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High Accolades Come From Senator - Staten Island Advance

Hillary Clinton praises family on exemplary job restoring St. George Theater and on mother's speech



Folks around town are abuzz about the magnificence of the St. George Theater and for good reason. The splendor of the Spanish and Italian Baroque interior created by Peruvian-born Nestor Castro of Arrochar continues to evoke "oohs" and "aahs." And there is plenty of opportunity to emote since a number of top-notch galas and events play out at the theater on a regular basis. For instance, the Staten Island Economic Development Corp. (SIEDC) recently held a conference titled "Success Women in Government and Business" there. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former Congresswoman Susan Molinari were a couple of the guest speakers at the Aug. 4th event. Diane Montali served as mistress of ceremonies. "It was a great day for the theater and all involved," says Luanne Sorrentino, who owns the theater along with her mom, Rosemary Cappozalo (Mrs. Rosemary) and her sisters, Doreen Cugno and Rosemary Hillers. "It was very exciting waiting for Sen. Hillary Clinton to arrive," Luanne adds. "Secret Service was all over the theater. All the guest speakers were anxiously waiting for the Senator to arrive. My mom, Mrs. Rosemary, my sister, Doreen Cugno, and myself were fortunate enough to greet the Senator at the backstage door with Cesar Claro," she added. Luanne says they were able to sit with Sen. Clinton in one of the backstage dressing rooms before the event. Luanne and her family explained to Sen. Clinton, in some seven or eight minutes, how they managed to renovate the theater in 18 short months. Sen. Clinton said she was impressed by their ingenuity. During the program, Mrs. Rosemary addressed the crowd, explaining the history of the theater and the extensive restoration that was undertaken. She said her goal was to create a cultural center for the visual and performing arts. It was then that Mrs. Rosemary paused for a moment and turned to address the New York senator: "Hillary, you've certainly touched my life and the lives of my daughters. I thank you." Upon exiting the stage, Sen. Clinton took Mrs. Rosemary's hand and whispered, "Wow, you're an excellent speaker" — a pretty lofty compliment coming from someone who delivers speeches as often as she does!


Don McLean Concert Folk troubador was charmed – and charming – at his concert Friday night

To some, Don McLean is merely the author of the classic anthem "American Pie," which went No. 1 shortly after its 1972 release. To those familiar with the singer-songwriter's four decades of work, the 60-year-old McLean is a troubadour whose gift for songwriting is a lost art form. On Friday night, McLean charmed 800 people in attendance at the St. George Theatre with his storytelling and ability to shift musical gears from pop to rock to country and blues. The no-nonsense McLean was equally delighted by the enthusiastic crowd and regal venue. "You're a very good, responsible audience. Intelligent," McLean noted. "This is a beautiful theatre. Great sound. Patronize this theatre and help it to survive ... Spend some time with your neighbors ... Instead of buying junk food." During the nearly two hour show, McLean performed 26 songs, including "And I Love You So," "Castles in the Air," "American Pie," "Crying" and the wonderful "You're My Little Darlin," a love letter from McLean to his daughter. During the set, more than a few patrons were spotted wiping a tear or smiling at McLean's turn of a phrase, as in "Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)." "Starry, starry night. Paint your palette blue and grey, Look out on a summer's day, With eyes that know the darkness in my soul. Shadows on the hills, Sketch the trees and the daffodils, Catch the breeze and the winter chills, In colors on the snowy linen land." Following what be one of several standing ovations, McLean quipped, "I can't imagine 50 Cent taking a shot at that." McLean, however, took a couple of shots of his own. After performing several heavy ballads, he quipped that he'd better go on to something else before the set turns into a Janis Ian show. Explaining he had received an honorary doctorate several years ago despite a less than stellar academic career, McLean said if he was to bump into Paul McCartney and the legendary Beatle advised him to address him as "Sir," he could suggest that McCartney call him "Doctor" and "We can both be pompous asses together.. "He's one, I'm not," McLean added. In contrast, McLean applauded Rosemary "Miss Rosemary" Cappozalo and her daughters, Doreen Cugno, Luanne Sorrentino and Rosemary Hillers, for keeping the St. George Theatre alive. The women oversaw a five-month, nearly $1-million renovation project on the Rococo-style theater. For that reason, this was not just another gig for the singer-songwriter-activist. Before taking the stage, a fired-up McLean said: "I'm gonna put a damn good show on for you girls." McLean kept his promise. A special nod goes out to The Wolfpack, the Island-based trio (Larry D'Albero, bass; Rick Howard, guitar and vocals; Tom Baker, drums) who opened for McLean. Their raucous half-hour set recalled The Fabulous Thunderbirds. "You're a very good, responsible audience," McLean told his crowd at the historic St. George Theatre.


Dean Balsmamini - Staten Island Advance - October 15, 2005



DANCE REVIEW Alvin Ailey II Concert

And ticket sales at the historic performance venue were nearly as impressive Ailey II, the journeyman touring unit of the much-loved Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, spent the day in the St. George Theatre yesterday, delighting a modest-sized school audience in the morning and a grown-up, sell-out crowd at night. The far tougher sell had to be the dayshift. Youth is deeply distracting, after all, what with hormones, cell phones, I-Pods and hooking up. Nevertheless, the 12 Ailey II dancers (who are only in their late teens and early 20s) largely overwhelmed the distractions, leaving kids and non-kids alike rapt. Except for regular outbreaks of cheering and hooting. That was the reaction to the opening moment of "Takademe," a short, pungent trio by dancer/choreographer Robert Battle. Physical perfection always goes over well and "Takademe" resided almost entirely in the rippling upper musculature of three bare-chested company men. Battle's method is sophisticated. For this piece, he dismantled traditional Indian Kathak dancing, reassembling it with new rhythms. It's exotic with a kind of 1980s hip-hop sensibility fortified by Sheila Chandra's soft, rap-like vocal. In Doug Varone's "Beauty," Malik LeNost and Constance Stamatiou were a dreamy couple, possibly lovestruck. They moved languidly to the Mozart aria ("L'amero, saro costante"), luxuriantly sung by Kathleen Battle. The dancers were skilled and the piece is easy to watch but not too open about its backstory. We may be in a traditional African community in "Nahum" ("Comforter") a work by Camille A. Brown that had an appealing marimba-driven score by Anthony Michael Alexander. Wearing designer Meckha Cherry's loose, light-colored pajamas, the cast performed rites and exchanged emotions. Several sections of "Revelations," which was the masterwork of company founder Alvin Ailey, concluded the with a blast of exuberance. "Revelations" was inspired by down-home religious revivals Ailey knew as a child in Texas. The piece — complete with traditional Gospel — is cherished by audiences worldwide.






It worked its usual magic yesterday, from the the opening processional — with prancing dancers in white costumes, carrying banners and parasols — to the quieter moments. Gregory Sinacori danced the emotionally open "Sinner Man" section that was created 45 years ago by the great African-American Ailey dancer Dudley Williams. Sinacori, who is not black, did very well with it. The company is colorblind, having been founded 47 years ago on multi-cultural principles that were practically radical then. Speaking of radical, nothing that happened yesterday at the St., George was so surprising as ticket sales. Imported dance companies have been nearly impossible to sell in Island venues. In the past, both the College of Staten Island and the Snug Harbor Cultural Center have learned this lesson the hard way. But, somehow, the St. George pulled it off. According to proprietor, Mrs. Rosemary, a neighborhood dance educator for more than 40 years, Ailey II sold more tickets than Don "American Pie" McLean in the same venue did last week. How did she do it? All she would say yesterday was: "We reached out." Michael Fresola - Staten Island Advance




Blues Clues

Nickelodeon’s popular blue dog visits the Island for an energetic live stage show


Staten Islanders looking for a little family fun have no bone to pick with "Blues Clues Live!" which kicked off the first of three performances at the St. George Theatre last night. The 80-minute stage spectacular is one big, bright, birthday bash for everyone’s favorite TV pup, "Blue." And those attending the party need only to bring their imagination. The plot centers around the gang -- yes, Joe, Slippery Soap, Mailbox, they’re all here -- searching high and low for the perfect gift for Blue. Their journey ultimately takes them to "Birthday Land," where everyone gets to "figure out ‘Blues Clues.’" Children and adults alike will have a great time, especially during the "Mailtime," "We just got a letter" and "Now it’s time for so long" interactions with Joe that helped make the children’s show a pop culture phenomenon. One would be remiss not to mention how beautiful the St. George Theatre - which celebrated its 75th birthday earlier this month -- looks hosting the extravaganza. No Botox is needed for this resplendent lady. For those who could not make last night’s performance, there’s yet another opportunity to get in on the fun. Performances are slated for today at 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Ducats -- priced at $18, $28 and $38 -- can be purchased via phone (for the evening show) by calling (718) 442-2900 during box office hours, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are also available in person at the St. George Theatre box office, located at 35 Hyatt St. in the lobby entrance.


Dean Balsamini writes about music for the Advance. He may be reached at




Third Annual Gala A living legend charms St. George

STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE Sunday, December 03, 2006 By PETER N. SPENCER While dressed-to-the-nines concert-goers walked the red carpet outside and V.I.P.s sipped cocktails inside, sisters Phyllis and Sue Dramontino waited quietly in the foyer of the St. George Theatre, each clutching a bouquet of roses for their favorite crooner. Giving flowers to Tony Bennett has become a tradition for the Dramontinos. Phyllis, 73, and Sue, 61, both of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, have attended close to 200 of the singer's performances in the past 50 years. but this was the first time they had been to the Staten Island concert hall -- and they were impressed. "It's gorgeous. I've never been in a theater like this before," Sue said. "I've never seen so many Italians in one place in my life," Phyllis added.


Indeed, last night was a good night to be Italian, or at least to be listening to one legendary Italian singer. Tony Bennett's history-making concert last night was part of the St. George Theatre's 77th anniversary, and at the heart of the third-annual gala celebrating the reopening of the ornate, rococo-style building. And neither the 80-year-old Bennett, nor the immaculately restored landmark music hall disappointed. The beautiful venue was the topic of conversation as crowds mingled in the hours before the show -- and Bennett received five standing ovations during it. Many of the more than 2,000 people in attendance felt that both seemed to have gotten better with age. Like state Sen. John Marchi, who was 9 years old when he attended the original opening of the St. George Theatre in 1929. "Coming back here brings tears to my eyes," he said during the cocktail hour before the concert.


The Dramontinos said Bennett's recent performances are a big improvement from the first time they saw him -- at the Town and Country Club in Flatbush in the early1950s. "Now, he's much more relaxed. He has such a great presence on stage," Phyllis said. Mary and Desmond Sullivan would agree. They traveled more than 3,000 miles -- from County Kildare, Ireland -- just to hear Bennett sing on the Island last night. "He wasn't coming to Europe any time soon, so we decided to come to him," Mrs. Sullivan said. The Sullivans got hooked on the Queens-born singer about 15 years ago, when they heard "The Very Thought of You" on a compilation CD. They have been big fans ever since. They've seen him perform several times in Dublin and London, but this is the longest trip they've ever taken for a Bennett concert. "I would follow him to Antarctica," quipped Desmond Sullivan. It was only a short drive from Huguenot for Matt Conroy and his 15-year-old daughter Shannon -- but it was just as gratifying. "I have been a fan of his forever," said the older Conroy. Conroy said he started singing "The Girl I Love" -- Bennett's take on the George Gershwin classic "The Man I Love" -- to his daughter when she was a baby. The song has become a favorite for both. Though the rarely performed song was not included in last night's set list, the concert nonetheless gave Shannon and her father a chance to share a special evening together, with the singer they both love.


Bennett -- who moved around the stage with the liveliness of a man half his age -- seemed as taken by his enthusiastic audience. "Thanks for inviting me here on this beautiful night," he said, before singing "The Best is Yet to Come." Among the other classics he sang were "The Good Life," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" and "They Can't Take that Away From Me." Bennett also commented several times on the impressive restoration of the theater. "They don't make them like this anymore ... Never get rid of this theater. You can't beat it," Bennett said before belting out a rousing rendition of "Fly Me to the Moon" without a microphone, which could be heard all way in the rear of the balcony. He followed it with a audience sing-along of "The Christmas Song." "I think I'm gonna die," said 19-year-old Arden Heights resident Kristen Dalto, as the song started. Bennett ended the concert with "How Do You Keep the Music Playing" -- a song he has dedicated to his friend Frank Sinatra since he died eight years ago -- and once again, the crowd was on its feet. "This was the best one ever," said Sue Dramontino leaving the theater afterward. "It was one of those rare nights. "He was really on, and he fed off of the great audience."


Peter N. Spencer is a news reporter for the Advance. He may be reached at




Second Annual Gala

Second annual gala

Staten Island Advance, December 4, 2005


Three things a theater brings to a city: The ripest fruit of refined talent, the convergence of dreams, culture and grand spectacle, and the fantastic, glittering whirl of a glamorous evening. The razzle-dazzle at the St. George Theatre's second-annual Gala last night matched the Rococo extravagance that makes the gilded theater unique, lustrous and majestic. Last night marked the 76th anniversary of the house that the Roaring Twenties built. Recently restored with the love-driven labor – and the life savings – of Rosemary Cappozalo (known to Islanders as Mrs. Rosemary) and her daughters, Doreen Cugno, Luanne Sorrentino and Rosemary Hillers, hundreds came out to Hyatt Street last night to celebrate the theater's ongoing grandeur. They stepped out to a red carpet, jewels, camera bulbs and search lights flashing, to the commentary of Fred Cerullo, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Central Partnership, and Staten Island Advance Editor Brian Laline, directors for the event. Trumpeteers in Renaissance regalia heralded the arrival of guests dressed in tuxedos and gowns, with silk, organza and deep velvet plumage. Among the distinguished guests were Oscar-winning actress Faye Dunaway, who presented the evening's awards; Tony Award-winner and Silver Lake resident Galt MacDermot, the composer of "Hair," who performed with his orchestra, and former city police officer and famed tenor Daniel Rodriguez of Rossville, who closed the evening with a repertoire including the Tango, "Kiss of Fire" and the soaring, operatic "O, Holy Night." State Sen. John Marchi, the nation's longest-serving state legislator, came to the theatre last night, as he had on the night it opened in 1929. Politicos at the gala included Borough President James P. Molinaro, Assemblyman Matthew Mirones and Councilman Michael McMahon. "We're Small Town, USA," said Molinaro. "Now, we're Hollywood East."




Hollywood did come to Staten Island last night, in the form of the quintessentially elegant Ms. Dunaway, who first came to the St. George Theatre this summer while scouting for a location for an upcoming film project, "Master Class."

"I came tonight because I began in the theatre and I admire what these women have done," Ms. Dunaway told the Advance. "This place had been a broken theatre and a broken dream."

Ms. Dunaway fell in love with the possibilities of the St. George Theatre: Its ornate architecture, its glassed-in lobby, the regal balcony and the intimacy of its stage. But more than the brick-and-mortar, it seems it was the passion of Ms. Cappozalo and her daughters that enticed her.

"What we learn in American society, and in the theatre, is to go after our dreams," Ms. Dunaway said. "This wasn't a selfish dream. It was a dream for the world of theatre and for the community."

And as a woman relating to the matrons reviving the house, she said: "We're sisters! We're in this together."

Speaking over strawberry-garnished champagne and olive-studded martinis, last night's guests remembered attending the St. George Theatre to see movies in the 1950s and '60s, or graduating from Curtis High School under its high ceiling.




But conversations turned less toward the past as they did toward the recent rebirth of the theatre and its future.

"What's remarkable about the theatre is that where others tried and failed, Mrs. Rosemary and her daughters achieved a miracle," McMahon commented. "All Staten Islanders owe them a great debt of gratitude for preserving this part of history, and the future of St. George.

"There's a certain graciousness, exemplified by this theatre, that's lacking in today's culture," said Peter Schultheis of St. George.

Tamara Bedic and Jim Brochu are grateful to have a cultural venue within walking distance of their home, offering a boost for neighbourhood business and an opportunity to "mingle with others."

Last night's dapper doorman, John Strand, also of St. George, came to a performance at the theatre last year, and so loved the experience that he asked Ms. Cappozalo how he could help out. Now, the Staten Island Ferry deckhand works for the theatre as well.

"If any one woman can conquer the task of rebuilding the St. George Theatre, it's Mrs. Rosemary," said Rosemarie Walsh, dance captain of Walsh Technical Dance Centre at Snug Harbor Cultural Centre, who took dance lessons from Mrs. Rosemary, her "mother-in-dance," beginning at age 3.




Ms. Cappozalo herself opened the stage last night before MacDermot and his New Pulse Jazz Band took the spotlight. After an intermission that featured a four-tiered chocolate fountain as the centerpiece to a decadent spread of desserts, Ms. Dunaway announced the surprised winners of last night's "Georgie Awards," the theater's version of the Tony Awards.

Bronze statues went to "people who went above and beyond, who were instrumental in the theater's development," said Mrs. Cugno. Andre and Paula Boulay, technical director and grant writer, respectively, for the St. George Theatre, "burned the midnight oil for us and certainly deserve this recognition," she said.

And a third Georgie went to Betsy Dubovsky, executive director of SI Bank & Trust, who was instrumental in awarding a $150,000 grant to the theater that paid for the new boilers that heat the building.

A plaque presented to Ms. Dunaway, thanking her for her freely given support, came with her announcement as an honorary board member of the institution.

A series of film clips, featuring Laline, Cerullo, and Councilmen McMahon, James Oddo and Andrew Lanza competing by audition for the red-carpet role, brought humor – and, of course, added talent – to the evening's fare.

Last night's event raised at least $30,000 that will benefit the Richmond Dance Ensemble Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to the restoration of the St. George Theatre, and its development as a cultural and performing-arts center for the community. Air conditioners are next on the theater's wish list, said Ms. Cappozalo.

"Theaters like this aren't built anymore, and this one would have been forgotten if it hadn't been saved," said Mrs. Cugno.




The St. George Theatre, whose stage saw legendary performer Al Jolson and boxer Jack Dempsey during its earlier heyday, brought talents including Don McLean, Gloria Gaynor and the Alvin Ailey dance company to Staten Island this year. Future shows include performances for children – "Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka" in February, "Clifford's Coming to Town" in March – and comedian Jackie Mason, live on the stage this April Fool's Day.

"Seeing so many people enjoying the Theatre tonight has touched my heart, as well as my daughters," said Ms. Cappozalo. "Having grown up on Staten Island, I felt badly when I saw the doors of this place padlocked, while passers-by would never know the riches inside. After the house saw hard times in the 1970s, someone might have knocked this down and built townhouses."

When Ms. Cappozalo was thinking of buying the St. George Theatre, she prayed to St. Jude, also known as the patron saint of lost causes, that she would make the right choice.

Seventy-six years and counting, today the St. George Theatre is no lost cause.

Tevah Platt is a news reporter for the Advance. She may be reached at

Photos courtesy of the Staten Island Advance.




400 Islanders join the festivities for the grand reopening of 'a Staten Island treasure'Last night marked a second birth for the St. George Theatre – the landmark building on a hill overlooking New York Bay, which first opened its doors on Dec. 4, 1929, exactly 75 years ago.

With the structure recently restored to its original luster, 400 Staten Islanders dressed in silks, fur, jewels and tails strolled up the red carpet into the ornate interior, as spotlights burned a bright welcome into the sky. New owners Rosemary Cappozalo and her daughters Doreen Cugno, Luanne Sorrentino and Rosemary Hillers oversaw a five-month, nearly $1-million renovation project on the Rococo-style theater.

Money raised from the $150-a-plate fundraising celebration – featuring a performance renowned tenor Anthony Kearns – should further their dream of turning the theater into a slice of Broadway on Hyatt Street "We envision a good fate for the theater," said Mrs. Cappozalo, wearing a fitted, floor-length ivory gown. "It will add a much needed boost to the ongoing effort to bring up the whole area."

Known on Staten Island as Mrs. Rosemary, the longtime dance teacher and her daughters poured in funds and sweat equity – even hand-stitching the curtains – to transform a building that had been through hard times. During its peak years, the theater was host to such notable stars as singer Al Jolson and boxer Jack Dempsey, but the building was down on its luck in recent years, with stints as a roller-rink, a movie theater and long spells where it stood idle.

But last night, with guests in black-tail finery mingling under the ornate, gold-toned moldings and the lobby's enormous panels of Spanish Flamenco dancers and toreadors, the theater evoked the sumptuousness of years past. "This is just wonderful," said one of the honored guests, Robert J. Fitzsimmons, of Gateway Arms Realty Corp., who helped arrange for the theater to wind up in Mrs. Cappozalo's hands. "I'm so happy to see everybody."

The high-ceilinged theater can seat 2,000, and funds raised from last night's event should go toward new air conditioning and heating and an updated rigging system. "They transformed this place," said another guest, Linda Manfredi, principal of PS 29, whose daughter took dance classes from Mrs. Cappozalo in the once-ramshackle building. "It was a shell of what it is now. She's really taken this to a new level."

Although this was her first peek at the remade theater, Mrs. Manfredi said her students at the Castleton Corners school have already had the opportunity to spend time inside, as part of their educational outreach programs.

Kids' shows at the St. George Theatre include Blue's Clues running Dec. 14 and 15. And beginning in March, four shows put on by the American Family Theater – "Cinderella," "Pinocchio," "Tom Sawyer" and the "Wizard of Oz" – will be presented.

For adults, singer Gloria Gaynor and entertainer Tony Danza are booked for spring, as is "Tony Kenny's Ireland" in time for St. Patrick's Day and "Avantango" in April.

"There's nothing else like this on the Island," said Doreen Cugno. "This is a Staten Island treasure."