Theater

Steve McCoy as John Barrymore and Dylan Robert Poulos as Andrew in a scene from 'I Hate Hamlet'. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

Fresh on the heels of “A Christmas Carol,” Paul Rudnick’s delightful comedy “I Hate Hamlet” rings in the New Year at Theatre Three with a touch of Shakespeare, a friendly ghost and loads of laughs, all the while examining the age-old debate about the art of live theater versus the fame of television and film.

Directed by Mary Powers, the story centers around Andrew Rally (Dylan Robert Poulos), a successful television actor on the sitcom “L.A. Medical” and the star in a series of commercials peddling breakfast cereal. When the show is suddenly canceled, Andrew moves from California to New York City to try his hand at live theater and is offered the lead role in the Central Park stage production of the tragic masterpiece, “Hamlet: Prince of Denmark.”

Above, the cast of ‘I Hate Hamlet’. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

From all outward appearances, Andrew is living the good life: a beautiful girlfriend, the perfect apartment just off Washington Square and the chance to hone in on his craft by performing the works of the Bard. However, inside he is lacking confidence, his girlfriend of five months, 29-year-old Deirdre McDavey (Jessica Contino), is keeping a firm grip on her chastity leaving him frustrated, his new digs appears to be haunted and, for some reason, he just hates “Hamlet.”

When his agent Lillian Troy (Marci Bing) informs Andrew he is living in the same apartment once occupied by John Barrymore, whose portrayal of Hamlet led to him being called the “greatest living American tragedian,” Deirdre and real estate broker Felicia Dantine (Linda May) find the whole scenario too coincidental to pass up and the four conduct a séance to conjure up the dead actor. Shortly thereafter, Barrymore’s specter (Steve McCoy) appears in the apartment dressed as Hamlet and sets out to convince the insecure actor that he can and should take the part. Only visible to Andrew, producer Gary Peter Lefkowitz (Steve Ayle) and Lillian, Barrymore’s ghost cannot leave until opening night and utilizes his time teaching Andrew how to duel and to appreciate the poetry that is “Hamlet.”

When Gary offers Andrew a new role in a television pilot with the promise of millions of dollars and fame, the actor must decide between Shakespeare in the Park or commercial success. Which will he choose? That is the question.

Jessica Contino as Deidre and Steve McCoy as John Barrymore in a scene from ‘I Hate Hamlet’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Costumes are wonderful, especially the Shakespearian garb, and the set is most impressive indeed. In the first act, the two-level apartment, complete with fireplace, long staircase and balcony, is in disarray, with moving boxes scattered about, a rolled-up carpet and couches wrapped in plastic. As the lights go up in the second act, the apartment has been beautifully transformed to Barrymore’s heyday of the 1920s, bearing a remarkable resemblance to the interior of a Gothic castle.

With a stellar cast, top-notch performances and terrific script, “I Hate Hamlet” promises a lovely evening at the theater. Whether you are a fan of Shakespeare or it’s not your cup of tea, either way you’re in for a wonderful treat. Don’t miss this one.

Enjoy a drink at Griswold’s Café on the lower level of the theater and take a chance at 50/50 during intermission. Proceeds will help upgrade and maintain the historic building.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “I Hate Hamlet” through Feb. 3. Contains adult subject matter; parental discretion is advised. The Mainstage season continues with the musical comedy “Nunsense” from Feb. 24 to March 24 and the courtroom drama “12 Angry Men” from April 7 to May 5. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 students and seniors, $20 children ages 5 to 12. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Theatre Three will present a sensory-friendly performance of “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” on March 11.

By Jennifer Sloat

Sensory-friendly performances are now part of the marquee at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. The shows are modified to provide a more comfortable setting for children with special needs. The theater’s artistic director, Jeffrey Sanzel, said they have been providing sensory friendly shows since October 2016 and the feedback he is receiving has been very positive.

“A parent contacted us and asked us if we would consider doing it,” said Sanzel. “We want to be inclusive and so I started looking into it.”

A sensory-friendly performance of “Goldilocks — Is That You?” will take place on June 3.

Sanzel, who previously taught high school for two years, reached out to a former student who works with autistic children to get her feedback and assistance in making the modifications. He began the work in June 2016 and the first sensory sensitive show was performed in October of 2016.

Families who attend the show can expect house lights to remain up and special effects and sound levels to be lowered. The music is quieter and there are no strobe lights. Actors do not run through the aisles and instead do a slow motion chase. Kids can also move freely about the auditorium during the show, lowering stress levels for parents who are concerned about disturbing fellow audience members.

“Knowing that we would not be frowned upon in the event my son could not contain his excitement made it an enjoyable event for all of us,” said audience member Lisa Clark. “[My son] Christopher loved the show and did not want to leave. When a cast member realized we were having trouble getting him to the lobby to take pictures with the rest of the cast, she summoned the cast to gather around him. How awesome is that?”

A sensory-friendly performance of “Rapunzel: The Untold Story!” will be held on Jan. 21

A social story, provided on the theater’s website, is also used to lessen anxiety that kids may be feeling about attending the show. The online picture book can be reviewed by the children beforehand, providing a virtual walk through of attending a live show. It includes photos of the outside and inside of the theater, the box office and a picture of who will be giving them their tickets. Kids will see the path they will take to their seats, where they will sit and what the stage looks like. They will also see pictures of the actors in and out of their costume

“The thing that has been amazing is that ninety-nine percent of the kids have stayed the entire show; only twice did a child have to leave the show for a bit and come back up,” said Sanzel. All throughout the show the children are engaged, laughing and cheering. “We write our own shows and it is wonderful that they clearly are enjoying it.”

Perhaps most comforting of all is the opportunity for parents, caregivers and children to be in the company of others with whom they have something in common.“Families love it,” said Theatre Three company member Jessica Contino. “They are so thankful afterward. We stand in lobby for a meet and greet [after the show]. A young man in wheelchair stopped us last year said it was their second show. You just feel so good about it. It really hits home for some.”

Theatre Three is located at 412 Main Street in Port Jefferson. Sensory-friendly children shows are typically offered on the first Sunday of every month. Upcoming shows include “Rapunzel: The Untold Story!” on Jan. 21, “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” on March 11, “Stand Up! Stand Out! The Bullying Project” on April 29 and “Goldilocks — Is That You?” on June 3. All performances are at 11 a.m. All seats are $10. For further information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

 

Andrew Timmons and Austin Levine in a scene from 'Oliver!'

By Heidi Sutton

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts closes out its 15th season with a production of the award-winning musical “Oliver!” With book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, the show, based on Charles Dickens’ second novel, “Oliver Twist,” features some of the most unforgettable songs and vivid characters to ever hit the stage.

The story centers around a 9-year-old English orphan, Oliver, who has been raised in a workhouse. After disobeying the rules, the boy is sold into apprenticeship with an undertaker. Oliver escapes shortly after and travels to London, where he meets the Artful Dodger and becomes a member of a gang of pickpockets led by the criminal Fagin and aided by Nancy and the abusive villain Bill Sikes. Is Oliver destined for a life of crime or will his fortune change?

You can’t go wrong with a show like “Oliver!” during the holidays and the 40-plus cast at the SPAC, skillfully directed by Jordan Hue with musical direction by Melissa Coyle, presents a production that is fresh and exciting, serving up a fine afternoon at the theater.

While the entire cast does a tremendous job, especially the children, special mention must be made of Austin Levine who stars as Oliver, the young orphan with a pure heart. For the moment he speaks, “Please sir, I want some more,” Levine has the audience rooting for him to find a home and happiness.

Andrew Timmins nails it as the spirited Artful Dodger, top hat and all, and Brian Gill is quite terrifying as Bill Sikes. Ashley Nicastro is perfect in the role of his girlfriend Nancy, a victim of domestic abuse who ultimately meets a bitter end. Doug Vandewinckel reprises his role as Mr. Bumble, a role that fits him like a glove. Although her role is small, Taylor Duff as Bet stands out in the crowd, especially during “It’s a Fine Life.” Last, but certainly not least, Nick Masson plays Fagin with oily charm, performing “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” like an old pro from the days of vaudeville.

Of course, it is the wonderful melodies that are the heart of the show. From the hilarious numbers “I Shall Scream” and “That’s Your Funeral” to the poignant “As Long as He Needs Me,” “Where Is Love” and “Reviewing the Situation” to the big song and dance numbers we all know and love — “Food, Glorious Food,” “Consider Yourself,” “I’d Do Anything” and “Oom-Pah-Pah” — all are performed with boundless energy and beautifully choreographed by Jessica Gill.

Costumes by Ronald R. Green III are brilliant, from the drab brown outfits for the orphans, to the refined suits and dresses for the aristocrats to the seedy outfits of Fagin and his crew; and the set, designed by Timothy Golebiewski, beautifully showcases a cross section of Victorian society.

Exiting the SPAC last Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help but think how lucky we are to have so many wonderful community theaters on Long Island and how special live theater truly is. Consider yourself invited.

The Smithtown Center for the Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “Oliver!” through Jan. 21. Running time is 2½ hours with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $25 adults, $15 ages 12 and under. Please note: Show contains some violence and implied adult themes.

Season 16 opens with “Shakespeare in Love” from Feb. 3 to March 4, “Mamma Mia” from March 24 to April 29 and “Dreamgirls” from May 12 to June 17. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

All photos by Danielle Nigro

The cast of 'Barnaby Saves Christmas'

By Heidi Sutton

In 2003, Theatre Three’s Douglas Quattrock and Jeffrey Sanzel sat down and wrote an adorable musical for children titled “Barnaby Saves Christmas,” about a little elf named Barnaby and a tiny reindeer called Franklynne who teach us that “Christmas lies within our hearts.” I recently had the opportunity to ask the two playwrights a few questions about the show that has become a beloved holiday tradition for families on the North Shore.

Can you believe it’s been 14 years?

DQ: No I can’t … it feels like just yesterday. I couldn’t possibly be getting that old!

What inspired you to write a holiday show for children?

JS: Doug conceived and created “Barnaby.” I had very little to do with its initial creation. He brought me a rough draft and the incredible score the summer before we premiered it. I was immediately taken by his terrific songs and I loved the idea of a holiday show that touched on another culture. During the fall, he continued to write and rewrite the show and went into rehearsal with it. It opened to great response and we knew we had our annual show.

Over the next several years, Doug and I worked on the book together, trading ideas, trying new things. Doug continued to add to the score and we have revised the show every year. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the beautiful score and the show’s great big heart — Barnaby and Franklynne are truly amazing holiday figures with as much character as Rudolph or Santa.

DQ: I have 13 nieces and nephews and I used to babysit when they were young and they would ask me to tell them bedtime stories. I used to make up stories for them, and one holiday season I started to tell them about a little elf and his reindeer friend. I always tried to put messages in the stories such as believing in yourself, believing that you can do anything, getting over fears and things like that.

They would get a little piece of the story at a time. Then I started writing songs to go along with that particular story and play them for the kids. Theatre Three always does “A Christmas Carol,” and that is a little scary for the young ones, and I wanted to offer a holiday show for the children. When I spoke to Jeff about the idea, he loved it and encouraged me to give it a shot. I was much more confident writing songs, which in themselves are stories, but writing an actual play was another thing. “Barnaby” was the first play I ever wrote and without Jeff’s extraordinary talent and guidance I don’t think I could have ever done it. His knowledge of theater and storytelling is second to none.

‘Barnaby’ is considered a Christmas story yet Hanukkah is very much a part of it. Why was it important to you to include the Festival of Lights in this story?

DQ: As people, I have always believed that we can all learn something from each other. Whatever your faith or beliefs, we are all here in this life together. We should respect and be open to others ways of living. The Festival of Lights celebrates a miracle and is a story of perseverance … not giving up. Barnaby and Franklynne are faced with a struggle at that point in the plot, and it struck me as the perfect opportunity to share that beautiful story. That’s where the song “Miracles” comes in.

JS: The fact that children get a small education on Hanukkah is an additional gift. We’ve had so many people thank us for adding that and finding the connection in the overall holiday spirit.

How does it make you feel when you hear the children laughing and see them enjoy the show?

DQ: It’s beyond gratifying and a little surreal. I love when the kids laugh and sing the songs on their way out of the theater.

What message did you hope to convey when you wrote this show?

DQ: The message of the story is really in some of the lyrics of the songs. “… Every day’s a golden opportunity to be better than you used to be…” “There are so many miracles that happen everyday” and lastly. “… Christmas lies within our hearts, The toys we give are just a sign of all the love we feel inside, and there’s enough to share for you and me.”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Barnaby Saves Christmas” on Dec. 23, 24, 28, 29 and 30 at 11 a.m. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Heidi Sutton

The holiday season is finally here and nowhere on the North Shore is that more evident than Port Jefferson. This weekend the quaint village will magically transform into the Dickensian era as it hosts the 22nd annual Charles Dickens Festival.

Among the many festivities will be Theatre Three’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol,” which was the inspiration for the first Dickens Festival, and the original children’s musical “Barnaby Saves Christmas.”

The latter is celebrating its 14th anniversary this year, a testament to the caliber of its script by Douglas Quattrock and Jeffrey Sanzel and its music and lyrics by Quattrock. This wonderful show, which features several appearances by Santa himself, has become an annual tradition for many.

It’s Christmas Eve and Santa, his elves and reindeer have just left the North Pole to deliver presents to all the children. Realizing Santa has left behind one of the presents, “a little stuffed bear with dark blue pants, buckles on his shoes and a bright yellow vest,” the littlest elf Barnaby convinces the tiniest reindeer, Franklynne, to set off on an adventure “to save Christmas.” Along the way they meet a Jewish family and learn all about Hanukkah and bump into an evil villain named S. B. Dombulbury who, with his partner in crime Irmagarde, stuff chimneys with coal in order to steal all the presents.

Eric Hughes reprises his role as Barnaby, the little elf who just wants to fit in, and Sari Feldman returns as Franklynne, the flying reindeer who is afraid to fly, especially the landing part. The scene where Barnaby helps Franklynne perfect her landing is a personal favorite. The pair have the audience rooting for them to succeed from the very beginning.

Steven Uihlein is back as S.B. (Spoiled Brat) Dombulbury, channeling a bit of Dr. Evil with his muhaha laugh. Uihlein is terrific as he goes around hypnotizing everyone so they will do his bidding. His unwitting partner in crime, Irmagarde, is played to perfection by Dana Bush. The only original cast member in the show, Bush is an audience favorite. Andrew Lenahan and Phyllis March are wonderul in the roles of Santa and Mrs. Claus and double as the Jewish aunt and nephew characters, Sarah and Andrew. Dylan Robert Poulos tackles the role of Sam, the head elf who is desperately trying to stay on schedule and keep track of elves Blizzard (Meg Bush) and Crystal (Jessica Contino). Their interactions are the funniest moments in the show and draw much laughter from the children in the audience.

Choreography by Sari Feldman is classic and fun, while the costumes, from the pointy elf shoes to Santa’s red velvet suit, are top notch. The entire score, accompanied on piano by Quattrock, is incredibly endearing and you’ll be humming the tunes for days to come. Go see “Barnaby Saves Christmas” and experience an afternoon of pure holiday joy.

Souvenir elf and reindeer dolls will be available for purchase during intermission. Stay after the show for a photo with Santa Claus on stage if you wish — the $5 fee goes to support the theater’s scholarship fund — and meet the rest of the cast in the lobby.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “Barnaby Saves Christmas” through Dec. 30. All shows begin at 11 a.m. Booster seats are available. Running time is approximately one hour and 15 minutes with one intermission. Recommended for ages 3 and up. Up next is a production of “Rapunzel: The Untold Story!” from Jan. 20 to Feb. 24 and “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit from March 10 to April 14. Tickets are $10 per person. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Michael Tessler

Theatre Three delivers perhaps one of my most favorite holiday traditions: a classic retelling of Charles Dickens’ most beloved work, “A Christmas Carol,” right in the heart of downtown Port Jefferson. This stage adaptation is so beautifully conceived and has been so well refined over the years that it’d appear Dickens’ 174-year-old novel jumps quite literally from the pages onto the stage in a fashion that can be best described as magical.

This particular production, which is celebrating its 34th year, is nothing short of miraculous, not just for its stunning set design, incredible wardrobe and perfectly planned lighting and sound … but also for the fact that somehow each and every year the show (while familiar) feels brand new.

Jeffrey Sanzel, the show’s director and the actor behind the famous literary curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge, shuffles the cast, set and various elements of the show, refining it and bringing new life to it each and every season. In the long and impressive shelf life of “A Christmas Carol” there has never, in my opinion, been a better Scrooge than Jeffrey Sanzel. No actor has ever lived and breathed that character for so long and with such passion as Sanzel. Watching his character’s transformation unfold on stage is pure delight.

This year’s show beams with talent. One can’t help but admire the incredible skill of the show’s youngest cast members who perform alongside their adult counterparts as equals both in professionalism and talent. Not for a moment does any actor’s performance take you out of this whimsical Dickensian world Sanzel creates.

Steve Wangner shines as Bob Cratchit, bringing to life all the warmth and love of Scrooge’s least favorite employee. Wangner had big shoes to fill, replacing Douglas Quattrock who has long held the role. No doubt Quattrock should be proud of his successor who masterfully carried Tiny Tim (portrayed jointly by Ryan Becker and Cameron Turner) upon his shoulders. His family dynamic especially with his wife (Suzie Dunn) and children is wonderfully endearing.

My personal favorite of the ensemble cast is Mr. Fezziwig portrayed by the cheerful George Liberman. Though I’ve got the bias of loving his character, this actor’s presence puts an instant smile on your face and reminds you of the wholesome fun of Christmas time. His partner in crime, Mrs. Fezziwig, is portrayed by the wonderful Ginger Dalton who also excels as Mrs. Dilber … the cockney maid of Scrooge whose comedic ability is unparalleled in the two-act show.

Megan Bush brings to life Belle, the first and only love of Scrooge and daughter of Fezziwig. Though her character’s time on stage is brief, she so perfectly captures the innocence of a first love and shows us a side of Scrooge we often forget. Steve McCoy, the wildly talented Theatre Three veteran, brings to life (and death) Scrooge’s late business partner Jacob Marley. His performance is haunting in the best kind of way. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the kind and loving Fan performed both by Heather Kuhn and Sophia Knapp. Her special relationship with young Scrooge (Kiernan Urso and Alexander Yagud-Wolek) encapsulates the special bond reserved just for siblings.

This year the three spirits have outdone themselves — beginning with the stunningly talented Jessica Contino whose Ghost of Christmas Past comes to life in almost angelic form. She is followed by the hysterical and larger-than-life Antoine Jones as the Ghost of Christmas Present, whose epic bellowing laughter echoes through the historic Athena Hall. Last, but certainly not least is the incredible puppetry of Dylan Robert Poulos as the Ghost of Christmas Future who also shows off his talent as an actor in the role of Scrooge’s orphaned nephew Fred Halliwell.

Randall Parsons and Bonnie Vidal bring 19th-century England to Port Jefferson with stunning production design and impeccable costuming. Robert W. Henderson Jr. transports you to the past, present and future with some mesmerizing lighting. This year’s production also welcomed newcomer Melissa Troxler as stage manager who ran the set flawlessly from an audience perspective. Brad Frey provides some wonderful musical direction in addition to the late Ellen Michelmore, whose lasting legacy at Theatre Three can be heard with the beautiful musical conception and sound effects that remain a centerpiece of this production.

Leaving the theater I found my heart filled with a joy and merriment only felt in those special moments when you’re surrounded by family and huddled around a great big Christmas tree. For that wonderful moment, I felt the spirit of Christmas itself … and what a wonderful gift it was to receive from the cast and crew of Theatre Three’s “A Christmas Carol.”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “A Christmas Carol” now through Dec. 30. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students and $20 children ages 5 to 12. (Children under 5 are not permitted.) To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

 

All photos by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Rita J. Egan

That jolly, happy soul has returned to Northport. The family musical “Frosty” opened Nov. 18 at the John W. Engeman Theater and families filled the theater eager for the annual holiday treat.

The cast of ‘Frosty’ after last Saturday morning’s performance. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Directed by Richard T. Dolce, the production is a delightful twist on the story “Frosty the Snowman.” On the Northport stage, the snowman comes to life with the help of a scarf that is magical due to love instead of a magician’s hat and quickly becomes best friends with a little girl named Jenny.

When Jenny’s mother, who is also the mayor of Chillsville, is tricked into signing a contract with the evil Ethel Pierpot to build a machine to get rid of all the snow in Chillsville, Jenny must find a way to keep Frosty from melting.

Kevin Burns as the narrator opens the show, and it’s clear from the beginning that the audience will be part of the story. Burns easily interacts with the children and gets them involved. He also draws the most laughs as he goes from being bundled up for winter to wearing less and less each time he makes an appearance on stage to demonstrate how warm Chillsville is getting.

Kate Keating as Jenny is endearing as the sweet young girl who has no friends but possesses a warm heart. With touching vocals during “No Friends,” the audience connects with her at once.

Kate Keating and Matthew Rafanelli in a scene from ‘Frosty’

TracyLynn Conner played Ethel Pierpot on opening day and alternates the role with Cristina Hall. Conner portrays her character with the perfect mix of evilness and silliness reminiscent of Cruella Deville from “101 Dalmatians.” Children knew she was up to no good on opening day but weren’t afraid of her, which was apparent as they chatted with the actress during the autograph session after the show.

Matthew Rafanelli delivers Frosty perfectly with a sweet, friendly speaking and singing voice. He and Keating sound great together when they sing “One Friend Is Better Than No Friends.”

Ashley Brooke rounds out the cast beautifully, playing a loving, nurturing mother and mayor who realizes Chillsville is perfect the way it is no matter what Ethel Pierpot says.

The musical ends on the right note with the whole cast singing the Frosty theme song after doing an excellent job on the ensemble number “Thanks for You.”

Young audience members were delighted with the many opportunities when the actors encouraged them to participate. An especially cute part of the production is when the narrator asks the children in the audience for ideas to solve Frosty and Jenny’s dilemma at the end of the first act. After intermission, those ideas are shared with the characters. “Frosty” also provides a few fun opportunities for the actors to come into the audience, and the show contains many magical moments.

This time of year is perfect to create special memories, and the Engeman’s production of “Frosty” is guaranteed to add magic to any family’s holiday season. While the story is geared toward younger audiences, older siblings, parents and grandparents will find plenty to enjoy in the show, too.

Theatergoers can meet Frosty and friends in the lobby for photos and autographs after the show. An autograph page is located towards the back of the program.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present “Frosty” through Dec. 31. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Olivia Newton-John
Celebrating the lives of Linda Ronstadt & Olivia Newton-John

By Ed Blair

Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England, and raised in Melbourne, Australia. Linda Ronstadt was born in Tucson, Arizona. “They were polar opposites in fashion style, song content and personality,” said Sal St. George, longtime creator of productions chronicling the lives of popular stars of the past and present. “And yet,” he continued, “Olivia and Linda had very similar beginnings and successes.”

Thus the reason that St. George has paired the two iconic songstresses in a Living History Production titled Tribute: Linda Ronstadt & Olivia Newton-John, a heartwarming holiday show that will run from Nov. 19 through Jan. 10 at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook Village.

“Country, pop, opera, rock, Broadway — they successfully conquered all music genres and became music legends,” he added. The celebration of the lives of the two internationally famous singers focuses on their incredible stories, and audiences will thrill once again to their classic songs.

The show’s motif will be familiar to St. George fans. “The program will follow the same format as in the past,” he explained, “except we have two of the most popular singers of the seventies as our stars. We are in the year 1978. Olivia is riding high with the success of ‘Grease.’ Linda is astounding New York audiences in ‘The Pirates of Penzance.’ Both shows will be discussed in the program, and, along with the songs of the stars, seventies’ fashions will be highlighted.”

Linda Ronstadt’s singing career was quite diversified. Beginning with her work as lead vocalist for the folk-rock group Stone Poneys in the mid-1960s (“Different Drum” scored high on the ratings charts), Ronstadt pursued country, alt-country, country rock, pop rock, Latin and classic jazz genres. Along the way, she put together the band that became the Eagles, won a dozen Grammy Awards and was christened the “Queen of Country Rock.”

By the mid-1970s, Ronstadt’s image became just as famous as her music. In 1976, she appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone and was also featured on a TIME magazine cover in 1977. She was the top-selling female vocalist of the 1970s and produced a succession of platinum albums on into the ’80s. Ronstadt’s popularity continued into the ’90s, and beyond.

In a 2011 interview with the Arizona Daily Star, Ronstadt announced her retirement and sadly, in August 2013, she revealed to AARP that she was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, saying “I can no longer sing at all.” In an April 2016 interview, Ronstadt is quoted as saying, “I can’t sing anymore. That’s that. I can still sing in my brain but I can’t sing. It’s just the way it is. If you’re going to have Parkinson’s you’d better have a sense of humor.”

Actress Emily Tafur, who portrays Ronstadt in the WMHO production, noted, “I feel challenged and appreciated and honored to be portraying one of the great music legends of our time.”

Olivia Newton-John was known in the UK and Australia for her performances on television and in clubs, but her fame grew further when she came to the United States. Her hit recording “I Honestly Love You” (1974 Record of the Year) garnered a Grammy Award, and more successful albums followed. Newton-John really rocketed to international stardom, however, for her role in the 1978 film “Grease,” in which she co-starred with John Travolta.

Although she received another Grammy in 1981 for her hit, “Let’s Get Physical,” Newton-John’s musical career waned somewhat in the 1980s. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and underwent a partial mastectomy. She has since donated portions of the proceeds of her appearances to cancer research and has recorded songs she designed to provide hope and courage to cancer patients and their families. Continuing her advocacy, Newton-John organized a charity walk along the Great Wall of China with other cancer survivors to raise funds to build the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne. During the past year, the singer learned that the cancer had returned, and she is currently undergoing treatment.

Cierra Ervin, who portrays Olivia Newton-John, offered these comments: “This is a daunting and exciting experience! To portray such an identifiable entertainer has been a dream come true. We think audiences will have a wonderful holiday experience at the show.”

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, located at 97P Main St. in Stony Brook Village will present Tribute: Linda Ronstadt and Olivia Newton-John on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m., and on Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on the following dates: Nov. 19, 25, 26, 29 and 30; Dec. 6, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14, 16, 17, 20 and 21; and Jan. 3, 4, 6, 7 and 10.

Partially sponsored by the Roosevelt Investment Group, admission is $48 adults, $45 seniors and children under 15 and $40 groups of 20 or more. Performances are followed by a luncheon, tea and dessert. Reservations must be made in advance by calling 631-689-5888. For more information, visit www.wmho.org.

This post was updated Nov. 17 to correct pricing for seniors and children.

Photo by Brian Hoerger

Join Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson for a special event, Behind the Curtain: A Christmas Carol on Thursday, Dec. 14 at 5 p.m. Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel, who has appeared as Scrooge in over 1,000 performances, will guide you through the history of the story, its many adaptations and the journey of Theatre Three’s 33 years of presenting “A Christmas Carol.” The event will be followed by the Mainstage performance of Theatre Three’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” The event is $30 per person and includes a full buffet supper. Tickets for the 7 p.m. performance may be purchased separately. For more information, call 631-928-9100.

Presley Ryan as Annie and Moon as Sandy in a scene from 'Annie'

By Melissa Arnold

There are few characters from a musical more enduring across generational lines than the curly-haired, ever positive orphan Annie. The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport is celebrating the holidays with its mainstage production of “Annie” through Dec. 31. Now in its 11th season, the Engeman has once again teamed up with director/choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo (“Grease,” “Memphis”) to bring Annie and her friends to life.

Presley Ryan and George Dvorsky

The story of New York’s most beloved orphan was partially inspired by “Little Orphan Annie,” a comic strip created by Harold Gray in the 1920s. After his death, the strip was carried on by a number of cartoonists until 2010. The comic followed the adventures of a little redhead girl and her dog while also offering commentary on political issues of the day, including the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal.

“Annie” the musical debuted on Broadway in 1977, with book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin. Since then, the show has toured around the world, won a slew of Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score and inspired several film adaptations.

When the play begins, 11-year-old Annie and her fellow orphans are growing up in the shadow of the Great Depression in New York City. Life is tough for these kids, especially living in a run-down, dirty orphanage under the care of calloused Agatha Hannigan. For years, Annie has waited eagerly for the return of her birth parents, who left her at Hannigan’s door with a letter and a locket. But they never come, and when Annie is chosen to spend two weeks with lonely billionaire Oliver Warbucks, her life is forever changed.

The cast of Engeman’s “Annie” will win your heart as soon as the show begins. Young Broadway veteran Presley Ryan embodies Annie’s charisma and unbreakable spirit effortlessly. Ryan’s Annie is appropriately youthful, and her voice is pleasant to listen to — sweet and strong, never shrill. You’ll fall in love with her during the first song, “Maybe,” and it’s hard to resist singing along with her on “Tomorrow.”

Ryan is far from the only young lady to stand out in this show, however. All of the girls at the New York Municipal Orphanage have a key role to play — to remove even one of them would make the ensemble seem incomplete.

Cordelia Comando, Sophia Lily Tamburo, Meaghan McInnes, Emma Sordi and Cassandra LaRocco

At the Engeman, the cast features two teams of orphans that will appear on different nights, but if the “red team” is any indicator, you’re in for a treat regardless of whose turn it is. The chemistry among the girls is natural and endearing — a special note of praise should go to the adorable Sophia Lily Tamburo, who plays Molly, the youngest of the bunch. Her comedic timing and dance moves are so impressive for her age, though all of them are incredibly talented with bright futures ahead.

Lynn Andrews is reprising her role as Miss Hannigan for this production — she and Elizabeth Broadhurst (Grace Farrell) were part of the 30th Anniversary Tour of “Annie” beginning in 2005. Andrews’ character is loud, proud and shameless with bold vocals to match. She’s snarky, funny and foolish, sometimes all at once, which is entertaining to watch. Her rollicking performance of “Easy Street” with Jon Peterson and Gina Milo (Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis, respectively) is one of the best in the show with fantastic harmonies.

Gina Milo, Jon Peterson and Lynn Andrews in a scene from ‘Annie’

George Dvorsky, another seasoned Broadway actor, plays Oliver Warbucks, the billionaire looking to make one orphan’s Christmas a bit brighter. He wasn’t expecting a little girl, however, and the relationship he builds with Annie is full of emotion and nuance. Dvorsky has both comedic and poignant moments in the show, and his performance of “Something Was Missing” will resonate with anyone who has experienced deep love of any kind.

There are also a few special guests in this show. For a brief time, Annie finds a loveable sidekick in a stray dog named Sandy. In this production, Sandy is actually played by two real dogs, Moon and Sandy. Moon was once a stray himself, and Sandy was recently rescued from a kill shelter following this summer’s devastating Hurricane Harvey in Texas. The dogs are amazingly well-behaved onstage thanks to hard work with Happy Dog Training & Behavior and the support of the cast “animal wrangler,” Cassidy Ingram.

While the ensemble serves as the supporting cast for the show, they have plenty of time to shine on their own — keep an eye out for them during the hilarious scenes at the White House and the radio station.

Elizabeth Broadhurst, Presley Ryan and George Dvorsky

New York scenic designers Christopher and Justin Swader are behind the unique and versatile set for this production. Detailed artwork of a hazy NYC skyline remains in the background throughout the show, and scene changes are made by the cast themselves. There’s not a lot of variation, but the transitions are simple and clear, so it gets the job done. Jonathan Brenner leads a seven-man orchestra in performing the classic score.

As of this writing, it still feels a bit early to think about the holidays, but the Engeman is dressed to the nines with garland and lights. And since “Annie” is set just before Christmas, it’s hard not to catch the holiday spirit during your visit. You might even feel like you’re a guest at Warbucks’ elaborate Christmas party.

Each year around the holidays, the John W. Engeman Theater gives back to its community through charitable support. This year, the theater is partnering with the Ecumenical Lay Council Food Pantry at the First Presbyterian Church of Northport, which helps feed more than 160 local families each week. Consider bringing some extra cash to the show, or visit www.fpcnorthport.org to learn more.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present ‘Annie’ now through Dec. 31. Tickets are $73 to $78 with free valet parking. For questions or to purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

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