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Aria Saltini

The cast of ‘The Princess Who Saved a Dragon’

By Heidi Sutton

Now through Aug. 9, Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre presents the world premiere of “The Princess Who Saved a Dragon.” With book by Jeffrey Sanzel and music by Douglas J. Quattrock, the show combines magic, music, dance and a clever script to create an original fairy tale that is simply delightful.

It’s Princess Abigail’s 21st birthday, and her mother, the absent minded Queen Marjorie, has sent out birthday party invitations to everyone in the kingdom (including all eligible bachelors) — everyone except a wicked witch named Wicked Faery. 

The cast of ‘The Princess Who Saved a Dragon’

When the witch realizes she’s been left out of the festivities, she feels slighted and, after calling 1-800-Dragon, summons a fire-breathing serpent to wreak havoc on the land. The queen decrees that whoever slays the dragon may marry the princess. Will a brave knight come forth to save the day?

Directed by Sanzel, the seven-member cast does a wonderful job portraying the story, all the while emphasizing the importance of “just be who you are.” Michaela Catapano (Princess Abigail) gives us a modern version of a warrior princess, confident and brave and not in a rush to get married. Ginger Dalton (Queen Marjorie) is terrific as her forgetful mother, Nicole Bianco is perfectly cast as the Wicked Faery and Steven Uihlein draws the most laughs in the role of the scaly dragon who has a penchant for flowers. (“I’m a gardener, not a fighter.”) 

Andrew Lenahan as Knight Night, the dragon slayer, and Matt Hoffman as his squire, Julius Pleasant, make a great tag team; and jack-of-all-trades Aria Saltini plays over seven supporting roles throughout the show with ease.

Accompanied on piano by Quattrock and choreographed by Bianco, the song and dance numbers are fresh and exciting, especially Lenahan and Hoffman’s duet “The Night Knight Night Came to Be,” Catapano and Uihlein’s duet,“To Be Me” and the fun hip-hop/rap “Spell to Raise a Dragon” by Bianco.

From left, Nicole Bianco and Michaela Catapano in a scene from the show.

Costumes by Teresa Matteson and Toni St. John hit their mark, from Princess     Abigail’s armor and sword to a shimmering dragon outfit to a purple and black witch costume complete with an impressive set of horns.

Now putting a twist on well-known fairy tales is Sanzel’s forte, but this particular “princess and dragon” scenario is so topsy-turvy that nothing is what it seems and hilarity ensues. Although the tale involves a witch and big flying reptile and is told with the use of stage smoke and flashing lights, there is nothing scary about it.

During last Friday’s opening performance, the children in the audience embraced the new show as giggles and laughter filled the theater. When the dragon, aka Scales, appeared at the end of the first act, the excited youngsters pointed and yelled, “I see it! I see it!” And when the cast made its way up the aisles to the lobby for photos after the show, they were greeted with high fives and hugs, a true testament to the magic of live theater.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Princess Who Saved a Dragon” on July 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28 and Aug. 9 at 11 a.m. and Aug. 3 at 1:30 p.m. Children’s theater continues with “Alice’s Most Decidedly Unusual Adventures in Wonderland” from Aug. 3 to 11 and “Kooky Spooky Halloween” from Oct. 6 to 27. Booster seats are available and costumes are encouraged. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

From left, Susan Emory, Michaela Catapano, Mark Jackett and Debbie D'Amore in a scene from 'The Frog Prince.'

By Heidi Sutton

There’s a whole lot of hopping going on at Theatre Three this week as its Children’s Theatre presents an original musical retelling of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale, “The Frog Prince.” Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin F. Story, the show teaches us to not judge a book by its cover and to “open yourself up and wonderful things will happen.”

Above, the cast of ‘The Frog Prince’

The swamp in the kingdom of King Tarvin is filling up with more frogs every day, much to the dismay of the Frog King. Turns out The Enchantress Livia and her sister, The Enchantress Aurora, are responsible for the sudden overpopulation, transforming everyone who crosses them into a clammy amphibian, even the dry cleaner!

When the pompous Prince Darnay of Caversham refuses to give Aurora, who is disguised as a beggar woman, some water, he meets the same fate as the others and is turned into the Frog Prince. His servant, Squire Tweel, takes him to the swamp to meet the Frog King and try to break the spell.

The Frog King introduces him to the shy and independent Princess Madrigal, who prefers to keep to herself. When she accidently drops a gold ball into a pond, the Frog Prince retrieves it for her and the two become fast friends. Will she be the one to break the magic spell and turn him into a prince again with a kiss or will he have to eat flies for the rest of his life?

Directed by Sanzel, the show is nothing short of adorable and packed with enough frog jokes to last a whole month!

From left, Ginger Dalton, Steve Uihlein and Aria Saltini in a scene from ‘The Frog Prince’

Matt Hoffman, last seen in the role of Aladdin, is terrific in the dual role of Prince Darnay and the Frog Prince. His transformation from a spoiled brat to a sweet prince is remarkable. Newcomer Michaela Catapano shines as Princess Madrigal and her rendition of “Babble Chatter Prattle” is magical. Steve Uihlein is the quintessential Frog King, and plays his warty role to the fullest. Aria Saltini and Ginger Dalton make a great team as The Enchantresses and also serve as narrators to the story, which is a nice touch. Meg Bush is delightful in the role of Squire Tweel who can’t help but poke a little fun at her master’s webby predicament (“Yes, your Greenship!”).

Mark Jackett (King Tarvin), Susan Emory (Queen Cecile) and Debbie D’Amore as Princess Madrigal’s nanny are a solid supporting cast. The production is further enhanced by the addition of 34 talented students from the theater’s summer acting workshops, who serve as royal princesses, pages, citizens, townspeople, frogs and party guests.

Matthew Hoffman and Michaela Catapano in scene from ‘The Frog Prince’

The musical numbers, accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, are fun and hip with special mention to the solo “Not Heard and Not Seen” by Hoffman, “Life Couldn’t Be Better” by the Frog King & the Frogs and “Warts and All” by the entire company. Costumes by Teresa Matteson from the royal garbs to the green frog costumes are exceptional, and Sari Feldman’s choreography is first rate.

From the play itself to casting and crew, every aspect is aimed at providing a magical theatrical experience for children, and this wonderful production hits the mark. Meet the main cast in the lobby for photos after the show.

Running time is approximately one hour and 15 minutes with one intermission. Booster seats are available.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Frog Prince” on Aug. 11 at 11 a.m. and Aug. 12 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Children’s Theatre will continue with a brand new musical, “A Kooky Spooky Halloween,” from Oct. 7 to 28 and everyone’s holiday favorite, “Barnaby Saves Christmas,” from Nov. 24 to Dec. 30. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The entire company

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Above, the cast of ‘Aladdin and the Lamp’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

The story of Aladdin is one of the most well-known Middle Eastern stories from the “One Thousand and One Nights” collection of folk tales, also known as “The Arabian Nights” collection. Along with “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves” and “Sinbad the Sailor,” it features a young hero who has to learn an important life lesson. Throughout the month of July, Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre presents an original musical retelling of the classic rags-to-riches fable that the whole family will enjoy.

Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin F. Story, “Aladdin and the Lamp” tells the story of Aladdin (Matt Hoffman) whose widowed mother (Elizabeth Ladd) works three jobs while he chooses to skip school and sleep the day away. One morning an evil wizard (Steven Uihlein), pretending to be Aladdin’s long lost rich uncle, appears and convinces the boy to help him retrieve an old lamp from a narrow, dark tunnel. When Aladdin refuses to hand over the lamp without being helped out of the tunnel first, the wizard and his evil sister Marjana (Susan Emory) close up the entrance and abandon the boy.

Matt Hoffman and Bobby Montaniz in a scene from ‘Aladdin and the Lamp’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Alone in the dark, Aladdin starts rubbing the lamp to shine it up and unwittingly releases a genie (Bobby Montaniz) who has magic powers and is able to grant any wish. What luck! With the genie’s help, Aladdin becomes rich, marries the Princess Sharazad (Aria Saltini), moves into his mother-in-law Sultana Fial-Kamar’s (Ginger Dalton) castle with his mother and lives happily ever after. Or does he?

Directed by Sanzel, the adult cast of eight does an excellent job conveying the story, with a special nod to Montaniz, whose portrayal of the Genie, which is reminiscent of Robin Williams, steals the show and quickly becomes an audience favorite, in part because of the clever script. “You can make me rich?” asks Aladdin. “So rich they’ll think you’re a Kardashian!” laughs the Genie. When Aladdin asks the Sultana for her daughter’s hand in marriage, the Genie quips, “Why don’t you ask for the rest of her?” Ba-Dum Tshh!

The songs, accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, are fresh and fun, especially the duet “Cheat! Lie! Steal!” with Uihlein and Emory, “Make a Wish” by Hoffman and Montaniz, “Me for Me” with Saltini, Dalton and Kayla Jones (in the role of Dunyazad the handmaiden) and “Happy Ending — Not Yet!” performed by the entire company. Costumes by Teresa Matteson are spot on, from Aladdin’s fez to the Genie’s turban, and choreography by Bobby Montaniz ties in to the Arabian theme perfectly. Utilizing the trap door on stage as the entrance to the tunnel is a nice touch. Special effects, courtesy of the Genie, just add to the magic of the afternoon.

Running time is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes with one intermission. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Aladdin and the Lamp” through July 29. The season will continue with “The Frog Prince” from Aug. 4 to 12 and “A Kooky Spooky Halloween” from Oct. 7 to 28. All seats are $10. For reservations, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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

By Michael Tessler

Theatre Three’s production of “Godspell,” which opened last Saturday night, is local theater at its finest. A musical by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak, it originally opened off Broadway in 1971 and has had many revivals since then. Uniquely reimagined by director Jeffrey Sanzel, Theatre Three’s production succeeds in every category with beautiful lighting, a fluid set, expert choreography, tremendous acting and voices that will leave you yearning for more.

Sanzel, who had previously directed several productions of “Godspell,” brings a refreshing twist to the story, having it take place in the here and now. The cast portray not characters, but their actual selves. Everything you watch is playing out in real time, and it genuinely feels like it’s happening for the first time. The result is miraculous, as it adds a depth and weight to the show that makes it all the more human.

Biblical Spoiler Alerts: Each touch, every moment of embrace, was so unique and powerful. You feel so connected with the magnanimous presence of Jesus, portrayed masterfully by Hans Paul Hendrickson. You sympathize with Judas (Patrick O’Brien) whose dynamic personality and lovability makes his betrayal all the more devastating and personal.

Broken into two acts, the first is a series of parables told by Jesus’ disciples through songs and skits. They will have you in stitches from laughing. Each parable contains a beautiful lesson of morality. In the second act you bear witness to the betrayal of Jesus. Though the tone of the show dramatically changes, the cast still delivers, showing off their impressive range as actors.

What’s most remarkable about this production is its cast. This ensemble effortlessly plays with your heartstrings as their harmonies echo through the belly of the theater. They don’t limit their stage to the stage. More often than not they’re in the audience sharing the experience with you. Their collective voice is so powerful, so beautiful, and instills you with a sense of togetherness. During the production you feel as though you’re a part of something very special.

Hans Paul Hendrickson as Jesus and Patrick O’Brien as Judas in a scene from ‘Godspell.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Hans Paul Hendrickson as Jesus and Patrick O’Brien as Judas in a scene from ‘Godspell.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

In Act One, Amanda Geraci serenades with perfection in her rendition of the musical theater classic “Day by Day.” Bobby Montaniz’s booming voice rings perfectly during his soulful performance of “All Good Gifts.” Act Two, though darker in tone, does have some upbeat moments. Among them is the devilishly sexy “Turn Back, O Man” performed by the talented Elena Faverio. You’ll hold back tears during “By My Side,” a beautiful duet between Jenna Kavaler and Aria Saltini. In the audience, you can’t help but feel the urge to clap and sing along.

The show’s excellent choreography is also to be noted. With each musical number it feels the cast members outdo themselves. No doubt this can be attributed to choreographer Marquez Stewart whose vision translated wonderfully on stage. Her direction of Jesus and Judas during “All for the Best” is a real treat as the duo tap dances in tandem. Many of the musical numbers cleverly include American Sign Language, adding an extra dimension to an already beautiful repertoire of music. “Godspell’s” other great success is in its attention to ambiance. Lighting designer Robert W. Henderson Jr. programs some of the most impressive light sequences I’ve ever seen in a local show. “Heavenly” seems like a fitting adjective.

Behind the cast is Steve McCoy, musical director, who leads a team of expert musicians who brought the score to life in a way that only great instrumentalists can. Randall Parsons’ costume design was also a job well done with Jesus wearing his signature Superman shirt and Judas adorned in what I assume was a cleverly repurposed military coat from “Les Miserables.” Every cast member’s costume so perfectly fit the quirkiness of their personalities. Also deserving of credit is stage manager Peter Casdia who expertly ran the production from behind the scenes.

Arguably the highlight of the show is one particular scene that turns the stage into an old-fashioned slide projector. Comically narrated by Judas, the entire audience erupted into five minutes of non-stop bellyaching laughter. If for this scene alone, go see this show.

“Godspell,” while inspired by the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, isn’t exclusively a Christian show. Its message of community, love and compassion are delivered in a way that doesn’t require you to adhere to the Christian doctrine. Even as a secular Jew, I found myself humming along to “We Beseech Thee” and thinking to myself “I love Jesus!”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Godspell” through March 26. Contains adult themes. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.