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theater review

By Heidi Sutton

It was hard to discern who was having more fun during last Saturday night’s opening of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Theatre Three – the audience or the actors. The fast-paced family-friendly show, with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is told almost entirely in song and makes for a wonderful time at the theater.

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the musical opens where the Narrator (Sari Feldman) is telling a group of children the biblical story of Joseph from the Book of Genesis, about a young man who lives in Canaan with his father Jacob and his 11 brothers. 

A predictor of dreams, Joseph is his father’s favorite (he reminds him of his late wife), causing much resentment and jealousy among the remaining brothers. When Jacob gifts Joseph a “coat of many colors,” the brothers decide that they must get rid of the chosen son once and for all and sell him into slavery to passing Ishmaelites who take him back to Egypt. They tell their grief-stricken father that Joseph was killed in an accident.

Joseph becomes a household slave to a wealthy man named Potiphar but is soon accused of seducing his wife and thrown in jail. He is eventually summoned by the Pharaoh to analyze his recurring dream, and in turn saves Egypt from a seven-year drought. Back in Canaan his brothers are not so lucky and are starving to death. They decide to go to Egypt to ask the Pharaoh for help but encounter Joseph instead. Will he seek revenge or find it in his heart to forgive?

Supported by an uber talented cast (38 in all), C.J. Russo is brilliant as Joseph and shines in his solos “Any Dream Will Do” and “Close Every Door.” Sari Feldman is terrific in the exhausting role of Narrator, shadowing Joseph and keeping his spirits up as he faces bad luck at every turn and leads the cast in an inspiring “Go, Go, Go Joseph.” Douglas Quattrock is hilarious in the duel role of Jacob and Potiphar and draws the most laughs with his perfect comedic timing.

Choreographed by Jean P. Sorbera, the many wonderful dance numbers in this huge production are each embraced by the cast with gusto, from the jaw-dropping country-western hoe-down “One More Angel in Heaven” featuring Kiernan Urso, the reggae inspired “Benjamin Calypso” with Londel Collier, the exotic Egyptian dance number “Potiphar” with Nicole Bianco and the too funny “Those Canaan Days” with Steven Uihlein. It is Andrew Lenahan’s Elvis-inspired “Poor, Poor Pharaoh”/”Song of the King,” however, that steals the show and brings the house down. 

The many colorful costumes designed by Ronald Green III, the live orchestra directed by Gregory P. Franz, incredible lighting by Robert W. Henderson Jr. and beautiful set by Randall Parsons tie it all together perfectly. Don’t miss this one.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” through March 21. The theater continues its 50th season with Robert Harling’s “Steel Magnolias” from April 4 to May 2 followed by the ’50s rock ‘n’ roll musical “Grease” from May 16 to June 21. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 students and seniors, $20 children ages 5 to 12. Wednesday matinees are $20. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photos by Peter Lanscombe/ Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

In perfect timing with winter break, DreamWork’s “Shrek Jr.” along with all its fairy-tale creatures have taken up residence at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts in Smithtown. The fun musical runs through March 1. 

Based on the popular 2001 animated film and picture book by William Steig, the show is an edited version of the Tony award-winning Broadway musical but still features many of the beloved scenes and songs we have come to love. 

With book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, it tells the story of how a “little ogre came to live in the swamp with a beautiful princess and his best friend, and a gingerbread man, and a very handsome puppet, and an elf, and a fairy godmother, and a witch, and a crossdressin’ wolf and three pigs!” In short, if you are a fan of classic fairy tales, you’ll love this show.

It’s Shrek’s 7th birthday and, as with all ogres, his parents tell him he must move out and find his own place to live. (“Watch out for men with pitchforks!”) Shrek settles into a swamp far, far away and life is good until all of the fairy-tale creatures in the kingdom of Duloc are exiled to his land by order of Lord Farquaad, the ruthless ruler of Duloc.

In order to get his land back, Shrek strikes a deal with Farquaad to rescue Princess Fiona from a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon and bring her back to be Farquaad’s queen. Along with the wisecracking Donkey, the ogre embarks on a journey to save the fair maiden and learns valuable lessons, including what makes us special is what makes us strong.

Directed and choreographed by Tommy Ranieri, the talented young cast of 23 embraces this 2½-hour large-scale production and leaves us wanting more. Lead actors Hunter Pszybylski, Leah Kelly and Luke Ferrari shine in their roles as Shrek, Fiona and Donkey; and Luke Hampson steals the show as the tiny terror Lord Farquaad. 

As with all musicals, the songs are the heart of the show, and what wonderful songs they are from the opening group number, “Big Bright Beautiful World”; to Pszybyiski’s beautiful solo “Who I’d Be”; Kelly’s “Morning Person” complete with tap and Irish step dancing; to the finale “This Is Our Story”; and a rousing rendition of Smash Mouth’s “I’m a Believer” to send us on our way.

The multiple costumes of fairy-tale characters, designed by Chakira Doherty, cut no corners and wait until you see the dragon! The elaborate sets by Tim Golebiewski, makeup and special effects tie the entire production together nicely.

SPAC has presented a wonderful opportunity for young adults to hone their craft. This is their story — let them share it with you. Meet Shrek, Fiona and Donkey in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs.

Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown presents “Shrek The Musical Jr.” through March 1. Performances are held on Saturdays and Sundays at various times and Feb. 17 to 21 at 1 p.m. for Presidents Week break. Children’s theater continues with “Moana Jr.” from April 10 to 19. All seats are $18. For further information or to order tickets, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

For more photos from the show, visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com.

Photos by Courtney Braun/ SPAC

By Heidi Sutton

Excitement was in the air last Sunday as the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport presented the premiere of Disney’s Frozen Jr. The audience at the sold-out show was dotted with little Elsas dressed in blue-green gowns complete with crowns, necklaces and dolls all eagerly waiting for a glimpse of the snow queen. And believe me they were not disappointed. 

With music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez with book by Jennifer Lee, the show is based on the 2018 Broadway musical version of Disney’s Frozen complete with all the same popular songs from the 2013 animated movie including “Do You Want to Build A Snowman?,” “For the First Time in Forever,” “Love Is an Open Door” and “Let It Go.” The result is a lovely morning of live theater. 

The story follows Elsa and Anna, two sisters who are princesses in the kingdom of Arendelle. The elder of the two, Elsa, was born with magical powers that allow her to control and create ice and snow. When she doesn’t know how to control her powers and accidentally hurts Anna, she becomes afraid and withdraws from the world, shutting out her sister in the process. Fast forward 10 years and it is time for Elsa to inherit the throne, but on coronation day her magic unintentionally causes Arendelle to be frozen in an eternal winter. When she is accused of sorcery, she flees into the mountains to hide. Can Anna help her sister and free Arendelle from this spell?

Directed and choreographed by Steven Dean Moore, the professional young cast, ranging in age from 10 to 17, do a fantastic job portraying this tale of true love. Along with Anna and Elsa, Kristoff the ice harvester, Sven the reindeer, Olaf the snowman, Prince Hans, the Duke of Weselton and Oaken who runs Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post also make an appearance.

A magical touch is the animated projections on a screen in the background depicting different locations in the Kingdom of Arendelle including the inside and outside of the castle, the snowy mountains and Elsa’s ice castle. Costumes, designed by Laura McGauley are perfect, from Princess Anna and Elsa’s pretty gowns to the furry vest and antlers for Sven. 

Catch this performance if you can – your little prince or princess will love you for it. Meet the cast in the lobby on your way out.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport presents Frozen Jr. through March 1. All seats are $15. Children’s theater continues with Pinkalicious the Musical from March 28 to May 3. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

The cast: AnnaBelle Deaner, Raquel Sciacca, Ava Cahn, James Tully, Shannon Dugan, Mia Campisi, Rachel Zulawski, Katie Dolce, Olivia Freiberger, Lizzie Dolce, Amelia Freiberger, Caprice McGuckin, Shane McGlone, Justin Frank, Ryan McInnes, Max Lamberg, Meaghan M. McInnes, Casey Beltrani and Emma Sordi

All photos by Corinne Wight

By Heidi Sutton

As one of the country’s most beloved holidays draws near, Theatre Three gets into the act with Halloween treats of its own. While the theater thrills and chills on the Mainstage with “Jekyll & Hyde,” its Children’s Theatre offers “A Kooky Spooky Halloween,” the adorable tale of a ghost who is afraid of the dark. Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Steve McCoy, the musical, which runs through Oct. 26, is the perfect way to kick off the spookiest of seasons.

A friendly ghost named Abner Perkins (played by Steven Uihlein) has just graduated from Haunting High School. With a diploma and a medallion of invisibility in hand, his first assignment is to become the spooksperson for Ma Aberdeen’s Boarding House, famously known the world over for being the most haunted house in Harrison County U.S.A. and for serving the best toast. There are only two rules he has to follow — he can only haunt at night and he can’t lose the medallion or he’ll be seen by the living.

Abner confides to his best friend Lavinda the witch (Michelle LaBozzetta) that he has an uncontrollable fear of the dark and, after a bit of teasing (“That’s like a vampire who’s afraid of necks!”), she gifts him a night-light and promises to assist him with his haunting duties for the first few weeks. When they arrive at the boarding house, they find Ma Aberdeen (Ginger Dalton), the finest toast maker in the land, and her guests in the kitchen stuffing treat bags for Halloween.

We meet Kit Garret (Nicole Bianco) who “just came from a small town to a big city with a suitcase in my hand and hope in my heart” and can’t wait to try Ma Aberdeen’s famous toast. We also meet the Petersons — Paul the periodontist (Andrew Lenahan), his wife Penelope (Krystal Lawless) and their son Pip (Eric J. Hughes) — who have the most curious habit of using words that start with the letter P in every sentence.

When Pip puts on a pumpkin pullover and proceeds to tell pumpkin jokes (see what I did there?), Abner casts a speed spell on the group, making them spin like a top, do jumping jacks and walk like a duck in double time, and then, straight out of a scene from “The Golden Goose,” has them stick to each other “like birds of a feather.”

Just as he is about to undo the spell, fellow graduate and ghost with a grudge Dora Pike (Beth Ladd) shows up and steals Abner’s night-light and medallion of invisibility and hides them in Black Ridge Gulch, the deepest, darkest gorge in the entire world. Now visible, Abner has to convince the boarders, who are still stuck to each other in “an unprecedented predicament,” to help him and Lavinda get his property back. What follows is a hilarious adventure that highlights the power of honesty, determination and friendship.

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the eight-member adult cast embraces the brilliant script and presents a hauntingly fun afternoon both children and parents will love. Accompanied on piano by Douglas Quattrock with choreography by Nicole Bianco, the song and dance numbers are fun and catchy with special mention to the rap “A Need for Speed” by Abner and Lavinda and the group number, “It’s Ma Who Makes the Toast.” Costumes by Teresa Matteson and Toni St. John are spot on, from the Peterson’s black and orange outfits to the spooky white garbs for the ghosts. And wait until you see the special effects!

Souvenir cat, pumpkin, vampire and ghost dolls will be available for purchase before the show and during intermission for $5. Meet the cast in the lobby for photos on your way out.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “A Kooky Spooky Halloween” on Oct. 12, 19 and 26 at 11 a.m. and Oct. 20 at 3 p.m. Running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes with one intermission, and Halloween costumes are encouraged. Children’s theater continues with “Barnaby Saves Christmas,” from Nov. 23 to Dec. 28. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The cast of ‘Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale’. Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer/ Engeman Theater

By Heidi Sutton

Question: What do you get when you combine the classic Grimm Brothers fairytale “Rapunzel” and Disney’s animated feature “Tangled”? 

Answer: “Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale,” a wickedly funny musical adaptation written by David Crane and Marta Kaufman, the creators of the hit TV show “Friends.” The children’s show opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport this past weekend and runs through Aug. 25.

Simon, trusted valet to the Prince, serves as storyteller and gives the audience the backstory on how Rapunzel ended up in the tower. We meet up with the young girl on the morning of her 16th birthday where her only wish is to be able to leave her imprisonment for one day and see the world.

Her “mother,” Gretta the witch, at first promises to grant her wish but then changes her mind. “I just want to know what’s at the end of the road!” begs Rapunzel. “The DMV – nobody wants to go there,” quips the witch. 

Meanwhile, Prince Brian has run away from the castle and vows only to return once he has slain a dragon or rescued a maiden. “As a hero, I’m a zero,” he laments. When the prince comes upon Rapunzel in the tower, he seizes this rare opportunity and hatches a plan to rescue her. What follows is a fun, exciting and hilarious adventure the entire family will enjoy.

Director Jennifer Collester knows her target audience well and has assembled the perfect group of actors to tell this hairy tale to young theatergoers. 

Making her Engeman debut, Joanna Sanges is terrific as the naive but strong-willed Rapunzel who will stand up to the witch, the king and anything else that comes her way — a wonderful role model for the many little princesses in the audience.

While not in a disco on the Engeman’s stage in the evenings (“Saturday Night Fever”) Christopher Hanford spends his morning weekends rescuing fair maidens as Prince Brian and does a fine job. Hanford spends the second half of the show wearing sunglasses (the witch cast a spell to make him blind) and is a good sport when Rapunzel forgets to help him navigate the stage. 

The indefatigable Bobby Montaniz plays multiple roles throughout the show (Simon, a cow, innkeeper, the king) and draws the most laughs. He quickly becomes the audience favorite.

But it is Suzanne Mason, as Gretta the witch, who gives the strongest performance and “with a twist of her wrist and a turn of her ring” takes this juicy role and runs with it. Like a sour patch kid, her character is both sweet and sour but not scary — just diabolical!

Perhaps the best part of the show is when Rapunzel and the Prince make their way into the audience on their way to the village and interact with the children, asking them questions such as what they like to eat.

The costumes, special sound effects and lighting pull it all together nicely to produce a marvelous morning of live theater.

Stay after the show and meet the cast in the lobby for pictures and autographs. An autograph page is conveniently located toward the back of the program.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present “Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale” on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. through Aug. 25. Costumes are encouraged. Children’s theater continues with an audience favorite, “The Wizard Of Oz” from Sept. 28 to Oct. 27, followed by the theater’s annual production of “Frosty” from Nov. 23 to Dec. 29 and Disney’s “Frozen Jr.” from Jan. 25 to March 1. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

 

By Melissa Arnold

The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport is bringing out its disco balls and bell-bottoms this summer as it kicks off its 2019-20 mainstage season with “Saturday Night Fever.” 

The high-energy musical delivers all the 1970s hits and fashion that’s made it a beloved classic for more than just baby boomers. The musical is based on the famous 1977 film of the same name that rocketed John Travolta into stardom. The film was adapted for the stage by Robert Stigwood in collaboration with Bill Oaks, and the North American version was written by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti.

Directed by Richard Dolce, “Saturday Night Fever” is the story of Tony Manero, a 19-year-old ladies’ man from the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. It’s 1977, and Tony is restless, working a dead-end job in the shadow of the Verrazzano Bridge and dealing with his family’s scathing disapproval. It doesn’t help that his brother Frank Jr. is a priest, making Tony even more of a black sheep. 

All of that fades away on the weekends, though, when Tony escapes to the local disco Odyssey 2001 to show off his skills on the dance floor. He’s got real talent and sets his sights on winning an upcoming dance competition that could be his ticket to a more fulfilling life.

Tony is quickly frustrated with his overeager dance partner, Annette, who’s more interested in winning a trip to his bedroom than a dance competition. To Annette’s chagrin, Tony is drawn to Stephanie, a lovely yet guarded dancer he meets at the club. Stephanie reluctantly agrees to enter the contest as Tony’s partner on the condition that it’s strictly business. But their passion at the disco is unmistakable, and romance is hard to resist. 

While it’s difficult to compare anyone to John Travolta, Michael Notardonato makes the role of Tony seem effortless. A newcomer to the Engeman, Notardonato has also played Tony elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad — he was even nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Musical by the Connecticut Critics Circle for a past performance of the show. Notardonato’s silky vocals and expert footwork are a treat to take in.

Annette (Andrea Dotto) and Stephanie (Missy Dowse) are in contrast throughout most of the show: One is bold, the other withdrawn; one is full-on Brooklyn, the other tries to forget her roots. Both Dotto and Dowse are great dancers with strong vocals; newcomer Dotto tugs on the heartstrings with a powerful rendition of “If I Can’t Have You,” while Dowse’s multiple duets with Notardonato (“100 Reasons,” “What Kind of Fool”) are where she really shines.

Also at the heart of “Saturday Night Fever” are Tony’s knucklehead best friends who are prone to making bad decisions, including some that change their lives forever. Matthew Boyd Snyder, Christopher Robert Hanford, Steven Dean Moore and Casey Shane act like they’ve known each other forever. They play well off of one another and have no trouble getting laughs out of the crowd while also drawing empathy in the show’s darker moments.

The standout work for this show goes to the ensemble and orchestra — after all, it’s the soundtrack and dancing that drive “Saturday Night Fever.” Chris Rayis leads the band in foot-tapping, dance-in-your-seat favorites from the Bee Gees, including “Stayin’ Alive,” “Boogie Shoes” and “Disco Inferno.” The ensemble’s dance numbers, including “Jive Talkin’” and “Night Fever,” are among the best in the show. 

Dance captain Kelsey Andres, choreographer Breton Tyner-Bryan and associate choreographer Emily Ulrich deserve accolades for the obvious hard work and effort that went into preparing the cast to be at the top of their game. Keep an eye out for Gabriella Mancuso who plays Candy, 2001 Odyssey’s professional singer. Her vocals are among the strongest in the entire cast, and definitely the most memorable. 

The extra touches to the Engeman’s production of “Saturday Night Fever” help the audience feel like they’re a part of the show. Disco balls can be found both above the stage and in the lounge area, covering the entire theater in those characteristic funky lights we all love. The set is equally dazzling and showcased a wide variety of scenes. The mirrors in the dance studio, neon lights in the club, and a stunning, climbable Verrazzano Bridge made the show more realistic.

The only drawback in the musical version of “Saturday Night Fever” is the number of unanswered questions by the end of the show, but it’s still a fantastic performance that’s not to be missed. Stick around after the curtain call for a few extra songs, and don’t be afraid to dance in the aisle.

See “Saturday Night Fever” now through Aug. 25 at the John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport. Tickets range from $75 to $80 with free valet parking. For showtimes and to buy tickets, visit www.EngemanTheater.com or call 631-261-2900.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

Katherine McLaughlin and Sean Yves Lessard in a scene from the show. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Melissa Arnold

I never thought I’d cheer for a murderer. Nor did I ever imagine laughing so much at a show about murder. There’s a first time for everything, I guess.

Directed by Trey Compton with musical direction by James Olmstead, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” has a deceptively simple title, one that probably makes you think of a classic, suspenseful whodunit. What you get instead is a fast-paced, absurdly funny comedy that will keep you laughing from start to finish.

Based on the 1907 Roy Horniman novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal,” the Tony Award-winning musical, with book by Robert L. Freedman and music by Steven Lutvak, ran on Broadway from 2013 to 2016.

Danney Gardner in a scene from the show. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

As the show begins, we find ourselves looking in on a young man feverishly writing his memoirs from a London jail cell, seeking to preserve his story if he should face execution the next day. That man, Montague “Monty” Navarro, is the newly minted Earl of Highhurst, and his rise to nobility wasn’t exactly noble. Two years earlier, while grieving his mother’s death in 1907, an impoverished Monty learned that she was related to the powerful, aristocratic D’Ysquith family. The D’Ysquiths, however, disowned her when she chose to marry a commoner. Despite this, Monty was the ninth descendant in line to become the earl.

Monty hoped his newfound lineage would impress Sibella Hallward, the posh and sultry woman he loves, but she ultimately abandoned him to marry a wealthy man. With no one else to turn to, he attempted to make inroads with his new relatives, and in the process had a sinister thought: What if he killed the D’Ysquiths? What if he could become the earl? The show follows Monty through flashbacks of the past two years as he eliminates his cousins in a variety of zany and unexpected ways.

Wojcik/Seay Casting consistently assembles stellar casts for the Engeman’s shows, and this one is no exception, featuring a host of Broadway and national theater vets. Sean Yves Lessard plays Monty, and he is earnest, polished and entirely believable. You’ll empathize with his poverty and join him on an emotional roller coaster as he sneakily offs the D’Ysquiths. Beyond that, Lessard’s smooth, controlled vocals are a real treat, especially in the waltzing “Poison in My Pocket” and steamy “Sibella.”

What makes “Gentleman’s Guide” stand out is that eight of the D’Ysquith cousins are played by the same actor, Danny Gardner. He makes the transition from young to old, gay to straight and even male to female characters look entirely effortless. Each D’Ysquith has his or her unique quirks, and Gardner is so astoundingly versatile that you almost won’t believe it’s the same person. He also deserves accolades for impossibly fast costume changes and impressive tap dancing.

A torrid love triangle sits at the heart of Monty’s escapades. Despite her marriage to a wealthy man, Sibella (Kate Loprest) still comes knocking, especially as Monty ascends the line of succession. At the same time, Monty quickly finds himself falling for his distant cousin Phoebe D’Ysquith (Katherine McLaughlin), a good-hearted and pious lady that just wants to love and be loved.

Loprest makes the self-absorbed Sibella almost lovable with charming wit and confidence. She’s also a delight to listen to, a crystal clear soprano that’s strong without being overpowering. McLaughlin’s Phoebe is demure and sincere, a perfect foil to Sibella. She shines in songs like “Inside Out,” and the trio’s performance in “I’ve Decided to Marry You” is one of the show’s highlights.

Scene and props designer Nate Bertone deserves particular mention for his creative work on the detailed, Edwardian set of “Gentleman’s Guide.” To help audience members keep track of the D’Ysquiths, the stage is framed with massive portraits of Gardner in his various incarnations. Spotlights and laser X’s on those portraits will alert you to who’s still kicking and who’s been taken out. The effect is a lot of fun and adds to the show’s overall silliness.

The bottom line: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is hilarious from the first line, and so enjoyable that I’d love to see it again. The show isn’t gory, but there’s plenty of innuendo to go around, and there are occasional loud noises and use of light fog throughout.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” through April 28. Runtime is approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets range from $73 to $78 with free valet parking. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

By Melissa Arnold

Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why do children die? Is there a God, and does He really answer prayers? Plenty of us grapple with those questions from time to time, and the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts has tracked down the Big Man Himself to get some answers in the one-act comedy, “An Act of God.” The show opened last Saturday.

The 90-minute play is a stage adaptation of “The Last Testament: A Memoir,” a satirical book written by “God,” aka David Javerbaum. Javerbaum has won more than a dozen Emmy Awards over the course of his comedy career, most of them earned as the head writer for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” He’s also the voice behind the snarky Twitter account @TheTweetOfGod, which has amassed 5.6 million followers  – no pun intended. 

“An Act of God” isn’t your typical Broadway show with a neatly packaged storyline. Instead, it’s meant to treat audiences to a live and in-person encounter with God (Evan Donnellan), who’s not exactly the embodiment of divine goodness. In fact, God is fed up with the way He has been misrepresented by organized religions and has come to Broadway to set the record straight. He’s even got a new and improved set of commandments to share, among them “Thou shalt not tell others whom to fornicate.”

Donnellan oozes charisma and command as God, who is at once charming and narcissistic. His jokes are shocking and laugh-out-loud funny, but Donnellan creates striking dissonance during his character’s pessimistic rants and self-absorbed navel gazing. He also deserves serious kudos for the amount of preparation involved for this show – the majority is a monologue.

Supporting God’s appearance are his faithful archangels, Gabriel (Scott Hofer) and Michael (Jordan Hue). Hofer’s Gabriel is obedient but goofy, adding his own comedic touches as the show’s Bible reader and peanut gallery. In contrast, Michael is often sullen as he wanders through the crowd, asking God those tough questions and seeming unsatisfied with His answers. The trio has great chemistry, and watching God try to keep the two of them in line is a lot of fun.

It’s obvious that director Christine Boehm and the cast have taken some liberties with the original script, but that’s a good thing. Early in the show, they make fun of their own decor – it seems they’ve decided to leave much of the set for the children’s theater production of “Aladdin Jr.” in place, since the shows run concurrently until Feb. 24. They also reference the ticket prices, Smithtown and Evan Donnellan’s looks and personality, as well as the original Broadway production’s lead, well-loved “Big Bang Theory” star Jim Parsons. 

Be prepared, God is always watching – He’ll make a point of drawing attention to and potentially embarrassing random audience members during the show. Don’t take it personally.

The bottom line is that while the cast is very talented and the special effects are cool, this show is simply not for everyone. The script aims for satire but often either misses the mark or drifts into territory that’s just offensive. 

Those with deeply rooted religious beliefs might want to give this one a pass, unless you can handle 90 minutes of unapologetic cynicism and crude blasphemy. But if you keep an open mind and a sense of (twisted) humor, you might feel inspired by the show’s overarching message that you should believe in yourself. Or you might feel nothing at all. Your mileage may vary.

See “An Act of God” through March 3 at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown. Tickets are $38 adults, $34 seniors, $25 students. Contains strong language, references to drugs and strong sexual content throughout. For tickets and info, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org. 

All photos by Courtney Braun

By Heidi Sutton

February 3rd of this year will mark the 60th anniversary of the death of Buddy Holly, one of rock ‘n’ roll’s true pioneers who, in his short career, had a major influence on the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Elton John.

Holly’s wonderful music, his lasting legacy to the world, is celebrated in Alan Janes’ “Buddy —The Buddy Holly Story.” The jukebox musical debuted in London in 1989 and arrived a year later on Broadway. The show opened at the John W. Engeman Theater last week and runs through March 3.

Directed and choreographed by Keith Andrews, the show recounts the last three years of Holly’s life and rise to fame, from 1956 to 1959.

We first meet him as a strong-willed 19-year-old country singer (played by Michael Perrie Jr.) from Lubbock, Texas, and follow his journey with his band, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, as they venture into rock ‘n’ roll with hits like “That’ll Be the Day,” “Rock Around with Ollie Vee” and “Everyday.” 

The impressive sets by Jordan Janota and props by Emily Wright beautifully evolve with each scene while the stage features a permanent arch of gramophone records that light up individually as each hit is performed.

Touring the country in 1957, Holly and his band head to the Apollo Theater in Harlem where the audience is treated to a show-stopping rendition of the Isley Brothers’s “Shout” by Apollo performers Marlena (Kim Onah) and Tyrone (Troy Valjean Rucker) before enjoying “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!” and “Not Fade Away.”

We are witness to when Holly meets his future wife Maria Elena Santiago (Lauren Cosio) for the first time and when he leaves a pregnant Maria in 1959 to go on the Winter Dance Party tour by bus to play 24 Midwestern cities in as many days after promising her he won’t get on an airplane.

The final scene is also one of the show’s finest as Holly’s last performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, with J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson (Jayson Elliott) and Ritchie Valens (Diego Guevara) is recreated in a poignant tribute. The audience is transported back in time and become concertgoers enjoying  outstanding performances of “Chantilly Lace,” “La Bamba” and “Peggy Sue Got Married.”

The stage suddenly goes dark and a radio announces that all three singers were killed in a plane crash shortly after the concert. Richardson was 28, Holly was 22 and Valens was only 17. The tragedy was later referred to as “The Day the Music Died.” The lights come back on and the concert continues, bringing the packed house at last Friday’s show to their feet in a long-standing ovation.

By the end of the night, more than 20 of Holly’s greatest hits have been played live by the incredibly talented actors on stage, a fitting tribute to the Texan who got to play music his way.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story” through March 3. Tickets range from $73 to $78 with free valet parking. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

By Heidi Sutton

“Do you trust me?” It is a question Aladdin asks Jasmine several times during the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts’ current production of Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” but one that I ask you now. If you do, then grab your children and run, don’t walk, to see this show. They (and you) will love every minute of it.

Based on the popular Disney animated film with music by Alan Menken and book by Chad Beguelin, the show whisks audiences away to the fabled city of Agrabah where the evil Jafar (Alex Mahr), advisor to the Sultan (Logan O’Leary), and his parrot Iago (Max Lamberg), seek to retrieve a magic lamp hidden in the Cave of Wonders. They enlist the help of a street rat named Aladdin (Cole Napolitano), a “diamond in the rough,” who becomes trapped in the cave. When he finds the lamp and polishes it, a magical genie (Ryan Romanelli) appears and grants him three wishes.

After tricking the genie in getting him out of his predicament, Aladdin uses his first wish to become a prince in order to woo the lovely Princess Jasmine (Priscilla Russo). When “Prince Ali” arrives at the palace, Jafar recognizes Aladdin and has him thrown in the dungeon. When his friends Babkak (Michael Puglisi), Omar (Jonathan Setzer) and Kassim (Matt Peluso) try to rescue him, they end up in the dungeon also. Aladdin uses his second wish to set them free. With only one wish left, Aladdin must choose between benefiting himself or doing what is morally right.

Expertly directed by Courtney Braun, the musical features a cast of 20 uber-talented actors ranging in age from 10 to 16 who all do a fantastic job.

From the very first scene when the genie appears on stage to introduce the other characters in “Arabian Nights,” the audience is mesmorized. 

The script is clever and funny and the musical numbers are delightful. Along with the familiar —“A Friend Like Me,” “Prince Ali,” “A Whole New World”— there are fresh new songs including “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim” and “These Palace Walls.”

The impressive set, designed by Tim Golebiewski, features panels on either side of the theater that rotate to reveal a marketplace, a cave full of jewels and a palace; and the Arabian costumes, designed by Chakira Doherty, are just beautiful. Images on the back wall of the stage constantly change to show different scenes of the city, and a video played during “A Whole New World” gives the illusion that the carpet is actually flying.

SPAC has gone all out with this production, a rarity with children’s theater, and has produced something magical. Don’t miss this one. Trust me.

Running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes with intermission and booster seats are available. Costumes are encouraged. Stay after the show for a meet and greet with Aladdin, Jasmine and Genie in the lobby.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” through Feb. 24. Children’s theater continues with “The Little Mermaid Jr.” from March 16 to April 28 and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” from July 13 to Aug. 18. All seats are $18. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Photos by Courtney Braun and Cassiel Fawcett