Theater

By Heidi Sutton

Spring is in the air and that means the return of one of the most adorable children’s shows on the planet — “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and the late Brent Erlanson, with music by Kevin F. Story, the show is based on “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter.

Published in 1901, the story and its endearing illustrations were inspired by Potter’s pet rabbits, Benjamin Bouncer and Peter Piper. It has been translated into 36 languages, and with 45 million copies sold, is one of the best-selling books of all time.

Going against his mother’s wishes, Peter Rabbit (Eric J. Hughes) is always sneaking into Mr. McGregor’s garden to satisfy his insatiable appetite for parsley, tomatoes and string beans. His partner in crime, cousin Benjamin Bunny (Steven Uihlein), is just as naughty, eating all the carrots he can find and this constant marauding is testing the farmer’s patience. It’s a cat and mouse, or should I say, farmer and hare game that is about to go terribly wrong.

Directed by Sanzel, the show is fast-paced and action-packed with so many wonderful scenes often taking place off stage and among the audience. Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail (Nicole Bianco, K.D. Guadagano and Michelle LaBozzetta) spend much of their time looking for their wayward brother and cousin throughout the theater and enlist the young audience’s help to find them before Mrs. Rabbit (Elizabeth Ladd) comes back from the market and the McGregors (Andrew Lenahan and Emily Gates) chase Peter and Benjamin down the aisles in an attempt to save their garden.

Over the years, I’ve seen this show at least 10 times, but this latest production is the best one yet. Perhaps it is because the cast is able to utilize the Mainstage set of “The Miracle Worker,” adding Peter’s bedroom for the first time and giving the show more dimension. Maybe it is the revamped choreography by Nicole Bianco or the creative lighting by Steven Uihlein. Possibly it is the boundless enthusiasm from the cast, drawing their energy from the constant giggles and laughs from the children and parents in the audience or that the songs are by now classic and timeless. 

Whatever the reason, this gem of a show is like a fine wine and just gets better with age.

Souvenir bunnies are sold before the show and during intermission for $5. Join the entire cast in the lobby for a meet and greet on your way out.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” through April 27 with special performances during spring break. After a brief hiatus, children’s theater continues with “Cinderella” from July 6 to 27 followed by “Pinocchio” from Aug. 2 to 10. Tickets are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lancombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

From Mainstage productions to children’s theater, to concerts and film screenings, comedy shows and improv, Theatre Three always has a lot to offer. However, it is the Festival of One-Act Plays that many look forward to each year with eager anticipation. 

Showcasing six original works selected from 425 submissions, the 22nd annual festival opened last weekend for a nine-performance run in the intimate setting of The Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the second stage. 

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, each short play is exciting; some dark, some funny, some sad, with lots of twists and turns. It is the unknown, the unfamiliar that makes it all so entertaining to watch. 

The show kicks off with Tom Slot’s “Playlist to Have a Crisis To.” Teenager Alexis (Nicole Bianco) has just hit a burglar dressed in a Santa Claus suit (Stephen T. Wangner) with an encyclopedia and he’s on the floor unconscious. She calls her girlfriend Tanya (Michelle LaBozzetta)to come over to wait for the police to arrive. When the man wakes up he claims to be the real Santa Claus. He knows things only Santa would know, but everyone knows he’s only a legend, right? And if he is real, will Alexis always be known as the girl who beat up Father Christmas?

Next up is “For a Moment in the Darkness, We Wait” by Libby Leonard, the touching story of two gay men, the older Bernard (Douglas Quattrock) and teenager Connie (Ryan Schaefer) struggling to hide their sexual identity in New York City the 1940s. You feel their pain, their frustration and their sadness in this emotional performance. 

The mood lightens greatly with “Perfectly Normal” by J. Joseph Cox, a hilarious look at the changing workplace. Antoine Jones, Suzie Dunn, Steve Wagner, Nicole Bianco and Ginger Dalton star in this delightful comedy. There’s a new boss in town and we hear of the workplace changes from breakroom gossip. “He swept in here like the Gestapo!” Employees are disappearing, Human Resources is boarded up, cavity searches are being conducted, and the final blow, coffee has been replaced by tea. This is normal?

“Family by Numbers” by Arianna Rose is the heartbreaking story of a family that loses a son in a hiking accident. Beautifully written, it  begins when the parents first meet, get married, raise three boys and then struggle with their tragic loss and one less number. Powerful performances all around by Steve Ayle, Linda May, Dylan Robert Poulos, Steven Uihlein and Ryan Schaefer.

After intermission, Rich Orloff’s “The Unforgivable Sin of Forgiveness” takes the stage. A wife (TracyLynn Conner) confesses to her husband (Antoine Jones) that she has been having an affair for three years. His response? “I know.” Taken aback, the wife turns the tables and demands to know why he hasn’t let on that he knew all this time. “You lied to your wife when all these years I’ve been faithful six days out of seven?” she exclaims in disbelief.

The final and longest act, “The Making of Medea’s Medea” by Chas Belov, is where the production of Medea’s modern-day retelling of her own story of revenge is played out on Theatre Three’s Mainstage while being turned into a documentary. We meet Medea, Jason, the actors that play them, the actors that play the part of the employees at Theatre Three, psychologists, Greek playwrights and more. The entire cast takes part with special mention to Linda May as the heartbroken and vengeful Medea.

With an excellent lineup and incredible cast, this festival is not to be missed. Get yourself a ticket before they sell out.

Sponsored by Lippencott Financial Group, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present the 22nd annual Festival of One-Act Plays through May 5. Running time is 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission. All seats are $20. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Cassandra LaRocco as Helen Keller and Jessica Mae Murphy as Annie Sullivan in a scene from ‘The Miracle Worker’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

Currently playing on Theatre Three’s Mainstage is William Gibson’s play “The Miracle Worker,” the compelling story of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan. Directed by Bradlee Bing, the show is leaving a lasting impact on all who are fortunate enough to see it. One of the standout performances is from Cassandra LaRocco who plays a young Helen. The 11-year-old from Brentwood captures the audience’s heart with her powerful performance. 

I recently had the opportunity to interview Cassandra about her Theatre Three debut and her challenging new role.

How did you get interested in acting?

Since I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed entertaining people and finding different ways to make people laugh. I found that it was fun to try and mimic the different characters on many of the TV shows I watched when I was younger. When my parents took me to see “Annie” on Broadway in 2013, I felt that I wanted to be just like the actors on that stage so I started taking acting classes, along with my dance classes, and found that I loved getting the chance to perform for an audience.

Why did you decide to audition for this role?

I decided to audition for this role because it seemed extremely interesting and I thought it would be a good learning experience. I knew it would be a challenge for me since most of my prior stage acting experience had been with musicals, where I got to sing and dance. 

Cassandra LaRocco as Helen Keller and Jessica Mae Murphy as Annie Sullivan in a scene from ‘The Miracle Worker’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Were you familiar with Helen Keller?

Yes, I wrote a book report about Helen’s life in fifth grade. I knew that she was an amazing woman who lost her sight and hearing at a very young age but learned to communicate with people by using finger spelling. She inspired so many people by showing how a person with disabilities can make a difference in the world. 

How did you prepare for this role? 

First, I watched the movie with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. I focused on the different expressions used by Patty Duke as she portrayed Helen, and then tried to figure out my own way to express what Helen must have felt when she wasn’t able to communicate her thoughts. Then I focused on not letting the sights and sounds around me be distracting. Each time I rehearsed with the cast at Theatre Three, I would clear my mind and only think of Helen and being in her world.

How do you enjoy working with the cast?

I really enjoy working with this cast because everyone is so much fun to be around and is extremely talented. Everyone has worked so hard, and I am proud to be part of the team.

What is it like working with the director?

I really enjoy working with Bradlee Bing. He explained to me very well how to portray the challenging role of Helen and he made me feel confident in my performance. Being in “The Miracle Worker” is an experience I will remember always, and I thank Bradlee for this wonderful opportunity.

Do you ever get nervous before the show?

I get nervous before each show, but once the show begins and I focus on being in my role, I get less nervous. Being on stage with the other actors and knowing that we worked so hard together helps me to feel confident each time I do a performance.

What is your favorite scene? 

My favorite scene is the food fight scene performed before the end of Act 1 with Jessica Murphy who plays Annie Sullivan. I enjoy it because of all the action that takes place and because it is really challenging. In this scene, Helen is extremely frustrated by the changes around her and not knowing how to express her thoughts. I get to portray this frustration by acting out in a temper tantrum, throwing spoons, spitting food, climbing the table, and trying to escape the room but I am locked in. I physically have to move around the stage a lot, but have to still behave as if I can’t see anything in front of me.

Do you think children should come see this show?

Yes, I do think children should come see the show because they can learn that despite the disabilities Helen Keller had, she was able to learn different ways to communicate her feelings and thoughts. If children learn about Helen Keller at a young age, maybe they can be inspired by what she accomplished, and it could help them to learn to never give up when they are in a difficult situation.

Have you taken any acting classes?

I have been attending classes and performing plays at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. I also take voice lessons at Cristina Music Studio in Huntington, and I have been taking dance lessons since I was 3. I currently practice ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical and pointe at June Claire Dance Studios in Babylon.

What other shows have you been in?

I played the role of July in “Annie” at the Engeman Theater in 2017 and over the past holiday season, I was a dancer in “The Nutcracker” at the Cultural Arts Playhouse in Syosset where I played one of Drosselmeyer’s dolls, and also performed in the scenes for Snowflakes, Arabian Coffee and Flowers.  Last fall, I performed as Andrina, one of Ariel’s sisters, in “The Little Mermaid Jr.” at the Engeman.

How do you feel when you get a standing ovation?

I feel happy because people enjoyed the show and my performance. It means to me that the audience made a connection with the story we are telling up on the stage, and that hopefully it will be something they remember for a long time.

What advice would you give to other kids who want to try acting?

Follow your dreams. You will meet many other kids and teachers who will make you feel confident. As you learn from others, you will become less and less nervous, and have more and more fun.

What is your favorite part about this show?

My favorite part has been meeting new people who helped me to be a better performer, and learning about what Helen Keller had to go through to understand our world without seeing or hearing. It has taught me to think of the differences that people may have, but that when people work together and have patience, almost any difficult situation can be overcome. 

Why should people come see the show?

People should come see “The Miracle Worker” because they get to experience how difficult Helen’s world was when she was young, and how it all changed when Annie Sullivan came to teach her. It gives people the opportunity to relate to Helen Keller and to realize that without someone that was a dedicated teacher who was not willing to give up, Helen may have been trapped forever in a dark and silent world. The play is about facing challenges and showing how people can help each other and change the world for the better.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Miracle Worker” through April 28. Running time is 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission. The Mainstage season closes with “The Wizard of Oz” from May 18 to June 22. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 and up. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

‘The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. I am filled with wonder when I consider the immeasurable contrast between the two lives which it connects.’   — Helen Keller

By Heidi Sutton

Theatre Three continues its 49th season with William Gibson’s beautiful play “The Miracle Worker,” the inspirational story of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan.

Born in Alabama in 1880, Helen Keller was afflicted with an unknown illness (possibly scarlet fever) at the age of 19 months that left her deaf, blind and mute. By the age of 7, she had become frustrated in her dark and silent world and frequently threw tantrums to get what she wanted. 

In a final attempt to help her before having her institutionalized, her parents reached out to the Perkins School for the Blind, which sent its top student, 20-year-old Annie Sullivan, to live with the family and teach the child sign language. Helen would later recount that the day she met Sullivan was her “soul’s birthday.”

Expertly directed by Bradlee E. Bing (“12 Angry Men”), the dramatic production keeps the audience fixated from the beginning — a darkened stage where we hear Helen’s parents realize what has happened to their baby — to the final climactic water-pump scene where we all feel a lump in our throats.

From the moment Sullivan arrives, Helen is determined to fight her every step of the way. Used to being spoiled, she sees no need to learn the alphabet or eat with a utensil. The tumultuous relationship between teacher and pupil is played out in the physically violent scenes choreographed by Steven Uihlein. Forks and spoons and plates of food are often strewn about the stage, and the two often engage in outright brawls on the floor. It is exhausting to watch but also succeeds in revealing Sullivan’s determination to show Helen how to communicate through “a light of words.”

Not making any headway and with constant interference from the family, Sullivan moves Helen to the seclusion of the garden shed. Given only two more weeks to make a breakthrough, she tells the girl, “Now I have to teach you one word — everything.”

Eleven-year-old Cassandra La Rocco is superb as Helen, while Jessica Mae Murphy (“The Addams Family”) is outstanding as Sullivan in the roles made famous by Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft.

The supporting cast is equally impressive, with powerful performances by Michael Newman as Helen’s Civil War veteran father, Captain Keller; Susan Emory as her overindulgent mother, Kate; Eric J. Hughes as the half-brother James; Linda Pentz as Aunt Ev; and Cameron Turner and Meredith Szalay as servants Percy and Viney.

The elaborate set by Randall Parsons; costumes by Teresa Matteson and Toni St. John; and lighting design by Stacey Boggs tie everything together to produce a wonderful evening at the theater. The standing ovation on opening night was well deserved. Don’t miss this show. It will leave a lasting impact on your heart and soul.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Miracle Worker” through April 28. Running time is 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission. The Mainstage season closes with “The Wizard of Oz” from May 18 to June 22. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 and up. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Estella Kennedy and Maddie Quigley are double cast as Ladahlord. Photo from Karen Van Houten

Simple Gifts Productions is proud to present “James and the Giant Peach” on April 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m. and April 13 at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Finley Middle School, 20 Greenlawn Road, Huntington. Based on the Roald Dahl children’s book, and with a great score by one of Broadway’s best duos, Pasek & Paul, this musical is a great event for the whole family. Tickets are $18 adults and $15 children (10 or younger). To reserve tickets, call 561-9522 or visit www.simplegiftsproductions.com.

By Heidi Sutton

When I heard “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” was returning to the Engeman Theater in Northport I was thrilled. Last year’s production was amazing, with an incredible cast that brought the audience to their feet at the end of the first act with “I Like to Move It” and again at the end of the show. This year’s cast would have big shoes to fill, I thought. Thankfully, much of the original cast has returned and the show is better than ever.

Based on the 2005 DreamWorks animated motion picture, “Madagascar,” it follows four friends from the Central Park Zoo and their adventures to the wild.

The cast of ‘Madagascar’ at the Engeman

As the show opens, the zookeepers introduce the audience to Alex the Lion (Bobby Montaniz), his monochromatic best bud Marty the Zebra (Jahlil Burke) and gal pal Gloria the Hippo (Rita Sarli). When we are about to meet Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (Suzanne Mason), the zookeepers announce she had to take a sick day — she has found another spot. Ba-dum-tshh!

They are living the good life and are well cared for. But Marty, who just celebrated his 10th birthday, has been dreaming of going to the wild. When he overhears the cute and cuddly penguins (Robbie McGrath, Sarah Juliano, Sari Feldman and Aly Leonard) planning a breakout, the zebra decides to join them.

When his three buddies go after him, all four, including the penguins, are captured and end up in crates on a ship bound for Kenya. The penguins will have none of that and take control of the ship, causing it to sway back and forth. The crates fall into the ocean and wash up on the island of Madagascar.

There they meet the illustrious King Julien (Jae Hughes), self-proclaimed Lord of the Lemurs, and his adviser, Maurice (Sarah Juliano) who see Alex as their new protector from the bloodthirsty foosa “who are always bothering us and ripping our limbs off.” But when all the lemurs have to offer the lion is seaweed on a stick, he starts to get hungry for his favorite food, steak, and begins to look at Marty in a whole new way. Will Alex be able to keep it together or will his best friend end up on the dinner plate?

Directed and choreographed by Marquez Stewart, the nine-member cast does an exceptional job bringing this great story to life. The show is fast-paced, silly, funny and always entertaining. The show spills out into the audience often, and all of the songs are executed beautifully.

In the end, “Madagascar” makes us realize that the grass is not always greener on the other side and the incredible power of friendship.

If you’ve seen the show before, you’ll love it even more the second time around. If you’ve never seen it, what are you waiting for? It’s time to go to the wild!

Stay for a meet and greet with the actors after the show.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” through April 28.

Children’s theater continues with “Rapunzel: A Tangled Fairytale” from July 27 to Aug. 25 and “The Wizard of Oz” from Sept. 21 to Oct. 27. All seats are $15. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Photos by Corinne Wight 

Lauren Tirado and David DiMarzo in a scene from 'South Pacific'

By Heidi Sutton

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts continues its 17th season with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical “South Pacific.” Based on James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Tales of the South Pacific,” which highlighted his Navy experience fighting the Japanese in the South Pacific during World War II, the show debuted on Broadway in 1949 and is still captivating audiences today, in part because of its familiar score and cautionary theme of bigotry.

Samm Carroll, center, and cast sing ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair’

Directed by Ronald Green III, the story centers on two romances — that of Nellie Forbush (Samm Carroll), an American nurse from Arkansas and self-described “hick from the sticks” who falls head over heels in love with French plantation owner Emile De Becque (Jon Rivera)  — and Marine lieutenant Joe Cable (David DiMarzo) from Philadelphia and his young Tonkinese girlfriend, Liat (Lauren Tirado). Both relationships eventually suffer as racial and cultural prejudices rear their ugly heads.

Forbush struggles to accept her new man’s mixed-race children with his first wife, while Cable weighs the social consequences should he marry his Asian sweetheart. In Cable’s solo, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” he tries to explain where these prejudices come from. “…You’ve got to be taught, before it’s too late, before you are six, or seven, or eight, to hate all the people, your relatives hate…”

Supporting characters, including petty officer Luther Billis (Anthony Panarello) and Liat’s mother, Bloody Mary (Ava Anise Adams) help to tie the stories together nicely.

The songs are the heart of the show, and you’ll still be humming them at work days after, especially “Bali Ha’i,” “Younger Than Springtime,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” and “Some Enchanted Evening.”

Jon Rivera performs ‘This Nearly Was Mine’ in ‘South Pacific’

Rivera is perfectly cast as the handsome Frenchman, Emile, and his beautiful singing voice can be most compared to Andrea Bocelli. At last Saturday’s opening performance, Rivera captured many hearts with his rendition of “This Nearly Was Mine.”

Carroll is equally outstanding, full of energy and every bit the “cockeyed optimist.” Her smile is infectious and she quickly becomes an audience favorite.

The period costumes by Green, an eight-piece band led by conductor Melissa Coyle, and the wonderful choreography by Milan McGouldrick add to the production’s polish to produce one enchanted evening.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” through April 28. Tickets are $38 adults, $34 seniors, $25 students. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

By Heidi Sutton

From “The Snow Queen” to “The Princess and the Pea,” Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales have touched the hearts of millions. A bronze statue in Copenhagen, Denmark, pays homage to his most popular story, “The Little Mermaid.” A major tourist attraction since its unveiling in 1913, it depicts a mermaid sitting on a rock looking longingly toward land.

Now Andersen’s beloved tale, or should I say tail, heads to the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts in the form of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” a colorful musical production based on the animated film.

The timing is perfect. Along with running during spring break, the Disney film is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and a live-action remake is currently in development.

In a magical underwater kingdom, the beautiful young mermaid princess, Ariel, longs to leave her ocean home — and her fins — behind and live in the world above, much to her father King Triton’s dismay.

In exchange for her voice, Ariel bargains with the sea witch, Ursula, to become human and have the chance to win the love of Prince Eric, who she recently saved from a terrible storm. With her friends, Scuttle, Sebastien and Flounder, Ariel must fulfill her bargain with Ursula, but things do not always go as planned.

With music by Alan Menken, book by Doug Wright and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, the musical is an enchanting look at the sacrifices we all make for love and acceptance.

Christine Boehm directs a cast of young actors ages 11 to 18 through an absolutely divine production. From the shimmering costumes to the seaworthy set accented with huge pieces of coral, to the fantastic lighting and special effects, every scene is perfectly executed.

The big ensemble numbers, “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” showcase the incredible choreography by Courtney Braun.

Courtney Sullivan is lovely in the title role, effectively portraying a girl who is torn between obeying her father and following her dreams. And just wait until you hear her sing! Sullivan’s rendition of “Part of Your World” during last Saturday’s performance was mesmerizing.

Speaking of singing, the very handsome Hunter Pszybylski brings a whole new dimension to Prince Eric with his amazing solos, “Her Voice” and “One Step Closer,” and captures the hearts of the audience from the get go.

Supporting characters are also given the opportunity to shine. Raquel Sciacca is just adorable as Flounder, a role she shares with Gabby Blum, and Ari Spiegel is terrific as the crabby crustacean Sebastian who is tasked with keeping an eye on Ariel. Hailey Elberg as Scuttle the Seagull also deserves accolades for her number “Human Stuff” — squawk!

However, it is Erika Hinson as the meanie Ursula who steals the show. Her rendition of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” during last Saturday’s show brought the house down.

Take it from someone who has reviewed a lot of plays — make SPAC’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.” a part of your world. Running time is 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Booster seats are available. Stay after to meet Princess Ariel and Prince Eric in the lobby for photographs.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.” through April 28 with special spring break performances from April 22 to 26 at 1 p.m.

Up next, catch one of only seven performances of “Les Miserables” Teen Edition from May 18 to June 2 and a summer production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” from July 13 to Aug. 28. All seats are $18. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Photos by Courtney Braun

*This article has been revised to correct the name of the actress who played the role of Flounder during the March 16 performance. We regret the error.

Katherine McLaughlin and Sean Yves Lessard in a scene from the show. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Melissa Arnold

I never thought I’d cheer for a murderer. Nor did I ever imagine laughing so much at a show about murder. There’s a first time for everything, I guess.

Directed by Trey Compton with musical direction by James Olmstead, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” has a deceptively simple title, one that probably makes you think of a classic, suspenseful whodunit. What you get instead is a fast-paced, absurdly funny comedy that will keep you laughing from start to finish.

Based on the 1907 Roy Horniman novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal,” the Tony Award-winning musical, with book by Robert L. Freedman and music by Steven Lutvak, ran on Broadway from 2013 to 2016.

Danney Gardner in a scene from the show. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

As the show begins, we find ourselves looking in on a young man feverishly writing his memoirs from a London jail cell, seeking to preserve his story if he should face execution the next day. That man, Montague “Monty” Navarro, is the newly minted Earl of Highhurst, and his rise to nobility wasn’t exactly noble. Two years earlier, while grieving his mother’s death in 1907, an impoverished Monty learned that she was related to the powerful, aristocratic D’Ysquith family. The D’Ysquiths, however, disowned her when she chose to marry a commoner. Despite this, Monty was the ninth descendant in line to become the earl.

Monty hoped his newfound lineage would impress Sibella Hallward, the posh and sultry woman he loves, but she ultimately abandoned him to marry a wealthy man. With no one else to turn to, he attempted to make inroads with his new relatives, and in the process had a sinister thought: What if he killed the D’Ysquiths? What if he could become the earl? The show follows Monty through flashbacks of the past two years as he eliminates his cousins in a variety of zany and unexpected ways.

Wojcik/Seay Casting consistently assembles stellar casts for the Engeman’s shows, and this one is no exception, featuring a host of Broadway and national theater vets. Sean Yves Lessard plays Monty, and he is earnest, polished and entirely believable. You’ll empathize with his poverty and join him on an emotional roller coaster as he sneakily offs the D’Ysquiths. Beyond that, Lessard’s smooth, controlled vocals are a real treat, especially in the waltzing “Poison in My Pocket” and steamy “Sibella.”

What makes “Gentleman’s Guide” stand out is that eight of the D’Ysquith cousins are played by the same actor, Danny Gardner. He makes the transition from young to old, gay to straight and even male to female characters look entirely effortless. Each D’Ysquith has his or her unique quirks, and Gardner is so astoundingly versatile that you almost won’t believe it’s the same person. He also deserves accolades for impossibly fast costume changes and impressive tap dancing.

A torrid love triangle sits at the heart of Monty’s escapades. Despite her marriage to a wealthy man, Sibella (Kate Loprest) still comes knocking, especially as Monty ascends the line of succession. At the same time, Monty quickly finds himself falling for his distant cousin Phoebe D’Ysquith (Katherine McLaughlin), a good-hearted and pious lady that just wants to love and be loved.

Loprest makes the self-absorbed Sibella almost lovable with charming wit and confidence. She’s also a delight to listen to, a crystal clear soprano that’s strong without being overpowering. McLaughlin’s Phoebe is demure and sincere, a perfect foil to Sibella. She shines in songs like “Inside Out,” and the trio’s performance in “I’ve Decided to Marry You” is one of the show’s highlights.

Scene and props designer Nate Bertone deserves particular mention for his creative work on the detailed, Edwardian set of “Gentleman’s Guide.” To help audience members keep track of the D’Ysquiths, the stage is framed with massive portraits of Gardner in his various incarnations. Spotlights and laser X’s on those portraits will alert you to who’s still kicking and who’s been taken out. The effect is a lot of fun and adds to the show’s overall silliness.

The bottom line: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is hilarious from the first line, and so enjoyable that I’d love to see it again. The show isn’t gory, but there’s plenty of innuendo to go around, and there are occasional loud noises and use of light fog throughout.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” through April 28. Runtime is approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets range from $73 to $78 with free valet parking. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

The three little kittens

By Heidi Sutton

What do three crooning kittens, a droll dog, a rascally rabbit and a pushover penguin have in common? They all want to be on the radio in Theatre Three’s latest children’s theater treat, “The Three Little Kittens.”  

The cast of ‘The Three Little Kittens’

Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin Story, the musical, which was last presented in 2013,  incorporates the beloved Mother Goose nursery rhyme but goes beyond losing the mittens, finding the mittens, eating pie, soiling and then washing the mittens and then the big finale, eating more pie. These kittens want more — they have hopes and dreams, don’t you know. In other words, this production is too cute for words.

Lucy, Ricky and Ethel Whiska aspire to become a singing trio on the radio while their neighbor Barker Doggone, who keeps losing his collar, etc. dreams of becoming a stand-up comic. Their favorite radio show is “The Bonanza Hour” on WPET Radio with Harry Hoppit, a white rabbit who was made famous by radio penguin Waddles Greenway but has let success go to his head. “I’m Harry Hoppit – be impressed” he tells his adoring fans.

Barker and Mama Doggone

When Mother Whiska and Mama Doggone bring home a flyer from the radio station announcing open auditions, the kittens and pup jump at the chance. Will they be able to turn their dreams into reality or will Harry Hoppit’s jealousy get in the way?

Directed by Sanzel, the nine-member cast embrace the clever script and do an incredible job. Each character’s personality is bold and distinct and perfectly executed.

Michelle LaBozzetta as Lucy, Eric J. Hughes as Ricky and Emily Gates as Ethel shine as the Whiska kittens while Steven Uihlein as Barker the dog steals the show with his funny jokes and wit. His constant distractions – “Squirrel!” – are doggone hilarious and the young audience during last Sunday’s performance couldn’t get enough. Their group number, “Dogs and Cats Like You and Me,” is a personal favorite.

Brielle Levenberg and Ginger Dalton as the moms make a great team, pretending not to like each other in front of others “out of tradition,” but are secretly the best of friends while Douglas J. Quattrock juggles the role of radio producer and providing piano accompaniment with ease (great accent!).

Harry Hoppit and Waddles Greenway

Andrew Lenahan plays the role of antagonist Harry Hoppit to a tee and has the best lines. “What can I say but me, me, me.” Beautifully delivered, Lenahan’s solo, “Looking Out for Number One,” perfectly describes the rabbit’s agenda. “… So if I ruffle some feathers and pull on some tails, what does it matter if others fail?” Don’t worry – he gets his comeuppance.

The strongest performance comes from Nicole Bianco who tackles the difficult role of Waddles Greenway the penguin with aplomb. Mercilessly bullied by Harry Hoppit, the hapless bird holds her own and treats the audience to a wonderful tap dance number, “The One and Only,” in the second act.

The entire production has a nostalgic 1940s feel and pays homage to the Golden Age of Radio. With the ultimate message that friendship is the greatest bond and that dreams really can come true, “The Three Little Kittens” is purrfectly adorable. Don’t miss it. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents “The Three Little Kittens” through March 23. All seats are $10. Children’s theater continues with “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” from April 12 to 27 and a Mainstage production of “The Wizard of Oz” (call for ticket prices) from May 18 to June 22. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

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