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Brian Hoerger

By Heidi Sutton

From now through June 22, children and adults alike are invited to follow the yellow brick road on Main Street in Port Jefferson (yes, there is an actual yellow road painted on the sidewalk) through the double doors of Theatre Three to see a wondrous stage version of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

First published in 1900 as a children’s book titled “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” the classic story has given rise to many sequels, spin-offs and adaptations including radio shows, musicals and the iconic 1939 MGM film starring a 16-year-old Judy Garland.  

When Dorothy Gale from Kansas is swept away by a tornado, she is dropped in the Land of Oz and must make her way to the Emerald City to ask the Wizard to help her and her dog Toto get home. Along the way she befriends alternate versions of her family and neighbors including The Scarecrow, The Tinman and Cowardly Lion who protect her from the Wicked Witch of the West who wants Dorothy’s magic ruby slippers.

Theatre Three’s stage version, adapted by John Kane with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, follows the original MGM screenplay, leaving in additional verses to the songs, secondary script and musical numbers like “The Jitterbug” that didn’t make the final cut in the film. We learn the backstory about The Tinman (a bit macabre) and The Cowardly Lion (think “The Lion King”) and why the Winkies always chant “Oh wee-Oh, we-ohhhhh um.” The result is a fresh take on a beloved favorite.

Presenting a mainstage production of “The Wizard of Oz” with numerous sets, song and dance numbers and costume changes is not an easy feat, but Director Jeffrey Sanzel has assembled a talented cast of over 30 actors who pull it off with ease.

Ashley Ferraro is perfectly cast as Dorothy and her rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is enchanting. Dorothy’s faithful pet Toto is played by the adorable Miss Mia Donatuti who elicits many “Oh my’s” from the audience every time her four paws hit the stage or she peaks out of the basket.

So nice to see Jim Sluder back on Theatre Three’s stage, this time as Dorothy’s favorite, The Scarecrow, who is convinced he has no brain. Eric J. Hughes plays The Tinman who has plenty of heart but tends to rust a lot and Andrew Lenahan is the perfect Cowardly Lion and gives us a glorious performance of “If I Only Had the Nerve.” 

Linda May is outstanding as Almira Gulch/ Wicked Witch of the West. Close your eyes and you’ll swear Margaret Hamilton is on stage. May’s rendition of the famous line “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!” followed by that shrill cackle will send chills down your spine. 

Special mention should be made of The Munchkins, who, with their high little giggles, are a sweet addition to the story. Their big number, “Munchinkland,” complete with The Lollipop Kids and The Lullaby League, brings the house down.

The sets, designed by Randall Parsons, are impressive as well. Large painted panels slide back and forth, revealing the different scenes while posters depicting the cover and pages from the storybook adorn the edges of the stage. Taking a cue from the 1939 film, Uncle Henry and Auntie Em’s Kansas farm uses muted colors of browns and greens and then, in true Technicolor fashion, Dorothy and Toto arrive in Munchkinland where every color in the rainbow is utilized. 

In a stroke of genius, Sanzel uses flower umbrellas as props which, when opened, are the perfect hiding spot for Munchkins and make for a beautiful field of poppies. And wait until you see the special effects!

Accompanied by a powerhouse orchestra led by conductor Jeffrey Hoffman, the show’s big musical numbers are wonderfully choreographed by Jean P. Sorbera. Costumes by Chakira Doherty are a work of art.

In the end, the adventures of Dorothy, The Scarecrow, The Tin Man and The Cowardly Lion reinforce the power of friendship and that there really is no place like home.

In his director’s notes, Sanzel writes, “In our mind’s eye, we see this unusual quartet, arms linked, traveling down an unknown road. And herein lies the heart: The emphasis is in the journey. Growth comes from the venture and the efforts we make not just for ourselves but for those who walk the road with us.”

Dedicated to the faithful and young at heart, L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” closes out Theatre Three’s 2018-19 season as a vibrantly colorful rainbow. Don’t miss this wonderful family show.

Magic wands are sold before the show and during intermission and photos with Dorothy, Toto, The Tinman, The Cowardly Lion and The Scarecrow are available after the show. Donations are being accepted for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Also, take a chance at a raffle to win Almira Gulch’s bicycle. 

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Wizard of Oz” on the Mainstage through June 22 with a special evening start time of 7 p.m., Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3 pm. Running time is 2 hours 10 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. For more information or to order, please call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief, center, with this year's honorees

The 2018 TBR News Media People of the Year in Brookhaven were honored at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook on March 24.

Publisher Leah Dunaief presented the awards to Linda Johnson, Gloria Rocchio, Brian Hoerger, Andrew Harris, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr., Heather Lynch, Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association, Susan Delgado, Angeline Judex, Janet Godfrey, Gina Mingoia, Boy Scout Troop 161 and Boy Scout Troop 204 at the event.

TBR News Media would like to thank Stony Brook University, the Three Village Inn, Dan Laffitte and the Lessing Family for sponsoring the reception, the Setauket Frame Shop for framing the award certificates, and Beverly Tyler for being our event photographer.

By Daniel Dunaief

Brian Hoerger saw the doors bowing inward. A deluge of about 4 inches of rain in an hour or so in Port Jefferson on Sept. 25 sent a river of water toward Theatre Three, which was holding auditions for “A Christmas Carol” and was preparing to share “The Addams Family” a few days later.

Brian Hoerger in front of Theatre Three

The doors and nearby windows were no match for water that came flooding in, submerging a lighting board, damaging props and leaving tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

Hoerger, the facilities manager at the theater founded in 1969, sprang into action, salvaging what he could, removing what was unrecoverable and stabilizing the situation enough that he could leave around midnight and return six hours later to continue the cleanup effort.

To hear his friends tell it, Hoerger’s response, which included coordinating more than 50 volunteers and prioritizing a way to get the theater back in action just a few days later, is typical of a man committed to the community.

Hoerger has “an unparalleled devotion to helping others,” said Mollie Adler, who attended high school in Port Jefferson with him. “He’s always been extraordinarily helpful.”

In response to the devastating water in the building, Hoerger “worked nonstop,” said Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director of Theatre Three. “He was physically cleaning, he was supervising the things that had to be thrown out and he was dealing with a lot of the main stage electrical stuff.”

Margot Garant, mayor of Port Jefferson, recalled how she and Hoerger were “knee deep in the water,” and that he “goes above and beyond” with his lighting expertise.

“You call him, and he’s always there for you,” she said.

Hoerger was involved in setting up the rental for the replacement of the dimmer rack, which provides the stage lighting.

“He put the theater first, and he put the needs of the staff and the cast that was running in ‘The Addams Family’ first,” Sanzel said. “He stayed positive the whole time. He was always available.”

Hoerger wasn’t involved in much theater. A friend from when the two of them were 5, Eric Cherches, who was then a board member at Theatre Three, suggested that Hoerger give the theater a chance when he returned to Long Island in 2014.

Hoerger said he was hooked, especially by the production of “Sweeney Todd.”

“It was a great show, and the talent was amazing,” recalled Hoerger, who has helped with lighting, carpentry and building sets. While the Theatre Three cast and crew appreciate all he does to support them, he has also built up a reputation as a cook.

Beyond his work with Theatre Three, Hoerger has contributed in numerous other ways.

He pitches in with prom decorations.

The downstairs of Theatre Three after the flash flood. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Little kids will accompany their parents to work on the prom for older siblings or cousins,” said Cherches, a lawyer at the Law Offices of Eric D. Cherches in Port Jefferson. “Everybody knows [Hoerger]. He has a way of making everybody a friend.”

Hoerger has been helpful to Adler, who has had three surgeries for breast cancer and is a single mom dealing with significant financial challenges.

“My house was falling apart,” Adler said. “He helped organize a group of guys we went to school with” to come repair holes in the deck, to paint her door and to repair other problems.

Adler bakes Miss Mollie’s Brownies to support herself and her family. Hoerger brought her brownies into Theatre Three, which shares in the profits for the baked goods.

In addition to the many roles Hoerger has played at Theatre Three, which also include serving as a photographer, the organization has offered him a chance to stand in front of the lights he ensures are working. Sanzel asked Hoerger if he’d be willing to play the role of Mr. Fusco, the hardware store owner in “Saturday Night Fever.”

“That’s not my thing,” Hoerger said. “I enjoy watching the shows and being behind the scenes.”

Hoerger’s colleagues at Theatre Three appreciate his preparation and contributions in the moments when torrential rains don’t hit.

“Any time there’s a chance of heavy rain, he is out there with his pump and hoses snaked around the parking lot,” said Vivian Koutrakos, managing director at Theatre Three. “I’m more impressed with that” in those moments “when we’re not calling on the world to come help us.”

Bringing his childhood friend to the group was “the best thing I did during my almost 10 years on the board,” Cherches said.

By Heidi Sutton

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, especially at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. Beautifully decorated for the holidays, the historic theater is currently presenting its annual production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” a community treasure that is celebrating its 35th season. 

Based on Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel of the same name, the story is a familiar one that needs to be retold often as a reminder to keep the spirit of Christmas in our hearts all year round. 

Adapted for the stage by Theatre Three’s Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel, it tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge (Sanzel), a man who has allowed himself to succumb to the mighty dollar and lives in the world of business. When we meet Scrooge for the first time, he is a bitter and stingy and feared man who has a particular abhorrence for Christmas and charity. He considers the poor and needy to be lazy. “I cannot afford to make idle people merry,” he sneers.

It is only when he is visited by the ghost of his business partner Jacob Marley (Andrew Lenahan) on Christmas Eve that he is given a shot at redemption. Enveloped in the chains he has forged in life, Marley tells Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits — the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, who eventually help him discover the true meaning of Christmas and save his immortal soul.

With the Ghost of Christmas Past (Michelle LaBozzetta) we visit Scrooge as a young boy, left alone at boarding school for Christmas; as an apprentice at Fezziwig’s where he falls in love with Belle; and the exact point when he meets Marley (“and so it began”) and his life begins to unravel.

A “cheeky” Ghost of Christmas Present (Stephen Wangner) brings Scrooge to his clerk Bob Cratchit’s (Douglas Quattrock) home where he sees an ailing Tiny Tim and to his nephew Fred Halliwell’s (Steven Uihlein) home to understand how his late sister’s son feels about him.

Finally, the daunting Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Steven Uihlein) shows Scrooge the shadows of what is yet to come, including his own death and how those around him are affected. The harrowing experience is exactly what the miser needs to turn his life around. 

The Victorian set and costumes designed by Randall Parsons, lighting by Robert W. Henderson Jr., musical direction by Brad Frey and the many special effects produce a beautifully executed well-oiled machine with powerful performances from the entire cast. 

Arrive a little early and be treated to a selection of Christmas carols by the actors in the lobby and stay afterward for a photo keepsake with Scrooge. The $5 fee goes to support the theater’s scholarship fund.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” through Dec. 29. Please note all evening shows begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 per person through November; $35 adults, $28 seniors and students in December. For more information or to order tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Brian Hoerger

The cast of 'The Addams Family'. Photo by Brian Hoerger

By Heidi Sutton

Halloween is still a few weeks away, but there’s something creepy and kooky and altogether spooky going on at Theatre Three that’s not to be missed.

The theater opens its 49th season with the musical comedy “The Addams Family,” a nostalgic trip down memory lane for fans of this atypical clan, and judging by the packed house on opening night, that amounts to quite a few.

Created by Charles Addams, the lovable, albeit macabre, family first appeared in a New Yorker comic strip in 1938 but truly came to life in the 1960s ABC television series starring John Astin and Carolyn Jones as Gomez and Morticia. The two film versions in the 1990s paved the way for the Broadway musical in 2010 starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth.

The cast of ‘The Addams Family’. Photo by Brian Hoerger

Last Saturday’s opening performance began as it should, with the audience snapping their fingers or clapping their hands to the iconic theme song, and suddenly they appeared — all the familiar, eccentric characters we have all come to love — Gomez (Matt Senese), Morticia (TracyLynn Conner), Uncle Fester (Rick Grossman), Grandma (Ginger Dalton), Wednesday (Jessica Murphy), Pugsley (Max Venezia), Lurch (James Taffurelli) and Thing and Cousin Itt (both played by Cameron Turner). What followed was a fun, wonderful evening of live theater.

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the show opens, most fittingly, in the family cemetery (“Oh the intoxicating smell of the graveyard!”) as the family lets their ancestors out of a mausoleum to celebrate what it is to be an Addams. It is here that we see the first of many “Thriller”-inspired musical numbers, expertly choreographed by Nicole Bianco, that dominate the show.

The storyline revolves around Wednesday who is all grown up and has fallen in love with a “normal boy,” Lucas Beineke (Matt Paredi) from Ohio (“the swing state!”), and wants to bring him and his parents, straight arrow Mal (Steve Ayle) and the perfectly rhyming Alice (Linda May), over for one “normal night.” She confides in her father that she wants to marry Lucas and makes him promise not to tell her mother yet, putting Gomez in several hilarious sticky situations and leading up to his solo, “Trapped (like a corpse in the ground).”

Matt Senese as Gomez and Jessica Murphy as Wednesday. Photo by Brian Hoerger

Uncle Fester, on the other hand, recruits the ancestors to find out if this is really true love, and if so, to help it along. Dressed in ghostly white costumes, they float in and out of every scene as they spy on the family’s affairs.

As the Beineke family arrive, they are invited to take part in the family game, Full Disclosure, during which everyone takes a sip from a sacred chalice and reveals something they’ve never told anyone. When Pugsley steals a magical potion from Grandma (“One swig of that and Mary Poppins turns into Madea!”) and pours it in the chalice, the evening takes a dark and eventful turn.

Accompanied by an outstanding eight-member band led by Jeffrey Hoffman, the 20 musical numbers perfectly tie the storyline together.   The costumes by Chakira Doherty are wonderful, especially for the ghoulish ancestors, and the Gothic set, cleverly designed by Randall Parsons includes panels that swivel and rotate to reveal different scenery. As the actors sing their solo or duet, they move toward the edge of the stage as the curtain closes, allowing the set to be quickly changed for the next scene.

With exceptional vocals, the entire cast become fully immersed in their individual character. The chemistry between Gomez and Morticia is as alive as ever. Morticia: “I feel darkness and grief and unspeakable sorrow.” Gomez: “I love it when you speak sexy, Cara Mia.” 

Matt Senese as Gomez and TracyLynn Conner as Morticia. Photo by Peter Lanscombe

Although she’s in love, Wednesday’s inner darkness makes several appearances, and Uncle Fester is as lovable as ever (yes, he is still in love with the moon.) Pugsley secretly loves to be tortured (electrocuted to be precise) by his big sister, Grandma is still wacky and Lurch is still grunting; but in the end they are just one big family that has to deal with every day issues just like everyone else.

In his director’s notes, Sanzel sums it up perfectly. “The ultimate message of ‘The Addams Family’ musical is to find out who you are so you can be true to yourself. Whether vacationing in the sewers of Paris, starting out in a new marriage or finding the spark in an old one, or flying to your true love (‘To the moon, Alice!’), the Addams Family and ‘The Addams Family’ remind us to ‘live before we die.’”

Go see this wonderful show. You’ll find much to cherish.

Stay after the performance for a photo with the cast on stage if you wish — the $5 donation goes to support the theater’s scholarship fund.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Addams Family” through Oct. 27. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students and $20 children ages 5 to 12. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

From left, Phyllis March, Maryellen Molfetta and Ginger Dalton in a scene from the show. Photo by Brian Hoerger

By Michael Tessler

Theatre Three’s latest production “Where There’$ a Will,” opened last Saturday night to an intrigued audience. Originally produced in 1985 by an eighteen-year-old Jeffrey Sanzel, this wonderful piece of theater is such a hidden treasure that I’m glad it resurfaced just in time for me to review!

Our story begins as the late millionaire Hiram Cedricson, a self-proclaimed “Potato King,” has assembled his widow (and fourth wife), her not-so-new lover and a slapdash theater crew of washouts, has-beens and could-bes to hear his last will and testament be read aloud by a uniquely unqualified lawyer.

Phyllis March and Mary Ellin Kurtz in a scene from the show. Photo by Brian Hoerger

Hilarity ensues as the lawyer reveals that prior to Cedricson’s death he wrote an original play … with no prior experience in theater, with a title so funny that I’m unable to print it. His dying wish is for this cast and crew of misfits to perform the show verbatim, in a decrepit theater he purchased just before his death … in two weeks. If they can accomplish this, they each receive $500,000. If they fail, the snarky widow and her lover get all the money.

So despite quarrels and some seriously conflicting personalities, the group agrees to the terms. What none of them realize is that Hiram Cedricson was the furthest thing from a writer and that his show would be an accidental comedy of epic proportions! The result is as Cedricson so eloquently puts it — “wonderfug.” What’s best is that the ghost of Cedricson and two of his former wives (one dead, one divorced) get to enjoy the chaos as casual spectators from the balcony, bickering among themselves through the process.

Ginger Dalton in a scene from ‘Where There’$ a Will’. Photo by Brian Hoerger

By every definition this is an all-star cast — immensely talented, perfectly paced, and hilariously human. Expertly directed by Sanzel, each actor takes on a caricature so unique and well-written that it’s impossible not to feel emotionally invested in their success. There is such incredible range in their performances. All of these cast members could have and likely were leads in previous productions.

There are so many familiar faces that at times, and much to my amusement, I felt like I was watching a reunion show of Long Island’s greatest talent. Though I lack the column inches necessary to write in detail about each of these extraordinary actors, I do want to say that this is by far the best ensemble cast I’ve ever seen outside of a Broadway production. They are so much more than just funny — they are uniquely lovable, memorable and multidimensional.

This can be attributed not just to the enormous talent of this cast, but to the show’s ambitious and masterfully crafted script. Somehow, not a single character goes underutilized in both acts of this large-scale comedy.

From left, Phylis March, Jessica Contino and Mary Ellin Kurtz in a scene from Sanzel’s new play. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Though not a musical, there are several musical numbers, all of which will have you grinning cheek to cheek. Throughout the show there is a wonderful score dreamed up by Theatre Three’s Tim Peierls, and Randall Parsons creates a visually striking set, which is complemented perfectly by Robert Henderson’s lighting design. The young but extraordinarily talented Peter Casdia expertly stage manages the production, ensuring a flawless experience. Costume designer Chakira Doherty must have had some fun putting together the most uniquely diverse set of costumes I can remember in recent productions.

Jeffrey Sanzel and his assistant director Andrew Markowitz put on a genuinely charming production, perfect for ringing in the spring season. “Where There’$ a Will” feels like a classic that has been playing forever, and that’s because maybe it should be.

The cast: Steve Ayle, Marci Bing, Michael Butera, Carol Carota, Jessica Contino, Ginger Dalton, Susan Emory, Sari Feldman, Jack Howell, Joan Howell, Skyler Quinn Johnson, Mary Ellin Kurtz, Linda May, Phyllis March, Steve McCoy, Maryellen Molfetta and Ruthie Pincus

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Where’s There’$ a Will” through May 6 on the Mainstage. Tickets for adults $35; seniors and students $28; children ages 5 to 12 for $20. Children under 5 are not permitted. A matinee will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 3 with $20 tickets. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

WILDLIFE CRITTERS: Brian Hoerger’s backyard in Port Jefferson was teeming with wildlife on March 10, searching for a free handout on a snow-covered day. Find more of Brian’s nature and landscape photos on his website, www.briansfeet.com. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of his photographs goes to support pediatric cancer research, a subject close to his heart.

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com.