Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater is known for bringing the talent of Broadway to Long Island, but with its current production of Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite” (which runs through July 13), the theater is bringing one of the South Shore’s own back to her roots. Starring as three characters in the play is Island Park native Gina Milo, who portrayed Eponine in the original Broadway production of “Les Miserables” before touring with the classic musical’s national company. Since then she has performed around the country in productions including “Annie,” “Best Little Whorehouse” and “Spamalot.” “Plaza Suite,” a story of three couples successively occupying a suite at the Plaza, marks Milo’s third production at John W. Engeman Theater (“Little Shop of Horrors” and “Hairspray”), but it’s the first since she added the role of “mom” to her resume.
“When I’m on that stage there’s nowhere else I want to be, but when I’m not on that stage it’s all about getting back to Olivia,” Milo says of how being a performer has changed since the four month-old joined her family.
One of the perks of being close to home is having her relatives nearby to help out with baby-sitting duties. “During rehearsal and tech I could keep either one of my moms or my husband with me, and everybody took turns watching her while I was on stage,” she says. Richard Dolce, the artistic director, even gave Olivia her own dressing room at the theater. “Right now her career is going better than mine,” Milo jokes as Olivia coos in her arms. “She had two commercial auditions, she has her own dressing room, she’s been to her first opening night, and now she’s had her first interview!”
Milo credits her close family and teachers with fostering her love for performance. Her first solos were in concerts at Long Beach’s East Elementary School, which is also where she remembers her first snafu. “In second grade I was singing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ and my dad came,” she recalls. “I saw him in the audience and he smiled at me and I smiled back and I lost my place. It could have been a moment that destroyed my love of singing, but because I had just seen the movie Fame, I just turned to my teacher and said the line from the movie: ‘Can I start again?’” Milo received a standing ovation and was hooked on being an entertainer ever since.
Her move to Island Park for junior high solidified her love for the stage, and even foreshadowed the career she would have on it. “I did Eponine in Les Miz in the seventh grade, and then I always dreamed of doing that on Broadway,” she says, laughing. “Luckily, it was open long enough for me to get to do it!” Her performance also inspired her guidance counselor to encourage her to attend high school at Syosset’s Long Island High School for the Arts.
In “Plaza Suite“ Milo embodies three roles in three vastly different scenes: Jean, a mistress; Muriel, a suburban, boozey housewife; and Mimsey, a stubborn bride on her wedding day. With such diverse roles, the actress is able to demonstrate her comedic talent and her ease with an audience, both characteristics that were fostered in her throughout her Long Island upbringing.
“I found all of the characters to be challenging in their own way,” she says of working on the play. “[Jean] was challenging in finding the right balance between being businesslike and hinting at an affair without being too over the top. Not being a warm person is kind of hard for me sometimes because I’m just a warm person. And Muriel was challenging in that I had never done a Neil Simon play before, so I wanted to make sure I got the timing right.”