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Monday
Dec042017

Long Island ‘Encore’ Theater Award Winners – 2017


Long Island ‘Encore’ Theater Award Winners – 2017

By Jeb Ladouceur

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

 _______________________________________________

Best Play or Musical

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

 

‘The Bridges of Madison County’

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Best Director

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

 

Jeffrey Sanzel - ‘The Bridges of Madison County’

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Best Actress

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

 

Rachel Greenblatt – ‘Saturday Night Fever’

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Best Supporting Actress

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

 

Staci Rosenberg-Simons – ‘Death of a Salesman’

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Best Actor

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

 

Nathaniel Hackmann – ‘Jekyll & Hyde’

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Best Supporting Actor

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

 

George Dvorsky - ‘Annie’

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Best Child Actor

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

 

Kyla Carter (center) – ‘Gypsy’

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Best Scenic Design

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


Brittany Loesch – ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

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Best Costume Design

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


Kurt Alger – ‘Jekyll & Hyde’

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Best Newcomer

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

 

Michael Brinzer – ‘Promethean Concerto’

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

Monday
Nov272017

Theater Review - 'A Christmas Carol'

Theater Review – ‘A Christmas Carol’

Produced by Theatre Three – Port Jefferson

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

by Charles Dickens

Adapted for the stage by 

JEFFREY E. SANZEL

An endearing unforgettable production!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Monday
Nov202017

Book Review - SOUL SONGS

“Soul Songs” - by Mili San

56 Pages – Outskirts Press

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To the tender, poetic expressions in BELOVED

I found me 

When I found you…

You fill all my dark places.

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

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

 

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

 

Monday
Nov132017

Theater Review – ‘Annie’

Theater Review – ‘Annie’

Produced by The John W. Engeman Theater - Northport

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday
Nov072017

Theater Review - 'Beauty And The Beast'

Theater Review – ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Produced by Star Playhouse – Commack

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

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

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

So much for the influence of tepid critiques.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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