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Thursday
Oct052017

Theater Review - "Gypsy"

Theater Review – ‘Gypsy’Produced by Engeman Theater – Northport

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur 

 ‘Gypsy’ is one of those ‘can’t-miss’ names that’s a virtual synonym for Show Business. We all know the account of ‘Rose’ the insistent stage mother who lives vicariously through her daughters Louise and June, and “…damn the vaudevillian torpedoes—it’s full speed ahead!”

But the chief problem with The Engeman’s current production of ‘Gypsy’ is that while it’s billed essentially as Louise’s ‘rags-to-riches’ story, it’s too much of a non-stop saga about Mama Rose’s maniacal pursuit of fame, and those anticipated torpedoes never come close enough for us to fear that the determined Rose won’t manage to dodge them. Accordingly, we’re left with a mere footnote to the plot when Louise (now Gypsy Rose Lee) crams a couple of successively more glitzy ‘strip’ routines into a few minutes at the end of what has become a somewhat confusing show.

The play follows Mama and her distinctly different daughters from their pre-teen singing and dancing years (as 9-year-old ‘Baby June’ironically turns-in the family’s most winning performances) right up to early adulthood … when Baby June’s finally had enough of pretending to be a kiddie hoofer. She recognizes vaudeville’s impending demise … as well as the impossibility of ever satisfying her overly-aggressive mother … and quits the stale act to pursue the more mature life of a wife and legitimate actress.

Rose, of course, is devastated, and viciously decides to turn her more withdrawn daughter Louise into the star she’d been grooming June to become … whether Louise likes it or not.

Admittedly, everybody’s angst becomes a key component in nervy Rose’s self-delusional tale of woe, and when second fiddle, Louise, replaces long-gone June at her mother’s insistence, Louise winds up booked into a naughty burlesque strip joint. This proves to be the best thing that could have happened to the Engeman audience, because there, a chubby dancer named ‘Mazeppa’ treats us to one of the funniest routines we’ll ever see on stage.

‘Mazeppa’ is played by the magnificently gifted Long Island veteran, Jennifer Collester Tully, and she stops the show in its tracks with her risqué, off-key, trumpet-blaring rendition of ‘You Gotta Get a Gimmick.’ Tully’s got a gimmick, alright, and in all the years I’ve been watching her hilarious interpretations, she’s never failed to outshine everybody else onstage. It’s known as talent, folks, and Jen Tully has it in spades.

But not even Tully and her suggestive sidekick, ‘Electra’ (expertly played by Amber Carson) can save this spotty production from the repetitiousness sadly built into so many Stephen Sondheim musicals. Heretical though it may seem, even the almighty ‘West Side Story’suffers from Sondheim monotony in my view. In fairness, be advised that this is not a universal, or even a widely held opinion on Broadway. Indeed, Stephen Sondheim is regarded by many professional composers as America’s greatest lyricist! And inexplicably he has won more Tony awards than any other musical wordsmith. So, go figure.

The indisputable fact is that ‘Gypsy’ … even when it opened in 1959 at The Broadway Theatre starring the great Ethel Merman … failed to win a single Tony, despite having been nominated in eight categories (none of which nominations, incidentally, involved Sondheim). Not until Angela Lansbury played ‘Rose’ in the 1974 Broadway revival did the American Theatre Wing finally smile on ‘Gypsy’ by giving the British-born star a Best Actress Tony in the revival.

It must be noted here, therefore, that the problems associated with this show are almost exclusively attributable to lyricist Sondheim and playwright Arthur Laurents (Laurents, having died in 2011, incidentally is buried with his partner under a memorial bench in out-east Quogue). In summary, it is this critic’s view that the current Engeman cast and crew are in no way to blame for ‘Gypsy’s’ shortcomings … any more than it is Ethel Merman’s or Jack Klugman’s fault the widely-acclaimed show couldn’t score a Tony in its debut.

At the Engeman, the insistent Michele Ragusa does as well as can be expected in the demanding role of an obsessed Mama Rose. In Act I, 11-year-old Kyla Carter (young Baby June) proves as accomplished as any child star we’ve seen currently performing on Long Island. And the hi-jinx loaded combination of profane Jen Tully and Amber Carson in Act II is, itself, worth the hefty price of admission. In future shows it surely won’t be hard for Wojcik/Seay Casting to come up with a pair of comedic specialists who can probably save any musical that might need resuscitation. Make a note of their names if you haven’t already—Tully & Carson—these plump, appealing pros are just plain irresistible!

Igor Goldin directs this show that runs thru October 29th. Next up at Northport’s plush Engeman Theater is the ever-popular ‘Annie,’ starting November 9th

 

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 

 
Saturday
Sep302017

Book Review - The Boyhood Of Shakespeare

Book Review – ‘The Boyhood of Shakespeare’

Author: J. Roland Evans – Hutchinson Press

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

 

When my granddaughter Kimberly was most recently in Europe, specifically on an exchange student program in the U.K., she had occasion to visit Paris from her home base in London. There, Kim toured one of the world’s most famous bookstores—‘Shakespeare and Company’—on rue de la Bucherie, near Notre Dame Cathedral.

Knowing her grandfather’s appetite for anything that even smacks of The Bard and his life in Stratford upon Avon, Kimberly selected a slender 256-page volume as a gift to bring home to me when she returned to Marist College the following month. It was a book she was almost positive I had never seen … and certainly one I didn’t own. She was right.

The book is titled ‘The Boyhood of Shakespeare,’ and I read it eagerly the day after Kim’s festive homecoming party here in Smithtown. Unlike most works dealing with the rather nebulous details in the life of The Bard of Avon, this one (though it’s meticulously researched fiction) tells us convincingly of things we probably would never have thought to ask historians.

The novel is dressed up in a well-fitting biographical suit, and its author, J. Roland Evans, gives the impression that he could have been the teacher at young Will Shakespeare’s school in Stratford … or a client of Will’s father, John, a glove-maker and town Mayor … or one of the itinerant actors who visited hamlets like Stratford when trying-out new plays, much as performers do in suburbia to this day.

Of course, Shakespeare was someone about whom we know relatively little, despite the fact that he was (and is) the greatest rhetorical genius that the English language has ever produced. Whether we know it or not, he coined literally thousands of the words, phrases, and homespun idioms that make up our colorful language, and which we still use on a daily basis.

It was Will Shakespeare who called jealousy ‘the green-eyed monster’ … who first referred to ‘a fool’s paradise’ … who noted ‘a foregone conclusion’ … ‘a sorry sight’ … and when something was ‘dead as a doornail’ it was the Bard of Avon who originally said so. 

One of the great charms of ‘The Boyhood of Shakespeare’ derives primarily from the fact that J. Roland Evans sprinkles so many of these terms and phrases appropriately throughout the dialogue in this quaint biography about history’s greatest of literary giants … expressions like ‘a full swoop’ … ‘bated breath’ … ‘bag and baggage’ … these and untold scores of similar terms are on the record right there in his plays. But it’s only when we read their applicable use by the young man who would eventually turn the phrases, and insert them forever in our vocabularies, that we can fully appreciate the skill of his biographer.

There are any number of books, movies, and yes, plays about William Shakespeare, and that is as it should be … but the Evans book that my granddaughter brought me from Paris is the only one I’ve ever seen about young Will’s childhood. Thus, for me a new light has been shone on the unparalleled wordsmith of our long literary history; the master linguist whom I studied with such fascination in college.

Those who question William Shakespeare’s authorship of the thirty-six or so plays most commonly attributed to him, generally do so on the ground that no mere schoolboy from rural Stratford, England could have grown up to be the descriptive genius who told us that ‘brevity is the soul of wit’ … that ‘discretion is the better part of valor’ … or that one should ‘fight fire with fire.’

In reading J. Roland Evans’ book (a novel though it may be) we are introduced to an aspect of life in Elizabethan England we may never have considered before—that even a Stratford youngster in his pre-and-early teens … attending school from six in the morning ‘til six at night … reading the works of Cicero and Homer in the original Latin and Greek … received an education far beyond that which we consider adequate undergraduate schooling today. 

As The bard himself might have said, “It’s Small Wonder” that so many of our Liberal Arts students graduate only to find themselves, “In a Pickle.” Perhaps they should “Brush up on” more books like ‘The Boyhood of Shakespeare.’ 

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


Sunday
Sep242017

Theater Review – ‘The Bridges of Madison County’

 

Theater Review – ‘The Bridges of Madison County’

Produced by Theatre Three – Port Jefferson Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

 

Francesca Johnson is a moderately fulfilled Italian war bride living a rather dreary, but apparently decent existence in staid, rural Iowa. During eighteen years on the farm, and married to a nice-enough guy who’s the brusque father of her two teenaged kids, Francesca’s ostensibly never considered an extra-marital affair. Then again, she’s never run into anybody as desirable (and available) as the divorced, Robert Kincaid.

When Robert stops at the Johnsons’ farmhouse to ask for directions to a covered bridge he’s been assigned to photograph for National Geographic (husband Bud Johnson and kids are off to the State Fair for the weekend) Francesca’s pent-up early forties juices are re-awakened, and the photographer finds himself in an almost-impossible-to-resist situation.

This is the premise of Robert James Waller’s runaway best-selling 1992 novel, ‘The Bridges of Madison County,’ a book that thus far is said to have sold to the tune of 60 million copies worldwide. Even before one considers pass-along readership, that’s a publishing phenomenon of the first order. It’s clear that author Waller has tapped into a story of vast interest and near-universal appeal.

On Theatre Three’s impressive stage in Port Jefferson, noted director Jeffrey Sanzel has mounted the musical version of ‘Bridges…’, and the lengthy production (nearly three pleasing hours) is faithful enough to both the blockbuster novel, and the 1995 award-winning Clint Eastwood – Meryl Streep motion picture.

The secret to real-life academic Waller’s overall success (and especially that of ‘Bridges’) seems to be believability. Readers the world over, having cast their emotional lot with the romance-starved Francesca, and her somewhat lesser-torn love interest, photographer Kincaid, quickly bombarded National Geographic with hundreds of letters demanding to know more about the life and work of Robert the irresistible lensman.

The truth is, of course, that neither Robert the photographer, nor any National Geo story on the famed Iowa bridges actually exist. But so compelling is Waller’s fabrication that to this day thousands of the writer’s admirers … as well as the millions of attendees at the film and stage versions of his story … refuse to accept the magazine’s claims of fictitiousness. It’s the kind of conviction that every writer of fiction dreams of establishing in his readers … or those who view stage and film adaptations of his work. 

The version of ‘Bridges’ now playing at Theatre Three thru October 28, is a heartbreaking tale of love’s difficult choices that serious theatergoers really should see. Yes … it will generate controversy … but so do apple pie, football, and flu shots. The collective genius of Tracylynn Conner (Francesca), Brian Gill (Robert Kincaid), and director Jeffrey Sanzel is that they provide fodder aplenty for everyone’s mill … without unduly offending patrons who might disagree with their interpretations.

When leaving the charming old playhouse last weekend, I heard one woman say somewhat huffily, “How long did she think that would last?” To which her male escort responded semi-salaciously, “Seems to me they’re both already ahead of the game.”

It’s easy enough to observe that Robert Kincaid embodies the second chance that middle-aged women rarely get, but the question remains as to whether this single man, accustomed as he now is to total freedom from responsibility, represents a wise choice for a future life together. In the final analysis, it is Francesca who must decide (and decide she does … my lips are sealed). And the wisdom of her choice seems divided along gender lines.

One thing is beyond dispute, however … it is the expert interpretation of this moving slice of life. The acting … and particularly the pacing of all the performances … is superb. Amy Wodon Huben is perfect as Francesca’s good-hearted but gossipy neighbor down the road … and the mostly-strings orchestra under the direction of Jeffrey Hoffman is splendidly unobtrusive.

That’s essential in this play because Jason Robert Brown’s music and lyrics constitute such an important component of the show. If, for instance, there’s a more touching country ballad than ‘It All Fades Away,’ I haven’t heard it.

I confess that after reading the Waller novel, I feared viewing the film would prove a disappointment … it didn’t. And having been thus impressed by the motion picture, I approached this Long Island premiere of ‘Bridges’ in its musical version with trepidation … I shouldn’t have. It’s even better than the movie!

On Broadway, the show received a total of nineteen nominations from major awarding agencies (including four Tony nods, and winning two). Nonetheless, the musical never really resonated with sophisticated New York audiences, and ‘Bridges’ closed on May 18 of 2014, after a mere 100 performances. Fortunately, Theatre Three has brought this wistful gem to Port Jefferson’s ‘Broadway on Main Street,’ where every member of its cast and crew contributes to still another winning production.

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

 

Sunday
Aug272017

THEATER REVIEW - "Little Shop Of Horrors"

 

THEATER REVIEW

“Little Shop of Horrors” - Produced by: The Gateway PAC – Bellport

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

Rock musicals are far from my favorite genre, but as the saying goes, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.” The saying is not to be confused with the transpositional pun that denigrates the poor oboe, defining that 17th Century musical instrument as: ‘An ill wind that nobody blows good.’ No one seems to know who first turned the phrase that oboists the world over understandably detest, just as wine aficionados decry the definition of a ‘hangover’ as ‘…the wrath of grapes.’

In the absence of definitive proof to the contrary, I’d put my money on Oscar Wilde as the author of either (or both) of those clever witticisms. One thing is certain, though, if the brainy Irish quipster were to find himself in the audience of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ (an unlikely prospect indeed) he’d no doubt beat a hasty retreat to the nearest exit without waiting for even a scintilla of redemptive theatrical value in this so-called musical.

Which, to be fair, could be a mistake.

Not to be overlooked in any recounting of this 1982 off-Broadway phenomenon (it wasn’t produced on the Great White Way, thus never was Tony-nominated) is the fact that ‘Little Shop…’ received high praise in almost every category during its five-year run at the Orpheum Theatre in Greenwich Village. Included in the dark comedy’s accumulated honors in 1983 alone were the prestigious New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best musical … the Drama Desk Award for outstanding musical … and the Outer Critics Circle Award.

With a lineup like that, who needs Tony?

When a transfer of the musical to Broadway was proposed, the principal architects of  ‘Little Shop…’ and notably book writer Howard Ashman, decided the show belonged right where it was … in The Village. As the third longest running musical at the time, the production team employed the old axiom, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Besides, with 2,209 performances under their belts, writer Ashman and composer Alan Menken had created the highest grossing production in off-Broadway history … so what’s not to like?

Well frankly, it’s a matter of taste … and the plot in this weird comedy about a wretched worker in a florist shop … who happens to raise a plant that derives its nourishment from human blood and flesh … makes me question whether or not I’m in the right line of work. Admittedly, as Howard Ashman wrote, in his introduction to the acting edition of the libretto, “The show satirizes many things: science fiction … grade B movies … musical comedy itself … and even the Faust legend.” Which is all well and good, but the theatergoer still has to overcome the ‘for the love of Mike’ roadblock. And it’s not a matter of being squeamish … I loved Theatre Three’s bloodthirsty production of ‘Sweeney Todd,’ for instance.

Then there’s the ‘music.’

 This reviewer was around in the early 1960’s when rock & roll, Motown, and doo-wop tunes (like those in ‘Little Shop…’) were all the rage, but the unfortunate fact is I didn’t like the stuff then … and I dislike the genre even more now. With the evolution of rap music, for example, what we’ve done to our once proud jazz and folk music heritage is clearly disgraceful.

As for The Gateway’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ it must be said that the Bellport production company never fires blanks. When they undertake a project, you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll deliver as good a version of the show (every show) as you’re likely to see anywhere. All the actors in this strange play are excellent. The pace is perfect. The sound, set, lighting, and music are typically lush … and of course, the grand old playhouse itself is as comfortable a venue as any on Long Island.

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

Monday
Aug072017

Theater Review - 'Promethean Concerto'

THEATER REVIEW

‘Promethean Concerto’ - Produced by: Tomorrow’s Classics Theatre Company

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

The life of Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the most widely documented among biographies of the world’s fine artists. We all know that he was born in Bonn, Germany in 1770, that he died at age 57, was a gifted pianist despite having become deaf, and that to this day, his legacy marks him as one of the most renowned and influential musical composers in history.

But we know little of the man’s complex private life … his dysfunctional family … his inner demons … or his spiritual angst. It is to these issues, and in particular to Ludwig’s undying adoration of his beloved Josephine, that Long Island author Cindi Sansone-Braff has shone her bright biographer’s light, and given us the type of incisive play the theater industry desperately needs more of.

In this world premiere of ‘Promethean Concerto’ (the play’s full title is ‘Beethoven’s Promethean Concerto in C Minor Without Opus’) Braff’s analytical lens is so probing … her observations so precise … and her dialogue so appropriately ‘musical’ in structure … that it would have been a shame to assign the delivery of  these magnificent lines to a relatively unknown actor.

 Or so one might think.

But let us give credit where it’s due. Partnering with Debi Toni, her multi-talented co-founder of Tomorrow’s Classics Theatre Company, Braff and angel/investor, T.J. Clemente, discovered the acting gem her play needed in the person of Michael Brinzer, a music student currently studying in New York City.

In ‘Promethean Concerto,’ Brinzer has been given the perfect vehicle to showcase his many talents. Not only is he blessed with that rare ability to command the audience’s full attention even when speaking in a near-whisper, the young man (he can’t be beyond his mid-twenties) takes to the baby grand in Act II and delivers an absolutely mesmerizing ‘Moonlight Sonata.’ Indeed, Michael’s virtuosity made everyone at the sold-out Babylon Arts Council venue gasp.

Speaking of which, one of Brinzer’s lines has to do with Beethoven’s chiding of a youngster’s piano teacher who insisted his students play until their fingers bled. “Doesn’t he know that a great virtuoso is born and not made?” Beethoven asks. The rhetorical question could have been put to those who nurtured the natural-born actor/musician Michael Brinzer.

Though ‘Promethean Concerto’ is hardly a one-man show (James Lombardi is excellent as Beethoven’s nephew Karl, and Debi Toni’s sweet soprano delivery of Beethoven’s music still resonates in my ears) the stage is Brinzer’s for most of the play’s two-hour pleasing length.

It’s my understanding that Cindi Sansone-Braff wrote this exquisite biographical drama around the turn of the century. One can only speculate on the years of theatrical triumph that certainly would have accrued to the play and its playwright had she (now well into middle age) found a Michael Brinzer to interpret her sensational script back then

Brinzer’s construal of The Maestro from Bonn would surely have become the gold standard for future actors to emulate. Because Michael … and the dialogue-rich Promethean Concerto … and of course the music of Beethoven … would all have run away with those coveted Tony Awards.

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


Wednesday
Jul262017

BOOK REVIEW - 'HOUSE OF SPIES'

BOOK REVIEW

‘House of Spies’ - By Daniel Silva

527 pages – Harper Collins

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

 

One of the most interesting attributes with which Daniel Silva’s irresistible protagonist, Gabriel Allon, is blessed, is (of all things) the Israeli master spy’s facility as a world-class art restorer. Doubly fascinating is author Silva’s uncanny ability to weave together the unlikely combination of espionage and fine art savvy so expertly that each of his stories makes logical use of both Allon aptitudes. Thus we find several of Silva’s book titles laced with artistic terms, as in The Kill Artist, The Rembrandt Affair, Portrait of a Spy, etcetera.

In my view, while one admittedly should not ‘judge a book by its cover,’ a novel’s content is usefully hinted at by its title. Given that premise, those Daniel Silva thrillers whose covers contain allusions to the fictitious Gabriel Allon’s artistic propensity, are the ones that readers who are new to this exquisite storyteller, might look into initially. 

This is not to say that any of Daniel Silva’s books necessarily constitute a better read than another. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find a Gabriel Allon novel that isn’t marked by the sort of intrigue and tension readers have come to expect from this razor-sharp master of suspense. Nor is any thriller buff likely to open a Silva novel that’s written in less than incisive prose. Consider the skill with which the simple act of lighting a cigarette is described on page 222 … Madame Sophie appeared relieved … she lit a cigarette and with thumb and ring finger, discreetly picked a fleck of tobacco from the tip of her tongue. 

That’s the kind of sentence most writers only dream about composing … but which Daniel Silva delivers in droves while defining the characters that populate his nineteen novels.

Furthermore, the author’s descriptive skills are not limited to character definition. As one who spent a year in Morocco, this reviewer can vouch for Silva’s perceptive eye in describing that enigmatic country. It was almost breathtaking to read his spot-on depictions of cryptic Casablanca (where I saw a lone gendarme, armed with only a nightstick, beat back a crowd of a hundred riot-bound jihadists) … or mysterious Marrakesh (I interviewed Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day on location there while they filmed Hitchcock’s spellbinder, “The Man Who Knew Too Much”) … or Rabat, Fez, and Tangier (each of which city is known for its unique stamp of North African peculiarity).

But it is plain to those of us who have experienced Fez, and its Al Quaraouiyine  University,  (the oldest continually-operating university in the world)  … or Tangier in northernmost Morocco  (with its incredible views of Gibraltar) … that author Daniel Silva knows his venues intimately. In ‘House of Spies’ this phenomenal writer leads us through mystifying locales stretching from Washington D.C., to London, and Corsica (to name but a few of Gabriel Allon’s haunts) and we quickly come to the realization that the fictitious hero’s creator has indeed personally walked the streets he describes so intimately.

It is not surprising, therefore, that MGM has recently acquired the rights to all of Silva’s incomparable books. The competition in Hollywood must have been keen … and rightly so.

Daniel Silva is the award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Unlikely Spy, The Mark of the Assassin, The Marching Season, The Kill Artist, The English Assassin, The Confessor, A Death in Vienna, Prince of Fire, The Messenger, The Secret Servant, Moscow Rules, The Defector, The Rembrandt Affair, Portrait of a Spy, The Fallen Angel, The English Girl, The Heist, and The English Spy.His books are published in more than thirty countries and are bestsellers around the world. He serves on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and lives in Florida with his wife, CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel, and their two children, Lily and Nicholas.

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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, debuted last month, when it was introduced at the Smithtown Library.. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

Monday
Jul102017

Theater Review - "Grease" Engeman Theater 

THEATER REVIEW

“Grease!” - Produced by: John W. Engeman Theater– Northport

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

If nearly all the songs in the current Engeman production of ‘Grease’ sound the same, it’s because that’s the way most melodies were in the late 50’s. Tunes of the day seemed to have been produced by a musical cookie cutter. That said, give Director Paul Stancato and his cast of seventeen singers and dancers high marks for capturing the mood of teenage life and love at fictional Rydell High (based on the William Howard Taft  School) in 1958 suburban Chicago.

It was a time, of course, when most American kids nearing graduation snuck an alcoholic drink now and then … and everybody (but everybody!) … smoked cigarettes religiously. Indeed one of the more ironic lines in this musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey has a girl coaxing her classmate to go ahead and take a puff because, “…heck, it won’t kill ya’.”

If only we’d known then, what we know now.

Speaking of which … there’s a subliminal message that might be learned from this throwback show. Of all seventeen members of the cast, this reviewer spotted only two who bore tattoos (and even they appeared to have been the subjects of unsuccessful attempts to cover them). The caveat might effectively caution young actors who hope to bring authenticity to their interpretations of roles gone by … to lay off the ink. After all, they make those ‘wash-off’ kiddie tats if I’m not mistaken. The fact, however, is that mid-20th Century high schoolers didn’t use tattoos … just as they didn’t wear torn jeans (we called them dungarees at Riverhead High, if I remember correctly.)

With ‘Grease,’ The Engeman continues a long string of more-than-satisfying musical revivals. On the distaff side, Laura Helm (as Marty) and Madeleine Barker (playing Rizzo) contribute most significantly to this production … while Sam Wolf (in the play’s demanding lead role) turns in a classic Danny Zuko.

Naturally, with the passing of years, fewer and fewer theatergoers will recognize the dance, ditty, and dialogue patterns that make creations like ‘Grease’ so familiar and appealing. Already, those patrons who have not yet reached the age of ‘three score and ten’ will be puzzled by many of the 1958 references written into this show. But even with the necessity of inferring a term, or a phrase’s meaning in lieu of actual recollection, a well-constructed show laced with capable players never loses its ability to entertain us.

Some things haven’t changed since Adam & Eve, and ‘Grease’ comes up with a surprise when Betty Rizzo announces hers … yep … the play’s pepperpot informs us she’s “…five days late, and in a family way.”

Oh, my! You’ll just have to see for yourself how that works out, but the situation pretty much verifies that what’s been hinted at throughout the musical, has indeed been going on (probably in the on-stage convertible named ‘Greased Lightning’ that the various couples seem to share … for a variety of activities.

It seemed to my companion and me last weekend that the costumes (by Matthew Solomon) while interesting, didn’t quite constitute the period garb we remembered … she in Queens in the 50’s … myself in Eastern Long Island during the same time frame. Then again, the locale for this show is the Chicago area, so those leather jackets and polka dot or flaring skirts could actually be spot on.

 

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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, made its debut this month, and was introduced at the Smithtown Library on May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

Sunday
May282017

Smithtown Author Jeb Ladouceur Introduces Novel The Southwick Incident  

Photos by Debbie Lange Fifer 

Jeb Ladouceur Introduces His Twelfth Novel To an Enthusiastic Smithtown Library Audience

This big crowd is typical of the heavy turnouts that Smithtown author Jeb Ladouceur has drawn at more than one hundred book signings for his dozen thrillers over the past ten years.

 

Dr. Louis Greenblatt, a longtime friend of Smithtown’s favorite writer of fiction, attends all of Ladouceur’s signings. THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT is dedicated to the Nissequogue M.D.

 

One of author Ladouceur’s earliest supporters is Hofstra English professor Chuck Anderson. Like the Smithtown writer, Anderson is also a prolific novelist. He lives in Bellport.

 

 

 

 

Renowned writer, actor, and director of Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, Jeffrey Sanzel, shown here with his friend, noted actress Linda May, is a strong supporter of Ladouceur’s literary work.

Author Jeb Ladouceur’s zest for writing exciting fiction virtually leaps from the podium as he describes the creative process as he sees it. “I’m only half alive when I’m not writing,” he says.

 

 

 

A longtime friend of Jeb Ladouceur, and the author of four children’s books, Smithtown’s popular entrepreneur Marguerite Zangrillo is said to be branching out into adult fiction writing. ‘Muggs’ is a regular at Jeb’s several book events.

 

Jeb’s great-grandson, Jackson Kamp, seems inclined to follow in Papa Ladouceur’s footsteps. According to the four-year-old’s parents, the boy loves nothing more than to read and write. He’s shown here with his aunt Kim Ladouceur, who always assists at her grandfather’s book signings.

Thursday
May252017

THEATER REVIEW - "Saturday Night Fever, the Musical"

THEATER REVIEW

“Saturday Night Fever, the Musical” - Produced by: Theatre Three – Port Jefferson

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

According to Nik Cohn’s 1975 New York Magazine article titled, ‘The Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night,’ and the Norman Wexler screenplay that it inspired two years later (when the film gave us John Travolta), “Wanting to be like someone else is a waste of the person you are.” This pithy observation (generally attributed to Kurt Kobain) is the sort of forceful reflection that runs through ‘Saturday Night Fever, the Musical’ being performed at Port Jefferson’s Theatre Three thru June 24th.

The story revolves around Tony Manero, a teenaged paint store employee (played by the multi-talented Bobby Peterson) and poor Manero’s humdrum occupation, like those of his bored-to-death peers in Brooklyn, is getting him nowhere. Tony’s one claim to fame is reflected in the adoration of his dance-absorbed neighbors who admire the young hoofer’s unquestioned expertise on the dance floor, and where Manero luxuriates in their idolizing him at the ‘2001 Odyssey Disco’ every weekend.

In a society where the Bay Ridge Neighborhood is akin to a medieval Dukedom in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge (and just as treacherous, as one violent scene proves to be), all that the reigning Tony lacks is an appropriate Duchess. It’s not until the middle of Act I that Stephanie (expertly interpreted by Rachel Greenblatt) comes along, and predictably knocks him for a loop without even trying.

As things progress, both Tony and Manhattanite wannabe Stephanie are perfectly at home singing and dancing to the score of ‘Saturday Night Fever, the Musical,’ whose featured numbers consist primarily of songs written by The Bee Gees (‘Stayin’ Alive’ – ‘How Deep is Your Love’ – ‘More Than a Woman’ – etc.) Worthy of special note is Beth Whitford (playing Annette) whose rendition of ‘If I Can’t Have You’ is an absolute show-stopper.

But there’s more to this musical than singing and dancing … the plot is a silky-smooth combination of bleakness and brightness … love and loathing … tenderness and tragedy. So effortlessly do the principal characters play off of one another during the dialogue of the production that the near-capacity evening audience last weekend seemed not even to breathe during the more intimate conversations of the key players. The pacing and volume of such colloquies, more than anything else, reveal the actors’ competence, and they also speak to the proficiency of the director (Jeffrey Sanzel).

In this regard, it was refreshing to sit back in the comfortable 100-year-old playhouse in Port Jefferson and hear the theatrically articulate Rachel Greenblatt deliver her spoken lines with perfect modulation and inflection. Every stage production is spearheaded by one actor whose cadence and tone seem to inspire the entire company, and in ‘Fever’ it’s Greenblatt. The young woman has blossomed into a performer of the first rank.

Kudos, too, are due the twenty other members of the large featured cast. There isn’t a disappointment in the enthusiastic lot. As for Jeffrey Hoffman’s seven-piece orchestra, it’s likely that The Bee Gees themselves would have cheered the talented musicians lustily at the final curtain. Lighting (Robert W. Henderson, Jr.), Scenery (Randall Parsons), Costumes (Ronald Green III), and Choreography (Whitney Stone) are all first-rate. Accordingly everyone who avails themselves of the opportunity, is sure to enjoy a magnificent experience at ‘Broadway on Main Street’ in Port Jeff … no matter what day or night they choose to catch ‘The Fever.’

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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, debuted this month, and 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
Apr242017

THEATER REVIEW - “Where There’$ a Will” 

THEATER REVIEW

“Where There’$ a Will” - Produced by: Theatre Three - Port Jefferson

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

Phyllis March, Jessica Contino, & Mary Ellin Kurtz Going bananas in Sanzel’s ‘Where There’$ a Will’ 

When you accept the wacky premise of this farce, without actually knowing where it will lead, you’ve let yourself in for an outrageously funny experience in Theatre Three’s delightful old Port Jefferson playhouse. Why? Because as when viewing any theatrical charade, one must buy into its madcap hypothesis in order for the ensuing sight and dialogue gags to work. In short, such a play will tickle your funny bone, but only if you invite it to do so … and “Where There’$ a Will” is a perfect example of the phenomenon.

Most staged absurdities feature a small cast wherein four or five easily recognized characters come and go, as opposing doors open and close with perfect timing … or cases of mistaken identity and unannounced appearances abound. We of the audience are in on the bogus business from the outset, of course, and that’s the lynchpin that makes for a successful farce. Allowing ourselves to become Peeping Toms is the sine qua non behind any satisfying comedic travesty, after all, and therein lies the genius of “Where There’$ a Will.” 

Indeed, one of the most unique aspects of the laugh-out-loud chaos being staged at Theatre Three thru May 6th is the depth of its seasoned cast. Who ever heard of seventeen actors … especially the likes of professionals such as Steve Ayle, Marci Bing, Michael Butera, Carol Carota, Jessica Contino, Ginger Dalton, Susan Emory, Sari Feldman, Jack Howell, Joan Howell, Skyler Quinn Johnson, Maryellin Kurtz, Phyllis March, Linda May, Steve McCoy, Maryellen Molfetta, and Ruthie Pincus … (whew!) … all performing in perfect synchronization throughout a single complex farce?

To my knowledge, such an ambitious undertaking has heretofore been unheard of in the legitimate theater. It out-Bards the Bard.

The story … actually written by Long Island’s premier actor/director/playwright, Jeffrey Sanzel, when he was but eighteen! … is this: A number of struggling actors have a chance to inherit half a million dollars each from a wealthy theater aficionado known as The Potato King. All they have to do is mount a production of his original play “Where There’$ a Will.” Staging the show sounds easy enough, but there’s a catch; nobody is bequeathed one red cent unless and until they perform the play exactly as it’s written … warts and all. The theater buff’s last will and testament might as well have been carved in stone … there are to be no exceptions … the deceased’s indomitable lawyer (along with his tight-fisted wife number four) sees to that! Accordingly, the heterogeneous acting company runs into more bumps on the thespian road than they ever imagined possible, and makes us privy to hilarious and poignant backstage maneuvering in the bargain.

It’s virtually impossible to distribute accolades in this critique with the even-handedness that such a large and expert cast of veteran players deserves. Certainly Marci Bing and Linda May, along with Jack Howell and Steve McCoy are as proficient as any acting quartet working in Long Island theater today. However, only the size of the cast prohibits an in-depth analysis of the troupe’s entertaining performances. Give each of them all the stars you’ve got in your basket of kudos.

The same goes for Randall Parsons, Chakira Doherty, and Robert Henderson (set, costume, and lighting designers respectively). They never disappoint Theatre Three audiences.

As for the play’s incomparable director Jeffrey Sanzel (assisted by Andrew Markowitz), those theatergoers who have followed Sanzel’s career surely are not surprised to learn that he exhibited so much keen theatrical insight at the tender age when he created “Where There’$ a Will.” Now that the local impresario extraordinaire has reached middle age with such cultured grace and élan, it can be justly noted that Sanzel’s legion of actors, patrons, and friends may count themselves privileged not only to know him … but even to have had a conversation with the man.

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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 newest book, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s recently completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, is due next month, and will be introduced at the Smithtown Library on Sunday afternoon, May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com