____________________________________________________________________________________


 

 

 

 


  

 


 - Click for Restaurant Directory_____

 

Find us wherever you are!
Subscribe To Smithtown Matters
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for our Email Newsletter
_________________________________________________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________

 



*******************************************************************

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.

______________________________________________________________ 

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.

________________________________________________________________

 

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.

________________________________________________________________  

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.

________________________________________________________________

 

 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’

_______________________________________________

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’

_______________________________________________

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’

_______________________________________________

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’

_______________________________________________

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’

_______________________________________________

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’

_______________________________________________

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’

_______________________________________________

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’

_______________________________________________

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’

_______________________________________________

 

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’

_______________________________________________

 

 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