Theater

By Heidi Sutton

One of Theatre Three’s most important offerings, in my opinion, is its children’s theatre series. Each show teaches a moral lesson — don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t be a bully — while introducing young audiences to live musical retellings of wonderful fairy tales including “Cinderella,” “Pinocchio,” “Hansel & Gretel” and its latest offering, “Little Red Riding Hood: A Tale of Safety for Today.” The adorable show opened last Saturday and runs through Feb. 22. 

While it follows the Brothers Grimm version closely, the story is used as a tool to teach “stranger danger” in a most effective way. Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin F. Story, the musical centers around a little girl named Amanda Sally Desdemona Estella Barbara Temple, although everyone in town calls her Little Red Riding Hood because she always wears the red cape her Granny Becket made for her. 

When her grandmother sends Little Red Riding Hood’s mother a letter complaining “no one ever comes to visit. I might as well get eaten by a wolf!,” Amanda and her twin sisters, Blanche and Nora, head over the river and through the woods to bring her some Girl Scout cookies. Halfway there, Little Red Riding Hood tells her sisters to go back home because Nora is nursing a terrible cold. Now alone, she encounters a stranger (William “Billy” de Wolf) and commits a series of safety mistakes, placing her grandmother and herself in a dangerous situation.

Director Jeffrey Sanzel leads an adult cast of six who have the best time acting out this clever script.

Steven Uihlein serves as storyteller and does a terrific job introducing each scene, giving his own opinions and interrupting the show when he deems it necessary. Uihlein also plays numerous supporting roles, including a policeman, doctor and mailman.

Nicole Bianco is perfectly cast as Little Red Riding Hood, although she does love saying her long name a bit too much! Lol! Krystal Lawless tackles the challenging role of the forgetful Mrs. Temple with ease. Constantly mixing up her children’s names and attempting to make a cup of tea for Nora out of feathers, wrenches, sticky notes, etc. she draws the most laughs. 

Kyle Breitenbach has much fun in the role of the Wolf, who is all bark and no bite. Special effects make his stomach rumble and he is always asking the audience if they have any steak or a bone on hand. One of the best scenes is when the Wolf chases Granny Becket around the bed, and when she steps away, he goes around many times more before he realizes she’s gone.

Michelle LaBozzetta has the most exhausting role in the show, skipping on stage as Blanche, turning the corner and reappearing as her twin sister Nora, hunched over and suffering from a cold. What a workout! LaBozzetta is so convincing that young children will not make the connection. 

But it’s Ginger Dalton as Granny Beckett who steals the show. Dripping with sarcasm, she pulls out all the stops to try to get her family to visit her and even fakes getting sick. Her solo, “Who’s at My Door?,” is superb.  

During the last 10 minutes of the show, the actors discuss the safety mistakes that Little Red Riding Hood made, including talking to strangers and giving out her grandmother’s address, and what she should have done instead.

The musical numbers, accompanied on piano by Douglas Quattrock, are fun and catchy, especially “Little Red Riding Hood” and the tap dance number “To Granny Beckett’s House We Go.”

The great story line, the wonderful songs and the important message it conveys makes this show a perfect reason to catch a performance. Meet the entire cast in the lobby after the show for photos.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents “Little Red Riding Hood: A Tale of Safety for Today” is for ages 3 and up through Feb. 22. Children’s Theatre continues with “Hansel & Gretel” from Feb. 29 to March 21, “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” from April 8 to 25 and “Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs” from May 23 to June 6. Tickets are $10 each. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

East Northport Middle School invited sixth graders from Northport Middle School to view a Theatre Three theatrical touring production of “Class Dismissed: The Bullying Project” on Jan. 9.

Performers acted out scenarios to demonstrate that bullying, harassment and peer pressure can occur both inside and outside of school, including hallways, locker rooms, buses and even at home. Additionally, the production spoke about the influence social media has on one’s reputation, social cliques and rumors.

The production’s main message, however, was, “See it, say it, stop it.” The intention was to encourage students to stand up for each other to put an end to bullying. During a Q&A after the performance, the performers advised the middle school students to be upstanders rather than bystanders. “You really are the ones that can make a difference,” they said.

Theatre Three’s Educational Touring Company is available to come to your school or organization. For more information, call Marci at 631-928-9202.

Photos courtesy of the Northport-East Northport School District

“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”

Simple Gifts Productions, a professional performing arts company for kids and teens, presents “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook on Jan. 25 and 26 at noon and again at 2 p.m.

This “revised” version is a fresh approach to the all-time 1967 classic, based on the beloved comic strip by Charles Schultz. Featuring all your favorite Peanuts characters, this charming revue of vignettes and songs is fun for ages 4 and up. Running time is one hour. Tickets are $15. To reserve tickets online, visit www.simplegiftsproductions.com.

Photos from Simple Gifts Productions

Walt Whitman High School hosted a performance of the new musical, “Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom,” on Jan. 9.

Filled with traditional and original gospel and freedom songs, the show tells the true story of Lynda Blackmon Lowey and is based on Lowey’s award-winning memoir, “Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March.” 

Lowey was the youngest person to walk all the way from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, during the Voting Rights March in 1965. This inspiring true story illustrates the strength and courage of the individuals who fought alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to secure the right for African Americans to vote.

With Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaching and Black History Month just a few weeks away, the event came at the perfect time. As one student said, “Since I am 17 and in two weeks will be turning 18, it really made me think about registering to vote and the importance behind it.” 

Another student commented, “It’s great to hear about what young people did in the past to help get us where we are today … in history class, you only learn about the adults who did great and important things.” The students were enthralled during the performance, gaining new insights and even participating during the gospel music, clapping and singing along to the wonderful, moving songs.

At the end of the performance, the cast stayed to answer questions. Actor Ally Sheedy (“The Breakfast Club,” “High Art,” “Psych”), who adapted the book for the stage, was there to meet the students, as well as director Fracaswell Hyman and producers Miranda Barry and Amy Sprecher. 

“Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom” was truly an uplifting performance the students of Walt Whitman High School will remember for a long time. 

Photos from Thomas Ciravolo/South Huntington Union Free School District

By Heidi Sutton

Every now and then a show comes along that touches your heart and soul so deeply that you walk away at the end promising yourself to do better, be nicer, be kinder. Such is the case with Theatre Three’s latest offering, a revival of Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Driving Miss Daisy.” Directed by Linda May, the show opened last Saturday night and runs through Feb. 1. 

Part of the playwright’s “Atlanta Trilogy,” the storyline was inspired by Uhry’s father, grandmother Lena and Lena’s chauffeur of 25 years and explores the complexity of family, friendships and aging as well as racial and religious tensions in the South over the years.

Set in Atlanta from 1948 to 1973, it follows the lives of Daisy Werthan, a wealthy Jewish widow and retired fifth-grade teacher; her businessman son Boolie; and Daisy’s driver, Hoke Colburn. 

The 72-year-old Daisy has crashed her new car, and her son has decided she should no longer drive. Stubborn and proud (“It was the car’s fault!”), Daisy is not ready to give up her independence; but Boolie prevails and hires Hoke, a black man in his 60s who most recently drove for a Jewish judge. At first, Daisy is not too happy with the arrangement and refuses to even acknowledge Hoke. Over time, however, the two form an unbreakable bond.

Set in a series of short scenes, fans of either the original 1987 play or the 1989 Academy Award-winning film version of “Driving Miss Daisy” will absolutely love what Linda May has created. All of the wonderful moments are there, including the first time Daisy lets Hoke drive her to the Piggly Wiggly and Hoke excitedly calls Boolie to tell him, “I just drove your mama to the market. Only took me six days. Same time it took the Lord to make the world!” and when Daisy accuses Hoke of stealing … a 33-cent can of salmon.

The audience tags along on a visit to the cemetery to visit Daisy’s late husband’s grave and Hoke reveals he can’t read; Christmas at Boolie’s where Daisy gives Hoke a book to help him practice his writing; and on a road trip to Mobile, Alabama to visit relatives, where Hoke pulls over “to make water” against his passenger’s wishes and has to remind Daisy that “colored can’t use the toilet at any service station.”

One of the most emotional scenes is when the temple to which Hoke is driving Daisy is bombed. “Who would do that?” questions Daisy in a state of disbelief. “It’s always the same ones,” answers Hoke sadly and recounts the time his best friend’s father was lynched. 

May has assembled the ultimate dream team to portray this delicate drama. Phyllis March (“Nunsense,” “Where There’s a Will”) plays the opinionated and unfiltered Daisy who softens ever so slightly as the years pass and grows to love and appreciate Hoke and all he does for her. March’s performance is pure perfection, with special mention to the scene where Daisy suffers a memory loss and believes she is still a fifth-grade teacher. Emotional and raw, the scene takes the audience’s breath away. 

In a role his father played on the same stage 25 years ago, Antoine Jones (“Art,” “Festival of One Act Plays”) is absolutely magnificent as the even-tempered Hoke who puts up with the cantankerous Daisy. “Did you have the air-conditioning checked? I told you to have the air-conditioning checked,” says Daisy. “I don’t know what for. You never allow me to turn it on,” is Hoke’s exasperated reply.

Jones brings out the quiet dignity of a man who has dealt with racial discrimination his whole life but sees hope for the future in his daughter. We see Hoke’s relationship gradually evolve with Daisy from employee/employer to best friends. The final scene in the nursing home will have you reaching for the tissues. Antoine, your father would be so proud.

Steve Ayle (“The Addams Family,” “12 Angry Men,” “Art”) is wonderful in the role of Boolie, the dutiful son who puts up with his mother’s prickly personality, especially when she is insulting Boolie’s wife, Florene, who is there in spirit. “You’re a doodle, Mama!” says Boolie often in an attempt to diffuse the situation. Ayle’s facial expressions are spot on in this comedic role.

Incredibly, as the play progresses the actors get older right before our very eyes. The hair goes gray, then white; the walk slows down to a shuffle and it takes a bit longer to get out of a chair. The transformation is extraordinary.

Funny, sad, powerful, moving and brilliantly executed, Theatre Three’s “Driving Miss Daisy” is a wonderful way to kick off the theater’s 50th year. The swift and unanimous standing ovation on opening night was most deserved. Don’t miss this one.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents “Driving Miss Daisy” through Feb. 1. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 students and $20 for children ages 5 to 12. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.org.

Photos by Brian Hoerger and Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

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Photo by James Gorman

HEARTWARMING FUN

Get out of the cold and catch a performance of the timeless musical classic ‘Annie’ at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts. The theater presents its last three performances on Jan. 18 at 2 p.m., Jan. 19 at 3 p.m. and Jan. 20 at 2 p.m. through Jan. 20. Based on the popular comic strip by Harold Gray, the story follows little orphan Annie on her quest to find the parents who abandoned her on the doorstep of a New York City orphanage. Tickets are $40 adults, $36 seniors, $25 students. Call 724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org. 

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Photo courtesy of Theatre Three

The classic Grimm fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” heads to Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson from Jan. 18 to Feb. 22 with a sensory sensitive performance on Jan. 19 at 11 a.m.

Amanda Sally Desdemona Estella Barbara Temple, better known as Little Red Riding Hood, takes a thrilling journey through the woods to her grandmother’s house. See what happens when William de Wolf stops at Granny Becket’s for “a bite” and Little Red Riding Hood shows up. Joined by her twin sisters, Blanche and Nora, Little Red Riding Hood learns a big lesson about safety in this modern musical telling.

All seats are $10. To order, call 928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Above, Phyllis March and Antoine Jones in a scene from Theatre Three’s ‘Driving Miss Daisy.' Photo courtesy of Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Melissa Arnold

For many people, it can be challenging to get to know someone of a different culture or background. This was especially true in the decades leading up to the civil rights movement, when expected social roles, biases and assumptions were commonplace. Playwright Alfred Uhry presented this struggle in his classic drama, “Driving Miss Daisy.” The show begins in 1948 in Georgia and chronicles more than 20 years in the life of Hoke Coleburn, a genteel and optimistic black chauffeur, and his client, a standoffish Southern Jewish woman named Daisy Werthan.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning play is set to open at Theatre Three on Jan. 11. Directed by Linda May, it co-stars Phyllis March as Daisy, Steve Ayle as Daisy’s son Boolie and Antoine Jones as Hoke, a role his father Al Jones played on the same stage 25 years ago.

The 41-year-old actor has enjoyed a successful career in professional theater, following in the footsteps of his siblings and his late father. Since returning to Long Island a few years ago, the Setauket resident has become a familiar presence onstage at the Port Jefferson theater.

When did you first get involved with Theatre Three?

I did my first show for Theatre Three when I was a child -− it was a production of “The Pied Piper” and then when I was a teenager I was in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” 

Did you ever aspire to play Hoke?

Evelyne Lune and Al Jones a scene from ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ in 1995. Photo courtesy of Theatre Three Productions Inc.

I never saw that for myself, no. I am about 20 years too young for the role, and that was a concern. Beyond that, I saw my father perform in this role for two separate productions, and during rehearsals there were moments where I had to stop and consider if I was acting or simply recreating what my father had presented. He was effortless. The character and this part of history were both very special to him as a man that was born in the late 1920s. He knew personally and deeply what “Driving Miss Daisy” was trying to accomplish. To stand on the stage he stood on 25 years later is a singular experience. 

Was it intimidating to step into the role knowing your father also played Hoke?

It would be one thing if this was just a role that my father played, and I waxed and waned between missing him and being sad that I don’t get to see him perform again. But I also have a broad background in African American studies, both from college and just in life, and the continuing relevance of “Driving Miss Daisy” is something I don’t take lightly. And I’m working with two other people that also understand their role. Legendary actors that most people are familiar with have played the role of Hoke, and there is an expectation that you better be able to do it.

How do you like working with the rest of the cast? 

Phyllis March and Steve Ayle both have a long history at Theatre Three. They’ve been there for many years and are really part of the theater’s legacy. We are not the type of people who do theater just to make these sporadic connections that come and go. These are very earnest people with busy lives and jobs − Steve runs his own business. They came to do these roles because it means something to them to commit, do hard work, and give people something they can walk away with that’s more than just entertainment. It’s a gift to work with such hardworking people.

What do you enjoy most about the play?

We’ve spent a lot of time in rehearsals talking about who the characters are and where they’ve come from and how they got here. One of the greatest aspects of the play is that you don’t get the low-hanging fruit. 

Alfred Uhry has written a play that presents complicated people. It reveals a racism that isn’t mean-spirited or easy to identify. These are essentially good people who, whether through nurture, nature or a lack of exposure, are forced to realize that maybe they aren’t quite where they need to be. I think that’s where most of us are, and I think that’s the brilliance of the play. 

Daisy Werthan isn’t a racist, but as far as Hoke is concerned, she’s got a long way to go. Even Hoke himself is a product of structural racism, and he talks about it. He doesn’t like the Creole people because he feels like they don’t strive for education or to move off their land, but he doesn’t understand that they’re just as much victims of racism and the lasting effects of slavery as he is. We talk a lot about that, and the gift is that we get to expose that nuance.

Do you have a favorite scene?

My favorite scene for Hoke is when Daisy learns that her synagogue is bombed. To sympathize with her, Hoke reveals something deeply personal that affected him in a profound way. It’s meaningful because it gives a clue about how Hoke got to where he is now, He’s had a lot of profound experiences that he needs to keep close to the vest, but that isn’t something Daisy has experienced.

Do you identify at all with Hoke’s personality or experiences?

I don’t know that I can identify. One of my problems is that Hoke can’t simply turn around and say, “This is a problem that I’m having, and I want to address what’s going on so I can feel like I’m in a more productive, positive place in the future.” He doesn’t have the words or the power. He isn’t even allowed to be frustrated. The humanity of the play constantly keeps us in check.

What of yourself have you brought to the role?

I don’t know how to answer that, but the director, Linda May, has a very unique perspective because she’s also an actor. She’s able to move us along in a way that is actor logic. She’s put some difficult observations in front of us. One of mine was that my voice would tend to rise in pitch, and she would tell me to bring it down because it didn’t sound grounded. It was like I was a slave-type character with no spine. I have to work very hard in my own mind to not think, “This feels too simple.” Not everything is Shakespeare or has that kind of depth. If you want to see bits of my personality, maybe you’ll find them if you see the show, I don’t know.  

Why do you think ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ has been so successful over the years?

I think part of why Daisy Werthan and Hoke Coleburn are so lovable as characters is because when the show begins, they couldn’t do anything about the circumstances they were in and had been born into. But by the end of the show, both of them have made a tremendous arc that many people in their situations wouldn’t have accomplished. Many Jewish women had black hired help and there was no evolution to their relationships. And someone like Hoke would have never had an opportunity to develop friendships with the people they worked for. 

Daisy and Hoke have a spirit within them − Daisy being hard and inflexible, Hoke being this bundle of positivity that wants to get along − and they managed to change when so much in their world was terrible. They were able to see great things in each other, and sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do. We label each other and put them in categories and we don’t have to think about them again … but through sheer force of will, they overcome.

Why should people come see this show?

Alfred Uhry has written a timeless, celebrated and well-performed 90-minute slice of history. It’s a great writing that shows people don’t have to be perfect as long as they keep trying, and it’s when we stop listening to one another that things get messy. It shows that people are at their best when they listen. 

“Driving Miss Daisy” will run from Jan. 11 through Feb. 1 at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. Tickets range from $20 to $35. To learn more or to purchase tickets, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

‘Boeing, Boeing’ starring Mark Santaromita, seated, and back row, from left, Karen Santaromita, Ashley Moyett and June Damadeo, heads to Star Playhouse in Commack on Jan. 11.  Photo by Gene Indenbaum

ON THE RUNWAY

What better time to jet away to a getaway in Paris than January? And if you can’t do it literally, than hop on board Boeing Boeing, the comedy farce set in gay Paree and opening at Star Playhouse at the Suffolk Y-JCC on Saturday, January 11. This madcap, laugh-out-loud production, listed in The Guinness Book of Records as the most-performed French play throughout the world, had an original run and revival on Broadway where it won two Tonys.

The setting is the Parisian pad of architect Bernard (Mark Santaromita of Huntington). Bernard is a charmer – in fact he has three fiancées, all airline hostesses; his Italian amore Gabriella (Karen Santaromita, Huntington), his American beauty Gloria (Ashley Moyett, Jericho), and his gregarious German Gretchen (June Damadeo, Northport). And Bernard is a master at juggling their estimated times of arrival without a hitch. But turbulence develops in the form of his old college pal, Robert, a rube from Wisconsin (Steve Brustein, Manhasset), coupled with some weather delays and the enhanced speed of the Boeing fleet. Bernard is befriended and belittled by Berthe, his French maid (Suzie Lustig, Greenlawn). Soon, Bernard has to wing it as he is frantically propelled toward disaster by the simultaneous arrival of his three seductive stewardesses. Boeing Boeing is directed by Jim Redding of Northport and produced by Sandy Lory-Snyder of Hauppauge.

Star Playhouse at the Suffolk Y-JCC is located at 74 Hauppauge Road, Commack 11725. Performance dates are Saturdays January 11 and 25 at 8:00 pm, and Sundays January 12, 19 and 26 at 2:00 pm. Ticket prices are $25.00 for the general public and $20 for seniors, students and Suffolk Y members. The theater is handicapped accessible, has a hearing assistance system and ample free parking. Tickets are available online at www.starplayhouse.com or syjcc-performingartscenter.eventbrite.com, or may be ordered by calling the Box Office at 631-462-9800 ext. 136.  Group rates are available.

 

By Heidi Sutton

The holidays have arrived at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts in a most delightful way. While a spunky orphan commands the spotlight in the theater’s current main stage production of Annie, a spirited young girl named Emily stars in the second annual children’s theater production of Ken Ludwig’s ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. 

Directed by Christine Boehm, the 45-minute fast-paced show with the underlying message “to make life an adventure” is the perfect choice to introduce young children to live theater.

It’s Christmas Eve and Uncle Brierly (Evan Donnellan) greets the audience with a recitation of “the greatest poem of all time,” Clement C. Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. He gets as far as, “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse” only to be interrupted by Amos the Mouse (Jae Hughes) who is in fact stirring, cookie dough that is, to make cookies for Santa in hopes that he’ll show up this year. You see, Amos and his best human friend Emily (Lorelai Mucciolo) were left off the Naughty or Nice list last year and never received any presents.

It is then that Calliope the Elf (Lisa Naso) shows up to investigate and, after telling Emily and Amos that many other children around the world had the same thing happen to them, convinces them to accompany her back to the North Pole to tell Santa the troubling news and to save Christmas.

When they arrive at Santa’s workshop, they overhear a former elf, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Donnellan), and his sidekick Mulch (Anthony Panarello), plotting to sell the Naughty and Nice list to retailers just like last year.

What follows is a whirlwind attempt to retrieve the list complete with a surprise appearance from Amos’ brother (the amazing Hughes in a dual role), a hilarious case of mistaken identity, a sword fight, an elf cheer, a visit from Santa Claus (Panarello) and a chase scene through the theater to the Benny Hill theme song. There is no shortage of excitement in this show and the cast does a wonderful job portraying this sweet holiday story.

Booster seats are available and snacks are sold during intermission. Stay after the show for a meet and greet and photos with the cast in the lobby.  

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown presents Ken Ludwig’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas on Dec. 15, 22, 28 and 29 at 11 a.m. Children’s theater continues with Shrek The Musical Jr. from Feb. 1 to March 1 and Flat Stanley Jr. from May 16 to June 21. All seats are $18. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org

All photos by Cassiel Fawcett