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Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

“Do you trust me?” It is a question Aladdin asks Jasmine several times during the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts’ current production of Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” but one that I ask you now. If you do, then grab your children and run, don’t walk, to see this show. They (and you) will love every minute of it.

Based on the popular Disney animated film with music by Alan Menken and book by Chad Beguelin, the show whisks audiences away to the fabled city of Agrabah where the evil Jafar (Alex Mahr), advisor to the Sultan (Logan O’Leary), and his parrot Iago (Max Lamberg), seek to retrieve a magic lamp hidden in the Cave of Wonders. They enlist the help of a street rat named Aladdin (Cole Napolitano), a “diamond in the rough,” who becomes trapped in the cave. When he finds the lamp and polishes it, a magical genie (Ryan Romanelli) appears and grants him three wishes.

After tricking the genie in getting him out of his predicament, Aladdin uses his first wish to become a prince in order to woo the lovely Princess Jasmine (Priscilla Russo). When “Prince Ali” arrives at the palace, Jafar recognizes Aladdin and has him thrown in the dungeon. When his friends Babkak (Michael Puglisi), Omar (Jonathan Setzer) and Kassim (Matt Peluso) try to rescue him, they end up in the dungeon also. Aladdin uses his second wish to set them free. With only one wish left, Aladdin must choose between benefiting himself or doing what is morally right.

Expertly directed by Courtney Braun, the musical features a cast of 20 uber-talented actors ranging in age from 10 to 16 who all do a fantastic job.

From the very first scene when the genie appears on stage to introduce the other characters in “Arabian Nights,” the audience is mesmorized. 

The script is clever and funny and the musical numbers are delightful. Along with the familiar —“A Friend Like Me,” “Prince Ali,” “A Whole New World”— there are fresh new songs including “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim” and “These Palace Walls.”

The impressive set, designed by Tim Golebiewski, features panels on either side of the theater that rotate to reveal a marketplace, a cave full of jewels and a palace; and the Arabian costumes, designed by Chakira Doherty, are just beautiful. Images on the back wall of the stage constantly change to show different scenes of the city, and a video played during “A Whole New World” gives the illusion that the carpet is actually flying.

SPAC has gone all out with this production, a rarity with children’s theater, and has produced something magical. Don’t miss this one. Trust me.

Running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes with intermission and booster seats are available. Costumes are encouraged. Stay after the show for a meet and greet with Aladdin, Jasmine and Genie in the lobby.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” through Feb. 24. Children’s theater continues with “The Little Mermaid Jr.” from March 16 to April 28 and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” from July 13 to Aug. 18. All seats are $18. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

All photos by Courtney Braun

Eleanor Davis with a photo of herself as a little girl with her mother and brother. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

As far as birthdays go, this year’s was an extra special one for Eleanor Davis. The Port Jefferson resident celebrated her 100th birthday last Sunday surrounded by family and friends. A second birthday celebration on a grander scale is planned for May with a three-day trip to Cooperstown with her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and more.

Born in Philadelphia on Jan. 6, 1919, Eleanor lived in Mount Holly, New Jersey, until the age of 8 when her father, who was a physician, bought a practice in Floral Park. While visiting a friend in Port Jefferson during the summer of 1944 she met her future husband, Chester “Ritchie” Davis. They eventually settled in the village and raised their three children, Laurie, Patricia and Chester, in a charming historic home on Prospect Street.

In the days leading up to her milestone birthday, I had the privilege of spending some time with Eleanor as she reminisced about her long life and answered some questions for, as she likes to say, “her 15 minutes of fame.”

What do you want people to know about you?

I have three claims to fame: I took a parachute jump at the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Queens; I’ve been up in the original Goodyear Blimp; and I’m related to Buffalo Bill by marriage (my father’s cousin was married to Buffalo Bill).

Who is your favorite president so far?

Ronald Reagan. He was a very personable person.

What was one of most tragic events in history for you?

The most tragic event to me was the [Nazi] concentration camps but it was also upsetting when the U.S. government took the Japanese and put them in an encampment. They took away their businesses and everything which was a terrible thing to do. The assassination of JFK was sad and the bombing of Pearl Harbor was also a terrible thing. Those boys were all on their ships and they all went down and couldn’t get out.

Do you remember the Great Depression?

Vaguely, but it really didn’t affect my family that much — my husband suffered more with his family. Sometimes they didn’t have enough to eat. His father couldn’t work anymore because he had a very bad heart so his mother baked biscuits and cookies (cakes and pies on order) and the boys peddled it up and down the harbor as far as Poquott.

What technology are you most impressed about? Cell phones? Computers?

Oh, the ones I don’t like! I hate those iPad things and of course the fancy phones — you can do every but make coffee on them! My son is always finding out information for me on them … but I think it’s too bad that nobody talks to anybody anymore but that’s the way of the world these days, you know?

Who is your favorite historical figure?

I remember going to the library at the age of eight and getting hooked on Mary Queen of Scots — I’m still hooked on Mary Queen of Scots — she was a fascinating person.

Have you traveled?

I’ve camped in Ohio, explored caves down in Kentucky and visited Utah and New Orleans. I loved New Orleans. I’ve also been on the QE2 to Scotland twice, the second time to see the Edinburgh Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle. 

What’s left on your bucket list?

I’ve always wanted to go to Venice. 

Do you have a favorite movie?

My favorite is “Love With the Proper Stranger” with Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood. My daughter loves that film also. 

Do you have a favorite actor?

I would have to say Jimmy Stewart. I had two albums (scrapbooks) as a kid. I collected everything I could get on him — every picture, every article that came out. I wish I still had that. I also liked Margaret Sullivan.

What has been your favorite decade so far?

The 1940s. The early ’40s when I was living in New Jersey was the best time of my life. I had a job I liked and I lived with six girls in a boarding house. We paid $12 a week with meals and refrigerator privileges; we could do laundry in the basement — whatever we wanted to do. [The landlady] didn’t care if we had parties or not. The girls were all different and I was always going to write a book about that time but I never did — that was my secret ambition.

What advice would you give to a young person starting out in life?

Well, my favorite expression is, “Go with the flow.” I suppose that’s the easy way out but I’m not much of an arguer. Also to not worry so much. Sometimes people worry about something that isn’t worth a hoot and a holler in the long run. And you have to find humor in things. Everything is funny if you look at it close enough.

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.

By Heidi Sutton

The holiday season has arrived at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, and while adults can enjoy a performance of “White Christmas,” younger audiences can go see Ken Ludwig’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The adorable show runs through Dec. 30.

Directed by Christine Boehm, the play opens on a snowy Christmas Eve with Uncle Brierly (Tom Catt) reading Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to the audience. He gets as far as, “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse” only to be interrupted by Amos the mouse (Jae Hughes) who is in fact stirring, cookie dough that is, to make cookies for Santa in hopes that he’ll show up this year.

Turns out that Amos and his best human friend Emily (Lorelai Mucciolo) were left off the Naughty or Nice list last year by Santa and didn’t receive any presents.

As they lament over their misfortune, an elf named Calliope (Lisa Naso) arrives to investigate. Seems a lot of children were left off the list last year, and Calliope enlists the help of Emily and Amos to prevent this from happening again. With only a few hours left until Christmas Day, the three set off on an airplane to the North Pole on a quest to find this year’s Naughty and Nice list and to save Christmas. When they arrive at Santa’s workshop, they discover that a former elf, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Catt), with the help of his sidekick Mulch (Anthony Panarello), sold the children’s Christmas list to retailers last year and plans to do it again this year. Can they be stopped in time?

Hilarity ensues with a chase scene through the audience, a surprise appearance from Amos’ brother (the incredible Hughes in a dual role), an exciting sword fight, a special visit by Santa and even a little snow in the theater at the end with the underlying message to make life an adventure.

With a running time of approximately one hour with a 15-minute intermission, this action-packed family-friendly show is the perfect first introduction to live theater. Booster seats are available. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for a holiday photo.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present Ken Ludwig’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” through Dec. 30 followed by Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” from Jan. 12 to Feb. 24. All seats are $15. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org

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

From left, Emily Edwards, Michael Mingoia, Adriana Scheer and Ryan Cavanagh in a scene from ‘White Christmas’

By Heidi Sutton

Fans of Irving Berlin are in for a treat this holiday season as the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts presents its latest offering, the stage version of “White Christmas.”

With book by David Ives and Paul Blake, the musical features 17 songs written by Berlin including what he considered his greatest song ever, “White Christmas.” Sung by Bing Crosby, the song would receive an Academy Award in 1943 for Best Original Song and sell more than 50 million copies, making it the best-selling Christmas song of all time.

A scene from ‘White Christmas’

Based on the classic 1954 film that starred Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen, the musical centers around Bob Wallace (Michael Mingoia) and Phil Davis (Ryan Cavanagh), World War II veterans who team up to become a successful song and dance act, even making appearances on the Ed Sullivan show.

Always on the lookout for new talent, they head to a nightclub to see the Haynes sisters, Betty (Emily Edwards) and Judy (Adriana Scheer) perform. While Phil and Judy hit it off right away, Bob and Betty need a little more time.

When Bob and Phil follow Betty and Judy to their next gig at the Columbia Inn in Pinetree, Vermont, they discover that the ski lodge is owned by their former general, Henry Waverly (Eugene Dailey). When the housekeeper, Martha Watson (Anne Marie Finnie) informs them that the inn is in financial straits, they decide to stage a benefit show in the barn on the property on Christmas Eve. Will everything go on as planned?

Directed by Ronald Green III, the 27-member cast transports the audience to the 1950s and does an excellent job portraying the story through song and dance.

Emily Edwards and Adriana Scheer perform ‘Sisters’

With choreography by M.E. Junge, Edwards and Scheer shine in “Sisters,” Finnie, Edwards and Scheer’s “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun” is delightful while Mingoia delivers a beautiful version of “White Christmas” at the very beginning of the show. As a special treat, 10-year-old Cordelia Comando, in the role of  the general’s 9-year-old niece, belts out a rendition of “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” that will take your breath away. There are big tap dance numbers also like “Happy Holidays/ Let Yourself Go,” “I Love a Piano” and the rousing “Blue Skies” that are a joy to watch.

The various sets are impressive as well, from a night club to the lobby of the inn to a barn, and the costumes designed by Green, from the army uniforms to the glittery gowns are top notch. The show closes with a “White Christmas” sing-along sure to get one in the holiday spirit. Running time is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St. Smithtown kicks off its 17th season with Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas The Musical” through Dec. 30. Tickets are $38 adults, $34 seniors, $25 students. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Photos by Courtney Braun

JAZZ HANDS The cast of 'A Kooky Spooky Halloween'

By Heidi Sutton

With Halloween just around the corner, Theatre Three has all the bases covered. While mature audiences enjoy a creepy and spooky “The Addams Family,” young theatergoers can have fun as well with an adorable show titled “A Kooky Spooky Halloween.” The original musical written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Steve McCoy returns to the theater for the second year in a row through Oct. 27.

A scene from the show

The story centers around a friendly ghost named Abner (Steven Uihlein) who has just graduated from Haunting High School and is given a medallion of invisibility. Abner is immediately assigned to haunt Aberdeen’s Boarding House, famously known for being the most haunted house in Harrison County U.S.A and for serving the best toast. There are only two rules he has to follow — he can only haunt at night and he can’t lose the medallion or he’ll be seen by the living.

But Abner has a secret — he is afraid of the dark, which is “like a vampire who’s afraid of necks!” according to his best friend Lavinda the Witch (Michelle LaBozzetta). She promptly gives him a night-light to wear and promises to help him with his haunting duties.

When Abner and Lavinda arrive at the boarding house, they find Ma Aberdeen (Ginger Dalton), the finest toast maker in the land, and her boarders, Kit Garret (Nicole Bianco) and the Petersons — Paul the periodontist (Andrew Lenahan), his wife Penelope (Chrysovalantou Tsoumpelis) and their son Pip (Eric J. Hughes), whose alliterations using words that start with the letter P are positively perplexing, in the kitchen getting ready for Halloween.

When Pip puts on a pumpkin pullover and starts to tell pumpkin jokes (okay I’ll stop), Abner puts a speed spell on the group, making them stuff Halloween goodie bags, do jumping jacks, quack like a duck, sing and dance in fast motion. He then casts a spell to make them get stuck to each other.

Abner casts a speed spell

In a sudden twist of events, fellow graduate and ghost with a grudge Dora Pike (Beth Ladd) shows up and steals Abner’s night-light and medallion of invisibility and hides them in Black Ridge Gulch, the deepest, darkest gorge in the entire world (where it’s really, really dark). Now visible, Abner must try to convince the boarders, who are still stuck to each other, to help him and Lavinda get his property back. Will they help him? And will Abner be able to overcome his fear of the dark?

Directed by Sanzel, the eight-member adult cast delivers an energetic performance that touches on the power of friendship and the importance of helping others.

Accompanied on piano by Douglas Quattrock and choreographed by Bianco, the song and dance numbers are terrific, especially “Into the World I Go” by Abner, the downright creepy “It Will All Fade to Black” by Dora, the sweet “A Witch Is a Person” by Lavinda and the fun group number, “It’s Ma Who Makes the Toast.”

The end result is a hauntingly fun afternoon that children and parents will love.

Snacks and beverages are available for purchase during intermission and booster seats are available. Costumes are encouraged and souvenir cat, pumpkin, vampire and ghost dolls will be available for purchase before the show and during intermission for $5. Meet the cast in the lobby for photos on your way out.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “A Kooky Spooky Halloween” through Oct. 27. Children’s theater continues with “Barnaby Saves Christmas” from Nov. 23 to Dec. 29. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

From left, Legislative Aide Bill Maggi, Hobbs Farm President Larry Corbett, HF Vice President Ann Pellegrino, Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore, Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle and HF Treasurer Cindy Gallo. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) was honored at the Bethel Hobbs Community Farm’s Harvest Fair Oct. 6 for his many years of dedicated support of the farm’s programs. The legislator was recently able to secure a $29,616 grant for the 11-acre Centereach farm, which donates 90 percent of its vegetables to area food pantries.

Children enjoy the farm’s Harvest Fair. Photo by Heidi Sutton

“This is a great place in Centereach — the last remaining farm we have in this area. Legislator Muratore was the one that really turned me on to Hobbs Farm and what was going on here,” Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) said before presenting a plaque to the legislator along with the farm’s President Larry Corbett and Vice President Ann Pellegrino. “He’s been, for years, a huge supporter of this farm, whether it’s been working with me to do the Run the Farm to raise money, to bring in grants, to help out any way possible.”

“I can’t do enough for Hobbs Farm. This is our jewel here in the district. We love this place – it brings so much,” Muratore said, pointing to the families enjoying the festival. “I thank Ann, I thank Hobbs Farm and, most of all, I thank you my community. God bless you.”

First time exhibitor Angelique Velez, owner of Breakups to Makeup

By Heidi Sutton

The Middle Country Public Library in Centereach hosted its 18th annual Women’s EXPO Oct.4. Thousands came out to kick off their holiday shopping at the one-day event which was presented by the Middle Country Library Foundation and the library’s Miller Business Resource Center.

More than 80 women entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to introduce their products, which included pottery, candles, baked goods, fall crafts, children’s books, clothing, jewelry, soaps and much more. 

This year’s event’s lead sponsor was Bank of America and was also sponsored by Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP of Ronkonkoma. Volunteers from Bank of America helped make sure the day ran smoothly.

“We had a great turnout with over 2,300 shoppers,” said Elizabeth Malafi, coordinator of Adult Services and the Miller Business Resource Center. “Year after year the best thing about the EXPO is the people. We are lucky to have amazing volunteers, entrepreneurs and shoppers who make it such a special day.”

Vendors interested in participating in next year’s event are encouraged to visit www.womensExpoli.org.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

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