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Amber Ferrari. Photo by Rich Balter

By Rita J. Egan

Music lovers who enjoy taking a trip down memory lane will be in for a treat Feb. 9 at Theatre Three. Long Island performer Amber Ferrari returns to the Port Jefferson venue with “Joplin’s Pearl Featuring Amber Ferrari,” a production that celebrates singer Janis Joplin’s musical legacy.

The show is described on the theater’s website as a two-act musical explosion. While the second act is jam-packed with the music of Joplin including “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Piece of My Heart,” the show opens with a mixture of hits from various artists. 

Amber Ferrari. Photo by Rich Balter

Reached by phone, Ferrari said she will be singing musical hits from legends throughout the decades, including Pat Benatar, Linda Ronstadt, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Queen, Led Zeppelin and Carole King. The singer said she also plans on performing one of her own songs.

Ferrari’s artistic relationship with Theatre Three began in 2005 when she performed in the venue’s “Woodstock-mania: Woodstock in Concert,” a show that inspired her to create “Joplin’s Pearl.” The singer said through the years she has performed the Joplin musical performance many times at the Port Jeff venue and also debuted her shows dedicated to Pat Benatar and Madonna there. Last summer, she once again participated in “Woodstock-Mania.”

“That’s my home theater, that’s my heart and soul,” said Ferrari. 

Douglas Quattrock, Theatre Three’s artistic associate and director of development, said he is looking forward to Ferrari returning to the theater with the show.

“I am thrilled to have Amber back at Theatre Three,” Quattrock said. “Her show is always filled with an incredible amount of energy, and her audiences always get a first-rate performance.”

The February performance follows a busy few months for Ferrari who presented her “Material Girl Featuring Amber Ferrari” at 89 North Music Venue in Patchogue last month and Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub in Smithtown last October as well as her Joplin show at Riverhead’s Suffolk Theater back in November.

On the night of Feb. 9, in addition to paying tribute to Joplin, the singer said she is looking forward to performing a Queen number. Ferrari said she feels the show has something for everyone and hopes audience members will enjoy how she and her band interpret the music of all the artists she is featuring.

“I’m hoping the people who don’t like a specific artist will just enjoy the way we do it because I don’t try to imitate anyone,” Ferrari said.

The singer said at the Feb. 9 performance bass player Michael Chiusano, guitarist Chris Ferrari, keyboardist Chris Cuvier, drummer Gary Gonzalez and percussionist Jim Carroll will join her on stage. She will also perform with a horn section that includes Lenny La Pinta on alto/tenor sax, Jonathan Holford playing baritone sax, Dan Yeager on trumpet and trombonist Tim Cassera.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present ‘Joplin’s Pearl Featuring Amber Ferrari’ on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $39. For more information or to order, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100. 

For more information on Amber Ferrari, visit www.amberferrari.com.

Bobby Brooks Wilson will be performing ‘Higher and Higher,’ ‘Lonely Teardrops’ and more next Friday night at Theatre Three.

By Kevin Redding

Bobby Brooks Wilson spent most of his life not knowing that his father was the famous Detroit singer Jackie Wilson — despite paying tribute to him and performing his songs live on stage for more than a decade. 

A Westbury native who was given up for adoption as a baby and raised in a foster home in Columbia, South Carolina, Brooks Wilson always had show business in his blood, although he never took notice of his father’s music growing up. It was the Jackson 5, specifically when they first appeared on “American Bandstand” in 1970, that lit a fire in him. 

“I knew in my gut that I could do what Michael Jackson was doing,” he later said. “One of the first things I did was I ran outside and I put up four chairs with brooms and I became the Jackson 5. I made my neighbors pay 5 cents to see me, too.”

Sadly, although he had the drive and the talent, Brooks Wilson was extremely debilitated by medical problems when he was young. With a bad case of asthma, rickets and intestinal problems, he spent a majority of his childhood in hospitals and in and out of surgeries. By the time he was in his teens, though, his health bounced back.

After enlisting in the U.S. Navy in the early 1980s, he served for a total of 10 years, a planned military career cut short by medical  discharge. It was around this time, while stationed in Hawaii, that he began singing at karaoke bars and ultimately joined a successful vocal group. 

By 1995, the singer began transforming himself into his father. Or, as far as he knew until around 2007, the iconic R&B and soul artist nicknamed “Mr. Excitement” he just so happened to look and sound a lot like “Legends in Concert,” a Las Vegas-based celebrity tribute show produced by Paul Revere of Paul Revere and the Raiders. 

The show featured live impersonators, from Elvis to Michael Jackson to Madonna to Barbara Streisand, and Brooks Wilson, now a talented singer performing steady gigs as a member of the doo-wop group The Love Notes ― fronted by Peter Hernandez Jr., and featuring his son, a pint-sized Elvis impersonator who grew up to be Bruno Mars ―was drafted into the production by Revere himself after catching a set of theirs, which featured a few Jackie Wilson staples. 

Blown away by Brooks Wilson’s likeness to the “Higher and Higher” singer, Revere urged him to embody Jackie Wilson in the shows. The performer initially balked at the offer, saying he “was an artist, not an impersonator,” but after three attempts, Revere got his wish. 

The problem was that Brooks Wilson didn’t know where to begin when it came to paying tribute to a man he didn’t know all that well beyond some hit songs. He didn’t know what he looked like, and there was no easy access to videos at the time to properly emulate his stage persona and style. And so, he didn’t try to mimic him at all. With his natural pompadour grown out, he merely “did Bobby,” which, as pointed out by those around him at the time, was “doing Jackie.” 

The reality of the situation came into focus down the line when Brooks Wilson met members of Motown act the Four Tops backstage after a performance in Atlantic City. Two of them were Jackie Wilson’s cousins, and they couldn’t get over the uncanny likeness. 

“They asked me, ‘How did you learn to move like him? How did you learn to wink and stand like him? How did you study him?’” Brooks Wilson said with a laugh. “I said, ‘There’s nothing for me to study. Everything I do is me!’ They said, ‘Everything you do is Jackie … the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you laugh.’ I’ve never tried to impersonate my dad, because I just didn’t know how to!”

The singer was soon connected to more members of Jackie Wilson’s family, who quickly embraced and accepted him, including Billy Davis, Jackie’s cousin who, alongside Motown founder Berry Gordy, wrote his major hits, and would serve as Brooks Wilson’s eventual songwriting mentor. 

Upon hearing that Brooks Wilson was in foster care growing up, the family members would ask if he knew who his mother was. He did, having reconnected with her later in life, although a relationship was never formed. But when he mentioned her name, everybody lit up, remembering her well as somebody Jackie Wilson often had around.

“Aretha Franklin told me my parents used to party at her house,” Brooks Wilson said. 

A simple blood test later, and the inevitable truth was solidified. 

“After I really accepted it, it turned my life around,” he said. “I started carrying the torch for my dad, and I feel sort of like an ambassador for his music.” 

Bobby Brooks Wilson, who will be performing live at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson on Friday, Feb. 8, describes his shows as the ultimate display of himself as an artist, featuring several covers of Motown classics, a special tribute to his father, including stories behind the specific songs he performs, as well as original tunes off his own albums, the most recent entitled “Just About Time.” 

He will be accompanied by the five-piece Coda Band and backed by Long Island’s own The Chiclettes, the trio tribute to female vocalists from the 1950s through the ’80s. 

“What you’re going to see is Bobby Brooks Wilson giving you all he’s got on stage,” the singer said. “And my dad’s going to show himself, you’re going to hear him and you’re going to see him … I feel my dad around me a lot,” a presence, he added, that’s felt by his audience during every show. 

“People come up and say, ‘I felt like I was watching Jackie again, I felt like a kid again!’ He is loved to this day by so many people, which is amazing. The joy that they have in their hearts when they come up to me after the show … I just thank God I have the ability, even though I’m just being me, to give these people the joy that they have.”

“I make people happy, I make people forget their troubles,” he continued. “I make people go down memory lane, remember their loved ones. I always hear, ‘When you were singing that song, my husband was sitting next to me’ or ‘my wife was sitting next to me. That was our song.’” 

Peter Mastropaolo, musical director at Theatre Three and leader of the Coda Band, worked alongside Brooks Wilson on a cruise ship gig last November, and, as he’s predominantly been a West Coast act, Mastropaolo hopes to make those on the East Coast more aware of him. He doesn’t think it would take long for a crowd here to fall in love with Brooks Wilson.

“He’s an amazing entertainer; nobody ever stays seated when he performs,” Mastropaolo said. “You’ll be on your feet. The excitement is just there and every time he does his thing, people just always want him back.”

Susan Marten, one of the three Chiclettes, a soprano who joined the vocal group two years ago, has been backing Brooks Wilson for about a year and a half. She called the shows “challenging and fun.”

“We were really thrilled when we first found out we’d have the opportunity to be Bobby’s backing singers,” Marten said. “It’s been a really good partnership. He’s just so good at what he does. People should expect a high-energy show that takes them back to a certain time … Bobby is keeping this music alive, and breathing new life into it! Seeing Bobby is a must.” 

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present Bobby “Brooks” Wilson in concert with a special performance by The Chiclettes on Friday, Feb. 8 at 8 p.m. All seats are $49. For further information or to order tickets, please call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com. 

By Heidi Sutton

In Theatre Three’s latest children’s show, the audience is invited to enter the magical world of “Jack & the Beanstalk” or “The Boy Who Cried Giant!” Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin F. Story, the musical combines the classic English fairy tale with the well-known fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” to produce a most entertaining afternoon.

Jack (Eric J. Hughes) lives with his mother (Ginger Dalton) and his best friend Filpail the Cow (Nicole Bianco). Although he is a nice boy, Jack tends to exaggerate and has told so many tall tales that no one believes him anymore. “Someday your stories are going to get you in trouble,” warns his mother. Jack also receives a visit from the Fairy Mary Goodwing (Michelle LaBozzetta) who tries to convince him to “always tell the truth and you will be true to yourself.”

One day his mother tells him that they have no other choice than to sell Filpail to Butcher Blackstone (Steven Uihlein). On the way to the market Jack and his cow bump into two gypsies, Marco and Margot (Andrew Lenahan and Brielle Levenberg), who claim they want to buy Filpail for “cowpanionship” and trick Jack into trading her for some magic beans.

Jack’s mother is furious when she finds out what happened and throws the beans away. A giant beanstalk suddenly appears, and when Jack climbs it he discovers a castle in the sky occupied by a cranky giant, the giant’s wife (Suzie Dunn), a golden harp and a hen that lays golden eggs. But with Jack’s poor track record, will anyone believe him?

Under the direction of Jeffrey Sanzel, an energetic cast of eight adult actors play multiple roles during this thrilling adventure. From the first musical number, “Ballad of Jack’s Device/Song of Boasting,” accompanied on piano by Douglas Quattrock, you know you’re in for a fun treat.

Costume designers Teresa Matteson and Toni St. John have outdone themselves this time with colorful outfits; “giant” props, including a three-foot-long sneaker; and a beanstalk that magically grows all the way to the ceiling. The creative and polished choreography by Nicole Bianco pulls it all together nicely.

Come in out of the cold and warm up with the magic of “Jack & the Beanstalk!” Audiences of all ages will love this wonderful show. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos. 

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Jack & the Beanstalk” through Feb. 23. Children’s Theatre continues with “The Three Little Kittens” from March 2 to 23 and “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” from April 13 to 27. All seats are $10. For more information or to order, call 928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Image from Theatre Three

An afternoon of ‘Art’

Discover your inner Picasso! Grab some friends and join Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson for a painting class at Griswold’s Cafe on Sunday,  Jan. 20 from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. The class will be led by local artist Rita Rooney who will help you create an 11×14-inch acrylic painting (see featured painting on right). Then head up to the Mainstage to enjoy a performance of Yasmina Reza’s one-act play, “Art.” Tickets for the paint party and show are $70. To reserve, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

*Update: Due to the weather, this event has been postponed until the Spring.

By Heidi Sutton

What is art and what is not? Ultimately art is in the eye of the beholder, yes? But what if your two best friends don’t agree with you? Which is more important? Friendship or art? These are just a few of the questions explored in Theatre Three’s latest offering, “Art” by Yasmina Reza (“God of Carnage”). The one-act drama runs on the Main stage through Feb. 2.

From left, Antoine Jones, Matt Senese and Steve Kyle in a scene from ‘Art’. Photo by Brian Hoerger

The French play premiered in Paris in 1994. Translated by Christopher Hampton, it opened in London’s West End in 1996, and then headed to Broadway two years later for a 600 performance run. The original New York cast featured Alan Alda, Victor Garber and Alfred Molina. By the time the show closed in 1999, it had garnered many awards including a Tony for Best Play and the Lawrence Olivier Award for Best Comedy.

Serge (Steve Ayle), Marc (Antoine Jones) and Yvan (Matt Senese) have been best friends for the last 15 years. A dermatologist by profession, Serge decides to start collecting art and purchases a contemporary painting for $50,000. The modern artwork is 3 feet by 4 feet and has a white background with “fine white diagonal lines” (if you look closely —— very closely). 

He is eager to show it off when Marc comes over, handling it ever so carefully as he brings it out for air.  At first Marc tries to be polite and says nothing as Serge has him look at the painting from different angles but finally can’t control himself. “You paid $50,000 for this white s—?” Marc asks in disbelief and their friendship takes a dark turn.

When Yvan is shown the painting, he is rather ambivalent about it. “I didn’t like the painting … but I didn’t actually hate it,” he reports back to Marc. “Well, of course not, You can’t hate what’s invisible! You can’t hate nothing!” exclaims Marc, who is getting more agitated by the minute. 

The cast of ‘Art’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Although he has more pressing things to worry about like planning a wedding with his fiancé turned “bridezilla,” Yvan finds himself playing referee and trying to diffuse the situation. In the end, however, the argument is not really about a painting but about friendship, its boundaries and how we should treat and speak to each other. 

Director Linda May has assembled the crème de la crème of actors to relate this comedy. Steve Ayle (“12 Angry Men,” “I Hate Hamlet” ) is the quintessential Serge, Antoine Jones (Festival of One-Act Plays, “A Chrismas Carol”) is exemplary  in the role of Marc while Matt Senese (‘The Addams Family”) is hilarious as Yvan. The three work perfectly together to produce a wonderful evening of live theater. 

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Art” on the Mainstage through Feb. 2. Running time is 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission. Contains adult language. The season continues with the musical “Nine” from Feb. 23 to March 23 and “The Miracle Worker” from April 6 to 28. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Daniel Dunaief

Brian Hoerger saw the doors bowing inward. A deluge of about 4 inches of rain in an hour or so in Port Jefferson on Sept. 25 sent a river of water toward Theatre Three, which was holding auditions for “A Christmas Carol” and was preparing to share “The Addams Family” a few days later.

Brian Hoerger in front of Theatre Three

The doors and nearby windows were no match for water that came flooding in, submerging a lighting board, damaging props and leaving tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

Hoerger, the facilities manager at the theater founded in 1969, sprang into action, salvaging what he could, removing what was unrecoverable and stabilizing the situation enough that he could leave around midnight and return six hours later to continue the cleanup effort.

To hear his friends tell it, Hoerger’s response, which included coordinating more than 50 volunteers and prioritizing a way to get the theater back in action just a few days later, is typical of a man committed to the community.

Hoerger has “an unparalleled devotion to helping others,” said Mollie Adler, who attended high school in Port Jefferson with him. “He’s always been extraordinarily helpful.”

In response to the devastating water in the building, Hoerger “worked nonstop,” said Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director of Theatre Three. “He was physically cleaning, he was supervising the things that had to be thrown out and he was dealing with a lot of the main stage electrical stuff.”

Margot Garant, mayor of Port Jefferson, recalled how she and Hoerger were “knee deep in the water,” and that he “goes above and beyond” with his lighting expertise.

“You call him, and he’s always there for you,” she said.

Hoerger was involved in setting up the rental for the replacement of the dimmer rack, which provides the stage lighting.

“He put the theater first, and he put the needs of the staff and the cast that was running in ‘The Addams Family’ first,” Sanzel said. “He stayed positive the whole time. He was always available.”

Hoerger wasn’t involved in much theater. A friend from when the two of them were 5, Eric Cherches, who was then a board member at Theatre Three, suggested that Hoerger give the theater a chance when he returned to Long Island in 2014.

Hoerger said he was hooked, especially by the production of “Sweeney Todd.”

“It was a great show, and the talent was amazing,” recalled Hoerger, who has helped with lighting, carpentry and building sets. While the Theatre Three cast and crew appreciate all he does to support them, he has also built up a reputation as a cook.

Beyond his work with Theatre Three, Hoerger has contributed in numerous other ways.

He pitches in with prom decorations.

The downstairs of Theatre Three after the flash flood. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Little kids will accompany their parents to work on the prom for older siblings or cousins,” said Cherches, a lawyer at the Law Offices of Eric D. Cherches in Port Jefferson. “Everybody knows [Hoerger]. He has a way of making everybody a friend.”

Hoerger has been helpful to Adler, who has had three surgeries for breast cancer and is a single mom dealing with significant financial challenges.

“My house was falling apart,” Adler said. “He helped organize a group of guys we went to school with” to come repair holes in the deck, to paint her door and to repair other problems.

Adler bakes Miss Mollie’s Brownies to support herself and her family. Hoerger brought her brownies into Theatre Three, which shares in the profits for the baked goods.

In addition to the many roles Hoerger has played at Theatre Three, which also include serving as a photographer, the organization has offered him a chance to stand in front of the lights he ensures are working. Sanzel asked Hoerger if he’d be willing to play the role of Mr. Fusco, the hardware store owner in “Saturday Night Fever.”

“That’s not my thing,” Hoerger said. “I enjoy watching the shows and being behind the scenes.”

Hoerger’s colleagues at Theatre Three appreciate his preparation and contributions in the moments when torrential rains don’t hit.

“Any time there’s a chance of heavy rain, he is out there with his pump and hoses snaked around the parking lot,” said Vivian Koutrakos, managing director at Theatre Three. “I’m more impressed with that” in those moments “when we’re not calling on the world to come help us.”

Bringing his childhood friend to the group was “the best thing I did during my almost 10 years on the board,” Cherches said.

By Heidi Sutton

Barnaby, Santa and Franklynne in a scene from the show.

This weekend the Village of Port Jefferson will celebrate its 23rd annual Charles Dickens Festival. Among the many events to attend this year will be Theatre Three’s production of “Barnaby Saves Christmas.” Written 15 years ago by Douglas Quattrock and Jeffrey Sanzel, the adorable musical, with its wonderful score and dance numbers, is the perfect way for families with young children to kick off the holiday season.

It’s Christmas Eve at the North Pole and Barnaby, the smallest elf in Elf School, is busy making a toy that Santa requested — a little stuffed bear with dark blue pants, buckles on his shoes and a bright yellow vest. When he realizes that Santa has left without it, he enlists the help of Franklynne, the littlest reindeer, to track down Santa and give the toy to him.

S.B. Dombulbury is up to his old tricks again!

During their adventures they meet Sarah and Andrew who teach them about Hanukkah and the Festival of Lights. They also bump into the sneaky S.B. Dombulbury and his henchperson Irma who are trying to ruin Christmas by stuffing all the chimneys with coal.

As director, Sanzel has assembled an outstanding cast to convey the story.

Eric Hughes returns for his third year as Barnaby, perfectly capturing his character as just wanting to fit in, and Michelle LaBozzetta tackles the role of Franklynne (It’s spelled with two n’s and a y — that makes it a girl’s name!) with just the right amount of spunkiness one would expect from a flying fawn. Andrew Lenahan is incredible in the dual role of Santa and Andrew, and Ginger Dalton is charming as both a slightly confused Mrs. Claus and Sarah.

Nicole Bianco and K.D. Guadagno play Crystal and Blizzard, two of Santa’s elves who are constantly hypnotized by S.B. Dombulbury to help him carry out his evil plan and at one point chase Barnaby and Franklynne through the audience like zombies in one of the funniest moments in the show. As a special treat, Jason Furnari, who originated the role of Barnaby, plays Sam the stressed-out head elf. However, it is the comedy tag team of Steven Uihlein as S.B. (spoiled brat) Dombulbury and Dana Bush as Irma that steal the show with their many antics. Their journey to redemption is heartfelt.

Santa’s elves, Barnaby, Sam, Blizzard and Crystal

The nine songs, accompanied by Quattrock on piano, are delightful, with special mention to “Miracles” and “Within Our Hearts.” The costumes, designed by Teresa Matteson and Toni St. John, are fun and festive as is the choreography by Bianco, and the special effects through the use of lighting is magical.

With the underlying message to “be the very best you can be,” “Barnaby Saves Christmas” is a beautiful story of hope, miracles and love. Don’t miss this one.

Souvenir elf and reindeer dolls will be available for purchase during intermission. Stay after the show for a photo with Santa Claus if you wish — the $5 fee goes to support the theater’s scholarship fund — and meet the rest of the cast in the lobby. Running time is one hour and 10 minutes with one intermission. Booster seats are available.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Barnaby Saves Christmas” through Dec. 29. Children’s theater continues with “Jack & the Beanstalk” from Jan. 19 to Feb. 23. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

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Cast call

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will hold open auditions for “The Miracle Worker” on Thursday, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 2 at 10 a.m. All roles open. Readings will be from the script. Please bring picture/resume. Read-through will be held Feb. 28 with full rehearsals beginning on March 2. Performances will be held from April 6 to 28. For further information and full details, call 631-928-9202 or visit http:theatrethree.com/auditions.html.

By Heidi Sutton

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, especially at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. Beautifully decorated for the holidays, the historic theater is currently presenting its annual production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” a community treasure that is celebrating its 35th season. 

Based on Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel of the same name, the story is a familiar one that needs to be retold often as a reminder to keep the spirit of Christmas in our hearts all year round. 

Adapted for the stage by Theatre Three’s Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel, it tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge (Sanzel), a man who has allowed himself to succumb to the mighty dollar and lives in the world of business. When we meet Scrooge for the first time, he is a bitter and stingy and feared man who has a particular abhorrence for Christmas and charity. He considers the poor and needy to be lazy. “I cannot afford to make idle people merry,” he sneers.

It is only when he is visited by the ghost of his business partner Jacob Marley (Andrew Lenahan) on Christmas Eve that he is given a shot at redemption. Enveloped in the chains he has forged in life, Marley tells Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits — the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, who eventually help him discover the true meaning of Christmas and save his immortal soul.

With the Ghost of Christmas Past (Michelle LaBozzetta) we visit Scrooge as a young boy, left alone at boarding school for Christmas; as an apprentice at Fezziwig’s where he falls in love with Belle; and the exact point when he meets Marley (“and so it began”) and his life begins to unravel.

A “cheeky” Ghost of Christmas Present (Stephen Wangner) brings Scrooge to his clerk Bob Cratchit’s (Douglas Quattrock) home where he sees an ailing Tiny Tim and to his nephew Fred Halliwell’s (Steven Uihlein) home to understand how his late sister’s son feels about him.

Finally, the daunting Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Steven Uihlein) shows Scrooge the shadows of what is yet to come, including his own death and how those around him are affected. The harrowing experience is exactly what the miser needs to turn his life around. 

The Victorian set and costumes designed by Randall Parsons, lighting by Robert W. Henderson Jr., musical direction by Brad Frey and the many special effects produce a beautifully executed well-oiled machine with powerful performances from the entire cast. 

Arrive a little early and be treated to a selection of Christmas carols by the actors in the lobby and stay afterward for a photo keepsake with Scrooge. The $5 fee goes to support the theater’s scholarship fund.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” through Dec. 29. Please note all evening shows begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 per person through November; $35 adults, $28 seniors and students in December. For more information or to order tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Brian Hoerger

By Melissa Arnold

Entertainer and comedian Bob Nelson has spent more than four decades doing what he loves most — making people laugh by taking them out of their problems and into his world.

“The greatest blessing for me is when people — families — have come up to me at a show and said they’ve been doing my routines together at the dinner table for years, that it’s gotten them through hard times, that it brings back memories of people they’ve lost — there’s no better feeling,” said Nelson in a recent phone interview.

The Massapequa native’s career has taken him from coast to coast, performing with greats including Eddie Murphy, Rosie O’Donnell and Rodney Dangerfield. And while he doesn’t travel as much these days, he’s begun treating Long Islanders to a hilarious, fast-paced monthly show at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson.

 

Bob Nelson as Eppy Epperman

Nelson said he’s thrilled to be returning to his comedic roots for this residency, blending observational sketches with his unique portrayal of multiple characters at once. Characters such as the lovable nerd Eppy Epperman, punchy boxer Jiffy Jeff and chicken rancher Wilby Stuckinson aren’t the most politically correct, but they are one of a kind, memorable and hysterically funny.

“My earliest shows involved using three doors on the stage as well as the two wings to create dialogue between different characters,” Nelson explained. “I’ll say something as one character, exit through one of the doors, and then re-enter and respond as someone different. It’s a very physical show, but I love doing a kind of comedy you don’t see every day.”

The development of Nelson’s career was far from linear. In fact, he landed his first comedy gig on a fluke. In his late teens, one of his job responsibilities was fact-checking advertisements in phone books by making cold calls. Nelson sometimes did impressions on the phone to make his co-workers laugh, and during one such call, he impressed a man who was working on opening a new comedy club.

That club, the White House Inn in Massapequa, became Nelson’s first stage.

“The first night I went, I just got the bug for comedy and kept going back,” he said.

Not long after, Nelson changed his major at Nassau Community College from communications to theater, declaring to his family that he planned to make a life of entertaining.

“My dad wasn’t thrilled about that decision. He said, ‘You’re never going to make anything of yourself,’ and told me to move out,” Nelson recalled. “So that’s what I did. I was 20. In the end, I made it work, and my dad is now my biggest fan. We have a great relationship.”

Nelson did more than just make it work — his career has led him to clubs all over the country, he’s acted on stage and in film, and starred in multiple comedy specials on HBO. His most popular special, “Nelson Schmelson,” can be found on YouTube.

Reflecting on his career, Nelson prides himself on delivering clean comedy routines that are appropriate for all ages.

“When I think of the people that have inspired me — Ernie Kovacs, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis — those guys were truly talented, and truly funny. They didn’t need to resort to cursing, dirty jokes or mocking people to make people laugh like so many entertainers do today. That’s just not funny to me,” he said. “I want everyone to be able to come to the show and get away from their troubles for a while.”

Bob Nelson in the role of Jiffy Jeff

Douglas Quattrock, special events coordinator for Theatre Three, remembers first seeing Bob Nelson perform while watching “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” when he was growing up. He immediately memorized every word of the skit. 

“I always thought he was the most fascinating comic I’ve ever seen,” Quattrock said. “You never know what you’re going to get from him. He’s just pure comic genius.”

With the help of Paul Anthony from the Long Island Comedy Festival, the theater was able to contact Nelson about a performance. That show sold out and feedback from the audience was overwhelmingly positive, leading  the theater to invite Nelson for a residency. 

“He’s been so receptive and we’re all thrilled to have him call Theatre Three his new home,” said Quattrock. “You’ll get to see your favorite skits and characters from Bob, but what makes this show special is that he also takes audience requests. He’s hoping to develop new characters during his time here as well, which would be historic for us to be a part of.”

Bob Nelson performs monthly, 90-minute shows at the Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the second stage of Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. Tickets are $39. The next two performances are Nov. 15 and Dec. 6. The bar is open for refreshments during the show. For information on upcoming performances and to purchase tickets, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

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