Theater

From left, Steven Uihlein, Jessica Contino, Melanie Acampora and Emily Gates star in 'Pumpkin Patch Magic'. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Melissa Arnold

Twenty years ago, Theatre Three’s Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel wrote a Halloween play for children with sweet, goofy characters and an encouraging moral lesson. This October, the Port Jefferson theater will present an updated version of Sanzel’s original show, “Pumpkin Patch Magic,” featuring all-new music and lyrics by Jules Cohen. I sat down with Sanzel and Cohen to learn more about bringing the show to life again.

Jeffrey Sanzel has written or adapted more than 100 plays in his 28 years at Theatre Three.

What inspired you to write this play?

Jeff Sanzel: This goes back many years. We’ve actually done “Pumpkin Patch Magic” twice, with the original performances happening 20 years ago. (My writing partner and I) were looking for a new Halloween show and decided we wanted the theme to be based around the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” We always want to have a moral underpinning for our stories. So we created this world of Halloween with all the characters you’d expect — witches, ghosts, gnomes — and their different skills and limitations. For example, there’s a witch who can fly and a witch who can’t. It’s very funny.

How do you go about developing a show like this?

We talk about a theme, and then work on characters. I usually sit down and think about the sort of direction I want the story to go in, and from there I’ll start writing … there are usually 15 to 20 pages that never make it into the show — it’s just about getting the ideas going. If we’re doing an adaptation, I’ll read as many different versions of the story as I can to help flesh out how I want to tell it and what kind of message we want to convey.

From left, Princess Pumpkin (Melanie Acampora) Ermengarde Broomwellsweepalot the Witch (Emily Gates) and Norman the Nervous Gnome (Steve Uihlein) star in ‘Pumpkin Patch Magic. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theater Three Productions, Inc.
From left, Princess Pumpkin (Melanie Acampora) Ermengarde Broomwellsweepalot the Witch (Emily Gates) and Norman the Nervous Gnome (Steve Uihlein) star in ‘Pumpkin Patch Magic. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theater Three Productions, Inc.

Can you summarize the story?

These characters are the ones who are responsible for getting pumpkins into the pumpkin patches all over the world. There are two groups involved: the overachievers and the underachievers. Some of the characters are limited in what they can do, and they’re always being reminded of how they can’t do as much as others. The story is told by a fairy, Loquacious Chattalot, who tries to encourage them, but it backfires and they give up. But in the end, it’s the limited ones who end up making it all happen successfully.

How did you come up with the name Fairy Loquacious Chattalot?

I’m a big fan of Charles Dickens — we do “A Christmas Carol” here at Theatre Three every year — and Dickens-style names always tend to stick in my head. The characters’ names really reflect who they are, and that is definitely true for this fairy. She’s a very nonstop talker, and that’s where I got Loquacious Chattalot.

For what age group is this play recommended? I would say it’s best for ages 3 and up.

It’s very entertaining, fast and colorful. It’s not scary at all — in fact, it’s very silly. The humor is very goofy, and the show is extremely family-friendly. All of our children’s shows are meant for the whole family to be entertained.

Are children encouraged to come dressed in their Halloween costumes?

Absolutely! We love when the kids show up in costume; it’s so much fun. And if you stay after the show, the characters will come out [in the lobby] to meet the kids and have their picture taken.

Why should parents bring their kids to see the show?

Children’s theater is the greatest way to introduce kids to theater, and the earlier on they’re exposed to it, the more they can develop an appreciation for it. Seasonal shows like this one are a lot of fun and the message for this show is so important — keep trying. You can learn, you can make a difference and there’s nothing you can’t do.

Jules Cohen has written music for dozens of shows all over the country, but now he fights breast cancer as an oncologist at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Are you a native Long Islander?

Jules Cohen: I grew up in Poughkeepsie, and after college I lived in Manhattan for 20 years. I moved to Suffolk County six years ago to work at Stony Brook.

Composer Jules Cohen, center, with the cast of 'Pumpkin Patch Magic' at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.
Composer Jules Cohen, center, with the cast of ‘Pumpkin Patch Magic’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

You studied music in college, but now you’re an oncologist. What led to that change?

I have a bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s in music composition. I hoped to make my career as a musical director in theatre and a songwriter, and I did that for several years working with several reasonably high-profile directors. But it’s difficult to make a living in those fields, as you never know where your next job will come from. I had to move all over the country — I’ve worked in Vermont; San Francisco; Louisville, Kentucky; and in New York City. I knew that if I wanted a more stable life, I needed a more structured day job. Music and theater could always remain a hobby while I did other work. My initial thought was to become a psychologist, so I went to medical school, and once I got there I found I really gravitated more toward medical oncology.

Was the transition difficult for you?

Once I decided to go to med school, I pursued it wholeheartedly and didn’t find leaving the music and theater career difficult. I’ve always played the piano and am working on jazz piano now. That satisfies the musical part of my brain.

What inspired you to get involved with composing for ‘Pumpkin Patch Magic’?

I have two young children — a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old. I’ve always taken them to basically every show at Theatre Three, and it got to the point where the actors all knew Emma and Oscar. They really watched them grow. I decided to see if I could get involved, and I met Jeff in the lobby one day. He suggested I collaborate with him on one of his kids’ shows, and a few weeks later he emailed me the script for a Halloween show he had written years ago. From there I worked on updating the score, one song at a time. My kids love Halloween, so they’re very excited, and my daughter is very into musical theater — she loves to give her input.

What’s involved with writing a song? What is the process like?

Writing lyrics was relatively new for me, but I really enjoyed spending time working on the rhyme and wordplay. That process develops a sense of rhythm, and from there I start thinking about pitches. You flesh it out a bit at a time, eventually developing chords and a melody line, then adding little embellishments and intricacies. It’s really not magic or anything — as they say, it’s 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.

How would you describe the music for the show?

It’s definitely heavily influenced by jazz, and the whole score is written for keyboard. Who are your musical influences? I really enjoy musicians in both jazz and theater, and the intersection between them — George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Frank Lesser, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Parker are some of my favorites.

What are you most looking forward to about the show?

I’m very excited to hear my songs performed by real actors and singers, to see them come to life onstage. I’m hoping that people will appreciate it and that they leave tapping their feet. I know that I’m pleased with the songs — they are fun and clever.

“Pumpkin Patch Magic” or “If At First You Don’t Succeed” will run from Oct. 1 through Oct. 29 on Saturdays and Sundays at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. All seats are $10. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (631) 928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

From left, Andrew Hendrick, James D. Schultz, Christopher Wynne Duffy, Peter Saide, Benjamin Howes, Jake Mills, Kevin Robert Kelly, and Stephen Valenti in a scene from ‘1776’. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Rita J. Egan

With talented actors, period-appropriate costumes and a detailed set, a theatrical production can make audience members feel as if they have traveled back in time. This is certainly the case with the John W. Engeman Theater’s production of “1776,” which opened last week.

Before there was “Hamilton,” there was “1776.” The classic musical, with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone, debuted on Broadway in 1969 and was turned into a movie in 1972. Dramatizing the efforts of John Adams to persuade his fellow delegates of the Second Continental Congress to vote for American independence, “1776” focuses on the last weeks leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The first lines by Adams, played by James LaVerdiere, help to set the tone for the musical: “I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace — that two are called a law firm — and that three or more become a Congress.” With this quote as well as the opening number “For God’s Sake, John, Sit Down,” the audience discovers that while the musical discusses a serious matter, it is delivered with a sense of familiarity and a good dose of humor.

Jennifer Hope Wills (as Abigail Adams) and Jamie LaVerdiere (as John Adams). Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Jennifer Hope Wills (as Abigail Adams) and Jamie LaVerdiere (as John Adams) in a scene from ‘1776’. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

LaVerdiere perfectly captures the frustrations and persuasiveness of Adams, who his fellow delegates describe as obnoxious and disliked. The scenes between him and Jennifer Hope Wills, who plays Abigail Adams, where the Massachusetts delegate imagines conversations with his wife, allow the audience to learn of the struggles of the women who were left at home dealing with sick children and failing farms and business. During Act 1, the two deliver a sweet and touching version of “Yours, Yours, Yours,” and we discover a softer side of Adams.

When Thomas Jefferson, played by Michael Glavan, yearns to go home to see his wife, we meet the second of only two female characters, when Adams sends for Martha to come to Philadelphia while Jefferson works on the Declaration of Independence. Portrayed by Adriana Milbrath, the actress delivers a delightful “He Plays the Violin” with LaVerdiere and David Studwell, perfectly cast as the charming and witty Benjamin Franklin. Glavan is a strong vocalist, too, who audience members have the pleasure of hearing during “But, Mr. Adams” and “The Egg.”

A surprise standout performance comes from Matthew Rafanelli, playing the disheveled courier delivering messages from George Washington. In the beginning of the play, it’s understandable if one thinks he has a small part, but by the end of Act 1, Rafanelli delivers a perfectly executed “Momma Look Sharp.” His heart-wrenching vocals on the song, which details the loss of young boys on the battlefield, left many with tears in their eyes during the press opening last Saturday night.

It should also be noted that Robert Budnick playfully portrays a cheerful Stephen Hopkins, and Tom Lucca perfectly captures the authoritative nature of John Hancock. Special mentions should be made of Jon Reinhold (Richard Henry Lee) who plays the cocky Virginian with a great deal of humor, Benjamin Howes (John Dickinson) who provides strong lead vocals on “Cool, Cool Considerate Men,” and Peter Saide (Edward Rutledge) who delivers a powerful “Molasses to Rum.”

Igor Goldin has expertly directed the cast of 25 actors, who should all be commended for their strong vocals and mastering of a great amount of dialogue. Due to the craftsmanship of all of those involved in Engeman’s “1776,” the dreams of our country’s forefathers come to life once again.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, presents “1776” through Nov. 6. Tickets range from $71 to $76. For more information, call 631-261-2900, or visit www.engemantheater.com.

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

By Michael Tessler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sisters of Delta Nu in Theatre Three's production of 'Legally Blonde: The Musical' at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Rebecca Anzel

Brittany Lacey stars in ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’  at Theatre Three from Sept. 17 to Oct. 29. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.
Brittany Lacey stars in ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’ at Theatre Three from Sept. 17 to Oct. 29. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Theatre Three in Port Jefferson is gearing up for its next Mainstage production, “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” which will open on Saturday, Sept. 17. The role of Elle Woods will be played by 28-year-old Brittany Lacey, best known to Theatre Three regulars as Mimi in “Rent” and as Belle in “A Christmas Carol” when she was a company member there from 2010 to 2012. I had the opportunity to sit down with Brittany before rehearsals last Friday night to ask her about her latest role.

Why did you decide to audition for the role of Elle Woods?

This is a dream role of mine and having the chance to perform it here at Theatre Three makes it even more special. It’s like I’m coming home and now I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m a huge fan of Reese Witherspoon. I love her! I think she’s very funny and talented. Of course, I don’t know her personally, but she seems like such a good person — like Hollywood hasn’t gotten to her.

What is your favorite scene in the show?

I just discovered it the other day. My favorite scene is “What You Want.” The song has three parts to it and all are great! Our choreographer, Whitney Stone, came up with this amazing dance and it’s just a lot of fun. It’s like one big party on stage. A lot of the cast is involved in the number. I like when you’re on stage with everyone else because you’re able to share everyone else’s energy and I think it makes it a more memorable experience.

What is your favorite song in the show?

“Take It Like A Man.” That has become my favorite one. I don’t know what it is about it — I love singing it. I play it opposite Brett Chizever (in the role of Emmett Forrest). It’s a real joy. Brett is great. How many weeks does the cast rehearse before production? Four or five weeks … I’m not exactly sure. Because most people work during the day, we rehearse from 7:15 at night to 10:30 and then on weekends, we’ll have five-hour rehearsals. It’s a lot of repetition and practice. And, after I go home, it’s all I listen to. I drive my boyfriend crazy making him run lines with me!

What is it like working with the director, Jeffrey Sanzel?

I love working with Jeff. He’s a strict director, but in a good way. Jeff cares about everyone on that stage and what they’re doing. He really works with you to make sure you’re comfortable. It’s all about putting out a great product and everyone feeling proud of their performance. What is it like working with your castmates? I only knew a handful of them going in, and everyone is so nice. This cast is very supportive. I haven’t had that in a while so it’s really, really nice.

Who is playing the role of the UPS guy? Is he cute?

He’s so much younger than me — am I allowed to answer that? But no, the ladies will be quite happy with who they’re watching up there. Kyle Breitenbach is doing a great job with the role. He’s very funny.

Brittany Lacey with the only four-legged member of the show, Taxi. Photo courtesy of Theatre Three
Brittany Lacey with the only four-legged member of the show, Taxi. Photo courtesy of Theatre Three

I noticed the show will have a real dog in the role of Bruiser Woods. What is she like?

Her name is Taxi, like a taxi cab. She’s a chihuahua. Caitlin Nofi (who plays Vivienne in the show) has a friend who was kind enough to lend us Taxi, and she’s a star! She came in with a pink and purple bow around her neck and owned that stage. And she’s so good! She’s calm.

Have you ever performed on stage with an animal before?

I don’t think so! I’ve played a lot of animals, but no I don’t think I’ve ever had one on stage. It definitely makes me nervous because you just want the animal to feel okay up there. You don’t want to scare it. It’s fun though! It’s different, because at the end of the day, you’ll see what she wants to do. If she wants to prance around the stage, she’s going to prance and we’re going to let her.

What is it like being a part of a production at Theatre Three?

It’s a great experience. I feel like this theater tries to make it feel like a home for their actors and that you’re a part of their family. You don’t always get that in other places. Everyone works really hard because they just put their whole heart into it, and that is another reason I love to come back here. Jeff [Sanzel] is the leading force of that. The heart he has for theater, for this theater in general, is ginormous. It’s great because then that falls onto the rest of us and it makes you want to put even more effort into the show.

Why should people come see the show?

Because we really want you to! No, no, I think we’re putting a lot of hard work into it. We’re just getting into tech week, but I believe we’re putting out a really good production and I hope it’s fun for them. We promise to entertain you! We all love what we’re doing, so I think that always translates to the audience. If we’re having fun, hopefully that means they’re having fun watching it.

Do you have a favorite spot in Port Jefferson that you like to go to?

As soon as rehearsal’s over, I go down to Ralph’s. I love my ices and ice cream! It’s like my after rehearsal treat. What are your plans after this? I don’t have any definitive plans yet, but I’m sure it will involve auditioning. A lot of this job, of being an actor, is putting yourself out there and hoping that casting directors like what you have to offer. Anything else you would like to add? I’m having fun, I’m loving this experience and I can’t wait to open this show!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Legally Blonde: The Musical” from Sept. 17 to Oct. 29. Tickets range from $20 to $35. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

‘No Day But Today’: Above, the cast of ‘Rent’ sings the finale. Photo courtesy of the SCPA

By Melissa Arnold

With Election Day less than two months away now, the media is saturated with heated debates about crime, poverty, drugs and equality. These were the same issues that inspired Manhattan-based playwright Jonathan Larson to create “Rent,” a rock opera that made its off-Broadway debut in 1996.

Now through Oct. 2, diehard “Rent-heads” and first-timers alike can celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary during its run at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts.

“Rent” is heavily based on Giacomo Puccini’s famous opera “La Boheme,” which follows the struggles of poor artists in Paris. Larson’s story is set in Alphabet City on Manhattan’s Lower East Side at the end of the 1980s, where aspiring director Mark and songwriter Roger are living in squalor. It’s also the height of the AIDS epidemic – drugs are everywhere, being gay is stigmatized, and one way or another, every member of the cast is just trying to survive.

The Cast:

Jordan Hue

Scott Johnston

Jess Ader Ferretti

Angela Garofalo

Michelle Rubino

Robins Prophete

Dondi Rollins Jr.

Jose A. Torres

Meagan Materazo

Megan Cain

Janelle Primm

Samantha Rosario

Jahlil Burke

Brodie Centauro

Kevin Burns

Matthew Paredi

 With all this in mind, it’s not exactly a cheery show. But there is plenty of humor to go around, and its biggest messages — no day but today, forget regret — are inspiring and hopeful.

While this is director Mark Decaterina’s first time leading a production, the cast at SCPA are no strangers to the stage, and many have appeared in “Rent” before with other groups. Their skill makes each of the characters’ struggles and triumphs that much more believable.

As a rock opera, the show’s score is loud and proud — there are very few periods of purely spoken dialogue. Musical director Melissa Coyle (keyboard) leads a small but powerful ensemble with Chad Goodstein on guitar, Jim Waddell on drums and and Rob Curry on bass.

Worth particular mention are Scott Johnston (Roger) and Michelle Rubino (Mimi), who play HIV-positive heroin addicts in various stages of recovery. Their performances were raw and emotional in a way that’s hard to shake. This is especially true in their duets “No Day But Today” and “Without You.”

Jose A. Torres (Angel) does a great job bringing humor into the show as an unapologetically flamboyant drag queen and street drummer. You can’t help but fall in love with him as he dances effortlessly in a serious pair of heels.

While the majority of the individual performances were strong, the cast shines most during ensemble numbers. Their harmonies are perfect and might even make the hair on your neck stand up. The title song “Rent” and famous “Seasons of Love” show off the cast’s enormous talent.

The show was enjoyable overall, but the performance on opening night included multiple issues with sound and video. Some lines were inaudible or too loud, with a few instances of feedback, and the crucial movie projected onstage at the end of the show was barely visible. Hopefully, these were just quirks that will be corrected for upcoming performances.

“Rent” is for mature audiences — the show includes strong language, intense sexual dialogue, and drug use as a major plot point. However, it could also serve as a great springboard to conversation for families with teens.

Run time is approximately 2.5 hours with a 15-minute intermission. All tickets are $35. The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is located at 2 E. Main St., Smithtown. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

Stephanie Krasner (Rapunzel) sings “Me, My Hair and I’ with Andrew McCluskey (Prince Brian) in a scene from ‘Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale.‘ Photo byPhoto by Jessie Eppelheimer

By Heidi Sutton

The temperature on the dashboard read a muggy 101 degrees as I parked the car on Main Street in Northport last Saturday morning on my way to review the John W. Engeman Theater’s latest children’s presentation, “Rapunzel: A Tangled Tale.” Stepping into the theater, the air was cool and inviting as Disney princess music drifted through the speakers and little girls in blue dresses and blonde wigs hurried to their seats. The beautiful theater, with its elegant chandelier and giant tapestries on the walls depicting different fairy tales, is the perfect venue for this timeless love story.

The tale of “Rapunzel” can be traced back to the 11th century in some form or another but was made famous by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. With book and lyrics by ”Friends” creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman with music by Michael Skloff, the Engeman’s version combines the traditional tale with Disney’s “Tangled” and makes for great entertainment.

Jennifer Collester Tully skillfully directs a talented cast of four who all play multiple roles in this hilarious musical.

It’s Rapunzel’s 16th birthday and her only birthday wish is to be able to leave the tower for one day and see the world. Her “mother” the witch at first promises to grant her wish but then changes her mind. Meanwhile, Prince Brian, who in his quest to do a heroic deed, is searching the countryside for a damsel in distress and comes upon the tower. “A maiden in a tower and a wicked witch? This is great!” he exclaims and, along with his loyal valet Simon, hatches a plan to save the girl with the longest hair in the world.

Stephanie Krasner as Rapunzel. Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer
Stephanie Krasner as Rapunzel. Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer

Stephanie Krasner gives a fine performance as the beautiful and very naive Rapunzel and the tall and handsome Andrew McCluskey is the perfect prince.

Keith Weiss tackles the role of narrator, Simon the Valet, the witch’s boyfriend, the king and even a cow with boundless energy and enthusiasm and at times seems to be having way too much fun! Weiss draws the most laughs and does a superb job.

TracyLynn Connor is perfectly cast in the role of Gretta the witch. Not too scary, not too sweet and sporting a magic ring that “can do absolutely anything” Connor commands the stage and steals the show.

A nice touch is the occasional interaction with the young audience. At one point the witch misplaces her magic ring and frantically asks the children to help her find it (it’s on her other hand). When Rapunzel and the Prince wander through the forest to the castle, they stroll through the theater’s aisles asking the children what they should have for breakfast once they get there. (Pancakes was the most popular answer.)

Accompanied by electronic feed, the musical numbers are fun and upbeat. Krasner and McCluskey’s duet, “The First Step Is the Hardest” is terrific and Krasner’s solo “Me, My Hair and I” is very sweet. Weiss’ solo,“Wooing a Witch” is delightful and Connor and Weiss’ duet, “Growing Up,” is pure fun.

The costumes, designed by Jess Costagliola, are on point, from Rapunzel’s 10-foot wig to the witch’s black dress, and the play utilizes the amazing set from the evening’s show, “Mamma Mia!” which conveniently features a tower.

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

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present “Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale” on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. through Sept. 11. Running time is 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

Up next will be the beloved musical, “The Wizard of Oz” from Oct. 1 to Nov. 6 followed by the theater’s annual production of “Frosty” from Nov. 26 to Dec. 31. The season continues in the new year with Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen” from Jan. 28 to March 5, 2017, and ends with “Madagascar — A Musical Adventure!” from March 25 to April 30. Tickets are $15 per person. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Rapunzel-detail-21Did you know?

The Rapunzel plant was once widely grown in Europe for its leaves, which were used like spinach, and its parsnip-like root, which was used like a radish. In the Brothers Grimm tale, the witch chose to name the child Rapunzel after this plant, which was stolen from her garden by Rapunzel’s parents.

Amanda Geracie (Maid Marian) and Steven Uihlein (Robin Hood) star in 'The Misadventures of Robin Hood.' Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Hear ye, hear ye! Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men have taken up residence at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson through Aug. 13 as the theater presents the world premiere of “The Misadventures of Robin Hood.”

With original script and music by Jeffrey Sanzel, Steve McCoy and Douglas Quattrock adapted from the well-known English folklore “Robin Hood,” the new musical comedy follows the timeless tale closely but turns out to be more like Mel Brooks’ 1993 film “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.” With equal parts adventure and silliness, the show is a perfect way to enjoy a lazy summer afternoon.

Sanzel skillfully directs eight adult actors who are clearly in their element. The actors are joined on stage by a supporting cast of 35 young members of the theater’s summer acting classes who help the story along with narration and song. It’s the 12th century and King Richard the Lionheart has gone to fight in the Crusades, leaving his brother Prince John in charge who orders the Sheriff of Nottingham to collect taxes from the poor villagers. When Robin of Locksley protests, he is banished from the kingdom and retreats to Sherwood Forest. There he assembles his group of Merry Men and, with the help of Maid Marion, becomes Robin Hood, robbing the rich to give to the poor.

The cast of Theatre Three's 'The Misadventures of Robin Hood'
The cast of Theatre Three’s ‘The Misadventures of Robin Hood.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

The lines are very cheeky: “Why does everyone have to repeat everything I say?” “It’s more dramatic that way!” and the fast-paced show is action packed with sword fights and archery contests. There’s even a bit of magic thrown in as the sheriff acquires a belt that when put on changes his appearance. Oh and the sheriff gets booed — a lot.

Steven Uihlein is hilarious as the absent minded bumbling swashbuckler Robin Hood who just can’t seem to get anyone’s name right including his bride to be, and Amanda Geraci is wonderful as the very patient Maid Marian, or as the program says, “patient beyond words.”

After an absence of more than five years, Jason Furnari returns to the Theatre Three stage to tackle the villainous role of The Sheriff of Nottingham and steals the show. Furnari, best known for his role as the original Barnaby in “Barnaby Saves Christmas” and as Peter in “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit,” is simply wonderful and delivers a stellar performance.

Newcomer Mark Jackett, standing well over six feet, is perfectly cast as Little John, and veteran Andrew Gasparani is an excellent Friar Tuck. Ginger Dalton, as Mrs. Buttertom, Melanie Acampora as Bettris Much and Emily Gates as Anne Much round out the cast and do a fine job.

Accompanied on piano by McCoy, the songs are fun and catchy with special mention of Geraci’s beautiful rendition of “Robin My Love” and Furnari’s “What Makes a Man a Man.” Costumes by Teresa Matteson are on point from Robin Hood’s traditional Lincoln green outfit to Friar Tuck’s robe to Maid Marian’s beautiful gown.

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photo ops.

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main Street in Port Jefferson, will present “The Misadventures of Robin Hood” Aug. 12 at 11 a.m. and Aug. 13 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Children’s theater continues at Theatre Three with “Pumpkin Patch Magic” from Oct. 1 to 29, “Barnaby Saves Christmas” from Nov. 25 to Dec. 30 and “The 3 Little Pigs” from Jan. 21 to Feb. 4. All tickets are $10. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

From left, Jud Newborn, curator of special programs for the Cinema Arts Centre, and actor Chris Lemmon hold up special themed sheet cakes with photos from Jack Lemmon’s movies. Photo by Alex Wolff

The Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington hosted “Twist of Lemmon,” Chris Lemmon’s live multimedia theatrical tribute to his father, legendary star Jack Lemmon, on July 28. The sold-out show was followed by a special reception featuring two theme sheet cakes — one featuring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the 1968 film “The Odd Couple” and the other featuring Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon in drag from the 1959 comedy “Some Like It Hot.”

Photo by Alex Wolff
Photo by Alex Wolff

The garden bench dedicated in memory of Ellen Michelmore. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

Friends and family gathered at the garden at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson to dedicate a bench in memory of the late Ellen Michelmore on July 24. Michelmore, who served as the theater’s resident musical director for more than 25 years, passed away this May at the age of 63 after a five-year courageous battle with leiomyosarcoma, a cancer that infects muscle tissue. “Ellen loved this theater,” said her husband Jeff Lange. “She was the bravest soul I ever knew,” he added.

Ellen Michelmore and her husband Jeff Lange File photo
Ellen Michelmore and her husband Jeff Lange. File photo

A gold plate on the bench is inscribed with the lyrics from Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”:

Try ‘n’ to get my soul free

We are stardust We are golden

And we got to get ourselves

Back to the garden.

Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Theatre Three’s Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel said the lyrics were chosen because “those were the opening lyrics to our ‘Summer ‘69: Return to Woodstock’ that Ellen sang in the very first production. It’s where it all started — it has so many levels in its meanings.”

Jean Sorbera, who had been Theatre Three’s resident choreographer for many years, purchased the bench and donated it. It now sits alongside memorials for two other members of the Theatre Three family gone too soon, Brent Erlanson and Bonnie Vidal.

During the ceremony, Michelle LaPorte and Gerry Saulter performed a moving rendition of “Progressions para Pauline,” a flute and guitar piece by Argentinian composer Luiz José Merlin, in Ellen’s honor.

A reception followed at the theater’s Second Stage. Sanzel gave a toast to Michelmore with her favorite wine, Prosecco, saying, “There are no words,” as he choked back tears. Scanning the packed room, it was incredible to see how many lives Michelmore had touched over the years.

For actors Hans Paul Hendrickson, Steven Uihlein, Sarah E. Bush and TracyLynn Conner, memories of Ellen were practically identical — how she made them feel welcome when they first arrived and helped them perfect their craft. Conner said she and Ellen formed a close personal relationship and would get together often to sing. Conner wore a pair of Ellen’s shoes to the dedication.

“I absolutely adored Ellen and miss her very, very much. She was like family to me,” said actor Steve Ayle. “We worked together at Theatre Three for the last 25 years, most recently playing opposite each other in the [2015] One Act Play Festival’s ‘Quack.’ Ellen was warm and kind beyond compare, her talent immeasurable, and her big, bright eyes reflected her remarkably positive and enduring spirit, even in the face of her illness. She will live on forever in my heart and soul.”

Douglas Quattrock, who has been at the theater full time since 2002 but has been acting there since the mid-80s, was clearly moved by the dedication. “Besides being one of the most caring and genuine people you could ever meet, Ellen was also an inspiration,” said a tearful Quattrock. “Even though I have never had any formal training in composing music, Ellen always encouraged me to do it. ‘Just play what’s in your heart’ is what she would say. I was honored to work on so many shows with her.”

Michelmore was such an integral part of the Theatre Three family that she was honored with a musical tribute “Ellen Michelmore: Notes From The Heart,” in 2014. The evening featured singers, actors and musicians who had been blessed to work with her. “Jeff [Sanzel] asked me to write a song for Ellen [for the tribute],” continued Quattrock. “The opening lyric that immediately came to my mind was ‘You’re The Music, You’re The Song.’ To me, that was Ellen … She was the music.”

Actor and musician Kevin Story also reflected on his time with Michelmore, saying, “Ellen was a unique light. From the moment I set foot inside Theatre Three over ten years ago, she was encouraging and supportive, a great mentor, colleague and friend. There are really no words, as Jeff said.”

Sanzel said that Theatre Three’s Aug. 19 and 20 performances of “Woodstockmania: Woodstock in Concert,” a musical created by Michelmore, will be dedicated to her memory. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. In addition, Sanzel said a plaque bearing the inscription, “Ellen Michelmore: The Spirit of Music Ever Present” will be placed in the orchestra pit and “a portrait of Michelmore will be commissioned for the lobby.”

Kevin Story surely spoke for all who attended the ceremony that day, saying, “We’ve all been touched by Ellen in an amazing way, and we can only hope her light will continue to shine through us somehow. She will be missed.”

Robin Lounsbury (as Rosie), Michelle Dawson (as Donna) and Heather Patterson King (as Tanya) in a scene from ‘Mamma Mia!’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Rita J. Egan

The Long Island premiere of “Mamma Mia!,” the jukebox musical that features an assortment of iconic songs from the Swedish pop group ABBA, opened at the John W. Engeman Theater last week. And, it appears the name of the game for the Northport venue is success as it has produced another Broadway-quality show right here on the North Shore.

Director Antoinette DiPietropolo skillfully directs a multitalented cast of 20 who recreate the warmth, charm and energy that audiences loved when the production ran on Broadway for 14 years.

Written by Catherine Johnson, with music and lyrics by former ABBA members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, as well as some songs with Stig Anderson, “Mamma Mia!” tells the touching story of 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan who lives in a taverna on a small Greek island with her mother Donna. After reading her mother’s old diary, Sophie, who is about to marry her fiancé Sky, decides to invite three men from the single Donna’s past, one that may be the young woman’s father. While the threesome’s visit may or may not bring the answer Sophie is looking for, it does take Donna on a wonderful musical trip down memory lane.

Hannah Slabaugh (as Sophie), Sean Hayden (as Sam), Jeff Williams (as Bill) and Frank Vlastnik (as Harry) in a scene from 'Mamma Mia!' Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Hannah Slabaugh (as Sophie), Sean Hayden (as Sam), Jeff Williams (as Bill) and Frank Vlastnik (as Harry) in a scene from ‘Mamma Mia!’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Portraying Sophie’s mother, Donna Sheridan, is Michelle Dawson, who played the character in the Broadway National tour. The actress perfectly embodies the quirky, free-spirited, earthy nature of Donna, and she has great stage presence, too. With her animated facial expressions and dynamite smile, it’s easy for the audience to decipher whether Donna is in agony over past mistakes or enjoying beautiful memories. Her vocals are strong on every number, and when it comes to “The Winner Takes It All,” in the beginning of the song she uses her singing talents to deliver the lyrics as if they were a monologue, and then she powerfully builds the song up to its heartbreaking ending.

Dawson also shows off her comedic abilities with Heather Patterson King and Robin Lounsbury, who play her visiting friends Tanya and Rosie, respectively. The three are funny during the song “Chiquitita” where Tanya and Rosie try to cheer their friend up, and then deliver a well-executed “Dancing Queen” as they remember their days as Donna and the Dynamos. A couple of scenes later, they treat the audience to their fantastic vocal talents once more with “Super Trouper.”

King is perfect as the sophisticated yet fun-loving Tanya, and during Act II, she sings “Does Your Mother Know” like a rock goddess. Lounsbury as Rosie is funny and delightfully carefree, especially during the number “Take a Chance on Me” where she playfully lets one of Donna’s former lovers, Bill, know exactly how she feels.

Hannah Slabaugh as Sophie Sheridan is everything you expect the young woman to be — sweet, loving, curious and determined. She captures Sophie’s spirit perfectly, and her vocals are lovely on every song she sings.

 Sean Hayden (as Sam) and Michelle Dawson (as Donna) Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Sean Hayden (as Sam) and Michelle Dawson (as Donna) Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Sean Hayden is charming and sweet as Sam Carmichael, one of Sophie’s potential fathers. On opening day, when Sam sang “Knowing Me, Knowing You” to the young woman, it seemed as if both Carmichael and Slabaugh were misty-eyed.

Frank Vlastnik is well-cast as the buttoned-up yet kind Harry, and during Act II, Vlastnik and Dawson treat the audience to a tender version of “Our Last Summer.” Jeff Williams captures the sexy, adventurous nature of Bill Austin and at the same time easily shows the character’s softer side. He demonstrates good vocals on the numbers he takes part in, too.

Jacob Dickey is adorable and endearing as Sky, Sophie’s fiancé. Dickey possesses the handsome good looks of a boy band member, but when he sings, he performs his parts like a successful solo artist. Jennifer Seifter (Ali), Lydia Ruth Dawson (Lisa), Darius Jordan Lee (Eddie) and Christopher Hlinka (Pepper) as Sophie’s and Sky’s best friends enhance the upbeat feel of the musical, and Hlinka shows a good amount of comedic ability when Pepper attempts to seduce Tanya.

Director DiPietropolo also choreographed the Northport production, and her choreography is at its finest at the end of Act I when the whole cast as well as ensemble delivers a fun, energetic “Voulez-Vous.”

As far as the striking set in shades of blue and sand with floral accents, it’s worthy of a stage on the Great White Way. Designed by DT Willis, the set includes doors that allow the actors to move effortlessly on and off stage as well as a section that easily switches from a front door to a bedroom.

Not to be forgotten is the band featuring Alexander Rovang (conductor/keyboard), Anthony Brindisi (keyboard 2), Douglas Baldwin (guitars), Russ Brown (bass) and Josh Endlich (drums). The musicians do an excellent job recreating the instrumentals of the cherished ABBA tunes.

After the bows on opening night, in true “Mamma Mia!” musical form, the cast had no trouble getting the audience to get up and dance with them to favorite ABBA hits. The pop group once sang “the winner takes it all,” and in the case of the Northport production, the cast, crew and audience all walk away winners.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main Street, Northport, will present “Mamma Mia!” through Sept. 11. Tickets are $76 for Saturday evening performances and $71 for all other performances. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

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