Authors Posts by Michael Tessler

Michael Tessler

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From left, Rachel Greenblatt, Brittany Lacey, Jenna Kavaler and Amanda Geraci in a scene from ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Michael Tessler

“Legally Blonde” is the sort of film I’d usually enjoy bundled up in a blanket on a cold winter day, perhaps while digging into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, laughing loudly to myself. And yet Saturday night at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson I found myself sharing in that same wholesome joy surrounded by hundreds of others equally filled with laughter and milewide smiles. “Legally Blonde: The Musical” doesn’t shy away from its film roots but rather embraces them, incorporating songs and themes that deliver the story like never before!

Jeffrey Sanzel, the show’s director, continues to demonstrate a mastery of theater worthy of Broadway or the West End. This is not a compliment I deliver lightly, but it is so rightfully deserved. His ability to transcend genre and create flawless spectacles of comedy, drama, music and dance have stunned me continuously through the many shows I’ve now reviewed. Not once have I left the theater’s Athena Hall without being uplifted or captivated by the raw, genuine emotions neatly packed within the confines of a Theatre Three production.

Brittany Lacey as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde: The Musical. Photo by Brian Hoerger
Brittany Lacey as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde: The Musical. Photo by Brian Hoerger

“Legally Blonde,” while a light-hearted romp, was certainly no exception to that rule. After a long and difficult week I found myself leaving the theater feeling lighter than air. Not even for a moment is the beautiful illusion of theater ruined, undoubtedly because of Sanzel’s magic touch. His actors are so well-paced, so well-trained, a truly regimented troupe of thespians. Their stage comes to life.

Our protagonist is the stuff of “Greek” legend, and by that I mean she’s the president of the Delta Nu sorority at UCLA. Elle Woods, your quintessential popular blonde stereotype, is awaiting an overdue dinner with her longtime college boyfriend (played with lovable arrogance by Chris Brady) whom she expects to propose. Hilarity ensues as quite the opposite happens. Without spoiling too much, Elle begins on an unlikely adventure to Harvard Law School, a place not exactly known to be fashion forward!

This show is filled to the brim with comedic caricatures playing on our preconceived notions in a delightful way. From the hunky UPS man played to comedic perfection by Kyle Breitenbach to the rude, snobby, love-to-hate law student Vivienne Kensington played impressively by Caitlin Nofi, to the “blood in the water” lawyer Professor Callahan played by Theatre Three veteran Steve McCoy.

Brittany Lacey and Brett Chizever in a scene from 'Legally Blonde: The Musical' byPhoto by Brian Hoerger
Brittany Lacey and Brett Chizever in a scene from ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’ byPhoto by Brian Hoerger

At the show’s center is actress Brittany Lacey. Her performance as Elle Woods is local theater at its finest. Her voice both powerful and soft, her delivery of lines so expressive and authentic, and most impressively her ability to dance in flawless precision while belting notes that require two and a half lungs. Many times throughout the production, I wondered if the show’s original writers had somehow met Lacey and based the show’s protagonist after her. Casting could not have been better. She’s accompanied by the awkwardly lovable Emmett played with a special tenderness by Brett Chizever. Before the show’s end you’ll love these two!

Randall Parsons has built a set of simplistic brilliance, the entire stage enclosed by an ever-changing border of glowing lights complemented perfectly with Robert W. Henderson’s lighting design. Shining in the spotlight is the brightest pinks I’ve ever seen with gorgeous costumes by Su Jung Weaver. All these elements are coordinated seamlessly by stage manager Peter Casdia. Jeffrey Hoffman, the show’s musical director, expertly leads a “Greek” chorus and a cast of superb vocal talents. From the show’s opening number, “Omigod You Guys,” to the more touching “Ireland” it seems there was not a mark to be missed! Don’t miss out on seeing this show. I guarantee it’ll take a “chip off your shoulder!”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson kicks off its 47th Mainstage season with “Legally Blonde: The Musical” through Oct. 29. Tickets range from $20 to $35. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Michael Tessler

Covered in ash, crawling through rubble, debris and fire — we found hope. Watching as brave heroes marched into towers set aflame — we found courage. Seeing an American flag rise above a hellish landscape of melted steel, blood and death — we found unity.

Our nation, at least for a moment, stood as one. Though shattered, our hearts pounded together in perfect rhythm. We knew that we would overcome the horrors seared into our memory that dreadful September day. Americans, by nature, do that — overcome. We rebuild, we remember and we defend our great American experiment. For more than two centuries we’ve fought for that noble concept, despite all odds and adversities. No enemy foreign or domestic has ever been able to change that simple and profound truth.

Thomas Butler from Kings Park, right, made the ultimate sacrifice while saving others on 9/11. Photo from Michael Tessler
Thomas Butler from Kings Park, right, made the ultimate sacrifice while saving others on 9/11. Photo from Michael Tessler

My memory of that day is the clearest of my entire childhood. For so many years I’ve loved heroes I’ve never met. Mourned at the reading of names: the mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. They often come to mind, especially their families, whose loss remains profound and ever present.

Fifteen years later we’ve strayed far from that national singularity, that special comfort knowing that even in the chaos, we have one another. Today it feels that we are torn so far apart that I can barely recognize the America I love.

In this time of darkness, I’m reminded of wisdom bestowed upon us by the greatest generation, in a time not so dissimilar from our own: “… the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” Perhaps our nation is still reeling in forgotten grief. Or maybe we’ve lost our national innocence and have given into the cynicism. Perhaps a decade of violence with no end has rendered us apathetic to the world at large, but I refuse to believe that is true or permanent. There will never be a clear path forward, but it must be clear that there is a path forward.

We do not have to agree with one another to show civility, we do not have to hate to protect ourselves, and we must not allow fear to dictate our lives. Those who perished represented nearly every facet of the American people. Their religions, race, sexual orientation, gender, hopes, dreams and aspirations in no way diminished the gaping hole we felt from their loss. They were people, they were our American kin, and we must ensure that “never forget” is not just a Hallmark slogan but an eternal call to action.

We are Americans. We will crawl through ash, rubble, debris and fire to give one another hope. We will march up towers aflame to give one another courage. We will raise an American flag above a landscape however hellish to let the world know that we are the UNITED States of America and that “a government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

In loving memory of Thomas M. Butler, the hero I never knew.

Michael Tessler is the Special Projects Manager for TBR News Media.

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The “Culper Spy Adventure,” a special presentation by TBR News Media, is an immersive digital attraction that will allow locals and tourists alike to be recruited into the ranks of General Washington’s secret Setauket spy ring. Accessed by scanning a special QR code on a panel of the Three Village map or visiting www.TBRNewsMedia.com/Culper, you will begin an interactive 45-minute journey that puts you into the starring role of your very own secret spy adventure!

Become a time traveler as you arrive in the year 1780, crossing paths with legends and heroes: Abraham Woodhull, Anna Smith Strong, Caleb Brewster, George Washington himself! Enjoy interactive games between each episode that are filled to the brim with intrigue, action and fun! Created with the whole family in mind, the “Culper Spy Adventure” is great for all ages.

Jonathan Trumbull captures a member of Tallmadge’s dragoons in excerpt from painting.
Jonathan Trumbull captures a member of Tallmadge’s dragoons in excerpt from painting.

Lemuel Cook, one of the last surviving veterans of the American Revolution, died at 106 years old in 1866. He served under the command of Lt. Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge, a Setauket native, Culper spy and member of the House of Representatives. He was born in the British Colony of Connecticut in 1759, just two or three years apart from Alexander Hamilton and died in the State of New York as a citizen of the United States of America.

Cook was a cavalryman who rode alongside the 2nd Light Continental Dragoons. He enlisted when he was just 16 years old. His military career took him from the Battle of Brandywine to the war’s end at Yorktown. He was witness to the surrender of General Cornwallis and given an honorable discharge by General George Washington. At the time of his enlistment in 1775, there were just 13 British colonies. By the time of his death there were 36 American states. This centenarian saw his national flag change many times and watched our founders’ dream of American democracy come to fruition.

 Lemuel Cook, American Revolutionary War veteran. Photo from Michael Tessler
Lemuel Cook, American Revolutionary War veteran. Photo from Michael Tessler

He lived through the War of 1812, a conflict his generation called “the Second American Revolution.” He saw his countrymen settle westward achieving new frontiers, and in 1861 he saw our young republic descend into a brutal civil war. By that time he was one of five remaining veterans of the War for Independence. He died five years later but lived to see the Civil War’s conclusion. He lived to see the abolishment of slavery, and we can only hope with it he experienced a great comfort that our American experiment would endure.

Seeing Cook for the first time was an overwhelming experience. In all of my research and love for history, I’ve never seen a real photograph of someone who lived through that extraordinary time in our national story. His eyes look tired but tell such an important story. They witnessed so much: watched as Benjamin Tallmadge led charges against British soldiers, watched as Caleb Brewster carried secret messages to camp, watched the sword of General Cornwallis be offered to George Washington. He was the last direct connection to Setauket’s secret revolutionary history and perhaps to our nation’s first commander-in-chief.

In our textbooks we often forget about men like Cook. His name, like so many others, has fallen into obscurity. His story near forgotten. Yet his bravery and sacrifice remain just as profound and real as they were some 240 years ago. We should not forget them, those brave Continentals and militiamen who risked everything for a dream of a nation that did not yet exist. They epitomized what it means to be American, heck, they defined it.

My greatest honor in life has been paying homage to them by telling their stories some two and a half centuries later. Honor their sacrifice by witnessing it first-hand. See Cook’s unit come to life in our recently released “Culper Spy Adventure” series now available for free at: www.TBRNewsMedia.com/Culper.

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Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) in the Uniform of the New York Artillery (oil on canvas) by Chappel, Alonzo (1828-87). Photo from Michael Tessler

By Michael Tessler

The “Culper Spy Adventure,” a special presentation by TBR News Media, is an immersive digital attraction that will allow locals and tourists alike to be recruited into the ranks of General Washington’s secret Setauket spy ring. Accessed by scanning a special QR code on a panel of the Three Village map or visiting www.TBRNewsMedia.com/Culper, you will begin an interactive 45-minute journey that puts you into the starring role of your very own secret spy adventure!

Become a time traveler as you arrive in the year 1780, crossing paths with legends and heroes: Abraham Woodhull, Anna Smith Strong, Caleb Brewster, George Washington himself! Enjoy interactive games between each episode that are filled to the brim with intrigue, action and fun!

Created with the whole family in mind, the “Culper Spy Adventure” is great for all ages.

 Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) in the Uniform of the New York Artillery (oil on canvas) by Chappel, Alonzo (1828-87). Photo from Michael Tessler
Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) in the Uniform of the New York Artillery (oil on canvas) by Chappel, Alonzo (1828-87). Photo from Michael Tessler

Long before we started production on the “Culper Spy Adventure,” and long before I listened to the sound track of the musical, Alexander Hamilton was my favorite founding father. He embodied America: brave, innovative, steadfast, flawed yet relentlessly moving toward progress. He was an immigrant who moved to a country that did not yet exist and still adopted it as his own and fought for it both before and after the war. He was perhaps the most famous New Yorker of the 18th century and his brilliant system of banking and government are still alive and thriving today. Our wealth, our luxury, our mantle of “global superpower” can very well be attributed to his foresight and vision.

“Hamilton: The Musical” has ingeniously provided a whole new generation with an incredible medium to learn and love history. Using show-stopping numbers, dancing, and elements of hip-hop, the show’s creator Lin Manuel-Miranda has successfully made history accessible to everyone (or those who can get tickets that is, I’m still waiting for mine!)

Some two centuries after his death, Alexander Hamilton is again providing America with a great gift, a refreshing glimpse into our nation’s founding and the ideals that make America great.

When we started writing the “Culper Spy Adventure” it was very clear that we wanted to include Hamilton in the story. He was just a young man when the Declaration of Independence was signed, not yet a founding father, but one of America’s sons fighting on the frontline for liberty. Though he came from nothing, he used his brilliant tactical mind to achieve the title of war hero. His superiors took note and he was offered various promotions by officers in the Continental Army. He refused them all, that was until General George Washington offered him a position as his “right hand man” as an aide-de-camp and that’s when our stories intertwine.

Hamilton was one of the very few individuals who knew of the Culper Spy Ring and its operations throughout the war. Being one of Washington’s most trusted advisers, Hamilton was tasked with reading many of the intelligence reports created by Townsend, Woodhull, Strong, Brewster and Tallmadge. Though he didn’t know their real names, he knew of their tremendous sacrifice and bravery in delivering those secret messages.

One of Hamilton’s best friends was Hercules Mulligan, another star from the musical. This tailor’s apprentice stayed behind in New York after the British occupation and would gather intelligence for the Continental Army. He and his slave Cato reportedly saved Washington’s life twice and would occasionally work directly with the Culper Spy Ring.

All of this coalesces in 1780 when Hercules Mulligan informs Culper spy Robert Townsend (a.k.a. Culper Jr.) of the British plans to attack the French in Rhode Island. This piece of intelligence drastically altered the course of the war and very well saved the revolution. We serialize this mission in the “Culper Spy Adventure” as you race against time to deliver that message to George Washington at his headquarters, along the way meeting and interacting with Setauket’s spies and some great historical figures.

Though I don’t want to spoil anything, you do get to meet Lt. Colonel Alexander Hamilton in one of the film’s best sequences. So don’t “throw away your shot.” Begin your “Culper Spy Adventure” today!

Above, members of Friday Night Face Off after the show on Aug. 5. Photo by Michael Tessler

By Michael Tessler

Admittedly my definition of fun has always been a bit out-of-sync with my fellow millennials. What do I mean by that? Well, my perfect evening entails a glass of scotch whiskey, a small group of friends and an invigorating game of Risk (yes that board game from Seinfeld). We wouldn’t just play with normal rules either, we’d add elements of intrigue, diplomacy and politics. It’s quite literally the nerdiest way someone could spend an evening BUT there are plenty of valuable life lessons to be learned from the game: camaraderie, collaboration, but most importantly … never fight a land war in Asia! (Napoleon and Hitler probably wish they had gotten that memo). So yes, I’m not your average 23-year old, not by a long shot.

In the name of faux investigative journalism, I decided to venture outside of my comfort zone and into the sprawling mini-metropolis that is Port Jefferson Village after dark. Together with my partner-in-crime and honorary investigator, Sarah, we began our journey. Being an avid “Pokémon trainer” Sarah insisted we visit Port Jeff’s biggest Pokémon location, Harborfront Park.

For those who don’t know, Pokémon GO is a mobile game that connects the real world with the digital one, allowing people to “catch” animated Pokémon by visiting real places across the country and globe. It’s a whole lot of fun and rewards players for exercising by giving you special access to rare Pokémon. With that being said: Madam Mayor, I strongly urge you to establish a Pokémon Preserve near Harborfront Park so that we can protect the rare indigenous Pokémon that call Port Jefferson home!

Honestly though, it was pretty wonderful seeing all those families and young people outside. After some 15 years of hibernation, the children of the ’90s have finally reemerged in search of pikachus and pizza!

Afterward we made our way over to Theatre Three. This wonderful local theatre offers not just mainstage musicals and concert series but is also home to an excellent troupe of improv artists. Each week they put on a tremendous live show known as Friday Night Face Off (FNFO). These professionally trained comedians break up into two teams and battle each other in various improv games. Styled similarly to the “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” I can guarantee it’ll leave you in stitches! Having seen their shows well over a dozen times, I can tell you that each performance is unique and filled with new hysterical material. Although the show isn’t child friendly (16 years old and up please), it is the perfect way for adults to end or begin an evening! There’s even a bar right in theater so you can enjoy a drink during the performance.

After a great show we visited several of Port Jefferson’s late night hot spots. Schafer’s was a real treat. Complete with a DJ, dance floor and all of the latest party equipment, it felt less like your conventional bar and more like an upscale club in Manhattan. Following some dancing, catching up with old friends and an impromptu freestyle rap battle (I owe my skills to “Hamilton the Musical”), it turned out to be a pretty wonderful evening. Port Jefferson, while a quaint village by day, truly transforms into a popping late-night paradise when the sun goes down. There’s no age limit to the fun as there’s a venue for everyone!

Now I’ve already made my plans for next weekend! Anybody wanna join me for a rousing game of BATTLESHIP? No? That’s alright. I strongly advise taking a visit to beautiful Port Jefferson during one of these beautiful summer nights!

Michael Tessler is the Special Projects Manager for TBR News Media, a former political consultant and Disney cast member and mostly unsuccessful Pokémon trainer.

The cast of ‘Shrek The Musical’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Michael Tessler

Putting on “Shrek The Musical” is no easy feat. There are countless characters, huge set requirements, fantastical costumes and puppets both small and … dragon-sized. Theatre Three’s bold production of “Shrek” takes these challenges in stride, resulting in a masterful production befitting the scope and size of its Broadway counterpart.

Donkey (Bobby Montaniz) and Shrek (Danny Stalter) in a scene from ‘Shrek The Musical.’ Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Donkey (Bobby Montaniz) and Shrek (Danny Stalter) in a scene from ‘Shrek The Musical.’ Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Jeffrey Sanzel, the show’s director, is deserving of great praise as he takes on the task with his usual grace and theatrical virtuosity. His versatility as a director is to be commended, such range and vision is an unusually rare thing. As a frequent spectator of his work, I’m beyond grateful that he makes every show a thrilling new experience, and his interpretation of “Shrek” is certainly no exception to that rule.

The production is filled with show-stopping numbers (21 of them!) and every song outdoes the previous. From the leads to the ensemble, each cast member delivers a spectacular performance worthy of the show’s Tony-nominated score.

One of my directors growing up would often remind me that a successful show lets people “leave their brains at the door”  — it’s an escape from reality, and even the slightest mistake can upend that magical facade. This is why this production of “Shrek” was so uniquely satisfying. There was not a moment when I wasn’t fully swept up by the show’s phenomenal cast and harmonies.

Our title character Shrek, played by Theatre Three newcomer Danny Stalter, was an absolute treat. Stalter plays upon the Mike Myers’ legacy but forges his own unique style that is both endearing and hugely rewarding. This dynamic character undergoes development in nearly every scene. This progression is captured beautifully by Stalter whose well-conceived performance only enhances the emotional moments. Shrek, while grotesque and green on the outside, has a beautiful voice that will send chills down your spine more than once.

His partner-in-crime is a jackass, and by that I mean Donkey. Played with sass and master comedic timing by Bobby Montaniz, this hard not to love character steals the show and often! Admittedly his performance of “Make a Move” has been stuck in my head for hours, and I’m not complaining because it’s still making me laugh.

Danny Stalter as Shrek, Jenna Kavaler as Princess Fiona and Bobby Montaniz as Donkey star in ‘Shrek The Musical’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Danny Stalter as Shrek, Jenna Kavaler as Princess Fiona and Bobby Montaniz as Donkey star in ‘Shrek The Musical’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

In theater they say “there are no small roles, just small people,” which bring us to Lord Farquaad, the Lord of Duloc, played to perfection by Matt Senese. This miniature-sized dictator had me laughing so hard, I’m surprised they didn’t kick me out of the theater. Senese makes perfect use of his tiny costume legs, dancing, jumping and kick-lining fearlessly. As if being funny weren’t enough, he also has a voice that is sure to wow!

Jenna Kavaler, a Theatre Three veteran, plays Princess Fiona flawlessly. Having just watched her performance in “Beau Jest,” I was amazed at her range as an actress. She is funny and wildly entertaining, especially during one particularly gassy sequence with Shrek. Her voice is beautiful but shines best during her three-part harmony with her younger Fiona counterparts played by Leah Bloom and Ella Watts. Their performance of “I Know It’s Today” was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard in local theater.

Steve McCoy choreographs the show to perfection, while Jeffrey Hoffman masterfully manages musical direction. Robert W. Henderson Jr. lights up the show with expert design and Patrick Grossman brings to life some fantastic fairy tale costumes. All in all, this family-friendly production is the perfect way to spend a weekend! If you don’t believe me, see below for a few notes from my little cousins who joined me for this special review!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Shrek the Musical” through June 25. Evening shows begin at a family-friendly time of 7 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $30.

All are invited to a Director’s Dinner on the Second Stage on June 5 at 5:45 p.m. with Jeffrey Sanzel for a fascinating behind the scenes look of the making of “Shrek” following the 3 p.m. show. Tickets, which include dinner and a show, are $53 adults, $48 seniors and students, $45 children ages 6 to 12.

For more information or to order tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

From left, Aida, Liam and Maddox pose with the program and their green ogre ears after the Shrek show last Saturday night. Photo by Michael Tessler
From left, Aida, Liam and Maddox pose with the program and their green ogre ears after the Shrek show last Saturday night. Photo by Michael Tessler

KID CRITIQUES:

Aida (age 7½): I loved when Donkey shaked his booty at Shrek! I liked the dragon because she had a nice voice!

Liam (age 5½): My favorite part is seeing Donkey! He’s really funny! Especially when he fell from the tree and made a little wall!

Maddox (age 5½): Loved the tap dancing and when Shrek kicks! And when Shrek found out Fiona’s secret!

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Michael Tessler

By Michael Tessler

With a Congress that fails to do its job, a Supreme Court that has become increasingly politicized and a president who can only pursue his legislative agenda by bypassing the legislature, we have effectively compromised our federal government. “Checks and balances” have been replaced with bounced checks and a political game of seesaw — one wherein achieving compromise is near impossible. Lobbyists have procured tremendous power as the American people have all but ignored the huge significance of local and state elections.

So let’s break down some numbers. Back in 2014 voter turnout in New York was only 28.8 percent. We were not just electing a governor but also filling all 27 of our congressional seats. That same year, roughly 6,730 miles away the Afghan government held its election. People risked their lives going to the polls. Throughout their nation the Taliban led attacks on polling stations. Voters ran the risk of having their finger removed if they were found by the Taliban and identified as a voter. So what was their turnout? 58 percent. That’s right folks. In a nation where you could literally be dismembered for voting, they achieved a turnout rate 29.2 percent greater than our own here in New York. So what’s our excuse? Fear of parking tickets? We can do better.

This issue isn’t just isolated to New York. All across the nation we ignore the importance of our local and state government. Why? It’s extremely boring. You don’t see Martin Sheen or Kevin Spacey going around accepting acting roles as a county treasurer or state assemblyman. Media has romanticized the presidency. We’ve made it our central focus to the point where all other offices fall to the wayside.

To understand the significance of state government, look no further than the collapse of every major world superpower from the Egyptians to the Romans, to the Ottomans, to the Soviets. What makes us different isn’t the fact that we have a democracy: 123 countries have democracy. What makes us different is our unique system of federalism. Now I know what you’re thinking. “This is the most boring thing I’ve ever read. Please make it stop.” No, I can’t. It’s just too important.

So I’m sure somewhere deep in your subconscious you’re asking yourself, “If federalism is so great, why doesn’t everybody use it?” That’s a great question. Just look to our friends in the European Union. They’re attempting what I call reverse federalism. They’re struggling to achieve the unity that our system has had for over 200 years.

Our founders were brilliant in that they had the foresight to create a centralized government to unify us financially, militarily and culturally. Europe has had literally thousands of years of internal strife that makes genuine friendship difficult for many of its member states (e.g., thanks a lot, Germany). Just imagine how difficult the job of our government would be if suddenly California decided it wanted to opt-out of the dollar in exchange for its own currency.

Europe, try as they may, will likely be unable to recreate what we have here. Our union was forged during our revolution and with each conflict that followed (with the uncomfortable exception of the Civil War).

Federalism ensures the survival of this great American experiment because the likelihood of 50 self-sufficient states collapsing simultaneously is slim to none. We have to remind our politicians that our power does not come from the top but from the bottom. If our federal government fails in the task of governing, their gridlock should not deter the whole union. Unfortunately, there is yet a political party that has seriously adopted this policy in the 21st century.

We don’t need big government or small government. We need smart government. For example, in terms of health care, one size doesn’t fit all. The health care needs of New Yorkers will be different than the health care needs of Floridians (well actually most Floridians are New Yorkers so this might not be the best example, but you get my point). We shouldn’t pretend each state is the same. Nor should we pretend that the federal government can pass a budget let alone manage a national health care system (e.g., the genius who built HealthCare.gov). Surely, the best hope for America is one that has been there all along. So this election vote not from the top down but from the bottom up.

IN SHORT:

Trump Notes: Civility cannot exist when Americans confuse bigotry with bluntness. We aren’t perceived as weak because our military isn’t big enough. We’re perceived as weak because we’ve allowed our sacred institution of democracy to become a warm-up act for the Kardashians. This vitriol incites violence. Now more than ever we need national conversations, not national disagreements.

In brighter news: I’m a Jew who gave up pizza for lent. If that doesn’t make America great, I’m not sure what will. Looking forward to writing more. Share your thoughts with me at MJT[at]TBRNewspapers[dot]com.

Michael Tessler is the Special Projects Manager for TBR News Media, a founder and former political consultant for the Continuum Group firm, and the former President of the International Youth Congress.

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

By Michael Tessler

Theatre Three’s production of “Godspell,” which opened last Saturday night, is local theater at its finest. A musical by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak, it originally opened off Broadway in 1971 and has had many revivals since then. Uniquely reimagined by director Jeffrey Sanzel, Theatre Three’s production succeeds in every category with beautiful lighting, a fluid set, expert choreography, tremendous acting and voices that will leave you yearning for more.

Sanzel, who had previously directed several productions of “Godspell,” brings a refreshing twist to the story, having it take place in the here and now. The cast portray not characters, but their actual selves. Everything you watch is playing out in real time, and it genuinely feels like it’s happening for the first time. The result is miraculous, as it adds a depth and weight to the show that makes it all the more human.

Biblical Spoiler Alerts: Each touch, every moment of embrace, was so unique and powerful. You feel so connected with the magnanimous presence of Jesus, portrayed masterfully by Hans Paul Hendrickson. You sympathize with Judas (Patrick O’Brien) whose dynamic personality and lovability makes his betrayal all the more devastating and personal.

Broken into two acts, the first is a series of parables told by Jesus’ disciples through songs and skits. They will have you in stitches from laughing. Each parable contains a beautiful lesson of morality. In the second act you bear witness to the betrayal of Jesus. Though the tone of the show dramatically changes, the cast still delivers, showing off their impressive range as actors.

What’s most remarkable about this production is its cast. This ensemble effortlessly plays with your heartstrings as their harmonies echo through the belly of the theater. They don’t limit their stage to the stage. More often than not they’re in the audience sharing the experience with you. Their collective voice is so powerful, so beautiful, and instills you with a sense of togetherness. During the production you feel as though you’re a part of something very special.

Hans Paul Hendrickson as Jesus and Patrick O’Brien as Judas in a scene from ‘Godspell.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Hans Paul Hendrickson as Jesus and Patrick O’Brien as Judas in a scene from ‘Godspell.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

In Act One, Amanda Geraci serenades with perfection in her rendition of the musical theater classic “Day by Day.” Bobby Montaniz’s booming voice rings perfectly during his soulful performance of “All Good Gifts.” Act Two, though darker in tone, does have some upbeat moments. Among them is the devilishly sexy “Turn Back, O Man” performed by the talented Elena Faverio. You’ll hold back tears during “By My Side,” a beautiful duet between Jenna Kavaler and Aria Saltini. In the audience, you can’t help but feel the urge to clap and sing along.

The show’s excellent choreography is also to be noted. With each musical number it feels the cast members outdo themselves. No doubt this can be attributed to choreographer Marquez Stewart whose vision translated wonderfully on stage. Her direction of Jesus and Judas during “All for the Best” is a real treat as the duo tap dances in tandem. Many of the musical numbers cleverly include American Sign Language, adding an extra dimension to an already beautiful repertoire of music. “Godspell’s” other great success is in its attention to ambiance. Lighting designer Robert W. Henderson Jr. programs some of the most impressive light sequences I’ve ever seen in a local show. “Heavenly” seems like a fitting adjective.

Behind the cast is Steve McCoy, musical director, who leads a team of expert musicians who brought the score to life in a way that only great instrumentalists can. Randall Parsons’ costume design was also a job well done with Jesus wearing his signature Superman shirt and Judas adorned in what I assume was a cleverly repurposed military coat from “Les Miserables.” Every cast member’s costume so perfectly fit the quirkiness of their personalities. Also deserving of credit is stage manager Peter Casdia who expertly ran the production from behind the scenes.

Arguably the highlight of the show is one particular scene that turns the stage into an old-fashioned slide projector. Comically narrated by Judas, the entire audience erupted into five minutes of non-stop bellyaching laughter. If for this scene alone, go see this show.

“Godspell,” while inspired by the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, isn’t exclusively a Christian show. Its message of community, love and compassion are delivered in a way that doesn’t require you to adhere to the Christian doctrine. Even as a secular Jew, I found myself humming along to “We Beseech Thee” and thinking to myself “I love Jesus!”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Godspell” through March 26. Contains adult themes. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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