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Fresh 'Hairspray,' but canned music

 "Hairspray" at BroadHollow's BayWay Arts Center features some inspired cast choices by director-choreographer Jessy Waller. But inspiration can't make half a live show fully come alive.

My complaint regarding musicals staged without musicians is not new. A recorded score saps spontaneity from any show. An energetic, mostly young cast cavorting about to a rock and roll beat makes the lack of a band all the more egregious.

Yes, the story's about an early-'60s TV sock-hop, a la "American Bandstand," with kids dancing to hit 45s. But that's no excuse. The usually boisterous opening number, "Good Morning Baltimore," comes with a snooze button, despite the snappy effervescence of Meg O'Brien as Tracy, the plumpish teen with all the right dance moves. Scott Hofer, cross-dressing as her mom in another Harvey Fierstein role (Hofer played "Torch Song Trilogy" for BroadHollow), almost takes our mind off the karaoke-style accompaniment, especially on the "Timeless to Me" duet with her hubby (lovable ham Gary Milenko). Linda May vamps amusingly as racist former Miss Baltimore Crab. Brian Gill as Tracy's Elvis-like crush doesn't pass for a teen, but Keven Anthony Campbell as her detention buddy does. And he can dance, too.

 He just needs a band.

 WHAT "Hairspray," musical by Marc Shaiman, Thomas Meehan and Mark O'Donnell, based on John Waters' movie

WHEN | WHERE Friday and Saturday nights at 8, Sunday at 2:30 p.m., BroadHollow's BayWay Arts Center, 265 E. Main St., East Islip. Also Jan. 14- 29, BroadHollow Theatre at Elmont, 700 Hempstead Tpke.

INFO $14-$20, $25 at door; broadhollow.org, 631-581-2700, call or check online for Elmont ticket prices


 ‘Hairspray’ energizes the stage at the BroadHollow Theatre

By Arlene McKanic

TimesLedger Newspapers

“Where are they getting all that energy?” the reviewer wondered halfway through the first act of the rowdy, joyful production of “Hairspray,” now at the BroadHollow Theatre. For the singing and dancing is just about nonstop throughout this two-hour musical.

For those who’ve never seen it, “Hairspray” is based on the hit movie by John Waters. The book is by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, the music by Marc Shaiman. It concerns Tracy Turnblad (Meg O’Brien), a plus-sized but supremely plucky teenager living in Baltimore in 1962. She’s the beloved only child of two plus-sized parents, the gleefully coarse Edna (traditionally played by a very large man, in this case the wonderful Scott Hofer) and Wilbur (Gary Milenko), a man who’s as big-hearted as his wife.

Tracy wants to be a famous dancer more than anything, and along with her adoring friend Penny Pingleton (Erin McKenna) is a fan of The Corny Collins show, a sort of Shindig/Hullabaloo/Bandstand type gig sponsored by a hairspray company. Eventually, and in spite of her weight and the contempt of the snooty producer Velma Von Tussle (Linda May), Tracy does become a regular on the show.

In a weak-kneed concession to changing times, the Corny Collins show has a Negro Day, where one day a month black kids can come on the show and dance. Tracy, bless her, wonders why they can’t have Negro Day every day. In other words, why can’t the show be integrated? Given her personality, she decides to do something to correct this inequity. Madness ensues, along with much singing and dancing, and concludes with all manner of happy endings.

The huge, charming cast is directed and choreographed by Jessy Waller. The costumes are knockouts straight from the era, with the girls in candy-colored crinolines and the boys in delightfully unfortunate pastel-colored suits. The hairdos, kept in place by the eponymous hairspray, are giddily improbable; one girl wears a beehive that seems taller than she is. Kudos to costume designer Jillian Coratti.

The sets, by BroadHollow Scenic, are made up of movable pastel-colored flats straight out of those soulfully dumb dance shows of the early ’60s, and the tinsel curtain that backgrounds the Miss Teenage Hairspray contest is so vulgar it’s beautiful. Shaiman’s peppy songs harken back to the early ’60s too, hiccups, “doo-wops” and all.

O’Brien’s Tracy is a whirlwind of optimism and energy even when she’s in slam for her civil rights stunt. Her rival for fame, fortune and hunky boyfriend is Amber, Velma’s mean girl of a daughter, played with honeyed nastiness by Jessica Rae Schaefer. The boy Tracy and Amber both love, the handsome but dopey Link Larkin, is played by the energetic Brian Gill. Tracy’s best friend Penny is beautifully brought to life by McKenna.

At first self-effacing, happy to defer to Tracy in all things, she blossoms with the love of Seaweed (the excellent Keven Anthony Campbell), the son of the sassy host of Negro Day, Motormouth Maybelle (Cindy Galloway). It’s startling to see McKenna channeling Tina Turner at the end of the night, in a figure hugging fringed dress and very large hair.

When the reviewer said “Hairspray” was exhausting, she meant that in a very good way. It’ll be at the BroadHollow, 700 Hempstead Turnpike, Elmont, till Jan. 29. For tickets and information call (631) 581-2700 ext. 13.


Always, Patsy Cline:


ed. at The Stage

Despite my toothache (or maybe because of it) I needed diversion this weekend.  When a friend gets a tour de force role, you naturally want to support them.  So, off we went to The Stage Theatre in Merrick to see Meg O'Brien as Patsy Cline in Always..., another show I had never seen. Always...Patsy Cline is based on the true story of a fan, Louise Seger, played to perfection by Tamara Flanell, her one-day relationship with her idol, Patsy Cline, and their subsequent correspondence.  Basically, it a revue of Patsy's repertoire with some biographical info thrown in. I'm not a fan of country-type music, but I could listen to Meg belt out these tunes forever and a day.  She's simply a vocal powerhouse.  I have vague recollections of Patsy Cline from my childhood and Meg incredibly took on her persona and singing style.  The band is dynamite and the sensitive direction by Janice Cosenza make Always... a real treat.  The ladies played to an enthusiastic full house, many of whom just had to stay after to have their moment with "Patsy".  You have one final weekend to catch this great show and I highly recommend that you do so.


Deb Starker, Deb’s Web – September 10, 2009


The Crucible:


A Miller, and its 'goodness'

By Aileen Jacobson

April 6, 2005

When Arthur Miller died in February, more attention was paid in obituaries to "Death of a Salesman," his 1949 masterpiece, than to his more frequently produced "The Crucible."

Thanks to its double dose of history - the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy witch hunts - its several teenage characters and its clearly delineated moral dilemmas, "The Crucible" is Miller's workhorse, his drama most likely to be included in a high school curriculum.

It's also among the first of his works to be presented on Long Island since Miller's death, and thus offers a prism through which to judge his now-completed canon.

Perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to Miller's artistry, and to the humane, heartfelt production at Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, is that we easily forget the playwright's reputation and other outside concerns as we become engrossed in this 1953 tragedy, which ponders the reputations and souls of the beleaguered citizens of Salem, Mass., in 1692.

This isn't to say the production doesn't suffer from occasional melodramatic moments and awkward acting. But they don't seriously harm director Steve McCoy's insightful, largely naturalistic approach.

McCoy begins elegantly with a cinematic, wordless scene in which women burst through doors and the doors glide apart to reveal a courtroom. Tim Golebiewski's spare, handsome set and Sarah Landau's dappled lighting add grace notes.

In the central role of John Proctor, Kenneth J. Washington (the Smithtown center's artistic director) maintains a stolid, low-key presence that helps make this an ensemble piece.

Proctor is the farmer who dares to resist the murderous hysteria that sweeps through his town, but who, unlike more devout victims, considers confessing to witchcraft to escape the gallows. Melanie Lipton's quiet gravity as his wife, Elizabeth, provides another strong anchor, as does Phyllis March as stalwart Rebecca Nurse. (The role is played by Debbie Starker during some performances.)

Ed Dennehy goes for a riskier take on Deputy Gov. Danforth, the chief judge and executioner. He glides around like a black serpent, raspy-voiced and ready to strike. Though sometimes over the top, his flashy performance works. Less successful is the staccato approach of Ben Intonato as the Rev. John Hale, who changes his views on witch trials. Meg O'Brien is heartbreakingly affecting as a teenager who tries to unveil the pretense behind the other girls' accusations.

Some of Miller's political points reverberate today: the dangers of citizens losing rights during a perceived emergency, and of government based on some people's Christian vision.

Like "Death of a Salesman," "The Crucible" ends with a wife intoning an epitaph for her flawed husband: "He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!" Fortunately, this production doesn't take Miller's goodness from him.

THE CRUCIBLE. By Arthur Miller, directed by Steve McCoy. Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, through April 24. Seen Friday on opening night.






Forget Blockbuster nights. Stop loving Raymond. Set the TiVo on record this weekend, take your lover's hand and drive to Smithtown as soon as you can. There's a fantastic concert—er, musical, that is—playing at Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, and if you don't go, you'll be missing quite a production.

If you know the music of Carole King, you already know the show. Her soulful repertoire is presented by six actors, under the conceit that old friends have come together for a night of remembering the past and seeking comfort from their current struggles. As night progresses into morning, we watch the cast share comfy couches, private laughs, tears and music delivered in astounding harmony. Some miniature skits and gags are scattered throughout the show, complementing the lighthearted nature of certain songs, though these never take priority over the music itself (a wise decision).

Tapestry has no particular plot, which makes commenting on the dramatic element difficult. That's not a bad thing. In fact, what this show demands beyond strong acting is a performer's ability to find themselves within King's music—and that's the secret of its success. Each of the six cast members, whether singing of love lost or found, seems to have the time of their life on stage, an energy that's infectious (just ask the ladies in the center aisle who quietly sang "Natural Woman" along with the cast).

While the entire cast deserves acclaim, Meg O'Brien, Laura Meade and Tyson Jennette give exemplary performances. O'Brien's stage presence and naturalism are magnetic. She doesn't demand that you watch her; rather, her obvious control and sense of the moment compel viewers to focus on her, even during ensemble pieces. Meade's work proves that even the most tender of songs can stop a show as she sings (and keys) "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" Bronx native Jennette, a welcome newcomer to the Smithtown stage, consistently brings spirit, charisma and fun to each of his songs.

There's a lot to love about this show: the set, which is an apartment reminiscent of the one on the cover of King's Tapestry album, the lighting (especially during an exterior city scene) and the flawless pit, led by Eric Baum. While there were some balancing issues between the music and the vocals, most noticeably during ensemble pieces, this is an exceptional and rewarding production. Both theater patrons and lovers of Carole King's music should reserve tickets for the remaining performances. It's that good.

Shawn Thorgersen

Tapestry is showing through Oct. 3 at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, 631- 724-3700.





Into the Woods: