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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.

________________________________________________________________

 

 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.

________________________________________________________________  

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


Thursday
Mar012018

Theater Review – ‘Nunsense’

Theater Review – ‘Nunsense’

Produced by Theatre Three – Port Jefferson Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur  A hilarious combination of singing, dancing, and slapstick

Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions, Inc. When in real life Dan Goggin first created a line of clerically skewed greeting cards featuring one-liners delivered by a witty nun, he probably had no idea where the concept would take him. But the idea proved so popular that his resulting 1985 Off-Broadway musical titled ‘Nunsense’ (for which Goggin wrote the book, music, and lyrics) ran at new York’s Douglas Fairbanks Theater for an astonishing 3,672 performances. Only the indefatigable ‘Fantasticks’ has had a longer run (42 years) in Off-Broadway musical theater history.

Anyone who has ever been disciplined in school by those remarkable women attired in black and white, will recognize Don Goggin’s zany clerical on-stage quintet. As interpreted by five Theatre Three standouts in Port Jefferson (Phyllis March, Linda May, Sari Feldman, Tracylynn Connor, and Jessica Contino), the madcap Little Sisters of Hoboken that they portray are respectively: Sister Mary Regina-(Mother Superior,) Sister Mary Hubert-(Mistress of Novices,) Sister Robert Anne, Sister Mary Amnesia, and Sister Mary Leo.

The superb group, currently starring under the direction of Jeffrey Sanzel, incredibly joins a sorority of some 25,000 women who have once played in ‘Nunsense’ productions worldwide (the musical has been translated into 26 languages). Some of the American notables who’ve contributed to the ‘Nunsense’ nonsense are, for example: Edie Adams, Kaye Ballard, Peggy Cass, Phyllis Diller, and Sally Struthers. Among the characters they have played in this show are nuns who have been … a circus performer … a streetwise Brooklynite … a Novice who longs to be a ballerina … and an amnesia victim whose been conked by a tumbling crucifix. Ouch!

This group decides to combine their talents in order to raise cash for the unlikeliest of reasons. It seems the convent cook, Sister Julia Child of God (who else), has inadvertently poisoned all but 19 of the order’s 71 members with her tainted vichyssoise, and with four of the convent’s deceased still on ice in the fridge, Mother Superior has run flat out of burial money. What’s an impoverished convent supervisor to do?… let’s see … hey, why not tap all that pent-up show biz savvy and run a talent show?… that should provide the needed cash, by golly!

What follows is a hilarious combination of singing, dancing, and slapstick that doesn’t let up for a minute. 

Musical Director, Steve McCoy and Choreographer, Sari Feldman couldn’t be more in sync if they were Siamese twins. Scenic Designer, Randall Parsons has the show’s trickiest assignment because the Good Sisters are putting on their creation in a school theater that’s still decorated from a recent 8th grade performance of ‘Grease.’ Naturally, the stage has to look like that … and it does. Likewise, Robert W. Henderson, Jr.’s lighting must have presented a major challenge. Anyone who thinks it’s easy to light a show that’s basically a black and white production … and still keep it ‘colorful’ … hasn’t tackled the challenge. The same goes for those habits provided by costume designer Teresa Matteson. Costumes play an extremely important part in this musical, and Lord knows, they’d better fit properly.

This is the fourth time I’ve seen ‘Nunsense’ and my third review. One might think the show would get stale after so many exposures to it, but that’s far from the case. Indeed, the current incarnation of Don Goggin’s rollicking invention is the most entertaining I’ve ever taken in. It’s even got a dozen or so Jeffrey Sanzel-style variations that look like the maestro could have borrowed them from my old Catholic school.

In conclusion, each of the ‘Good Sisters of Hoboken’ provides a unique version of hilarity in Theatre Three’s current riotous proceedings. Accordingly, it’s impossible to determine which of the five is funniest. Suffice it to say the rambunctiousness builds without letup until veteran hoofer Linda May (Sister Mary Hubert) belts out the gospel-style showstopper, Holier Than Thou. It’s a fitting conclusion to this inimitable show. By all means, see it … you’ll be glad you did!__

______________________________________________________________

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
Jan302018

Theater Review – ‘Once’

 

Theater Review – ‘Once’

Produced by John W. Engeman Theater – Northport

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

Barry DeBois as ‘The Guy’In March of 2012 the musical ‘Once’ opened on Broadway and stunned the theatrical world with an astonishing eleven Tony Award nominations … and eight wins! What’s more, those triumphs included Best Musical, and Best Actor. As proof of the fact that ‘Once’ was no flash-in-the-pan, the show also won 2012’s Drama Desk, and Drama Critics’ Circle awards for Outstanding Musical, and followed-up with the Drama League Award, as well as 2013’s Grammy for top Musical Theater Album.

It must have been some post-awards party!

The Boffo (if somewhat oddly-staged) Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová production closed in early 2015, following nearly 1200 performances on the Great White Way. With a simple set that mimics a soddy Irish pub, a rather one-dimensional book, and austere costumes … not to mention a scarcity of memorable songs (the unforgettable ‘Gold’ is the exception) … this show, in which the cast is also the orchestra, is not your typical big town extravaganza. Nor is the average ‘eager boy meets reluctant girl’ plot anything new. This is a ‘Musician’s Musical’ staged in Dublin with the usual ‘leaving home’ Irish plot.

It’s the story of a ‘Guy’ in his 30’s … a Dublin street musician played to near-perfection by Barry DeBois. He’s a singer-songwriter-guitarist by night, and a vacuum cleaner repairman (of all things) during the day, ‘Guy’ has recently been jilted by his iron-willed girlfriend. She’s forsaken him in favor of life in The Big Apple, leaving ‘Guy’ with a broken heart and a determination to forget about his soulful music altogether. He vows henceforth to stick exclusively to his regular job—fixing those kaput vacuum cleaners ‘…the ones that just won’t suck.’

Bidding adieu to the bar where he’s been singing and playing, ‘Guy’ has every intention of leaving his guitar and his sorrow behind in the on-stage pub; the romantic memories associated with the familiar instrument are just too painful to bear. But that’s when a delightful young Czech woman, referred to simply as ‘Girl,’ detects ‘Guy’s’ angst and, having fallen for his musicianship (and his sad tale of woe), ‘Girl’ ultimately reveals that she, too, has a balky vacuum … if ‘Guy’ can fix it, and keep on playing and singing, she’ll play piano accompaniment for him … gratis.

Deal? … okay, the deal is struck … strike up the band … etcetera.

We learn about a kindly banker … a change of heart for ‘Guy’ (and ‘Girl’ as well) … an overhauled Hoover or two … and the compulsory recording company that quickly spots ‘Guy’s’ talent … all fairly predictable, and not unpleasant stuff.

In the capable hands of Director/Choreographer Trey Compton, the Engeman audience is treated to a show that will strike a chord with every musically inclined troubadour (as some of us envision ourselves) … will resonate with anyone who has ever suffered the pangs of unrequited love (ouch!) … and will please the lucky patrons in our midst who have found serendipitous redemption from misfortune when and where they least expected it.

And speaking of serendipity, local theatergoers who never thought they’d be enchanted by a musical featuring such rarities as a soft-hearted financial loan officer (believe that or not), and a cupid-like thirtysomething Mom with a daughter named Ivanka (I’m notkidding), are in for a huge surprise. Because thanks primarily to the multi-talented Barry DeBois (The Guy) and Andrea Goss (The Girl), the snazzy Engeman Theatre on Main Street in Northport is likely to keep those plush seats filled for the duration of this play’s fairly long run thru March 4th.

Some might even want to see ‘Once’ … ‘twice!’

 

________________________________________________________________

 

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
Jan222018

Theater Review - 'I Hate Hamlet!'

Theater Review – ‘I Hate Hamlet!’

Produced by Theatre Three – Port Jefferson

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

“I wouldn’t have missed this unique show for the world”

There are essentially two types of theatergoers in existence … those who adore Shakespeare, and those who despise him: it seems there is no theatrical middle ground to be had. In the farcical comedy (if readers will pardon that redundancy) now being offered thru Feb 3rd at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson … a show unambiguously titled ‘I Hate Hamlet!’ as you see … both types of patrons are miraculously accommodated. On the one hand, half the audience empathizes with, and cheers on, Dylan Andrew Poulos (who plays the conflicted young Hamlet-loathing television star, Andrew Rally) … and on the flip side are those who simply cannot imagine such negative theatrical sacrilege being levelled at one of The Bard’s most noted tragedies.

This laugh-a-minute play was written by Paul Rudnick in 1991 and it opened to predictably mixed reviews in April of that year at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre. The cast consists of three women, and three men, all of whom play off one another with exceedingly clever dialogue, even if the plot itself is somewhat less than ingenious. This is farce, after all, and amusing absurdity is the order of the day.

When TV icon, Rally … he with the knock-down gorgeous girlfriend (who’s determined to avoid pre-marital sex at all cost) … has his TV series cancelled (more bad news), Andrew is offered the opportunity to fulfill every actor’s dream … how would he like to play the part of Shakespeare’s melancholy Dane, Hamlet, in New York’s Central Park? That’s when the play’s title is inexplicably invoked: “Not on your life,” sayeth recalcitrant Rally, “I hate Hamlet!”

At that point, this show’s three women … real estate representative Felicia Dantine (played by Theatre Three veteran Linda May), Andrew’s agent, Lillian Troy (interpreted by the marvelous Marci Bing), and virginal girlfriend, Deirdre McDavey (delightfully delivered by Jessica Contino) … decide to whip up a séance that will summon the ghost of the great John Barrymore (wonderfully played by Steve McCoy). If anyone can change Andrew’s obdurate mind, the trio figures, it would be history’s most celebrated Shakespearian thespian … the handsome artist known throughout the entertainment world as ‘The Great Profile.’

Playwright Paul Rudnick, whose Barrymore ghost smacks of Hamlet’s nocturnal battlement-roaming dead daddy … and whose three conniving women are almost certainly suggested by the Weird Sisters of Macbeth … definitely knows a thing or two about Elizabethan tragedy. Furthermore, as we will soon see, Rudnick has a good handle on the eccentricities traditionally associated with the inimitable Barrymore himself.

The multi-talented Steve Ayle, playing Gary Peter Lefkowitz, Andrew Rally’s deep-pockets friend from La La Land, adds significantly to the non-stop humor of this very funny show. Gary’s connections are prepared to offer Rally a Hollywood deal worth millions … ah, but let’s see how that dovetails with Barrymore’s predilection for Shakespeare … and his persuasiveness in convincing Andrew to give Hamlet a shot.

In sum, Theatre Three’s dependable cast and crew has given us another side-splitter … and notably, director Mary Powers proves that legendary Jeffrey Sanzel isn’t the only major domo capable of taking the helm with authority at Port Jeff’s aptly nicknamed ‘Broadway on Main Street.’ Indeed, nobody could have more successfully constructed a reminiscence scene in Act II, wherein aging talent agent Lillian Troy very nearly resurrects a decades-old romance with Barrymore’s ghost. It’s a remarkably poignant, and at once rib-tickling piece of theatre.

I wouldn’t have missed this unique show for the world … though I might have preferred it ‘miked.’

________________________________________________________________

 

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
Dec042017

Long Island ‘Encore’ Theater Award Winners – 2017


Long Island ‘Encore’ Theater Award Winners – 2017

By Jeb Ladouceur

Once again this year, theater on Long Island was dominated by Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, and the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, each organization having received multiple ‘Encore’ Awards for musicals. Theatre Three garnered a trio of nods … one for the Long Island debut of heartbreaking ‘The Bridges of Madison County,’ another for that show’s famed Director, and the Best Actress designation went to the star of Theatre Three’s ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ Not to be outdone, The Engeman took home four ‘Encores’ … two for an impressive ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ (Best Actor and top Costume Design), one for Best Child Actor, in ‘Gypsy,’ and a well-deserved Supporting Actor salute. That left three of the ten awards annually bestowed for excellence in Long Island theater … and that trio was divided equally among The Gateway Theatre, The Star Playhouse, The Babylon Arts Council. Thus, from Bellport and Lindenhurst on The Great South Bay, to Port Jeff and Northport on The Sound, the axiom has been proven once again that no matter where Long Islanders may live, exquisite live theater is virtually ‘right around the corner.’

 _______________________________________________

Best Play or Musical

From book, to film, to drama, to musical … this story depicting four days of illicit romance between a married Italian war bride in rural Iowa, and a divorced National Geographic photographer assigned to record the area’s covered bridges, works perfectly. The story never pretends that there is anything cute or acceptable about adultery. Quite the opposite is true; the lovers recognize their transgressions, and the decision involving their future becomes an unforgettably heart-wrenching one.

 

‘The Bridges of Madison County’

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Best Director

To say that ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ is a musical right up Director Jeffrey Sanzel’s alley would be an unnecessary understatement. While the perennially top-rated king of Long Island directors is best known for his annual production of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ to overlook Sanzel’s ability also to elicit the best from today’s actors and scripts … and wring-dry the hearts of modern audiences … would be to diminish him unfairly. The man’s soul permeates every production he undertakes.

 

Jeffrey Sanzel - ‘The Bridges of Madison County’

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Best Actress

Four years ago, we named Rachel Greenblatt our ‘Encore’ Award winner as ‘Best Newcomer’ for her work in ‘Grease.’There was little question that with the influence of top area directors and co-stars, the lovely young woman from Nissequogue would develop into one of Long Island’s finest performers. And blossom, she has. One gets the impression that Greenblatt can now handle any stage assignment given her. Rachel has arrived at the lofty heights we predicted she’d achieve.

 

Rachel Greenblatt – ‘Saturday Night Fever’

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Best Supporting Actress

The classic ‘Death of a Salesman’ can’t work without the doomed Willy Loman’s long-suffering wife, Linda, who functions as Arthur Miller’s only hero in the play. And Staci Rosenberg-Simons pulls off her theatrically near-impossible assignment beautifully. As the compassionate Linda Loman gives up virtually everything to comfort her suicidal husband (and her useless sons) the audience is inclined to yell, “Get out. Don’t you see there’s nothing that can be done for them?” That’s acting.

 

Staci Rosenberg-Simons – ‘Death of a Salesman’

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Best Actor

Some of Nathaniel Hackmann’s best work in the superbly costumed and lighted musical ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ is turned in as he transforms himself from Henry Jekyll to Edward Hyde behind a rear-lit translucent screen. The audience sees only the silhouetted gyrations that Hackmann performs in order to achieve the conversion, and the effect is incredible. From that first piece of stage business on, Nathaniel Hackmann has won his audience … and he can do no wrong thereafter.

 

Nathaniel Hackmann – ‘Jekyll & Hyde’

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Best Supporting Actor

To most theatergoers, the role of Oliver ‘Daddy’ Warbucks in ‘Annie’ can hardly be considered a ‘supporting’ one, but Nathaniel Hackmann was so good in ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ that he simply could not be denied the top nod. George Dvorsky makes ‘Annie’ work, though, and he deserves one of the ten ‘Encore’ prizes we distribute annually. George has all the tools and his impressive Broadway resume is justifiably diverse.

 

George Dvorsky - ‘Annie’

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Best Child Actor

There is nothing more adorable than a child actor … unless it’s a child actor who can sing and dance. Kyla Carter is a professional singer, actress, dancer, model and voice-over artist … and now she can lay claim to the title ‘Encore’ Award winner for excellence in Long Island theater. The 11-year-old’s bouncy rendition of ‘May We Entertain You’got The Engeman’s ‘Gypsy’ off to a toe-tapping start this fall, and the appreciative audience couldn’t wait for more.

 

Kyla Carter (center) – ‘Gypsy’

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Best Scenic Design

Brittany Loesch has one of the most unusual jobs in show business … she’s the House Scenic Coordinator for the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport. In that capacity, Loesch handled presentation of the famed ‘Flesh-eating Plant’ in The Gateway’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ with such professionalism that it was impossible to overlook her for this year’s ‘Encore’ Award. It should be noted that the show’s highly impressive set was designed by Scott Pask. 


Brittany Loesch – ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

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Best Costume Design

‘Jekyll & Hyde’, like so many plays set in Victorian England, depends greatly on authenticity in costuming in order to make the story resonate. Indeed it’s hard to imagine this show ringing true without the capes and bloused shirts that Kurt Alger provides his actors. Alger is always at the top of his game however, and this award is really for his body of work in multiple shows wherein he’s dressed his players to perfection.


Kurt Alger – ‘Jekyll & Hyde’

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Best Newcomer

Whoever spotted Michael Brinzer, and decided to cast him in the role of Ludwig van Beethoven in the challenging ‘Promethean Concerto’ (one of the season’s most pleasant surprises) deserves to share his ‘Encore’ Award. Not only does the gifted musician perform beautifully on the piano in this tour de force, by Cindi Sansone-Braff, the music spills over into his powerful-to-tender monologues. When young Brinzer is through, we feel as if we’ve spent the evening with a genius … and maybe we have!

 

Michael Brinzer – ‘Promethean Concerto’

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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, introduced at the Smithtown Library on May 21st. involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

Monday
Nov272017

Theater Review - 'A Christmas Carol'

Theater Review – ‘A Christmas Carol’

Produced by Theatre Three – Port Jefferson

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

by Charles Dickens

Adapted for the stage by 

JEFFREY E. SANZEL

An endearing unforgettable production!

Each year … on December 1st … it is the practice of this critic to present awards for ‘Excellence in Long Island Theater.’ These prizes are bestowed on recipients in ten categories. They are known as the ‘Encore Awards,’ and the performances for which they are given include categories that one properly expects to see recognized … Best Play … Actor … Actress … etcetera.

The most difficult of these honors to determine is that of ‘Best Director,’ and there is an obvious reason for that problem—it is almost impossible to determine a major-domo’s standout consistency from among the several theatrical productions critiqued in the course of a calendar year. All dramas and musicals are different, after all … so, what are the criteria by which an administrator earns the title, ‘Best’?

We do not know what transpires between a Director and his Cast. Nor are we privy to the interplay between Director and Crew. It’s conceivable, therefore, that a given version of ‘Hamlet,’ say, is wholly contrived (for good or ill) by the players themselves, and the helmsman might as well have stayed home. Conceivable, but unlikely.

If only there were some yardstick to measure consistency when evaluating directorial skill. Well, as a matter of fact, there is.

In that regard, Theatre Three in Port Jefferson is currently mounting its 33rd annual production of Director Jeffrey Sanzel’s stage adaptation of, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and this oft-repeated creation of Charles Dickens’ immortal classic provides us with a unique opportunity to evaluate both the show and Sanzel’s stagecraft.

This is so because the Bard of Long Island has managed to give us a top-quality version of the same iconic play … but with a largely different cast … year in, and year out. To illustrate the point: In years past, I had thought that James Schultz (who once played the‘Ghost of Christmas Present’) could not be equaled. But last year the spirited Bobby Martinez matched him. And this year Antoine Jones, every bit as masterful as either of his predecessors, has taken over the vital role, and he delivers his lines with a whole new twist that clearly highlights his special talents. 

The same phenomenon is true of several other expert players in this thirty-member cast, especially Steve Wangner who steps into the protagonist role of Bob Cratchit, (replacing last year’s Douglas Quattrock) with all the sensitivity and charitable nature the counterbalancing part demands … and veteran Steve McCoy who takes over Steven Uihlein’s Jacob Marley of 2016 with aplomb. For these smooth transitions we must, to a large degree, thank Director Sanzel.

Of course, the play revolves around the anticipated epiphany of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, and Sanzel downright owns that role … much as Ray Charles owns his trademark song ‘Georgia’ … or Jack Benny is king when it comes to the comedic ‘pregnant pause’ of burlesque. But short of retiring the ‘Best Actor Encore Award’ in his name, (an entirely worthy prospect) we’ll be labeling Jeffrey Sanzel‘Top Director’ of 2017 for his continued insightful handling of this enchanting show.

That, and nine other ‘Encores’ will be announced next week.

Meanwhile, congratulations once more Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig (George Liberman and Ginger Dalton), for your madcap nonsense … bravo Dylan Robert Poulous for your unnerving performance as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, … bravo, everyone. You have given us an endearing, unforgettable production yet again.

 

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
Nov202017

Book Review - SOUL SONGS

“Soul Songs” - by Mili San

56 Pages – Outskirts Press

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

It isn’t often that an Arts Critic is choked-up (as they say) by the inspirational nature of a play, or book, that we are assigned to review. Those of us who have been engaged in this business for a number of years usually have, it’s become apparent to me, gotten rather blasé about the dramas and musicals we see … and especially the books we read.

I say ‘especially the books’ because, being reviewers, we are essentially writers ourselves. We must regularly prepare critiques for a public that expects our prose to be journalistically proper, and suitably descriptive of the production or volume under consideration. And when our reviews miss the mark, we hear about it—believe me.

Accordingly, book critics take an almost competitive (though hopefully not combative) approach to our assignment when picking up a book given us to absorb, then review. It’s almost as if (when doing so) we hold the subject authors to a higher standard than we would set for ourselves. In a real sense, we’re highly protective of our vocation.

This is understandable to most people, I imagine … it’s human nature, after all, to put one’s best literary foot forward when joining the company of other writers. We all, (particularly those of us who have authored books) are keenly aware that no work is ever truly completed until it’s read … and we do have some influence in that regard.

That said, I have recently been assigned to review a slim volume consisting of nine emotional essays and ten equally poignant poems. In these nineteen inspiring pieces, it’s almost as if the author is intent on displaying her literary versatility … such is the control over our heartstrings that she exercises with both genres.

Mili San’s obvious memoirs range from the brutal in her crushing DIFFERENT, NOT DANGEROUS

I instantly recoiled at the picture of a woman sobbing…a garland of two small decapitated heads around her neck.

To the tender, poetic expressions in BELOVED

I found me 

When I found you…

You fill all my dark places.

English is Mili San’s second language, and in some places one detects it. Her use of rhyme is occasionally less effective than the free verse that marks most of the book’s poems. But even so, I found only one instance of punctuation (in an essay) that I would have changed, such is this gifted woman’s impressive mastery of her working English vocabulary.

Above all, San is a writer whose boundless love of those who share her world, ranks her among the truly compassionate literary artists of our time. Her fine little book, ‘Soul Songs’ is appropriately titled indeed.

 

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 on May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

 

Monday
Nov132017

Theater Review – ‘Annie’

Theater Review – ‘Annie’

Produced by The John W. Engeman Theater - Northport

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

One can hardly believe it’s been forty years since ‘Annie’ opened at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon Theatre) on West 52nd Street in Manhattan. What was even more improbable, was viewing Andrea McArdle (creator of 11-year-old Annie in 1977) as she starred in the Gateway (Bellport) revival of ‘Anything Goes’ last year. How stunning that McArdle, now an all-grown-up 53 years of age, still prances about the stage like a teenager! Andrea is one of those legends who, like 2016’s Encore-winning show, ‘Anything Goes,’ just doesn’t age. 

And now, courtesy of Northport’s plush Engeman Theater, we get to see first-hand that ‘Annie’ too, is as fresh and vibrant as ever. Which is saying something … because the 1977 boffo hit was nominated for an eye-popping eleven Tony Awards—and won seven—including Best Musical!

Is it any wonder that the show ran for 2,377 performances? That translates to nearly six continuous years … at the time, a record for the 1500-seat Alvin Theatre. Figure about a million seatings, and close to a hundred million bucks at the box office (if my calculations add up). Not even ‘Snoopy’‘L’il Abner’ … or the irrepressible ‘Spider Man’ … could come close to ‘Little Orphan Annie’ as a comic strip-based Broadway attraction.

The story line in this gem of a Depression Era musical (lyrics by Martin Charnin, music by Charles Strouse) has pre-teen Annie escaping from the orphanage where she lives, in a laundry bag thrown over the shoulder of a deliveryman. She winds up in the home of wealthy … and well-connected … Oliver ‘Daddy’ Warbucks, who reluctantly warms to her. From there on, the thin plot becomes improbably political, but this is a musical, after all, and the tale provides ample opportunities for appropriately uplifting ballads … especially the number that has become the international anthem of optimism, ‘Tomorrow.’ 

This production is directed and choreographed by Engeman veteran Antoinette Dipietropolo (better choreographed than directed, it seems), and it features a sterling performance by George Dvorsky as ‘Daddy’ Warbucks. Someone once implied that it’s theatrical suicide to compete with kids or dogs on stage. But in ‘Annie’ Dvorsky takes on both … and holds his own quite well indeed. This multi-talented actor proves to be the flat-out chairman of the boards in what has become one of the most widely esteemed musicals ever staged … the New York Times estimates that ‘Annie’ is produced around 800 times in this country … every year! That’s popularity, folks.

The kudos for Dvorsky aside, it should not be concluded that Presley Ryan in any way takes a back seat with her interpretation of Annie in the demanding title role. To the contrary, the young lady fills the bill of the perky little redhead convincingly and then some. The same is true for Lynn Andrews, who plays the deliciously mean antagonist, ‘Miss Hannigan,’ and gives us someone to hiss at. Without Andrews’ Dickensian presence to balance the several loveable characters on this show’s endearing roster, the plot would suffer greatly.

Significantly, ‘Annie’ runs right thru Christmas, and the production’s festive lighting, period costumes, choreography (and that elevating score) make it a good choice for presentation over the holidays. Combined with ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at Star Playhouse in Commack (thru November 19) … and the perennial fixture ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Theatre Three (which, as always, will play to packed houses thru December 30th), local audiences once again can expect to be treated to the very best in Broadway-caliber entertainment.

In short, ‘Annie’ helps make this a wonderful time to experience legitimate theater on Long Island.

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


Tuesday
Nov072017

Theater Review - 'Beauty And The Beast'

Theater Review – ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Produced by Star Playhouse – Commack

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

‘Beauty and the Beast’ is one of those phenomena that Broadway producers usually only dream about. This Walt Disney musical adaptation of an old French fairy tale, first gave audiences a look-see in Houston, and after a generally favorable reception there, the show opened on Broadway in 1994 … with Susan Egan and Terrence Mann in the title roles.

Reviews in sophisticated New York were disappointingly mixed at best, but audiences obviously liked the production more than did the critics (though Frank Rich’s raves in the New York Times probably saved the show from a premature demise) because the musical became the tenth-longest running hit in the history of the Great White way! That translates into 5,500 performances in thirteen years. ‘Beauty’ has now grossed one and a half billion dollars, having played in thirty or more countries … and cities ranging from New York, to Moscow, to Shanghai and Melbourne, Australia.

So much for the influence of tepid critiques.

The story, upon which Linda Woolverton’s adaptation is based, is a familiar one: A cold and selfish Prince is punished for his offenses by being magically transformed into an ugly creature. One of the Prince’s misdeeds is the imprisoning of a beautiful young woman in his castle, and the only way the Prince can become his handsome self once again, is to win the heart of the lovely girl.

Michael Eisner had taken over the reins of Disney Studios ten years before, and while he required considerable persuading, Eisner finally agreed to launch ‘Beauty and the Beast’ as Disney’s first Broadway venture. Clearly, Eisner had not been ill-advised.

This show, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, is a feel-good production that is well-staged by the cast and crew of Commack’s exceedingly impressive Star Playhouse. In particular, the lead characters are ideally cast (Kelsey Kyle is Belle, and Kevin Callaghan plays the homely Beast who is the Prince) in a musical that is appropriate to the forthcoming holiday season. 

The stars of ‘Beauty’ (directed by Michael McAuliffe) will thrill children and please adults … after all, it was more than a kiddie show that earned its way into the rarified company of such plays as ‘Cats’, ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ That said, I can think of no better way to introduce youngsters to legitimate theater than to take them to see this highly professional production. The message will be clear to them … it’s this … what’s really important about a person, is that which is on the inside; one should never be judged by one’s appearance alone.

But there’s a caveat that parents of youngsters would do well to consider. The Star Playhouse is so lush … the seating is so commodious … even the parking is so ample and convenient to the well-appointed lobby … that kids should be advised immediately on their arrival, that the building they are entering is far more than your average theater. Additionally, ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ as staged by this repertory company, is a special show which, like the magnificent venue itself, they are unlikely to see surpassed … even on Broadway.

Indeed, this musical is characteristic of the quality which has come to define Long Island theater.

 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 on May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com