Theater

The cast of ‘Frosty,’ from left, Courtney Fekete, Kate Keating, Matthew Rafanelli, Jacqueline Hughes and Samantha Carroll. Photo by Beth Hallisey

By Erika Riley

The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport kicked off its holiday season last Saturday with the opening of an annual favorite, “Frosty.” Richard T. Dolce skillfully directs the children-friendly classic with the help of a talented adult cast of five.

The story of “Frosty” will be familiar to fans of the “Frosty the Snowman” movie, with a few twists and turns along the way. Kate Keating returns to reprise her role as Jenny, the energetic young girl who builds a snowman and magically brings him to life. Keating effortlessly slips into the role of a little kid, and audience members will connect with her as soon as she sings a melancholy rendition of “No Friends.”

Kate Keating and Matthew Rafanelli star in 'Frosty'
Kate Keating and Matthew Rafanelli star in ‘Frosty’

Keating works alongside Courtney Fekete, who plays the role of Jenny’s mom and is also the mayor of Chillsville. She is tricked into signing a contract with the evil Ethel Pierpot (Samantha Carroll) who builds a machine to get rid of all the snow in Chillsville, sending Frosty and Jenny into a panic. Together, Jenny, her mom, Frosty and the audience must find a way to keep Frosty from melting.

The narrator, played by “Frosty” newcomer Jacqueline Hughes, draws the most laughs from the audience, as she helps tell the story with excellent comedic timing. During the Saturday opening, the children giggled as Hughes returned to the stage with maracas and a sombrero while Frosty and Jenny sang “One Friend Is Better Than No Friends.” The narrator slips into several roles during the show, including a train conductor, Ethel Pierpot’s assistant, and more, bringing life and energy to each.

Frosty, played by Matthew Rafanelli, instantly wins over the hearts of both the audience and Jenny when he comes to life for the first time with the help of a magic wool scarf. The children all applaud as he sings, slides and dances his way to help save the day.

Perhaps the most unique part of this wonderful show is the constant audience participation. The children are not expected to sit still and quiet in their seats but instead are encouraged to sing along to songs like “Snow” and the titular “Frosty the Snowman.”

During intermission, Hughes asks the audience to come up with solutions for Frosty and Jenny’s dilemma. When the show continues, the children can share their ideas with the cast. The kids also help Jenny write a letter to her mom and even get to wish for snow at the end of the show, and, spoiler alert, are rewarded with snowfall right before their eyes.

At several points in the show, the actors come into the audience, including the final scene when Jenny, Frosty and Jenny’s mom try to catch Ethel Pierpot. They run through the theater, asking where Ethel went, as the children help point the way. Frosty even high-fives audience members as he makes his way up and down the aisles.

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos. The children can also have their programs signed by the cast members. An autograph page is located toward 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.

About the author: Stony Brook resident Erika Riley is a sophomore at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She is interning at TBR during her winter break and hopes to advance in the world of journalism and publishing after graduation.

Last year's performance of 'The Nutracker.' Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.

By Kevin Redding

Toy soldiers, angels, sword-wielding mice and a sugar plum fairy are back in town to spread the magic of Christmas to audiences young and old.

For more than two decades, the North Shore community has looked to Port Jefferson’s Harbor Ballet Theatre to officially kick off the holiday season each year with its dazzling production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”Coming up on its 25th anniversary production, the not-for-profit dance company gears up to deliver another unforgettable spectacle. John Worrell, executive artistic director of the show, said that the calibre of their production has helped it become a holiday tradition among the community.

“The dancing, the dancers, the choreography and the sets are incredible,” said Worrell. “Just the way that we tell the story is very understandable and very easy for everyone to follow. It really sets the tone for Port Jefferson and Setauket and Stony Brook and Miller Place because everybody gravitates to get that holiday feeling.”

Harbor Ballet Theatre was founded in 1991 by Worrell and his wife Amy Tyler as an open company to give dancers of all ages the opportunity to be part of professionally staged ballet productions. Worrell said it was also created to allow anybody from anywhere to come and audition, which is why there are so many new faces on a year-to-year basis as well as longtime dancers.

Last year's performance of 'The Nutracker.' Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.
A scene from last year’s performance of ‘The Nutracker.’ Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.

This production will feature about 70 performers, a majority of them between the ages 6 and 25. Auditions were held in the second week of September and the first rehearsal took place on the first weekend of October, giving way to 10 to 12 strenuous yet worthwhile rehearsals before the final show. Some of the senior dancers in the show even committed six to seven days a week for at least two hours a day to rehearsal.

“That whole debate whether dance is a sport … they [dancers] train like athletes,” said Worrell. “They work drills everyday. To be able to get to the level they want to be and be able to do their solos in the second act and lift each other up, they have to work their butts off.”

Richard Liebert and Rebecca Stafford, seniors from Earl L. Vandermuellen High School, are among some of the more experienced dancers in the production. Liebert, who plays the Mouse King, said there are a lot of physical challenges.

“There are times [in the show] where I have to lift a girl over my head and turn her,” said Liebert. “It could be a bit intimidating … but it’s worthwhile. I love doing it.”

“We’re with our friends, so we’re having fun,” said Stafford, who plays Harlequin.

Worrell said that at the start of production, he and Amy watched the DVD from the previous year’s show and figured out what, if anything, they wanted to change. The most common changes year-to-year have to do with solos, which depend on the dancers in the show, what their strengths are, and what they feel most comfortable doing.

Worrell said that there are plans to add a new element this year but wants to keep it a surprise and “make sure that it works first.”“We try to add something new every year, every two years … just to keep it fresh, so the audience will find it fun to watch,” he said.

Join Harbor Ballet Theatre in celebrating its 25th anniversary of “The Nutcracker” and prepare to be swept away by the extravagant sets, rich costumes, passionate acting and dancing and Tchaikovsky’s masterful music.

Performances of “The Nutcracker” will be held on Friday, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. at Earl L. Vandermuellen High School, 350 Old Post Road, Port Jefferson. All seats are $25 in advance, cash or check only. For more information, please call 631-331-3149.

Luke Hawkins (Bert), Katherine LaFountain (Jane Banks), Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins) and Christopher McKenna (Michael Banks) in a scene from 'Mary Poppins'. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

By Melissa Arnold

From left, Danny Meglio (Robertson Ay), Liz Pearce (Winifred Banks), Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins), Katherine LaFountain (Jane Banks) and Christopher McKenna (Michael Banks). Photo by Keith Kowalsky
From left, Danny Meglio (Robertson Ay), Liz Pearce (Winifred Banks), Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins), Katherine LaFountain (Jane Banks) and Christopher McKenna (Michael Banks). Photo by Keith Kowalsky

Sometimes, looking at life through a child’s eyes again makes everything better.

That’s exactly the opportunity you’re given in “Mary Poppins,” which kicked off a six-week run at the John Engeman Theater in Northport this week. And boy, is it a treat.

The Engeman Theater has a reputation for pulling out all the stops for its shows, and “Mary Poppins” definitely reaps those benefits with a stunning, colorful background, detailed scenery and a cast of seasoned professionals, many of whom spent time on Broadway.

Directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey, this show is a Disney classic, with all the heartwarming moments and magical touches you’d expect. Set in early 1900s London, “Mary Poppins” gives a glimpse into the lives of the wealthy Banks family — workaholic husband George, his doting wife Winifred and their adorable-yet-mischievous children, Jane and Michael.

Try as they might, the Bankses can’t seem to find a nanny who will stick around – it might have something to do with the kids’ constant pranks and stubbornness. But Jane and Michael meet their match when Mary Poppins shows up from who knows where. Without any negotiation, she invites herself into their home and begins to work some real magic. Along the way, she introduces them to a host of quirky, mysterious characters that teach them about what’s really important in life.

Luke Hawking (Bert) and Ensemble performing "Step in Time." Photo by Keith Kowalsky.
Luke Hawking (Bert) and Ensemble performing “Step in Time.” Photo by Keith Kowalsky

The story’s unofficial narrator is Bert (Luke Hawkins), a charming chimney sweep with a deep affection for Mary Poppins and the Banks children. Hawkins will have you smiling the minute he takes the stage, and his appearances will tug on your heartstrings throughout the show. His tap dancing skills in “Step in Time” will leave you breathless.

Mary Poppins is played by Analisa Leaming, a newcomer to the Engeman stage with several Broadway credits under her belt. Leamings plays Poppins with all the poise and grace the role demands, with lovely, light vocals even on the highest notes. She also deserves a nod for the slight-of-hand tricks she performs throughout the show, maintaining character even during a rare moment when her props won’t cooperate.

Katherine LaFountain and Christopher McKenna play the Banks children with endless enthusiasm and joy. Both have an obvious love for the stage and there is nothing forced about their performances. You’ll fall in love with them both during “The Perfect Nanny” and “Practically Perfect,” two examples of their fantastic teamwork.

Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins). Photo by Keith Kowalsky.
Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins). Photo by Keith Kowalsky.

The special effects in “Mary Poppins” are what make the show truly great. Children in the audience might actually believe that Mary’s bag can fit anything, that she can instantly make sandwiches from a loaf of bread, or that she can even fly. Seeing her take flight with that famous umbrella is the highlight of the show.

The show’s set can rotate, expand and retract, which allows for easy transitions between several unique locations. The background is perhaps the most eye-catching element, however, with the London sky in silhouette and a colorful, illuminated sky that can create sunsets, nightscapes and even some psychedelic schemes.

Many of the supporting cast members are also worth a mention. In particular, George Banks’ childhood nanny Miss Andrew (Jane Blass) commands the stage during her brief performance. She has so much swagger and authority that when she’s called “the holy terror,” you’ll believe it in an instant. Also, the “bird woman,” played by Suzanne Mason, delivers a performance of “Feed the Birds” that’s both touching and haunting.

The ensemble has a huge role to play in “Mary Poppins.” Whether they’re seamlessly helping with set changes as chimney sweeps, tap dancing or serving as any number of whimsical creatures, they are an essential part of the show and every bit as talented as the lead actors. In fact, their performance in “Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious” and “Step in Time” are among the most impressive of the entire show. The two children’s ensembles, which will rotate throughout the show’s run, should be commended for their hard work and flawless routines.

While the band isn’t visible or credited at any point in the show, they do a flawless job in presenting songs from the original movie as well as many that were written for the stage version. Under the direction of Michael Hopewell, the band consists of keyboard, bass, drums and a variety of woodwind and brass instruments.

All told, “Mary Poppins” is exactly the joyful, inspiring tale so many of us seek out during the holidays. While it’s not a holiday-themed production, the theater is beautifully decorated for the season, and you can enjoy the occasional Christmas song and a festive drink at the piano bar before showtime.

Take a few hours this holiday season to leave your cares behind and gather the family for a night of laughter. You’ll be glad you did.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Mary Poppins” through Dec. 31. Run time is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Ticket prices vary from $71 to $76. To purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900.

Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

‘I WILL HONOR CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART’ 

Above, the 2016 cast of “A Christmas Carol” at Theatre Three gathers for a group photo before opening night last Saturday. The Port Jefferson theater celebrates its 33rd annual production of the immortal classic this holiday season.

Written by Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol” was the most successful book of the 1843 holiday season, selling six thousand copies by Christmas. Eight stage adaptations were in production within two months of the book’s publication.

Today, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his journey to find the true meaning of Christmas through visits from the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future is as popular as it was over 150 years ago. Charles Dickens, through the voice of Scrooge, continues to urge us to honor Christmas in our hearts and try to keep it all the year. 

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Scrooge (Jeffrey Sanzel) encounters the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come for the first time. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Michael Tessler

Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge & Jessica Contino as Ghost of Christmas Past. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions., Inc.
Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge & Jessica Contino as Ghost of Christmas Past. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions., Inc.

Though the holidays are usually filled with joy, they’re certainly not without their own special breed of stress, which seems to melt away as Theatre Three gifts our community with a profound and magical experience that allows us to escape into the marvelous imaginative world of the late, great Charles Dickens. Theatre Three provides more than just a distraction — it provides unparalleled delights that will stir up the best childlike emotions in each of us.

Jeffrey Sanzel, the show’s director, faces the unique challenge of annually reimagining “A Christmas Carol.” He seamlessly completes this task with his usual grace and confidence. For over 30 years the show has been a must-see tradition for Long Island families and visitors. Sanzel’s vision shines brighter than ever as he masterfully directs his cast. While the story remains the same, its characters are all the more captivating because of the great direction he provides.

What’s most impressive is that not only does Sanzel direct, but he also stars in the iconic role of Ebenezer Scrooge. For those unfamiliar with the classic Dickens novel, Scrooge is a man whose greed supersedes his humanity. One night he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley (Steven Uihlein) who informs him that hell awaits him if he doesn’t change his ways. This propels him on an unlikely journey of self-reflection and change.

Sanzel plays not only an older Scrooge, but a younger more lively version of himself. His ability to change physicality and characters instantly is one of his most impressive qualities, and there are plenty!

Douglas J. Quattrock as Bob Cratchit & Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge in a scene from 'A Christmas Carol'. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.
Douglas J. Quattrock as Bob Cratchit & Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Bob Cratchit, played by the ever-so-gentle Douglas Quattrock, is beyond endearing. There’s a righteousness and goodness about this man that can be felt genuinely by the audience. Cratchit, who works as a clerk for the elderly Mr. Scrooge, endures considerable workplace trauma to make sure his family is fed and taken care of. Despite his hard work, his youngest son, Tiny Tim, remains at the precipice of death. Quattrock will have you grinning cheek to cheek as he embraces his wife played with love by Suzie Dunn and the rest of the family.

Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge & Jessica Contino as Ghost of Christmas Past in a scene from 'A Christmas Carol'. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.
Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge & Jessica Contino as Ghost of Christmas Past in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Alongside Cratchit is the kind-hearted and abandoned nephew of Scrooge, Fred Halliwell. There’s a certain glee in Dylan Poulos’ performance. He’s almost infused with the spirit of Christmas itself, which I suppose would make sense as he also plays the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come! Halliwell seeks nothing more than to rekindle a relationship with his past by getting to know his only living relative, dear Uncle Scrooge. What he doesn’t realize is that his eyes are the same eyes as his departed mother, a painful reminder for old Ebenezer. Fan Scrooge Halliwell (Megan Bush/Sophia Knapp) lives and breathes in certain sequences, and perfectly portrays the love between two close siblings.

Among my favorite cast members is the larger-than-life Fezziwig, played with great fervor by George Liberman. He’s joined alongside his stage wife, played by Ginger Dalton. These two form a comedic pair that will have you smiling as wide as the horizon! There’s something so whimsical about watching Fezziwig’s ball unfold on-stage: the dancing, the singing, everything. Watching you can’t help but feel that you’re up there with them. My favorite part of this sequence is watching the curmudgeon Scrooge transform into a spruce young man who woos and proposes to Fezziwig’s daughter, Belle, played by a belle of extraordinary talent, Emily Gates.

Scrooge (Jeffrey Sanzel) with a very ‘cheeky’ Ghost of Christmas Present (Bobby Montaniz).
Scrooge (Jeffrey Sanzel) with a very ‘cheeky’ Ghost of Christmas Present (Bobby Montaniz). Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

All three spirits are truly splendid. Jessica Contino shines as the Ghost of Christmas Past, bringing Scrooge on a journey that forces him to reconcile many of the mistakes and heartbreaks a long life will bring. Bobby Montaniz nails perfectly the essence of the Ghost of Christmas Present, and while he’s not a giant, his impressive voice certainly sounds like he is! His deep laughter will echo in your belly all through the evening!

Finally the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come may be the most visually impressive puppetry I’ve seen at Theatre Three yet (and they pulled out an actual dragon for “Shrek!”). This massive and haunting figure must be at least 15 feet tall and is adorned in a black tattered cloak and hood and is perfectly embellished by the brilliant lighting layout by Robert Henderson.

In addition to an incredible cast and superb lighting, this is one of the most beautiful sets I’ve ever seen. There’s a craftsmanship that far exceeds your usual stage show, and not only does it show but genuinely adds to the ambiance of the production. I’ve got nothing but praise for Randall Parsons, the show’s production designer and his costume counterpart Bonnie Vidal.

There are many additional names in the cast and crew who are deserving of praise, especially the incredibly talented children who alternate each night and demonstrate a professionalism and talent well beyond their years. Give yourself and your loved ones a gift that is truly made of magic. Go see “A Christmas Carol.”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “A Christmas Carol” through Dec. 31. All tickets are $20 in November and range from $20 to $35 in December. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Ed Blair

One was a Broadway star who flew as Peter Pan, vowed to “wash that man right out of my hair” in South Pacific, and frolicked with the Von Trapp children in “The Sound of Music.” The other was a sweet southern singer and popular TV hostess who urged viewers to “See the USA in your Chevrolet.”

Audiences will have the opportunity to learn about the lives of two legendary stars while enjoying musical highlights from the iconic ladies’ careers, as The Ward Melville Heritage Organization presents “Holiday Wishes from Mary Martin & Dinah Shore” at its Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook Village. Actors will portray the duo in a beautifully decorated seasonal setting through Jan. 11. The event, presented by St. George Living History Productions, is followed by a high-tea luncheon featuring finger sandwiches and delectable desserts.

Mary Martin
Mary Martin

 

As a girl, Mary Martin took an early interest in performing. She channeled her creative impulses by teaching dance, opening her own studio in Mineral Wells, Texas. Fate intervened, however, and when her dance studio burned down, Martin decided to leave Texas and take her shot at making it in Hollywood.

After a number of auditions proved fruitless, Martin got her break when she caught the eye of Oscar Hammerstein, who thought her voice could play on Broadway. She became an overnight sensation in her stage debut in 1938, when the 25-year-old won audiences over with her poignant rendition of “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” in Cole Porter’s “Leave It to Me!” Martin followed up with a Tony Award for her role in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.” The classic song from the show, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair,” was actually written at her suggestion, and Martin dutifully washed her hair on stage every night during the run — eight times a week.

The now-famous star added Tony Awards for her performances in the title role in “Peter Pan” and as Maria in “The Sound of Music.” She also starred in “Annie Get Your Gun” and played opposite Robert Preston in “I Do! I Do!” Martin made media history, when, on March 7, 1955, NBC broadcast a live presentation of “Peter Pan.” The musical, with nearly all of the show’s original cast, was the first full-length Broadway production to air on color TV. The show attracted a then-record audience of 65 million viewers, the highest ever up to that time for a single television program. Martin won an Emmy Award for her performance. Mary Martin died in 1990 at the age of 77. There are two stars bearing her name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Dinah Shore
Dinah Shore

As a student at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee native Dinah Shore began her career by performing her own short program on a Nashville radio station. After graduation in 1938, she moved to New York City, where she landed a job as a singer on WNEW. Her career progressed slowly, but she scored a few hits and became more well known during the World War II years, when she traveled with the USO, performing for the troops. “I’ll Walk Alone,” “I Love You for Sentimental Reasons” and “Buttons and Bows” were all major hits that catapulted her to stardom.

Shore appeared in a few films, but she made her impact on television as TV sets became standard features in homes across the nation in the early 1950s. Her variety show made its debut in 1951. It evolved into “The Dinah Shore Chevy Show” in 1956, which became a mainstay through 1963. Shore’s warmth and engaging personality appealed to TV audiences, and she followed her earlier successes by hosting popular talk shows — “Dinah’s Place,” “Dinah!” and “Dinah and Friends.” Along the way, she accumulated 10 Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award and a Golden Globe Award.

Shore also had a passion for golf. She founded the Colgate/Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle Golf Championship and sponsored the Dinah Shore Classic for a number of years, earning her an honorary membership in the Ladies Professional Golf Association Hall of Fame. Three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame honor Dinah Shore, who died in 1994 at the age of 77.

What led writer/director Sal St. George to pair Martin and Shore in his production? “Mary did a special with Noel Coward in 1955, and that inspired me to ponder what a collaboration between her and Dinah would be like,” he explained. “It is a nostalgic part of the Golden Age of television of the 1960s when ‘Specials’ or ‘Spectaculars’ were well produced and had legitimate star quality. This is also Dinah’s 100th birthday year, so we took this opportunity to celebrate her life.”

St. George added, “This is also our 15th year presenting programs for WMHO. We wanted to make this show different and more glamorous than ever before. Consequently, we thought about adding a second celebrity guest. We have never had two high profile women together on the stage. This is the perfect holiday show for the family — great tunes from the Broadway songbook, plenty of good old-fashioned comedy and dazzling costumes — plus an appearance by Peter Pan. Who can ask for more!”

The WMHO Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook will host “Holiday Wishes from Mary Martin & Dinah Shore” through Jan. 11. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday shows are at 11:30 a.m.; Sunday shows at 12:30 p.m. The high-tea luncheon performance, catered by Crazy Beans, is sponsored in part by the Roosevelt Investment Group Inc. General admission is $50; seniors 60 and over $48; groups of 20 or more $45. Advance reservations are required by calling 631-689-5888. For more information, visit www.wmho.org.

Douglas Quattrock as Bob Cratchit in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’. Photo from Theatre Three

By Melissa Arnold

Acting has been a part of Douglas Quattrock’s life for decades now, but like a kid at Christmas, he waits all year to take the stage for Theatre Three’s “A Christmas Carol,” which opens this weekend. Quattrock, 52, of Selden, is director of development, group sales and special events coordinator for the theater. On stage, he’s Bob Cratchit, the long-suffering clerk of Ebenezer Scrooge and the father of Tiny Tim. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Quattrock as he prepares to play the quintessential character for the 27th year.

How long have you been with Theatre Three?

I performed in my first show at Theatre Three in 1982 and became an official part of the staff in 2004.

What got you interested in acting?

I grew up in New York City and then moved out to Long Island in high school. I had to take an elective, and they had a spot open in chorus, but I didn’t realize I could sing. After that I spent a lot of time in the music room and taught myself to play piano. From there I got involved with the school’s productions and discovered I had a passion for it, whether I was acting or on the stage crew.

When did you first appear in ‘A Christmas Carol’?

Back in 1989, I was doing a show in East Islip, and (director) Jeff Sanzel saw me perform. He came backstage and asked me if I would audition for Bob Cratchit for the upcoming production at Theatre Three.

From left, Doug Quattrock as Bob Cratchit and Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge in a scene from 'A Christmas Carol.' Photo from Theatre Three
From left, Doug Quattrock as Bob Cratchit and Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Photo from Theatre Three

Did you hope to play Bob Cratchit from the beginning?

Absolutely. I’d seen the production before and a few friends had done the role before me. I’ve loved the story for as long as I can remember. I love [Cratchit’s] hope and connection to his family — he comes from a large family, just like I do. We grew up in a small apartment and my parents always struggled to make Christmas special for us, even if they couldn’t afford much. They taught us it was all about family.

Do you feel you’ve brought anything new or different to the role?

As I’ve gotten older, I come to appreciate more the value of family and what really matters in life … I focus so much on that in the role. I hope people can see that, and that my family knows how much I love and appreciate their support.

Tell me about the cast.

While Scrooge, Mr. Fezziwig and myself have been the same for many years, there are also new people that come onboard every year. They bring a fresh, new energy to the show and new dynamics. For example, I’ve (appeared with) many different women who were playing Mrs. Cratchit over the years. Each of them has her own way of playing the role, which affects our relationship on stage. It’s really exciting to see how it changes with time.

From left,The Cratchit family, sans Tiny Tim, from left, Jace Rodrigues, Marquez Stewart, Douglas Quattrock, Zoe Kahnis and Kellianne Crovello in a scene from last year’s ‘A Christmas Carol’. Photo from Theatre Three
From left,The Cratchit family, sans Tiny Tim, from left, Jace Rodrigues, Marquez Stewart, Douglas Quattrock, Zoe Kahnis and Kellianne Crovello in a scene from last year’s ‘A Christmas Carol’. Photo from Theatre Three

What is it like working with the young people in the cast?

The children are just amazing. It’s fun to watch them grow up and go on to other roles in the show or other productions over the years. [Director] Jeffrey [Sanzel] works so hard to instill good values and responsibility in them, to let them know how important they are to the show. If they’re not on stage, they’re either watching rehearsals or doing homework — they need to keep up with every aspect of their lives. Theater provides such a wonderful outlet of expression and education for children.

What is it like working with Jeffrey Sanzel as both director and Scrooge?

He has so much passion and warmth not only for this story, but for everything he does here professionally. I consider him a friend. It’s amazing for me to watch him make the transformation into Scrooge — he’s very scary. It’s especially so because he’s also my boss in real life! But we have a unique relationship.

Is the show scary? Are there any special effects?

Yes, it is scary — we don’t recommend it for children under five, and if they’re five, they shouldn’t sit in the front. There are fog machines, strobe lights, loud noises, darkness, voices from below, a 14-foot ghost and much more. We recommend that they watch other versions of “A Christmas Carol” first so they have an idea of what the show’s about.

Is this your favorite time of year?

Without a doubt!

‘A Christmas Carol’ will be adding extra shows during the Port Jefferson Dickens Festival, which falls on Dec. 3 and 4 this year. What do you most enjoy about the Dickens Festival weekend?

It’s amazing seeing how the whole village embraces this production. They decorate [Port Jefferson] so beautifully and everyone comes together to support what we do. It’s like the whole place comes to life.

What is so special about community theater?

It’s about taking limited resources and creating the best productions from that. We create with heart, imagination and a lot of hard work. That comes from within. And when a show goes well, it’s that much more exciting and valuable.

People have said that you always make them teary-eyed in your last scene with Scrooge. How does that make you feel?

That’s my favorite scene, even though it’s the shortest between us. From Bob’s perspective, the whole story has been building up to that moment, when Scrooge says (Bob’s) son, Tim, will walk again. Scrooge has so many redemptive moments in the last few minutes of the show, and it’s so powerful. I love knowing that moves people. I want people in the audience to see that even the tiniest gestures of kindness can mean so much to someone. That is Christmas to me. If the audience can walk away with that message, and capture the spirit of the season, then I’ve done my job.

“A Christmas Carol” will run at Theatre Three, 412 E. Main St., Port Jefferson, from Nov. 19 to Dec. 30. All tickets are $20 in November and range from $20 to $35 in December. For information or to purchase tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson sing ‘Follow Your Heart’ in a scene from ‘Urinetown.’ Photo courtesy of the SCPA

By Rebecca Anzel

“Urinetown: The Musical,” currently in production at the Smithtown Performing Arts Center through Nov. 6, has received rave reviews. The two lead characters, Hope Cladwell and Bobby Strong, are played by real-life couple Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson. I sat down with the two actors on Saturday night before the show to ask them about their latest roles.

Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson sing ‘Follow Your Heart’ in a scene from ‘Urinetown.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA
Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson sing ‘Follow Your Heart’ in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA

How did you two meet?

S: The first time we actually met was here at Smithtown Theater years ago when we both auditioned for Light in the Piazza, which was my first show. Jeremy didn’t make the cut but we read together on stage and I remembered it and I found him on Facebook—

J: She Facebook stalked me throughout college.

S: I just was like, “I read with this guy and he’s nice.” We became closer friends at the Engeman. We started doing children’s theater there together and he was in a production of White Christmas that I was a dresser.

J: Even before that though — Little Women.

S: Oh god yeah, and then we did Little Women together at CM. Our friendship and love, eventually, has come through working at all these different theaters. But we did actually meet at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts years ago. And here we are.

J: It was a long time ago. 2007.

What is it like being engaged to each other and starring opposite each other in a show?

S: I mean, it’s like any other day really. We met doing shows together so I guess it’s normal. It’s easier to learn the lines. I trust him on stage. Our families are even more excited than we are.

J: Yeah, it’s a fun opportunity that’s few and far between. It’s a chance to have both of our lives kind of converge at one point to be able to do a show like this together. We try and make the most of the time we have doing this show because —

S: We don’t know when it’ll come again to work together, so it’s very nice.

Photo courtesy of SCPA  Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.' Photo courtesy of SCPA
Photo courtesy of SCPA
Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA

What other theaters have you both worked in?

S: Together, we worked at CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale and the John W. Engeman in Northport. This is definitely our biggest roles together. Playing opposite each other is really, it’s silly but we’re both serious enough that we don’t just burst out laughing.

J: We can keep it together for five minutes.

 

You said that you performed at this theater in a teen production. Have you done any other shows here?

S: I have. I’ve been here my whole theater life. I’ve done many of the Wonderettes shows — they’re doing another Wonderettes coming this May and June. Light in the Piazza was my first really big one. Most recently, I’ve been in Violet, which was a really big favorite, and we were both actually in First Date together a few months ago as well.

J: Last March. More than a few months at this point.

S: But yeah, I was in Little Mermaid. The list goes on and on. And Jeremy’s worked here before as well.

J: I haven’t done quite as much but I have done a few shows in the past. I did Assassins here, I did Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was another one I did here.

How old were you each when you decided that you wanted to be an actor? What attracted you to the profession?

S: I think I was probably about 6 or 7 when I started to be interested in it. My mom took me to see Beauty and the Beast on Broadway and at that point I was like, “Oh, well I have to be Belle.” I mean, I’m still waiting. I think my first acting class was probably at 8 years old and then I started singing lessons in sixth grade, so once I got to high school, I realized that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Beauty and the Beast, those princesses and those villains, inspired me to be where I am.

J: And I was in high school, I guess. My brother — my older brother, 10 years my senior so much older brother — used to do theater and growing up I would always go with my parents to see him do shows pretty consistently, so it was always kind of a part of my life. And then I did one myself and I was like, “Hey this is fun.” My first show was Grease, and then Guys and Dolls. I just enjoyed doing it, and having been a part of it my entire life, I just kind of slid into it myself.

Samantha Carroll in a scene from 'Urinetown The Musical," Photo courtesy of SCPA
Samantha Carroll in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical,” Photo courtesy of SCPA

Do you ever get nervous on stage?

S: For sure. Nerves are good, though, because it means you care about it and it keeps you focused.

J: The thing is, I forget there are audiences there, so I just am doing it and because I’ve done it so many times now, I’m used to people watching me do whatever. The only time I get more nervous, so to speak, is if I start to really think about it. Sometimes I’ll be on stage doing a scene and, not to say I won’t be in the moment, but I’ll just think, “I’m standing on a stage and there are people staring at me.” And then at that point what I’m doing starts to sink in, and then maybe at that point.

S: We don’t stay up at night thinking how terrifying it is to be on stage, or we wouldn’t do it. I think we get just general butterflies, especially when your parents are in the audience. You just want to be good. We’re perfectionists, unfortunately, to a fault.

What is it like watching each other perform?

S: It’s so cool. I do some stuff in Millbrook Playhouse in Pennsylvania, and Jeremy has come out to to see me in everything. I always just wait to hear what he has to say, because those mean the most to me. His words and his critiques, he doesn’t have many.

J: Not to her face at least.

S: And seeing Jeremy is amazing too. I got to see him in 1776 last year.

J: You don’t get to see me do as much as I see you.

S: He sees me a little more because he works a big-boy job too.

J: One of the many reasons we’re going to get married is just because it’s nice to share similar interests in this because it is a very time-consuming, very all-encompassing profession job. Being an actor or actress takes a lot out of you, so to be on the same page and to have that point of reference or common ground, so to speak, between the two of us is good.

What is it like when you get a standing ovation?

S: It’s not expected, but it’s very nice when it happens.

J: It’s good that an audience is that invested because it takes a lot to sit through a show, even a show you like, and then feel the need to stand up and show your appreciation for it afterwards means a lot.

Jeremy Hudson and cast in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA
Jeremy Hudson and cast in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA

Has anything strange ever happened out in the audience that you noticed while on stage?

J: All the time. People on their cell phones, people falling asleep.

S: Snoring!

J: People eating.

S: Choking. We’ve done so much children’s theater together, the kids are, you know, they just scream the whole time. We’ve seen it all.

J: Audiences feel like because they’re sitting in a dark theater that people don’t see them. But lo and behold, being on stage you see everyone and everything. I look out and scan the audience every once in awhile. If you’re doing something weird, I will see you, and we will be talking about you. Being an audience member requires just as much investment as being a performer on the stage. It’s why I don’t like sitting in the front row myself because I feel like I’m a part of the performance as well, because the actors can see you. They can see you throughout the show.

S: And they will look at you. It’s actually easy to see the front row, but a lot of other rows are harder to see. It depends on the cues, but you can always see the first row.

J: Always.

What is your dream role?

S: Currently — they change all the time — I would love to be Alice in Bright Star who was played by Carmen Cusack on Broadway.  And I would die and go to heaven to be anything in Waitress.

J: I mean, who doesn’t want to be in Le Mis, but I would like to play Jean Valjean in Les Misérables again. I did it in a teen production ten years ago, so I would like to do that again in a real production. That would be fun.

Do you have theaters in mind that you want to work in?

J: Anything between 7th and 8th Avenues between 42nd and 49th Street would be great.

S: Any theater that’s going to be professional and lovely, we would love to work at.

What attracted you to “Urinetown the Musical”? What made you want to audition?

S: I actually did “Urinetown” at the same theater 10 years ago in the teen production and I played Hope — the same part. I found out they were doing it again and Ken [Washington], the director, had talked to me about if I would like to reprise my role but on the main stage. I said absolutely. It’s a strange show, but it’s very funny and I like to be Hope so I wanted to do it again.

J: I saw the actual show 10 years ago and I have always liked it and wanted to be a part of it. It’s always been on my short list of shows to do, so I’m glad I’ve gotten the opportunity to do it at this point.

What is it like working with the director?

S: I have worked with Ken since I was 16 years old and he has seen me grow up. He is still the fun, grumpy man I remember he was, but you know, I think Ken has such a passion for theater. It’s definitely rubbed off in a good way. We love Ken.

J: He cares a great deal and he has a wealth of knowledge as far as theater goes, so it’s definitely something that is good to tap in to from time to time.

What is it like working with the cast?

S: Well, this cast specifically is a lot of, as we like to say, Long Island notables, just people who have kind of been doing this for such a long time. We’re very luck, honestly. A lot of big personalities, but in a really great way.

J: It’s a very eclectic group of people. All bring individual strengths [to the stage].

 

What is your favorite scene and song in the show?

S: My favorite scene and song is definitely “Follow Your Heart.” I’ve always loved it. “Be still, Hear it beating, It’s leading you, Follow your heart” was actually my yearbook quote for high school. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt and I get to do it with the best partner in the world.

J: I enjoy the scene leading up to “Run Freedom Run!” and that song. It’s just fun because it’s a bunch of strange people and it’s just very funny. It’s 80 percent the same every night and 20 percent slightly different, which always keeps things interesting.

Michael Newman and Samantha Carroll in a scene from 'Urinetown The Musical.' Photo from SCPA
Michael Newman and Samantha Carroll in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo from SCPA

Why should people come see the show?

S: If you ask any theater person at all, they’ll say to you, “‘Urinetown’ is the best,” or, “I love ‘Urinetown’.” I’ve been in it three times. It’s just one that people who don’t usually come to see theater don’t always come to, but they really should because it’s very, very funny. Hilarity ensues.

J: It’s just such an original piece of theater. The show came out in the early 2000s but it’s still very timely in terms of the current climate with politics. It has a lot of good things to say. The music is very catchy, and it’s one of those shows where you hear the name and you’re like, “I don’t know — it sounds weird,” but then you actually go to sit down and you see it and within 15, 20 minutes you’re like, “Wow, I’m glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to see this!”

What is up next for both of you?

S: I am very shortly starting Mary Poppins at the John W. Engeman. I’m in the ensemble but I’m covering a few different tracks of a lot of the character roles. I’m going to be doing that the whole Christmas season. And Jeremy will get one soon, but he’s—

J: Currently in between things. I have to, what with work and whatnot, I have to be a little more selective in what—

S: So he can make the dollar bills. It’s honestly either just you’re doing three shows at a time, one after the other, or you don’t do something for six months.

J: As long as we can make a living, or any wage, really, performing, that is the ideal. I would love to do theater but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the only thing I would like to do.

S: But we’ll always do it, regardless of if we have babies or have full-time jobs, we’ll definitely always come back and do theater because that’s what we love.

Is there anything else that you want to say to our readers?

J: This is a wonderful show, here, and Smithtown Performing Arts Center. There is a theater in Smithtown, it’s on Main Street.

S: Please come see Urinetown and everything else because everything they do here is really wonderful.

J: They put a lot of time and effort and thought into shows here. This is specifically a show that desperately needs an audience to enjoy it for it to really reach it’s maximum potential, so come on down everyone.

Photo courtesy of the Engeman Theater

‘CAUSE EVERYTHING IS RENT Broadway stars Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal took time out from signing autographs to pose with staff members from the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, from left, Phyllis Molloy, Alex Spitzli, Michael DeCristofaro, Richard T. Dolce, Jessie Eppelheimer, Jennifer Tully, Kate Keating and Alexandra Heidrich, after the duo’s sold-out show, ‘Anthony and Adam LIVE,’ on Oct. 17.

WELL DESERVED: From left, Douglas Quattrock, director of development/group sales at Theatre Three; Lions Michael DeGutis, Dan Jacoby and Mark Cherches with Theatre Three’s Artistic Executive Director and honoree Jeffrey Sanzel. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

When he’s not being a Scrooge during the holidays, Jeffrey Sanzel is working hard to make this world a better place through the creativity of live theater. Sanzel, the Executive Artistic Director at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, was chosen by the Port Jefferson Lions Club to be this year’s honoree of the Vincent Bove Award for his service to the community and for his unfaltering commitment to stop bullying.

Vincent Bove was the mayor of Belle Terre for 25 years, sat on the board of trustees of Mather Hospital until he passed away in 2006 and was on the board of Theatre Three. He was also the driving force behind Jefferson’s Ferry in South Setauket.

Jeffrey Sanzel, center, with longtime members of the Theatre Three family, Douglas Quattrock and Vivian Koutrakis after receiving his award. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Jeffrey Sanzel, center, with longtime members of the Theatre Three family, Douglas Quattrock and Vivian Koutrakos after receiving his award. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Lions Club members Michael DeGutis, Dan Jacoby and Mark Cherches presented the award to Sanzel on the Mainstage before the theater’s Saturday evening performance of “Legally Blonde.” “The Lions love Theatre Three,” said DeGutis, referring to the Port Jefferson institution that turned 70 this year. “We want to stop the bullying that’s going on all across Long Island,” said Jacoby before presenting Sanzel with a check in the amount of $1,800 for Theatre Three’s educational touring program, The Bullying Project.

“I’ve known Jeffrey for his iconic Ebenezer Scrooge, his fabulous Fagan [‘Oliver!’], his poignant ‘From the Fires: Voices of the Holocaust,’ which he wrote and directed. He’s supported the Bullying Project, the Daniel Miller Project; it’s just been a wonderful association all these years,” said Cherches before presenting Sanzel with the award “for his outstanding contributions to the Port Jefferson community … as an actor, director, author, creator and visionary.” Sanzel then received a long standing ovation from the packed house.

“This is an incredibly beautiful award,” said Sanzel. “We are thrilled with the support we’ve gotten [from the Lions Club] over the years. They were the foundation support when we started Class Dismissed: The Bullying Project 11 years ago and then 3 years ago with Stand Up! Stand Out! The Bullying Project. These projects would not exist without the support of the Lions Club.”

The evening was also a poignant one for the Theatre Three family as Saturday would’ve also been Ellen Michelmore’s birthday, the theater’s musical director who succumbed to cancer in May. “Ellen is a reminder to be a good person,” said a visibly shaken Sanzel, “… so receiving this today is a reminder to do good things in the world and of course the Lions Club is that reminder every day … so on behalf of Theatre Three and the arts community of Long Island we thank you for what you do.”

For more information on Theatre Three’s Bullying Project, please visit www.theatrethree.com.