Elise Pearlman

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Mary Poppins: Holiday Extravaganza Opens at Engeman Theater

Mary Poppins
From left: mThe colorful pageantry of "Jolly Holiday," featuring Luke Hawkins (Bert), Katherine LaFountain (Jane Banks), Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins) and Christopher McKenna (Michael Banks) had audiences applauding at the John W. Engeman Theater's holiday musical, 'Mary Poppins.' (Photo by Michael DeCristofaro)

A holiday show is a genre all its own. It should tug on heartstrings and make the audiences smile, yet have music and glitz that fires up the imagination. The musical Mary Poppins, which recently opened at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, delivers all this and more.

Those looking to create lasting holiday memories with their families should partake of this show, which is truly an extravaganza. Theatergoers cannot ask for more in terms of engaging, family-friendly holiday entertainment.

The show is set in Edwardian London of the early 1900s. Something is sadly amiss at the home located at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Members of the well-to-do Banks family are at odds with each other.

George Banks, the patriarch, is a stern, hands-off father, who espouses the philosophy that children should be seen and not heard. Having been raised by a nanny himself, George seeks an employee who will infuse his offspring, Jane and Michael, with “precision and order.” The children act out by tormenting the nannies with pranks and shenanigans until they quit.

All is not quiet on the marital front either. George is very concerned with status and insists that wife, Winifred, focus on getting into the right social circle even though it makes her uncomfortable.

Having lost their sixth nanny, George is set to advertise for a replacement. But Jane and Michael have a wish list of their own: a nanny who would play games with them, read stories and simply bring childhood wonder back into their lives.

In short order, Mary Poppins mysteriously appears on their doorstep. Mary immediately takes control, extoling her virtues as the quintessential nanny in the delightful song, “Practically Perfect.” She also astounds the children by taking all manner of things—including a hat rack—out of her carpet bag.

The story of Mary Poppins—the inspiration for the memorable Walt Disney movie—was originally part of a series of books written by P.L. Travers. The author, who did not have a very happy childhood, spun the idealistic tale of a nanny with magical powers to entertain her siblings. She based the Poppins character on an aunt who also possessed a seemingly bottomless carpet bag.

Jane and Michael often judge people by their appearances and Mary teaches them to look beneath the surface. While at first they see Bert, the happy-go-lucky chimney sweep as dirty, they find out that Bert, who will be part of many adventures, is very likeable, full of fun, and he and Mary are old friends.

Similarly, when they run into the Bird Woman, who ekes out a meager living selling bags of food for the pigeons in the park, they see her as simply a bundle of rags. As the old woman (Suzanne Mason) and Mary render their heart-rendering duet, “Feed the Birds,” the children realize that the Bird Woman is really a kindly soul who has devoted her life to bringing nourishment to the tiny winged creatures.

Stunning musical showstoppers abound. One of my favorites is the astoundingly enthusiastic “Jolly Holiday,” in which Mary, Bert and the children are joined by the entire ensemble and wow the audience with song and dance. The colorful costumes are a visual delight. This number elicited spontaneous applause.

An extremely humorous bit of slapstick occurs when Mrs. Brill, the cook (Linda Cameron) gives Robertson Ay (Danny Meglio) some simple instructions to carry out in preparation for Mrs. Banks’ socialite tea party and things go hilariously awry. The mishap is followed by the crowd-pleasing tune, “A Spoonful of Sugar.”

As an investment banker, George is not so commanding and self-assured as he is at home. Act I leaves the audience with two cliffhangers. George makes a decision to fund one of two business ventures and time will tell if he made the right choice. Then, unexpectedly, Mary leaves in order to see how the family fares without her input. As she soars above the silhouetted rooftops of London, the audience is left to wonder if the Banks family will ever learn to function as a family without her help.

Directed and choreographed with great finesse and attention to detail by Drew Humphrey, Mary Poppins delights on every level. Analisa Leaming, who boasts a plethora of impressive Broadway credits, is the ideal Mary. From her very first song, “Practically Perfect,” the audience will be wowed by her melodic voice which borders on the operatic. She is a sight to behold in Kurt Alger’s spot-on period costumes. Expect to be smitten.

Luke Hawkins, who plays Bert, has appeared in Xanadu and Cirque de Soleil on Broadway. His amiability makes him the perfect sidekick for Mary. He will tap dance his way into your heart in numbers like the showstopper, “Step in Time.”

Katherine LaFountain (Jane) and Christopher McKenna (Michael) are no newcomers to the Engeman stage. They both have incredible stage presence and can sing and dance with the best of them.

George and Winifred are played by David Schmittou and Liz Pearce, respectively. Although Mary Poppins appears on the scene to correct the damage caused to the children by these wayward parents, the fact that the parents eventually win the audience’s sympathy is a credit to their fine acting.

Major kudos to Kurt Alger for his outstanding costume and hair design, which are truly an eye-catching salute to the elegant finery of the early 1900s. Jason Simms’ scenic design, showcasing the landmark London clock tower, combined with Zach Blane’s lighting, makes for dramatic silhouetted nightscapes. The six piece band directed by Michael Hopewell does full justice to the music.

Mary Poppins runs through Dec. 31. Tickets can be purchased at the theater’s box office, 250 Main St, Northport, by calling 261-2900 or by visiting www.engemantheater.com.

20 Years of RENT: Original Stars of Broadway Hit to Perform at Northport’s Engeman Theater

Stars of the original Broadway production of RENT, Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal, will enliven the stage of Northport's Engeman Theater in honor of the musical's 20th anniversary. Photo: courtesy of the Engeman Theater

John W. Engeman Theater in Northport will mark the 20th anniversary of Jonathan Larson’s groundbreaking, high-voltage musical RENT with a special event, “Adam & Anthony Live,” at 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17.

Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, who starred in the original 1996 Broadway production, will perform some of the show’s best-loved songs. The pair also appeared in the 2005 movie where Pascal and Rapp reprised their roles as Roger Davis, a pretty boy musician whose life is complicated by AIDS and Mark Cohen, a slightly nerdish aspiring filmmaker who documents a year in his friends’ frenzied lives.

Larson rocked the theatrical world with the Broadway debut of RENT. Drawing inspiration from Puccini’s classic opera, La Bohème, Larson transposed the tale of starving artists from 1830s Paris to the East Village of the 1990s. RENT follows the intertwined journeys of a group of struggling artists trying to make their mark on the world, while finding love and acceptance.

The highly acclaimed musical ran for a record-setting 12 years and not only toured the United States, but around the world. Bedazzled critics gave the work the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and a trio of Tony Awards, Drama Desk Awards, and Obie Awards.

RENT wowed Engeman theatergoers in ‘09. Attendees at the upcoming show will be reminded of what made RENT so unique. A poetic flight of fancy grounded in some of life’s harshest realities, it is Larson’s brilliant juxtaposition of highs and lows, humor and tragedy, despair and hope that made RENT so touching and unforgettable.

There will be material from both artists’ solo shows. Pascal and Rapp will also reminisce about working with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and composer Larson, a struggling artist himself, who tragically never glimpsed the heights to which his theatrical brainchild would soar.

Seven years into the project, he died of an aortic dissection caused by a misdiagnosed medical condition hours after the final dress rehearsal. He was 10 days shy of his 36th birthday.

Tickets are $40 for season ticketholders and $75 for the general public and can be purchased at the box office, by calling 631-261-2900 or visiting www.engemantheater.com

1776: Hit Musical About Birth of Our Nation Opens at Northport’s Engeman Theater

1776
Adam Mosebach (as Charles Thomson), Stephen Valenti (as Lewis Morris), Jamie LaVerdiere (as John Adams), Tom Lucca (as John Hancock), Michael Glavan (as Thomas Jefferson), Jon Reinhold (as Richard Henry Lee), Benjamin Howes (as John Dickinson) and Robert Budnick (as Stephen Hopkins) enliven the stage in the musical, 1776, now playing at the Engeman Theater. (Photo by Michael DeCristofaro)

Expect to be thoroughly entertained by an enthralling slice of American history set to music as 1776, the multiple Tony Award-winning musical about the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which recently opened at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater.

The show spans the summer months of its title year. It’s uncomfortably hot in the fly-plagued Philadelphian Hall that is home to the Second Congressional Congress, and business is moving at a snail’s pace. John Adams, the Massachusetts delegate, is deeply frustrated because Congress has not moved forward on his proposal that the American colonies break free from British rule. In fact, a year has trickled through the hourglass, and Adams has earned the reputation of being obnoxious and disliked because of his persistence.

This was a rebellious act that no other British possession had ever dared contemplate. Yet life in the colonies had given rise to a new breed, less refined than the British perhaps, yet tantalizingly bold. Delegates teetered on the decision to brave “the sea in a skiff made of paper” for three sweltering months.

Eventually, when delegates do commit to a “yea” or “nay,” a deadlock emerges, with the South pitted against the North. To make matters more difficult, John Hancock, Congressional President, rules that the decision for or against independence must be unanimous, so “no colony be torn from its mother country without its own consent.”

Adams calls for a postponement and suggests that a document clarifying the reasons behind the break from Great Britain be drafted. Hence the Declaration of Independence would be written.

Jamie LaVerdiere, who boasts Broadway, national and international tour credits, previously appeared in Engeman’s The Cottage and Sweet Charity. He excels as Adams, the principled idealist and passionately annoying squeaky wheel who refuses to be silenced. Adams and his wife, Abigail, had a deep bond nurtured by written correspondence. Their responses to each other’s missives are depicted in the show. Jennifer Hope Wills, who has appeared on Broadway and regionally, does full justice to the role of Abigail. Their voices blend in sweet harmony in the songs, “Until Then,” and “Yours, Yours, Yours.”

Adams’ primary supporters in the fight for independence are Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin. In his Engeman debut, Michael Glavan is superb as the taciturn Jefferson, who possessed the written eloquence needed to compose the Declaration of Independence.

David Studwell endows Franklin with both wisdom and a keen comic flair, the latter of which is showcased in the clever repartee that takes place when Franklin and Adams run into Martha Jefferson. She has been sent for by Adams because Jefferson has been pining for his wife. When asked by Franklin how the inordinately quiet Jefferson managed to snare such a comely bride, Martha (Adriana Milbrath) responds with “He Plays the Violin,” a saucy song full of innuendos and double entendres. It makes for delightful levity.

At the end of Act I, a bedraggled courier (Matthew Rafanelli), who silently trudges into Congressional Hall bearing messages from George Washington, surprises the audience with a song, “Momma Look Sharp.” It is a poignant and heartbreaking reminder of the true cost of war and Rafanelli renders it to perfection.

South Carolina’s Edward Rutledge (Peter Saide) similarly delivers a wake-up call about the North’s hypocrisy with respect to slavery. “Molasses to Rum” is a stunningly dramatic number about the harsh realities of triangular trade.

The action really heats up in Act II and its songs like these two that kept me glued to my seat.

Expect to experience an engrossing behind-the-scenes look into the personalities who catapulted America into revolution. You might be reminded, as I was, of another spellbinding Engeman hit, 12 Angry Men, where there is similar deliberation. However, in 1776, the destiny of not just one man, but of an entire nation hangs in the balance. We identify with the characters’ moral and philosophical quandaries because the Founding Fathers are depicted, not as demigods, but as flawed and all too human.

The show is a deeply thought-provoking one. Given the present political climate, I felt wistful about the spirit of moral integrity that permeated Congressional Hall. Despite fundamental differences, in the final analysis, the delegates listened to others and were open to compromise, which was, at times, hard wrought.

Director Igor Goldin has been at the helm of many of Engeman’s finest productions, including  Memphis, West Side Story, South Pacific, and, of course, 12 Angry Men. His astute direction and attention to detail is outstanding, making for ensemble work at its best. He once again delivers a theatrical masterpiece.

One of the first things that I noticed was the authentic period costumes, in keeping with the persona of each character. Major kudos to Kurt Alger for his costume and wig design, which delight the eyes. Compliments also to the five piece band led by Music Director Eric Alsford.

I would be remiss if I did not call attention to the playbill, which is something of a keepsake. It contains an image of the original Declaration with its signatures. There is a picture of each delegate, the actor that plays him, and fascinating details about the men who shaped history.

1776 runs through Nov. 6. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, by calling 631-261-2900 or visiting www.engemantheater.com

The Sisters Rosensweig Takes Stage at Northport’s Bare Bones Theater

The Sisters Rosensweig
Caption: (L. to r.) Susan Stein, Jacqueline Misholy and Christine Nelson in Wendy Wasserstein’s The Sisters Rosensweig, now playing at Northport’s Bare Bones Theater Company (Photo by Jeannie Powers).

In its choice of plays, Northport’s Bare Bones Theater Company has always marched to a different drummer. Theatergoers looking for cutting edge entertainment and spectacular performances from a plethora of Long Island-based actors will find this and so much more in Bare Bones’ latest production, The Sisters Rosensweig, which runs through Sunday, Aug. 28.

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Wendy Wasserstein, an immensely talented playwright, is best known for The Wendy Chronicles, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play in 1989. She continued her examination of women’s issues which mirrored her own personal struggles in The Sisters Rosensweig, which made its Broadway debut in ’93 and broke with tradition with its focus on the identity crises of three Jewish American middle-aged women. The Sisters Rosensweig won the Outer Critics Circle award for Best Broadway Play the year it debuted.

Sadly, the theatrical world lost one of its brightest stars with Wasserstein’s untimely 2006 death from cancer at age 55.

The play is an exploration of the complicated dynamics between three very different siblings who come together to celebrate the 54th birthday of Sara Goode, the oldest sister. The play alternates between the serious and the comedic, but always shines with the wit and insight for which Wasserstein was known. There is a lot of truth bandied about in Wasserstein’s work, so the audience shouldn’t be surprised if they recognize situations they’ve experienced or observed.

The play is set in ’91 during a difficult time for the three women, who are not only mourning the loss of their mother, Rita, but their now tarnished youthful dreams. As their stories unfold on the cusp of the demise of the Soviet Union, the sisters’ time together will also turn out to be one of upheaval, and the stark realization that at one level or another they lost sight of themselves and their identities.

The birthday celebration takes place at Sara’s London home, where she lives with her daughter, Tess. Although Sara, an expatriate, has broken a major glass ceiling by becoming the first woman to manage the Hong Kong Bank of Europe, she is far from happy. Her second ex-hubbie is on his fifth wife and the two-time divorcee bemoans being a member of “the wives of Kenneth Goode” club.  Although quite attractive, she has been so seared by life that  the cold, bitter woman has admittedly has turned her back on her family, religion and homeland.

The youngest sister is Pfeni, a travel writer who is constantly (and perhaps compulsively) traipsing across the globe. She’s in a relationship of the approach-avoidance variety with Geoffrey Duncan, an outrageously flamboyant bisexual theater director who describes himself as a “closet heterosexual.” To add to the fun, at one point he prances around the living room in his underwear!

The middle sister is Gorgeous Teitelbaum, a gregarious, self-involved housewife with traditional values who paints a rose-colored portrait of her family life in the Boston suburbs. To add to her “funsy” outlook on life, she has reinvented herself as Dr. Gorgeous, and dispenses advice on a radio talk show.

The dilemma faced by 17-year-old Tess, the most grounded of the women, is whether she should accompany her Lithuanian boyfriend, Tom, to his homeland to support its struggle for independence.

Wasserstein’s plays don’t end up with conventional fairytale happy endings. Instead they   resonate with possibility and change, which in this case waltzes through the door with the serendipitous arrival of Merv Kant. Merv, a friend of Geoffrey’s, has coincidentally broken a glass ceiling of his own by creating a successful market for fake fur. Merv is immediately taken with Sara, but the curmudgeon is not having any part of it.

The persistent Merv manages to get included in the dinner party. He appears to be Sara’s polar opposite—sociable, funny,  passionate about life and open to change. Will Mr. Nice Guy be able to penetrate the tough veneer wrought by so many years?

For this show to work as well as it does, the actors must perform seamlessly as an ensemble and have the chemistry to make it believable. Jacqueline Misholy excels as Sara, a tough cookie whose harsh demeanor hints at deeply concealed vulnerability and tenderness. I previously saw Christine Nelson in Bare Bones’ production of Neil Simon’s Fools. She is well-cast as Pfeni, a woman who instinctively knows she is skating on thin ice with her choice of a romantic partner and won’t be able to dodge the lingering unanswered questions forever.

Both Susan Stein, the manically happy and narcissistic Gorgeous Teitelbaum, and Steve Ayle, outrageously theatrical Geoffrey Duncan, are hilarious and make for a lot of laughter. Len DeLorenzo is superb as the uninvited dinner guest who knows what he likes when he sees it and proves to be a formidable suitor.

Tess (Shannon Raffaniello) and Tom Valiunus (Mike Koullias) perform with great poise and provide the youthful perspective of a couple who weather the resolution of a dilemma with far less baggage.

Ralph Carideo completes the picture as Nick Pym, as the guest who is so clueless about Sara’s likes and dislikes that he brings a birthday gift that is destined to disappoint.

The play is directed with great finesse by Lynn Antunovich, the artistic director of the theater company, with an assist from Eric Clavel.  Scott McIntyre is the producer.

Performances take place at 8 p.m. on Aug. 20, 26,  and 27  and at  2 p.m. on  Aug. 21 and 28. Bare Bones Theater is located at 57 Main St., Northport. Tickets are $25 for Friday and Saturday performances and $20  for matinees. Student tickets are $15. To purchase tickets, visit brownpapertickets.com or call 1-800-838- 3006.

Mamma Mia! Hit Musical Debuts at Northport’s Engeman Theater

eft to right Heather Patterson King (as Tanya), Michelle Dawson (as Donna) and Robin Lounsbury (as Rosie) (Photo by Michael DeCristofaro)

Mamma Mia!, the Broadway smash hit musical showcasing the high-energy songs of pop superstars ABBA, recently began its East Coast regional debut at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport.

It is said that the musical, which has played to international audiences and had a record 14-year run on Broadway, often inspired dancing in the aisles. Well, the Engeman production was so sensational that if the historic theater had wider aisles, dancing would have prevailed. Following a thunderous standing ovation, the cast treated the audience to a finale reprising the show’s hottest numbers. As theatergoers clapped, sang along and danced in place, the actors broke the fourth wall and streamed off the stage, performing throughout the theater and heightening the excitement.

If you can only see one show this summer, it must be Mamma Mia!

The story unfolds in a taverna perched high on a sun-kissed Greek island adrift in the Aegean Sea. The owner of this little piece of paradise is single mom Donna Sheridan, who’s finishing up last-minute details in preparation for the wedding of her 20-year-old daughter, Sophie. There’s quite the emotional conundrum casting a shadow on the festivities.

Donna was never sure who Sophie’s father was because she sowed some wild oats with three guys around the time that Sophie was conceived. Sophie unearths her mother’s diary, which contains intimate details about the possible identity of her father. It’s her dream to have him walk her down the aisle, so unbeknownst to her mother, Sophie has invited her three could-be fathers to the wedding. The past will collide with the present in the funniest way possible when this trio of unexpected guestswhom Donna has not seen in 21 yearsarrives.

How did the songs of the wildly popular Swedish pop music group that reigned for 10 years between the early 1970s and ’80s come to be the basis for a global smash hit?

In the early ’80s, award-winning British theatrical producer Judy Craymer serendipitously met ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson when they were working with Tim Rice on the musical, Chess. After hearing “The Winner Takes It All,” Craymar conceived of ABBA’s songs as a framework for a theatrical production. The songwriters themselves were not totally convinced of the viability of such a project.

It was a long time in the making, but in ’97, Catherine Johnson was commissioned to pen the book. The show opened in ’99 in London. It has been reported that Craymar reaped more than $100 million from her stroke of genius, and Mamma Mia! mania continues to this day. Now it’s reached Northport.

Mamma Mia! is one of the most captivating and exhilarating productions to ever grace the Engeman stage. The cast, the direction, choreography, the set and the music are simply superlative.

The performance of Michelle Dawson (Donna) is informed by a complete understanding of each of the adult female characters. She has played all of them between the Broadway National Tour and as an understudy on Broadway. Dawson shines as the strong woman who pulled herself up by her bootstraps while nursing a bruised heart. She bares her soul in the gut-wrenching song, “The Winner Takes It All,” and renders it beautifully.

Hannah Slabaugh, who boasts a plethora of national and regional tour credits, embodies the youthful exuberance that defines Sophie Sheridan. She has incredible stage presence and the mellifluous voice of an angel. From her first song, “I Have A Dream,” you’ll be smitten.  Jacob Dickey, plays Sky, her fiancé, and you’ll feel their chemistry in their duet, “Lay All Your Love on Me.”

As the story goes, Donna was once part of an all-girl band, “Donna and the Dynamos.” Donna’s singing sidekicks, Rosie and Tanya, are played to perfection by Robin Lounsbury and Heather Patterson King, respectively. Ms. King, who has played the character in Mamma Mia International RCI is hilarious as the thrice-married femme fatale who has some very humorous, off-color moments in “Does Your Mother Know?” with a flirtatious younger man, Pepper (Christopher Hlinka). Ms. Lounsbury similarly tickles the audience’s funny bone to the max in her duet with Bill (Jeff Williams).

All of Donna’s former lovers have pursued different paths in life, and a large portion of the plot has the audience guessing about Sophie’s paternity. Sam (Sean Hayden, who played the character in the Broadway National Tour), who jotted the design of the taverna on a napkin during his time with Donna, became an architect. His tender, caring side comes to the fore in the bittersweet solo, “Knowing Me, Knowing You.”

Similarly, Harry (Frank Vlastnik), now a banker, shines in the reminiscent duet, “Our Last Summer.” In contrast, Bill (Jeff Williams), an Australian journalist, shows off his comedic chops when Rosie puts some aggressive moves on him in “Take A Chance On Me.”

Scenic designer DT Willis’ visually appealing set resonates with the blues and turquoises of the Aegean Sea. An oversized circular portal provides an enchanting view of the waters below the hilltop taverna. The circular theme and the Mediterranean colors are echoed in the floor design.

Further visual unification is supplied by the charming blue distressed interior doors. Adam Honoré’s glorious lighting further enhances the beauty of the set. The silhouetting of characters against the circular portal is an outstanding touch.

I first met Antoinette DiPietropolo when she directed and choreographed another one of my favorite shows at the Engeman, Nunsense. Her direction and choreography is flawless, and she brings the same sense of fun that she brought to Nunsense to Mamma Mia! I particularly enjoyed the choreography and wild abandon of the seductive “Voulez-Vous,” as well as “Does Your Mother Know?”

The hits keep coming, so I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite song, but, of course, the title song, “Mamma Mia,” when a conflicted Donna experiences an emotional thunderbolt as she sees her lost love again, is a standout.

Music is what has made Mamma Mia! a sensation. The extraordinarily talented James Olmstead, who has been at the helm for Engeman’s best-loved musicals, is once again the musical director. Known for his expertise in maximizing the sound of the pit band, and his skillful re-orchestration, he is at the top of his game, and it shows, big time.

Expect to be wowed by the colorful costumes designed by Tristan Raines. I absolutely loved the form-fitting silver ensembles worn by Donna and her gal pals in “Super Trouper.” The fringed vest and granny glasses seen in “The Dancing Queen” will trigger a wave of nostalgia.

Mamma Mia! runs through Sept. 11. Theatergoers are urged to purchase tickets early as high demand has already prompted the addition of extra performances, and this show might very well sell out. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, by calling 631-261-2900 or visiting www.engemantheater.com The John W. Engeman Theater is located at 250 Main St., Northport.

Party Like a Vanderbilt at ‘Wine in the Courtyard’ Rotary Club Fundraiser

The Vanderbilt Mansion in Centerport

Nearly a century ago, William K. Vanderbilt’s palatial Spanish Revival-style mansion, Eagle’s Nest, and its sprawling acreage on Long Island’s Gold Coast were the stomping grounds for the rich and famous, including author Dorothy Parker, actor Douglas Fairbanks, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as well as President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor.

On Aug. 11, the public will have the extraordinary opportunity to get a taste of silver spoon living when the Rotary Club of Northport hosts its annual Wine in the Courtyard fundraiser at the historic Vanderbilt Mansion, Museum and Planetarium in Centerport. During the course of the evening, guests will enjoy the offerings of 100 vineyards along with palate-pleasing cuisine from 20 fine local restaurants—all while taking in breathtaking panoramic views of the Long Island Sound.

“There’ll literally be wine from all over the world thanks to Mitch Herman, president of BottleBargains, who uses his extensive contacts with distributors to put the wine in our wine event,” Rotarian Andy Giffin said.

The longstanding event is one that the club has hosted for about 20 years. Attendance is capped at 500 and Giffin expects the event to sell out.

New this year will be an international beer garden where connoisseurs can enjoy selections of global and local craft beer selections, including Northport-based Sandy City Brewery, and cider. The food and wine will be served in tented areas, which, along with the mansion, will provide shelter in the event of a shower, Giffin indicated.

For the second year in a row, guests will have the opportunity to leisurely wander through Vanderbilt’s mansion, aptly described on its website as “an enchanting time capsule of a vanished era.” Of particular interest are Vanderbilt’s acquisitions from extensive world travels showcased in museum rooms. Representatives from the museum will be on hand to answer questions.

As in the past, there will be non-stop musical entertainment, with Rotary President Teri George, aka “the singing banker,” serenading attendees as they enter the courtyard. The vocal powerhouse, accompanied by her group, The Connection, will render “knock-your-socks-off” performances from her Broadway and blues repertoire.

Fabulous vocalist and all-around entertainer Felicia Crandall will be performing in the large tent and will dazzle the crowd with selections from her favorite Top 40 hits.
Proceeds from the event support dozens of worthy charities, both locally and abroad, from veterans’ initiatives, the Ecumenical Lay Food Pantry and youth exchange programs to life-saving heart surgeries for children and so much more.

The Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Rd., Centerport, and festivities run from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 pm. on Thursday, Aug. 11. Tickets, at $100 a person. Purchase tickets online at Northportrotary.com or at LaMantia Gallery, 127 Main St.,  Northport. For information, call 631-754-8414. Tickets will also be sold at the gate.

A Thoroughly Marvelous ‘Millie” Opens at Engeman Theater

Thoroughly Modern Millie
Tessa Grady plays an small town girl who exuberantly embraces the 'modern' spirit of 1920s Manhattan in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at Northport's Engeman Theater (Photo by Michael DeCristofaro).

Thoroughly Modern Millie—the most highly acclaimed show of 2002, and winner of both Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Best Musical—has opened at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater.

The theater has pulled out all the stops in its retelling of the madcap escapades of a small town girl who casts aside her provincial background to embrace the “modern” lifestyle of 1920s Manhattan. To truly capture the spirit of the decade that roared, the cast, music, singing, dancing, choreography, lighting, set and costume design have to be exemplary. Engeman’s production delivers on every level. Simply put, Thoroughly Modern Millie is a delight not to be missed.

The era, known alternately as the Roaring Twenties, the Crazy Years (France) and the Golden Years (Germany), was ushered in by unprecedented economic growth and prosperity. In this period of unbridled optimism and risk-taking, dynamic cultural changes took place. Emboldened by the right to vote, women entered the workforce in droves and cast off prim and proper stereotypes. In big cities around the world, people’s zest for life was reflected in music (jazz), dance, architectural styles (art deco) and elaborate, colorful trends in fashion.

As the show opens, Millie Dillmount (Tessa Grady), a starry-eyed ingénue from a “one-light town” in Kansas, has fulfilled her dream of getting to New York City.  She literally makes her transformation from sedate small town girl to a free-spirited “modern” before our eyes. Sporting newly bobbed hair, her stunning yellow outfit sets her apart from the ensemble clothed in light colored, metallic-toned costumes. As Millie sings and dances against a shimmering backdrop depicting the Manhattan skyline, she is the centerpiece of the title number “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Prepare to be smitten.

Alas, Millie does not remain starry-eyed for long. She is summarily stripped of her purse, hat and even one shoe by a thief. What’s a penniless girl to do?

A passerby, Jimmy Smith (Daniel Plimpton), who has seen the likes of Millie before, warns her to go back home. But he does dish out one piece of handy advice—to seek lodging at Hotel Priscilla, where the owner is known to be lenient to financially strapped young single women seeking fame and fortune in the big city.

Millie’s plan for putting an end to her financial woes is by no means a feminist one. She envisions finding a single, well-to-do boss and marrying him. Love doesn’t have to figure into the equation in this brave new world where reason is supposed to preside over romance. Or does it?

Millie finds what she is looking for in the very business-like Trevor Graydon (Tim Rogan) at the Sincere Trust Insurance Company. As Millie takes her place at the typewriter to show off her prowess, she sets the stage for “The Speed Test,” one of the show’s most engaging and intricately timed musical numbers. The entire ensemble tap-dances as Millie types and tap-dances beneath the desk. Rogan is terrific, and his no-nonsense demeanor is the perfect foil for Grady’s exuberance.

Meanwhile, something clearly unsavory is brewing at Hotel Priscilla, where young boarders are disappearing at an alarming rate. Don’t let the red-and-black kimono worn by the owner, Mrs. Meers, fool you. This woman—who boasts the world’s worst Chinese accent—is really a frustrated actress who is making a bundle selling girls with no family ties into white slavery.  Mrs. Meers, played by Michele Ragusa, is uproariously funny as are her partners-in-crime, brothers Ching Ho (Anthony Chan) and Bun Foo (Carl Hsu).

The recent immigrants are trying to save enough money to bring their mother here from Hong Kong.  I won’t give away the details, but their antics and their unexpected parody (rendered in song, of course) had the audience laughing uncontrollably.

Jimmy and Millie run into each other again, and before they know it, they are quasi-dating yet both remain conflicted. Jimmy reflects on this in his soul-searching solo, “What Do I Need With Love?”

Millie finds an unlikely confidante in stylish socialite and singer Muzzy Van Hossmere (Nicole Powell), whom she meets through Jimmy. Ms. Powell’s extremely impressive voice is showcased in “Only in New York” and “Long As I’m Here With You.”

Jonathan Collins’ sets never fail to astound, and this versatile design pays homage to the Art Deco motif that defined the ‘20s. It’s a masterpiece that was eight months in the making and it shows.

Collins said that the design called for “a steel emerald city.”

“I wanted to make it as detailed and interesting as possible,” he said of the trio of architectural portals that are ornamented with three different silvers and golds and Art Deco’s signature repeating bold geometric shapes.

An unexpected, but charming effect of the metallic finishes is that parts of the set reflect the dancers’ colorful motion, Collins noted.

Cory Pattak uses lighting to accent this set throughout the production, and the results are stunning. I was particularly wowed by the dreamy, surrealistic use of oranges and magentas in the scene in the speakeasy where intoxicated patrons stumble around and appear to dance in slow motion.

Kurt Alger has done a phenomenal job with costume and wig design. The boldly striped suits, delicious jewel-hued fringed and sequined gowns, feather boas and cloches speak  authentically to the period and are utterly fabulous.

Kudos to Drew Humphrey, whose direction is flawless. He also choreographed the dance numbers with Dena DiGiacinto, and their efforts will leave you wanting more.

Wojcik/Seay Casting has outdone itself in assembling one of the most talented troupes ever to appear on the Engeman Stage. Tessa Grady, the star of the show, is a true gem.
As always, the impeccable performance by the band led by James Olmstead (who does double duty as conductor and keyboardist) is indispensable to creating the era’s ambiance.

Thoroughly Modern Millie runs through July 10. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, by calling 631-261-2900 or visiting www.engemantheater.com

Anderson Cooper Appearance Packs Huntington Book Revue

Anderson Cooper
Anderson Cooper speaks about his memoir at Huntington's Book Revue (Photo by Alan Pearlman).

Emmy Award-winning CNN anchor Anderson Cooper drew a packed crowd to the Book Revue in Huntington Sunday despite the short notice that he would be there to speak about his new memoir.

His book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss, debuted April 5 at No. 1 on The New York Times best-selling list. Based on correspondence between Cooper and his fashion designer mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, it was released the same week as the touching HBO documentary exploring the same theme, Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper.

“I did not want the same thing to happen with my mother (as with my father),” the host of Anderson Cooper 360 told the crowd. “She is the only person who remembers me as a child.”

Cooper’s father, Wyatt Cooper, died at age 50 when Cooper was only 10. For years to come, Cooper said that he nurtured a fantasy that he would receive a letter from his father. He later learned that his mother had a similar hope.

Although he had always considered himself to be close to this mother, Cooper wasn’t able to see her as much as he wanted given his busy schedule. When she suffered a serious illness at age 91, it was a wake-up call for Cooper.

“I didn’t want to consciously leave anything unsaid,” Cooper said. “No enigmatic moments.”

Vanderbilt, who is best known for igniting the designer jean craze, has written eight books and devotes considerable time to painting and writing. While it has always been her habit to do her writing longhand, Cooper requested that they embark on their voyage of mutual discovery via email because, he said, it allows one to put aside any embarrassment or anger.

He characterized his mother, who was married four times, as the most optimistic person in the world who still thinks that there could be an admirer in a boat (or a yacht) off the coast of Southern France, waiting to sweep her off her feet. In contrast, Cooper defines himself as more of a catastrophist, a Game of Thrones, “winter is coming” sort of guy who wants to be prepared for the worst, should it happen.

He stressed the importance of having conversations with aging parents and said he hopes that what he did with his mother will resonate with others. It took him a while to realize that he had the makings of a book since he really did not start with that in mind.

The title of the book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes, refers to the optimistic notion that there will be times when destiny smiles on us and times when we seem to fall from its good graces, but the rainbow returns when we least expect it.

Cooper said that his mother told him that she loved writing to him, “especially when it is about me.” He was surprised to learn a lot that he did not know.

“Patterns repeat from generations before and personality traits,” he noted, adding that both he and his mother have a great deal of drive and determination. His parents let him know from a very young age that, while they would pay for his college education, after that it was up to him to forge his way in the world.

That fierce determination kicked in when, as a graduate of Yale University, he struggled to secure an entry-level job in journalism. Undaunted, Cooper created his own press pass and made a name for himself by venturing into the dangerous journalistic waters of war reporting. Success would follow, making Cooper one of the most recognized news reporters currently on TV.

College Match Quiz

After describing the impetus behind his book, Cooper fielded questions from the audience. Perhaps the youngest and most unlikely Cooper admirer in the crowd was nine-year-old Violet Radgowski, accompanied by her mom, Lisa. To secure front-row seats, they arrived at 9 a.m. Sunday, before Book Revue even opened.

“It was my first book signing,” exclaimed Violet. “I am already at page 45. It is very good.”

Her mother agreed, noting that waiting three hours to see Cooper was worth it.

“The book is also so wonderful from a historical perspective,” she said.

At one point during his chat with the crowd, Cooper, who sold his home in Quiogue last year, sparked uproarious laughter when he said that he had never visited his ancestors’ Vanderbilt Museum, Mansion & Planetarium in nearby Centerport. On a serious note, he told the crowd that he considered himself lucky to have covered some of recent history’s starkest moments.

“I am blessed to learn about something new every day,” Cooper said. “Even in the midst of horror and tragedy, when you would expect to find hate and darkness, you find light; you find choice,” Cooper said, recalling his experiences covering the earthquake in Haiti and the aftermath of tsunamis.

He has seen people risk personal harm to save strangers. “These are the moments that give people hope,” he concluded.

“It is the rainbow,” someone quipped from the audience. Perhaps it was.

‘Prospect High: Brooklyn’ Premieres at Long Island High School for the Arts

Prospect High: Brooklyn
Prospect High: Brooklyn is coming to Nassau BOCES Long Island High School for the Arts this week (Nassau BOCES photo)

Nassau BOCES Long Island High School for the Arts has received the prestigious distinction of being one of only 23 high schools nationwide handpicked to host a premiere of the hard-hitting  drama, Prospect High: Brooklyn.

The play, developed in partnership with Education at Roundabout, was written by Daniel Robert Sullivan along with a team of New York City teenagers. It is also the first high school rolling “world premiere,” meaning the play will debut at many small theaters within a 12-month season.

“I’ve always thought it would be great to offer that kind of arrangement to high school,” Sullivan said. “After much research, we chose 23 of the boldest high school theater departments from across the country and can use this first-ever high school rolling world premiere to recognize them and expose their power at a national level.”

Prospect High: Brooklyn began its rolling high school “world premiere” almost a year ago in Indianapolis and will conclude in San Diego in May. The Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts will then perform the play in Roundabout’s own Black Box Theatre in Manhattan in September.

Sullivan, a teaching artist and professional actor known for his ongoing role as Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys, had long nurtured a desire to create a forum for stories told by teenagers.

“I found their stories to be extraordinarily interesting yet usually they never got beyond the classroom,” said Sullivan. In Prospect High: Brooklyn, a drama with humorous moments, the students get to have their “voice.”

The play evolved, Sullivan said, as he met with teenagers from all walks of life and different schools who were “willing to open up and share” their experiences three times a week for nine months.

“These are things students deal with on a daily basis and truly wanted to talk about,” said Sullivan, adding that bullying, apathy, racism, trans-acceptance, self-harm and violence are issues addressed by the play.

The result is an authentic powerhouse of a production detailing the events that transpire over the course of an October afternoon at a fictional Brooklyn high school that could be any school in the United States.

The action “culminates in one disturbing act and the question is could it have been prevented,” Sullivan indicated. The story also highlights the importance of deep friendship for teens.

“What saves these kids are their peers, their friendships and social networks,” he said.

Abbe Gross, a teacher in the LIHSA theater art department, directed the production. She said it looks at “moments that change lives.”

Prospect High: Brooklyn is a cautionary tale about the consequences of seeing conflict and saying nothing or adding fuel to the fire,” Gross explained. “The Long Island High School for the Arts is dedicated to using the arts as a tool for social change. It is in that spirit our students bring this play to life in the hope it will inspire its audience to raise their voices.”

Students who are involved in groups that foster leadership and social change and those interested in these issues are encouraged to attend.

“Teenagers will recognize themselves in the production,” Sullivan said.

But he added that his and his young co-writers’ mission is to get adults to see the show, too.

“This is what they [the students] want people to know,” Sullivan said. “We gave them the platform. It is an eye-opening experience.”

Performances take place at LlHSA’s Seymour Weiner Theater, 239 Cold Spring Rd., Syosset at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on April 20 and at 10 a.m. on April 21. Tickets are free. For reservations or more information, visit www.nassauboces.org/lihsa.

10th Annual Marcie Mazzola Memorial 5K Comes to Huntington Sunday

This Sunday will mark the 10th anniversary of the Marcie Mazzola Memorial 5K Run/Walk. Hundreds are expected to turn out for the Huntington event which funds YMCA scholarships for needy children (Photo by Alan Pearlman).

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the Marcie Mazzola Memorial 5K Run/Walk, which raises funds for YMCA scholarships for needy children (Photo by Alan Pearlman).

The streets of Huntington will once again reverberate with the sound of pounding feet as hundreds of runners take part in the 10th annual Marcie Mazzola Memorial 5K Run/Walk on Sunday.

Nearly 500 runners from across Long Island turned out last year for this highly anticipated event, which is a part of the Grand Prix Series of Long Distance Running and sanctioned by USA Track & Field. Race organizers expect a larger turnout for the 10-year anniversary of the event, which raised $30,000 that was donated to charity last year. The event’s proceeds benefit the Huntington YMCA’s Summer Camp Scholarship Program for underprivileged children and children’s programs at the Family Service League.

“The whole day is about having fun,” said Nancy Mazzola, Marcie’s stepmother and president of the nonprofit Marcie Mazzola Foundation, which raises funds to help at-risk children.

The event is a heartfelt tribute to the foundation’s namesake, a spirited and compassionate 1999 Commack High School graduate who had just turned 21 when she lost her life in a car crash in July 2002. When the family decided to perpetuate a legacy of compassion and caring in Marcie’s honor, they remembered her abiding love for children and desire to help youngsters at risk or who had suffered abuse, according to Nancy. The foundation’s motto is “helping children in need.”

Through the foundation’s efforts, more than a half a million dollars has been raised for children’s causes, including Pal-O-Mine Equestrian, Smile Train, the Coalition Against Child Abuse and Neglect, Island Harvest, Family Service League, New York Organ Donor Network and the Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk.

The event, which takes place rain or shine, begins at 8 a.m. April 10 at the Huntington YMCA with a non-competitive half-mile fun run for children 10 years old and under. The main event, the 5K Run/Walk, begins at 8:30 a.m. on Park Avenue. The 3.1-mile race offers runners a scenic tour of Huntington’s most beloved streets, including Woodhull Road, Spring Road,  Prime Avenue and Sabbath Day Path.

Registration is required for all participants, and the fee for 5K run/walk is $30. The 5K fee for students (grades 12 and under) is $20 and the Fun Run is $10. Registration can be completed online through April 7 (before 9 p.m. for the 5K and before noon for the fun run) at runsignup.com.

Runners and walkers can also register on race day from 6:45 to 8 a.m. at the Huntington YMCA, 60 Main St., Huntington while those who have already registered check in. No numbers will be issued after 8 a.m. Sunday. On Saturday, April 9, those who have already registered can pick up their race packet, including the bib/chip, at the Huntington YMCA between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

First-place male and female winners will receive trophies and one-year YMCA of Long Island memberships. Overall second and third place and Masters, 40-years-old and over, will also receive trophies. Many corporations participate as a group, and trophies will be given for Corporate Challenge 1st Place and Largest Team. Young fun-runners will get medals, and tee-shirts. Post-race festivities in the YMCA Pavilion will include an award ceremony and raffles.

To learn more about the Foundation, visit marciemazzolafoundation.org