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Heidi Sutton

Cassandra LaRocco as Helen Keller and Jessica Mae Murphy as Annie Sullivan in a scene from ‘The Miracle Worker’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

Currently playing on Theatre Three’s Mainstage is William Gibson’s play “The Miracle Worker,” the compelling story of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan. Directed by Bradlee Bing, the show is leaving a lasting impact on all who are fortunate enough to see it. One of the standout performances is from Cassandra LaRocco who plays a young Helen. The 11-year-old from Brentwood captures the audience’s heart with her powerful performance. 

I recently had the opportunity to interview Cassandra about her Theatre Three debut and her challenging new role.

How did you get interested in acting?

Since I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed entertaining people and finding different ways to make people laugh. I found that it was fun to try and mimic the different characters on many of the TV shows I watched when I was younger. When my parents took me to see “Annie” on Broadway in 2013, I felt that I wanted to be just like the actors on that stage so I started taking acting classes, along with my dance classes, and found that I loved getting the chance to perform for an audience.

Why did you decide to audition for this role?

I decided to audition for this role because it seemed extremely interesting and I thought it would be a good learning experience. I knew it would be a challenge for me since most of my prior stage acting experience had been with musicals, where I got to sing and dance. 

Cassandra LaRocco as Helen Keller and Jessica Mae Murphy as Annie Sullivan in a scene from ‘The Miracle Worker’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Were you familiar with Helen Keller?

Yes, I wrote a book report about Helen’s life in fifth grade. I knew that she was an amazing woman who lost her sight and hearing at a very young age but learned to communicate with people by using finger spelling. She inspired so many people by showing how a person with disabilities can make a difference in the world. 

How did you prepare for this role? 

First, I watched the movie with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. I focused on the different expressions used by Patty Duke as she portrayed Helen, and then tried to figure out my own way to express what Helen must have felt when she wasn’t able to communicate her thoughts. Then I focused on not letting the sights and sounds around me be distracting. Each time I rehearsed with the cast at Theatre Three, I would clear my mind and only think of Helen and being in her world.

How do you enjoy working with the cast?

I really enjoy working with this cast because everyone is so much fun to be around and is extremely talented. Everyone has worked so hard, and I am proud to be part of the team.

What is it like working with the director?

I really enjoy working with Bradlee Bing. He explained to me very well how to portray the challenging role of Helen and he made me feel confident in my performance. Being in “The Miracle Worker” is an experience I will remember always, and I thank Bradlee for this wonderful opportunity.

Do you ever get nervous before the show?

I get nervous before each show, but once the show begins and I focus on being in my role, I get less nervous. Being on stage with the other actors and knowing that we worked so hard together helps me to feel confident each time I do a performance.

What is your favorite scene? 

My favorite scene is the food fight scene performed before the end of Act 1 with Jessica Murphy who plays Annie Sullivan. I enjoy it because of all the action that takes place and because it is really challenging. In this scene, Helen is extremely frustrated by the changes around her and not knowing how to express her thoughts. I get to portray this frustration by acting out in a temper tantrum, throwing spoons, spitting food, climbing the table, and trying to escape the room but I am locked in. I physically have to move around the stage a lot, but have to still behave as if I can’t see anything in front of me.

Do you think children should come see this show?

Yes, I do think children should come see the show because they can learn that despite the disabilities Helen Keller had, she was able to learn different ways to communicate her feelings and thoughts. If children learn about Helen Keller at a young age, maybe they can be inspired by what she accomplished, and it could help them to learn to never give up when they are in a difficult situation.

Have you taken any acting classes?

I have been attending classes and performing plays at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. I also take voice lessons at Cristina Music Studio in Huntington, and I have been taking dance lessons since I was 3. I currently practice ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical and pointe at June Claire Dance Studios in Babylon.

What other shows have you been in?

I played the role of July in “Annie” at the Engeman Theater in 2017 and over the past holiday season, I was a dancer in “The Nutcracker” at the Cultural Arts Playhouse in Syosset where I played one of Drosselmeyer’s dolls, and also performed in the scenes for Snowflakes, Arabian Coffee and Flowers.  Last fall, I performed as Andrina, one of Ariel’s sisters, in “The Little Mermaid Jr.” at the Engeman.

How do you feel when you get a standing ovation?

I feel happy because people enjoyed the show and my performance. It means to me that the audience made a connection with the story we are telling up on the stage, and that hopefully it will be something they remember for a long time.

What advice would you give to other kids who want to try acting?

Follow your dreams. You will meet many other kids and teachers who will make you feel confident. As you learn from others, you will become less and less nervous, and have more and more fun.

What is your favorite part about this show?

My favorite part has been meeting new people who helped me to be a better performer, and learning about what Helen Keller had to go through to understand our world without seeing or hearing. It has taught me to think of the differences that people may have, but that when people work together and have patience, almost any difficult situation can be overcome. 

Why should people come see the show?

People should come see “The Miracle Worker” because they get to experience how difficult Helen’s world was when she was young, and how it all changed when Annie Sullivan came to teach her. It gives people the opportunity to relate to Helen Keller and to realize that without someone that was a dedicated teacher who was not willing to give up, Helen may have been trapped forever in a dark and silent world. The play is about facing challenges and showing how people can help each other and change the world for the better.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Miracle Worker” through April 28. Running time is 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission. The Mainstage season closes with “The Wizard of Oz” from May 18 to June 22. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 and up. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Heidi Sutton

Teamwork was the key ingredient at this year’s Junior Iron Chef competition. The annual event, now in its 7th year, was held on March 9 at Whole Foods in Lake Grove. Hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, the one-day cooking challenge, described as “part ‘Chopped,’ part ‘Iron Chef,’ and part ‘Food Network Challenge,’” gave middle and high school students the opportunity to work in groups of three to five to complete a delicious dish of their choosing in under an hour. Fifteen teams from all over Long Island competed this year for the ultimate title of Junior Iron Chef.

“This is an amazing event,” said DJ Anthony Cafaro, from WEHM, who has served as the event’s emcee since its inception. “It’s cool to see some repeat competitors from year’s past and it’s awesome to see a lot of new competitors here,” he said.

The purpose of the event was to encourage budding chefs to learn new cooking skills and lead a healthier lifestyle while promoting the use of local food to support our local farmers and environment. Each team was required to  create a new healthy vegetarian or vegan based recipe that used local ingredients and could be easily implemented into school cafeteria menus.

“This is the seventh year I’ve done this and by far this was the greatest year with the best flavors,” said Cafaro as he tasted all the dishes.

Celebrity chefs Kayla Mitchell and William Connor helped judge the event last Saturday.

Among the 11 judges who graded the dishes based on flavor, health value, creativity and presentation was 14-year-old William Connor from Northport, a past contestant on “Chopped Junior” on the Food Network,  and 13-year-old Kayla Mitchell of Center Moriches who was a contestant on the third season of “MasterChef Junior” on Fox Broadcasting.

High school teams were given a secret ingredient at the last minute, a Sumo Citrus, to incorporate into their dish. Some chose to use the peel, others the juice. While the teams created their dishes, Cafaro kept the ever-growing crowd entertained with fun trivia and giveaways to places like the Long Island Aquarium and concerts.

While the judges deliberated, Executive Chef Jason Keubler and Anthony Cafaro visited each station, tasting each dish and giving feedback to the aspiring chefs. While Cafaro raved over everything that was put in front of him, Keubler gave positive feedback, from “These eggs are spot on,” “Flavors are very balanced,” “Great knife skills,” to pointing out the cleanliness of their workstation and asking them what their greatest obstacle was. “It’s all about teamwork and it shows in your work,” he complimented one team.

First place in the middle school division went to Team G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) from Seneca Middle School in Holbrook. Students Leah Ferraro, Sofia Iacono, Jacqueline Volo and Gianna Scolaro, guided by coach Robert Frontino, won the judges over with their creative Caribbean Breakfast Salad, which was comprised of cinnamon sugared French toast, grilled pineapple and arugula salad with goat cheese, topped with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

“That’s insanely good,” drooled Cafaro as he reached for a napkin. “The cinnamon and the goat cheese go so well together,” agreed Chef Jason. “The color is super vibrant, the spiciness goes with the sweetness with nice textures. Beautiful presentation,” he said adding that he was impressed by how nicely they worked together “just like in a professional kitchen.”

Second place was awarded to The 3 Breakfasteers from Suffolk County 4-H Trailblazers of Yaphank for their Vanilla Fruit Crepes filled with whipped cream and diced strawberries and garnished with blueberries. Corey Burke, Alexis Vladikin, Nora Nemickas and coach Nicole Vickovich made up the team.

The Junior Porters from Greenport Union Free School District grabbed third place for their Mediterranean Breakfast Crepe with an Herbed Whipped Cream. Coached by Katherine Ryan, Rocio Azama, DeShawn Solla, Aleyana Gungar, Ayania Smith and Brynn Dinizio were awarded for their healthy crepe stuffed with baby spinach, sundried tomatoes, black olives and low-fat feta cheese.

Team Almost Master Chef from Sachem North High School in Ronkonkoma captured first place in the high school division. Kaitlyn Seitz, Hailey McKishi, Kayla Salvate and Victoria Corcaran, under the guidance of coach Lindsey Shelhorse, impressed the judges with their Brunch For Lunch Chilaquiles dish featuring homemade tortilla shells topped with fried egg, cheese, onion and cilantro.

Second place was awarded to the Greenport High School’s Bacon Bits – Jhon Ramirez, Tommy Tsaveras, Colin Rossetti, Mateo Arias and Charles Staples – for their Gyro Style Veggie Burger on Whole Wheat Pita, which was served with sautéed onions and tzatziki sauce with a cucumber garnish. The team was coached by Marianne Ladalia.

The Salt Shakers from the Suffolk County 4-H Trailblazers garnered third place. Olivia Unger and Lexington Carrera, under the guidance of coach Adrienne Unger, were given high marks for their crispy Potato Latkes topped with a dollop of sour cream and garnished with chives and scallions.

The Mise en Place (everything in its place) awards were presented to Seneca Middle School’s Taco Bellas (Emma Bollinger, Amanda Madigan, Madeline Turano and Adrianna Sigler with coach Robert Frontino) and Almost Master Chef.

The Public Presentation awards, for the team with the best poster/informational display and judge presentation, were presented to G.O.A.T. and Bacon Bits.

“The kids today were just tremendous,” said Vito Minei, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. “This is truly a Long Island Junior Iron Chef competition with teams coming all the way from Floral Park, Franklin Square and Greenport,” he added. “I want to thank all the parents and families.You should be proud. These kids were fabulous. They all practiced teamwork and each child had an opportunity to shine.”

Brunch for Lunch Chilaquiles 

by Team Almost Top Chef, first place winners in the high school division

Ingredients

Tortilla Shell

10.5 ounces of all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup vegetable oil

7-8 ounces of hot water (110-120F)

Sauce

Diced yellow onion

Diced and seeded jalapeño

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon ground chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3 tablespoons flour

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon salt, to taste

Pinch of cinnamon

Can of tomato paste

2 cups vegetable broth

1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Filling and Topping Ingredients

Can of drained and rinsed black beans

12 oz. Fiesta Blend Cheese (365 Everyday Value Brand)

3 oz. cotija

Diced red onion

Cilantro

6 Eggs

Directions

 Instructions for sauce

  1. Sauté the diced onion and jalapenos to the pan.
  2. Crush and smash cloves of garlic and salt and add to the onion mixture.  Add the cumin and chili powder.  Add the flour, oregano, garlic powder and salt into a small bowl and place it near the stove.
  3. Add the flour/spice mixture.
  4. While whisking constantly, cook until fragrant and slightly deepened in color, about 1 minute. Whisk the tomato paste into the mixture, then slowly pour in the broth while whisking constantly to remove any lumps.
  5. Raise heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, whisking often, for about 5 to 7 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat, then whisk in the vinegar and season to taste with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Add more salt, if necessary.
  7. Stir in the black beans

Instructions for tortillas

To make the dough: In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Pour in the lesser amount of hot water (plus the oil, if you’re using it), and stir briskly with a fork or whisk to bring the dough together into a shaggy dough.Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead briefly, just until the dough forms a ball. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Round the pieces into balls, flatten slightly, and allow them to rest, covered, for about 15 minutes.  Preheat ungreased cast iron griddle or skillet over medium high heat, about 400°F. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll into a round about 8″ in diameter. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Fry the tortilla in the ungreased pan for about 30 seconds on each side. Then cut into wedges and fry them and add salt to taste.

Assembling

Fry the eggs. Layer the fried tortilla shell with spoonful of sauce and cheese.  Top with the fried egg, more cheese, dice red onion and cilantro.

Caribbean Breakfast Salad

By Team G.O.A.T., first place winners in the middle school division

Ingredients

16 oz of arugula

8 oz of goat cheese

2 boxes of raspberries (7 oz. each)

1 pineapple

1 loaf challah bread

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp. oregano

1/4 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

1/4 cinnamon

4 eggs

2 tbsp honey

Directions

Challah French Toast

Preheat skillet to 350 degrees. Mix eggs in large bowl. In a separate bowl mix sugars and cinnamon. Dip the challah bread slices into egg mixture and then the sugar blend. Cook until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes.

Arugula Salad

Mix oil, vinegar, honey and mustard and whip until blended. Strain the raspberries. Add raspberry juice to oil mixture until smooth to taste. Toss arugula, whole raspberries and cheese together with liquid dressing.

Pineapple

Cut outside skin of pineapple. Cut one inch horizontal slices. Dip in sugar mixture. Grill on both sides for 2 to 3 minutes.

All photos by Heidi Sutton

From left, Brian Gill, Christina Muens, Abigail McCabe (on chair) and TracyLynn Conner in a scene from ‘Nine’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

Theatre Three continues its 49th season with the Broadway smash hit musical “Nine.” With book by Arthur Kopit and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, the award-winning show is based on the semi-autobiographical 1963 film of Italian film director/screenwriter Federico Fellini’s life, titled “8½.”

Clockwise from top left, TracyLynn Conner, Christina Muens, Abigail McCabe and Brian Gill in a scene from ‘Nine’
Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the musical follows the artistic journey of celebrated Italian director Guido Contini (Brian Gill) and his quest to find an idea for his next film. His last three films have been flops and he has an extreme case of writer’s block. A movie contract has been signed with his producer Liliane La Fleur (Debbie D’Amore) but there is no script. Should he write a Western? A Bible-inspired epic? A documentary? The stakes are high and time is running out.

As if Contini didn’t have enough to worry about, his wife Luisa (Christina Muens) is considering leaving him, his naive mistress Carla (Abigail McCabe) thinks he wants to marry her, and his muse, movie star Claudia Nardi (TracyLynn Conner) is getting tired of being cast in the same type of roles and is about to walk away.

To try to clear his head, Contini and his wife take a trip to the Fontane di Luna spa in Venice. Worried about deadlines, his producer tracks him down at the spa and insists he write a musical. Improvising on the spot, the director chooses to his own life experiences and relationships to create a Casanova-inspired flick and hires the staff at the spa to be the cast.

As the film begins to take shape, fantasy and reality are intertwined as Contini has constant flashbacks  — when he was a little boy (played by the adorable Brayden E. Bratti) with his mother (Linda May), and his many affairs, all in an attempt to seek cinematic inspiration.

In the role of Guido Contini, said to be one of the most demanding roles in musical theater, Brian Gill brilliantly leads the talented cast of “Nine” on a 2½-hour thought-provoking musical romp.

Accompanied by a seven-piece band led by Jeffrey Hoffman, the musical numbers are perfectly executed, with special mention to “Guido’s Song, “Folies Bergeres,” “Ti Voglio Bene/Be Italian” and the “Grand Canal.”

The top-notch choreography by Nicole Bianco, the beautiful costumes by Ronald Green III, the impressive set by Randall Parsons and the masterful lighting by Robert W. Henderson Jr., which lets the audience know what is real and what is flashback, ties it all together nicely. 

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Nine The Musical” on the Mainstage through March 23. Please note, “Nine” contains adult themes and situations. Parental discretion advised. The 2018-19 Mainstage season continues with “The Miracle Worker” from April 6 to 28 and “The Wizard of Oz” from May 18 to June 22. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Above and below, scenes from the film

By Heidi Sutton

Peter Jackson’s latest endeavor has been a labor of love. The award-winning director, best known for the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies was recently enlisted to create a unique documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old,” featuring many never-before-seen archive footage of the Great War, a four-year conflict that claimed the lives of over 16 million soldiers.

Produced by WingNut Films and released by Warner Brothers, the project, which took five months to complete, was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum and BBC, who gave Jackson access to over 100 hours of footage and 600 hours of audio, including interviews with hundreds of veterans in the 1960s and 1970s.

Jackson chose to focus on the daily lives of British foot soldiers who had been sent to the Western Front – from their experience at boot camp to being shipped to France and living in the trenches, to a few days of rest and then off to the front lines where they are told to hand over any personal effects to their officers before heading off into no man’s land.

The documentary reveals many of the soldiers were mere children, volunteering at the age of 15 and 16 out of patriotic duty, and how many were excited to serve. By the end of the film, however, all romantic ideas of war have completely vanished. “History will decide in the end that this war was not worthwhile,” you hear a retired soldier say.

Every scene is accompanied by narration from army veterans who describe their uniforms and complain about their heavy boots; the food they ate; dealing with rats, lice and dysentery problems; coping with trench foot and mustard gas; capturing German soldiers; and the constant smell of death.

The genius that is Peter Jackson then goes two steps further, (revealed about 20 minutes into the film) when suddenly the black and white film comes to life in a myriad of colors and sounds. The soldiers’ personalities are revealed as they speak and laugh and you hear the shells being loaded into the cannons, artillery fire and the tanks rolling along the open fields. The sudden transformation takes one’s breath away.

The stunning effect was achieved using digital technology, researching uniforms and locations, recruiting forensic lip-readers who studied the original film, and actors who then voiced the parts in various dialects. “Smile! You’re in the pictures,” one man tells his mates as he points excitedly to the camera.

For Jackson, who has long been interested in World War I, (the film is dedicated to his paternal grandfather who was wounded in the Battle of the Somme) the spectacular documentary slowly evolved into capturing the human experience of war. 

He described his vision best in a recent interview with BBC-owned HistoryExtra magazine. “We let them tell their story, of what it was like as a soldier,” adding that these experiences would’ve been similar to those of many other troops. “And the men saw a war in color, they certainly didn’t see it in black and white,” Jackson explained. “I wanted to reach through the fog of time and pull these men into the modern world, so they can regain their humanity once more.”

Rated R, “They Shall Not Grow Old” is now playing in local theaters.

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.

By Heidi Sutton

The Port Jefferson Conservancy hosted a reception for the Port Jefferson Village Center’s latest exhibit, GRUMMAN ON LONG ISLAND, A Photographic Tribute, on Jan. 10, an event that attracted over 250 visitors. Former Grumman employees, family, friends and the community came out to celebrate a reunion of sorts and to reminisce about the aerospace company that employed over 20,000 people on Long Island over the decades. 

A highlight of the reception was a six-member guest panel that included Grummanites Vinny DeStefano, vice president of manufacturing; Hank Janiesch, vice president (F-14 Program); Rodger Schafer, technical adviser; Joe “Ruggs” Ruggerio, director of electronic warfare; Harold Sheprow, a flight test manager and former mayor of Port Jefferson; Jim Reynolds Sr., an ILS engineer; and Cmdr. Jim Roth, a combat pilot and aviation test pilot who was an instructor for the first Grumman A-6 Intruder squadron.

They took turns speaking about their experience at Grumman and then fielded questions from a standing room only audience. Each guest speaker echoed the same sentiment; that they had loved working for Grumman, were very proud of their career and would do it all over again.

The exhibit, which was curated by Port Jefferson historian Chris Ryon and the Village of Belle Terre historian John Hiz, boasts over 100 photos, several scale models of planes and a special test pilot section.

Mayor Margot Garant kicked off the reception, saying, “I want to recognize the outstanding work, the collaborate effort, of Chris Ryon and John Hiz. They have collectively put in at least 300 man-hours putting this exhibit together.” 

“We had no idea what we were getting into a year ago when we decided to do a Grumman exhibit,’” said Ryon. “People have been coming into our office every day [to drop off photographs] and then we ended up going to the Grumman History Center and filling a 26-foot box truck [with more memorabilia]. It’s been great.”

“This [exhibit] is basically an idea of a  photo tribute to the Grumman Aerospace and Engineering Corporation between 1929 and 1994. That was the year they were acquired by Northrop,” said Hiz. “This evening we would like to reconnect through photographs, artifacts and mainly stories with individuals, families and friends who have contributed in making Grumman a household name on Long Island, a leader in aviation and space exploration and a very important part of our Long Island heritage.”

Visitors were treated to hors d’ouevres, wine and a special cake in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. 

The exhibit runs through February at the Port Jefferson Village Center, 101A East Main St., Port Jefferson. Admission is free. For further information, call 631-802-2160.

Photos by Heidi Sutton and Beverly C. Tyler

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.

Photos by Courtney Braun and Cassiel Fawcett

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

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