Kids

Viviane Kim, winner of the 2018 Stony Brook Young Artists Program Concerto Competition, will be this year’s special guest artist. Photo by Erica Murase

By Melissa Arnold

Classical music has a long-held reputation for being upscale — there’s something about it that feels refined, polished and graceful. The Department of Music at Stony Brook University is passionate about demystifying the genre, making the works of Mozart, Brahms and others enjoyable for everyone.

Each year, the Stony Brook University Orchestra invites the community to join them for their Family Orchestra Concert, an hour-long performance meant for all ages, including young children. This year’s concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5 at the Staller Center for the Arts’ Main Stage.

Viviane Kim, winner of the 2018 Stony Brook Young Artists Program Concerto Competition, will be this year’s special guest artist. Photo by Erica Murase

“[This event] used to be called the children’s concert, but we didn’t want to give the impression that it’s just for children — the whole family comes along, and there’s something for everyone to enjoy,” said conductor Susan Deaver, who’s led the orchestra since 2000.

The ensemble is comprised of over 70 Stony Brook students, both undergraduate and graduate, as well as a handful of area high schoolers. Many of the students aren’t music majors and come from a variety of disciplines. In fact, the majority are studying biomedical engineering.

“So many of these students have been in music all their lives and don’t want to let it go,” Deaver said. “We have a lot of great players, and it’s a real blend of disciplines, the common denominator being a love of playing orchestral music.”

 This year’s concert theme will highlight dance in orchestral music, with each piece either having “dance” in its title or creating a sense of dance and movement. The repertoire features recognizable pieces including selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Bach’s Minuet in G, along with some that might be unfamiliar, like Strauss’ Thunder and Lightning Polka. 

The program will also feature works by Brahms, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and Borodin. Dancers under the direction of SBU’s faculty member Amy Yoop Sullivan will collaboarte with the orchestra.

A highlight of each year’s concert is a solo performance from a grade school musician in Stony Brook’s Young Artist program. Open to grades 6 through 12, the program allows young musicians to enhance their musicianship and ensemble performance skills. Students are encouraged to enter an annual concerto contest, where a panel of impartial judges chooses a student to play at the concert.

This year’s contest winner, 12-year-old pianist Viviane Kim, will play Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D Major.

“I wasn’t really nervous because I’d practiced a lot. I played the song for my family, my friends, and anyone else who came to our house,” said Viviane, a seventh-grader at Port Jefferson Middle School. “It also helped that only three people were listening,” she joked.

Viviane, who also plays the flute, comes from a musical family — her father, Alan Kim, plays piano as well, and her grandmother is a violinist. “I played piano all the time when Viviane was a baby, and she took a natural interest in it. She started playing around the same time she started reading,” her father said. 

Michael Hershkowitz, executive director of Community Music Programs for the university, sees the annual concert as a chance to expose the audience to something new and wonderful.

“It’s important for classical musicians to be as accessible as possible and to break down barriers for people wanting to try it. A lot of people have an impression that classical music is just old and stuffy,” Hershkowitz said. “I think that dance is one of my favorite themes we’ve done — so much of music is tied to motion and bringing people together. And once you see a classical concert, you want to do it more.”

All seats for the Family Orchestra Concert are $5. For tickets and information, call 631-632-2787 or visit www.stallercenter.com.

For more information about the University Orchestra, contact the Stony Brook Department of Music at 631-632-7330 or visit www.stonybrook.edu/music.

‘Lonely,’ watercolor, by Mengqui Shen, 11th-grader, The Knox School in St. James
‘Brianna,’ acrylic on canvas, by Jemma Guevrekian, 10th grade, Kings Park High School

It’s back! The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook will present its annual student art exhibition, Colors of Long Island: Student Expressions, sponsored by Sterling National Bank, in the Visitors Center through April 7. This annual exhibit affords an opportunity for hundreds of students from across Long Island to display their artwork in a museum setting.

Art teachers from grades K through 12 were asked to submit up to three pieces, either created individually or by groups. 

Traditionally, the theme, Colors of Long Island, allows for many creative interpretations. 

While some students refer to Long Island’s landscapes, others prefer to focus on the cultural diversity that makes Long Island so colorful. The varying interpretations of this theme are portrayed through all types of media, including watercolors, sculptures, quilts, drawings, oil pastels, photographs and computer graphics.

This year’s exhibit includes 240 works of art from students from 127 public and private schools. 

The museum will recognize the achievements of these talented students at two receptions scheduled for March 3 and March 24 from noon to 4 p.m. Parents, teachers, students and the general public are invited to attend. 

The Long Island Museum is located at 1200 Route 25A in Stony Brook. Hours are Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For additional information call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

Images courtesy of the Long Island Museum

A scene from Theatre Three’s ‘From the Fires’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Sabrina Petroski

“Just another body for the ovens.” Haunting, isn’t it? This sentence comes from Theatre Three’s educational touring show “From the Fires: Voices of the Holocaust.” This play, the story of two young Jewish girls living through the reign of Hitler and the persecution of the Jewish people, has been presented in schools and community centers across the tristate area, going as far south as Washington and Virginia, and as far north as Richmond Hill, outside of Toronto, Canada. 

“From the Fires” was written by Jeffrey Sanzel, the executive artistic director of Theatre Three in Port Jefferson and has been touring since 1996. According to Sanzel, he has always been passionate about the Holocaust and making sure the atrocious events of the past never disappear.

The cast

Nicole Bianco

Marci Bing

Michelle LaBozzetta

Douglas J. Quattrock

Jeffrey Sanzel

Steven Uihlein

Theatre Three was looking for a new show for its educational program, Sanzel began searching for a show within the topic of the Holocaust, but none of them seemed right. Eventually, he decided to write one, immersing himself in research, finding survivors to interview and spending three days at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. After five months of writing, the cast, including Sanzel, went into rehearsal with an unfinished script, which was edited and rewritten over the six weeks of rehearsal.

“‘From the Fires’ has had an amazing response,” said Sanzel in a recent interview. “If it hadn’t we wouldn’t still be touring it this many years later! There has been an incredibly positive reaction.” 

According to Sanzel, there are many schools, synagogues, churches and community centers all over Long Island that book the show every year or every other year. Michael Serif, a history teacher at Friends Academy in Locust Valley, first experienced “From the Fires” at Seaford High School in 2001. Since then, Serif has requested to bring the 40-minute play to every school he has worked in, including Locust Valley High School and Friends Academy. The theatrical piece is performed for grades 6 to 12.

“I’ve seen the play probably close to a dozen times in several different schools, and every time when the show is complete you can hear a pin drop in the audience,” said Serif in a phone interview. “The kids are so very deeply affected by the play.”

“From the Fires” depicts the Holocaust through the eyes of Rachel and Evy, two young girls from Berlin who grew up watching the world turn from a peaceful place to a place where people are ripped from their homes and murdered because of their religion. 

John S. D’Aquila served as a medic in the 11th Armored Division during World War II, under Gen. Patton and was a witness to the horrors of the death camp at Mauthausen as a member of the liberating force. File photo

It begins with the liberation of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in 1945 by a young soldier, then flashes back to 1937 where the audience sees Rachel, Rachel’s father and Evy go through all the changes in the laws and their lives; Rachel’s father losing his business, Rachel and her father going into hiding; Rachel, Evy and Rachel’s father being deported; Rachel’s father being killed in a gas chamber; and Rachel carrying Evy through the hardships they experience at the concentration camp. Sanzel says that having the story told by two young girls resonates more with younger viewers.

“One comment that a teacher made to their students was that part of the play’s power was that it reminds you that the people who went through this were just like you,” said Sanzel. 

“The kids in the audience can see themselves in Rachel and Evy. Any survivors they would have met would be in their eighties and nineties, and they don’t think of them as themselves. ‘From the Fires’ puts it in perspective; it follows two kids who could be any two kids, and it gives it that universal connection.” 

The play has a small cast, with each actor portraying up to half a dozen roles throughout the show, and keeps to a minimalistic set. A very important part of the show, according to Sanzel, is how the gradual change in the laws is shown. 

“From the Fires” is meant for young audiences so there is no graphic content shown on stage. “You get to see their day-to-day lives, the change in the laws, and then of course the concentration camp,” said Sanzel. “It’s all an emotional appeal. There’s nothing graphic in the play so it’s angled to be watched from that standpoint. On stage you can’t really re-create the horrors of the Holocaust, so we emphasize the personal — the personal losses, the personal survival.”

‘Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and that’s why it’s so important to keep teaching it. ‘

­— Jeffrey Sanzel

“From the Fires” is a work of historical fiction, one character is based on a real person. In May of 1945, Army medic John D’Aquila aided in the liberation of the Nazi death camp in Mauthausen, Austria. D’Aquila, a Theatre Three board member at the time the play was being created, was the inspiration for the American soldier who provides the framing device. While Sanzel was researching and writing the play, D’Aquila shared his personal experience, voicing things he had never said before.

“It was the first time he had ever spoken about his experience of liberating the camp because they were told when they went home not to talk about it, just to go back to their lives” said Sanzel. “He became the basis for the American soldier that opens and closes the show, and over the years [D’Aquila] would come to many of the road performances and in-house shows to speak. It became a passion for him to be connected to this because it was cathartic.” A resident of Belle Terre, D’Aquila passed away in 2014 at the age of 91.

After every performance the cast holds a Q&A, where the audience can ask questions about the performance, about the cast or about the Holocaust in general. Sanzel said that the questions he hears the most are, “Are you Jewish?” and “Did this actually happen?” 

“From the Fires” opens doors to educating younger generations that reading from a textbook doesn’t. According to Serif, many of the history and English teachers within Friends Academy take the play and use it as a teaching opportunity, talking about it in class for days after and even referring back to it throughout the rest of the year. 

“The children often ask complicated questions, so we give them our best answer and then encourage them to go back to their classes and talk about it in more detail,” explained Sanzel. 

According to Sanzel, there are two main reasons he does the show. The first is to keep this event in history alive, so after those that experienced it firsthand are gone the stories don’t disappear with them. The second is to teach kids that they can stop things like the Holocaust from happening again. It all boils down to bullying, seeing someone being harassed and choosing to say something instead of sitting idly by while it happens, or even joining in. The Holocaust was made up of people joining in or ignoring the bad things because it didn’t personally affect them.  

“There’s a danger in people thinking of history as ‘back then,’ that’s how we begin to let go of things and we can’t,” said Sanzel. “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and that’s why it’s so important to keep teaching it.”

For more information or to book a performance, contact Theatre Three’s touring coordinator Marci Bing at 631-928-9202 or Marci@theatrethree.com.

Third-place winners from Commack High School from left, Luke Maciejewski, Nathan Cheung, Riley Bode, Louis Vigliette and Kevin Chen. Photo from BNL
Commack and Walt Whitman high schools take home honors
Fourth-place winners from Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station, from left, Rena Shapiro, Eliot Yoon, Matthew Kerner and Aiden Luebker. Photo from BNL

Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton held its annual Long Island Regional High School Science Bowl on Jan. 26. Out of 20 teams from across Long Island, Levittown’s Island Trees High School took the top spot and was awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to the National Finals in Washington, D.C., scheduled for Apr. 25 to 29. 

Old Westbury’s Wheatley School took home second place; Commack High School placed third; and Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station placed fourth.

The event was just one of the nation’s regional competitions of the 29th Annual DOE National Science Bowl (NSB). 

A series of 111 regional high school and middle school tournaments are held across the country from January through March. Teams from diverse backgrounds are each made up of four students, one alternate, and a teacher who serves as an adviser and coach. These teams face off in a fast-paced question-and-answer format where they are tested on a range of science disciplines including biology, chemistry, Earth science, physics, energy and math. The NSB draws more than 14,000 middle- and high-school competitors.

“The National Science Bowl has grown into one of the most prestigious and competitive science academic competitions in the country, challenging students to excel in the STEM fields so vital to America’s future,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “I am proud to oversee a Department that provides such a unique and empowering opportunity for our nation’s students, and I am honored to congratulate Island Trees High School for advancing to the National Finals, where they will be competing against some of the brightest science, technology and engineering students across the country.”

The top 16 high school teams and the top 16 middle school teams in the National Finals will win $1,000 for their schools’ science departments. Prizes for the top two high school teams for the 2019 NSB will be announced on a later date.

In the competition at Brookhaven Lab, participating students received a Science Bowl T-shirt and winning teams also received trophies, medals and cash awards. Prizes were courtesy of BNL’s event sponsor, Brookhaven Science Associates, the company that manages and operates the lab for DOE.

For more information, visit www.science.energy.gov

By Heidi Sutton

The Town of Brookhaven held its annual Groundhog Day celebration at the Holtsville Ecology Site and Animal Preserve on Saturday, Feb. 2. Many families with young children braved the frigid weather to hear a very important prediction from Suffolk County’s most famous weatherman, Holtsville Hal, and the little guy did not disappoint.

At 7:25 a.m., before a crowd of several hundred spectators, the groundhog awoke from his slumber and did not see his shadow, joining Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil, Malverne Mel, Staten Island Chuck and Dunkirk Dave in predicting that spring weather is right around the corner.

Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), who was joined by Councilman Neil Foley (R-Blue Point), served as honorary Mayor of the Day and read Hal’s prognostication:

“Upon waking up this morning from my long winter’s nap, I heard Honey Bear yawning after this unusual cold snap, Lucy the Buffalo was up, Victoria the eagle too, wondering what everyone is planning to do. I exited my burrow and took a step out, realizing that my prognostication is what this is all about. Hundreds have gathered waiting to hear, will it be an early spring or more snow this year. I know you’re all anxious to hear what I have to say, I won’t keep you waiting at 7:25 on this cold blustery day. When I came out of my burrow and put my paws on the floor, I did not see the shadow I was looking for. According to folklore, go home and ready your lawn, spring is coming and the winter is more than half gone.”

Superintendent of Highways Daniel Losquadro (R), who was not able to attend the event this year, issued a statement on Monday.  “I’m sure we are all looking forward to an early spring and keeping our fingers crossed that our resident weatherman maintains his accuracy,” he said. “Regardless, the Brookhaven Highway Department remains ready to handle whatever Mother Nature decides to send our way.”

After the event, festivalgoers were treated to bagels and hot chocolate and were able to visit the 100 animals that call the Ecology Site home including deer, horses, goats, llamas, hawks and its newest addition, a pine martin. The center, which is open all year round, also includes jogging and exercise trails.

Greg Drossel, who has been Holtsville Hal’s handler for 22 years, said, “I remember when this ecology site was started by Harold Malkmes [Brookhaven’s longtime superintendent], 25, 30 years ago with a pair of buffalo and a pair of bald eagles and now it’s a gem in the Town of Brookhaven and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Located at 249 Buckley Road, Holtsville, the Ecology Site will next host the 2019 Home & Garden Show on March 23, 24, 30 and 31 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 631-758-9664.

A drawing from Torrey’s book, ‘My Dog, Bob’

By Melissa Arnold

For most of his childhood, Richard Torrey dreamed of becoming the world’s first pro hockey player/cartoonist. His father, Bill Torrey, brought home multiple Stanley Cups as a general manager in the National Hockey League. Following in his father’s footsteps was practically his destiny. But young Rich found that his passions were leading elsewhere.

Torrey has spent more than 30 years engaging readers, first as a comic strip creator and later as the author and illustrator of more than 15 children’s books. In February, the North Shore Public Library in Shoreham will showcase his childlike imagination with an exhibit titled, Richard Torrey: The Creative Process.

The cover of Torrey’s ‘Almost’ book

Born in Los Angeles, Torrey grew up all over the U.S. and Canada, spending long summers in a Canadian cabin without TV or other technological distractions.

“I was always drawing,” recalls Torrey, 59, who now resides in Shoreham. “My mind would wander, and I was always coming up with new ideas. I used to cut out the Sunday comics and try to figure out how to draw the characters.”

As luck should have it, Torrey had a chance opportunity to meet beloved Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz thanks to his father’s career in hockey. Schultz was a diehard fan and season ticketholder for the now-defunct Oakland Seals, where the elder Torrey was general manager in 1970. Rich approached Schulz during a hockey game, eager to present him with a drawing of a horse he’d done recently.

“He wrote feedback on the back of my drawing, and was so kind,” Torrey recalled. “That moment hooked me.”

Still, he found art classes in school terribly boring and too structured, and while he first majored in pre-med at Allegheny College, he knew immediately it wouldn’t work. He got a degree is psychology mostly out of obligation and spent the next several years working with his father, directionless.

But there was plenty of downtime on the job, and Torrey always found himself drawing. Despite self-doubt, his big break finally came in 1984 when his first comic strip, “Heartland,” was picked up for syndication in 180 newspapers.

Torrey would go on to create a successful sports-themed strip called “Pete and Clete,” but as the newspaper industry began to change, he wondered what else he might do for work. 

“Ally-saurus & the First Day of School”

“I looked for avenues that would be a good fit for my style of illustration, and children’s books seemed like the answer,” he said. While Torrey first took jobs illustrating for others, he continued to fill notebooks and reams of cheap paper with drawings, bits of text and storylines of his own. He knew he had to try writing his own books.

“Nine times out of ten it’s going to be a horrible idea, but if you generate enough of them, something is bound to be good,” Torrey said. “All kinds of things inspire me — it might be something on the radio or something my kids did growing up, or just lines that pop into my head.”

Today, Torrey considers himself an artist that writes. His award-winning stories, including “Ally-saurus & the First Day of School” (Sterling), “My Dog, Bob” (Holiday House) and the series “Why,” “Almost” and “Because” (HarperCollins), are drawn or painted almost entirely by hand in a variety of mediums.

Lorena Doherty, adult program coordinator and art coordinator of the North Shore Public Library, said that Torrey is a regular library user and has occasionally read his books to children during special programs there. He is also a well-known speaker at area schools and an instructor at the Art League of Long Island. “Illustrators are genuine artists, and we love to feature local members of our community,” Doherty said. “He uses quick, simple pencil lines in his drawings, and there’s a storyboard quality about them. He’s very playful. This exhibit is different in a fresh way, and I believe it has a wide appeal.”

The exhibit will feature approximately 25 illustrations from Torrey’s career in varied stages of completion, along with text from Torrey explaining his inspirations and work process.

“I think people will enjoy getting a peek into the way I operate when I’m doing a book,” Torrey said. “I talk to kids often, and I tell them that none of it is magic. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of mistakes. There is no single route for creativity. I want people to see the bumps and bruises [in my work]. The path to success isn’t a straight line, it’s more like a ball of yarn.”

See Richard Torrey: The Creative Process from Feb. 1 through 27 at the North Shore Public Library, 250 Route 25A, Shoreham. Torrey will also speak at the library’s Art Forum meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. For more information, please call 631-929-4488.

By Heidi Sutton

Theodor Seuss Geisel often said, “You have ‘em; I’ll amuse ‘em.” And for over 80 years the man who never had children of his own has been entertaining millions of boys and girls with his whimsical books filled with vivid illustrations and iconic characters like the Cat in the Hat and the Grinch.

‘The cast of ‘Seussical The Musical’ after last Saturday’s performance.

Now the genius that is Dr. Seuss is celebrated on the John W. Engeman’s stage in “Seussical The Musical.” With book, music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Michael Flaherty, the show incorporates the stories from “Horton Hears a Who,” “Horton Hatches the Egg,” “If I Ran the Circus,” “Miss Gertrude McFuzz” and others into a fun, whimsical and colorful adventure the entire family will enjoy. The musical runs through March 3.

Let me just say that this show is so incredible I had to look around the theater several times to make sure I wasn’t watching it on Broadway. Directed and choreographed by Marquez Stewart, a cast of seasoned actors guide the audience in perfect rhyme on a high-energy musical journey from the Jungle of Nool to the Circus McGurkus to the invisible world of the Whos.

The Cat in the Hat (Jae Hughes), who  serves as narrator, introduces us to Horton the Elephant (Evan Schultz) who finds a speck of dust on a clover flower containing the town of Whoville. While he’s busy trying to help the littlest Who, Jojo (Makayla Connolly), the loyal pachyderm is tricked into sitting on Mayzie La Bird’s (Marielle Greguski) egg, is captured by hunters and sold to the circus. When he is finally rescued by Gertrude the girl-bird (Emily Brennan), he is put on trial by Sour Kangaroo (Suzanne Mason) for “sitting on an egg and talking to a speck.” Will he ever catch a break?

Stewart knows her target audience well and keeps them on the edge of their seats. The dance numbers are exciting with special props; actors walk, run and dance through the theater; and audience participation is encouraged as Horton and Mayzie’s egg are auctioned off to the highest bidder.

All of the songs are wonderful, from the fun intro “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!” to the catchy “Horton Hears a Who” (where a person’s a person no matter how small),  the sweet “Notice Me Horton” and my favorite, “It’s Possible.” The finale “Green Eggs and Ham” ends the show on a high note. Costumes designed by Daniel Rodriguez and the cartoony sets look as if they’ve jumped right off the pages of “Horton Hears a Who.”

It has been said that Dr. Seuss’ books are special because they sing. “Seussical The Musical’s” current production at the Engeman brings that adage to the next level. Put this on your list of “not to be missed.”

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for pictures and autographs. An autograph page is located toward the back of the program.

Check out this video from the show! 

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Seussical The Musical” through March 3.  Children’s Theater continues with “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” from March 23 to April 28. All seats are $15. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Photos courtesy of the Engeman Theater

 

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.

By Heidi Sutton

“Do you trust me?” It is a question Aladdin asks Jasmine several times during the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts’ current production of Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” but one that I ask you now. If you do, then grab your children and run, don’t walk, to see this show. They (and you) will love every minute of it.

Based on the popular Disney animated film with music by Alan Menken and book by Chad Beguelin, the show whisks audiences away to the fabled city of Agrabah where the evil Jafar (Alex Mahr), advisor to the Sultan (Logan O’Leary), and his parrot Iago (Max Lamberg), seek to retrieve a magic lamp hidden in the Cave of Wonders. They enlist the help of a street rat named Aladdin (Cole Napolitano), a “diamond in the rough,” who becomes trapped in the cave. When he finds the lamp and polishes it, a magical genie (Ryan Romanelli) appears and grants him three wishes.

After tricking the genie in getting him out of his predicament, Aladdin uses his first wish to become a prince in order to woo the lovely Princess Jasmine (Priscilla Russo). When “Prince Ali” arrives at the palace, Jafar recognizes Aladdin and has him thrown in the dungeon. When his friends Babkak (Michael Puglisi), Omar (Jonathan Setzer) and Kassim (Matt Peluso) try to rescue him, they end up in the dungeon also. Aladdin uses his second wish to set them free. With only one wish left, Aladdin must choose between benefiting himself or doing what is morally right.

Expertly directed by Courtney Braun, the musical features a cast of 20 uber-talented actors ranging in age from 10 to 16 who all do a fantastic job.

From the very first scene when the genie appears on stage to introduce the other characters in “Arabian Nights,” the audience is mesmorized. 

The script is clever and funny and the musical numbers are delightful. Along with the familiar —“A Friend Like Me,” “Prince Ali,” “A Whole New World”— there are fresh new songs including “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim” and “These Palace Walls.”

The impressive set, designed by Tim Golebiewski, features panels on either side of the theater that rotate to reveal a marketplace, a cave full of jewels and a palace; and the Arabian costumes, designed by Chakira Doherty, are just beautiful. Images on the back wall of the stage constantly change to show different scenes of the city, and a video played during “A Whole New World” gives the illusion that the carpet is actually flying.

SPAC has gone all out with this production, a rarity with children’s theater, and has produced something magical. Don’t miss this one. Trust me.

Running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes with intermission and booster seats are available. Costumes are encouraged. Stay after the show for a meet and greet with Aladdin, Jasmine and Genie in the lobby.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” through Feb. 24. Children’s theater continues with “The Little Mermaid Jr.” from March 16 to April 28 and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” from July 13 to Aug. 18. All seats are $18. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Photos by Courtney Braun and Cassiel Fawcett

Lin-Manuel Miranda, center, takes on his first major film role in ‘Mary Poppins Returns.’ Photo by Jay Maidment/Disney

By Heidi Sutton

Fifty-four years after Disney’s beloved “Mary Poppins” magically dropped out of the sky and into our lives, its long-awaited sequel arrived at local theaters for the holidays.

Titled “Mary Poppins Returns,” the movie is based on the second book in the Mary Poppins series by author P. L. Travers — “Mary Poppins Comes Back.” Co-starring Emily Blunt (“Girl on the Train,” “A Quiet Place”) as Mary Poppins and Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) as Jack the lamplighter, it picks up the story 25 years later in 1935.

Recently widowed, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) still lives in London at 17 Cherry Tree Lane with his three children, Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson) and longtime housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters) while Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) lives in a flat across town. Set during the Great Slump, the family home is in danger of being repossessed unless a loan can be paid back in five days.

While Jane and Michael search frantically for their father’s bank shares, the children spend the day in the park and come home with — who else — Mary Poppins! “I was flying a kite and it got caught on a nanny!” exclaims Georgie. 

“I’ve come to look after the Banks children” says Mary. However, while Michael’s children go on all kinds of magical adventures, it is Michael and Jane who are ultimately watched over by their old friend.

Directed by Rob Marshall (“Chicago,” “Into the Woods”), with screenplay by David Magee (“Finding Neverland,” “Life of Pi”), the film features a fresh score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and new dance numbers, animation scenes and cameo appearances by Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, Karen Dotrice (the original Jane), Colin Firth and, at 91 years old, a tap-dancing Dick Van Dyke.

In the title role Blunt is practically perfect in the way she captures Mary Poppins’ mannerisms, and Lin-Manuel Miranda steals every scene in his first major film role. However, it is the many songs (over 25 in all), from the undersea adventure “Can You Imagine That?,” the emotional lullaby “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” the big dance number “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” (a companion piece to “Step in Time”), Miranda’s Hamilton-esque rap in “A Cover Is Not the Book” and the finale, “Nowhere to Go But Up” that are the heart of the film.

There are many wonderful aspects to this film — all of the actors are terrific; the singing, dancing and choreography are amazing; and the sets are impressive. That being said, I found it hard to fall in love with this film. Maybe because I kept comparing it to the original, but I found the plot to be thin and rushed somehow — as if it had run over the allotted time and then was edited too much. For a Disney film, it didn’t feel magical enough and failed to capture the charm of its predecessor.

Rated PG, “Mary Poppins Returns” is now playing in local theaters. Running time is 2 hours 10 minutes.

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