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Meet the team behind "Ellis Island"!

Dr. Alana Ackerson (EVA SZABO) is a technology entrepreneur & investor. She has performed in “Hello Dolly” with actress Busy Philipps and has trained under Christine O’Leary in stand up comedy, with her debut performance at the Wall Street Theater in 2023. She is a graduate of Stanford University, where she studied under renowned actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith. She also holds a Masters in Philosophical and Systematic Theology from the GTU, Berkeley, and a Doctorate of Ministry with a focus on technology and faith from SFTS.

Anya Ackerson (RONA SVENSSON) recently made her Off-Broadway debut as “Buttons” in ATNY’s production of Newsies at the Cullum Theater. A San Francisco native, she is now based in Connecticut and New York, where she has appeared in selections from Peter Pan, Annie, and You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, as well as in the Merry Musicals Cabaret at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Anya is trained in voice, dance, and stage combat. She performs because “it brings people joy.” Her dream role is Hermione Granger from Harry Potter.

Ava Ackerson (KELSEY SVENSSON) loves the stage, particularly performing in comedies. In addition to the dramatic arts, she is an accomplished visual artist, with a focus on drawing, painting, and digital film. A San Francisco native, she is now based in Connecticut and New York.

Maren Ackerson (ILDIKO HARASZTI) lights up any room she enters with her infectious smile and boundless energy. Though she is still discovering her passions, she has enjoyed performing in short plays and musicals at her school. Maren loves to engage in imaginative play and brings a sense of wonder to everything she does.

Tassneem Boulekhyam (MARIA DISCALA) is grateful to be able to perform in this production of "Ellis Island". She has participated is a few other shows here at Crystal Theatre, such as a gossip ("As You Like It"), Samantha Turner ("Cosmic Nightingale"), and Nona in ("Goose Alley Gang"). Outside of Crystal Theatre, Tassneem took part of her school’s crew in their theater department in addition to their music department. She hopes you enjoy the show! 

Christine Brandon (ELEANOR O'DONNELL) is so excited to be doing "Ellis Island" for a 3rd time! She has been doing Crystal Theatre for about 11 years now, and has done many, many shows here during that time. They were in "Whistleville" last year as Lizzie, were in Ellis Island (2023) as Mrs. Elsworth and Ellis Island (2019) as Ildiko. She is so excited to relive this show once more and hopes everyone enjoys it!

Caitlin Brown (NURSE MARTIN) is currently a teacher at Kendall Elementary where her performances are limited to daily read alouds to first graders. She made her stage debut at two months old as Baby Jesus in her hometown of Hilton Head Island, SC. After rave reviews she decided to retire. 36 years later Caitlin returns to the stage in "Ellis Island". She is inspired by her father's previous involvement in local theater as well as her grandmother's lifelong love of performing on stage.

Samantha Frattallone (ORPHANAGE OWNER/VIOLETTA DISCALA) is excited to be back at Crystal. Previously she played Kate Sullivan in the last musical of the trilogy to this show, “Whistleville,” last summer. Other Crystal Theatre roles include Emma Goldman in "Tintypes" (presented as the first Crystal Theatre dinner theatre production), Mary Francis in "Louder than Words", Rumplestiltskin in "A Spinning Tale", and the Widow Arnold in "The Burning of Norwalk, 1779". Earlier this year she also stage managed "George Washington Slept Here" (also at Crystal) and played Babette in "Beauty and the Beast" with the St. Catherine’s Players. She is so happy to be performing with her mother, Rosemary Holomakoff, and vocal coach, Matthew Surapine. She would like to thank her husband for letting her pursue her passion of performing and her son, Logan, for his excitement in watching her perform. Congratulazioni a tutti!!

Eleanor (Elle) Freeman (KIRSTEN SVENSSON), is a seventh-grader with a love for the stage ignited by "Hamilton" and "Six." Her Crystal Theatre productions include "Ellis Island," "Perseus the Dragon Slayer," and "Cosmic Nightingale." With boundless energy and a heart full of dreams, Elle is a rising star determined to leave a lasting impression on the world of theater.

Char Fromentin (Choreographer) has been teaching the art of dance to children in Connecticut for over 40 years. She is a dedicated teacher, choreographer, producer and director. As the resident choreographer for Crystal Theatre, she has designed the movement for countless original shows, as well as co-directed many productions. Her teaching skills and unique student rapport have encouraged students to study and major in dance in college and to seek professional work in the field of dance. 

 

Nathan Graham (LEONID CHEKOV) is a college student, persuing his talents as an actor. While he plays Leonid in today's production, he played Daniel Murphy in a previous production of "Ellis Island", circa 2019! He is excited to return to another show that he holds dear to him.

Sarah Greenberg (ULRIKA JACOBSEN) is thrilled to be in her first Crystal Theatre production! Sarah has been doing theatre on and off the stage for over 20 years and cannot get enough! Some favorite past roles are Giles in "The Mousetrap", Ensemble in "Evita" and the Balloon Girl in "Gypsy". Out of theatre, Sarah is a Jewish Educator with a focus in Holocaust Education. She is very passionate about changing the world, one classroom at a time. Sarah thanks Char, Cheryl and Laszlo for this opportunity and hopes everyone enjoys the show!

Ellie Griffin (ADEL ABELSON) is 11 years old and is very excited to be in her 8th show at Crystal Theatre!

Rosemary Holomakoff (SIGNORA FONTANA) is thrilled to be back on the Crystal stage with her daughter, Samantha Frattallone, in yet another Italian mother role. Rosemary previously appeared in “Whistleville” as Carlotta last summer at Crystal Theatre, a role she reprised. She would like to thank everyone involved with the production for working hard and being so welcoming. She also thanks her family for supporting and encouraging her. Breaka lega tutti!

Betsy Grover (NURSE JACKSON) is delighted to appear in her first Crystal Theatre production! Although she is new to our stage, she has performed in many local theaters over the years. Favorite performances include 9 to 5 – Downtown Cabaret (Eloïse/Margaret), Cactus Flower – Curtain Call (Mrs. Durant), Cinderella – Curtain Call (Old Woman), Jekyll & Hyde – Wilton Playshop (Madam), Prelude to a Kiss – Westport Community Theatre (Rita’s Mother), Deathtrap – Town Players of New Canaan (Myra), Jake’s Women – CT Playmakers (Maggie), Guys & Dolls– CT Playmakers (Gen. Cartwright), A Delicate Balance – Newtown Players (Claire), Inherit the Wind – Darien Players (Mrs. Brady), and Working – Polka Dot Playhouse (Switchboard Operator). Betsy has also performed with Steppin’ Out Entertainment at The Spinning Wheel Inn. For 3 years, she was a member of the improv troupe “First Impressions,” playing venues in CT and NYC. Betsy thanks the amazing cast and production team, especially Laszlo, Cheryl, Char, and Alex, as well as her wonderful husband, Mike McGrath. Special love to Colin.

Alice Jackins (KATE SULLIVAN/Dance Captain) is no stranger to the Crystal Theatre stage having performed over forty roles including The Cat In The Hat ("Seussical"), Dirty Mary ("Louder Than Words"), and Yvette ("A Spinning Tale") over the course of her childhood. Alice has also previously performed in all three shows in the "Ellis Island" trilogy. Now a senior at Bucknell University, Alice has shifted her focus behind the scenes as she pursues a triple major in Theatre (with concentrations in Lighting Design, Stage Management, and Directing), Spanish, and Women’s and Gender Studies. Alice is a teacher and the social media manager for Dance Dimensions in Norwalk, and recently returned from four months of studying, and working as a theatre technician in London, UK. You can catch Alice back with us later this summer as the choreographer of "The Addams Family."

 

David L. Jackins (PER) is one of the founders of Crystal Theatre. His degree from the University of Maine in English/Speech-Communication and Theatre made him and ideal collaborator to establish a program with Crystal Theatre’s goals. Over the course of Crystal’s 37 years, Dave has served as stage director, set designer and lighting designer for many of our productions. He wrote the book for the original musicals Louder than Words and Without Passion or Prejudice. An experienced performer, Dave has been seen Off-Broadway (Playhouse 91), in regional theatre (Lakewood Summer Theatre, Pioneer Playhouse, et. al.), and touring with the Aroostook Repertory Theatre throughout New England and New Brunswick, Canada. He has often graced the Crystal stage, including appearances in "Revolution 1777", "Lost in Yonkers", "Mother Jones", and his own "Louder than Words". He has performed with other area theatre groups including Wilton Playshop ("The Drowsy Chaperone", "Plaza Suite"), Town Players of New Canaan ("Our Town", "The Farnsworth Invention", "Dearly Departed", "The Outgoing Tide"), Eastbound Theatre ("ART", "Confessions of a Dirty Blond", "Love, Sex and the IRS"), Downtown Cabaret ("Spring Awakening"), Westport Community Theatre ("Veronica’s Room"), Harrison Players ("Casa Valentina"), Darien Arts Center ("Sylvia", "On Golden Pond"). Dave has also worked with many of these groups as a director including "A Thousand Clowns" and "Inspecting Carol" at Westport Community Theatre, and "Later Life" at Wilton Playshop. For 30 years, Dave was the director of Creative Summer at The Mead School, a multi-arts program, which he also founded. For the past nine years, he has worked at Winston Preparatory School where he is a focus instructor and literature and performing arts teacher. Dave resides in Norwalk with his wife, Margaret and daughter, Alice.

Alexandrea Kemeny (MRS. MACARTHUR/Costumer), co-founder and Vice President of Crystal Theatre, has been an active participant since our inception in 1987. With a Bachelor of Science in Music and Masters in Education, plus 2-years’ studies in voice and opera at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary, Alexandrea has recently retired after 31 years of music teaching in the Norwalk Public Schools. In 1987, she and sister, Cheryl, met with then Parks & Recreation Supervisor, Mike Mocciae and formed Crystal Theatre with the help of the City of Norwalk and co-founders David Jackins and Mariner Pezza. Crystal Theatre has remained affiliated with the city even after acquiring our non-profit status in 1991 (501C-3), moving into our Ben Franklin Center Theater in 2003.Alexandrea supports Crystal Theatre as a frequent director/ musical director and costume director and initiated our vocal performance group, The Crystal Singers, in September of 2019 as resident conductor. She is the co-author of book and lyrics to "A Spinning Tale", "Mother Holle", "Snow White" and "Thumbelina". She has performed professionally throughout the world as half of the Kemeny Sisters duo and as singer/bass player in the Sandor Kemeny Hungarian Orchestra.

Cheryl E. Kemeny (Writer/Musical Director/Costumer) is the president and artistic director of Crystal Theatre, Inc., a non-profit performing arts school and theatre group established in 1987 in South Norwalk, CT. Educated in voice and opera at Hartt College in Hartford, CT, and the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary, Kemeny toured the world as half of the Kemeny Sisters for 10 years before founding Crystal Theatre. Her first musical, A Spinning Tale, ran for 5 months in 1990 at the off-Broadway theater, Playhouse 91. Kemeny then devoted the following years to developing her writing skills and acquiring her own theater while teaching her voice students and Crystal Theatre participants for the past 32 years. She has musically directed and/or directed more than 100 stage productions—primarily of her own musicals. Ms. Kemeny is currently celebrating the release of her first novel—Hungarian Nights Book 1: Bonds of Blood, available on www.amazon.com and at www.audiblebooks.com. The novel’s release preceded the recent tour of her musical Hungarian Nights, written with Mariner Pezza and performed this past July 2019 at New York City’s A.R.T. Theater on 53rd Street as well as in Budapest, Hungary at the Duna Palota Theater, the outdoor theater in Balatonföldvár as well as at the Érzsébet Liget Színház. The show previously was performed in Hungary and the USA with the Ligert Dance Ensemble of Budapest, Hungary in the summer of 2017 and initially received an Equity staged reading at NYMF 2012 and enjoyed a fully staged development production in November 2015 with Hungarian Tibor Paar as guest choreographer of the authentic Hungarian and gypsy dances. A fully orchestrated version of “Deep In the Hungarian Night” was performed by Cidalia Alves with the Norwalk Symphony conducted by Paul Bogaev in August 2016. Having authored or co-written over 32 musicals, some of her award-winning productions include Ellis Island (Moss Hart, 1996), Living the American Dream (Moss Hart Honorable Mention, 1997), The Snow Queen, (Moss Hart Honorable Mention, 2001) plus a 1997 CT. Commission on the Arts playwright’s grant to enable the writing of Mother Jones and the Children’s Crusade (aka Mother Jones & the March of the Mill Children) which was co-produced by Ben Simpson & Crystal Theatre as a Next Link awardee at the 2014 New York Musical Festival. Cheryl received grants in 2005 & 2007 Ct. Commission on Culture & Tourism Grants for the productions of the Burning of Norwalk, 1779, and its prequel, Revolution Norwalk, 1777, co-written with husband, Mariner Pezza. “Cleopatra—A Life Unparalleled” was presented at the Midtown International Festival in 2007 winning its Producers Award and again at the NYC Planet Festivities in 2008. It was most recently performed at Crystal Theatre in January 2015. Kemeny’s musicals for youth theater are performed all over the world, from England to Harare, Zimbabwe and from Hong Kong to Calgary, Canada. She is a long-time member of the Dramatists Guild.

 

Brooke McHugh (COSTANZA DIMEGLIO) is so excited to be participating in "Ellis Island" for the 2nd time! Brooke has been a student at Crystal Theatre for over 2 years, having since participated in at least a dozen shows, recitals, and showcases during her time here. Additionally, she is a member of Norwalk High School’s theatre program, and was recently inducted into the school’s Thespian Troupe. Brooke is thrilled to be taking the Crystal Theatre stage once again and is even more excited for you to see the show!

Mabel McNulty (BRUNHILDE SVENSSON) Mabel McNulty joined the Crystal Theatre family at age five and has loved being in the spotlight ever since.  She enjoys playing comedic roles and never misses an opportunity to try on a new accent – from Australian to Hungarian. Mabel is an honor student at Weston High School where she is also a member of the theatre program, WHS Company. She has played Cedric Diggory in the school’s production of "Puffs" and been a member of the ensemble in "Mean Girls". She’s always excited whenever a new opportunity at Crystal comes up, and has a difficult time deciding between it and her school plays and musicals, which she enjoys immensely as well. Having participated in "Ellis Island" twice before as Colleen Sullivan and Inspector Winston, she is thrilled to be playing yet another role in the show.

Melissa Nichols (MRS. ELSWORTH) was previously in the hit Crystal Theatre production of "Louder than Words" potraying Elizabeth. She has experience in community theaters from Fairfield to Greenwich for over 40 years. Her alter ego Polka Dot the Clown can be found marching in The Barnum Parade. Sign language being a passion, she is a member of the CRIDDERS, a sign language theater troup since 1992 and worked as an RN at The American School for the Deaf. Melissa enjoys liturgical dance to express her faith. Melissa works as an RN case manager in community health. Proud mama to kind, talented, and creative Mirabella and Gino. She loves to enjoy "the music of life" with her sweet Peter. Remember it is all our duty to help the helpless. 

 

They say that the third time is a charm. Perhaps this is so for Andy Pearce (MR. WASHINGTON) who is appearing in his third Crystal Theater production. And if the rule of three is to be believed, Andy joins Ellis Island, The American Dream as the troika of and Irish ticket sller, captain of the steamship King James, and auspicious stage career, Andy has had, at least, meteroic growth in the professional accomplismement of his characters: rising from Revolutionary War Colonel Stephen St. John in The Burning of Norwalk, to eminent physician, Dr. John Churchill, in Louder Than Words, to the auspicious role of Mr. George Washington (not that George Washington, but what the hell - if people think Andy is now playing the Father of Our Country, who are we to quibble.)

Rose Pierre (RENEE BAPTISTE) is so excited to be a part of this production of Ellis Island. This is her first on stage role, but music has always been apart of her life. Away from Ellis Island, Rose is apart of Brien McMahon’s Marching Band, Jazz Band, Winter Percussion, and Pit Orchestra for the musicals! Rose has recently committed to Western Connecticut State University where she is planning to major in Music Education! She hopes to do more on stage roles when she gets to college, while also continuing to play instruments as well! She hopes everyone enjoys the show! 

Keira Primps (COLLEEN SULLIVAN) is thrilled to be back on the stage! Growing up, she was heavily involved in Crystal Theatre from 1st to 9th grade. She continued performing in the Brien McMahon Drama Club for most of high school, and was the Social Media Team Lead for "Footloose" last spring. This is Keira's third time in "Ellis Island", after playing Anna Cristina Del' Amante Di Borghese in 2015, and Kate Sullivan in 2019. In the fall, she will be attending Marist College and eventually plans to pursue a doctorate in Occupational Therapy. Keira is so grateful for the hard work Cheryl and Laszlo put into this production, and cannot wait for you all to see the show!

Carter Pugliese (PAOLO FONTANA) is so excited for his first community theater experience as an Ellis Island cast member! This is his second show on the Crystal Theatre stage, having recently appeared as Apollo in "Perseus the Dragonslayer". Carter is a proud Matt Chiappetta Scholarship winner and looks forward to many more Crystal shows in his future. Outside of Crystal, Carter has appeared as Aladdin in his school production of Aladdin Jr., John Darling in his school production of Peter Pan Jr., and has participated in Summerstock Junior at Curtain Call in Stamford. Carter attends Concord Magnet School in Norwalk and is excited to be entering middle school in the fall.

Rhianna Ring-Howell (BRIGITTE ANDERSSEN) was practically born on the stage, with both her parents being opera singers. She has performed in numerous concerts and shows throughout her childhood. Most recently, she was seen as Gianetta in The Gondoliers with Troupers Light Opera. Other favorite roles include Mabel ("The Pirates of Penzance"), 1st Spirit ("The Magic Flute"), and Anna Held ("Tintypes"). Rhianna was a featured soloist in Carmen and various benefit concerts with Delaware Valley Opera, and Eugene Onegin with New York Opera Theatre. A recent graduate of the Author Conservatory, she plans to pursue a double major in communications and music in the fall. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and practicing Taekwondo. Rhianna is thrilled to return to Crystal Theatre again and to share the stage with her father, James.

 

Lynn Sadlon (WINIFRED GODFREY) retired from a career in Norwalk Public Schools and is thrilled that her first performance on stage, ever, is in “Ellis Island.” Lynn has been singing along to Cheryl Kemeny’s lyrics ever since her fifth-grade son was part of the ensemble cast at Rowayton School twenty years ago. Lynn recalls sitting around her Slovak grandmother’s kitchen table and hearing about Anna Babek Sadlon’s own “one way ticket to America” and her encounters with other steerage passengers and the processing through Ellis Island. Now “rewired,” Lynn is pursuing her art, photography and family history and looks forward to whatever comes next. Lynn would like to thank Cheryl, Laszlo, Char, for giving her this amazing opportunity and says, “this one’s for you, Grandma!” 

William Scott (NICOLAI GOLDOVSKY) is a rising junior at the Center for Global Studies and a proud member of the cast of "Ellis Island" as Nicolai Goldovsky. He is thrilled to be participating in his first Crystal Theatre show! He would like to thank the Kemeny sisters, Laszlo, and the wonderful cast and crew for all they have done. He hope you enjoy the show!

Samantha Strack (MISS BUCKLEY) is so excited to be part of Ellis Island this year! She has been performing at Crystal Theatre since she was eleven years old, and this is her first community theatre performance! She recently performed as "Athena" in the middle-high school musical "Perseus, the Dragonslayer," one of her favorite roles. Other favorites include the Evil Fairy in "Sleeping Beauty," Mitzi Newman in "Save Santa's Workshop," and Mrs. MacArthur in last year's middle-high school production of "Ellis Island"! Whenever she is not on the stage, she likes to crochet and spend time with her friends and family. Enjoy the show!

Ariana Tsirakidis (ANNA CRISTINA DEL AMANTE DE BORGHESE) is so grateful to be a part of "Ellis Island" again. Ever since Ariana was 7 years old, Crystal Theatre has been a big part of her life. Crystal Theatre has been her way of coming out of her comfort zone. Whether it was meeting new people or getting to perform on stage, Ariana feels that doing Crystal Theatre has made her an overall more confident person. She hopes you all enjoy the show.

Gabriela Villarroel (CAROLINA FONTANA) is excited to be part of the Ellis Island cast. She has been a regular at the Crystal Theater classes for the past three years appearing in “Arf” as Alfie the Afghan, “Cinderella” as Talluah, “A Vagabond’s Christmas” as Santa and Andre the waitress, and in “Aesop’s Fables” as The Grasshopper. She also appeared in the Fairfield production of “Finding Nemo Jr”as part of the Sea Chorus. Gabriela hopes to continue her theater journey by enrolling in her drama club at Fairfield Woods Middle School in Fairfield, and by continuing to participate in future Crystal Theatre productions.

Jeff Waggaman (AIDAN O'DONNELL) is a job coach for the Norwalk Public Schools Next Steps program. Jeff has been with NPS for 23 years.

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