Theater

From left, Brian Gill, Christina Muens, Abigail McCabe (on chair) and TracyLynn Conner in a scene from ‘Nine’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

Theatre Three continues its 49th season with the Broadway smash hit musical “Nine.” With book by Arthur Kopit and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, the award-winning show is based on the semi-autobiographical 1963 film of Italian film director/screenwriter Federico Fellini’s life, titled “8½.”

Clockwise from top left, TracyLynn Conner, Christina Muens, Abigail McCabe and Brian Gill in a scene from ‘Nine’
Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the musical follows the artistic journey of celebrated Italian director Guido Contini (Brian Gill) and his quest to find an idea for his next film. His last three films have been flops and he has an extreme case of writer’s block. A movie contract has been signed with his producer Liliane La Fleur (Debbie D’Amore) but there is no script. Should he write a Western? A Bible-inspired epic? A documentary? The stakes are high and time is running out.

As if Contini didn’t have enough to worry about, his wife Luisa (Christina Muens) is considering leaving him, his naive mistress Carla (Abigail McCabe) thinks he wants to marry her, and his muse, movie star Claudia Nardi (TracyLynn Conner) is getting tired of being cast in the same type of roles and is about to walk away.

To try to clear his head, Contini and his wife take a trip to the Fontane di Luna spa in Venice. Worried about deadlines, his producer tracks him down at the spa and insists he write a musical. Improvising on the spot, the director chooses to his own life experiences and relationships to create a Casanova-inspired flick and hires the staff at the spa to be the cast.

As the film begins to take shape, fantasy and reality are intertwined as Contini has constant flashbacks  — when he was a little boy (played by the adorable Brayden E. Bratti) with his mother (Linda May), and his many affairs, all in an attempt to seek cinematic inspiration.

In the role of Guido Contini, said to be one of the most demanding roles in musical theater, Brian Gill brilliantly leads the talented cast of “Nine” on a 2½-hour thought-provoking musical romp.

Accompanied by a seven-piece band led by Jeffrey Hoffman, the musical numbers are perfectly executed, with special mention to “Guido’s Song, “Folies Bergeres,” “Ti Voglio Bene/Be Italian” and the “Grand Canal.”

The top-notch choreography by Nicole Bianco, the beautiful costumes by Ronald Green III, the impressive set by Randall Parsons and the masterful lighting by Robert W. Henderson Jr., which lets the audience know what is real and what is flashback, ties it all together nicely. 

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Nine The Musical” on the Mainstage through March 23. Please note, “Nine” contains adult themes and situations. Parental discretion advised. The 2018-19 Mainstage season continues with “The Miracle Worker” from April 6 to 28 and “The Wizard of Oz” from May 18 to June 22. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

A scene from Theatre Three’s ‘From the Fires’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Sabrina Petroski

“Just another body for the ovens.” Haunting, isn’t it? This sentence comes from Theatre Three’s educational touring show “From the Fires: Voices of the Holocaust.” This play, the story of two young Jewish girls living through the reign of Hitler and the persecution of the Jewish people, has been presented in schools and community centers across the tristate area, going as far south as Washington and Virginia, and as far north as Richmond Hill, outside of Toronto, Canada. 

“From the Fires” was written by Jeffrey Sanzel, the executive artistic director of Theatre Three in Port Jefferson and has been touring since 1996. According to Sanzel, he has always been passionate about the Holocaust and making sure the atrocious events of the past never disappear.

The cast

Nicole Bianco

Marci Bing

Michelle LaBozzetta

Douglas J. Quattrock

Jeffrey Sanzel

Steven Uihlein

Theatre Three was looking for a new show for its educational program, Sanzel began searching for a show within the topic of the Holocaust, but none of them seemed right. Eventually, he decided to write one, immersing himself in research, finding survivors to interview and spending three days at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. After five months of writing, the cast, including Sanzel, went into rehearsal with an unfinished script, which was edited and rewritten over the six weeks of rehearsal.

“‘From the Fires’ has had an amazing response,” said Sanzel in a recent interview. “If it hadn’t we wouldn’t still be touring it this many years later! There has been an incredibly positive reaction.” 

According to Sanzel, there are many schools, synagogues, churches and community centers all over Long Island that book the show every year or every other year. Michael Serif, a history teacher at Friends Academy in Locust Valley, first experienced “From the Fires” at Seaford High School in 2001. Since then, Serif has requested to bring the 40-minute play to every school he has worked in, including Locust Valley High School and Friends Academy. The theatrical piece is performed for grades 6 to 12.

“I’ve seen the play probably close to a dozen times in several different schools, and every time when the show is complete you can hear a pin drop in the audience,” said Serif in a phone interview. “The kids are so very deeply affected by the play.”

“From the Fires” depicts the Holocaust through the eyes of Rachel and Evy, two young girls from Berlin who grew up watching the world turn from a peaceful place to a place where people are ripped from their homes and murdered because of their religion. 

John S. D’Aquila served as a medic in the 11th Armored Division during World War II, under Gen. Patton and was a witness to the horrors of the death camp at Mauthausen as a member of the liberating force. File photo

It begins with the liberation of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in 1945 by a young soldier, then flashes back to 1937 where the audience sees Rachel, Rachel’s father and Evy go through all the changes in the laws and their lives; Rachel’s father losing his business, Rachel and her father going into hiding; Rachel, Evy and Rachel’s father being deported; Rachel’s father being killed in a gas chamber; and Rachel carrying Evy through the hardships they experience at the concentration camp. Sanzel says that having the story told by two young girls resonates more with younger viewers.

“One comment that a teacher made to their students was that part of the play’s power was that it reminds you that the people who went through this were just like you,” said Sanzel. 

“The kids in the audience can see themselves in Rachel and Evy. Any survivors they would have met would be in their eighties and nineties, and they don’t think of them as themselves. ‘From the Fires’ puts it in perspective; it follows two kids who could be any two kids, and it gives it that universal connection.” 

The play has a small cast, with each actor portraying up to half a dozen roles throughout the show, and keeps to a minimalistic set. A very important part of the show, according to Sanzel, is how the gradual change in the laws is shown. 

“From the Fires” is meant for young audiences so there is no graphic content shown on stage. “You get to see their day-to-day lives, the change in the laws, and then of course the concentration camp,” said Sanzel. “It’s all an emotional appeal. There’s nothing graphic in the play so it’s angled to be watched from that standpoint. On stage you can’t really re-create the horrors of the Holocaust, so we emphasize the personal — the personal losses, the personal survival.”

‘Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and that’s why it’s so important to keep teaching it. ‘

­— Jeffrey Sanzel

“From the Fires” is a work of historical fiction, one character is based on a real person. In May of 1945, Army medic John D’Aquila aided in the liberation of the Nazi death camp in Mauthausen, Austria. D’Aquila, a Theatre Three board member at the time the play was being created, was the inspiration for the American soldier who provides the framing device. While Sanzel was researching and writing the play, D’Aquila shared his personal experience, voicing things he had never said before.

“It was the first time he had ever spoken about his experience of liberating the camp because they were told when they went home not to talk about it, just to go back to their lives” said Sanzel. “He became the basis for the American soldier that opens and closes the show, and over the years [D’Aquila] would come to many of the road performances and in-house shows to speak. It became a passion for him to be connected to this because it was cathartic.” A resident of Belle Terre, D’Aquila passed away in 2014 at the age of 91.

After every performance the cast holds a Q&A, where the audience can ask questions about the performance, about the cast or about the Holocaust in general. Sanzel said that the questions he hears the most are, “Are you Jewish?” and “Did this actually happen?” 

“From the Fires” opens doors to educating younger generations that reading from a textbook doesn’t. According to Serif, many of the history and English teachers within Friends Academy take the play and use it as a teaching opportunity, talking about it in class for days after and even referring back to it throughout the rest of the year. 

“The children often ask complicated questions, so we give them our best answer and then encourage them to go back to their classes and talk about it in more detail,” explained Sanzel. 

According to Sanzel, there are two main reasons he does the show. The first is to keep this event in history alive, so after those that experienced it firsthand are gone the stories don’t disappear with them. The second is to teach kids that they can stop things like the Holocaust from happening again. It all boils down to bullying, seeing someone being harassed and choosing to say something instead of sitting idly by while it happens, or even joining in. The Holocaust was made up of people joining in or ignoring the bad things because it didn’t personally affect them.  

“There’s a danger in people thinking of history as ‘back then,’ that’s how we begin to let go of things and we can’t,” said Sanzel. “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and that’s why it’s so important to keep teaching it.”

For more information or to book a performance, contact Theatre Three’s touring coordinator Marci Bing at 631-928-9202 or Marci@theatrethree.com.

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Open auditions

Follow the yellow brick road to Theatre Three! The theater, located at 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will hold an open cast call for children ages 8 to 17 (no taller than 4’10”) for the roles of munchkins on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. for its upcoming production of “The Wizard of Oz” from May 10 to June 22. Auditions for adult roles and ensemble tracks for ages 15 and up will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. All roles are open. Be prepared to sing and dance. Bring picture/resume if available. For further details, call 631-928-9202 or visit http://theatrethree.com/auditions.html.

By Melissa Arnold

Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why do children die? Is there a God, and does He really answer prayers? Plenty of us grapple with those questions from time to time, and the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts has tracked down the Big Man Himself to get some answers in the one-act comedy, “An Act of God.” The show opened last Saturday.

The 90-minute play is a stage adaptation of “The Last Testament: A Memoir,” a satirical book written by “God,” aka David Javerbaum. Javerbaum has won more than a dozen Emmy Awards over the course of his comedy career, most of them earned as the head writer for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” He’s also the voice behind the snarky Twitter account @TheTweetOfGod, which has amassed 5.6 million followers  – no pun intended. 

“An Act of God” isn’t your typical Broadway show with a neatly packaged storyline. Instead, it’s meant to treat audiences to a live and in-person encounter with God (Evan Donnellan), who’s not exactly the embodiment of divine goodness. In fact, God is fed up with the way He has been misrepresented by organized religions and has come to Broadway to set the record straight. He’s even got a new and improved set of commandments to share, among them “Thou shalt not tell others whom to fornicate.”

Donnellan oozes charisma and command as God, who is at once charming and narcissistic. His jokes are shocking and laugh-out-loud funny, but Donnellan creates striking dissonance during his character’s pessimistic rants and self-absorbed navel gazing. He also deserves serious kudos for the amount of preparation involved for this show – the majority is a monologue.

Supporting God’s appearance are his faithful archangels, Gabriel (Scott Hofer) and Michael (Jordan Hue). Hofer’s Gabriel is obedient but goofy, adding his own comedic touches as the show’s Bible reader and peanut gallery. In contrast, Michael is often sullen as he wanders through the crowd, asking God those tough questions and seeming unsatisfied with His answers. The trio has great chemistry, and watching God try to keep the two of them in line is a lot of fun.

It’s obvious that director Christine Boehm and the cast have taken some liberties with the original script, but that’s a good thing. Early in the show, they make fun of their own decor – it seems they’ve decided to leave much of the set for the children’s theater production of “Aladdin Jr.” in place, since the shows run concurrently until Feb. 24. They also reference the ticket prices, Smithtown and Evan Donnellan’s looks and personality, as well as the original Broadway production’s lead, well-loved “Big Bang Theory” star Jim Parsons. 

Be prepared, God is always watching – He’ll make a point of drawing attention to and potentially embarrassing random audience members during the show. Don’t take it personally.

The bottom line is that while the cast is very talented and the special effects are cool, this show is simply not for everyone. The script aims for satire but often either misses the mark or drifts into territory that’s just offensive. 

Those with deeply rooted religious beliefs might want to give this one a pass, unless you can handle 90 minutes of unapologetic cynicism and crude blasphemy. But if you keep an open mind and a sense of (twisted) humor, you might feel inspired by the show’s overarching message that you should believe in yourself. Or you might feel nothing at all. Your mileage may vary.

See “An Act of God” through March 3 at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown. Tickets are $38 adults, $34 seniors, $25 students. Contains strong language, references to drugs and strong sexual content throughout. For tickets and info, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org. 

All photos by Courtney Braun

By Heidi Sutton

Theodor Seuss Geisel often said, “You have ‘em; I’ll amuse ‘em.” And for over 80 years the man who never had children of his own has been entertaining millions of boys and girls with his whimsical books filled with vivid illustrations and iconic characters like the Cat in the Hat and the Grinch.

‘The cast of ‘Seussical The Musical’ after last Saturday’s performance.

Now the genius that is Dr. Seuss is celebrated on the John W. Engeman’s stage in “Seussical The Musical.” With book, music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Michael Flaherty, the show incorporates the stories from “Horton Hears a Who,” “Horton Hatches the Egg,” “If I Ran the Circus,” “Miss Gertrude McFuzz” and others into a fun, whimsical and colorful adventure the entire family will enjoy. The musical runs through March 3.

Let me just say that this show is so incredible I had to look around the theater several times to make sure I wasn’t watching it on Broadway. Directed and choreographed by Marquez Stewart, a cast of seasoned actors guide the audience in perfect rhyme on a high-energy musical journey from the Jungle of Nool to the Circus McGurkus to the invisible world of the Whos.

The Cat in the Hat (Jae Hughes), who  serves as narrator, introduces us to Horton the Elephant (Evan Schultz) who finds a speck of dust on a clover flower containing the town of Whoville. While he’s busy trying to help the littlest Who, Jojo (Makayla Connolly), the loyal pachyderm is tricked into sitting on Mayzie La Bird’s (Marielle Greguski) egg, is captured by hunters and sold to the circus. When he is finally rescued by Gertrude the girl-bird (Emily Brennan), he is put on trial by Sour Kangaroo (Suzanne Mason) for “sitting on an egg and talking to a speck.” Will he ever catch a break?

Stewart knows her target audience well and keeps them on the edge of their seats. The dance numbers are exciting with special props; actors walk, run and dance through the theater; and audience participation is encouraged as Horton and Mayzie’s egg are auctioned off to the highest bidder.

All of the songs are wonderful, from the fun intro “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!” to the catchy “Horton Hears a Who” (where a person’s a person no matter how small),  the sweet “Notice Me Horton” and my favorite, “It’s Possible.” The finale “Green Eggs and Ham” ends the show on a high note. Costumes designed by Daniel Rodriguez and the cartoony sets look as if they’ve jumped right off the pages of “Horton Hears a Who.”

It has been said that Dr. Seuss’ books are special because they sing. “Seussical The Musical’s” current production at the Engeman brings that adage to the next level. Put this on your list of “not to be missed.”

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

Check out this video from the show! 

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Seussical The Musical” through March 3.  Children’s Theater continues with “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” from March 23 to April 28. All seats are $15. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Photos courtesy of the Engeman Theater

 

By Heidi Sutton

In Theatre Three’s latest children’s show, the audience is invited to enter the magical world of “Jack & the Beanstalk” or “The Boy Who Cried Giant!” Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin F. Story, the musical combines the classic English fairy tale with the well-known fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” to produce a most entertaining afternoon.

Jack (Eric J. Hughes) lives with his mother (Ginger Dalton) and his best friend Filpail the Cow (Nicole Bianco). Although he is a nice boy, Jack tends to exaggerate and has told so many tall tales that no one believes him anymore. “Someday your stories are going to get you in trouble,” warns his mother. Jack also receives a visit from the Fairy Mary Goodwing (Michelle LaBozzetta) who tries to convince him to “always tell the truth and you will be true to yourself.”

One day his mother tells him that they have no other choice than to sell Filpail to Butcher Blackstone (Steven Uihlein). On the way to the market Jack and his cow bump into two gypsies, Marco and Margot (Andrew Lenahan and Brielle Levenberg), who claim they want to buy Filpail for “cowpanionship” and trick Jack into trading her for some magic beans.

Jack’s mother is furious when she finds out what happened and throws the beans away. A giant beanstalk suddenly appears, and when Jack climbs it he discovers a castle in the sky occupied by a cranky giant, the giant’s wife (Suzie Dunn), a golden harp and a hen that lays golden eggs. But with Jack’s poor track record, will anyone believe him?

Under the direction of Jeffrey Sanzel, an energetic cast of eight adult actors play multiple roles during this thrilling adventure. From the first musical number, “Ballad of Jack’s Device/Song of Boasting,” accompanied on piano by Douglas Quattrock, you know you’re in for a fun treat.

Costume designers Teresa Matteson and Toni St. John have outdone themselves this time with colorful outfits; “giant” props, including a three-foot-long sneaker; and a beanstalk that magically grows all the way to the ceiling. The creative and polished choreography by Nicole Bianco pulls it all together nicely.

Come in out of the cold and warm up with the magic of “Jack & the Beanstalk!” Audiences of all ages will love this wonderful show. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos. 

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Jack & the Beanstalk” through Feb. 23. Children’s Theatre continues with “The Three Little Kittens” from March 2 to 23 and “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” from April 13 to 27. All seats are $10. For more information or to order, call 928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Heidi Sutton

February 3rd of this year will mark the 60th anniversary of the death of Buddy Holly, one of rock ‘n’ roll’s true pioneers who, in his short career, had a major influence on the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Elton John.

Holly’s wonderful music, his lasting legacy to the world, is celebrated in Alan Janes’ “Buddy —The Buddy Holly Story.” The jukebox musical debuted in London in 1989 and arrived a year later on Broadway. The show opened at the John W. Engeman Theater last week and runs through March 3.

Directed and choreographed by Keith Andrews, the show recounts the last three years of Holly’s life and rise to fame, from 1956 to 1959.

We first meet him as a strong-willed 19-year-old country singer (played by Michael Perrie Jr.) from Lubbock, Texas, and follow his journey with his band, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, as they venture into rock ‘n’ roll with hits like “That’ll Be the Day,” “Rock Around with Ollie Vee” and “Everyday.” 

The impressive sets by Jordan Janota and props by Emily Wright beautifully evolve with each scene while the stage features a permanent arch of gramophone records that light up individually as each hit is performed.

Touring the country in 1957, Holly and his band head to the Apollo Theater in Harlem where the audience is treated to a show-stopping rendition of the Isley Brothers’s “Shout” by Apollo performers Marlena (Kim Onah) and Tyrone (Troy Valjean Rucker) before enjoying “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!” and “Not Fade Away.”

We are witness to when Holly meets his future wife Maria Elena Santiago (Lauren Cosio) for the first time and when he leaves a pregnant Maria in 1959 to go on the Winter Dance Party tour by bus to play 24 Midwestern cities in as many days after promising her he won’t get on an airplane.

The final scene is also one of the show’s finest as Holly’s last performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, with J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson (Jayson Elliott) and Ritchie Valens (Diego Guevara) is recreated in a poignant tribute. The audience is transported back in time and become concertgoers enjoying  outstanding performances of “Chantilly Lace,” “La Bamba” and “Peggy Sue Got Married.”

The stage suddenly goes dark and a radio announces that all three singers were killed in a plane crash shortly after the concert. Richardson was 28, Holly was 22 and Valens was only 17. The tragedy was later referred to as “The Day the Music Died.” The lights come back on and the concert continues, bringing the packed house at last Friday’s show to their feet in a long-standing ovation.

By the end of the night, more than 20 of Holly’s greatest hits have been played live by the incredibly talented actors on stage, a fitting tribute to the Texan who got to play music his way.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story” through March 3. 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.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

By Heidi Sutton

What is art and what is not? Ultimately art is in the eye of the beholder, yes? But what if your two best friends don’t agree with you? Which is more important? Friendship or art? These are just a few of the questions explored in Theatre Three’s latest offering, “Art” by Yasmina Reza (“God of Carnage”). The one-act drama runs on the Main stage through Feb. 2.

From left, Antoine Jones, Matt Senese and Steve Kyle in a scene from ‘Art’. Photo by Brian Hoerger

The French play premiered in Paris in 1994. Translated by Christopher Hampton, it opened in London’s West End in 1996, and then headed to Broadway two years later for a 600 performance run. The original New York cast featured Alan Alda, Victor Garber and Alfred Molina. By the time the show closed in 1999, it had garnered many awards including a Tony for Best Play and the Lawrence Olivier Award for Best Comedy.

Serge (Steve Ayle), Marc (Antoine Jones) and Yvan (Matt Senese) have been best friends for the last 15 years. A dermatologist by profession, Serge decides to start collecting art and purchases a contemporary painting for $50,000. The modern artwork is 3 feet by 4 feet and has a white background with “fine white diagonal lines” (if you look closely —— very closely). 

He is eager to show it off when Marc comes over, handling it ever so carefully as he brings it out for air.  At first Marc tries to be polite and says nothing as Serge has him look at the painting from different angles but finally can’t control himself. “You paid $50,000 for this white s—?” Marc asks in disbelief and their friendship takes a dark turn.

When Yvan is shown the painting, he is rather ambivalent about it. “I didn’t like the painting … but I didn’t actually hate it,” he reports back to Marc. “Well, of course not, You can’t hate what’s invisible! You can’t hate nothing!” exclaims Marc, who is getting more agitated by the minute. 

The cast of ‘Art’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Although he has more pressing things to worry about like planning a wedding with his fiancé turned “bridezilla,” Yvan finds himself playing referee and trying to diffuse the situation. In the end, however, the argument is not really about a painting but about friendship, its boundaries and how we should treat and speak to each other. 

Director Linda May has assembled the crème de la crème of actors to relate this comedy. Steve Ayle (“12 Angry Men,” “I Hate Hamlet” ) is the quintessential Serge, Antoine Jones (Festival of One-Act Plays, “A Chrismas Carol”) is exemplary  in the role of Marc while Matt Senese (‘The Addams Family”) is hilarious as Yvan. The three work perfectly together to produce a wonderful evening of live theater. 

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Art” on the Mainstage through Feb. 2. Running time is 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission. Contains adult language. The season continues with the musical “Nine” from Feb. 23 to March 23 and “The Miracle Worker” from April 6 to 28. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Heidi Sutton

“Do you trust me?” It is a question Aladdin asks Jasmine several times during the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts’ current production of Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” but one that I ask you now. If you do, then grab your children and run, don’t walk, to see this show. They (and you) will love every minute of it.

Based on the popular Disney animated film with music by Alan Menken and book by Chad Beguelin, the show whisks audiences away to the fabled city of Agrabah where the evil Jafar (Alex Mahr), advisor to the Sultan (Logan O’Leary), and his parrot Iago (Max Lamberg), seek to retrieve a magic lamp hidden in the Cave of Wonders. They enlist the help of a street rat named Aladdin (Cole Napolitano), a “diamond in the rough,” who becomes trapped in the cave. When he finds the lamp and polishes it, a magical genie (Ryan Romanelli) appears and grants him three wishes.

After tricking the genie in getting him out of his predicament, Aladdin uses his first wish to become a prince in order to woo the lovely Princess Jasmine (Priscilla Russo). When “Prince Ali” arrives at the palace, Jafar recognizes Aladdin and has him thrown in the dungeon. When his friends Babkak (Michael Puglisi), Omar (Jonathan Setzer) and Kassim (Matt Peluso) try to rescue him, they end up in the dungeon also. Aladdin uses his second wish to set them free. With only one wish left, Aladdin must choose between benefiting himself or doing what is morally right.

Expertly directed by Courtney Braun, the musical features a cast of 20 uber-talented actors ranging in age from 10 to 16 who all do a fantastic job.

From the very first scene when the genie appears on stage to introduce the other characters in “Arabian Nights,” the audience is mesmorized. 

The script is clever and funny and the musical numbers are delightful. Along with the familiar —“A Friend Like Me,” “Prince Ali,” “A Whole New World”— there are fresh new songs including “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim” and “These Palace Walls.”

The impressive set, designed by Tim Golebiewski, features panels on either side of the theater that rotate to reveal a marketplace, a cave full of jewels and a palace; and the Arabian costumes, designed by Chakira Doherty, are just beautiful. Images on the back wall of the stage constantly change to show different scenes of the city, and a video played during “A Whole New World” gives the illusion that the carpet is actually flying.

SPAC has gone all out with this production, a rarity with children’s theater, and has produced something magical. Don’t miss this one. Trust me.

Running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes with intermission and booster seats are available. Costumes are encouraged. Stay after the show for a meet and greet with Aladdin, Jasmine and Genie in the lobby.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” through Feb. 24. Children’s theater continues with “The Little Mermaid Jr.” from March 16 to April 28 and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” from July 13 to Aug. 18. All seats are $18. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Photos by Courtney Braun and Cassiel Fawcett

The cast of ‘Frosty’. Photo courtesy of Engeman Theater

By Heidi Sutton

For too short a time, the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport will present its annual production of “Frosty” for the holidays. Directed by Richard Dolce, the interactive show, filled with song, dance and plenty of fun, is a wonderful way to introduce children to live theater.

Kevin Burns serves as narrator and welcomes the audience to Chillsville, a beautiful town way up north that is always covered with a blanket of snow. From the very beginning Burns puts the children at ease by asking them questions and inviting them to sing and clap to the first song, “Snow.” It is the quintessential way to start the story.

Burns introduces us to Jenny, a little girl who loves to play in the snow. With the help of her mother, she builds a snowman who magically comes to life once Jenny wraps a scarf around him. She decides to name him Frosty and the two become fast friends.

The cast of ‘Frosty’ Photo courtesy of Engeman Theater

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, mean old Ethel Pierpot, who wants to make Chillsville warm and snow free so she can build a new factory, invents a weather machine that starts to make everything melt, including Frosty. Will Jenny, her mom, Frosty and the audience come up with a plan to stop her or will Frosty turn into a puddle of water?

Danielle Aliotta, who played Jenny at last Saturday’s performance, alternates the role with Katie Dolce. Soft-spoken and sweet, Aliotta connects with audience from the beginning. Matthew Rafanelli returns as the gentle and kind Frosty, a role he has by now perfected. Nicole Weitzman is wonderful as Jenny’s mom and Courtney Fekete seems to be having a ball in the delicious role of Ethel Pierpot. It is Burns, however, as narrator, who draws the most giggles. His constant wardrobe changes to reflect how warm Chillsville is getting are hilarious.

A nice touch is how often the actors turn to the children in the audience for advice and they utilize the aisles often, including an exciting chase scene to catch Pierpot. During intermission, the narrator asks the audience to come up with a plan to save Frosty. When the show continues, the children 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.

The songs, including the fun “One Friend Is Better Than No Friends,” the sinister “Pierpot’s Solution” and the ever popular “Frosty the Snowman” tie the whole show together.

With the message that love “is pretty powerful stuff,” this fast-paced holiday production is the perfect way to celebrate the season.

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for pictures and autographs. An autograph page is conveniently located at the back of the program. Running time is 90 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Frosty” through Dec. 30. Children’s theater continues with “Seussical The Musical” from Jan. 26 to March 3 and Dreamworks’ “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” from March 23 to April 28. All seats are $15 and booster seats are available. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

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