Theater

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.

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

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