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theater review

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

Gothic!

Thrilling!

Suspenseful!

Wait a minute — It’s a comedy!!

It’s hilarious Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery now playing at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson.

“Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!” That exclamation conjures up ominous chords and the audience is immediately immersed in the murder mystery at bleak Baskerville Hall perched on the edge of the desolate fog-laden moors.

In Ken Ludwig’s (Lend Me A Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo, Crazy for You) adaptation of the 1901 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, he brilliantly takes this gothic classic and infuses it with comedy making for spine-tinglingly funny results.

The searching questions, who killed Sir Charles Baskerville and is there a legendary hound haunting Baskerville Hall, must be answered before another heir is murdered. Enter Sherlock Holmes (Evan Donnellan) and his sidekick, Dr. Watson, I presume, (Kevin Callahan). The brave duo ferret through contradicting clues and a host of suspicious characters in efforts to protect Henry Baskerville, the next heir who has just arrived from Texas. 

Donnellan takes the stage in grandiose style. His Holmes is sly, elegant and capable. When he says he knows the print of every paper in the country, we believe him. Kevin Callahan’s Doctor Watson is so much fun. He tries to keep up with Holmes though often bungles, adding to the laughs, but his genuine investigative spirit makes him the perfect sidekick to Holmes. Together they are an invincible pair despite the labyrinth of deceit and intrigue they must face in attempting to solve this crime.

The original Conan Doyle mystery is chock full of characters all necessary in creating red herrings that keep the reader guessing until the final page. Ludwig realized he would need numerous characters to tell the story, so he inventively reduced his adaptation down to five actors — Holmes, Watson and the other three playing more than forty roles. 

This challenge calls for extraordinary performers who must instantly change costumes while also changing accents, physicality and intentions, all the while making the audience believe each of their characters. 

Director Christine Boehm has accomplished just that by assembling an outstanding supporting cast — Jonathan Sawyer Coffin, Elena Faverio and Ana McCasland — who change costumes as easily as they transform into different personas. This high energy threesome bounce snappy lines into the air wrapped in an array of accents. 

Faverio’s German accent as Mrs. Barrymore is hysterically reminiscent of Cloris Leachman’s Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein. Coffin’s booming southern drawl is a comical contradiction for the next in line of the Baskerville fortune. McCasland takes on the proper English of Dr. Mortimer as easily as she emotes the Castilian of the hotel proprietor. These outrageously high camp performances are met with rapturous laughter and applause from the audience that builds to an enthusiastic crescendo at curtain call.

Randall Parsons’ scenic design gives the necessary gothic feel with a gray backdrop detailed in swirls of black suggesting impending fog blanketing the moor. A giant screen, center, ingeniously projects settings and events. Lighting design by Robert Henderson, Jr. sets the eerie mood, then stirs things up with flashes of bright lights.

Chakira Doherty’s costume and wig designs are masterfully crafted. Actors, portraying numerous characters, must change in an instant and Doherty’s well-thought-out garments and coiffures make this task possible.

Tim Haggerty’s sound design is essential in instilling chills. Whether it be the cacophonous howling hound to the staccato of the chugging train to a deafening explosion, these sound effects build in both suspense and humor.

Since simplicity is key to this production, properties play a major part and Heather Rose Kuhn creatively plants scenes with the use of sparse props. A train is depicted with only a well-placed bench that morphs easily into a bed at Baskerville Hall for the next scene. A counter glides in and out representing Northumberland Hotel and giant wheels appear when Holmes refers to a cab.

All the twists and turns are captivating and hysterical as we follow Holmes and Watson to a startling conclusion that even gives way to an unexpected epilogue. So, take out your spyglass and join the intrepid pair on this thrilling and uproarious caper!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery through Feb. 5. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 and up. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

See a sneak peek of the show here!

 

The cast, from left, Lizzie Dolce, Matt Rafanelli, Justin Autz, Meaghan McInnes and Jae Hughes. Photo from Engeman Theater

By Heidi Sutton

As the weather outside becomes frightful, the Engeman Theater in Northport invites families inside for a heartwarming production of Frosty. The terrific cast, directed by Jennifer Collester with stage manager Jillian Sharpe, brings the holiday musical to life with catchy sing-alongs and plenty of audience participation. 

The narrator (Lizzie Dolce) introduces us to Jenny (Meaghan McInnes), a young girl who lives in Chillsville, “a little town way up north that is always covered with a fresh blanket of snow.” The daughter of the Mayor (Matt Rafanelli), Jenny’s favorite thing to do is to play outside. With help from her father, she builds a snowman and names him Frosty. When Jenny puts a scarf around him, Frosty (Justin Autz) magically comes to life and the two become fast friends.

On the other side of town, Ebenezer Pierpot (Jae Hughes), the president of Pierpot Enterprises (a manufacturer of snow shovels, snowblowers, and ice scrapers), wants to build a bigger factory in the park but can’t do that with all the snow. During a meeting at town hall, Pierpot tricks the Mayor into signing a contract to build a machine that will melt all the snow in the town, putting Frosty’s life in jeopardy. 

With Chillsville getting warmer by the minute, will Jenny come up with a plan to save Frosty or will he turn into a large puddle of water with a carrot?

I always look forward to reviewing this show because I love to see the children’s faces light up when they realize that they have been invited to become part of the production. They move to the edge of their seats with eager anticipation as they wait for the next question from the narrator or the cast and the next sing-a-long to join in.

During the performance the audience is asked what Jenny should do today (Build a snowman!), to come up with a plan to save Frosty (Move to another town!), help Jenny write a letter to her dad, and wish for snow (and it works!) They also join the narrator in the fun opening number, “Snow!” and the entire cast in a lively rendition of “Frosty the Snowman.”

With the ultimate message that love “is pretty powerful stuff,” this is the perfect show to introduce a child to live theater and is a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday season.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport presents Frosty through Jan. 2. Running time is 90 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Children’s theater continues with Disney’s Frozen Jr. from Jan. 29 to Feb. 27 and Madagascar – A Musical Adventure from March 26 to May 1. All seats are $20. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

By Heidi Sutton

The holidays have arrived at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson with the 37th annual production of A Christmas Carol. In the lobby the garland is hung and the tree is trimmed and in the Mainstage theater the Victorian London set awaits the wonderful imagination of Charles Dickens and the beloved retelling of a classic tale of redemption.

Based on Dickens’ 1843 novella of the same name, A Christmas Carol introduces the audience to Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter and miserly man who has chosen “the world of business” over love, friendships and community. We first meet Scrooge “of all the good days of the year” on Christmas Eve, exactly 7 years since his business partner Jacob Marley died, as he snaps at his clerk Bob Cratchit, dismisses his nephew Fred Halliwell and chases carolers away. We see Want in the corner, a specter who will haunt Scrooge the entire show.

Later that evening Scrooge is visited by Marley’s ghost who offers him a precious gift — one last chance at redemption. Draped in the heavy chains he has forged in life, Marley warns Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits — the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future – in an attempt to save his immortal soul.

In one of the most important parts of the show, the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge “the shadows of things that have been” — a series of events that led him to become the man he is today — from his mother dying at childbirth; his time at Wellington House, the boarding school where he spent many Christmases alone as a boy; his loving relationship with his sister Fan and his apprenticeship with the kind-hearted Fezziwig where he proposes to his first and only love, Belle.

The shadows also reveal the exact moment when he chooses to go into a business partnership with Marley (“and so it began”) and is overtaken by greed; when Belle walks out of his life; how he turns on Fezziwig; and the death of Fan.

The cheeky Ghost of Christmas Present arrives to teach Scrooge the joys of mankind. The first stop is Bob Cratchit’s home where he finds out about Tiny Tim’s failing health and that Cratchit’s oldest daughter works long hours in the workhouses to help the family pay their bills. Scrooge’s concern is evident. The mood lightens at a dinner party hosted by his nephew where the guests mock him in spirit during a game and compare him to a bear.

A daunting 14-foot Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge the shadows of what is yet to come, including his own death and how it affects those he has wronged. The frightening notion is exactly what the miser needs to turn his life around. His transformation on Christmas Day, especially in his interaction with Want, is a joy to watch. In the end, Scrooge discovers that old Fezziwig was right all along and that love is the only thing in life worth having.

Adapted for the stage by Theatre Three’s Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel, the show evolves and changes every year, keeping it fresh and exciting. This year the show features a revised underscoring created by musical director Brad Frey, slight changes to the opening and closing, a shivaree, and due to COVID regulations, Tiny Tim is a puppet, designed by gifted puppet designer Austin Michael Costello. 

The entire cast is excellent, with many playing multiple roles. Sanzel, who has played the role of Scrooge in over 1400 performances, is fascinating to watch. Slightly hunched over, his character walks slowly with a cane and eases into a chair with a groan. But when the Ghost of Christmas Past brings him to Fezziwig’s Christmas Party, he jumps out of the shadows with a straight back and becomes a young man again dancing the night away with Belle. 

Special mention must also be made of Douglas J. Quattrock in the role of Scrooge’s loyal clerk Bob Cratchitt (a role he has played over 750 times) whose love for his family and the holidays is unconditional. His character’s attempt to be strong for his family while his child is very sick tugs at the heartstrings.

The Victorian set, designed by Randall Parsons, is most impressive with fireplaces that glow, a four-poster bed that tucks away neatly into the wall when the set transforms to the London streets, a church with stained glass windows, and a living home decked out for the holidays. The period costumes, also designed by Parsons, are perfectly on point and the lighting and sound design by Robert W. Henderson Jr. is truly magical, a word that also best describes the entire production.

Sanzel says it best in his director’s notes.“A Christmas Carol is a beautiful reminder that we are members of a community and that our responsibilities go beyond ourselves. Scrooge’s pledge to Tiny Tim’s future shows his ability to help those in his life; his embrace of the specter of Want shows his commitment to the world entire. Dickens’ message is one not just for Christmas but for always.”

Don’t miss this beautiful show.

Arrive early and be treated to a selection of Christmas carols by the actors on the Second Stage on the lower level and stay after for a Polaroid photo with Scrooge for $5 to support the theater’s scholarship fund or take one with your cellphone at no charge. 

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents A Christmas Carol through Dec. 26. A special abridged sensory-sensitive performance will be held on Nov. 28 at 11 a.m. Running time is 2 hours with one intermission. Tickets are $20 each in November; $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12 in December. For more information or to order tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

Phenomenal music, dance, comedy with romance sprinkled on top all wrapped up in a giant red velvet bow, that’s White Christmas, Engeman Theater’s gift to ring in this joyous season.

Last year, the holidays were dismal with theatres shut across our great nation due to COVID, but not even a sweeping pandemic could extinguish its spirit for long. Theater fought back, reigniting marques with brilliant neon lights announcing that the show would most certainly go on.

The Engeman proudly swung open its grand glass doors welcoming all who enter to enjoy the magic of live theatre once more and to celebrate the holidays it is treating audiences to an irresistible White Christmas. With music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and book by David Ives and Paul Blake, this musical is based on the much loved 1954 movie starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. The first stage adaptation did not happen until 2004 when it premiered in San Francisco before playing a limited engagement on Broadway from Nov. 14, 2008, until Jan. 4, 2009.

The story revolves around two former WWII army buddies Bob Wallace and Phil Davis who, after the war, become successful entertainers, then big time producers. They get a letter presumably from an army buddy asking them to check out his sisters’ act at a local club. Sparks fly when they meet these sisters who are leaving that night for a Vermont Inn to fulfill a booking engagement. In pursuit of romance, Bob and Phil follow the ladies and discover that their former general who now owns this inn has fallen on hard times. The plot proceeds with mad cap comedy and extraordinary musical numbers.

With producing artistic director, Richard Dolce and managing director Kevin J. O’Neill at the helm, the Engeman is dedicated to creating Broadway caliber experiences for their audiences and White Christmas is professionalism at its very best. 

This multi-talented ensemble is captivating. From the rollicking open numbers of Happy Holidays and White Christmas, Aaron Young as Bob Wallace and Daniel Plimpton as Phil Davis grasp us and never let go. Young’s voice richly floats through his every song while his stage presence is beguiling. Davis is a true song and dance man. The I Love a Piano duet featuring Darien Crago as Judy Hayes, is a tour de force tap number. Crago’s skill and energy mesmerizes in all her dance routines, making them appear effortless. Meadow Nguy as Betty Haynes soaring soprano sends chills especially in Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me. 

Rounding out this ensemble is an impressive supporting cast. Keith Lee Grant is riveting as the stern General Henry Waverly shouting out commands until he reaches a moment of reflection that allows the caring man within to materialize. Suzanne Mason as Martha Watson sporting red curls reminiscent of Lucille Ball and impeccable comedic timing takes center stage belting out Let Me Sing and I’m Happy and nearly stops the show. The general’s granddaughter, Susan Waverly, played by AnnaBelle Deaner, mimics Martha with a rousing reprise of the same song.

Director Matt Kunkel has created sheer perfection taking us on a memorable musical journey of sight and sound. Music Director Camille Johnson maintains energetic fluidity from start to finish with a band that is beautifully synchronized to the performers in every number.

Choreography is central to this show and Drew Humphrey’s lively routines from the tap numbers to a chorus line done with the precision of the Rockettes is outstanding. Sound design is essential in a musical and Laura Shubert has the levels just right.

This is a period piece musical therefore costumes must allow for ease of movement while reflecting the 1950’s era and Dustin Cross has created breathtaking silhouettes most notably the dreamy coats decorated with clouds in Blue Skies, the dazzling black and white ensembles in I Love a Piano with Judy’s belt that unwinds into piano keys and all those stunning red confections in the White Christmas and I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm finale. Hair design is another essential element in a period piece and Conor Donnelly’s 1950’s hairstyles look authentic.

Kyle Dixon’s scenic design sets the tone and is functional as it morphs easily from one scene into the next giving the continuous feel of the magical holiday season by emphasizing reds, greens and whites. Dixon’s giant frames of white bark against green matting outlines the set and emphasizes a rural feel for the Vermont Inn. Aaron Bowersox’s lighting design adds brilliance to the big numbers and subtle touches for gentler moments.

White Christmas is a must-see festive treat for the entire family so ring in the holidays with this spectacular musical now through January 2, 2022. And be sure to return for the rest of their 2021-2022 season of exciting shows.

The John W. Engeman Theater is located at 250 Main Street in Northport. Tickets to the show range from $75 to $80 with free valet parking. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

In this COVID era where outdoor activities are preferred, the Carriage House Players, in partnership with the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithtown Historical Society, has extended the usual summer open air entertainment by heralding autumn with an under the stars production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy Twelfth Night.

East Main Street in Smithtown is well lit at night by passing car headlights but once you turn off the main road and head up a narrow country lane, you are instantly immersed in a blanket of serene darkness save for an illuminated structure standing tall in the distance. 

A string of white twinkling lights guides the way through a meadow that ends at this grandiose structure decorated as a red barn framed by natural towering trees. You have just entered the world that is Twelfth Night.

This tale of unrequited love, believed to have been written around 1601–1602, has a whirlwind of twists and turns bursting with intrigue and mistaken identities that one remains riveted throughout.

The pre-show antics make it worth getting to the grounds early. Actors in Victorian garb circulate, hob knob with the audience, one strums a guitar and even reads tarot cards.

High-test energy explodes right from the start and maintains momentum through to a rollicking ending. This exceptionally well-rehearsed cast, thanks to director, Christine Boehm, appears comfortable with Elizabethan English and flings Shakespeare’s words in an easy, conversational manner just as the Bard intended. 

The opening springs to life with the song I Put a Spell on You and the stage rocks with a captain at the helm trying to stay the course of his ship veering off through a turbulent storm. Black sheers fiercely whip up and down, an abstract representation of violent waves which ends with a catastrophic shipwreck. 

Enter Anna Stacy, dynamic as Viola, in a role that shifts genders from female to male and back again. Viola was rescued by the sea captain, the adept Patrick Campbell, while Dan Schindlar, charismatic as her brother Sebastian, is rescued by Antonia, played by the expressive Zöe Katsaros. Neither are aware that the other has survived which adds another layer of intrigue to the plot. 

Viola disguises as a young man, ‘Cesario’, to go into the service of Michael Mandato’s evocative Count Orsino. Orsino is tortured by unrequited love for Countess Olivia a damsel in mourning for seven years over the death of her brother. Mary Caulfield captivates as the grieving countess shrouded in black and spurning all suitors. ‘Cesario,’ in doing the bidding of Orsino, professes his master’s love for Olivia, but it backfires when the countess falls in love with ‘Cesario’ instead. 

Upon seeing Sebastian, Olivia assumes he is ‘Cesario’ and implores him to marry her which he does willingly. In a final twist, ‘Cesario’ and Sebastian appear before Olivia and Orsino causing more confusion. But Viola reveals her true identity, declares her love for the count and is reunited with her twin brother. 

Sub-plots abound with Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby, a drunkard performed with gusto by Evan Donnellan and his comrade, Sir Andrew, (Jae Hughes), a delightful fop who also pines for Olivia. This duo adds much madcap humor into the mix! 

Another comical twist happens when Maria, Olivia’s maid, played with relish by Katie Murano, pulls a prank on the pompous steward, Malvolio, making him think Olivia is in love with him. Kevin Callaghan’s Malvolio falls into hilarious raptures as the lovesick steward and nearly stops the show. 

Another participant in the plot against Malvolio is Feste, Olivia’s jester, played by the multi-talented Ana McCasland who displays all of her talents from singing to playing the guitar to acting.

For an electric celebration of wits, intrigue and an enthusiastic ensemble thoroughly committed to Shakespeare’s raucous comedy, catch a performance Twelfth Night, now playing through Oct. 31.

The Carriage House Players presents Twelfth Night on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society, 239 East Main Street, Smithtown on the evenings of Oct. 15, 17, 22, 24, 29 and 31. Tickets are $20, $15 seniors and children 12 and under. To purchase, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

By Heidi Sutton

October is such a great time of year with  the lovely weather, the changing leaves, mums, pumpkin and apple picking and trick or treating. It also means the return of the holiday treat A Kooky Spooky Halloween at Theatre Three. With emphasis on the power of friendship and the importance of helping others, the original musical, written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Steve McCoy, runs through Oct. 30.

The star of the show is a nice ghost named Abner Perkins (Steven Uihlein) who has just graduated from Haunting High School. Awarded a medallion of invisibility, he is given the coveted assignment of haunting Ma Aberdeen’s Boarding House, famously known for being the most haunted house in Harrison County U.S.A … and for serving the best toast! Abner must abide by two rules — he can only haunt at night and he can’t lose the medallion or he’ll become visible and lose his powers.

There’s only one problem — Abner is afraid of the dark, which is “like a vampire who’s afraid of necks!” according to his best friend Lavinda the Witch (Alanna Rose Henriquez). She gives him a night light as a graduation present and promises to help him adjust to his ghostly duties.

When Abner and Lavinda arrive at the boarding house, they find the Petersons — Paul (Liam Marsigliano), his wife Penelope (Stephanie Moreau) and son Pip (Darren Clayton) — and Kit Garret (Heather Rose Kuhn), who has just come “from a small town to the big city with a suitcase in my hand and hope in my heart,” in the kitchen helping Ma Aberdeen (Ginger Dalton), the finest toast maker in the land, prepare treat bags for Halloween.

In one of the funniest moments in the show, Abner casts a speed spell on the group, making them dance, sing, spin like a top, quack like a duck and do jumping jacks in fast motion. His final spell of the night is to have them “join together like birds of a feather.”

Things are going hauntingly well until fellow graduate Dora Pike (Beth Ladd) appears out of thin air. Filled with jealousy, (she was hoping to be assigned to Ma Aberdeen’s boarding house) Dora steals Abner’s night light and medallion and threatens to drop them into Black Ridge Gulch, the deepest, darkest gorge in the entire world (where it’s really, really dark).

Still stuck to each other, the group can now see Abner who must convince them to help him retrieve his medallion and undo the spell. What follows is a “Golden Goose” moment throughout the theater that will leave you in stitches!

Peppered with Halloween riddles and jokes, the show is wonderful on so many levels. Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the 8-member adult cast know their target audience well and deliver standout performances with special mention to Ginger Dalton as Ma Aberdeen, a character she has played since the musical originated in 2017. I can’t imagine anyone else playing that role. 

Accompanied on piano by Douglas Quattrock and choreographed by Sari Feldman, the song and dance numbers are the heart of the show, especially “Into the World I Go” by Abner, “A Witch Is a Person” by Lavinda, and the fun group numbers, “A Need for Speed” and “It’s Ma Who Makes the Toast.”

Jason Allyn’s gorgeous costumes are on fleek, from the ghosts dressed from head to toe in flowing white and the witch’s purple dress and pointy hat, to the Peterson’s coordinating orange and black outfits and the spooky lighting design by Steven Uihlein sets the mood and ties everything together perfectly.

Halloween is always such a fun holiday for children. This year, make it extra special and take them to see A Kooky Spooky Halloween. They’ll love you for it.

Snacks and beverages are available for purchase during intermission and costumes are encouraged. Souvenir cat, pumpkin, Frankenstein, Dracula and ghost dolls will be available for purchase before the show and during intermission for $5. Meet the entire cast in the lobby for a group photo.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents A Kooky Spooky Halloween on Saturdays, Oct. 9, 16, 23 and 30 at 11 a.m. and Sunday, Oct. 17 at 3 p.m. Children’s theatre continues with Barnaby Saves Christmas from Nov. 20 to Dec. 26, Puss-In-Boots from Jan. 15 to Feb 5, and a brand new production, Dorothy’s Adventures in Oz, from Feb. 23 to March 26. All seats are $10 and COVID protocols are in place. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please take your seats 

and grasp on to your armrests.

You’re about to be part of

 a musical experience!

Oh, and 

You WILL get the urge to

 jump up, sing and dance.

GO for it!

You have just entered 

SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ!!

On September 16, the lights came up once again on the Main Stage at the Engeman Theater since they were shuttered last March and there’s no better way to premier their 14th season of bringing professional theatre to Long Island audiences than with the Grammy Award winning and Tony nominated hit, Smokey Joe’s Café. This exceptional revue holds a special place at the Engeman since it was the very first show produced on their stage back in 2007.

The second the theater’s red curtains sweep open, we are catapulted into a dazzling world that is Broadway’s longest running musical review. This fast-paced show brims with 40 high powered hits by the prolific songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller who wrote for icons like Elvis Presley, Ben E. King, The Coasters and The Drifters. The show is over in a blink of an eye and at the end all you want is an encore. 

Since this is a musical revue it is devoid of dialogue, but the songs create little vignettes. It takes a talented ensemble to tell stories through song and that’s exactly what Deidre Goodwin has accomplished with her directorial choices, stunning choreography and perfect casting. Goodwin has placed the audience in the hands of these dynamic entertainers who ignite the house. 

Soon the audience becomes a venerable character taking part in the show by punctuating the end of every song with enthusiastic cheers and applause. Audience response culminates with an explosive standing ovation at the curtain call. The one reprised song, Neighborhood, performed eloquently by the entire company, serves to connect the songs creating a scrapbook feel.

There are so many captivating moments in this show.

In Young Blood, we meet a quintet of male performers (Devinre Adams as Ken, Tasheim Ramsey Pack as Adrian, Christopher Brasfield as Victor, Brian Maurice Kinnard a Fred and Jeff Sullivan as Michael) with smooth dancing and powerful harmonies. 

In Dance With Me, B.J. (Elizabeth Yetunde Adabale) wraps the lyrics around her BIG leather voice that sends chills. Adabale captivates each time she takes center stage.

As Pattie, Francesca Ferrari, in I Keep Forgettin’ and Pearl’s a Singer shows off her formidable vocal dexterity capable of filling the house with her high notes that fall into a gravelly blues sound that almost resurrects Janis Joplin.

DeLee, Alysha Morgan, in Teach Me How to Shimmy, stops the show with her incredible dance made even more exciting by costume designer David Withrow’s sparkling silver fringe mini dress, just one in his array of striking showpiece costumes that permit ease of movement.

Mars Storm Rucker as Brenda draped in Winthrow’s black gown replete with a mile long train, is sultry and seductive as they declares a no-nonsense ultimatum in the torch song Don Juan. Rucker returns with their gorgeous belting voice in Some Cats Know. Equipped with nothing more than a simple staged chair acting as their partner, this visual is reminiscent of a Bob Fosse Chicago routine.

Brasfield is a uniquely talented force with his comical whiskey guzzling D.W. Washburn, to his impressive falsetto that blasts into the stratosphere in his heart wrenching I (Who Have Nothing).

A battle of the sexes ensues when the female ensemble gives a scorching rendition of I’m a Woman that reads like a spiked heal smashing down on the men’s lascivious turn at Little Egypt.

Scenic designer David Goldstein has given each song its own setting by constructing a raised platform, stairs on one side and spiral staircase on the other against an abstract backdrop of city windows that are enhanced by John Burkland’s lighting design which morphs into a variety of colors from pinks to blues to whites to yellows behind the windowpanes signifying mood changes. An outstanding touch is the strings of vertical white lights that exhilarate and define On Broadway.

The songs never quit and the five piece band keeps the energy flowing. Highlighted instrumental solos add excitement to some numbers. Joel Levy’s saxophone fires up Spanish Harlem while Darnell White’s keyboard joins in the fun with Charlie Brown and Baby, That is Rock & Roll is infused with Ray Sabatello’s spirited guitar riffs and Russell Brown’s cool bass.

This is theatre at its best dropped right in the middle of Northport. From the moment you enter the Engeman, you are awed by the attention to detail from its well-appointed lobby to its stadium style seating. It is as if you have been lifted by a tornado of Oz-like proportion and dropped right in the middle of Broadway. That sensation continues all through this spectacular show until you step back outside only to realize you are indeed on bucolic Main Street.

Join the celebratory reopening of theatre at the Engeman with a show that is packed with hit songs, slick dance numbers and a first-rate cast. This is truly a feast for the mind and the soul. 

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport presents Smokey Joe’s Cafe through Oct. 31. Tickets are $75 per person and include free valet parking. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

By Heidi Sutton

Looking for a fun fall activity with the kids? May I recommend Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale, a musical adventure complete with “wicked witches, heroic princes, kings, magic and the longest hair in the world.” Written by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, creators of the hit TV show Friends, with music by Michael Skloff, the children’s show opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport this past weekend and runs through Oct. 31.

The cast of ‘Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale’. Photo from Engeman Theater

While the story has lots of modern twists and turns, it still retains much of the beloved fairy tale we all know and love. A cobbler and his wife live next door to a witch who has a beautiful garden. One day the cobbler sneaks into the garden to steal some vegetables and is caught by the witch who cons him into giving her the couple’s firstborn. She names the child Rapunzel and raises her as her own in a tower. Fast forward 16 years and Rapunzel’s only wish on her birthday is to leave the tower and see the world below. Her “mother” at first promises to grant her wish but then changes her mind and instead tries to bribe her with fudge, flowers, a bird and birthday cake.

Meanwhile, Prince Brian has run away from the castle. He feels that he is a failure, having reached the age of seventeen without doing one heroic deed, and vows only to return once he has slain a dragon, captured an ogre or rescued a maiden. “As a hero, I’m a zero,” he groans. When the prince comes upon Rapunzel in the tower, he hatches a plan to have his valet Simon distract the witch while he rescues the girl. What follows is a magical morning of live theater the whole family will enjoy.

Danny Meglio directs a seasoned cast of four who play multiple characters in the retelling of this hairy tale. A wonderful Joanna Sanges returns to the Engeman to reprise her role as the naive Rapunzel who has never seen a cow or a carriage but quickly learns to stand up to anyone standing in her way. Her strong-willed determination and confidence is a perfect role model for the children in the audience. 

Tasked with rescuing fair maidens, Justin Autz is terrific as the handsome Prince Brian. While he spends the first part of the show riding horses and climbing towers, Autz spends the second act trying to find his way back to the castle wearing dark glasses that are stuck to his face (the witch has cast a spell to make him blind) and tripping over Rapunzel’s long hair. 

Joanna Sanges as Rapunzel and Justin Autz as Prince Brian star in ‘Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale’. Photo from Engeman Theater

Brilliantly played by Jillian Sharpe, Gretta the witch, “with a twist of her wrist and a turn of her ring,” can be best described as a sour patch kid (first she’s sour but then she’s sweet) who sounds just like the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. While she does some pretty crummy things, she is not scary and the children in the audience are not frightened. 

The multi-talented Jae Hughes plays multiple roles throughout the show including the storyteller, Simon, the king (who is always mispronouncing Rapunzel’s name), the innkeeper, and the cow and knocks each one out of the kingdom. The ability to switch roles so quickly, with different voices and demeanors, is no easy feat, but Hughes makes it seem effortless.

The script is clever and funny, with much of the dialogue in rhyme, and the songs are energetic and catchy with special mention to “Wooing a Witch,” The First Step is the Hardest” and the quartet’s “Tonight’s the Night.” The costumes, excellent sound effects and lighting tie it all together for a happily ever after.

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 Oct. 31. Running time is one hour with a 15 minute intermission. Boosters seats are available and costumes are encouraged. And if it’s your birthday, the cast will serenade you. (Happy Birthday Emma!)

Children’s theater continues with the theater’s annual production of Frosty from Nov. 20 to  Jan. 2 and Disney’s Frozen Jr. from Jan. 29 to Feb. 27, 2022. All seats are $20. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

Do you ever think back to your teenage years, to the time you were hanging out at the beach, local candy store or park and you turned around to stare into the eyes of the most gorgeous person you’ve ever seen? That snapshot is lodged somewhere in the deep recesses of your mind, but when you allow it to surface, you get that sweet nostalgia of those “Summer Nights.”

Grease, now rockin’ the rafters at Theatre Three, is that journey down memory lane with 1950’s Pink Lady jackets, Greasers and Greased Lightnin’. It explores the innocence of youth, the pangs of first love and the teenage psyche when everything was a crisis and monumental. This effervescent romp brimming with electrifying familiar songs ignites the audience making it difficult not to jump up, dance and sing along with the spirited ensemble.

The team of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey wrote the book, music and lyrics with the original concept derived from Jacobs’ personal experiences at William Taft High School in Chicago. The name was changed to Rydell High in deference to the pop 50’s singer Bobby Rydell. Grease was first produced at the Kingston-Mines Theatre Company, Chicago in 1971, then went to Off-Broadway before moving to Broadway closing on April 13, 1980. The show received seven Tony Nominations in 1972.

This story of teenage love centers around greaser Danny Zuko and innocent Sandy Dumbrowski who have a summer romance that ends as the new school year begins. To the surprise of both, they bump into each other on the first day of school. But this reunion is awkward at first. Danny, leader of a greaser gang, is not what Sandy thought he was and Danny doesn’t want his gang to know he fell for this prim girl. Supported by a cast of exuberant characters and bursting with hits, this show has continued to delight audiences for decades.

The success of the 1978 movie version launched John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John into movie history and their performances are etched in our brains making it a monumental task for other actors to compare, but Jon Sawyer Coffin as Danny and Jenna Kavaler as Sandy are charismatic. The moment Coffin struts down the aisle in his seductive first entrance, he has the audience eating out of his hands. Kavaler, with her sweet smile, emits wholesomeness and her floating soprano wraps Hopelessly Devoted to You with emotion. We are with this Sandy right from the start and cheer for her and Danny to get together. 

Director Jeffrey Sanzel has assembled a dazzling ensemble of supporting characters with Pink Ladies, Rizzo (Rachel Greenblatt), Jan (Alanna Rose Henriquez), Marty (Heidi Jaye) and Frenchie (Michelle LaBozzetta). They are the cool girls hanging out with the super cool Burger Palace Boys, Kenickie (Steven Uihlein), Doody (C.J. Russo), Roger (Eric J. Hughes) and Sonny (Darren Clayton). This powerhouse company attacks the rock and roll score with vigorous dancing and stunning voices.

There are many stand out performances. Greenblatt’s Rizzo is dynamic as she grasps the audience with her cynical teasing of Sandy in Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee, then exposes her vulnerable side with There Are Worse Things I Could Do. Jaye’s Marty portrays sophistication beyond her years and her Freddie My Love is such fun. LaBozzetta’s bubble-headed Frenchie flunks out of beauty school, but finds guidance from her Teen Angel played with animated elan by Londel Collier. The not so cool Jan (Henriquez) teams up with the jokester Roger (Hughes) for a comical Mooning. And, of course, we can’t have Grease without a hot rod, so suddenly taking center stage is Kenicke’s dream car replete with big round headlights prompting the Burger Palace Boys into a lively Greased Lightnin’.

Costumes by Ronald Green III from Pink Lady jackets to black leather jackets mirror the personalities of the characters. Sandy is wrapped in white cardigan over pastel full skirt as opposed to Rizzo’s tight-fitting reds and blacks. The dream sequence of Beauty School Drop Out is a delight with silver curlers piled on the girls’ heads and the entire company swathed in silver beauty parlor capes.

Nicole Bianco’s choreography is bouncy and artistic with many dance routines ending in gorgeous tableaus. Born to Hand-Jive with its synchronized sequences is frenetic.

The multi-level set design by Randall Parsons allows action to flow seamlessly. Lighting design by Robert W. Henderson, Jr. sets the mood from bright to sultry and provides flawless continuity.

Music director, Jeffrey Hoffman, and his four-piece band underscores the fun with their sparkling orchestration. A standout is Bill Kinslow’s sexy saxophone in There Are Worse Things I Can Do.

Theatre Three is celebrating its 51st season of bringing fine entertainment to Long Island audiences by kicking off the festivities with the world’s most popular musical, Grease. Come join in the fun!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents Grease through Oct. 30. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. For COVID protocols, please visit the website at www.theatrethree.com. For more information, call 631-928-9100.

All photos by Brian Hoerger/Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

The talented cast, from left, Gabrielle Arroyo, Alexa Oliveto, Ari Spiegel, Lorelai Mucciolo, Max Lamberg and Derek Hough. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

For too short a time, Mo Willem’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! flies off its pages and takes roost on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society in a children’s musical production by the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts that is too cute for words!

Written in 2003, it was Willems’ first book for children, and received the Caldecott Honor the following year. The book’s appeal was that it spoke to the reader throughout the story as a bus driver asks the audience to not let the pigeon drive the bus while he has to step away for a moment. The remainder of the story is the pigeon pleading with the reader to let him drive the bus … until he sees a semi-trailer truck.

While Willems went on to write many more Pigeon books, his debut novella was turned into a musical in 2019 and now comes to life in Smithtown through Sept. 17.

Directed by Evan Donnellan, with musical direction by Robbie Torres, the 6-member cast embrace this clever script and jazzy score and run with it.

The pigeon has a complaint. He never gets to do anything. When the park gets a new bus stop, he gets his first glimpse at the beautiful shiny bus and … he wants to drive it! As passengers board the bus, the pigeon begs and pleads but the bus driver won’t give in. When the bus suddenly won’t start and all the passengers begin to panic, the pigeon realizes he just might get a chance to do something after all.

Uber talented Derek Hough is perfectly cast as the pigeon. Every line, song and dance number is executed perfectly and he quickly becomes an audience favorite who complains about the lack of adventure in his life. When the pigeon is tasked with flying to all the other bus stops on the route to tell them the bus is running late, Hough runs through the audience and relays the message to all of the young children, a highlight of the show.

Gabrielle Arroyo shines as the enthusiastic bus driver who boasts that her bus, like all public transportation, must always be on time. (LOL) Her three passengers are terrific as well. Lorelai Mucciolo’s transformation into a little old lady who has a purse full of bird seed (and likes to throw it at the pigeon) is hilarious; Ari Spiegel as the high strung business man late for his first day at a new job is spot on; and Max Lamberg as a superhero-obsessed teenager who wants to catch the premiere of a new movie is excellent. Alexa Oliveto, as the “voice” of the bus engine, is tasked with delivering the silliest and hardest lines and does so with ease.

The songs, written by Mo Willems and Deborah Wicks La Puma, are catchy and fun with special mention to the fast-paced “Panic at the Bus Stop” and “Let Me Drive the Bus” and the melodramatic “What Could Have Been.” The set, painted in the same shades as the book, and the creative costumes by Ronald R. Green III tie the production together nicely. Catch a performance before it flies the coop.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts presents Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! The Musical! on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society, 239 E. Main St., Smithtown on various dates and times through Sept. 17. Running time is 50 minutes with no intermission. While folding chairs are available, theatergoers are welcome to bring blankets or chairs for seating and bathrooms are available on the premises. Tickets are $18 per person. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.