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Ellen Michelmore

Amber Ferrari will pay tribute to Pat Benatar on July 15. Photo by Marie Fristachi

By Rita J. Egan

Vocalist Amber Ferrari is ready to hit music lovers with her best shot by taking on the hits of pop icon Pat Benatar.

Amber Ferrari as Pat Benatar

Known on Long Island for her production Joplin’s Pearl Featuring Amber Ferrari, dedicated to the ’60s icon Janis Joplin, Ferrari recently decided to create a show paying tribute to the music of Benatar — the singer behind hits such as “Love Is a Battlefield,” “We Belong,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “Heartbreaker” and so much more. The new production, Benatar Featuring Amber Ferrari, will debut at Theatre Three July 15 as part of the venue’s Summer Concert Series.

It’s no surprise that the local singer is taking on the icon’s music. Not only are both from Long Island — Ferrari a native of East Patchogue and Benatar a graduate of Lindenhurst Senior High School — but both possess large vocal ranges. Ferrari said Benatar’s vocal style is one of the reasons she loves singing her songs, citing the pop stars knack for being able to sing classically or rock ‘n’ roll with a rasp.

“I enjoy singing rock music, and her songs have such a large vocal range,” Ferrari said. “She sings both clean and dirty, so I’m able to use both aspects of my vocals, and I love doing that.”

Ferrari said Benatar’s 1980 “Hell Is for Children” from the “Crimes of Passion” album and the second single from the “Precious Time” LP, “Promises in the Dark,” are among her favorites. “I love ‘Hell Is for Children’ because it’s so hard vocally, and ‘Promises in the Dark’ because the vocal range is so large,” she said. “It goes slow to up-tempo as well.”

Similar to her Janis Joplin show, and her 2015 production Material Girl Featuring Amber Ferrari, which spotlights Madonna’s hits, the Benatar show will open with a few songs from other artists. Ferrari said she has selected hits from Blondie, Melissa Etheridge, Linda Rondstadt and Journey as well as one of her own.

Ferrari said Theatre Three is the perfect spot to debut her new show. “Theatre Three has a dear spot in my heart,” she said. “First theater I ever did one of my full shows at was Theatre Three.” It was during Ferrari’s participation in the theater’s production of Woodstockmania: Woodstock in Concert in 2005 where the late music director Ellen Michelmore asked Ferrari to sing Joplin’s songs. After that experience, she was inspired to perform the legend’s songs on a regular basis and created her signature show.

Douglas Quattrock, director of development and group sales and marketing coordinator at Theatre Three, said he is always excited when Ferrari performs at the theater but he’s even more than usual with the singer debuting the Benatar show at the venue.

“As an artist, she is always expanding her horizons and never fails to impress her audiences with new material,” he said. “So when she told me she was thinking of putting together a Benatar show, I was thrilled. It is a perfect fit for her.” Quattrock said he is looking forward to Ferrari’s renditions of “We Belong” and “Promises in the Dark.”

The production will also feature special guest Teddy Rondinelli from the group Rondinelli who has performed with Vanilla Fudge and Robert Plant. Ferrari will be accompanied by her band, which includes Chris Ferrari on guitar, Mike Chiusano on bass, Gary Gonzalez on drums, Bob Bellucci on keyboards and Jim Carroll on percussion.

Ferrari said she’s attended concerts of Benatar’s in the past, and her performances are amazing to see. One day she hopes she’ll have the opportunity to meet the icon. Until then, she’s busy rehearsing for the her new show’s debut and is hoping music lovers will enjoy the production.

She encourages audience members to wear their favorite Benatar-inspired outfit the night of the show, too. “I hope they’ll have a rocking great time, and it will bring them back to the ’80s and rocking out,” Ferrari said.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present Benatar Featuring Amber Ferrari July 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $39 and may be purchased by calling 631-928-9100 or by visiting www.theatrethree.com.

The garden bench dedicated in memory of Ellen Michelmore. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

Friends and family gathered at the garden at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson to dedicate a bench in memory of the late Ellen Michelmore on July 24. Michelmore, who served as the theater’s resident musical director for more than 25 years, passed away this May at the age of 63 after a five-year courageous battle with leiomyosarcoma, a cancer that infects muscle tissue. “Ellen loved this theater,” said her husband Jeff Lange. “She was the bravest soul I ever knew,” he added.

Ellen Michelmore and her husband Jeff Lange File photo
Ellen Michelmore and her husband Jeff Lange. File photo

A gold plate on the bench is inscribed with the lyrics from Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”:

Try ‘n’ to get my soul free

We are stardust We are golden

And we got to get ourselves

Back to the garden.

Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Theatre Three’s Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel said the lyrics were chosen because “those were the opening lyrics to our ‘Summer ‘69: Return to Woodstock’ that Ellen sang in the very first production. It’s where it all started — it has so many levels in its meanings.”

Jean Sorbera, who had been Theatre Three’s resident choreographer for many years, purchased the bench and donated it. It now sits alongside memorials for two other members of the Theatre Three family gone too soon, Brent Erlanson and Bonnie Vidal.

During the ceremony, Michelle LaPorte and Gerry Saulter performed a moving rendition of “Progressions para Pauline,” a flute and guitar piece by Argentinian composer Luiz José Merlin, in Ellen’s honor.

A reception followed at the theater’s Second Stage. Sanzel gave a toast to Michelmore with her favorite wine, Prosecco, saying, “There are no words,” as he choked back tears. Scanning the packed room, it was incredible to see how many lives Michelmore had touched over the years.

For actors Hans Paul Hendrickson, Steven Uihlein, Sarah E. Bush and TracyLynn Conner, memories of Ellen were practically identical — how she made them feel welcome when they first arrived and helped them perfect their craft. Conner said she and Ellen formed a close personal relationship and would get together often to sing. Conner wore a pair of Ellen’s shoes to the dedication.

“I absolutely adored Ellen and miss her very, very much. She was like family to me,” said actor Steve Ayle. “We worked together at Theatre Three for the last 25 years, most recently playing opposite each other in the [2015] One Act Play Festival’s ‘Quack.’ Ellen was warm and kind beyond compare, her talent immeasurable, and her big, bright eyes reflected her remarkably positive and enduring spirit, even in the face of her illness. She will live on forever in my heart and soul.”

Douglas Quattrock, who has been at the theater full time since 2002 but has been acting there since the mid-80s, was clearly moved by the dedication. “Besides being one of the most caring and genuine people you could ever meet, Ellen was also an inspiration,” said a tearful Quattrock. “Even though I have never had any formal training in composing music, Ellen always encouraged me to do it. ‘Just play what’s in your heart’ is what she would say. I was honored to work on so many shows with her.”

Michelmore was such an integral part of the Theatre Three family that she was honored with a musical tribute “Ellen Michelmore: Notes From The Heart,” in 2014. The evening featured singers, actors and musicians who had been blessed to work with her. “Jeff [Sanzel] asked me to write a song for Ellen [for the tribute],” continued Quattrock. “The opening lyric that immediately came to my mind was ‘You’re The Music, You’re The Song.’ To me, that was Ellen … She was the music.”

Actor and musician Kevin Story also reflected on his time with Michelmore, saying, “Ellen was a unique light. From the moment I set foot inside Theatre Three over ten years ago, she was encouraging and supportive, a great mentor, colleague and friend. There are really no words, as Jeff said.”

Sanzel said that Theatre Three’s Aug. 19 and 20 performances of “Woodstockmania: Woodstock in Concert,” a musical created by Michelmore, will be dedicated to her memory. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. In addition, Sanzel said a plaque bearing the inscription, “Ellen Michelmore: The Spirit of Music Ever Present” will be placed in the orchestra pit and “a portrait of Michelmore will be commissioned for the lobby.”

Kevin Story surely spoke for all who attended the ceremony that day, saying, “We’ve all been touched by Ellen in an amazing way, and we can only hope her light will continue to shine through us somehow. She will be missed.”

Ellen Michelmore was the musical director at Theatre Three. File photo

Ellen Michelmore, who served as the Theatre Three musical director for more than 25 years, died early Friday morning, the theater said on its Facebook page. She was 63.

Since her start with a production of “Evita” in 1986, Michelmore worked with hundreds of actors and musicians at the theater in her hometown of Port Jefferson. Even through a few battles with leiomyosarcoma, a cancer that infects muscle tissue, Michelmore was known for her energy and for giving her all, and was named a Port Times Record Person of the Year in 2014.

Ellen Michelmore was the musical director at Theatre Three. File photo
Ellen Michelmore was the musical director at Theatre Three. File photo

“She is a craftsperson, an artist, a teacher and a mentor,” Theatre Three Executive Director Jeffrey Sanzel said at that time. He quoted composer Jerry Herman to describe her style: “‘Someone puts themselves last, so that you can come first.’ That is Ellen.”

People who knew her have called her generous, patient, kind, strong and remarkable. And she made a mean Bolognese sauce.

“I don’t think there was a single person who ever came across her who didn’t love her,” Sanzel said in a phone interview on Friday. “And I’m not one to use superlatives [but] she was an extraordinary human being, she was an artist, but just the depth of her love and compassion and sensitivity were unlike anyone we’ve ever had in this theater family, and her loss will be felt forever.”

As the lead of Theatre Three’s music department, Michelmore touched both audiences and staff.

Musician Michael Chiusano said people who worked with her respected and appreciated her honesty: “If your part is not prepared, she will tell you where you stand,” he said previously.

Ellen Michelmore as a young child. File photo
Ellen Michelmore as a young child. File photo

And Broadway actress and singer Amy Justman, who began working with Michelmore as a 10-year-old in 1989, said the music director was “kind and giving but tough.”

“I had never seen a woman like Ellen,” she said when Michelmore was named a Person of the Year. “She sent me on a path. … I have a lifelong connection to her and am so grateful for her.”

Michelmore played such a big role in the Theatre Three community that the theater honored her with a musical tribute in 2014, called “Ellen Michelmore: Notes From The Heart,” that featured singers, actors and musicians who had worked with her.

Michelmore is survived by her husband, Jeff Lange, who is also a musician. He has previously noted, “Ellen’s passion has been her job ever since she arrived at Theatre Three.”

Her presence is not something that will soon be forgotten at the theater. Sanzel said Friday, “In all that she’s been through in these last five years, her bravery was extraordinary and she never stopped loving all the people around her.”

Funeral arrangements had not yet been made early Friday afternoon.

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From left, Douglas Quattrock, Jeffrey Sanzel and Hans Paul Hendrickson in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Photo by Elizabeth Castrogiovanni, Kayline Images

Theatre Three’s 32nd annual performance of “A Christmas Carol” opened last weekend. “Too early,” you may say. “It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.” Perhaps, but the spirit of Christmas — giving selflessly and spending time with the ones you love — is a message that holds true all year.

The show is based on Charles Dickens’ classic novel of cranky old miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who is concerned only with business. One Christmas Eve, the ghost of his deceased business partner Jacob Marley appears, wearing the chains he’d forged in life, “link by link,” and tells Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits — the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, who help him discover the true meaning of Christmas.

Published more than 170 years ago, Dickens’ tale of redemption quickly resonated with the working class and has remained a holiday favorite ever since.

Adapted for the stage by Theatre Three Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel in 1983, the production is constantly evolving, revising itself, with subtle changes that keep it fresh. The audience is led through a gamut of emotions, from fear to sadness to pure joy — a true testament to the magic of live theater.

The show brings back familiar faces year after year, with Sanzel (Scrooge), Douglas Quattrock (Bob Cratchit), Steve McCoy (Jacob Marley) and George Liberman (Mr. Fezziwig) leading a talented cast of 20 who, combined, play nearly 100 roles. The entire company, from the seasoned actors to the children, does a phenomenal job.

Sanzel, who also directs, is in every scene and is wonderful. In a scene with the Ghost of Christmas Past, he instantly transforms from an old, hunched-over tired man to a young man again, dancing the night away at Fezziwig’s holiday party. The transition is effortless and quite remarkable.

Quattrock’s performance as Bob Cratchit is particularly moving, especially in his scenes with Tiny Tim (played by Ryan M. Becker), and Steve McCoy is a daunting Marley. Other standouts include Liberman as the jolly Mr. Fezziwig, Kiernan Urso in the role of young Scrooge and Amanda Geraci, who reprises her role as the sweet but sassy Ghost of Christmas Past. James D. Schultz tackles a new role this year as the cheeky Ghost of Christmas Present “to show the joys of mankind” and does a tremendous job. Newcomer Hans Paul Hendrickson brings an elevated level of tenderness to the role of Scrooge’s optimistic nephew, Fred Halliwell, that is top-notch and operates the towering Ghost of Christmas Future with ease.

A Victorian set designed by Randall Parsons, period costumes by Parsons and Bonnie Vidal, lighting by Robert W. Henderson Jr., music and sound by Ellen Michelmore and the many special effects pull it all together nicely to create a first-class production. Be it your second time or your 32nd, Theatre Three’s “A Christmas Carol” is well worth revisiting.

Arrive a little early and be treated to a selection of Christmas carols by the actors in the lobby and stay afterward for photo ops with Scrooge (proceeds benefit the theater’s scholarship fund).

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “A Christmas Carol” on the Mainstage through Dec. 27. New this year, all evening shows begin at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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