Tags Posts tagged with "Jeffrey Sanzel"

Jeffrey Sanzel

The three bears, from left, discover Goldilocks sleeping in Baby Bear’s bed.

By Heidi Sutton

Summer is just around the corner, making for the perfect opportunity to review safety and stranger danger protocols with young children. Theatre Three’s latest show, “Goldilocks — Is That You?” accomplishes just that through the magic of live theater.

The cast of ‘Goldilocks — Is That You?’

The original musical, written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin F. Story, is an interpretation of one of the most popular fairy tales of all time, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” by Robert Southey, and encompasses all of the beloved characters from the original story plus a few colorful new ones.

In this production, Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear are show biz bears who have retired from the circus and are now living in a house in the country. It’s the first of the month and the banker, Billy de Goat Gruff, has come to collect the rent money, which they don’t have. The grouchy goat gives them until the end of the day or they will be kicked out. While their porridge is cooling down, the bears decide to go for a walk to think of ways to come up with the rent.

In the meantime, Goldilocks, a Campfire Bluebird Pioneer Scout Girl who lives with her grandmother Granny Locks, sets off to her cousin’s house to deliver cookies. She ends up at the bear family’s house by mistake and lets herself in. In one of the funniest scenes of the show, Goldilocks tastes the three bowls of porridge, sits in the three chairs and tries out the three beds, choosing Baby Bear’s bed in which to take a nap.

When Granny Locks realizes that Goldilocks has not arrived at her destination, she seeks the help of local forest ranger Wolf Hunter to find the missing girl. They arrive at the bear’s house just as Baby Bear realizes that “someone’s been sleeping in my bed, and she’s still there!” Luckily for Goldilocks the bears are friendly — they even know Granny Locks from their circus days when she was Eloise of the Flying Trapeze. 

But all’s not well. The banker still wants his rent money, so the group puts on a show to help young people learn about safety to raise the funds. Soon all the children in the audience are learning about the importance of staying safe and that “strangers can mean danger — so don’t talk to strangers.”

Eric J. Hughes, Nicole Bianco and Jessica Contino play the three showbiz bears in ‘Goldilocks — Is That You?’

Expertly directed by Sanzel, the talented cast of seven adults put on a charming and funny show, evident by the constant giggles from the young audience at last Saturday’s opening performance. Meg Bush is perfectly cast as the sweet and innocent Goldilocks and Dylan Robert Poulos, channeling his inner Gilbert Godfrey, is hilarious in the role of Billy de Goat Gruff. Eric J. Hughes, Nicole Bianco and Jessica Contino tackle the roles of the three bears and do a fine job, especially Contino as the adorable Baby Bear. Ginger Dalton plays a fun Granny Locks and Steven Uihlein as the superhero Wolf Hunter, Forest Ranger (“Wherever there’s trouble or danger, you’ll find Wolf Hunter, Forest Ranger!”) is an audience favorite.  

The musical numbers, accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, are delightful; the choreography by Nicole Bianco, which incorporates baton twirling, ballet and tap, are fresh and exciting; and the costumes, by the design team of Teresa Matteson and Toni St. John, are amazing, especially on the bears and Billy De Goat Gruff. 

All in all, the play can be compared to a great  big bear hug and is just right for young children from beginning to end. Meet the cast in the lobby for photos after the show.

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Goldilocks — Is That You?” on June 2 and 9 at 11 a.m. with a sensory-sensitive performance on June 3 at 11 a.m. Children’s theater continues with “The Princess Who Saved the Dragon” from July 6 to Aug. 9 and “Alice’s Most Decidedly Unusual Adventures in Wonderland” from Aug. 3 to 11. Tickets are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

The cast of ‘Curtains’

By Heidi Sutton

Theatre Three closes out its 48th season with a rousing revival of the musical comedy whodunit “Curtains.” The show, which opened on the Mainstage last Saturday night, will keep the audience guessing, and laughing, right up to until the very end.

With book by Rupert Holmes and music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb (both of “Chicago” and “Cabaret” fame), the eight-time Tony-nominated show had a successful Broadway run starring David Hyde Pierce (who won a Tony for his performance) from 2007 to 2008. Now the hilarious musical comes to Port Jefferson and does not disappoint.

A scene from ‘Curtains’

The play takes place at the Colonial Theater in Boston in 1959. A theater troupe is performing a new cowboy musical “Robbin’ Hood!” (think “Oklahoma!”) on opening night. As the ensemble performs the final act, “Wide Open Spaces,” it is clear that the star of the show, Jessica Cranshaw (Meg Bush) is a complete mess — singing out of tune, missing dance steps and flubbing her lines. (“I was distracted all night by a man waving his hands at me,” she laments. “That was the conductor,” the director mutters.) 

A few minutes after the final curtain Cranshaw collapses and is rushed to the hospital. It is later discovered that she has been murdered. “Now she has a conflict — she’s dead.”

Lt. Frank Cioffi (Steve McCoy) of the Boston Police Department, a homicide detective who happens to be a musical theater buff, is assigned to the case. The entire company is suspect, so he immediately places them on lockdown, barring them from leaving the theater until the case is solved.

The reviews are in!

The reviews come pouring in and they are brutal, especially from the Boston Globe. The producers decide to invite the newspaper’s critic, Daryl Grady (Andrew Gasparini), back when the show has been revamped.

The crew immediately starts reworking the songs and improving the scenes, with more than the occasional input from Detective Cioffi. “I’ve done a little community theater,” he admits modestly. “In ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ my Bottom was very well-received.” He is also distracted by one of the actresses, Niki (Jenna Kavaler) and their blossoming relationship is fun to watch.

In the meantime, a second victim, co-producer Sidney Bernstein (Lon Shomer) is found hanging from the rafters, Bernstein’s wife, Carmen (Mary Ellin Kurtz) is shot at and Cioffi is pushed off a catwalk and narrowly survives. The plot thickens.

As the show progresses, Cioffi starts peeling away the layers of this “family” to uncover romantic relationships, jealousy, blackmail, rocky family dynamics and infidelity. Will he be able to solve the crime in time or will the entire company be picked off one by one?

A scene from ‘Curtains’

Singing, dancing and clever humor abound in this production that showcases a cast of 23 uber-talented actors directed by Jeffrey Sanzel. The high-energy performances, choreographed by Whitney Stone, are exhausting to watch but the cast pulls them off with ease. The musical numbers, accompanied by a live orchestra led by Jeffrey Hoffman, are a nice blend of show tunes and love songs. The costumes and wigs designed by Chakira Dohertyn are fun, especially the cowboy and cowgirl outfits; and the Western-themed set, designed by Randall Parson, ties the whole show together nicely. 

The incredible cast also features Nicole Bianco, Christopher M. Fretto, Dylan Robert Poulos, James Taffurelli, James Schultz, Tracylynn Conner, Matt Senese, Melanie Acampora, Eric J. Hughes, Lindsay DeFranco, Kyle Breitenbach, Cassidy O’Brien, Steven Uihlein, Alex Esquivel, Jeffrey Pangurn and Kiernan Urso.

If you’re looking for a fun night out, don’t miss “Curtains.” Griswold’s Cafe, located on the lower level of the theater, will be open before the show and during intermission for a snack or beverage, and take a chance on a 50/50 raffle. You may win big! Running time is two and a half hours with one 15-minute intermission.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Curtains” through June 23. Contains mature content. After a brief hiatus, the 2018-19 Mainstage season will open with “The Addams Family” from Sept. 15 to Oct. 27. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“No matter what the story is, it’s all under the same sky.” 

Author Sarah Beth Durst

In her new young adult novel, “The Stone Girl’s Story,” Sarah Beth Durst has created a genuinely unique universe where those of flesh and blood (human and animal) coexist with animate stone creatures.  It is a fascinating conceit and she has populated a world where often the creatures of stone have more humanity and self-awareness than their living counterparts.

The book is an original take on the traditional Wizard of Oz-style journey. In this case, Mayka, a stone girl, leaves the mountain to rescue her stone companions. What has shifted in the secure retreat is that Father (the Stone Mason who carved them) has passed away and their markings have begun to fade. The markings are at the center of the story as they are at the heart of their stories: It is these designs that not only give them being but also individuality and purpose.

The carved designs define them. For instance, the cat, Kalgrey, is engraved with “This is Kalgrey the cat. Sharp of tongue and claws, nimble of paws and mind. She climbed the top of the chimney and scolded the sun and then slept when it hid, frightened behind a cloud.” But there is more to Kalgrey: as she “curl[s] up every night by the door to watch over [them] … and keep the rats out of the chicken feed.” Durst captures these simple yet complicated souls in an eloquently poetic prose.

The book opens with a touching scene where Mayka is visiting a stone turtle who is no longer aware, as its marks have faded. The poignant tableau casts the shadow of what is happening and possibly what is to come. Her feelings toward her comrade establish who she is and what she is willing to risk to help this intimate community. Even though she cannot smell the flowers or shed tears (though she ponders what both would be like), she has a heart that is full of truth, honesty and compassion.

The cover jacket of ‘The Stone Girl’s Story’

The stone Badger, now the oldest of the group, gives Mayka a blessing of sorts to send her on: “We are family. No blood binds us, for we have no blood, but we are bound by time and love. You will carry our love and hope with you to the valley, and it will strengthen you.” With this kind benediction, she leaves the protected Eden (where the stone animals feed and care for the real ones) and embarks on an odyssey down the mountain, into the valley, and finally to the town of Skye, where her goal is to find a stonemason to return with her and restore the patterns.  

She is accompanied by two stone birds:  the cautious Risa and the outgoing chatterbox Jacklo, who provides a wholly enjoyable mix of on-the-nose as well as deadpan humor. On their way, they are joined by a whimsical 2-foot-high stone dragon, Siannasi Yondolada Quilasa — called Si-Si—who deeply yearns to find her purpose — her “story.” 

“The Stone Girl’s Story” has a rich and accessible mythology, complete with the lore of how the first Stone Mason brought his work to life as well as a historical Stone War that devastated the society. It is this event that had far-reaching repercussions:  Stone Masons went from revered to feared to something in-between, now sequestered in the Stone Quarter. (The departed Father turns out to have had a very important connection to the war and all that ensued.) 

Mayka and her troupe become embroiled in the events surrounding the annual Stone Festival. It is here that they meet and join forces with a young man, Garit, who is apprenticed to Siorn, the stone mason. Siorn is a fully realized character, not merely an adversary and a villain; he is a dimensional human with his own deep-rooted beliefs (both dangerous and misguided).

Without revealing too much of the tightly woven and engaging plot, it is the challenges the quartet face and how they overcome them that encompasses the latter half of the adventure. Mayka and her mountain friends truly learn what it is to be “other” — both from humans and other stone creations.

While not illustrated, Durst paints in language so vivid that the tale leaps off the page. Her images are visceral. Prior to Mayka’s first experience in the city, her life has been pastoral. Now, she is overwhelmed by Skye’s tumult; the account leaves the reader in the midst of the chaos and is truly breathtaking: “Now that she was within the city, it seemed … too full, too much. This deep in the forest of people, she couldn’t see anything but more people.” Even gazing up, “the sky was only a thin streak of blue. But the roar of the city felt muffled, smothered by the walls.”

She takes in the surroundings and the inhabitants:

“They came in all shapes and sizes, wearing more colors than she knew existed: a boy in a more-orange-than-a-pumpkin hat, a woman wearing a dress of feathers, a man with a bare chest but a many-layered skirt with tassels dangling all around. Between them were stone creatures, plenty of them. Stone rats scurried through the street with rolls of paper strapped to their backs, carrying messages. A stone squirrel with a bucket around its neck was scrambling across the face of a building as it cleaned the windows. Other stone creatures — bears, wolves and bulls, some crudely carved and others exquisitely detailed — blocked the entrances to the fancier houses, acting as guards.”

Durst ponders what it is to be alive and the wonders of the natural universe (epitomized in a memorable depiction of butterfly migration). Time is relative and it is in how you use it, and she presents this in the contrast between mountain and valley worlds.

The book offers several important lessons without every overstating them or sacrificing the engaging narrative: That joy in living is freedom and we must be able to choose our own destinies … and that, ultimately, we have the ability not just to create but to change our own stories. Furthermore, it is not what we ask of others but of ourselves — and that our own untapped resources can be our deliverance. The powerful message is elegantly and honestly presented in a way that young people of all ages can comprehend the significance of this lesson. Like in “The Wizard of Oz,” the heroine seeks help but finally realizes she had the power within herself all along.

And, most of all, the book reminds us that “we make our stories our own.” It is that “everyone [has] a story that matter[s] most to them, that define[s] them.” “The Stone Girl’s Story” is that we are all need and hope — but, above all, we are potential. “I am the hero of my own story.” And that is a wonderful truth in a truly enchanting novel.

Sarah Beth Durst is the award-winning author of 15 fantasy books for kids, teens and adults. The master storyteller lives in Stony Brook with her husband, her children and her ill-mannered cat. Recommended for ages 10 to 12, “The Stone Girl’s Story,” published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion Books, is available online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. For more information, visit www.sarahbethdurst.com.

A scene from ‘Life, the Theatre, and Other Unlikelihoods’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

When a beloved community theater is about to turn 50, it is time to celebrate in a big way. For the next three years, Theatre Three in Port Jefferson will present a series of special events building up to its 50th anniversary, beginning with Life in the Theatre: A Glimpse Behind the Curtain on Sunday, May 20, at 7 p.m.

John Fugelsang will be the host of the evening

The fundraiser, which will be hosted by actor, comedian, broadcaster and Theatre Three alum John Fugelsang, will include an original comedy by Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel followed by a special guest appearance by musician, actor, writer and radio host Seth Rudetsky.

Founded in 1969 by Jerry Friedman and John and Linda Herr, the troupe started out performing at the Smith Haven Ministries at the Smith Haven Mall. “They all lived in the Three Village area, hence the name, ‘Theatre Three,'” said board member and former artistic director Bradlee Bing, who joined the group shortly after.

Over the years, Theatre Three occupied several different spaces including in the First Presbyterian Church on Main Street in the village before purchasing the current building at 412 Main St. in 1979 after the United Artist Theater closed. In the beginning, there were “only adult-themed musicals, plays and cabaret-style revues,” Bing said. The theater has since expanded to offer children’s theater, educational tours, concerts and acting lessons.

“It is inconceivable that 48 years have passed so quickly,” said Bing who first approached Sanzel about launching a three-year celebration.

Seth Rudetsky will be the headliner in the second act. Photo courtesy of Theatre Three

The event on May 20 will open with the world premiere of “Life, the Theatre, and Other Unlikelihoods,” a one-act musical  featuring original songs by Brian Crawley (Tony nominee for “Violet”), Tim Peierls, Douglas J. Quattrock and Sanzel. Starring Dylan Robert Poulos, the play will celebrate the joys and challenges of becoming an actor, from taking acting lessons as a child to landing that big role, or not.

Directed and narrated by Sanzel, the 17-member cast, playing dozens of roles, will also include Melanie Acampora, Marci Bing, Meg Bush, TracyLynn Conner, Jessica Contino, Ginger Dalton, Sari Feldman, Andrew Gasparini, Eric J. Hughes, Linda May, Phyllis March, Steve McCoy, Cameron Turner, Steven Uihlein and Stephen Wangner.

For Sanzel the experience of creating this one-act musical has morphed into “becoming a celebration of what we do … and is one of the greatest and most joyous writing experiences I’ve ever had.”

He continued, “Yes, the world of theater is fun and interesting but it is a huge amount of work and an enormous commitment. The flipside is the reward which is extraordinary. This play traces how we all come together as family in this amount of time and then we say goodbye and the poignancy of that.”

For Bing, this event is just the beginning. “We have identified it as year one, getting ready, year two, getting set and year three, go. We are developing activities that will prepare us for our final year celebration that will be a three-day event featuring a cocktail reception free of charge open to everyone that has ever been associated with the theater: actor, musician, technician, subscriber, ushers, family and friends on June 5, a semiformal sit down recognition, celebrity dinner on June 6 and a show at the theater highlighting 50 years of theater performances on June 7.”

For Sanzel, “It really is a celebration of theater, the universality, but it is also a celebration of Theatre Three. This event is the perfect launch toward our 50th anniversary.”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Life in the Theatre” on May 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50 presale, $75 at the door. Proceeds will go toward programming at the theater. To order, please call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

 

The cast of 'Stand Up! Stand Out! The Bullying Project'

By Heidi Sutton

Front row, from left, Dylan Robert Poulos, Meg Bush and Jessica Contino; back row, Nicole Bianco in a scene from ‘Alice in Wonderland’

Students have enough on their minds in school without having to worry about being bullied. But according to the latest statistics, an estimated 75 percent of children are bullied at least once during their school career, and 10 to 20 percent of children are bullied repeatedly over a much longer period of time. The effects of this unwanted aggressive distraction can be extremely damaging and may cause changes in behavior, mood and school performance as well as family or social relationships.

That is why Theatre Three’s current production of “Stand Up! Stand Out! The Bullying Project” is such an important and valuable tool in combatting bullying. Used as an educational touring program in schools across Long Island since 2014, the original musical, geared for children in kindergarten through fourth grade, makes a rare appearance on the Mainstage through May 5.

Through the use of live actors, puppets and toe-tapping musical numbers, the audience learns that bullying comes in all shapes and sizes and how to effectively stand up to bullies and not allow others to be victimized.

Meg Bush, Nicole Bianco, Jessica Contino and Eric Hughes in a scene from ‘Cinderella’

Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Douglas J. Quattrock, the story takes place in elementary school where Nellie (Nicole Bianco) is being bullied by Olivia (Jessica Contino), Jayden (Eric Hughes) and Tyler (Dylan Robert Poulos). They call her names, steal her doll, don’t let her sit with them and make her feel left out and unimportant. Peg (Meg Bush) witnesses it all, but peer pressure and the fear of losing her friends prevent her from speaking up.

When Peg gets home, she finds the doll in her backpack, which reminds her of how Nellie is being treated. While doing her homework, she falls asleep and, joined by Nellie’s doll (Steven Uihlein), dreams of being the main character in “Cinderella,” ”Alice in Wonderland,” “The Three Little Pigs” and “The Wizard of Oz.” In each story she becomes the victim of bullying and, in the end, understands what Nellie is going through and takes certain important steps to help her “turn darkness into light.”

Peg ultimately reaches out to the adults in her life because “telling is to get someone out of trouble.”

In introducing last Saturday morning’s performance, Sanzel, who also directs the show, addressed the young children in the audience, saying, “I hope when you go to school, you’ll take the lessons you learned today with you.” I hope the parents will also.

Meet the talented cast in the lobby after the show for photos.

Lena & The Happy Clam Band 

The first half of Theatre Three’s children’s show will feature a sing-along with Lena & The Happy Clam Band. From left, Michael Leuci (guitar), Brian Smith (keyboard), Lena Smith (vocals) and Mike Palumbo (bass guitar) will delight children and parents alike with an interactive concert featuring original songs like “Winter” complete with a snowball fight, a “One Drop in a Bucket” drum quartet and a shadow puppet show. 

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present ‘Stand Up! Stand Out! The Bullying Project” preceded by a sing-along with Lena & The Happy Clam Band on April 28, April 29 (sensory-sensitive performance) and May 5 at 11 a.m.

Children’s theater continues with “Goldilocks — Is That You?” from May 26 to June 9, “The Princess Who Saved a Dragon” from July 6 to Aug. 9 and “Alice’s Most Decidedly Unusual Adventures in Wonderland” from Aug. 3 to 11. All seats are $10, with discounts for groups of 10 or more. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All theater photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

LEAVE US IN PEACE — WE JUST WANT TO DO PLAYS! TracyLynn Conner, Dondi Rollins and Morgan Howell Rumble in a scene from ‘Dark’

By Heidi Sutton

When a One-Act Play Festival receives 415 submissions, it cannot be easy to choose just a handful. But that’s exactly what Theatre Three’s Festival of One-Act Plays founder and Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel was tasked with doing this year and the result is extraordinary. Showcasing seven original works, the annual festival opened last weekend for a 10-performance run.

“For the first time on any stage, these works come to life,” explained Sanzel, who also serves as director. “These are premieres; they are ‘firsts.’ A comedy [is] followed by a drama, a farce by an experimental work …” in a two-hour marathon in the cozy setting of The Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the Second Stage, a space so intimate that it “allows the audience to breathe the same air as these … characters. There is no wall. There is no division.”

Steve McCoy and Dylan Robert Poulos in a scene from ‘At the Circus’

The show kicks off with Chip Bolcik’s “At the Circus,” starring veteran actor Steve McCoy and festival newcomer Dylan Robert Poulos. In an ironic twist, a trapeze artist (McCoy) and a clown (Poulos) have grown tired of life in the circus and dream of a life of normalcy, of running away with the audience. They long to have a house with a window to look out of, a driveway, the opportunity to drive to the grocery store. “They have no idea how lucky they are, do they?” wonders Poulos as he looks longingly into the crowd, giving nod to the old adage “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

Next up is “Interview with the First Family” by Tom Slot, a behind-the-scenes reality TV look at what really happened in the Garden of Eden and where they are now. Adam (Antoine Jones) is a surfer, Eve (Susan Emory) works at a bakery — “People can’t get enough of my apple pie,” Cain (Morgan Howell Rumble) is a convict doing time for killing his brother Abel and God (Linda May) is just sitting back seeing how the world spins and working on her stand up act. Her biggest regret? Creating the mosquito. 

“Plumb Desire,” written by Patrick Gabridge, is a hilarious take on how hard it is to find a good handyman these days and the relationships that develop. Darius (played by Steve Wangner) has found such a man in Jackson (Dondi Rollins), a plumber who has been renovating his bathroom. Jackson hasn’t shown up lately so Darius tracks him down and tries to woo him back with flowers and a six pack of beer. “I’ve been searching for a plumber for so long and you are the one,” he whines, adding, “Do you remember when we   replaced all the vents on the radiators?” Jackson finally breaks down and admits that “sometimes plumbers can be flaky — it comes with the territory.” Will he be back on Monday to finish the job?

TracyLynn Conner and Meg Bush in a scene from ‘Class”

Comedy switches to drama with Andrea Fleck Clardy’s “After Class.” Madison (Meg Bush in a powerful performance) is a mentally disturbed student who speaks of bringing a gun she’s nicknamed “Kim” to class as her teacher Amy Clausen (TracyLynn Connor) struggles with handling the scary situation.  

After intermission, “Bird Feed” by Melanie Acampora takes center stage. Three pigeons sit on a ledge in Manhattan chatting. It’s Georgie’s (Susan Emory) birthday — she’s two years old today. Her friends Bertha (Meg Bush) and Rayna (Nicole Bianco) want to take her out to celebrate when Bertha overhears someone saying that the average life span of a pigeon is just two and half years, leading to a contemplation on birthdays and mortality.  

There’s a mole loose in the world of acting in Jack McCleland’s “Dark.” It’s open hunting season and actors are being picked off one by one. Every time they find a hiding spot, they are mysteriously found and shot to death. Three actors — Steve (Morgan Howell Rumble), Meg (TracyLynn Conner) and understudy Carl (Dondi Rollins) are holed up in a warehouse and are being ordered to come out. “Leave us in peace! We’re actors — we just want to do plays!” they plead. One last warm up and they venture outside and the snitch is finally revealed as Ethel Merman’s rendition of “No Business Like Show Business” plays jubilantly in the background.

Meg Bush, Nicole Bianco and Susan Emory in a scene from ‘Bird Feed’

Sanzel saves the best for last with Charles West’s courtroom spoof, “Home Versus the Holidays.” A man is on trial for waving a sword at a church group singing Christmas carols in front of his home. The audience is sworn in as the jury and the judge (Linda May) calls the first witness to the stand, the chaperone to the group (Steve Wangner).

After the district attorney (Nicole Bianco) asks him some questions, the defense lawyer (Antoine Jones) is allowed to cross-examine and hilarity ensues. Using visuals, song lyrics and the alleged weapon, Jones turns the Christmas spirit on its head in a stunning performance that must be seen to be believed. You’ll be in stitches long after the show ends.

With an excellent lineup and incredible cast, this festival is not to be missed. Get your ticket before they’re sold out.

The cast: Nicole Bianco, Meg Bush, TracyLynn Conner, Susan Emory, Antoine Jones, Linda May, Steve McCoy, Dylan Robert Poulos, Dondi Rollins, Morgan Howell Rumble, Steve Wangner

Sponsored by Lippencott Financial Group, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present The 21st Annual Festival of One-Act Plays through May 6. Contains adult language and subject matter. Parental discretion is advised. Running time is two hours with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $20. To order, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Michael Di Leo’s debut novella is a powerful and engaging look at the days leading up to and just following the murder of John Lennon. Focusing on the separate and yet not completely disparate stories of several unrelated people, it creates a vivid chronicle of a time of great sadness and unrest.

Author Michael Di Leo

It is December 1980 and the country is in the advent days before Ronald Reagan is to take office. Three very different people are facing the frustrations of day-to-day life. The story follows this trio as they attempt to tackle a series of emotionally difficult challenges.

Sixteen-year-old Angela is obsessed with the Beatles. She is struggling with the things that are modern and yearns for the ’60s, a time she never experienced but has come to venerate, epitomized by the music of the Beatles. Her friends do not understand her — in particular an insensitive but realistically portrayed boyfriend who has only one desire in their dysfunctional relationship. Angela is reaching back to a past era to try to make sense of her own.

Thirteen-year-old John is inspired to look at the ’60s by former hippie Mr. Watkins, his easygoing and inspiring teacher, who assigns John an extra-credit project to research the period.John is caught between his hard-edged, conservative father and a mother whose heart is connected to the freer time that she never allowed herself to fully experience.

Finally, Tommy, in his 20s, going nowhere, lives in a cramped Manhattan apartment, working a dead-end job selling typewriters, and trying to parse his exact feelings for his girlfriend, Mary, who is pressuring him for both a ring and a change in who he is. Like Angela, he is fixated on the Beatles. Tommy is also haunted by the death of his brother in Vietnam, a milestone that caused the implosion of his family and created his own sense of detachment from the world.  

Tommy makes a point of his dis-ease in the universe. He feels that the ’80s have not yet started because there has been no defining moment to herald an age. He sites the assassination of JFK and the landing of the Beatles for the ’60s and Nixon’s resignation for the ’70s. He does not realize that his worst nightmare will be the signal of this new epoch.

Short, crisp chapters create small fragments that are windows into each of the character’s lives and thoughts. As it progresses, the picture, like a mosaic, becomes clearer.

The first half of this delicate, slender novella follows their day-to-day existences that are then shattered by John Lennon’s tragic murder. The latter part of the book then tracks the repercussions of this terrible event. Both Tommy and Angela are broken by Lennon’s death as is John’s mother. But it is through this loss that they find themselves and, in the grand scheme, are stronger for it.

It is the teacher, Mr. Watkins, who is able to best express this new time: “There were a lot of people in the sixties who influenced my generation. JFK, his brother Robert, Martin Luther King. And yet, John Lennon may have had more of an influence than any of them. And he survived it all and was in a position to possibly influence us again to make things better. Something he always tried to do. And they killed him, too. They’re all gone now.” It is the indicator of both an end and a beginning.

The cover of Michael Di Leo’s latest book

Tommy had lived in hope of a Beatles reunion. For him, “It wasn’t supposed to end this way.” The Sgt. Pepper album had gotten him through the loss of his brother, giving him solace in the worst of times. It is now, through the music and the memory, that he survives this next challenge. A particularly poignant description follows Tommy’s visit to his childhood home. He sees his parents, who have never recovered from the death of their oldest son, in a new light. The scene resonates on many levels. It is in this trip that Tommy realizes that he can make something of himself, and it is John Lennon’s example that inspires him to do so.

John’s mother opens up to her son with pieces of her life and heart that she had kept tamped down to please her husband and his expectations. Lennon’s death releases her true spirit. “You know, I always had a secret thing for the Beatles, and John, he was always my favorite. He was so smart and funny, and he always did or said what he wanted, whatever the consequences, and now after everything, he was back, and he was happy, and now he’s gone. It just doesn’t make any sense. I guess maybe I really was a hippie at heart.” She, like Tommy, eventually finds release in embracing her true feelings.

Di Leo’s compassion for his characters gracefully shows the initial shock turning to profound mourning and, ultimately, to redemption. It is a visceral portrayal. He manages, with great sensitivity, to give us a glimpse into the turmoil of these people’s souls. In addition, Di Leo is not seeking easy answers. Instead, he presents the phenomenon of our attachment to these icons. He sheds light on our personal connection to distant stars (literally and figuratively) and how we take their deaths in a personal way. It is a strange truth but we often suffer these losses deeper than we do of those who are truly close to us. He reveals this fact without judgment but instead with nonjudgmental insight.

A prescient touching upon the discussion of gun control that occurred in the wake of the shooting reminds us that though time has passed, many things have not changed.

A gathering in Central Park of thousands of fans serves as a gentle climax to the book where the characters intersect but don’t truly interact. Di Leo chooses not to give us facile coincidence but instead reflects life as it is. A beautiful and honest coda provides both closure and hope — that out of even the darkest times can come good, and, in this case, light.

Much like the “Imagine” mosaic created in memory of Lennon, “Images of Broken Light” gives us broken figures that create a powerful and memorable whole.

“Images of Broken Light” is available in paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com, and E-books are also available on Barnesandnoble.com, iBooks and Kobo. This is the Nesconset resident’s second book. The first, titled “The Spy Who Thrilled Us,” covers the first 19 films in the James Bond series. For more information, visit his website at www.michaeldileoauthor.com.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Cynthia Baxter, one of our most prolific and delightful cozy mystery writers, has outdone herself with her most recent offering, a delicious confection titled “Murder with a Cherry On Top.”

Cynthia Baxter

As a longtime fan of Baxter’s work, I have read many of her books, most notably ones in the Reigning Cats & Dogs series (“Dead Canaries Don’t Sing,” “Hare Today, Dead Tomorrow,” “Who’s Kitten Who?” and “Murder Had a Little Lamb”), Murder Packs a Suitcase series (“Murder Packs a Suitcase”), as well as “Temptation,” a fascinating and wicked stand-alone novel (written as Cynthia Blair). They are all truly entertaining works, with fun and engaging heroines who are smart, independent and wholly original.

In her latest outing, “Murder with a Cherry On Top,” the Three Village resident sets us down in the fictional Wolfert’s Roost, a small town nestled in the Hudson Valley. Here, the central character, 33-year-old Kate McCay, has come back to her hometown. Prior to this, Kate had been a public relations director at a large New York City firm. Returning to take care of her beloved grandmother, she has embarked on a new venture, namely being proprietress of the Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe:

“After all, there are some things only ice cream can fix.”

Her love for the dessert is rooted in her childhood. She has memories of her father taking her for her third and fourth birthdays for ice cream. By her fifth, he had passed away. When she is 10, her mother dies, leaving Kate and her sisters to live with their loving grandmother:

“Then Mom passed away the summer I turned ten. Grams suddenly found herself playing the role of mother. She knew how devastated my sisters and I were, and to help us all cope with our confusion, our anger, and our intense feelings of loneliness, she did her best to keep our lives as much the same as they had been before. A big part of that was to keep our family ice cream addiction going, since it was one of the easiest and most obvious ways of linking us to the past and moving ahead with our lives.”

In Kate’s world, ice cream is deeply connected to love and caring and she brings this to her new found vocation. She delights in the work, creating the traditional flavors along with signature choices such as Peanut on the Playground (laced with jelly), Honey Lavender and Avocado and Carrot Cake. (The detours describing her frozen sweets add to the fun.)

After being open only a week, her childhood nemesis and unreformed mean girl, bakery owner Ashley Winthrop, announces that her store, Sweet Things, will begin carrying ice cream. As the bakery is directly across from the ice cream parlor, this drives Kate into a public confrontation with Ashley. Soon after, Ashley is discovered murdered and the police see Kate as a possible suspect.

Kate embarks on her own investigation, which has some wonderful twists and turns, building up to a genuinely surprising but nonetheless believable climax. At its height, the mystery becomes something deeper and eventually much more complex.

An element of the book that is particularly effective is that Kate actually uses her business to solve the crime. Unlike in many mysteries where the characters seem to have insights they couldn’t possibly have, here there is logic to her approach. She utilizes her occupation to provide her with insight as well as opportunity. She cleverly uses the collective love of ice cream as a means to certain ends. And, even as she is pursuing leads, she still is thinking about the growth of her new undertaking.

In a light-hearted way, Baxter addresses the issue of not just the difficulty in returning home but also the joys — rare in literature, which tends to fixate on dysfunction. Kate is genuinely glad to be back and wholly embraces the chapter ahead of her. She finds satisfaction in her work, a passion and a drive that help her reacclimate to Wolfert’s Roost.

The fact is Baxter is a strong writer. Throughout, she is able to articulate the modern struggle to communicate with wit and honesty:

“I wondered how any of us managed to not look bored or lonely or even uncomfortable in public places before we all had cell phones. Maybe that was why books had been invented.”

Baxter nimbly fleshes out characters who are (or at least initially seem to be) transitory. They are whole people, often created in a few crisp sentences. This is ideal in a mystery where there is the need for a parade of suspects and supporting characters.

We get to know Willow, her childhood friend, who works for her when she’s not teaching yoga. Emma, Kate’s in-search-of-herself 18-year-old niece, comes to live with her and assists in the investigation. Ashley’s sleazy ex-husband and her most recent amour, an egotistical chef, both get creative page time. Kate’s love interest, blue-eyed broad-shouldered Jake Pratt, has a past with Kate that becomes pivotal in the present — but the thorny history never bogs down the movement of the narrative. A visit to a harried mother of three is particularly vivid.

Baxter finds variety even in the rather reviled murder victim as certain pieces of her backstory are revealed, transitioning from the “she-had-it-coming” to something far more complicated. The fact that Ashley is running an illegal co-op becomes a fascinating detail in the tapestry of the crime.

All of these pieces, like the exotic sundaes Kate fashions, are rich in texture, color and invention and make for a wholly satisfying read.

Two nice little bonuses: Each chapter is headed with a “fun fact” from the history of ice cream, with sources ranging from Guinness to the International Dairy Foods Association. The appendix shares a few interesting recipes that are referenced in the book.

This first entry into The Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe Mystery series is a great one. Grab yourself a bowl of ice cream, sit down and dig in.

Cynthia Baxter is the author of 54 novels. A Three Village resident for the past 25 years, “Murder with a Cherry On Top” is the first book in her new Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe Mystery series with Kensington Publishing Corp. and is available online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Meet Cynthia at the Emma S. Clark Library’s Author Event on May 6 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. and visit her website at www.cynthiabaxter.com.

From left, Jessica Contino, Meg Bush, K.D. Guadagno and Nicole Bianco in a scene from 'The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.' Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

In tandem with the release of the new animated film, “Peter Rabbit,” Theatre Three presents its annual live children’s theater production of “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” now through April 14. The action-packed show is the perfect way for families to enjoy spring break.

From left, Dylan Robert Poulos and Steve Uihlein. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

The original musical, written by Jeffrey Sanzel and the late Brent Erlanson, is loosely based on one of the best-selling books of all time, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter and features all of the beloved characters in the story.

Peter Rabbit and his cousin, Benjamin Bunny, are as naughty as ever this year as they sneak into their neighbor Mr. McGregor’s garden time and time again to steal his vegetables. When his patience grows thin, the farmer, who’s “a meanie with a temper like a bear,” sets out to stop the marauders once and for all. When Peter is caught in a trap, his mother must step in to help him. Will the two neighbors be able to come up with a compromise?

Directed by Sanzel, the eight adult cast members embrace the adorable script and run with it. Dylan Robert Poulos reprises his role as Peter with boundless energy and his astounding acrobats steal the show. Steven Uihlein, as Peter’s partner in crime, Benjamin, provides plenty of comic relief, and Jessica Contino is lovely as the calm and even-tempered Mrs. Rabbit.

Mrs. Rabbit with good little bunnies, Cotton-Tail, Flopsy and Mopsy.

When they’re not eating bread and milk and blackberries, Peter’s sisters, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail (the talented trio of Nicole Bianco, K.D. Guadagno and Meg Bush) spend much of the show looking for their brother in the theater, engaging audience members along the way. Andrew Lenahan and Elizabeth Ladd round out the cast as the harmonious duo Mr. and Mrs. McGregor who love their garden.

The familiar musical numbers, written by Kevin F. Story and accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, are the heart of the show. Choreography by Nicole Bianco is top notch, especially with “Run, Peter, Run” and the fun hip-hop number, “Peter’s Socks.” Costumes by Teresa Matteson are charming, from the bunnies’ colorful dresses of pink, yellow and blue to their white bunny tails.

About 5 minutes into Sunday morning’s show a little boy in the audience turned to his grandmother and loudly stated “This is so wonderful!!” This reviewer would have to concur. Grab your children or grandchildren and hop over to Theatre Three for an incredibly sweet treat. They’ll love you for it.

Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny have some fun with the McGregors.

Running time is approximately one hour and 10 minutes with one 10-minute intermission. Booster seats are available and souvenir bunnies in various spring colors will be sold before the show and during intermission for $5. Proceeds will help maintain the historic building. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” on March 17 and 24 and April 4, 5, 6, 7 and 14 at 11 a.m.

Children’s theater will continue on the Mainstage with “Stand Up! Stand Out! The Bullying Project” from April 21 to May 5; “Goldilocks — Is That You?” from May 26 to June 9 and a brand new original play, “The Princess Who Saved a Dragon,” from July 6 to Aug. 9. All seats are $10. For more information, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Cast of Theatre Three's 'Nunsense'. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

Theatre Three continues its 48th season with the heavenly musical comedy “Nunsense.” The show, which opened on the Mainstage last Saturday evening, catered to a packed house ready to sit back, relax and have some fun. And judging by the rip-roaring laughter all night, it did not disappoint.

With book, music and lyrics by Dan Goggin, the original Off-Broadway production opened in 1985 and ran for 3,672 performances, becoming the second-longest-running Off-Broadway show in history. By the time it closed 10 years later, “Nunsense” had become an international phenomenon, having been translated into over 20 languages with more than 8,000 productions worldwide.

TracyLynn Conner, Sari Feldman and Jessica Contino in a scene from ‘Nunsense’

Now the congregation has taken up residence at Theatre Three and although Catholics will most identify with this hilarious show, audiences of all faiths are sure to have their spirits lifted as well.

The Little Sisters of Hoboken are in a bit of a pickle. While 19 of the nuns are off playing Bingo, the convent’s cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, accidently poisons the remaining 52 nuns by serving them a batch of botulism-laced vichyssoise. As one nun quips, “For 52, bon appetite was also bon voyage.”

After a successful greeting-card fundraiser, 48 of the sisters are laid to rest. Thinking there is plenty of money left over, Mother Superior spends the rest of the money on a plasma TV, leaving no money to pay for the last four burials. While the remaining deceased are temporarily stored in cold storage, five of the nuns decide to stage a variety show in the Mt. Saint Helen’s School auditorium to raise the rest of the money. “We’ve just got to get those girls out of the freezer,” they lament.

Sister Mary Regina (Phyliss March) and Sister Robert Anne (Sari Feldman) share a moment.

Under the skillful direction of Jeffrey Sanzel, the show’s über-talented cast is given the freedom to bring out the strong personalities of their characters and have a blast doing it. At the beginning of the production, the group sings, “Though we’re on our way to heaven, we’re here to raise some hell.” Blessed with wonderful harmonic voices, great comedic timing and a seemingly inexhaustable amount of energy, they put on quite a show.

The incomparable Phyllis March plays uptight Mother Superior Sister Mary Regina who loosens up quite a bit at the end of the first act in one of the funniest scenes in the play, and Linda May is wonderful as the second-in-command Sister Mary Hubert who has higher aspirations.

TracyLynn Conner is hilarious as the wide-eyed Sister Mary Amnesia who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head. “She just a big mess,” mutters Mother Superior under her breath. Conner steals the show with her duet with a puppet in “So You Want to Be a Nun.”

Sari Feldman is Sister Robert Anne, the streetwise understudy from Brooklyn who “Just wants to be a star” and finally gets the chance to shine brightly in Act Two. Jessica Contino rounds out the cast as the sweet Sister Mary Leo who dreams of being the first nun ballerina.

The brilliant script is full of hilarious puns — “How do you make holy water?” “I don’t know, how DO you make holy water?” “You boil the hell out of it!” — along with double entendres and every nun joke out there. The wonderful songs, 20 in all, are accompanied by the terrific Mt. Saint Helen’s School Band under the direction of Steve McCoy.

Vichyssoise anyone?Linda May, Phyliss March and TracyLynn Conner in a scene from ‘Nunsense’

A nice touch is the constant audience participation, which is strictly voluntary. Before the show and intermission the nuns greet the patrons and pose for photos, and during the show the audience takes part in a quiz with a chance to win prizes. A short film by Ray Mason and Sanzel starring the five sisters of Hoboken in the second act is just the icing on the cake. From the initial Mt. Saint Helen’s cheer to the final amen, “Nunsense” is simply divine and should not be missed.

Enjoy a drink at Griswold’s Café on the lower level of the theater and take a chance at 50/50 during intermission. The theater, more specifically, the nuns will be collecting donations for Hurricane Maria on behalf of Direct Relief at the end of the night.

Sponsored by Bridgehampton National Bank, the production is dedicated to the memory of Carolyn Droscoski who passed away suddenly on Feb. 5 at the age of 61. “Our hearts and our stage will be a little emptier.” Droscoski was a constant presence at Theatre Three, appearing on the  Mainstage, cabaret and children’s theater for over 40 years. According to the theater’s website, the actress appeared Off-Broadway and traveled the country in the various incarnations of “Nunsense” and is one of the few actresses to have played all five roles.

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main St. in Port Jefferson, will present “Nunsense” through March 24. The season will continue with “12 Angry Men” from April 7 to May 5 and the musical comedy “Curtains” from May 19 to June 23. 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.

All photos by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

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