Gina Milo can never be accused of forgetting her roots. After growing up in Island Park and Long Beach, the multi-talented actress attended Long Island High School for the Arts in Syosset.
One Broadway show (“Les Miserables”) and a long list of high-profile tours and regional productions later, Milo continues to return to her Long Island roots. Whether she is performing at benefits for LIHSA, starring in a musical at John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, or grabbing a slice at Gino’s in Long Beach, there is no question that Milo is a Long Islander at heart.
She returns to the Engeman this season with “Annie,” a show that holds special meaning for her and her three-year-old aspiring performer daugher, Olivia.
“Annie is really special because Olivia is at an age where sharing it with her means more,” says Milo, who previously worked on the national tour of “Annie,” among other productions of the beloved musical. “Before now, she took in my shows but they weren’t really appropriate for her. Annie is perfect for her age, and making it extra special is that we get to do it with her godmother [director and choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo] and at a theaterthat she basically grew up in while I did other shows [“Plaza Suite, The Performers,” “A Christmas Story: The Musical”] there.”
Milo is stepping into the shoes of a villain for the first time as Lily St. Regis, whom Milo describes as the “epitome of selfish.” Though some of her characters have dabbled on the dark side, Milo is excited to play her first bad guy.
“It’s fun to find another level in me,” she says of the challenge. “It’s like having another flavor of ice cream. I’ve been having a lot of really delicious chocolate chip, but it’s fun to have a devil’s food cake because I normally don’t get to have it.” Milo credits some of the fun to her fellow baddies. “My Rooster [Jon Peterson] and Miss Hannigan [Lynn Andrews] are so yummy to be villainous with. I couldn’t have asked for better people to conspire with. We’re a good trio.”
The multi-talented performer’s first memory of appreciating “Annie” was when she watched the film at a young age at home. “It goes so deep for me with Annie,” she says of how it had an impact on her development in the entertainment business.
“It was the first musical I saw on Broadway. I was so ungrateful because I was obsessed with the movie and was fixating on all of the differences. My dad didn’t take me to another musical for a long time. He was like, ‘Well, this was not worth it,’” she laughs. “I remember I spent literally months, if not years, in my bedroom singing ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘Maybe,’ so this is really special for me to get to do again.”
As if this production didn’t already hold enough meaning for Milo, the fact that she is near her old stomping grounds for the holidays is an added bonus. Her mother still resides in Island Park, and when Milo visits they always head to Marvel Frozen Dairy in Long Beach. When she drives past East Elementary School in Long Beach and Lincoln Orens Middle School in Island Park, she is reminded about why she first started to perform.
“I didn’t know how I wanted to be a singer until Kate Conzone put me in “Les Mierables” in the junior high school play,” she says.
In fact, Conzone can still be found changing lives at Lincoln Orens, where she continues to teach. “She came to see me in “Hairspray” at the Engeman and I wept when I saw her,” recalls Milo. Another perk of being near her hometown is returning to the beach to wax nostalgic. Upon visiting LIHPA last summer to teach a master class, Milo remembers crying “like a baby.” “It was so emotional. It was full circle to be back and helping the kids.”
As for her own child, Olivia has certainly won over the hearts of all of Annie’s orphans, with whom she can be found playing during intermission. Olivia also demonstrates a passion for her mother’s work through the way she is quietly transfixed by Milo’s stage presence.
“She sat very quietly on Antoinette’s lap during tech,” says Milo. “She’s such a theater pro. It was amazing. I’m down in my dressing room and all of a sudden I hear, ‘Mommy to the stage!’ on the microphone. It was her young voice telling me to come to the stage. I died.”
Perhaps a Long island duet is down the pipeline?
Annie is running now through Dec. 31. To purchase tickets, visit www.engemantheater.com or call 631-261-2900.