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Andrew Gasparini

The cast of ‘Curtains’

By Heidi Sutton

Theatre Three closes out its 48th season with a rousing revival of the musical comedy whodunit “Curtains.” The show, which opened on the Mainstage last Saturday night, will keep the audience guessing, and laughing, right up to until the very end.

With book by Rupert Holmes and music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb (both of “Chicago” and “Cabaret” fame), the eight-time Tony-nominated show had a successful Broadway run starring David Hyde Pierce (who won a Tony for his performance) from 2007 to 2008. Now the hilarious musical comes to Port Jefferson and does not disappoint.

A scene from ‘Curtains’

The play takes place at the Colonial Theater in Boston in 1959. A theater troupe is performing a new cowboy musical “Robbin’ Hood!” (think “Oklahoma!”) on opening night. As the ensemble performs the final act, “Wide Open Spaces,” it is clear that the star of the show, Jessica Cranshaw (Meg Bush) is a complete mess — singing out of tune, missing dance steps and flubbing her lines. (“I was distracted all night by a man waving his hands at me,” she laments. “That was the conductor,” the director mutters.) 

A few minutes after the final curtain Cranshaw collapses and is rushed to the hospital. It is later discovered that she has been murdered. “Now she has a conflict — she’s dead.”

Lt. Frank Cioffi (Steve McCoy) of the Boston Police Department, a homicide detective who happens to be a musical theater buff, is assigned to the case. The entire company is suspect, so he immediately places them on lockdown, barring them from leaving the theater until the case is solved.

The reviews are in!

The reviews come pouring in and they are brutal, especially from the Boston Globe. The producers decide to invite the newspaper’s critic, Daryl Grady (Andrew Gasparini), back when the show has been revamped.

The crew immediately starts reworking the songs and improving the scenes, with more than the occasional input from Detective Cioffi. “I’ve done a little community theater,” he admits modestly. “In ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ my Bottom was very well-received.” He is also distracted by one of the actresses, Niki (Jenna Kavaler) and their blossoming relationship is fun to watch.

In the meantime, a second victim, co-producer Sidney Bernstein (Lon Shomer) is found hanging from the rafters, Bernstein’s wife, Carmen (Mary Ellin Kurtz) is shot at and Cioffi is pushed off a catwalk and narrowly survives. The plot thickens.

As the show progresses, Cioffi starts peeling away the layers of this “family” to uncover romantic relationships, jealousy, blackmail, rocky family dynamics and infidelity. Will he be able to solve the crime in time or will the entire company be picked off one by one?

A scene from ‘Curtains’

Singing, dancing and clever humor abound in this production that showcases a cast of 23 uber-talented actors directed by Jeffrey Sanzel. The high-energy performances, choreographed by Whitney Stone, are exhausting to watch but the cast pulls them off with ease. The musical numbers, accompanied by a live orchestra led by Jeffrey Hoffman, are a nice blend of show tunes and love songs. The costumes and wigs designed by Chakira Dohertyn are fun, especially the cowboy and cowgirl outfits; and the Western-themed set, designed by Randall Parson, ties the whole show together nicely. 

The incredible cast also features Nicole Bianco, Christopher M. Fretto, Dylan Robert Poulos, James Taffurelli, James Schultz, Tracylynn Conner, Matt Senese, Melanie Acampora, Eric J. Hughes, Lindsay DeFranco, Kyle Breitenbach, Cassidy O’Brien, Steven Uihlein, Alex Esquivel, Jeffrey Pangurn and Kiernan Urso.

If you’re looking for a fun night out, don’t miss “Curtains.” Griswold’s Cafe, located on the lower level of the theater, will be open before the show and during intermission for a snack or beverage, and take a chance on a 50/50 raffle. You may win big! Running time is two and a half hours with one 15-minute intermission.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Curtains” through June 23. Contains mature content. After a brief hiatus, the 2018-19 Mainstage season will open with “The Addams Family” from Sept. 15 to Oct. 27. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

A scene from ‘Life, the Theatre, and Other Unlikelihoods’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

When a beloved community theater is about to turn 50, it is time to celebrate in a big way. For the next three years, Theatre Three in Port Jefferson will present a series of special events building up to its 50th anniversary, beginning with Life in the Theatre: A Glimpse Behind the Curtain on Sunday, May 20, at 7 p.m.

John Fugelsang will be the host of the evening

The fundraiser, which will be hosted by actor, comedian, broadcaster and Theatre Three alum John Fugelsang, will include an original comedy by Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel followed by a special guest appearance by musician, actor, writer and radio host Seth Rudetsky.

Founded in 1969 by Jerry Friedman and John and Linda Herr, the troupe started out performing at the Smith Haven Ministries at the Smith Haven Mall. “They all lived in the Three Village area, hence the name, ‘Theatre Three,'” said board member and former artistic director Bradlee Bing, who joined the group shortly after.

Over the years, Theatre Three occupied several different spaces including in the First Presbyterian Church on Main Street in the village before purchasing the current building at 412 Main St. in 1979 after the United Artist Theater closed. In the beginning, there were “only adult-themed musicals, plays and cabaret-style revues,” Bing said. The theater has since expanded to offer children’s theater, educational tours, concerts and acting lessons.

“It is inconceivable that 48 years have passed so quickly,” said Bing who first approached Sanzel about launching a three-year celebration.

Seth Rudetsky will be the headliner in the second act. Photo courtesy of Theatre Three

The event on May 20 will open with the world premiere of “Life, the Theatre, and Other Unlikelihoods,” a one-act musical  featuring original songs by Brian Crawley (Tony nominee for “Violet”), Tim Peierls, Douglas J. Quattrock and Sanzel. Starring Dylan Robert Poulos, the play will celebrate the joys and challenges of becoming an actor, from taking acting lessons as a child to landing that big role, or not.

Directed and narrated by Sanzel, the 17-member cast, playing dozens of roles, will also include Melanie Acampora, Marci Bing, Meg Bush, TracyLynn Conner, Jessica Contino, Ginger Dalton, Sari Feldman, Andrew Gasparini, Eric J. Hughes, Linda May, Phyllis March, Steve McCoy, Cameron Turner, Steven Uihlein and Stephen Wangner.

For Sanzel the experience of creating this one-act musical has morphed into “becoming a celebration of what we do … and is one of the greatest and most joyous writing experiences I’ve ever had.”

He continued, “Yes, the world of theater is fun and interesting but it is a huge amount of work and an enormous commitment. The flipside is the reward which is extraordinary. This play traces how we all come together as family in this amount of time and then we say goodbye and the poignancy of that.”

For Bing, this event is just the beginning. “We have identified it as year one, getting ready, year two, getting set and year three, go. We are developing activities that will prepare us for our final year celebration that will be a three-day event featuring a cocktail reception free of charge open to everyone that has ever been associated with the theater: actor, musician, technician, subscriber, ushers, family and friends on June 5, a semiformal sit down recognition, celebrity dinner on June 6 and a show at the theater highlighting 50 years of theater performances on June 7.”

For Sanzel, “It really is a celebration of theater, the universality, but it is also a celebration of Theatre Three. This event is the perfect launch toward our 50th anniversary.”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Life in the Theatre” on May 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50 presale, $75 at the door. Proceeds will go toward programming at the theater. To order, please call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

 

From left, Emily Gates, Ashley Iadanza, Melanie Acampora, Bobby Montaniz and Steve Uihlein in a scene from ‘The Princess & the Pea’.Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc

When Hans Christian Andersen passed away in Copenhagen in 1875 the Danish government stated they had lost a national treasure. Although a writer of many genres, he is best remembered for his wonderful fairy tales, including “The Little Mermaid,” “The Red Shoes,” “The Snow Queen,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “Thumbelina” and, my favorite, “The Tinder Box.” As a child, I read them all but I always remember being fascinated by “The Princess & the Pea” and the curious image of a young girl trying to fall asleep atop of 10 mattresses.

The entire company of ‘The Princess & the Pea’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Through June 10, Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre kicks off its 2017-2018 season with a hilarious musical retelling of the sleepy story that is not to be missed. With a genius script written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Steve McCoy, the story teaches us that true nobility comes from inside.

Priscilla Noble and her friend Tom have just graduated from college. On the last day of school Tom reveals to Priscilla that he is really Prince Sterling of Pewtersberg and that he has feelings for her. He invites Priscilla to visit him at his castle over the summer so that they can get to know each other better. In the meantime his mother, Queen Irritata of Pewtersberg, has arranged for her son to marry Princess Monica from a neighboring kingdom. When both girls arrive at the castle, the queen puts them through a series of challenges that, in theory, only a true princess would overcome. Add a tower, a bunch of mattresses and a large pea and you’ve got yourself an entertaining afternoon of live theater.

Directed by Sanzel, a stellar cast of nine adult actors keep the young audience entranced. Never have I seen a more well-behaved group of children than at last Saturday morning’s performance, sitting quietly and just taking it all in, a true testament to the magic of live theater.

Jessica Contino and Dylan Robert Poulos star in ‘The Princess & the Pea’.Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc

Jessica Contino plays the lead role of Priscilla with confidence and determination. Continuously being put down for being a commoner by the queen, her character remains polite and respectful throughout. A perfect role model for today’s youth, she proves that studying and doing well in school pays off in the end.

Dylan Robert Poulos is perfectly cast as the tall, dark and handsome Prince Sterling and Andrew Gasparini shines as Lord Chancellor Pandergrovel.

Emily Gates is terrific in the role of Princess Monica, falling asleep all over the stage, much to the dismay of her sisters Princess Miranda (Melanie Acampora) and Princess Margot (Ashley Iadanza) who have been give strict orders by their parents to marry her off. And boy can she snore!

Newcomer Linda Pentz tackles the role of Queen Irritata of Pewtersberg, who seems to have a permanent migraine (“honestly!”), with aplomb. Determined to have her son marry royalty, her character remains stubborn until the very end.

Jessica Contino and Linda Pentz in a scene from ‘The Princess & the Pea’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

However, it is the queen’s brothers, Henry, Earl of Blunt, played by Steven Uihlein, and Richard, Duke of Yuck (yes you read that right), played by Bobby Montaniz, who steal the show with their comedic antics. These two should have a comedy act together!

The original score, with choreography by Sari Feldman, is fresh and hip, with special mention to “A Friend in Need,” “I Say, You Do!” and “The Test,” which is performed entirely in rap. Teresa Matteson’s detailed costumes, especially the intricate royal garb and wigs, are first rate, and live musical accompaniment by Steve McCoy on piano is a nice touch.

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photo ops and tell Princess Monica to get some sleep! Honestly!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Princess & the Pea” through June 10 with a sensory-friendly performance on June 4. Children’s Theatre will continue with “Aladdin & the Lamp” from July 7 to Aug. 10 and “The Frog Prince” from Aug. 4 to 12. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The cast of 'The Three Little Pigs.' Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

The well-known story of “The Three Little Pigs” is a timeless children’s fable that has been around for hundreds of years. With his stomach growling, a big, bad wolf comes upon three pigs who have each built homes from different materials — straw, wood and brick. After the wolf easily blows down the first two houses, the pigs run to the third pig’s brick house. When the wolf fails to blow down the brick house, he decides to go down the chimney and ultimately meets a bitter end.

With book and lyrics by Jeffrey Sanzel and music by the late Brent Erlanson, Theatre Three’s version, which opened last weekend, gives us a kinder, gentler version of the fable, throws in two homeless mice and gives the wolf the talent to rap. Spoken entirely in song and verse, which is a quite delightful experience, this show is fresh, funny and downright adorable, making it the perfect choice for younger audiences, especially first-time theatergoers.

From left, Jessica Contino, Andrew Gasparini and Emily Gates in a scene from ‘The Three Little Pigs’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Sanzel skillfully directs an energetic adult cast of six, all who seem to be having the time of their lives. The musical numbers, accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, are the heart of the show with special mention to “You’ve Got Me, I’ve Got You,” and “You Build a House, You Find a Dream.”

The story centers on three little pigs who have decided to become independent of each other and, with suitcases in hand, go off to build their own homes. Little Pig, played wonderfully by Jessica Contino, decides to build her house with straw. “There’s no law I can’t build with straw,” she quips.

“Sticks are the way I say,” says the grouchy Middle Pig (Andrew Gasparini) who thinks he’s better than everyone else. “Pay attention and you will see, there’s no one in existence who compares with me,” seems to be his favorite saying. Gasparini takes this juicy role and runs with it.

Emily Gates is perfectly cast as the Older Pig who builds a brick house. Mature and wise and kind, her character’s ability to open her heart to friend, stranger or foe is a welcome sight in today’s world.

Melanie Acampora and Steven Uihlein make a great team as Sister and Brother Mouse (Sigh!) who are down on their luck and seek help from the pigs. Being turned away because they are different is difficult to watch.

From left, Jessica Contino, Andrew Gasparini, Emily Gates and Dylan Robert Poulos. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

But it is Dylan Robert Poulos as Mr. Wolf who huffs, yeah, and puffs, yeah, and steals the show. “I’m a wolf with a cause, but with dangerous claws,” he growls as he chases the pigs throughout the theater. Poulos’ performance in “Mr. Wolf [W]raps It Up” is an instant favorite with the audience as he raps with the other cast members and performs amazing backflips across the stage.

As seen in every children’s production at Theatre Three, the show uses this opportunity to teach moral lessons — in this case, embracing diversity and going beyond tolerance. “We’re all the same, the only difference is race and name,” says the wiser Older Pig. The act of sharing is also emphasized.

The costumes, designed by Teresa Matteson, are perfect, from pink pig ears to little pig tails. Even the pig’s suitcases match their specific houses! Did I mention this show is adorable? The set, designed by Randall Parsons, alternates between the three pig houses but still allows for plenty of imagination, which is a very good thing.

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

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Three Little Pigs” through Feb. 25. The season will continue with “Raggedy Ann & Andy” from March 4 to 25, “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” from April 12 to May 6 and “The Princess and the Pea” from May 27 to June 10. Sensory-friendly performances are available during each production. All seats are $10. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Jenna Kavaler and Hans Paul Hendrickson in a scene from Theatre Three's 'Little Red Riding Hood' [1/28/16, 11:01 AM] Heidi Sutton (leisure@tbrnewspapers.com): Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

Making its world premiere on Theatre Three’s Mainstage in Port Jefferson, “Little Red Riding Hood: A Tale of Safety for Today,” is a musical gem. Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin F. Story and directed by Sanzel, this modern version follows the classic Grimm fairy tale closely but also uses the tale as a tool to teach “stranger danger” in an effective way. The six-member adult cast, coupled with a clever and witty script, come together to create a truly special production.

The story revolves around Amanda Sally Desdemona Estella Barbara Temple, whom everyone calls Little Red Riding Hood because she always wears a red cape. Asked by her mother to go check on her grandmother, Granny Beckett, she ventures out over the river and through the woods to bring her some Girl Scout cookies. Her twin sisters, Blanche and Nora, accompany her halfway there; but Little Red Riding Hood sends them back home because Nora has a cold. Now alone, she encounters a stranger (William “Billy” de Wolf) and commits a series of safety mistakes, putting her grandmother and herself in grave danger.

Steven Uihlein serves as narrator and does a wonderful job introducing each scene. Uihlein also steps in periodically to play numerous supporting roles, including a policeman and a mailman.

Jenna Kavaler is perfectly cast as Little Red Riding Hood and tackles the role with aplomb. Her character’s changes in mood from annoyed to scared to confident are compelling.

The entire cast of ‘Little Red Riding Hood: A Tale of Safety for Today’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Melanie Acampora shines in the delicious role of Mrs. Temple, Little Red’s mother, who is so forgetful she can’t even remember her children’s names or who’s who.

Granny Beckett is superbly played by Andrew Gasparini, who clearly enjoys the role, poking fun at himself with an occasional deep note. His solo, “Who’s at My Door?,” is terrific.

Compared to the original tale, the wolf — played to the hilt by Hans Paul Hendrickson — is a relative pussycat, asking the audience if they have any steak or a bone, as he is always hungry. And his howl is not too shabby. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t eat Granny Beckett — she gets away.

Perhaps the most difficult role in the show is the one of twins Blanche and Nora, both played by Amanda Geraci. Geraci switches roles effortlessly, skipping on stage as Blanche, disappearing behind a wall and then returning with a shuffle as Nora, who is fighting a terrible cold. It’s not an easy task, but she pulls it off with perfection. Any minute audience members expect both of them to appear on stage — Geraci is that convincing.

Sanzel knows his target audience well and does an excellent job keeping the story moving along in a fun and captivating way. The action scenes are a nice touch, as the wolf chases Granny and Little Red around Granny’s house and is then chased by the entire cast.

In the last 10 minutes of the show, the actors discuss the safety mistakes that Little Red Riding Hood made, including talking to strangers, and what she should have done instead, a valuable lesson in a less than perfect world.

Teresa Matteson’s costumes are spot-on, from the head-to-toe fake fur on the wolf to Granny Beckett’s nightgown and shawl to Little Red’s cape. The musical numbers, accompanied on piano by the multitalented Steve McCoy, are the icing on the cake, especially “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Granny, What’s Happened to You?” Choreography by Sari Feldman is as top-notch as always.

The great story line, the wonderful songs and the important message it conveys makes this show a perfect reason to step in from the cold. The entire cast will be in the lobby after the show for photo-ops.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Little Red Riding Hood – A Tale of Safety for Today” for ages 3 and up through Feb. 20. Tickets are $10 each.

The season continues with “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” from March 5 to 26, followed by “Cinderella” from April 16 to June 11.  For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The entire cast of ‘Alice’s Wonderland Adventures!’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Lewis Carroll’s beloved classic may be more than 150 years old, but “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” still resonate with children and adults alike. Now Theatre Three’s creative geniuses Tim Peierls and Jeffrey Sanzel have written a brand new Alice-inspired children’s musical — “Alice’s Wonderland Adventures!” — that opened last Saturday. All the familiar characters are here, from the White Rabbit to the Mad Hatter, to the Queen of Hearts to the beloved Cheshire Cat. Throw in an appearance from Humpty Dumpty and Dorothy Gale, add a quick game of Wheel of Fortune for good measure, and you’ve got yourself a hit show.

Sanzel as director leads a talented group of seven adult actors, all of whom play multiple roles, through a delightful and clever production perfect for younger audiences. Seasoned actors Jenna Kavaler, Amanda Geraci, Hans Paul Hendrickson, Andrew Gasparini and Steve Uihlein are all outstanding, as are newcomers Mary Ortiz and Melanie Acampora, making their children’s theater in-house debut.

In the first act we meet Addison Carroll (Kavaler), an actress who is nervous that she will forget her lines as Alice in “Alice in Wonderland.” In a dream sequence, she finds herself transported to a magical land where the White Rabbit accidently takes her script. Addison spends the rest of the show chasing after the harried hare, trying to get it back. Along the way, accompanied by the Cheshire Cat, she has a tea party with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse; plays croquet with the Queen of Hearts, who enjoys shouting, “Off with their heads!” a bit too much; and visits with Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Addison’s adventures help her gain confidence and she awakens from her nap, ready to take on the world.

Sanzel knows his target audience well. Every scene is full of song and dance, fast-paced and short. Riddles and jokes run rampant throughout the production: “Why do flowers work in the kitchen? Because you can’t make tarts without flour!”

The 12 original musical numbers by Peierls, accompanied by Steve McCoy on piano, are the heart of the show. Hendrickson is outstanding in his solos, “We’re All a Little Mad Here” and “The Tweedle’s Song,” in which he impressively performs both Tweedle roles, making his solo a duet. Geraci shines in “So Much to Do,” and the entire company’s “Wonderland Within You” is the perfect finale.

The actors utilize the set from the evening show, “Sweeney Todd,” but that’s OK because the costumes and puppets are so colorful and fun, a set is not even necessary. From the caterpillar with his six arms to the long red robe of the Queen of Hearts, costume designer Teresa Matteson has done an excellent job. It is the 13 puppets, however, designed and constructed by the brilliant Tazukie Fearon, that steal the spotlight. From the moment they make an appearance, the children are mesmerized. This is live theater at its best. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show.

Five-year-old Josephine Cunniffe, of Stony Brook, who said she loved the show, enjoyed the performance with her grandparents. Her favorite character was the White Rabbit.

Ashley Kenter, who’s been coming to Theatre Three since she was a little girl, said her favorite characters were “Alice … and the bunny” and her favorite scenes were when the Cheshire Cat told knock-knock jokes. The 10-year-old, who was having her birthday party at the theater, said she decided to celebrate the milestone at Theatre Three “because there is a lot of room here and they have a lot of good shows.” Her favorite show of all time is “Barnaby Saves Christmas,” which by coincidence is the theater’s next children’s show, from Nov. 27 to Dec. 26.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “Alice’s Wonderland Adventures!” through Oct. 24. Tickets are $10. For more information, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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