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Wednesday
Nov212018

Theater Review - 'A Christmas Carol'

Theater Review – ‘A Christmas Carol’

Produced by: Theatre Three – Port Jefferson

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur 


Jeffrey Sanzel as ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’ (foreground) and his Clerk, ‘Bob Crachit’ - Douglas J. Quattrock
On Long Island, Christmas wouldn’t be the happy, traditional time we all look forward to, were it not for the inclusion of Theatre Three’s perennial staging of Charles Dickens’ classic ‘A Christmas Carol.’ 

Every year at about this time, the itch to kick back in Port Jefferson’s 160-year-old playhouse and wonder at the genius of its guiding light, Director Jeffrey Sanzel (who wrote the prize-winning adaptation) wafts over us like the millions of falling leaves that herald the arrival of the holiday season along with the great Sanzel’s masterpiece.
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If that smacks of hyperbole, you must ask yourself how many staged dramatic versions of world-renowned stories you know of that have kept audiences returning annually to the same venue for nearly thirty-five years!
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It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to learn that some of the roles being played by newcomers to this familiar production were interpreted a few years back by their mothers or fathers. That’s how much staying power originally Dickens … and now Sanzel … have injected into this most endearing (and enduring) of all Yultide-oriented dramas.
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You may number this reviewer among those critics who have found Theatre Three’s productions of ‘A Christmas Carol’ more and more charming as the years go by. Leave it to Director Sanzel and his talented retinue to alter for the better even that which so many Long Islanders have already dubbed “…a perfect classic of the first rank…” and we’ve been quick to embrace the show as our very own contribution to the Arts. 
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That claim is not as presumptuous as it may sound at first blush, for just as a book is never really completed until it’s read, no play is ever truly finalized until seen in performance. Thus, local theater fans themselves contribute in a major way to the success of this home-grown classic.
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Indeed, Jeffrey Sanzel seems to delight so much in touching up his superb adaptation annually, that some of us who note these improvements with the passing seasons have taken to calling him ‘The Leonardo of Port Jefferson,’ such is his dedication to perfection. Of course, we do so in private … because the self- effacing impresario would be aghast to know that in his re-workings he is being compared to the greatest of all renaissance men. So be it. We stand by our characterization.
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It is only fair that five artists should be saluted for having earned key ‘A Christmas Carol’ roles for the first time. They are: Nicole Bianco (a charming Belle) … Eric Hughes (convincing London apprentice Dick Wilkins) … Michelle LaBozzetta (the perfect narrator of Christmas Past) … Andrew Lenahan (wonderful as Jacob Marley) … and Richard Schindler (endearing as the jolly Fezziwig). Congratulations to them all … their sure-footed performances on the Theatre Three stage reveal clearly why they’ve been selected for the important parts they play.
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Of course, this most beloved of all Christmas Season stories belongs largely (though not exclusively by any means) to its antagonist-turned-protagonist—Ebenezer Scrooge. The central character is played by Jeffrey Sanzel himself, and it is nigh on to impossible to picture anyone else undertaking the miser’s demanding but unforgettable role. Similarly, one can hardly imagine a serious patron of the Theater Arts ever leaving Port Jefferson’s famed Theatre Three … its glittering Main Street marquee flashing the invitation to, ‘A Christmas Carol’ … without feeling amply rewarded for having partaken of the grand old playhouse’s holiday treat.
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The Show runs thru December 29th - (631) 928-9202 … and by all means, bring the kids … they’ll love you for it!
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Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s topical thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced at the Smithtown Library on May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com 

 

Thursday
Sep272018

Theater Review - 'The Addams Family'

 

Theater Review – ‘The Addams Family’

Produced by: Theatre Three – Port Jefferson

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

 

The strangely appealing musical comedy now playing at Port Jefferson’s Theatre Three has got to be the wackiest production ever mounted on the 160-year-old building’s fabled stage. The show is ‘The Addams Family,’ and if ever there was a more appropriate prelude to the Halloween season, this, my friends, must surely be it!

About fifteen seconds into the macabre play, one finds one’s self wondering if the zany goings on could possibly be the product of the same theatrical organization that gave us ‘The Bridges of Madison County, or ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’ Even the bloodthirsty ‘Sweeney Todd’ seems tame in retrospect when compared to the ghoulish behavior that the morbid Addams bunch substitutes for fun.

It has been observed that all comedy is rooted in tragedy. That being the case, ‘The Addams Family’ can easily be termed the funniest performance ever mounted on any stage, anywhere … including vaudeville. Because to the weird Addams clan, Death is a hoot … Torture’s terrific … and Poison is downright yummy!

The wonder of it is that the resulting unlikely laugh lines (which are spun off in rat-a-tat-tat sequence) all work … to the extent that we hardly have time to catch our collective breaths between belly laughs.

This newest rib-tickler, directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, stars Matt Senese as Gomez Addams, and Tracylynn Conner (the dour Morticia Addams) is his perfect foil. Their counterparts, in what could be called a ghoulish version of ‘Meet the Parents,’ are Linda May and Steve Ayle, who play Alice and Mal Beineke as if born to the roles.

Of course, audiences should not expect anything profound in the plot as the Addams and Beineke families gingerly feel one another out (in the mansion near a graveyard, appropriately) where daughter Wednesday (yes, that’s her name) has chosen her family’s reunion to introduce current boyfriend Lucas (nicely played by an innocent Matt Paredi). It’s hard to tell which family is the more bewildered by the other … the ‘peaches-and-cream,’ All-American Beinekes, or their totally opposite numbers, the ultra-weird Addamses. The contrast only adds to the hilarity.

The songs in this musical are far from memorable, but their clever lyrics serve the goings on well (‘Just Around the Corner,’ for instance, becomes ‘Just Around the Coroner … get it? And Uncle Fester Addams does his thing in Act I with a piece titled ‘Fester’s Manifesto.’ That’s the kind of show this is. Writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elise have grabbed every opportunity to nail down a pun the minute they got a chance.

Under the direction of veteran Jeffrey Hoffman, the Theatre Three orchestra is melodic when necessary, brassy when appropriate, and unobtrusive when the tender action on stage demands. Randall Parsons has delivered a super-functional set, and Lindsay DeFranco’s make-up design (so important to this play) works to perfection.

The costumes and wigs are exquisite … credit designer Chakira Doherty … as is Robert W. Henderson, Jr.’s spot-on lighting which is properly heavy on purple as well as shadow.

The preceding plaudits notwithstanding, I wouldn’t be surprised if the multi-talented members of Theatre Three’s cast and crew were quick to doff their wigs to the comic genius who came up with the ‘Addams Family’ concept in the beginning. Charles Addams had a keen ear for the sort of situations that make us cringe while chuckling and smile while squirming. He deserves all the stars that critics have in their galaxies.

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Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s topical thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced at the Smithtown Library on May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com 

Sunday
Sep162018

Theater Review - 'Man of LaMancha'

Theater Review – ‘Man of LaMancha’

Produced by Engeman Theater – Northport

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

  Don Quixote – by Pablo Picasso

 

When I heard recently that Senator John McCain had decided to suspend the medical treatments that were keeping him alive … and that he had already planned every detail of his incipient funeral, including the music that he felt would best eulogize him … my first thought centered on ‘The Impossible Dream,’ from Man of La Mancha. That’s how iconic the anthem to perseverance has become for me.

As things turned out, we all now know, McCain chose to be extolled with a recorded Frank Sinatra rendition of ‘My Way,’ the stirring ballad of autobiographical praise written by Paul Anka. I remember wondering as Sinatra’s voice filled the church during the Arizona Senator’s memorial service, how much more enobling the affair might have been had the classic La Mancha ode to courage been McCain’s choice.

But there is an ancient Roman expression (“de mortuis nil nisi bonum”) which literally translated means “Let nothing be said of the dead but what is good.” Fair enough. It was, after all, John’s funeral, and if he was comfortable with the ringing tributes of ‘My Way’ and somewhat curiously, ‘Danny Boy,’ so be it.

Still, as I attended the opening of ‘Man of La Mancha’ at Northport’s lush Engeman Theatre last Saturday, and ‘The Impossible Dream’ was performed (magnificently, I must say) my mind wandered back to the Capitol Rotunda and the National Cathedral, where a courageous John McCain’s flag-draped coffin had been attended so honorably by members of the military. For those sad hours, I concluded internally that ‘The Impossible Dream’ was indeed John’s song.

But putting sentiment aside, it should be noted that musically … musically, mind you … Man of La Mancha is a sort of one-trick-pony. When the play’s unforgettable anthem isn’t being belted out by the production’s star, Richard Todd Adams, the other numbers frankly pale to near-insignificance by comparison. This is not as fatal as the observation might lead one to believe, however. For it’s during these musical lulls that Miguel de Cervantes’ immortal Don Quixote story line takes over and makes the adaption the memorable piece of theater it has become.

When it was introduced on the Broadway stage in 1965, not surprisingly, the heart-warming tale of a knight who sets out to restore gallantry to mankind, won Tony Awards for both Best Musical and Best Musical Score. The production moved to a number of playhouses on the Great White Way before making its final 2,328th performance at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in 1971.

An interesting aside involves the iconic Rex Harrison who, having earned innumerable plaudits starring in My Fair Lady, was seriously considered for the Don Quixote role when Man of La Mancha was testing the theatrical waters in Connecticut. Unfortunately for Harrison, the musical demands of the score proved too much for poor Henry Higgins’ vocal range … and Richard Kiley wound up in the difficult role.

Performing in Northport with leading man Richard Adams are Broadway veterans Janet Dacal (she plays a peppery Aldonza) and Carlos Lopez (as the Don’s little sidekick, Sancho Panza). Both stars bring memorable performances worthy of Northport’s renowned theater … no small accomplishment when one considers the height at which Engeman invariably sets the bar for its featured artists. For example, the great Phyllis March plays the strong, opinionated Housekeeper to absolute perfection. She delivers her somewhat lesser role so artfully that we can’t take our eyes off of her. Aspiring actors would do well to study Ms. March’s technique.

This dream of a show runs thru Sunday, October 28. If I were a school teacher, I’d give extra credit to any student who brought me a Man of La Mancha ticket stub … and of course, an apple.

Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newly completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced recently at the Smithtown Library. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com 

Monday
Jul232018

Theater Review - 'NEWSIES'

Theater Review – ‘Newsies”

Produced by The John W. Engeman Theater - Northport

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

Every good musical is firmly rooted in the significant historical facts that form its plot. Indeed, while a show’s success may depend greatly on clever lyrics, flashy costumes, and intricate choreography to command our attention, the fact is that minus a meaningful story line to go with the glitz, our toes are unlikely to start tapping when they should.
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A good example of this theatrical phenomenon is ‘Oklahoma.’

It’s all very well for a group of gals in gingham and boys in boots to serenade us with a rendition of ”…oh, what a beautiful mornin’…” but until we’re aware that this is essentially a story about farmers feuding with ranchers, the production’s not much more than a sing-along.
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The same can be said for ‘Les Miserables,’ ‘Evita,’ or for that matter, the overrated ‘Hamilton.’

But history’s great upheavals and revolutionaries notwithstanding, I doubt there’s ever been a show on Broadway with a more interesting backstory than the one which opened on The Engeman stage a few nights ago. It’s titled, ‘Newsies,’ and the good news is that we’re unlikely ever to see a more appropriate treatment of an obscure, but poignant, slice of Americana.
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The musical is centered on the actual 1899 Newsboys’ Strike in New York City, where a conflict develops between the town’s ragamuffin ‘newsies’ (paperboys) and none other than powerful New York World publisher, the renowned Joseph Pulitzer. Pulitzer has raised the price of The World  to his hawkers a fraction of a cent, but it’s enough to affect the boys’ sales … and consequently their already meager income.
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If ever there was a ‘David and Goliath’ story staged on the ‘Great White Way,’ this surely is it.
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The show (with music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman) was faithfully written by Harvey Fierstein, and all were nominated for Tony Awards when the musical debuted on Broadway in 2012. Thereafter, ‘Newsies’ went on to stage more than a thousand performances before producers launched its boffo national tour. Not surprisingly, Menken and Feldman won the Tony for Best Musical Score … while Christopher Gattelli took top honors for Best Choreographer.
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The endearing show was Toni-nominated in no fewer than six other categories … and an equal number of Drama Desk slots … for singing and dancing. Impressive!
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One of the most intriguing aspects of this fascinating re-telling of journalistic history is that it boldly labels an iconic American businessman as the opportunist he actually was. Leave it to Hollywood (where the film ‘Newsies’ premiered in 1992) … and ultimately to Broadway … to blow the whistle on even the mighty Joseph Pulitzer. We have the entertainment industry to credit for tagging Pulitzer the opportunistic ‘yellow journalist’ he turned out to be.
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Tom Lucca, who was an Engeman standout in both ‘Jekyll & Hyde,’ and ‘1776,’ doesn’t miss a trick in his interpretation of the hard-hearted Pulitzer, as he balances Dan Tracy’s protagonist, Jack Kelly. Also Whitney Winfield brings charm and grace aplenty to her local debut as the delightful Katherine Plumber. We have not seen the last of this multi-talented young woman. The same can be said for child actor Zachary Podair as Les. Near-perfect stage presence in one so young is an amazing thing to behold … and the mark of a born performer.
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Lighting, Costume, and Scenic Design (Zach Blane, Kurt Alger, DT Willis) supply everything we have come to expect from the Engeman’s Creative Team … nor do Director Igor Goldin, or Choreographer Sandalio Alvaraz disappoint. They are among Long Island’s finest practitioners of theater arts.
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There’s a strong element of Dickens (primarily ‘Oliver Twist’ and even ‘A Christmas Carol’) in this fine production, though Harvey Fierstein’s pathos will never be mistaken for the simpatico that England’s greatest novelist was able to produce. That said, it’s difficult to imagine Bob Tzudiker and Noni White (who collaborated on the original screenplay) … or for that matter, Fierstein himself … not being heavily influenced by the bleakness which was Charles Dickens trademark.
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This dynamic production runs through September 2nd.

 

Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newly completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced recently at the Smithtown Library. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

Saturday
Jun092018

Book Review - 'Madison Weatherbee'

Book Review – ‘Madison Weatherbee’

Author: Barbara Anne Kirshner – CreateSpace.com

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

 

Some books are provocative, some informative, others are challenging … and a rare few prove downright charming. Barbara Anne Kirchner’s 107-page novel about a fictitious adventure undertaken by one of her three Dachshund dogs falls squarely (and delightfully) into the latter category. The book is titled ‘Madison Weatherbee’ … and it’s sub-titled ‘…The Different Dachshund.’

There. I told you it was charming!

Anyone who’s ever owned one of these long, little, four-legged clowns need not be reminded just how entertaining this particular breed of dog can be. Perhaps it will serve the reader to point out that in this country, as well as the United Kingdom, the ‘Dachsy’ is classified as a Scent Hound. This is so because the breed was developed to make maximum use of its particularly keen sense of smell in hunting and trailing animals. Another feature peculiar to the Dachshund (though not exclusively) is its terrier-like love for digging. Terrier aficionados frequently insist that the ‘sausage dog’ belongs in their favorite group … indeed, the little Dachshund does display the persistence which characterizes Terriers the world over.

At any rate, suffice it to say that with a determined ‘Dachsy’ in hot pursuit of some varmint, the critter doesn’t stand much of a chance at all.

Those characteristics, then, pretty much profile the star of Barbara Anne Kirshner’s mini-saga about a typical female Dachshund, but one that for a totally minor reason nobody wants … and who consequently gets into all kinds of difficulties while looking desperately for a loving home.

And what a laundry list of adventures our ‘Madison Weatherbee’ encounters on the way to what naturally is a predictable conclusion. There’s her maiden airplane ride … Madison’s first trip to New York’s Times Square … her initial visit to the Central Park Zoo … a debut appearance on the Broadway stage (my favorite episode) … and a whole host of experiences that only an inquisitive little ‘Dachsy’ could sniff out.

This is an endearing notion that animal advocate Barbara Kirshner has dreamed up. The idea smacks of the phenomenally successful ‘Home Alone’ motion picture, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if ‘Madison Weatherbee’ made her way to the big screen one day soon. I found the story immensely pleasing as Kirshner piled installments atop one another … making it inevitable that the reader fall head over heels in love with her intrepid little heroine.

You simply must meet ‘The Different Dachshund.’ And by all means, introduce her to the children in your family. They’re likely to reward you with one of those slurping kisses that the unmistakable ‘sausage doggies’ are famous for.

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Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newly completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced recently at the Smithtown Library. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

Tuesday
May292018

Theater Review – 'Curtains'

Theater Review – ‘Curtains’

Produced by Theatre Three – Port Jefferson

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

  

I fell for this wacky musical the minute I realized that the opening number ‘Wide Open Spaces’ was leading us into the mother of all theatrical farces. Indeed, after the ‘Curtains’ company had finished their corny, Oklahoma-like prancing around, it appeared that this reviewer would have to live up to the entertainment industry’s equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath, and pan the ‘yee-haw’ show.

My oh my … what an injustice that would have been! 

Because the routine that followed, ‘What Kind of Man?’ features key members of the creative team for a hokey play-within-a-play called ‘Robbin’ Hood.’ They’re reading mordant reviews in the Boston papers of the show’s opening night tryout and speculating bitterly in song about the kind of man who would want to write such scathing stuff. It’s possible that only a professional reviewer could recognize the full implication of the number.

Moments later, however, the production crew comes across an obscure critique that praises their show (if only obliquely) … and they do an about-face. Now theater commentators are extolled as among the wisest of literary pundits. Ah, me!

Like all farces, this complex combination of love, betrayal, ambition, and murder is almost impossible to review adequately. There are just too many facets to the plot that need explaining. The play must have been (pardon the pun) ‘murder’ to direct. That said, if anyone could accurately steer this ship called ‘Curtains,’ (the term for ‘a violent end’ popularized by gangsters in the 20s) it’s Jeffrey Sanzel. He is probably the finest director working in live theater today.

But it’s one thing for your resident critic to laud this rib-tickling musical … let’s see what the American Theatre Wing had to say when they issued their nominations for 2007’s coveted Tony Awards. ‘Curtains’ received a total of eight nods in the Musical category. Furthermore, those nominations spanned all the key groupings … Actor, Actress, Director, Choreographer, Score … and yes, Musical.

That year’s Drama Desk virtually mimicked the Theatre Wing’s recognitions. The organization honored ‘Curtains’ with nine nominations, adding Set and Costume design to the categories saluted by The Wing. Quite the collection of accolades one would have to say.

Though it’s billed as a ‘whodunit,’ this show is not without its placid moments. The best of them, in my view, is rendered when James Schultz (who plays lyricist Aaron Fox) sings the tender ballad, ‘I Miss the Music.’ The song holds particular significance for those of us who have missed the multi-talented Schultz. His return to Theatre Three after a several months-long hiatus from his home stage was acknowledged by an applauding crowd who stood and cheered during his curtain call.

I’ve always been a sort of patsy for good productions of ‘Oklahoma,’ ‘Carousel,’ and the like, but to be frank, they invariably smack somewhat of pizza without the hot pepper. One of the things that distinguishes Broadway musicals is the touch of naughtiness they can get away with. In the show running at Theatre Three thru June 23 you’ll find just enough impishness to tickle your funny bone without making you feel depraved.

This review would be incomplete without recognizing the contributions of Mary Ellen Kurtz as ‘Carmen Bernstein’ (move over Ethel Merman) … Steve McCoy controls the pace as ‘Lt. Frank Cioffi’ … Matt Senese is a spot-on ‘Chris Belling’ … Meg Bush plays a convincing ‘Jessica Cranshaw’ while doubling as Dance Captain. And yes … Jeffrey Sanzel directs.

In sum … ‘Curtains’ is the kind of multi-faceted production that almost magically, according to one Artistic Director, has the effect of an anti-depressant. So, if you’re feeling a bit low … or harassed … or if the weather’s got you down … or the kids have you climbing the walls … head on over to ‘Broadway on Main Street’ in Port Jeff. 

Theatre Three … ‘Curtains.’

No prescription necessary.

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Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newly completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced at the Smithtown Library in May. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

Friday
May252018

Theater Review – ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

Theater Review – ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

Produced by The John W. Engeman Theater - Northport

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

Danny Gardner & Ensemble (Michael DeCristofaro photo)

It seems almost every successful stage show has a gimmick. ‘Mary Poppins’ floats under her magic umbrella … ‘A Christmas Carol’ scares the (Charles) Dickens out of us with that 15-foot ‘Ghost of Christmas yet to Come’ … a flesh-eating plant inhabits the‘Little Shop of Horrors’ … and of course ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is famous for its on-stage deluge.

Theatergoers who have come to expect the signature splash-scene from which ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ derives its title, will not be disappointed when at Northport’s plush Engeman playhouse a drenched Danny Gardner steps into Gene Kelly’s soggy shoes and spins around that dripping lamp post. As a friend recently observed when we left the Gateway Playhouse at the conclusion of ‘A Chorus Line,’ “Some things in show business you just never get tired of.” The familiar inundation number made famous by Kelly falls easily into that category.

It was obviously much simpler to choreograph the famed rain scene in the film from which this musical is drawn than it is to present it on stage. Accordingly, the event is a sodden show-stopper. But it should be remembered that there’s much more to this Betty Comdon – Adolph Green book than a few minutes of cute splashing around in a street full of puddles.

Not to be overlooked is the madcap business delivered by a comedic singer/dancer name of Cosmo Brown who is lead actor Don Lockwood’s best friend. Cosmo (unforgettably played in the motion picture by Donald O’Connor and here by the equally talented Brian Shepard) performs an extraordinary version of ‘Make ‘em Laugh’ … a number that is every bit as cleverly original as the title song that Don sings and dances to splendidly. 

Indeed, this show is so replete with memorable ballads that it’s difficult to single out a winner … the score is incredible. ‘Fit as a Fiddle,’ ‘All I Do is Dream of You,’ ‘Make ‘em Laugh,’ ‘You Are My Lucky Star,’ ‘Good Morning,’ … and half a dozen other smash hits keep everyone’s toes tapping. No wonder ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is almost universally considered the best musical ever filmed.

For you first-timers, here’s the story line: Lockwood is a Roaring Twenties silent film star … and he barely tolerates leading lady, Lina Lamont (performed by Engeman’s brilliant Emily Stockdale). Their Producer, a guy named Simpson, (savvy veteran Leer Leary) noting that the first talking movie, ‘The Jazz Singer,’ is a boffo success, decides to convert his new Lockwood/Lamont film, ‘The Dueling Cavalier,’ into a talkie … and a musical talkie at that. But hold it … Lina’s grating voice is worse than fingernails scratching on a blackboard. This’ll never do.

There’s a disastrous screening … a dubbing over Lina’s screechy vocalizing (by Tessa Grady playing the sweet-voiced female protagonist Kathy Selden) … a conversion of ‘The Dueling Cavalier’ into ‘The Dancing Cavalier,’ … all accompanied by a plethora of related complications.

And would you believe it? … the premiere of ‘The Dancing Cavalier’ is a tremendous success! … until … but what happens next, you’ll have to see for yourself between now and July first. Suffice it to say … as my friend presciently perceived … there’s no getting tired of those really great show biz experiences … thank goodness they’re eternal.

This show is wonderfully directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey … and Kurt Alger does a bang-up job of dressing the cast in 1920s attire. The hairdos and ‘flapper’ dresses are certain to remind you of those nifty old pictures of Grandma that so lovingly decorate your hall at home. 

But let’s face it, the star of the show is the downpour … (during which hoofer Danny Gardner somehow manages to maintain his footing) … and the ten ‘stagehands’ who mop up at intermission, leaving The Engeman with what has to be the cleanest floor of any theater on Long Island. One woman a few seats to my right was heard to say, “I wonder if they do windows?”

 Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newest thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced at the Smithtown Library on May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

 

 

Monday
May142018

Theater Review - 'A Chorus Line'

Theater Review – ‘A Chorus Line

Produced by The Gateway Theater – Bellport

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

    

When seventeen desperate-for-work dancers make the first audition cut for an upcoming Broadway musical, the Director and his Choreographer inform the survivors that they’re looking for a chorus line of (oh dear!) only eight members … four boys and four girls. “Tell me about yourselves,” says ‘Director Zach’ … and that’s how he and ‘Larry’ (his Choreographer) will determine who stays, and who is summarily excused.

The hopefuls aren’t nuts about this unusual method of measuring talent but what’s a hoofer to do when at the end of his or her rope? Five – six – seven – eight… If you’re a professional dance aspirant, you don’t tell Directors and Choreographers how to gauge ability … not if you expect to stick around long on stage, you don’t. So, one by one, the candidates start to reveal even intimate details about their lives, invariably beginning with their earliest dance experiences.

After the first two young men have fessed up to what can only be termed confidential childhood information, the other contestants begin seriously to wonder whether agreeing to this strange audition technique was a good idea after all. I mean, how much should the performers tell these guys? To say that the odd process makes one uncomfortable is an understatement. But, what the hey … that’s show business, right? Five – six – seven- eight…

I’ve always thought this story-line device is more than a bit thin. After all, if it’s truly required, there are ways to extract an individual’s innermost feelings apart from flat-out demanding to know chapter and verse about one’s life story. Accordingly, it’s this critic’s view that one should approach The Gateway’s snazzy production of ‘A Chorus Line’ with total disregard for the contrived ‘personal revelation’ premise right from the outset. Because it really doesn’t matter, folks. There’s plenty of glitz in this production to bring the show gloriously across the finish line without all the unnecessary psychological nonsense.

How successful was ‘A Chorus Line’ after it opened at New York’s Shubert Theatre in 1975? Well, not only was the boffo musical nominated for a dozen Tony awards (winning nine), but Broadway theatergoers kept the Marvin Hamlisch show in demand on The Great White Way for more than six thousand performances. It became the longest-running production in The Big Apple’s history until surpassed by the iconic ‘Cats’ in 1997. Indeed, ‘A Chorus Line’ remains the 6th longest-running show ever to light up Broadway!

Many theater patrons assume that this musical is a takeoff on the familiar theme wherein a stageful of eager young performers dance their hearts out in pursuit of that one big break that will bring them fame and fortune. Not entirely. ‘A Chorus Line’ is largely about veteran hoofers who are approaching the culmination of their careers and are desperate to achieve one more success while they still possess the necessary terpsichorean tools. It’s this novel twist on an otherwise everyday stratagem that saves the James Kirkwood Jr. – Nicholas Dante book from mediocrity. Though it must be acknowledged that in 1976 Kirkwood and Dante did, in fact, win both the Tony and Drama Desk awards for Best Book of a Musical. Go figure.

One thing is a lead pipe cinch, however: when regional theaters like The Gateway, Theatre Three, and The Engeman want to send audiences home tapping their toes and humming a familiar refrain, they can’t go wrong treating them to ‘A Chorus Line,’ or any other Marvin Hamlisch production. Long a favorite of the great Barbra Streisand, Hamlisch (who died at 68) was one of but 12 people to win Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards. What’s more, only Richard Rogers joins him in having added a Pulitzer Prize to that impressive lineup.

The Gateway never disappoints … never! Whether the show they’ve mounted is performed at the sumptuous Patchogue Theater, or the ultra-comfortable playhouse in Bellport. And that’s true of the current offering at the latter venue. It’s hard to imagine a more impressive production than the ‘…Chorus Line’ being staged there thru May 26. The single hope from this quarter is that readers will take advantage of the unforgettable experience that awaits them there.

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Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newly completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced at the Smithtown Library in May. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com


Monday
Apr162018

Theater Review – ’12 Angry Men’

Theater Review – ’12 Angry Men’

Produced by Theatre Three – Port Jefferson

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

 

Anyone who’s ever participated in, or otherwise observed a murder trial in this country, has undoubtedly realized that the process consists essentially of four key phases. They are: Selection of a Jury (or a judge if it’s a ‘bench trial’) … Presentation of Sworn Evidence by a prosecutor to aid that deliberative body (or arbiter) … Rebuttal by the accused’s defense counsel … and finally, Evaluation of the Evidence by the jury (or judge). The action in the acclaimed Reginald Rose play, ‘12 Angry Men,’ is limited to the final jury discussion procedure.

Because a jury’s verdict in American homicide trials must be unanimous, these cases offer a uniquely compelling opportunity for high drama in the private confines of the Jury Room … especially since the ‘stakes’ are always incredibly high … often resulting in a life sentence for the accused … or worse. That’s the situation which evolves as playwright Rose brings together his ‘12 Angry Men’in a nondescript New York City courthouse in the ‘50’s.

One of the most interesting aspects of this production derives from the fact that it is a courtroom drama wherein the audience never sees the inside of the courtroom itself … all of the action takes place in the deliberation room where only the dozen diverse adjudicators are present. The facts of the case are revealed in the panelists’ clever dialogue and body language, and we soon come to learn that no two people are quite alike when it involves evaluating evidence or meting out justice.

Another fascinating touch which Reginald Rose has brought to this humdinger of a show is the fact that the twelve jurors are never referred to by name; only their numbers … one through twelve … are used to identify them. This has the effect of lending an appropriate anonymity to the ‘12 Angry Men,’ and as we get to know their characters, ‘2’ becomes synonymous with ‘meek’ … ‘3’ proves to be ‘stubborn’ … ‘9’ comes to stand for ‘wise’ … and so forth. Things are all quite beguiling (not to mention stuffy) in that sweltering room where even the air conditioner is broken. But never mind … everything else works just fine under the capable leadership of convincing protagonist, Juror 8, played by Theatre Three veteran, Steve Ayle.

This breathtaking drama got its start as a live teleplay in 1954 (yes, I admit that I recall the debut). The highly acclaimed Henry Fonda film followed three years later, and the play itself finally made it to the legitimate stage when Broadway’s Roundabout Theatre mounted the show at the American Airlines playhouse in 2004. Since then, the iconic psychological drama has introduced aficionados to some of the best dramatic dialogue ever written. It is safe to say that Reginald Rose has proven himself a master of legal intrigue. Acting giants who have starred in Rose’s masterpiece include E.G. Marshall, Franchot Tone, Lee J. Cobb, George C. Scott, Edward Arnold, and Jack Klugman. Similarly, some of Long Island’s finest male actors (Michael Newman, Jack Green, and Steven Uihlein) appear with Ayle in Theatre Three’s current production.

This has got to be among the toughest of plays to direct; it’s no secret that eleven of the twelve jurors are ultimately flipped during the proceedings in that uncomfortable old barn of a room where they haggle, curse, and physically threaten one another. Heavens to Betsy, it’s difficult enough to show one hard-headed adjudicator changing his mind believably under the type of circumstances playwright Rose establishes … but eleven? Our hat is off to director Bradlee E. Bing for managing so effectively to chew the big chunk he’s bitten off.

As always, Randall Parsons’ set is near-perfect, and the costumes and lighting under Teresa Matteson and Robert W. Henderson. Jr. respectively are appropriately unobtrusive. This is a fine, superbly paced show that should not be missed.

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 Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newly completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced at the Smithtown Library in May. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

 

Tuesday
Mar202018

Theater Review - 'In The Heights'

Theater Review – ‘In the Heights’

Produced by John W. Engeman Theater – Northport

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

  

The production team at Northport’s plush Engeman Theater certainly knows how to pick ‘em. Their newest offering is a stimulating show that depicts a three-day slice of life ‘In the Heights.’ Not Brooklyn Heights (the upscale area across the river from Wall Street) … nor Jackson Heights (that’s a landlocked neighborhood in Queens) … this is about Washington Heights, bordered by two rivers, up near the northern tip of Manhattan.

German immigrants first populated the area’s high bluffs, but demographics changed radically over time and by the turn of the Twenty-First Century, so many immigrants from the Caribbean Islands had moved to Washington Heights that candidates for the presidency of the Dominican Republic began to hold campaign parades there! It’s this irrepressible Hispanic element, coupled with pathos and near-feverish dance moves that make ‘In the Heights’ such an interesting musical.

And ‘Heights,’ though a bit controversial, is obviously a winner, having garnered thirteen Tony nominations and four first place trophies (including Best Musical) after its opening at the Richard Rogers Theatre in 2008. Dissimilarly, fifty years earlier, the highly touted ‘West Side Story’ had gained less than half that number of recommendations and won in only the ‘Choreography’ and ‘Set Design’ categories.

Inevitably, there will be those who assume that the current Engeman offering is a North End version of ‘West Side Story. Not so. At the risk of being labeled some kind of Thespian heretic, I will confess that ‘West Side Story’ has never been my cup of tea. I dislike the show’s constant drumbeat of machismo nonsense (although it must be said the frenetic ‘Heights’ production too has its share of that) … and the repetitious nature of what Bernstein and company apparently intended to be timeless romantic anthems, often renders their version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ rather tedious. 

But ‘In the Heights’ is a somewhat more interesting story—Nina, the ‘bright girl who made it out’ of The Heights—is back from her Freshman year at Stanford; trouble is, ‘the pride of her neighborhood, The Corner,’ isn’t home on break … unable to pay Stanford’s steep tuition (despite working two jobs), she’s suffered academically, and been forced to drop out of the prestigious institution.

The most distressing trouble Nina gets into stems from her failure early on to have told her hard-working parents the truth about her academic collapse several months prior. In other words, it’s the cover-up that proves to be the worst part of her sad experience. Nina finally fesses-up, though, and finds out who really loves her.

Throughout this show, fate intervenes in Twenty-First Century ways. In one particularly recognizable modern-day surprise, the play benefits from a healthy shot of realism often lacking in so many modern musicals. There’s a city-wide power failure, for example—many will remember the real thing when they see John Burkland’s clever staging of the blackout … go and experience for yourself what the other familiar touches are.

To select an all-star group from among the several actors performing at The Engeman thru April 29 is not to diminish a single member of the cast. Many of the ‘also featured’ players are every bit as pleasing to watch as are the stars: Spiro Marcos (Usnavi), Josh Marin (Benny), Cherry Torres (Nina), and standout Chiara Trentalange (Vanessa).

Director Paul Stancato, and Choreographer Sandalio Alvarez, must have been paying close attention when my associate, critic Charles Isherwood, conceded in The Times this musical erupts in … collective joy … the energy it gives off could light up theGeorge Washington Bridge. He hit the nail squarely on the head. Charles could have been speaking for all of us who had just seen Northport’s rousing rendition of ‘Heights,’ though I might have added kudos for Musical Director Alec Bart and the rest of the creative team that includes: Christopher Ash (scenic design), Christopher Vergara (costumes), John Burkland (lighting design), and Don Hanna (sound).

One wonders how The Engeman comes up with so many capable theatrical craftsmen, show after remarkable show.

One caveat: you won’t like ‘In the Heights’ if you detest rap musicals, as some of us admittedly do. But if the non-stop rat-a-tat of‘street opera’ turns you on, go see the twenty performers currently vocalizing and gyrating at Northport’s Engeman Theater. I’m told they’ve turned in a faithful rendition of what goes on in upper Manhattan.

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Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newly completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced at the Smithtown Library in May. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com