years of dating disappointments. Her sister has even called her a relationship assassin due to her experiences. However, as the date unfolds, Conner effortlessly portrays the softening of Casey who starts to realize that maybe she hasn’t always made the best decisions when it comes to the men in her life.

TracyLynn Conner and James D. Schultz star in ‘First Date’ at the SCPA. Photo by Jordan Hue
TracyLynn Conner and James D. Schultz star in ‘First Date’ at the SCPA. Photo by Jordan Hue

While Conner possesses strong vocals on all her numbers, it’s during the song “Safer” where she truly shines. The actress delivers the song with such great emotion that many women will find themselves connecting with the lyrics and reaching for the tissues.

James D. Schultz as the awkward and nervous Aaron is endearing and lovable. The audience can’t help but root for him as the date progresses. He easily handles the subtle transformation his character experiences as Casey helps him say goodbye to his hope of ever reuniting with his ex-fiancée. During the number “In Love with You,” Schultz gets to show off his singing abilities. What seems at first to be a touching ballad transforms into an edgy upbeat song where the actor really gets to let loose to the delight of the audience.

Michael Newman as the waiter serves up plenty of laughs throughout the musical, and with his song and dance number, “I’d Order Love,” he lightens up the mood after the emotionally charged “Safer” as well as lights up the stage with his charm.

Rounding out the cast are Charles Jacker, Samantha Carroll, Jeremy Hudson and Lauren Gobes who all alternate between restaurant patrons and people in Casey’s and Aaron’s lives, with whom the couple at times has imaginary conversations.

Jacker is hilarious as Casey’s best friend Reggie who keeps calling her to provide her a way out of the date. During the number “Bailout Song,” as well as its reprises, Jacker delivers comedic lines that had everyone in the audience hysterically laughing.

Hudson, as Aaron’s friend Gabe, receives a great deal of laughs, too. As Aaron imagines how his buddy would advise him, Hudson convincingly plays a typical young man giving his friend bad advice all for the sake of getting a one-night stand.

Carroll, who plays Casey’s sister Lauren, is believable as the average suburban wife and mother when Casey pictures what her sibling would say at various moments during the date. However, it’s while playing Aaron’s mother (as he remembers a letter she left him) that Carroll takes center stage as the audience hears her strong soprano during a touching duet with Schultz, “The Things I Never Said.”

Lauren Gobes delivers the emasculating and moody character of Aaron’s ex-fiancée Allison perfectly. During Aaron’s imaginary conversations with her and the number “Allison’s Theme #1,” the actress easily conveys the essence of this woman and why her ex is the way he is when it comes to females.

Another standout number featuring the whole ensemble is “The Girl for You” as Aaron imagines the reaction of his deceased grandmother, played by Carroll, to the fact that Casey isn’t Jewish. Just when the audience thinks the number can’t get any funnier, Jacker, as Aaron’s imaginary future and confused son, joined by Hudson, breaks into a well-delivered rap number.    

Hue has skillfully directed cast members who handle multiple roles seamlessly and deliver comedic lines effortlessly. Whether in a relationship or currently single, theatergoers will leave “First Date” feeling a bit more optimistic about their dating life and maybe even able to laugh about their own romantic failures. Before buying tickets though, parents should be aware that the musical includes adult language, so secure a babysitter for the kids and enjoy a grown-up night out of the house.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main Street, Smithtown, will present “First Date” through March 26. Tickets are $35 each. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

James D. Schultz and TracyLynn Conner. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

The Long Island premiere of the musical “First Date” is set for March 5 at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, and actors TracyLynn Conner and James D. Schultz are thrilled that local theatergoers will get to experience the hilarious production with them.

The one-act play takes an amusing look at the trials and tribulations of today’s dating world when two people meet for a blind date at a restaurant in New York City. Conner, who plays serial-dater Casey, describes “First Date” as funny, witty and very current when it comes to today’s dating climate.

Schultz, who plays dating newbie Aaron, said the play is filled with great musical numbers, perfect comedic timing and sight gags yet doesn’t veer from its main purpose. “At the heart of all that is the relationship between Aaron and Casey,” the actor said.

While the two have shared the stage in productions in the past, such as “The Farnsworth Invention,” “Jekyll and Hyde” and “Man of la Mancha,” this is the first time they will be performing together as romantic leads. In addition to acting together, the two have been friends for years, and Conner is Schlutz’s vocal coach. The actors said they are having a great time working together and discovering their characters. 

“My character Casey has been on many, many, many dates. And James’ character, Aaron, this is his very first blind date in his whole life,” Conner said.

Schultz explained that his character has just gotten out of a relationship and has a lot of personal baggage. “When he meets Casey for the first time, he’s not entirely sure how it’s going to work out because she’s so different from him. He’s neurotic and conservative, and she’s very edgy and very fly by your seat, very artsy. And basically, they both awaken something in each other, and they find what makes the other person stronger, at least in that first date and the first time they meet each other,” the actor said.

Both are also excited to be working with director Jordan Hue and their fellow cast mates, Jeremy Hudson, Samm Carroll, Charles Jacker, Lauren V. Gobes and Michael Newman. Conner explained the rest of the actors play multiple roles, either in the restaurant or as past lovers, best friends or sisters in their imaginations.

“It’s a well-seasoned cast that knows exactly how to deliver a comedic line,” Conner said. She admitted that at times the cast can’t stop laughing in rehearsals.

Schultz agreed that they’re all having a great time. “We all mesh well which is what you hope for in a show.”

The actors are thrilled that the Smithtown run is the Long Island premiere of “First Date,” too, and they are confident audiences will like it. “While it’s rather new, it’s also something modern, something sweet, something that I think whether you’re young or old, you’ll be able to enjoy, and because it’s a quick show, you’ll come and have a nice evening at theater and feel something,” Schultz said.

Conner, who is currently single, pointed out that among the hilarity in the musical there are also touching, poignant moments. She said her song “Safer” will be hard to get through without her crying. “It’s just a really touching song, and I think any woman who has been in the dating world will hear this song and say ‘yes, that’s me’,” the actress said.

Schultz hopes that audiences will connect with the characters too and feel like they are watching a couple on a date. “What we’re striving for is trying to create a slice of life [with] the audience looking at these two people basically finding each other.” Conner added, “You see two people standing on the edge of something great if they let themselves see it.”

Off stage, standing on the edge of something great is a concept both actors are familiar with. While audiences will find out the fate of Casey and Aaron by the end of the play, Conner’s and Schultz’s futures are both continuing tales. The actors, who have performed extensively on Long Island, are auditioning and open to a variety of acting roles including for stage, commercials, television and film.

“I want to put myself out there for whatever is out there, whatever piques my interest,” Schultz said.

Conner agrees to being open to it all. “When you have a passion to do this, I feel like there are some shows I would do in a cardboard box just to be able to play that role.”

For now, Conner’s and Schultz’s calendars are booked up with 14 nights of first dates at the theater in Smithtown, and they invite local musical lovers to join them.

“It’s a great show for a date night out. Get the babysitter and just have a night out and possibly remember what your first date was like with your significant other,” Conner said.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main Street, Smithtown, will present “First Date” March 5 through March 26. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

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From left, Dondi Rollins as Sebastian; Michelle Rubino as Ariel; and Zack Buscemi as Scuttle in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Rita Egan

The heartwarming tale “The Little Mermaid” opened at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts this past weekend to the delight of fans both young and old. For almost two hours, the brilliant cast treated the audience to an enchanting and colorful show that floated smoothly from a magical world under the sea to a shore where dreams can come true.

Jordan Hue has skillfully directed a cast of talented actors who bring their characters to life with the right amount of tenderness and humor, and in the case of a few, even deviousness, needed for a production based on a Hans Christian Andersen classic and Disney film.

The musical, originally produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and book by Doug Wright, stays true to the movie version released in 1989, which when it comes to the finale, may be more fitting for younger audience members instead of Andersen’s sadder ending.

Our heroine Ariel, played by Michelle Rubino, lives under the sea with her father King Triton (Jahlil Burke) and her six sisters. The youngest of the king’s daughters, the little mermaid dreams of being a human and many times swims above water to see if she could catch a glimpse of these strange creatures. Her faithful companion Flounder (Caitlin Beirne/Erika Hinson) follows her on the adventures, where the seagull Scuttle (Zack Buscemi) joins them to educate them about life above sea level. Here the bird shows them items such as a fork that he believes is used to comb one’s hair, or a pipe that he thinks blows bubbles, and he cleverly names them to disguise his true lack of human knowledge. 

Mikey Marmann as Prince Eric and Michelle Rubino as Ariel in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo
Mikey Marmann as Prince Eric and Michelle Rubino as Ariel in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

While Ariel is making waves in her world, the rambunctious Prince Eric (Mikey Marmann) chooses the life of a sailor over his royal duties and chases the beautiful voice he has heard while navigating the rough seas. Just like Eric has his advisor Grimsby (Mark DeCaterina/Ralph D’Ambrose) to keep an eye on him, King Triton soon assigns Sebastian the crab (Dondi Rollins) the responsibility of keeping Ariel away from the dreaded humans. However, in her quest to make her dreams come true, Ariel slips away from Sebastian, and when she meets the evil sea witch Ursula (Samantha Carroll), the mermaid finds herself making a big yet silent splash in the human world, and finding that even in your darkest moments, dreams can come true.

Rubino, who is making her debut on the SCPA stage, is stunning as Ariel, capturing both the sweetness and eagerness of the mermaid throughout the production, especially during the songs “Part of Your World” and “Beyond My Wildest Dreams.” The actress bears a striking resemblance to the character, which had many little ones on opening night excitedly pointing toward the stage thrilled to see their favorite character in the flesh.

Marmann as Prince Eric proves he possesses the charming qualities to reel in a sea princess as well as theatergoers with his beautiful and soothing vocals during the songs “Fathoms Below” where he sails troubled waters and “One Step Closer” where he patiently teaches Ariel to dance.

Carroll as Ursula nails the deviousness needed to play a villainess and delivers the sea witch with the gusto of Ethel Merman, especially when belting out the tunes “I Want the Good Times Back” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” From the loud applauses she received after her numbers as well as during the final bows, it looks like Carroll has a promising stage career in her future.

Kevin Burns playing Floatsam and Barbara Tiernan as Jetsam were devilishly entertaining as Ursula’s sidekicks as they slithered their way through numbers trying to sideline Ariel’s dreams. The duo also had their time to light up the stage during the number “Sweet Child,” which convincingly lures the little mermaid into Ursula’s tentacles.   

Rollins gets a chance to show off his singing and dancing talents during the numbers “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl.” Despite playing the stuffy, crusty crab, Rollins, joined by the ensemble, delivers “Under the Sea” as the fun, energetic number it is meant to be and has us holding our breath in anticipation as he slowly introduces the first few bars of “Kiss the Girl” and then uses his voice masterfully to build anticipation.

Along with Rollins, D’Ambrose playing Grimsby on Saturday night and Buscemi as Scuttle seamlessly provided the comedic moments expected of the characters. In addition, Beirne played Flounder on opening night with an endearing sweetness, and the youngster delivered the cute number “She’s in Love” like a professional.

Of course, the story would not be complete without King Triton and Ariel’s sisters. While Triton may be stern at times, Burke plays him with the tenderness that obviously overrules the king’s heart when it comes to his children. Alex Juliano, Erin Bonura, Jessica Donlon, Courtney Braun, Alexa Brin and Samantha Foti whether playing the sisters or later as princesses vying for Prince Eric’s heart, not only delivered great singing numbers but also cute comedic lines that elicited laughs from the audience.

Complementing the talents of the actors was a simple yet eye-catching set designed by Timothy Golebiewski. With a coral-like trimmed stage and faux rocks, the cast transformed easily from underwater life to sea level where the simple parting of a curtain revealed the bow of Prince Eric’s boat that seemed to be heading straight toward the audience.

Costumes designed in an array of colors by Ronald R. Green III also take center stage during the musical. The various hues were stunning, especially during the numbers where the whole ensemble was on stage. Sebastian’s costume was the most spectacular in a bright red, and Rollins dapperly sported a top hat and coattails. To take the place of fins, long skirts are cleverly used for the merfolk, even on King Triton’s costume, which Burke handled smoothly.

The exceptional cast, as well as the crew, of the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts has created a production of “The Little Mermaid” that will float into the hearts of many and leave waves of delightfulness that will last long after they leave the theater.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, will present “The Little Mermaid” as its main stage production until Jan. 24, 2016. Tickets are $35 for those 12 and over and $20 for children under 12. For more information and show times, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

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Mark your calendars for upcoming classic movies at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts Center. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Rita J. Egan

The year 2015 marked Smithtown’s 350th anniversary and the return of movies to the town. In addition to commemorative events, locals were able to stop by the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts and take in a feature film to enhance their trip down memory lane.

The movie theater that once operated in the building where SCPA stands today opened in 1933 and offered motion pictures until November of 2001. Toward the end of November 2014, the building, which has not been significantly altered aesthetically in over 80 years, once again became home to beloved movies to commemorate the town’s milestone. While the original lineup of films planned for the theater will wrap up on Oct. 30 with “The Sixth Sense” and “The Exorcist,” management has planned to offer more movies in the upcoming months. Tickets for this double feature are $10.00.

Nov. 27 — ‘The Wizard Of Oz’
Dec. 4 — ‘A Christmas Story’
Jan. 8 — ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956)
Jan. 9 — ‘Rocky’
Jan. 15 — ‘The Addams Family’
Jan. 16 — ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’
Jan. 22 — ‘Carrie’ (1976)
Jan. 23 — ‘The Silence of the Lambs’
Feb. 5 — ‘Network’
Feb. 6 — ‘Dirty Harry’
June 16 — ‘Hook’
June 24 — ‘Thelma & Louise’
*All movies start at 7 p.m. and are $8 per ticket.

Ian Washington, house manager, hosted numerous movie nights at the theater this year. Washington said while attendance varied, overall the movie nights were well received by local residents. During the year he heard comments such as “we’re so happy you’re doing this again” and “please keep doing it.”

Washington said in addition to theatergoers being pleased to see the films, they also requested that the performing arts center show others. “It was a great experience and a great test run of what we know we can do,” he said.

The house manager said among the over 60 films that the theater offered in 2015, he was excited to see movies such as “Rain Man,” the original “Batman,” “Spaceballs” and “Blazing Saddles.” He said the more popular movies with audiences were “Casablanca,” “Gone with the Wind,” “King Kong” and the most attended of all of them, “A Christmas Story.” Washington said “Jaws” and the “Back to the Future” trilogy also did well.

Like last season, the motion pictures will alternate with the performing arts center’s live stage presentations. After the double feature of thrillers on Oct. 30, the theater has a dozen movies scheduled until the end of June with the possibility of more being added for the last few months of 2016.    

“People love that we’re doing it again,” said Washington.

The new lineup of movies will kick off with “The Wizard of Oz” on Friday, Nov. 27, at 7 p.m., and once again, back by popular demand, there will be a holiday showing of “A Christmas Story” on Friday, Dec. 4.

Last year management chose many of the movies based on local residents’ memories of their visits to the theater throughout the decades. This time around, films were selected based on whether they are hitting a milestone anniversary in 2016. Due to this selection process, theatergoers can once again enjoy classics such as “Rocky,” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Carrie,” “Dirty Harry” and “Thelma & Louise” on the big screen in the upcoming year.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is located at 2 E. Main Street in Smithtown. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

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From left, Michael Bertolini, Mary Ellin Kurtz and Staci Rosenberg-Simons in a scene from ‘Arsenic & Old Lace.’ Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Charles J. Morgan

When a theatrical company does a chestnut, it is because it has not only stood the test of time but has pleased audiences through the years. 

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts has trotted out one of those chestnuts, Joseph Kesselring’s “Arsenic and Old Lace,” that darkly humorous comedy about two charmingly wicked aging sisters who go about murdering lonely men by poisoning them with a glass of home-made elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine and “just a pinch” of cyanide as if they were dusting furniture in their antique home in Brooklyn, reminiscent of the old houses on Westminster, Rugby and Argyle roads in your scribe’s native Flatbush.

Mary Ellin Kurtz and Staci Rosenberg-Simons portray the malevolent Brewster sisters, Abby and Martha, respectively. Their overly sweet demeanor toward one another comes off perfectly; their Victorian good manners are the perfect cover for their evil deeds. Their innocence is not even feigned … it is sincere!

Then there is their brother, Teddy, a harmless lunatic who thinks he is President Theodore Roosevelt. Bobby Montaniz has this role and plays it to the hilt. With a bristling moustache and pince-nez glasses, he actually looked like TR. His “Charge!!!” up the stairs, bugle in hand, forces the sisters to explain, “The stairs? . . . San Juan Hill.” In his “signing clothes,” a cutaway frock coat and striped pants, he signs the “Treaty,” which is his own commitment papers to an insane asylum. His TR lines all have to do with real, historical TR incidents. Your scribe’s favorite was when he places his hand on the shoulder of the visiting preacher from the local church intoning “I’ve always enjoyed my talks with Cardinal Gibbons!” Montaniz was the comic foil of this show.

Steve Corbellini plays the sisters’ nephew, Mortimer. He is supreme as the one who discovers what the sisters have done. He is torn between simply turning them in to the police and his nepotic love for them. Corbellini has a remarkable stage presence and a comic ability that is first class.

Lauren Gobes has the role of Elaine, Mortimer’s fiancée. She is pretty, ingénue-like and possessed of impressive range … from beloved to spurned and back again.

On to the scene comes Mortimer’s brother Jonathan, handled expertly by Michael Newman . . . the “bad” Brewster. His voice is threatening and thunderous, and his reciting of his lines in a sort of monotone brings out a deep-seated evil. His shady confederate is Dr.  Einstein, the hard drinking, failed surgeon. Eugene Dailey has the role and interprets it masterfully. Rounding out the cast are Mark DeCaterina, Michael Bertolini, John Steele and Kevin Shaw, all of which do a fine job.

Now chestnuts need good sets, and Timothy Golebiewski as set designer ran a team of constructors including Brian Barteld, Clarke Serv and Russ Brown in mounting a massive, highly impressive interior complete with wainscoting, window seat and, especially noteworthy, a staircase with a double landing leading to “upstairs” rooms. The furniture looked like it had been bought during the presidency of Grover Cleveland.

On to this set steps director Jordan Hue who, confronted with this broad physical venue, had the job of interpreting and blocking the cast, carrying out the director’s job of making the characters as real as possible, and coupling that with the actors own talents and engendering a seamless performance. In this Hue succeeded eminently.

This is a chestnut pulled from the roast for the audience’s delectation. The SCPA has done its usual fine work on a production well worth seeing.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, will present the classic comedy “Arsenic & Old Lace” through Oct. 4. Tickets are $35 adults, $20 students. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Eric Schell and Faith Ahmed in a scene from ‘West Side Story’ at the SCPA. Photo from the SCPA

By Charles J. Morgan

About an eon ago your scribe was watching a TV talk show on the family’s round screen box on which a participant referred to “West Side Story” as a “slice of New York life.” Another participant, the great Robert Morley, snorted, “Ectually, old boy, it’s Romeo and Juliet.” Morley was right, and the Playbill at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Art’s opening really was the Bard’s opus with full credit put to music, and not just music but Broadway music and dance.

With a team featuring Arthur Laurent’s book, Leonard Bernstein’s music, Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and Jerome Robbins’ choreography, success was all but secure. In SCPA’s effort it was secured in Smithtown.

Direction was by Jordan Hue who, facing the challenge of a massive cast, showed his craftsmanship in blocking and interpretation. Each Jet and each Shark were real tangible creatures thanks to Hue’s disciplined creativity.

The show is practically all choreography, and thanks to the genius of the indefatigable Melissa Rapelje, excellently performed execution was the armature of the show. She faced the off-beat accents, the dissonances and the diversity of rhythms undaunted. Her skills with interpretive, modern, Latin and even ballet were never more displayed.

Coalescing with the dancing and singing was the superb live music led by Melissa Coyle on keyboard with conductor Craig Coyle on piano. Jim Waddell was outstanding on drums. The number “Cool it!,” performed by the Jets, was accompanied by Waddell using only the sizzling hi-hats. Craig Lindsey and Bob Dalpiaz handled extremely competent reeds. Jill Boardman was on violin and Russ Brown’s bass anchored all the intricate changes of rhythm easily. Finally, Joe Boardman’s trumpet reached aesthetically ethereal heights … as usual.

The two “star-crossed lovers” were Eric Schell as Tony and Faith Ahmed as Maria. Schell’s tenor and Ahmed’s soprano melded smoothly in both duet and solo. In the “balcony” (fire escape) scene their “Tonight” was a truly velvet love song while Schell’s rendition of  “Maria” was lovingly rendered. Ahmed also exhibited obvious talent in “I Feel Pretty.”

In a choreographed dream sequence Courtney Braun sang a solo “Somewhere There’s a Place” with both charm and power delightfully linked. Justin Albinder stood out as the doomed Bernardo. As “Action” Bobby Montaniz leads the Jets in a hilarious mockery of the sadistic Officer Krupke. Some of the lines are quite dated: (“…my mother pushes tea…), yet Montaniz is the key to the humor of it all.

In addition to choreographer, Rapelje also played the role of the second lead, Anita. Her drive, verve and singing while leading the girls all keyed to a spicy rendition of “Puerto Rico” like a dish of asopao jibaro.

Add the intricate lighting by Chris Creevy, the massive, flexible set design by Timothy Golebiewski and the wonderful costumes by Ronald Green III and you have a wonderful evening of live theater.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “West Side Story” through Aug. 30. Tickets are $35. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

The delightful musical “Cinderella’s Glass Slipper” opened at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts on June 27. Written by Vera Morris with music and lyrics by Bill Francoeur, the tale follows the original classic closely with a few twists along the way. There are additional characters in the musical version like an apprentice to the fairy godmother, a talking pumpkin and a queen instead of a king. No bibbidi-bobbidi-boo here, just a beautiful fairy godmother in an glitzy evening gown and instead of Lucifer, the mean cat, there is a sweet cat named Attilla. Somehow it all works and makes for a wonderful afternoon of live theater.

Alexa Brin is Cinderella in the SCPA’s production of ‘Cinderella’s Glass Slipper.’ Photo by Dean Cestari
Alexa Brin is Cinderella in the SCPA’s production of ‘Cinderella’s Glass Slipper.’ Photo by Dean Cestari

Bobby Montaniz, making his directorial debut at the SCPA, has assembled a talented cast of adult actors who put on a great show. Montaniz, a fine actor in his own right, also serves as the choreographer.

Alexa Brin is Cinderella, the poor girl who is forced to do chores all day long for her wicked stepmother and rotten stepsisters and is not allowed to go to the Royal Ball. Her sad predicament is noticed by her fairy godmother’s apprentice, played by Sierra Romano. The apprentice summons the Fairy Godmother, played by Caitlin Nofi, who steps in to make things right.

Tommy Castelli is perfect in the role of the horrid stepmother and he can sure rock those high heels! Stepsisters, Brunhilda and Cleopatra, are played by Julia Bevilacqua and Samantha Foti, respectively.

Eric Schell is the handsome prince. His duet, “Behind the Mask,” with Brin is terrific and his scenes trying to escape the clutches of the stepsisters, who refer to themselves as “Prince Bait,” is fun to watch.

Ryan Cavanaugh plays Attilla the cat, and does a fine job.  His waltz with Cinderella in anticipation of the ball is very sweet.

Special mention must be made of Tommy Ranieri, who doubles as Troubadour and Captain. His rendition of “Once Upon a Time,” as the prologue and reprise is simply wonderful. Also, Hans Hendrickson exhibits boundless energy as Majordomo and delivers a wonderful rendition of “Did You Hear the News?”

Hayley Phaneuf as the queen, Andrew Wehnke as Pumpkinhead and the butler, and Bella Lardaro as Mistress Haughty round out the supporting cast.

The colorful costumes by Ronald Green III from Cinderella’s rags to the beautiful ball gowns and  are spot on.

Stay after the show to meet with the actors, and take a photo. The back page of the program serves nicely for autographs.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “Cinderella’s Glass Slipper” on Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 11 a.m. through Aug. 23  There are no performances on July 4 and 5. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.