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Disney

‘Dumbo’ is a live-action remake of the 1941 animated classic.

By Jeffrey Sanzel

In viewing Tim Burton’s “Dumbo” it is hard not to compare it to Disney’s animated feature that served as source and inspiration. The delicate and wonderful cartoon ran 65 minutes and was both enchanting and heartbreaking. Like all of Disney, there is delicacy about this 1941 film that has made it an enduring classic.

The story in both cases is that of the baby elephant, Jumbo Jr., a pachyderm born with giant ears. It is what makes him different that ultimately proves him special. These giant appendages give Jumbo Jr. — crowned Dumbo — the gift of flight. Ultimately, it is a tale of the “other” — a being ostracized for being different and then finding success, and, more importantly, joy in this distinction.

The original film ends with Dumbo’s rise to fame and his reuniting with his mother. Burton’s version extends the length and the plot to a bloated two hours. The film is stunning to watch with incredible CGI in the creation of the title character. Dumbo is a wholly realized creation with eyes that are mournfully soulful. The film (in 3-D) is visually satisfying but comes up short on character development. 

The story is set just after the end of World War I. Wounded soldier Holt (a brooding but sympathetic Colin Farrell) returns to a failing circus and to his children, Milly and Joe (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins, in nicely understated performances). He has lost his arm to the war and his wife to influenza. The circus is run by a roguish charlatan, Max Medici (Danny DeVito, doing what he does and does well), and is populated by the expected archetypes — the mermaid, the strongman, the snake charmer, etc. Instead of pursing this world and background lives, Burton opts for broad strokes and frenetic action.

It is the children, and, in particular the scientific Milly, who discover Dumbo’s gift. After the reveal of Dumbo’s talent, the film shifts with the arrival of a villainous entrepreneur V. A. Vandevere (scenery-chewing Michael Keaton with an impenetrable and unrecognizable accent). Vandevere fools Medici into signing away his company so that he can headline Dumbo in his Dreamland amusement park. Here, the world becomes even bleaker as it segues into a clumsy indictment of corporate greed. What ensues is often tense and dramatic, but there is a desolation that pervades, only lifted by the final images of freedom.

While there are plenty of homages to the original (the lullaby “Baby Mine,” the pink elephants are particularly clever and a mouse in a uniform harkens to the antecedent’s sidekick), the film has a very modern point of view, especially on the issue of caging animals. It is an important message and one that needs to be heard, but rings oddly false in its period setting. 

Finally, the question one must ask is, “Who is this film for?” The answer: It is a children’s film that is perhaps too dark for the children.

Rated PG, “Dumbo” is now playing in local theaters.

Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Lin-Manuel Miranda, center, takes on his first major film role in ‘Mary Poppins Returns.’ Photo by Jay Maidment/Disney

By Heidi Sutton

Fifty-four years after Disney’s beloved “Mary Poppins” magically dropped out of the sky and into our lives, its long-awaited sequel arrived at local theaters for the holidays.

Titled “Mary Poppins Returns,” the movie is based on the second book in the Mary Poppins series by author P. L. Travers — “Mary Poppins Comes Back.” Co-starring Emily Blunt (“Girl on the Train,” “A Quiet Place”) as Mary Poppins and Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) as Jack the lamplighter, it picks up the story 25 years later in 1935.

Recently widowed, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) still lives in London at 17 Cherry Tree Lane with his three children, Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson) and longtime housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters) while Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) lives in a flat across town. Set during the Great Slump, the family home is in danger of being repossessed unless a loan can be paid back in five days.

While Jane and Michael search frantically for their father’s bank shares, the children spend the day in the park and come home with — who else — Mary Poppins! “I was flying a kite and it got caught on a nanny!” exclaims Georgie. 

“I’ve come to look after the Banks children” says Mary. However, while Michael’s children go on all kinds of magical adventures, it is Michael and Jane who are ultimately watched over by their old friend.

Directed by Rob Marshall (“Chicago,” “Into the Woods”), with screenplay by David Magee (“Finding Neverland,” “Life of Pi”), the film features a fresh score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and new dance numbers, animation scenes and cameo appearances by Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, Karen Dotrice (the original Jane), Colin Firth and, at 91 years old, a tap-dancing Dick Van Dyke.

In the title role Blunt is practically perfect in the way she captures Mary Poppins’ mannerisms, and Lin-Manuel Miranda steals every scene in his first major film role. However, it is the many songs (over 25 in all), from the undersea adventure “Can You Imagine That?,” the emotional lullaby “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” the big dance number “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” (a companion piece to “Step in Time”), Miranda’s Hamilton-esque rap in “A Cover Is Not the Book” and the finale, “Nowhere to Go But Up” that are the heart of the film.

There are many wonderful aspects to this film — all of the actors are terrific; the singing, dancing and choreography are amazing; and the sets are impressive. That being said, I found it hard to fall in love with this film. Maybe because I kept comparing it to the original, but I found the plot to be thin and rushed somehow — as if it had run over the allotted time and then was edited too much. For a Disney film, it didn’t feel magical enough and failed to capture the charm of its predecessor.

Rated PG, “Mary Poppins Returns” is now playing in local theaters. Running time is 2 hours 10 minutes.

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The perfect family movie for the holidays

Meet Disney's newest princess, Moana!

By Erika Riley

Disney’s newest musical movie masterpiece, “Moana,” opened in theaters this holiday season and is unsurprisingly a hit. Kids and adults alike will enjoy its strong protagonist, charming sidekick, beautifully crafted songs and inspirational message.

The story starts with an introduction to a Pacific Islander myth about the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and how he stole the heart of Te Ka. He hoped to bring it to the humans who he lived to serve, but instead opened up a darkness that still crept through the oceans to the present day.

Moana is the daughter of the chief of an island in the Pacific, where everybody lives peacefully and works together to make sure the island is running smoothly. Moana is destined to run the island one day but can’t help wanting to see what’s beyond the reef. Her exploratory nature gets the best of her. When the island is in trouble due to the darkness Maui unleashed, she takes it upon herself to take off on a boat and get the heart back.

The movie feels less like a Disney princess movie after that and more like an adventure, as we watch Moana sail across the ocean in search for Maui. She is simultaneously strong and flawed; while she is confident in her abilities and determined to save her island, she is also not a very good sailor or navigator, or very convincing when she does meet Maui. Yet we watch her grow and learn, and that’s an arc that is rarely seen out of “princesses.” Moana does, however, declare that she is not a princess, insisting that she is the daughter of the chief.

Moana is fronted by new voice actress and native Hawaiian Auli’i Cravalho, who beautifully brings her to life, especially during her musical numbers. This is the first musical movie that Disney has released since “Frozen” in 2013, and it does not disappoint. Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” co-wrote the original songs for the movie with Mark Mancina and Opetia Foi’a. The songs are both catchy and empowering and have a very similar driving groove to them that can be found in the “Hamilton” sound track. “How Far I’ll Go” and its reprises are the most influential songs in the movie, and can easily be seen as the new “Let It Go.” Johnson makes his musical debut with Maui’s “You’re Welcome,” a catchy and fun song that helps flesh out Maui’s self-righteous and confident character.

While the plot of the movie is similar to what Disney has done in the past, with a female protagonist going on a quest with the help of a man, it takes a steep curve in the fact that it does not have a love interest. Even though Moana is traveling with Maui, there is never any foreshadowing that they will be in a relationship, and they remain friends throughout the movie. In the end, it’s Moana who saves the day and figures out how to bring peace and prosperity back to her home, not Maui.

The movie is geared toward kids but will also be perfect for parents and teenagers who are nostalgic for classic Disney movies. While the humor is sometimes geared more toward children, there are some comments throughout the movie where Disney pokes fun at itself that adults will pick up on more.

Moana is a great role model for kids, and the inclusion of Pacific Islander culture is a stark contrast from movies like “Tangled” and “Frozen,” which featured white protagonists. Moana learns more about her culture throughout the movie, and it’s a beautiful part of the plot, and an arc rarely seen in fairy tales.

Moana is a great choice for a movie to see with the whole family this holiday season. It is currently playing at AMC Theaters across the Island, as well as PJ Cinemas in Port Jefferson Station.

About the author: Stony Brook resident Erika Riley is a sophomore at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She is interning at TBR during her winter break and hopes to advance in the world of journalism and publishing after graduation.

M.E. Junge (Ariel) sings “The World Above” in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar

This summer, families will have the opportunity to swim under the sea with Ariel and all her friends as The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre presents one of Disney’s most beloved classics, “The Little Mermaid.”

Gregg Sixt as King Triton in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Gregg Sixt as King Triton in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Ronnie Green as Scuttle in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Ronnie Green as Scuttle in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

The full-length musical, which opened last Saturday night at the CM Performing Arts Center, brings the ocean to life on the Oakdale stage and follows Ariel’s adventure to find true love — and her voice. The show delights children and adults with a dazzling production, special effects and unforgettable music.

Kristen Digilio and Patrick Grossman (who also serves as set designer and choreographer) skillfully direct a talented cast of more than 20 in this fun adaptation of the Danish fairytale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. Music is by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater from the 1989 animated film.

M.E. Junge is perfectly cast as Ariel the mermaid princess and shines in her solos, “The World Above,” “If Only (Ariel’s Lament),” and “Part of Your World.” Bobby Peterson is the romantic Prince Eric with standout vocals, and he is as handsome as can be. Kin-Zale Jackson perfectly plays Sebastian, Ariel’s lobster friend, Jamaican accent and all. His rendition of “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” brings down the house.

Kyle Petty (Chef Louis) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kyle Petty (Chef Louis) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

The wicked sea witch, Ursula, is played flawlessly by Erica Giglio-Pac, who commands the stage with her powerful voice and presence and is chilling during her performance of “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” Kyle Petty is hilarious as the French Chef Louis who chops and guts his way through “Les Poissons.” His chase after Sebastian through the castle draws the most laughs. Petty is a delight to watch and is on stage for too short a time.

The supporting cast does a wonderful job, with special mention to Flounder (Victoria Tiernan), Scuttle (Ronnie Green), the electric eels Flotsam (Matthew W. Surico) and Jetsam (Kevin Burns), King Triton (Gregg Sixt) and Grimsby (Andrew Murano).

Multiple sets are featured for both the above and underwater scenes with a ship, a castle, coral reef and lots of waves. Green’s costumes complement the set perfectly, with vibrant outfits, wigs (more than 40 are used during production) and tons of glitter. From Ursula’s dress, with six additional legs, to King Triton’s crown and trident, everything pulls together nicely. Lighting was designed by Allison Weinberger, with spotlighting neatly handled by Jacqueline Hughes and Marielle Greguski and the choreography was exceptional, especially during “One Step Closer,” in which Eric and Ariel dance the Waltz, and the tap dance number “Positoovity” with Scuttle and his seagull friends.

Erica Giglio-Pac (Ursula) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Erica Giglio-Pac (Ursula) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

This is a wonderfully family-friendly show and although the scenes with Ursula could be a little frightening for a younger child, the clever script — chock full of sea-themed puns, like “as long as you live under my reef, you will live by my rules” and “a squid pro quo” — as well as the singing, dancing and special effects make it all worthwhile.

As a special nod to the children in the audience, the crew turns on bubble machines during “Under the Sea“ from the sides of the theater and on stage, releasing, according to the program, 15 gallons of bubble juice during each show. Although the evening show starts at an earlier time of 7:30 p.m., it runs for two and a half hours with one 15-minute intermission, perhaps too long for the younger audience.

The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, will present Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” through July 9. Tickets range from $16 to $29, with VIP seats for $40.

The theater closes its 38th season with “West Side Story” from July 30 to Aug. 28. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.org.

From left, Matthew W. Surico as Flotsam, M.E. Junge as Ariel and Kevin Burns as Jetsam in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
From left, Matthew W. Surico as Flotsam, M.E. Junge as Ariel and Kevin Burns as Jetsam in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kin-Zale Jackson (Sebastian) and M.E. Junge (Ariel) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kin-Zale Jackson (Sebastian) and M.E. Junge (Ariel) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

Wendy (Moira Swinford) and Peter Pan (Alexandra Juliano) in a scene from Disney’s ‘Peter Pan Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo
Wendy (Moira Swinford) and Peter Pan (Alexandra Juliano) in a scene from Disney’s ‘Peter Pan Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo
Wendy (Moira Swinford) and Peter Pan (Alexandra Juliano) in a scene from Disney’s ‘Peter Pan Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Rita J. Egan

Before children fly from the nest and become adults, their childhoods are a wonderful time for them to discover and cultivate their talents. The young cast of Disney’s “Peter Pan Jr.,” which opened this past Saturday at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, prove they are ready for takeoff in the world of theater.

Brianne Boyd skillfully directs over 20 actors 18 years old and younger. Fans of the classic fairy tale will find all their favorite characters as well as many of the beloved songs from the 1953 Disney animated film that was based on the writings of J.M. Barrie.

In addition to the mischievous Peter who refuses to grow up, audiences will find a human-size Tinker Bell as well as the sweet and curious Darling children who follow Peter on a magical adventure to Neverland on the night when Wendy, the oldest, finds it’s her last night in the nursery. In the far-off land, they find the endearing Lost Boys, friendly Indians, mesmerizing mermaids and comical pirates led by Peter’s rival Captain Hook and his bungling first mate Mr. Smee.

The Smithtown production follows the tradition of a female filling Peter Pan’s pointy shoes by casting Alexandra Juliano in the main role. The actress admitted in a recent interview with this paper that before auditions she practiced standing like a male, and it looks like practice has made perfect, as she convincingly portrays the eternal boy. Juliano is a strong lead with solid vocal talents who especially shines during the number “I Won’t Grow Up” in the second act.

Tinker Bell (Cassiel Fawcett) in a scene from ‘Peter Pan Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo
Tinker Bell (Cassiel Fawcett) in a scene from ‘Peter Pan Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

Cassiel Fawcett is adorable as Tinker Bell whether she wears a scowl when the fairy is upset or charmingly chats to the audience. In the beginning of the first act, she explains that even though the audience sees her as life-sized and can understand her, most humans see her as a tiny being who only speaks the language of the fairies. The actress adeptly handles the light that shines on the stage to represent her flying as well as the shaker that mimics how Peter and friends hear her. She also demonstrates a sweet soprano voice during the number “Fly to Your Heart” as well as the reprise.

Moira Swinford captures the sweetness of Wendy Darling, the young girl on the brink of womanhood, perfectly. Her voice is soft and tender during all her numbers but is particularly lovely during the number “Your Mother and Mine” as she tenderly reminds her brothers they have a mother waiting for them at home. As for Cole Napolitano and Erika Hinson, as Wendy’s brothers John and Michael, they demonstrate talent beyond their years and are a joy to watch.

Zak Ketcham portrays a not so dastardly Captain Hook, which is fitting for a musical geared toward small children, and Andrew McCarty as Smee received a number of giggles with his antics.

In the first act, the Mermaids (Courtney Vigliotti, Alison Kelleher, Nicole Ellner, Georgia Apazidis) deliver a soothing serenade, “Sunbeams and Sea.”

Throughout the musical, the Pirates, Lost Boys and Chief Tiger Bamboo (Sean Kenny) and his tribe deliver fantastic group numbers, and to the delight of the youngsters in the audience, the Lost Boys and the tribe utilize the aisles during the entertaining number “Following the Leader.”

As for the dance routines during those ensemble numbers, Melissa Rapelje has choreographed some fun steps, but it’s when Leah Kelly as Tiger Lily dances her solo, that Rapelje’s choreography beautifully takes center stage.

Set designer Timothy Golebiewski has constructed a charming set to resemble a nursery with windows and beds that resourcefully transform into a ship bow in later scenes. Not to be forgotten are the variety of delightful costumes designed by Ronald Green III that range from the Darlings’ sleepwear to the eclectic garb of the Lost Boys to the colorful Tinker Bell costume. 

Disney’s “Peter Pan Jr.” is a delightful musical for those who believe in magical lands and those who have forgotten, but just like Mr. Darling at the end of the story, who will believe again.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main Street, will present Disney’s “Peter Pan Jr.” through June 19. Tickets are $15 per person. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Alexandra Juliano, far right, in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Rita J. Egan

Before she flies off to the University of Delaware in a few months, Alexandra Juliano is taking on one of her dream roles — Peter Pan. The Commack High School senior and other young actors, who are all 18 years old or younger, will be hitting the stage at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts in “Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.,” which opens on May 14.

The Commack native is no stranger to the stage. She has performed in various productions at the Dream Makers Performing Arts School in East Northport as well as her high school, most recently playing Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd.” Over the last few years, she has appeared at the Smithtown Theater in the junior versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Les Miserables,” as well as the Mainstage production of “The Little Mermaid” as Aquata, one of Ariel’s sisters.

Recently, Juliano took time out from rehearsals to talk about her portrayal of the iconic character of Peter Pan and about growing up.

How did you feel when you heard you got the part?
I was ecstatic; I was over the moon! I love doing shows here, especially the junior shows. I’ve done a Mainstage show and it was amazing, but the junior shows are really nice because I love working with the little kids and all my friends and everything. Peter Pan actually has always been my favorite Disney movie, ever, and Peter Pan himself has always been one of my dream roles. I love “Peter Pan” and everything that it’s about. So, not only did I know it was going to be a great experience because of that, but it’s a part I always wanted to play. I was so proud, so happy, so humbled to get the chance to play it.

What’s it like working with the cast and crew?
Amazing. I’ve done so many shows here and I’ve never had a bad experience from the adults to the directors to the kids. You just get so close to everyone. It’s such a warm environment.

Do you have a favorite song in the play?
I guess I have to say my favorite song is the first time the Darlings fly with me. The “You Can Fly” sequence, where the famous line is, “Neverland is second star to the right, straight on till morning.” I’ve always loved that line. I can’t wait for that magic with the audience, the little kids thinking that we’re flying.

What is the energy like with a children’s audience?
The energy in the audience is always so high. We do autographs after, and obviously performing onstage is amazing, but that’s one of my favorite parts, is the autographs after. For “The Little Mermaid Jr.” I was Sebastian, and the kids, just the things that they would say to you, they really believe that you’re the character. They thought I was this little red crab. I think that’s the best part. These kids come, and they’re so young some of them, and even the ones who are older, and they know that it’s not real, they still get sucked into it. They still have that Disney Magic. Like I said, even though I love performing, obviously, I love the autographs, and the energy that the kids show, the enthusiasm they show.

Do you think some of the kids in the autograph line will realize you’re a girl?
I’ve actually thought about that. I don’t know exactly what response I’m going to give yet if anyone says that to me. I’m thinking I’m going to have a short enough wig and if they say anything to me, I’ll just have to stay in character and say, “No, I’m Peter.” And I hope, even if they do realize I’m a girl, I hope that when I’m onstage, they’ll forget the fact that it’s a girl playing a boy, and just enjoy it for what it is.

Peter Pan and his friends are resistant to growing up. How do you feel about growing up?
It’s scary. I just paid my deposit for college actually this past weekend, and it’s really scary. My brother, my whole life I’ve grown up with me and him being very, very close … my older brother … When I was younger I was always like, “No, I want to be an adult. I want to wear the high heels and the lipstick,” but he was always like, “I just want to stay young forever.” And now that I’m actually wearing the high heels and the lipstick, I love looking back at the memories of being a kid. There are perks of being an adult but then there’s definitely reasons why I see that Peter didn’t want to grow up. It’s definitely a lot more fun being a kid.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
I would love to be an actress. Hopefully, knock on wood, but I’m actually majoring in dietetics, so nutritional sciences and stuff like that.

Do you plan on acting at college?
Yes, I plan on minoring in theater. Which is good, since I’m doing the minor, I’ll be able to audition for their shows and everything. And, I know already Ken [Washington] said next year for the summer show I’ll be able to audition for it when I get home from college. So, it’s good. Even though I’m not majoring in it, it will always be a part of my life.

Do you see yourself acting professionally?
I would love to be able to pursue it professionally. It’s such a risky and tough business. My parents have told me you’re more than allowed to audition, and they’ve even told me if you get a part while in school, you’re allowed to take time off to pursue a part on Broadway or off Broadway if you get that opportunity, because they know how important it is to me. I have my backup plan, I have the backup job, but I definitely would love to audition and put myself out there for it.

What advice would you give young actors?
Just keep trying out. You’re not always going to get the part you want. You’re not always going to get the lead role your first try or your second try. But, it’s all about making the best of the role you get, in theater so many people don’t see that, but there’s no bad role. Even ensemble in shows, they’re so much more than ensemble. I’m one of those people I’ll watch a show, and during the big dance numbers, I love seeing the facial expressions of the ensemble, and I love seeing the energy. And, the ensemble really makes or breaks a show. So ensemble is sometimes the best role. Just keep trying. Just keep going. Don’t get down on yourself. Because eventually you’ll get there, you’ll get the role you want.

So far, the experience with “Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.” has left the soon-to-be 18-year-old with  wonderful memories. She said not only does she enjoy working with the whole cast but the musical gives her a chance to perform with one of her best friends Cass Fawcett, who plays Tinker Bell. Juliano also said the young actors playing the Darlings — Moira Swinford (Wendy), Cole Napolitano (John) and Erika Hinson (Michael) — with whom she appears in many scenes, are exceptionally talented.

Catch Juliano and her fellow young actors at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts until June 19. The theater is located at 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, and tickets are $15 per person. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

This version corrects the last name of Erika, who plays Michael Darling.

Sari Feldman, Amanda Geraci, Aria Saltini and Melanie Acampora star in a scene fron ‘Cinderella.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

A sweet little fairy tale waltzed into Theatre Three last weekend and quickly stole the hearts of the entire audience. The theater is closing its 2015-16 children’s theater season with the perfect choice: a classic retelling of “Cinderella.”

Many little princesses sat in the audience during Saturday’s opening to see Cinderella find her true love and live happily ever after.

With book, music and lyrics by Douglas J. Quattrock, Theatre Three’s version of this rags-to-riches story is full of singing, dancing, magic, quirky characters and lots of laughs. In short, your kids will love it.

From left, Jenna Kavaler and Amanda Geraci star in a scene from ‘Cinderella.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
From left, Jenna Kavaler and Amanda Geraci star in a scene from ‘Cinderella.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the eight adult cast members all deliver stellar performances and clearly love the craft they have chosen. In a nod to the 17th century author of the modern Cinderella story, who is commonly referred to as the father of the fairy tale, the show’s narrator is named Charles Perrault. This “squire to the sire,” played by Andrew Gasparini, transports theatergoers to a faraway land ruled by King Utterly Charming (Steven Uihlein), who wants to retire to Boca and pass the crown on to his handsome son, Prince Charming (Hans Paul Hendrickson) — and yes, he is indeed charming. However, the king feels that his son should get married first and invites all eligible maidens to a royal ball.

The squire delivers the invitations to the home of the beautiful Cinderella (Amanda Geraci), who is still being treated badly by her wretched stepsisters (Sari Feldman and Melanie Acampora) and mean stepmother, played by newcomer Aria Saltini.

Left behind while the three meanies go to the ball, Cindy is visited by her fairy godmother, Angelica, wonderfully portrayed by Jenna Kavaler. Speaking with a Southern accent, Angelica quickly cooks up a beautiful gown and sends Cinderella on her way.

During Cinderella’s infamous missing shoe episode, Prince Charming interacts with all the little princesses in attendance, asking them for their shoe sizes as he searches for the glass slipper’s owner — a nice touch.

The songs, with Steve McCoy accompanying on piano, dominate the show. Geraci’s solo, “A Girl Like Me (And a Boy Like You),” is sweet as she dances with a broom and dreams of falling in love, and her duet with Hendrickson, “Here in Your Arms (The Waltz)” is delightful. Special mention should also be made of Gasparini’s solos, “Once Upon a Time” and “Take a Chance.”

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

Teresa Matteson’s costumes are on point, from Cinderella’s beautiful gown to Prince Charming’s crown. Feldman’s choreography ties it all together.

Meet the entire cast in the lobby after the show and stay for a special photo with Cinderella and the Prince.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “Cinderella” through June 11. The new season will begin on the Mainstage with “The Emperor’s New Clothes” from July 8 to Aug. 5 and the premiere of “The Misadventures of Robin Hood” from Aug. 5 to 13. All seats are $10. For more information, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

From left, Ariel (Mackenzie Germain), Scuttle (Rachel Kowalsky) and Flounder (Amanda Swickle) admire a dinglehopper (a.k.a. a fork) in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky

By Rita J. Egan

The only thing better than hearing a beloved children’s story is having it performed by children themselves. This weekend the John W. Engeman Theater presented its first “by kids, for kids” production, Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” to an excited young audience.

Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) is put under a spell by Ursula (Maeve Barth-Dwyer) in a scene from ‘The LIttle Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky
Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) is put under a spell by Ursula (Maeve Barth-Dwyer) in a scene from ‘The LIttle Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky

The musical’s run in Northport will feature two separate casts, with a combined total of 37 children between the ages of 7 and 17, playing alternate performance dates of the production that was adapted from the Broadway musical written by Doug Wright.

First introduced in the Hans Christian Andersen classic fairy tale, “The Little Mermaid,” Ariel is the youngest of King Triton’s seven daughters. Living under the sea, she dreams of one day shedding her fins so she can walk and dance on land just as humans do. With the help of an evil sea witch, Ursula, her fantasies come true much to the dismay of her chaperone Sebastian, the crab. Soon Ariel finds herself meeting a handsome prince as she embarks on an onshore adventure with Sebastian as well as her colorful friends, a fish named Flounder and a seagull called Scuttle.

At this past Sunday’s performance, the young cast performed as if they were seasoned actors. Mackenzie Germaine was a sweet and lovely Ariel, who sang the mermaid’s signature song “Part of Your World” beautifully. As for her Prince Eric, Ben Hefter was endearing as well as charming.

Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) sings ‘Part of Your World’ in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Elise Johnson Linde Autz
Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) sings ‘Part of Your World’ in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Elise Johnson Linde Autz

Maeve Barth-Dwyer was poised and devilishly delightful as Ursula. She performed “Poor Unfortunate Souls” as if she was standing on a Broadway stage. In addition, Lizzie Dolce and Mia Goldstein, Ursula’s slippery spies Flotsam and Jetsam, flawlessly sang back-up on the show-stopping number.

Despite being a teenager, Matthew Fama portrayed King Triton with just the right amount of authority and tenderness needed for the parental role. Justin Autz (Sebastian), Rachel Kowalsky (Scuttle) and Chris Pappas (Chef Louis) added the right amount of humor.

Kowalsky had fun with the eccentric character and shined on “Human Stuff,” while the comedic abilities of Autz and Pappas were front and center during the number “Les Poissons,” which got huge laughs from the audience.

Amanda Swickle as Flounder was adorable, and when she joined Ariel’s sisters during the song “She’s in Love,” she skillfully showed off her excellent singing abilities.

Ella Benjamin, Eve Ascione, Katie Garthe, Keeley O’Malley, Katie Dolce and Alexandra Spelman shone as Ariel’s sisters and harmonized beautifully during their numbers, “Daughters of Triton” and “She’s in Love.” 

Keith Gryski (Grimsby), Natalie Ryan (Carlotta) and James Tully (Pilot) rounded out the ensemble on Sunday, and just like their fellow castmates, have the potential for a bright future in acting.

Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) and Prince Eric (Ben Hefter) share a dance in ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky
Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) and Prince Eric (Ben Hefter) share a dance in ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky

Musical director Ariana Valdes did an excellent job with the score, which features lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and music by Alan Menken. As for the iconic numbers, “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” the whole ensemble did a fabulous job.

Director Alyson Clancy has skillfully directed a talented young cast that delivers a show that is professional and at the same time light and fun for the whole family.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.” until May 8. Tickets are $15 for all ages. For more information, visit www.engemantheater.com or call 631-261-2900.

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From left, Dondi Rollins as Sebastian; Michelle Rubino as Ariel; and Zack Buscemi as Scuttle in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Rita Egan

The heartwarming tale “The Little Mermaid” opened at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts this past weekend to the delight of fans both young and old. For almost two hours, the brilliant cast treated the audience to an enchanting and colorful show that floated smoothly from a magical world under the sea to a shore where dreams can come true.

Jordan Hue has skillfully directed a cast of talented actors who bring their characters to life with the right amount of tenderness and humor, and in the case of a few, even deviousness, needed for a production based on a Hans Christian Andersen classic and Disney film.

The musical, originally produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and book by Doug Wright, stays true to the movie version released in 1989, which when it comes to the finale, may be more fitting for younger audience members instead of Andersen’s sadder ending.

Our heroine Ariel, played by Michelle Rubino, lives under the sea with her father King Triton (Jahlil Burke) and her six sisters. The youngest of the king’s daughters, the little mermaid dreams of being a human and many times swims above water to see if she could catch a glimpse of these strange creatures. Her faithful companion Flounder (Caitlin Beirne/Erika Hinson) follows her on the adventures, where the seagull Scuttle (Zack Buscemi) joins them to educate them about life above sea level. Here the bird shows them items such as a fork that he believes is used to comb one’s hair, or a pipe that he thinks blows bubbles, and he cleverly names them to disguise his true lack of human knowledge. 

Mikey Marmann as Prince Eric and Michelle Rubino as Ariel in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo
Mikey Marmann as Prince Eric and Michelle Rubino as Ariel in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

While Ariel is making waves in her world, the rambunctious Prince Eric (Mikey Marmann) chooses the life of a sailor over his royal duties and chases the beautiful voice he has heard while navigating the rough seas. Just like Eric has his advisor Grimsby (Mark DeCaterina/Ralph D’Ambrose) to keep an eye on him, King Triton soon assigns Sebastian the crab (Dondi Rollins) the responsibility of keeping Ariel away from the dreaded humans. However, in her quest to make her dreams come true, Ariel slips away from Sebastian, and when she meets the evil sea witch Ursula (Samantha Carroll), the mermaid finds herself making a big yet silent splash in the human world, and finding that even in your darkest moments, dreams can come true.

Rubino, who is making her debut on the SCPA stage, is stunning as Ariel, capturing both the sweetness and eagerness of the mermaid throughout the production, especially during the songs “Part of Your World” and “Beyond My Wildest Dreams.” The actress bears a striking resemblance to the character, which had many little ones on opening night excitedly pointing toward the stage thrilled to see their favorite character in the flesh.

Marmann as Prince Eric proves he possesses the charming qualities to reel in a sea princess as well as theatergoers with his beautiful and soothing vocals during the songs “Fathoms Below” where he sails troubled waters and “One Step Closer” where he patiently teaches Ariel to dance.

Carroll as Ursula nails the deviousness needed to play a villainess and delivers the sea witch with the gusto of Ethel Merman, especially when belting out the tunes “I Want the Good Times Back” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” From the loud applauses she received after her numbers as well as during the final bows, it looks like Carroll has a promising stage career in her future.

Kevin Burns playing Floatsam and Barbara Tiernan as Jetsam were devilishly entertaining as Ursula’s sidekicks as they slithered their way through numbers trying to sideline Ariel’s dreams. The duo also had their time to light up the stage during the number “Sweet Child,” which convincingly lures the little mermaid into Ursula’s tentacles.   

Rollins gets a chance to show off his singing and dancing talents during the numbers “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl.” Despite playing the stuffy, crusty crab, Rollins, joined by the ensemble, delivers “Under the Sea” as the fun, energetic number it is meant to be and has us holding our breath in anticipation as he slowly introduces the first few bars of “Kiss the Girl” and then uses his voice masterfully to build anticipation.

Along with Rollins, D’Ambrose playing Grimsby on Saturday night and Buscemi as Scuttle seamlessly provided the comedic moments expected of the characters. In addition, Beirne played Flounder on opening night with an endearing sweetness, and the youngster delivered the cute number “She’s in Love” like a professional.

Of course, the story would not be complete without King Triton and Ariel’s sisters. While Triton may be stern at times, Burke plays him with the tenderness that obviously overrules the king’s heart when it comes to his children. Alex Juliano, Erin Bonura, Jessica Donlon, Courtney Braun, Alexa Brin and Samantha Foti whether playing the sisters or later as princesses vying for Prince Eric’s heart, not only delivered great singing numbers but also cute comedic lines that elicited laughs from the audience.

Complementing the talents of the actors was a simple yet eye-catching set designed by Timothy Golebiewski. With a coral-like trimmed stage and faux rocks, the cast transformed easily from underwater life to sea level where the simple parting of a curtain revealed the bow of Prince Eric’s boat that seemed to be heading straight toward the audience.

Costumes designed in an array of colors by Ronald R. Green III also take center stage during the musical. The various hues were stunning, especially during the numbers where the whole ensemble was on stage. Sebastian’s costume was the most spectacular in a bright red, and Rollins dapperly sported a top hat and coattails. To take the place of fins, long skirts are cleverly used for the merfolk, even on King Triton’s costume, which Burke handled smoothly.

The exceptional cast, as well as the crew, of the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts has created a production of “The Little Mermaid” that will float into the hearts of many and leave waves of delightfulness that will last long after they leave the theater.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, will present “The Little Mermaid” as its main stage production until Jan. 24, 2016. Tickets are $35 for those 12 and over and $20 for children under 12. For more information and show times, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

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Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s varsity cross country team took third place in the Peter Pan Division at the Disney Cross-Country Classic. Photo from the Port Jefferson school district

The Port Jefferson cross country team had a great run at the Disney Cross Country Classic, held on Oct. 9 in Disney World.

During the competition, Port Jefferson’s Justin Julich took first place overall in the Peter Pan Division, a varsity boys 5K race that featured 187 national runners. Julich, a senior, finished with a time of 16 minutes, 24.60 seconds.

Julich’s win, along with teammate Sam Walker placing third and Alex Rebec placing in the top 25, put the Port Jefferson team in third place in the Peter Pan Division.

“This team truly achieved greatness,” Port Jefferson’s athletic director Debra Ferry said. “We are very proud of them.”