Kids

Back row, from left, Anthony M. Panarello, Angelina Mercurio (understudy for Veronica Fox) and Brody Hampson; front row, from left, Luke Hampson and Ryan Cavanagh. Photo by Tommy Ranieri

By Heidi Sutton

Fresh off the massive children’s theater production of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts scales things down with a musical retelling of Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The show opened last weekend and runs through Aug. 18.

Written and composed by the award-winning duo of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (“Seussical”), the “fractured fairytale” takes the 19th-century Danish author’s best known story and adds song and dance to create a delightfully charming treat.

At only 14 years old, Emperor Marcus the Third is nervous to take the throne. After all, he’s only finished Chapter 1 of “How to Be an Effective Emperor”! To make matters worse, the kingdom’s river is starting to overflow and a hole in the road is getting wider. The villagers come to Marcus for help, but the newbie has difficulty making decisions. When the palace’s mop boy Arno suggests he dress the part, Marcus becomes obsessed with his royal attire.

Outfit after outfit produced by Deena the Royal Clothesmaker is rejected. Seizing an opportunity, a swindler named Maurice weasels his way inside the palace and offers to make magic clothes that are “invisible to fools and liars.” Ignoring the counsel of his Royal Advisor William, the emperor gives Maurice the green light and begins plans to hold a parade to show off his new wardrobe. Will someone get Marcus out of this royal mess, or will he reveal more than he bargains for?

Tommy Ranieri directs and choreographs a talented quintet of actors that grab this comedic masterpiece by its royal coattails and run with it, effectively producing something very special.

Luke Hampson is exceptional as the clueless new ruler; Veronica Fox and Anthony M. Panarello do an excellent job portraying worrywarts Deena and William who fear they will lose their jobs because they can’t see the magic clothing; and Brody Hampson plays the role of con artist perfectly.

But it is Ryan Cavanagh in the role of Arno who steals every scene he is in and quickly becomes an audience favorite. In the end, it is he who teaches Marcus the important lesson of “it’s not what’s on the outside but what’s on the inside that counts.”

The wonderful songs tie the show together, with special mention to “The Ancestor Song,” “Only a Guy Like You,” “How Am I Ever Gonna Get To Sleep?” and “Invisible.”

The show offers no special effects or fancy sets, just good old-fashioned live theater the way it was meant to be. The actors are funny and entertaining and are as devoted to making the audience reflect as to making them laugh. Hans Christian Andersen would be proud.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown presents “The Emperor’s New Clothes” through Aug. 18. Children’s theater continues with “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure Jr.” from Sept. 14 to Oct. 27 and “Shrek the Musical Jr.” from Feb. 1 to March 1. All seats are $18. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

A scene from 'The Lion King.' Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Disney has reached into its vault to create live-action versions of 101 Dalmatians, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, The Jungle Book and, most recently, the disappointing Dumbo and the mediocre Aladdin. Its newest release is the The Lion King, a remake of the 1994 animated classic, presented as a photorealistic computer-animated feature. The end result is stunning but unsettling.  

The original Lion King was a revelation. It dealt with difficult subjects and never pandered; it was wholly entertaining, truly sincere, and played to all ages. With loose shades of Hamlet, there was humor and humanity. It spawned the highly theatrical Tony Award-winning musical that has run for over two decades.

A scene from ‘The Lion King.’ Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

With few script embellishments from the original, the latest offering is just a new approach to animation. It is visually glorious, with every shot and every frame a breathtaking work of art. It is as realistic as if they were filming wildlife in its natural habitat. 

And therein is heart of the problem. In creating creatures that truly appear real — and they do — there is little to no expression. As animals do not communicate with their faces, it often feels static and detached in the dialogue sections. Much of the film seems like a nature documentary with voice-overs. The flip side is that the violence is brutally convincing with moments that are genuinely frightening. The hyenas are particularly alarming — and when they attempt to alleviate this with comic lines, they come across as psychotic.  

Directed by Jon Favreau, the film follows the original very closely (though clocks in a full 20 minutes longer). The opening is as beautiful and powerful as the original with the assemblage of animals coming to the presentation of young Simba, crown prince of the lions. The death of the patriarch is every bit as heart-wrenching if not more. The lion cubs could not be cuter. There are one or two very funny surprises; an amusing nod to Beauty and the Beast is welcome in one of the darker stretches.

In addition to the brilliant cinematography, the vocal artistry is first rate. J.D. McCrary and Donald Glover as the young and grown Simbas, respectively, bring honesty to their shared role. 

Billy Eichner is hilarious as the meerkat Timon, with a nice assist from an underplaying Seth Rogen as the warthog Pumbaa. 

John Oliver is comically uptight as the bird Zazu while John Kani brings genuine gravitas to the shaman-like Rafiki. Alfre Woodard is appropriately warm and strong as matriarch Sarabi and the great James Earl Jones, the only hold-over from 1994, returns as Mufasa and delivers a performance equal to his original. 

Especially strong, finding both danger and dimension, is Chiwetel Ejiofor as the treasonous Scar; what is interesting is that of all the characters, his face somehow manages to communicate the most expression.

The delightful music of the first film is here: It once again features the Oscar-winning work of Hans Zimmer, Tim Rice and Sir Elton John.

Because of the realistic and often savage violence, it seems that it might be too frightening for young audiences. So while engaging and inventive, ultimately, Disney’s The Lion King leaves the viewer with a certain disconnect and questioning not so much as why it was made but for whom.

Rated PG, The Lion King is now playing in local theaters.

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket hosted a Star Wars Carnival on July 13. The afternoon featured Star Wars-themed games and included a visit from Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper who played with the children, checked out books and posed for photos and selfies. Over 140 members of the community attended the galactic event.

Photos from Emma Clark Library

A scene from ‘Toy Story 4’. Photo courtesy of Disney/Pixar

By Jeffrey Sanzel

A film that aims to explore the pains of growing up, that endeavors to touch on love and loss, on sense of self and self-worth, takes on a huge challenge. That the movie aspires to a balance of humor and honesty makes it even more challenging. That an animated feature is told through the eyes and voices of toys seems impossible. However, as seen through the first three Toy Story movies, it is more than attainable. In a franchise that grew in both depth and art with each film, finding more laughter and more tears, it is the exception to every rule. The newest addition, Toy Story 4, is certainly one of the best films of the year.

Woody introduces Forky to the other toys. Photo courtesy of Disney/Pixar

Here are 100 minutes of pure entertainment, alternating between laugh-out-loud funny and poignantly touching, in a film that never feels like a sequel. It plays on multiple levels, providing jokes and slapstick, clever asides and deep insights, so that audiences of any age will be completely engaged from start to finish.

Woody (the always marvelous Tom Hanks) now belongs to Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) but has been put aside for cowboy Jessie (Joan Cusack). This does not change Woody’s mission to make sure Bonnie is taken care of at all times. When Bonnie reluctantly goes to kindergarten, she finds solace in creating Forky, crafting him from a spork, googly eyes and a pipe cleaner — an opportunity that Woody engineers. Forky becomes Bonnie’s obsession and solace. What she doesn’t realize is that Forky (a scene-stealing Tony Hale) does not want to be a toy. Eventually, guided by Woody, Forky learns his value.  

Toy Story 4 is what we have come to expect in the series without ever feeling like it is a repeat of its earlier chapters. The movie includes a wild road trip, a dazzling carnival and a range of hijinks and colorful characters that make for a nonstop adventure. 

Eventually, the crew is reunited with the now self-actualized Bo Peep (a sly and knowing Annie Potts) who has found freedom in being a “lost toy,” living a full life in what can only be labeled renegade and off the grid with a posse of like-minded toys. Much of the latter half of the film also centers around an antique shop, ruled by Gabby Gabby (a flawlessly wicked Christina Hendricks) and her minion of ventriloquist dummies. Gabby Gabby is, at first, the villain of the story; but there is much more to her and her journey.

The film features many returning voices including Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear (comically learning to listen to his inner voice), Wallace Shawn as the neurotic Rex, John Ratzenberger as Hamm, Blake Clark as Slinky Dog, Estelle Harris as Mrs. Potato Head, Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head (from archival recordings), Timothy Dalton as Mr. Pricklepants, Bonnie Hunt as Dolly and Carl Weathers in a terrific running joke as three different Combat Carls. All of them deliver incredibly enjoyable performances, mining the most of their individual and team moments.

Newcomers include Keegan-Michael Key as Ducky; Jordan Peele as Bunny, an outrageous plush pair; and Keanu Reeves as Duke Caboom, a second-rate Evel Knievel toy. There are wonderful cameos from Mel Brooks (Melephant Brooks), Carol Burnett (Chairol Burnett), Betty White (Bitey White) and Carl Reiner (Carl Reineroceros).

Josh Cooley, whose directorial credits include The Incredibles, Cars and Up, has beautifully guided the entire film. The excellent screenplay is by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton (with a total of eight people credited with “story by”). The literally hundreds of artists who worked on the picture have contributed to an emotionally seamless and visually stunning whole.

If the ending doesn’t pack quite the emotional punch of Toy Story 3, it is still wholly satisfying, bringing to a close a classic and heartfelt odyssey. While perhaps not perfect, Toy Story 4 comes pretty close.

Rated G, Toy Story 4 is now playing in local theaters.

By Heidi Sutton

Who doesn’t love a good fairy tale, especially one like “Cinderella,” which is reputed to be one of the most adapted and re-interpreted children’s stories of all time?

To the delight of all the little princesses out there, Theatre Three in Port Jefferson kicks off its 2019-20 children’s theater season with an original musical retelling of the “rags to riches” tale through Aug. 9. With book, music and lyrics by Douglas J. Quattrock, this version of “Cinderella” combines Charles Perrault’s classic tale with Mark Twain’s “The Prince & the Pauper” to produce a lovely afternoon at the theater.

Perrault (Steven Uihlein) serves as narrator as well as “squire to the sire” and transports audiences to the kingdom of King Charming (Andrew Lenahan) who wishes to retire to Boca Raton and pass the crown to his son, Prince Charming (Matt Hoffman). However, the king feels that his son should get married first and invites all eligible maidens to a royal ball.

The squire delivers the invitations to the home of Cinderella (Meg Bush) who after 300 years is still being treated badly by her stepmother Lady Jaclyn (Nicole Bianco) and stepsisters Gwendolyn (Michelle LaBozzetta) and Madeline (Krystal Lawless). When Cinderella asks if she can go to the ball, her stepmother tells her she has to do all her chores first, including washing the cat, but we all know how that ends. 

Left behind while the step meanies go to the ball, the poor girl is visited by her fairy godmother, Angelica (Emily Gates) who cooks up a beautiful gown and sends her on her way.

Meanwhile, the prince concocts a plan to switch places with the squire in hopes of meeting a girl who will like him “for who he is, not what he is.” Things go horribly wrong at the ball, thanks to the ill-mannered stepsisters, and it ends before Cinderella can get there. When she finally arrives, Cinderella is greeted by a squire (the prince) who asks her to dance because “the band is paid till 1.” Will she take him up on his offer? Will they waltz the night away?

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the eight-member cast does an excellent job in portraying this adorable story. One of the funniest scenes is when the prince and squire show up at Cinderella’s house with the glass slipper and the stepsisters and even stepmother try it on with the same result: “I think it’s on. All hail the queen! Ouch, take it off!”

Accompanied on piano by Douglas J. Quattrock, all of the sweet musical numbers are wonderfully choreographed by Nicole Bianco, with a special nod to “Please, Mother, Please!” and “A Girl Like Me (and a Boy Like You).” 

The costumes, designed by Teresa Matteson and Toni St. John, are flawless, from the royal garbs worn by the king and prince to the fancy gowns worn at the ball. The wings on the fairy godmother even light up — a nice touch. Lighting design by Steve Uihlein along with some special effects pull it all magically together.

If you’re looking for something to do with the kids for the summer, Theatre Three’s “Cinderella” fits the bill perfectly. Souvenir wands are sold before the show and during intermission. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St. in Port Jefferson presents “Cinderella” through Aug. 9. Children’s theater continues with “Pinocchio” from Aug. 2 to 10; and “A Kooky Spooky Halloween” from Oct. 5 to 26. All seats are $10. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com. See more photos online at www.tbrnewsmedia.com.

Photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Photo courtesy of Leg. Spencer’s office

Legislator William Spencer made a special visit to Cold Spring Harbor’s Goose Hill Primary School on June 24 to present first-grade student, Sloane Yormack, with a proclamation recognizing her as the first-place winner for the 18th Legislative District in Suffolk County’s 2019 Be Pool Smart poster contest.

With drowning being the leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths of children between the ages of 1 and 14 nationwide, and the third leading cause of injury-related deaths of children in New York, the Suffolk County Legislature conducts an annual Be Pool Smart public education campaign. 

Students are invited to participate in a poster contest to express their interpretation of what can be done to protect children and families against accidental pool drownings.

With nearly 200 posters submitted from the 18th Legislative District this year, Sloane’s artwork, depicting pool smart swimmers, was selected as the winning poster for the district. 

Pictured with Sloane, above, from left, principal of Goose Hill Primary School, Lynn Herschlein; PE teacher Rory Malone; first-grade teacher Michelle Riggles; dad David Yormack; mom Amy Yormack; and Leg. Spencer.

Shoreham-Wading River's 2019 commencement exercises. Photo by Bill Landon

We congratulate each and every one the 2019 high school graduates in our circulation area. These students were born 18 years ago, at a time when planes deliberately took down the World Trade Center in New York City and crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a hillside in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. At around the time these children turned 8 years old, the U.S. and world economy collapsed after the financial industry bundled and sold bad mortgage debt. Currently, the nation and countries of the world are coping with election systems troubled with interference from foreign adversaries, whose interests aim to make people question the efficacy of democracy as a form of governance.

As we look forward, and put the past behind us, let’s make sure we take time to remind these graduates of the greater good of humankind. We should also celebrate the good nature within themselves to reassure these young adults that the future is perpetually full of hope and opportunity.

Over the last several decades, despite the tragedies, we have also seen many remarkable achievements. A nation elected its first black president, and we’ve seen women march for their rights and run and be elected to public office at historic rates. Aside from politics, over the last 20 years, scientists have sequenced human DNA, which is helping to develop effective treatments for cancer and other potentially deadly diseases. We’ve also watched the world change as the home computer and telecommunication turned mobile. Consequently, it’s become easier than ever to stay in touch. With the touch of a finger, we can access and enjoy the music, stories and performances of a world full of talented artists, writers and filmmakers.

Adversity and tumultuous times somehow, thankfully, spark creativity and inspire people’s inner goodness. Think of the ’60s, and how that peace and love-conquers-all theme galvanized a culture. It’s an age-old message, really, of biblical proportion. High school graduates should know that as caring human beings they already hold the core qualities they need to thrive.

A sensory-friendly performance of 'Cinderella' will be held on July 7. Photo from Theatre Three

By Melissa Arnold

Jason Furnari was 11 years old when he appeared onstage for the first time as part of a school production. Acting immediately became his passion, and he was eager to be in as many shows as possible.

Jason Furnari

One day, Furnari’s school took a field trip to Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. His life would never be the same. “As soon as I saw the stage I knew I had to be up there,” recalled Furnari, now 34. He auditioned for his first Theatre Three show in 2002, and soon became one of the theater’s full-time actors, appearing in local shows and becoming a part of their professional touring troupe. His credits include “The Laramie Project,” “A Christmas Carol,” “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” and “Barnaby Saves Christmas,” to name a few.

In a gesture of gratitude to the theater, Furnari has announced that his Port Jefferson Station based real estate company, EXIT Realty Island Elite, will sponsor Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre and offer complimentary tickets to its sensory-friendly performances. 

“I love acting so much because you get to go onstage for a few hours and tell a story. If people are having a bad day, you can bring a smile to their face,” Furnari said. “Every day when we go onstage, we get to see how much the kids really enjoy live theater. They get a glimmer in their eye, and I wanted as many people as possible to experience that joy.” 

That desire to do good has run through the entirety of Furnari’s career journey. He studied nursing, worked in restaurants, and ultimately launched a successful real estate career, helping families find their dream homes. All the while, he continued to do occasional shows with Theatre Three, hoping for the day he could give back to them, too.

Furnari’s moment finally came during rehearsals for “Barnaby Saves Christmas” this past December. Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director of the theater, was preparing the cast for their upcoming sensory-friendly performance. 

Each Children’s Theatre production has one performance that is specifically tailored to those with sensory processing disorders or other special needs. The shows provide lower volume levels, remove sudden noises, leave the house lights on and are accepting of audience noise and movement. Sensory-friendly shows also offer complimentary social stories, booklets which explain the parts of the theater, its employees, what to expect at a show and more, all accompanied with helpful pictures.

“I was talking to them about the sensory-friendly shows, and I said that I would love for someone to come along and underwrite those performances, so we could just give the tickets away for free and we wouldn’t have to charge,” Sanzel recalled. “Jason pulled me aside and said, ‘I’ll do it.’ He committed in that moment and [the free tickets] began immediately with the next show. “I was stunned but not surprised because Jason is such a profoundly generous person. It was an amazing moment for us.”

In addition to underwriting the sensory-friendly shows, EXIT Realty Island Elite will be the official sponsor for Theatre Three’s children’s performances for the 2019-20 season. 

Jason Furnari, center, in a scene from last year’s ‘Barnaby Saves Christmas’

Vivian Koutrakos, managing director at Theatre Three, noted that, while the theater is a not-for-profit, they still have expenses and need support. “At the theater, we want to treat everyone equally and provide an experience that anyone can enjoy, regardless of their needs,” Koutrakos said. “I’ve known Jason for a long time, and he’s done so well for himself. He always wanted to give back to the theater and make sure it was cared for, even when he didn’t have the means to do so himself.”

Sensory-friendly performances at Theatre Three began in 2016 when the parent of an actor with special needs encouraged Sanzel to pursue it. Since then, he said the feedback from audiences has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The families and organizations that come to the sensory-friendly shows are so appreciative and grateful,” Sanzel said. “And now that we’ve eliminated the costs, it’s an opportunity they’ll always be able to enjoy.”

Theatre Three is located at 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. Upcoming sensory-friendly children’s performances include “Cinderella” on July 7; “A Kooky Spooky Halloween” on Oct. 6; “Barnably Saves Christmas” on Nov. 24; “Little Red Riding Hood” on Jan. 19, 2020; “Hansel and Gretel” on March 8, 2020; “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” on April 19, 2020; and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” on May 31, 2020. All shows begin at 11 a.m. and tickets are free. 

For more information or to make a reservation, please call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photo courtesy of Suffolk Federal

Suffolk Federal presented a total of $30,000 in college scholarships ($5,000 each) to six local high school seniors who will be attending Suffolk County Community College on June 6.

“Supporting our younger generation to become productive community members by providing financial assistance as they undertake their college experience is an important focus for Suffolk Federal,” said Ralph D. Spencer Jr., president & CEO of Suffolk Federal. 

“We are happy to know that the scholarships awarded will help to alleviate some of the student’s financial burden, so they can focus on their future educational and career goals.”

From the $30,000, four of the scholarship award recipients received $5,000 each as part of the Suffolk Federal Scholarship.  In addition, one student, Amber Leon, received an additional $5,000 scholarship provided by the LT Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation, which was matched by Suffolk Federal for a total of $10,000. 

Also, William Clifford received $5,000 as part of the Michael E. Reilly Foundation Memorial Scholarship for Excellence in Fire Science and Emergency Medical Technology, which is awarded to a student enrolled in a Fire Protection Technology program at Suffolk County Community College.

Recipients were judged based upon their academic achievements, extracurricular and community activities as well as the quality of written essays.

Scholarship recipients, pictured in the front row from left include Gabrielle Cerney of Manorville, Nicole Migliano of Selden, Amber Leon of Ridge, William Clifford of Ronkonkoma, Jaime Cusmano of Centereach and Samantha Varone of Centereach. 

This year’s scholarships are being provided as a result of a new partnership between Suffolk Federal and the Suffolk County Community College Foundation.

TBR CONTEST HONORS LOCAL FATHERS:

Thanks to all the children who entered Times Beacon Record News Media’s 2019 Father’s Day Contest. Congratulations to Sabine H. of East Setauket and Hannah U. of Stony Brook for being this year’s winners and receiving a family four-pack of movie tickets to the Port Jefferson Cinemas. Special thanks to P.J. Cinemas  for being this year’s sponsor and for their generous donation.

Hannah U., age 5, of Stony Brook with her Super Dad, Joe

‘All About My Super Dad’

By Hannah U.

My dad’s name is Daddy.

His favorite color is indigo.

His favorite food is sushi.

His favorite activity is Codapillar.

He is my hero because he loves me.

My favorite thing to do with him is to go to Fortunato’s Bakery.

 

Sabine H., age 8, of East Setauket with her Super Dad, Reid

‘All About My Super Dad’

By Sabine H.

My dad’s name is Reid but I call him Da.

His favorite color is blue.

His favorite food is pie, ice cream and chicken parm.

His favorite activity is making things with me.

He is my hero because he takes me to carnivals.

My favorite thing to do with him is to play baseball with him!