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Jeffrey Sanzel

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By Jeffrey Sanzel

Public radio personality and prolific author David Bouchier has gathered 122 essays in his newest collection, the charming “Out of Thin Air.” Divided into seven loose themes covering such topics as technology, politics and travel, Bouchier covers many of the same ideas but always from a different angle. As they are based on his well-known radio commentaries, each essay is a clever gem, rarely more than two pages, and makes for insightful and entertaining reading.

Author David Bouchier

In the Preface, Bouchier defines an essay as “the writer talking to you, one on one, about something that he or she finds interesting, annoying, bewildering, or funny.” This definitive statement guides the entire work. As we wend our way through his experiences, it is as if he is sitting across from us over a lively coffee. He is articulate and witty and, even when he is at his most hyperbolic, there is a sincerity that comes through.

Bouchier’s first essay, “Waiting for the End” appropriately deals with just that — the end of the world. He clearly gives us a sense of his life’s view and what will come in the ensuing pages: “The future is virgin territory, and any pessimist can claim it.” When writing of a cinematic look at the apocalypse: “The movie was two hours and thirty-eight minutes long. The actual end of the world needs to be snappier than that, or we will lose interest (average adult attention span: twenty minutes).” We now know who Bouchier is and can proceed in the full knowledge that we will laugh and be inspired in turns or, just as often, simultaneously.

Much of the book is taken up with issues of modern technology and the disenfranchisement of people of an earlier generation. What separates Bouchier from the usual curmudgeonly wheezes is that he has — albeit sometimes reluctantly — embraced not just the power of these changes but their necessity. Not that he doesn’t take many pointed and highly amusing shots at our slavish addiction to all things computer centric; he rails against them but still sees their value. “We are never alone unless the battery runs out.” He is not so much technophobic but “techno-wary.” Of cellphones, “I talk, therefore I am” is followed by his taking it a step further that this form of communication brings us closer to each other and yet isolates us from the world.

In his longest essay, “The Ghost in the Machine,” Bouchier makes the valid point that computers have rid us of the need for memory. With instant access, we have disconnected from ourselves and no actually living is done. We have become a society that survives in a virtual existence. While he is going to the extreme to make his point, there is a reality in his argument that demands we look inward.

“From Hardware to Software” is a laugh-out-loud equation of old-fashioned hardware stores with the heroic doctors of television drama with the dramatic of-course-it-can-be-saved. It reflects on a time when problems had solutions and mourns the loss of these kinder bastions of help and support and knowledge. In the same vein, the author writes a paean to the joy of the manual typewriter, gone the same way is these shops.

What helps enrich the pieces is that Bouchier is incredibly well-read and knowledgeable in a wide range of topics — literature (novels in particular), art and science to name a few. He encourages the reader to embrace science — even if you don’t understand it. He praises continuing education but never laments that education is wasted on the young. It gives a vast scope for interpretation and reference that enriches the depth of his exploration.

As stated, many subjects overlap (notably cellphones, computers and other contemporary gadgetry), but he manages to mine a different perspective with each vignette: He finds a singular awareness to highlight.

The topics that are covered are plentiful. The author’s thoughts touch on ideas from “selective forgetting” (a wonderfully accurate concept) to the danger of the smiley face. He pursues the danger of teaching fake history and the repercussions on young (and older) minds. Here, like so many places in his writing, he shifts easily from his acerbic and pithy quips to important concepts such as learning from history, not just ingest it.

Bouchier’s take on the opposite of procrastination — “pre-crastination” — is amusing and not a little disturbing; he finds that people who rush into things are not giving the proper thought. This leads to a siting of truly dangerous things that should give people pause: “double bacon cheeseburgers with fries, international wars, and marriage.” Even when taking aim at easy targets, his perceptions are both fresh and refreshing. Ultimately, in “We’ll Do This Later,” somehow he makes a strong case for procrastination. He is also adept at looking at two sides of a situation.

In “The Way We Were,” the author starts out with a pointedly ambivalent view of reunions but then comes to a much more introspective conclusion, finding the worth in the event. It is not just that he finds the two views but he is able to perceive multiple awarenesses.

“Worth Preserving” is a timely solution for maintaining historical sites. What is fascinating is that at first it seems like he is being tongue-in-cheek — and he might possibly be — but the concepts of preservation and accessibility are sound. It is this blend of humor and understanding that fuel his writing.

And yet, Bouchier’s take on nostalgia comes at the discussion from a different standpoint: “Every nation has its own tales of a glorious past that never existed.” He gives Downton Abbey as a prime example that the truth is much darker below stairs. Basically, the good old days that are glorified by film, television and novels never existed.

He laments the bookless bookstores that have become clothing emporiums — most notably university bookstores where books are screens “to goggle or Google at.” Clever word play is powerful and his succinctness is an arrow to the center, his dissections as swift and accurate as a scalpel.

“Losing stuff, like losing weight, is a lost cause.” We have too many things — we are saturated as “willing prisoners” of our acquisitions. Again, he turns his accusations inward and finds the positive in what has become a negative cliché — he finds the value in “stuff” as a connection to who we are related to from where we’ve come.

The author’s thoughts about wedding extravagance are really an exploration of marriage in the short and long term, calling to task the reality that in the modern age being average and fitting in trumps being Mozart. In the age of driverless cars, perhaps it is not the vehicles that should be recalled but the drivers themselves. In a flip on red-light cameras, he makes the case to reward good drivers for correct behavior.

The selfie as “a sudden plague of pathological vanity” is extreme — but not inaccurate, flying in the face of the cliché of a picture being worth a thousand words. The “Look at me, I’m here, I exist” is no more than a “flicker across the consciousness leaving no trace. They’re not worth a thousand words, they replace a thousand words.”

There is a great deal of strong advice in Bouchier’s writings. In “A Good Long Read,” he meditates on the transition from reading long books to embracing a series of books. This is a healthy and helpful suggestion to readers of desire but limited time.

An extended section on politics in the book should be made required reading in every school (and home, for that matter). The author’s view on the American system can be summed up in his observation that we have hundreds of choices for cereal but only two for president. He writes about the true heroes of our times and times past as well as a fascinating connection between clowns, Halloween and Election Day.

A discussion of a universal draft — men, woman, all ages an socioeconomic backgrounds — ultimately hints at broader ideas. He does the same thing with a darkly comic advocation of making everyone in the world an American. In his section on travel, Bouchier opens up with “Escape Attempts,” which hints at deeper themes — going from trips to war to marriage and children. He makes profound statements about the power of inner life, of reading versus travel. He points out that “to” is often less important than “from.” Style of travel from point of view as well as the unnecessary obsession with souvenirs all encourage us to look not just in the mirror but within ourselves.

The essay “The Business of America” is the smartest and most accurate assessment of the lack of values in our constant pursuit of meetings. In the “Right to Arm Bears,” Bouchier proposes leveling the hunting playing field by providing animals with guns. “Philosophy in the Slow Lane” meditates on life in the Long Island Expressway traffic jams, comparing it to the classic audio novels (Twain, Melville) he listens to when caught in the given congestion of our daily lives. All pithy statements; all with great truths beneath.

The best summation of Bouchier’s work would be in his own words: “What makes us different from bees and lemmings is that we can and do break away from the herd, and think our separate thoughts. We are bees with a perspective on the hive, which allows us to evolve and to create. It also gives us a headache.”

Thank you, Mr. Bouchier for the reminder of all the former. And your tag to this thought reminds us never to take ourselves too seriously.

‘Out of Thin Air’ is available online at www.amazon.com. Meet author David Bouchier at the Third Friday event at the Reboli Center for Art and History, 64 Main St., Stony Brook on Friday, Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. Bouchier will discuss his 25 years on public radio. The event is free.

By Heidi Sutton

The holiday season is finally here and nowhere on the North Shore is that more evident than Port Jefferson. This weekend the quaint village will magically transform into the Dickensian era as it hosts the 22nd annual Charles Dickens Festival.

Among the many festivities will be Theatre Three’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol,” which was the inspiration for the first Dickens Festival, and the original children’s musical “Barnaby Saves Christmas.”

The latter is celebrating its 14th anniversary this year, a testament to the caliber of its script by Douglas Quattrock and Jeffrey Sanzel and its music and lyrics by Quattrock. This wonderful show, which features several appearances by Santa himself, has become an annual tradition for many.

It’s Christmas Eve and Santa, his elves and reindeer have just left the North Pole to deliver presents to all the children. Realizing Santa has left behind one of the presents, “a little stuffed bear with dark blue pants, buckles on his shoes and a bright yellow vest,” the littlest elf Barnaby convinces the tiniest reindeer, Franklynne, to set off on an adventure “to save Christmas.” Along the way they meet a Jewish family and learn all about Hanukkah and bump into an evil villain named S. B. Dombulbury who, with his partner in crime Irmagarde, stuff chimneys with coal in order to steal all the presents.

Eric Hughes reprises his role as Barnaby, the little elf who just wants to fit in, and Sari Feldman returns as Franklynne, the flying reindeer who is afraid to fly, especially the landing part. The scene where Barnaby helps Franklynne perfect her landing is a personal favorite. The pair have the audience rooting for them to succeed from the very beginning.

Steven Uihlein is back as S.B. (Spoiled Brat) Dombulbury, channeling a bit of Dr. Evil with his muhaha laugh. Uihlein is terrific as he goes around hypnotizing everyone so they will do his bidding. His unwitting partner in crime, Irmagarde, is played to perfection by Dana Bush. The only original cast member in the show, Bush is an audience favorite. Andrew Lenahan and Phyllis March are wonderul in the roles of Santa and Mrs. Claus and double as the Jewish aunt and nephew characters, Sarah and Andrew. Dylan Robert Poulos tackles the role of Sam, the head elf who is desperately trying to stay on schedule and keep track of elves Blizzard (Meg Bush) and Crystal (Jessica Contino). Their interactions are the funniest moments in the show and draw much laughter from the children in the audience.

Choreography by Sari Feldman is classic and fun, while the costumes, from the pointy elf shoes to Santa’s red velvet suit, are top notch. The entire score, accompanied on piano by Quattrock, is incredibly endearing and you’ll be humming the tunes for days to come. Go see “Barnaby Saves Christmas” and experience an afternoon of pure holiday joy.

Souvenir elf and reindeer dolls will be available for purchase during intermission. Stay after the show for a photo with Santa Claus on stage if you wish — the $5 fee goes to support the theater’s scholarship fund — and meet the rest of the cast in the lobby.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “Barnaby Saves Christmas” through Dec. 30. All shows begin at 11 a.m. Booster seats are available. Running time is approximately one hour and 15 minutes with one intermission. Recommended for ages 3 and up. Up next is a production of “Rapunzel: The Untold Story!” from Jan. 20 to Feb. 24 and “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit from March 10 to April 14. Tickets are $10 per person. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Michael Tessler

Theatre Three delivers perhaps one of my most favorite holiday traditions: a classic retelling of Charles Dickens’ most beloved work, “A Christmas Carol,” right in the heart of downtown Port Jefferson. This stage adaptation is so beautifully conceived and has been so well refined over the years that it’d appear Dickens’ 174-year-old novel jumps quite literally from the pages onto the stage in a fashion that can be best described as magical.

This particular production, which is celebrating its 34th year, is nothing short of miraculous, not just for its stunning set design, incredible wardrobe and perfectly planned lighting and sound … but also for the fact that somehow each and every year the show (while familiar) feels brand new.

Jeffrey Sanzel, the show’s director and the actor behind the famous literary curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge, shuffles the cast, set and various elements of the show, refining it and bringing new life to it each and every season. In the long and impressive shelf life of “A Christmas Carol” there has never, in my opinion, been a better Scrooge than Jeffrey Sanzel. No actor has ever lived and breathed that character for so long and with such passion as Sanzel. Watching his character’s transformation unfold on stage is pure delight.

This year’s show beams with talent. One can’t help but admire the incredible skill of the show’s youngest cast members who perform alongside their adult counterparts as equals both in professionalism and talent. Not for a moment does any actor’s performance take you out of this whimsical Dickensian world Sanzel creates.

Steve Wangner shines as Bob Cratchit, bringing to life all the warmth and love of Scrooge’s least favorite employee. Wangner had big shoes to fill, replacing Douglas Quattrock who has long held the role. No doubt Quattrock should be proud of his successor who masterfully carried Tiny Tim (portrayed jointly by Ryan Becker and Cameron Turner) upon his shoulders. His family dynamic especially with his wife (Suzie Dunn) and children is wonderfully endearing.

My personal favorite of the ensemble cast is Mr. Fezziwig portrayed by the cheerful George Liberman. Though I’ve got the bias of loving his character, this actor’s presence puts an instant smile on your face and reminds you of the wholesome fun of Christmas time. His partner in crime, Mrs. Fezziwig, is portrayed by the wonderful Ginger Dalton who also excels as Mrs. Dilber … the cockney maid of Scrooge whose comedic ability is unparalleled in the two-act show.

Megan Bush brings to life Belle, the first and only love of Scrooge and daughter of Fezziwig. Though her character’s time on stage is brief, she so perfectly captures the innocence of a first love and shows us a side of Scrooge we often forget. Steve McCoy, the wildly talented Theatre Three veteran, brings to life (and death) Scrooge’s late business partner Jacob Marley. His performance is haunting in the best kind of way. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the kind and loving Fan performed both by Heather Kuhn and Sophia Knapp. Her special relationship with young Scrooge (Kiernan Urso and Alexander Yagud-Wolek) encapsulates the special bond reserved just for siblings.

This year the three spirits have outdone themselves — beginning with the stunningly talented Jessica Contino whose Ghost of Christmas Past comes to life in almost angelic form. She is followed by the hysterical and larger-than-life Antoine Jones as the Ghost of Christmas Present, whose epic bellowing laughter echoes through the historic Athena Hall. Last, but certainly not least is the incredible puppetry of Dylan Robert Poulos as the Ghost of Christmas Future who also shows off his talent as an actor in the role of Scrooge’s orphaned nephew Fred Halliwell.

Randall Parsons and Bonnie Vidal bring 19th-century England to Port Jefferson with stunning production design and impeccable costuming. Robert W. Henderson Jr. transports you to the past, present and future with some mesmerizing lighting. This year’s production also welcomed newcomer Melissa Troxler as stage manager who ran the set flawlessly from an audience perspective. Brad Frey provides some wonderful musical direction in addition to the late Ellen Michelmore, whose lasting legacy at Theatre Three can be heard with the beautiful musical conception and sound effects that remain a centerpiece of this production.

Leaving the theater I found my heart filled with a joy and merriment only felt in those special moments when you’re surrounded by family and huddled around a great big Christmas tree. For that wonderful moment, I felt the spirit of Christmas itself … and what a wonderful gift it was to receive from the cast and crew of Theatre Three’s “A Christmas Carol.”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “A Christmas Carol” now through Dec. 30. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students and $20 children ages 5 to 12. (Children under 5 are not permitted.) To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

 

All photos by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Photo by Brian Hoerger

Join Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson for a special event, Behind the Curtain: A Christmas Carol on Thursday, Dec. 14 at 5 p.m. Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel, who has appeared as Scrooge in over 1,000 performances, will guide you through the history of the story, its many adaptations and the journey of Theatre Three’s 33 years of presenting “A Christmas Carol.” The event will be followed by the Mainstage performance of Theatre Three’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” The event is $30 per person and includes a full buffet supper. Tickets for the 7 p.m. performance may be purchased separately. For more information, call 631-928-9100.

A cornucopia of crime and punishment

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Author Kerriann Flanagan Brosky

“Historic Crimes of Long Island” by Kerriann Flanagan Brosky is a highly readable journey through “Misdeeds from the 1600s to the 1950s.” The Huntington author has collected 20 tales of local mayhem, ranging from murder to kidnapping, crimes motivated by money, passion and, occasionally, insanity. Brosky’s tight, you-are-there prose propels the reader from one piece to another, covering a wide range of sinister and often heinous actions. As aptly stated in the Preface, the book includes “pirates, witches, jealousy, revenge, tar and feathering, beheadings, drownings, madmen eccentrics, axe murderers and more.”

Brosky never shies away from skin-crawling detail where appropriate; but what separates this work from many others like it is her compassion for the victims. More often than not, books that chronicle the darker side of history tend to celebrate the perpetrators. Brosky instead shows great sensitivity and understanding of the targets. She offers insight into the motivation of the offenders but never excuses or glamorizes their actions. She does not revel in evil but explores it from multiple angles. She is more interested in the “why.”

The book wisely eschews chronology but instead opts for contrast as the accounts venture back and forth throughout time, weaving a rich tapestry, no two stories identical. Incidents in Quogue, Huntington, Islip, Smithtown, Westhampton Beach and other well-known Long Island towns create an intense backdrop to the range of occurrences.

Brosky focuses on not just a variety of episodes but chooses to spotlight different aspects of the proceedings. The Corn Doctor Murder exams a tangled legal system whereas The Mad Killer of Suffolk County emphasizes a sociopathy that drives a man to thrill killing.

Kidnapping or Murder? The Alice Parsons Case shows the politics that can interfere with an investigation as the conflict between the FBI and local police left the case unsolved. The Murder of Captain James Craft stretches from Glen Cove to the Tenderloin and includes both deception and decapitation. The Samuel Jones Murder addresses capital punishment in light of a botched hanging in 1875. Buried treasure, a violated burial ground and obsessed gardener are examined in astute detail.

One of the most intriguing entries is East Hampton Witch Trial of 1658. Like all sagas of this era, it shows the power of a vindictive nature in a culture of suspicion. It clearly sites the hysteria and danger but what is unusual in this report is the surprising outcome.

Perhaps the strongest and certainly most heartbreaking is Starr Faithful: Drowning, Murder, or Suicide. Here is a devastating sketch of a tragically abused girl, ill-treated from a very young age. This is a detailed commentary, mired in deep unhappiness, promiscuity, alcoholism and blackmail. Above all, it is a dimensional portrait of the victim. (As an interesting side note, Starr Faithful was the inspiration for John O’Hara’s novel, “Butterfield 8,” and the Elizabeth Taylor movie that followed.)

The book is well illustrated with photos, period prints and newspaper clippings, supplemented by Penny Dreadful-style illustrations by author Joan Harrison (who also provided the Foreword). Some stories are solved; others are left open, haunted by doubts and conflicting evidence. A variety of characters sharply presented, flesh out this slender but consistently engaging composition, sure to please a wide range of readers this Halloween season.

“Historic Crimes of Long Island,” published by The History Press, is available online at www.amazon.com and local bookstores. Upcoming lectures and book signings in the area include Port Jefferson Free Library on Oct. 27 at 7 p.m., Northport Historical Society on Oct. 29 at 2 p.m, and Half Hollow Hills Community Library in Dix Hills on Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. For more information, visit www.kerriannflanaganbrosky.com.

Above, the cast of ‘A Kooky, Spooky Halloween’ at Theatre Three.

By Heidi Sutton

There’s something kooky going on at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. As a matter of fact, there’s something spooky going on there as well. In perfect timing with the upcoming holiday, the Children’s Theatre presents a brand new musical treat, “A Kooky Spooky Halloween,” through Oct. 28.

Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Steve McCoy, the adorable show emphasizes the importance of telling the truth and helping others. Skillfully directed by Sanzel, the talented cast of eight adults embraces the brilliant script and, with plenty of audience interaction, presents a wonderful afternoon of live theater.

The cast sings ‘It’s Ma Who Makes the Toast’

Ghost Abner Perkins (Dylan Robert Poulos) has just graduated from Haunted High School and awarded a medallion of invisibility. His first assignment is to be the spooksperson on Halloween for Ma Aberdeen’s Boarding House, “the most haunted house in Harrison County, USA,” which is also known for serving the best toast. There’s only one problem — Abner is afraid of the dark. “It’s like a vampire who’s afraid of necks!” quips his friend Lavinda (Jessica Contino), a good natured witch, before presenting him with a night-light to wear on his hat. Lavinda promises to help Abner with his haunting duties for the first few days.

When they arrive at the boarding house, they come upon Ma Aberdeen (Ginger Dalton), the finest toast maker in the land, and her boarders, Kit Garret (Meg Bush) and the Petersons — Paul the periodontist (Steven Uihlein), his wife Penelope (Nina Moran) and their son Pip (Eric J. Hughes), whose alliterations using words that start with the letter P are perfectly prodigious!

As the sun sets, Abner plays silly tricks on the unsuspecting group, making them stuff Halloween goodie bags in double time, exercise, sing, dance and get stuck to each other. Things are going hauntingly well until fellow graduate Dora Pike (Elizabeth Ladd) shows up. A ghost with a grudge (she was hoping to be assigned to Ma Aberdeen’s boarding house), Dora steals Abner’s night-light and medallion out of revenge and makes her way to Black Ridge Gulch, the deepest, darkest gorge in the entire world (where it’s really, really dark).

Dylan Robert Poulos and Jessica Contino star as Abner and Lavinda in the show.

Now visible, Abner convinces the boarders, who are still stuck to each other, to accompany him and Lavinda on a quest to retrieve his property. Will Abner be able to overcome his fear of the dark? Will the two ghosts be able to reach a compromise?

From the first number, “A-Haunting We Will Go” by the entire company, to the downright creepy “It Will All Fade to Black” by Dora, and the catchy “It’s Ma Who Makes the Toast,” the original songs by Steve McCoy are the heart of the show. Utilizing the set from the current Mainstage production, “The Bridges of Madison County,” the show features excellent choreography by Nicole Bianco. Ditto the costumes by Teresa Matteson.

“A Kooky Spooky Halloween” is the perfect show to get into the spirit of Halloween and a wonderful way to spend a fall afternoon. But be forewarned — for some strange reason, you’ll exit the theater having a craving for toast! Meet the cast in the lobby for photos on your way out.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “A Kooky Spooky Halloween” on Oct. 14, 21 and 28 at 11 a.m. and Oct. 22 at 3 p.m. with a sensory-sensitive performance on Oct. 15 at 11 a.m. Running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes with one intermission, and Halloween costumes are encouraged.

Children’s Theatre will continue with everyone’s holiday favorite, “Barnaby Saves Christmas,” from Nov. 24 to Dec. 30 and “Rapunzel — The Untold Story” from Jan. 20 to Feb. 24. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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

TracyLynn Conner and Brian Gill in a scene from 'The Bridges of Madison County'

By Michael Tessler

You know you’ve seen an incredible production when you find yourself pondering your own life and place in the universe after exiting the theater. That was the case last Sunday afternoon after attending a production of “The Bridges of Madison County” at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson.

TracyLynn Conner and Brian Gill with the cast from ‘The Bridges of Madison County’

Based on the award-winning novel by Robert James Walker and the beloved film starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, this musical adaptation has a score worthy of Broadway, and Theatre Three provides a cast equally deserving of that designation.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, this is an unconventional love story. Not cliched but brutally honest and so refreshingly human.

As not to spoil much, we meet our protagonist Francesca, an Italian refugee fleeing a war-torn Italy and a life she’s ready to leave behind. To accomplish this she marries Bud Johnson, a simple-minded but well-meaning American soldier who left life on the farm to serve his country. Both travel back to the United States where they build a home and a beautiful family. Their son Michael doesn’t want to live the life of a farmer like his father; their daughter Carolyn, however, embraces it as she trains an award-winning steer for the annual state fair.

Francesca, lovingly called Fran by her husband, longs for the life she dreamed of as a little girl. She feels it is far too late to begin anew, and while there is food on the table, there’s no money for her to visit her home in Italy and the life she left behind. So she settles for a life as a farmer’s wife, trying to find contentment packing lunches.

From left, Marissa Girgus, Dennis Creighton, Steve McCoy, TracyLynn Conner, Matthew Rafanelli and Ella Watts in a scene from ‘The Bridges of Madison County’

Everything changes for Fran when her husband and children take a trip to the state fair. She gets a rare opportunity to breathe and relax. That is until a beat up pickup truck rolls into her driveway and with it the arrival of Robert Kincaid — a professional photographer from National Geographic putting together a photo series on bridges throughout the United States. He’s lost and needs some directions. He’s well-traveled, having just recently visited Italy and having seen every corner of the globe. Fran invites him into her home and, by extension, her life. Thus her world changes forever.

Though I won’t spoil the rest, the show is a real treat. You’ll feel just about every emotion in the book in this two-act musical. Once again Jeffrey Sanzel shines as a director capable of any genre. His unique vision can make a timeless story feel brand new again.

Undoubtedly some lines are picked up directly from the book and film adaptation, but Sanzel’s production takes you for a ride in that worn down pickup truck. You get a glimpse into someone’s world, and that’s a beautiful thing. Sanzel guides his incredibly talented cast, making it impossible not to feel for these characters. I found myself so invested in characters who managed to emote so much in such a short time. Sanzel has no problem setting the bar higher and higher with each passing performance.

This show’s phenomenal cast certainly made his job easier though! Leading the production is the show’s star, TracyLynn Conner who portrays Francesca. First off, her accent is marvelous and never breaks even once. Her voice is one of the finest I’ve ever heard on a stage. Operatic, emotional and just so beautiful to listen to.

Much credit goes to Jeffrey Hoffman who handled the show’s musical direction and turned this small cast into an incredible musical ensemble.

Matthew Rafanelli and Ella Watts

Fran’s husband Bud is played by Dennis Creighton, who really captures the essence of the character and shows his musical tenor in the show’s second act and final number. He’s accompanied by two incredible young actors — Ella Watts as their daughter Carolyn and Matthew Rafanelli as her bookish brother, Michael. I was particularly impressed with Watts. This former star of NBC’s “The Sound of Music Live!” has a voice so incredibly refined that you wish she had even more time on stage. Rafanelli really shines in his role and you’ll find yourself constantly rooting for him and his dreams and flashing back to your own childhood sibling drama. No doubt we’ll be seeing both actors on stage many times in the future!

Theatre Three veteran and Bryan Cranston look alike Steve McCoy remains one of my favorite company members. He plays Charlie — the friendly, simpleton neighbor of the Johnsons and provides comic relief throughout some of the show’s tougher moments. His wife Marge provides nonstop laughter followed by some incredibly endearing scenes. She is portrayed by the incredibly talented Amy Wodon Huben.

Brian Gill’s low and powerful voice brings Robert Kincaid, the world traveling photographer to life. His duets with Conner are some of the highlights of the show. His personality is infectious and translates beautifully on stage.

Last, though certainly not least, is the incredibly diversified performances of Marissa Girgus who plays not one but over four roles. She steps into each of them flawlessly, creating performances both touching and comedic. I felt all sorts of emotions during her nothing short of groovy performance of “Another Life.”

Being a smaller cast, you can get a sense that each character was crafted to perfection not just by the actors but by their director. They feel so real and so dynamic, which is exceptional as several actors play multiple roles … something that usually takes you out of an experience but now suddenly enhances it.

Brian Gill and TracyLynn Conner

My favorite part of the show (outside of its cast) was its unique score, which combines two radically different genres to make something genuinely unique. Strings played as though from the Italian countryside, harrowing and haunting — a reminder of an old world, an abandoned life combined with the lively sound of the great American Midwest, and the wholehearted lifestyle of the American farmer. For a brief moment these sounds clash into something unique and unforgettable.

This may be one of the most beautiful sets I’ve seen at Theatre Three. Randall Parsons transports you to the great American Midwest. Robert W. Henderson Jr., the show’s lighting designer, ensures the light breaks through the barn wood in spectacular ways. One can’t help but feel nostalgic when looking at the kitchen they designed as well.

From top to bottom this show is local theater at its finest. Provoking several audible gasps from the audience followed by thunderous rounds of applause, “The Bridges of Madison County” is something you wish you could photograph and treasure forever.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Bridges of Madison County” on the Mainstage through Oct. 28. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 ages 5 to 12. Children under 5 not permitted. Contains adult subject matter. Parental discretion is advised.

A special event, “Behind the Curtain with ‘The Bridges of Madison County’” will be held on Oct. 22. Join Director Jeffrey Sanzel, musical director Jeffrey Hoffman and actor TracyLynn Conner for a freewheeling exploration of this powerful contemporary musical. The full buffet supper and talk will begin at 5 p.m. $30 per person. The event will be followed by the Mainstage performance of “The Bridges of Madison County” at 7 p.m. Tickets for the performance may be purchased separately.

For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

From left, Susan Emory, Michaela Catapano, Mark Jackett and Debbie D'Amore in a scene from 'The Frog Prince.'

By Heidi Sutton

There’s a whole lot of hopping going on at Theatre Three this week as its Children’s Theatre presents an original musical retelling of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale, “The Frog Prince.” Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin F. Story, the show teaches us to not judge a book by its cover and to “open yourself up and wonderful things will happen.”

Above, the cast of ‘The Frog Prince’

The swamp in the kingdom of King Tarvin is filling up with more frogs every day, much to the dismay of the Frog King. Turns out The Enchantress Livia and her sister, The Enchantress Aurora, are responsible for the sudden overpopulation, transforming everyone who crosses them into a clammy amphibian, even the dry cleaner!

When the pompous Prince Darnay of Caversham refuses to give Aurora, who is disguised as a beggar woman, some water, he meets the same fate as the others and is turned into the Frog Prince. His servant, Squire Tweel, takes him to the swamp to meet the Frog King and try to break the spell.

The Frog King introduces him to the shy and independent Princess Madrigal, who prefers to keep to herself. When she accidently drops a gold ball into a pond, the Frog Prince retrieves it for her and the two become fast friends. Will she be the one to break the magic spell and turn him into a prince again with a kiss or will he have to eat flies for the rest of his life?

Directed by Sanzel, the show is nothing short of adorable and packed with enough frog jokes to last a whole month!

From left, Ginger Dalton, Steve Uihlein and Aria Saltini in a scene from ‘The Frog Prince’

Matt Hoffman, last seen in the role of Aladdin, is terrific in the dual role of Prince Darnay and the Frog Prince. His transformation from a spoiled brat to a sweet prince is remarkable. Newcomer Michaela Catapano shines as Princess Madrigal and her rendition of “Babble Chatter Prattle” is magical. Steve Uihlein is the quintessential Frog King, and plays his warty role to the fullest. Aria Saltini and Ginger Dalton make a great team as The Enchantresses and also serve as narrators to the story, which is a nice touch. Meg Bush is delightful in the role of Squire Tweel who can’t help but poke a little fun at her master’s webby predicament (“Yes, your Greenship!”).

Mark Jackett (King Tarvin), Susan Emory (Queen Cecile) and Debbie D’Amore as Princess Madrigal’s nanny are a solid supporting cast. The production is further enhanced by the addition of 34 talented students from the theater’s summer acting workshops, who serve as royal princesses, pages, citizens, townspeople, frogs and party guests.

Matthew Hoffman and Michaela Catapano in scene from ‘The Frog Prince’

The musical numbers, accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, are fun and hip with special mention to the solo “Not Heard and Not Seen” by Hoffman, “Life Couldn’t Be Better” by the Frog King & the Frogs and “Warts and All” by the entire company. Costumes by Teresa Matteson from the royal garbs to the green frog costumes are exceptional, and Sari Feldman’s choreography is first rate.

From the play itself to casting and crew, every aspect is aimed at providing a magical theatrical experience for children, and this wonderful production hits the mark. Meet the main cast in the lobby for photos after the show.

Running time is approximately one hour and 15 minutes with one intermission. Booster seats are available.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Frog Prince” on Aug. 11 at 11 a.m. and Aug. 12 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Children’s Theatre will continue with a brand new musical, “A Kooky Spooky Halloween,” from Oct. 7 to 28 and everyone’s holiday favorite, “Barnaby Saves Christmas,” from Nov. 24 to Dec. 30. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The entire company

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

Filming the Battle of Long Island scene at Benner's Farm. Photo by Michael Pawluk

By Jenna Lennon

History came to life on Long Island this summer with the production of TBR News Media’s first feature-length film, “One Life to Give,” which paints a picture of the events leading up to the formation of America’s first band of spies, the Culper Spy Ring.

The Culper Spy Ring was organized by Benjamin Tallmadge under orders from General George Washington in the summer of 1778. Tallmadge recruited a group of men and women he could trust in Setauket and, for the remaining years of the war, collected information regarding British troop formations, movements and plans.

The spy ring became the most successful intelligence group on either side of the war during the course of the Revolution. Its existence was unknown to the public until the 1930s when Long Island historian Morton Pennypacker analyzed handwritten letters to Washington and discovered that Robert Townsend and Samuel Culper Jr. were, in fact, the same person.

A battle scene shot at Benner’s Farm. Photo by Michael Pawluk

Based on these true events, “One Life to Give” follows Tallmadge (Dave Morrissey Jr.) and Nathan Hale (Hans Paul Hendrickson) in the early stages of the war and plays off of the speculation that Hale’s famous last words, “My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country,” were inspired by Joseph Addison’s “Cato, a Tragedy.”

“Tallmadge and Hale are both very motivated individuals. They graduated from Yale at the same time in 1773, and they are good friends. They’re schoolmates and they spent a whole bunch of time at Yale together, but they are very different,” said director, Benji Dunaief, an incoming junior at Emerson College in Boston. “In a lot of ways, they are kind of yin and yang. They’re opposites and opposites that attract and opposites that ultimately prove to be the pieces that transpired into the Culper Spy Ring,” he said.

Colonel John Chester (Jonathan Rabeno), a fellow Yale graduate along with Hale and Tallmadge, tasks Tallmadge with the duty of convincing Hale, who has enlisted in his local militia, to actively join the cause.

“I play Colonel John Chester. He’s from Connecticut. He went to Yale, and he’s friends with Benjamin Tallmadge and Nathan Hale,” Rabeno said. “He kind of acts as a recruiter for getting them involved more in the cause. … so this is really right in the beginning stages of it.”

Cast and crew gather around a camera to view playback. Photo by Michael Pawluk

Hale not only enlists, but eventually is Washington’s (David Gianopoulos) first volunteer to go behind enemy lines and gather British intelligence. Soon after, Hale is captured by Robert Rogers (George Overin), and General William Howe (Jeffrey Sanzel) sentences him to death for committing acts of espionage.

With the motivation of the loss of one of his dearest friends and his brother, William (Aaron Johnson), Tallmadge and Washington form the Culper Spy Ring. “This is a guy who experienced something very traumatic when his brother William died, and it changed the course of history. He took that energy, and he inspirationally manifested it into something so incredibly positive for all of us that we are all benefitting from today,” Morrissey said.

He continues, “As someone who’s brother has died who is also named Will, this was an inspiration for me to be able to hopefully manifest it into something that other people will benefit from in the future. That’s why this is so important for me. I loved working on this film, and I am never going to forget this ever. This one’s for you, Will.”

The producer of “One Life to Give,” TBR’s director of media productions Michael Tessler, grew up “with Setauket in my backyard” and has always had a fascination with Revolutionary War history. “I’m grateful that historians, authors, and film producers have finally brought the narrative of the Culper Spy Ring to life. This history remained elusive for so many years and has evolved from local lore into a spectacular chapter of our founding story,” said Tessler.

Above,the Continental Army shoots off a cannon at Benner’s Farm. Photo by Michael Pawluk

“As a lover of history, the question that kept me up at night and acted as the muse for this piece is simply what tragedies had to occur that would cause the heroes of the Culper Spy Ring to risk everything? Digging into textbooks, letters and the memoir of Benjamin Tallmadge, it became apparent to me that there was an important story to tell, one too often forgotten in the annals of history,” he said, adding “When all is said and done, this is the story of two best friends who saved the Revolution and changed the course of human events.”

While working to write and produce their first feature film beginning in March, Dunaief and Tessler were also tasked with finding a talented cast, a passionate crew and period-appropriate locations where they could tell this story.

“Everyone on the crew I’ve either worked with, somebody on the crew had worked with, or we had just heard really good things about,” Dunaief said.

“I think I wouldn’t do it any other way. We had 12 people on our crew to make a feature film in 16 days. That’s like bare bones. That’s like barer than bare bones. But the fact that everybody was doing two or three jobs at the same time, everyone was pulling their weight and more by a lot really speaks volumes about the kind of people that we had on the crew and had it been a different group of people, I really don’t think we would have been able to finish,” said Dunaief.

Benji Dunaief, left, directs a scene at the Caroline Church of Brookhaven with actor Dave Morrissey Jr. Photo by Jenna Lennon

“We had the most phenomenal cast, crew and community behind us. All of our locations are genuine historic properties beautifully preserved by local organizations — places these heroes actually lived, worked and played. That’s a benefit not afforded to those using sound stages in Hollywood,” Tessler said.

Filming took place over the course of 16 days at many local historic locations including the Caroline Church of Brookhaven, the Sherwood-Jayne House and the Thompson House in Setauket along with the William Miller House in Miller Place.

Scenes were also shot on location at Port Jefferson’s East Beach and Benner’s Farm in Setauket, where a trench with palisades, a fort and nearly 100 reenactors, acting as both Continental and British troops, staged the Battle at Bedford Pass.

“Though exhausting, this was the most rewarding experience of my professional career. Waking up after sleeping in Washington’s marquee tent and seeing a trench, palisades, cannon and an actual Continental Army was just an indescribable experience,” Tessler said.

“This happens to be a local story, but it’s a great story, and it’s a story worth telling,” Dunaief said. “You don’t come across a story like this every day that’s as powerful, as meaningful, as patriotic. There have been so many movies that have been made that have glorified the Revolution, that have taken insane liberties and basically just use it as a backdrop for their own narratives,” he said. “But this is a film that truly pays homage and respect to real people who lived and died for our country, and I think it’s an incredibly important story.”

“One Life to Give” is scheduled to premiere on Sept. 22, the 241st anniversary of Nathan Hale’s execution.

Above, the cast of ‘Aladdin and the Lamp’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

The story of Aladdin is one of the most well-known Middle Eastern stories from the “One Thousand and One Nights” collection of folk tales, also known as “The Arabian Nights” collection. Along with “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves” and “Sinbad the Sailor,” it features a young hero who has to learn an important life lesson. Throughout the month of July, Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre presents an original musical retelling of the classic rags-to-riches fable that the whole family will enjoy.

Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin F. Story, “Aladdin and the Lamp” tells the story of Aladdin (Matt Hoffman) whose widowed mother (Elizabeth Ladd) works three jobs while he chooses to skip school and sleep the day away. One morning an evil wizard (Steven Uihlein), pretending to be Aladdin’s long lost rich uncle, appears and convinces the boy to help him retrieve an old lamp from a narrow, dark tunnel. When Aladdin refuses to hand over the lamp without being helped out of the tunnel first, the wizard and his evil sister Marjana (Susan Emory) close up the entrance and abandon the boy.

Matt Hoffman and Bobby Montaniz in a scene from ‘Aladdin and the Lamp’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Alone in the dark, Aladdin starts rubbing the lamp to shine it up and unwittingly releases a genie (Bobby Montaniz) who has magic powers and is able to grant any wish. What luck! With the genie’s help, Aladdin becomes rich, marries the Princess Sharazad (Aria Saltini), moves into his mother-in-law Sultana Fial-Kamar’s (Ginger Dalton) castle with his mother and lives happily ever after. Or does he?

Directed by Sanzel, the adult cast of eight does an excellent job conveying the story, with a special nod to Montaniz, whose portrayal of the Genie, which is reminiscent of Robin Williams, steals the show and quickly becomes an audience favorite, in part because of the clever script. “You can make me rich?” asks Aladdin. “So rich they’ll think you’re a Kardashian!” laughs the Genie. When Aladdin asks the Sultana for her daughter’s hand in marriage, the Genie quips, “Why don’t you ask for the rest of her?” Ba-Dum Tshh!

The songs, accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, are fresh and fun, especially the duet “Cheat! Lie! Steal!” with Uihlein and Emory, “Make a Wish” by Hoffman and Montaniz, “Me for Me” with Saltini, Dalton and Kayla Jones (in the role of Dunyazad the handmaiden) and “Happy Ending — Not Yet!” performed by the entire company. Costumes by Teresa Matteson are spot on, from Aladdin’s fez to the Genie’s turban, and choreography by Bobby Montaniz ties in to the Arabian theme perfectly. Utilizing the trap door on stage as the entrance to the tunnel is a nice touch. Special effects, courtesy of the Genie, just add to the magic of the afternoon.

Running time is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes with one intermission. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Aladdin and the Lamp” through July 29. The season will continue with “The Frog Prince” from Aug. 4 to 12 and “A Kooky Spooky Halloween” from Oct. 7 to 28. All seats are $10. For reservations, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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