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Jeffrey Sanzel

The three little kittens

By Heidi Sutton

What do three crooning kittens, a droll dog, a rascally rabbit and a pushover penguin have in common? They all want to be on the radio in Theatre Three’s latest children’s theater treat, “The Three Little Kittens.”  

The cast of ‘The Three Little Kittens’

Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin Story, the musical, which was last presented in 2013,  incorporates the beloved Mother Goose nursery rhyme but goes beyond losing the mittens, finding the mittens, eating pie, soiling and then washing the mittens and then the big finale, eating more pie. These kittens want more — they have hopes and dreams, don’t you know. In other words, this production is too cute for words.

Lucy, Ricky and Ethel Whiska aspire to become a singing trio on the radio while their neighbor Barker Doggone, who keeps losing his collar, etc. dreams of becoming a stand-up comic. Their favorite radio show is “The Bonanza Hour” on WPET Radio with Harry Hoppit, a white rabbit who was made famous by radio penguin Waddles Greenway but has let success go to his head. “I’m Harry Hoppit – be impressed” he tells his adoring fans.

Barker and Mama Doggone

When Mother Whiska and Mama Doggone bring home a flyer from the radio station announcing open auditions, the kittens and pup jump at the chance. Will they be able to turn their dreams into reality or will Harry Hoppit’s jealousy get in the way?

Directed by Sanzel, the nine-member cast embrace the clever script and do an incredible job. Each character’s personality is bold and distinct and perfectly executed.

Michelle LaBozzetta as Lucy, Eric J. Hughes as Ricky and Emily Gates as Ethel shine as the Whiska kittens while Steven Uihlein as Barker the dog steals the show with his funny jokes and wit. His constant distractions – “Squirrel!” – are doggone hilarious and the young audience during last Sunday’s performance couldn’t get enough. Their group number, “Dogs and Cats Like You and Me,” is a personal favorite.

Brielle Levenberg and Ginger Dalton as the moms make a great team, pretending not to like each other in front of others “out of tradition,” but are secretly the best of friends while Douglas J. Quattrock juggles the role of radio producer and providing piano accompaniment with ease (great accent!).

Harry Hoppit and Waddles Greenway

Andrew Lenahan plays the role of antagonist Harry Hoppit to a tee and has the best lines. “What can I say but me, me, me.” Beautifully delivered, Lenahan’s solo, “Looking Out for Number One,” perfectly describes the rabbit’s agenda. “… So if I ruffle some feathers and pull on some tails, what does it matter if others fail?” Don’t worry – he gets his comeuppance.

The strongest performance comes from Nicole Bianco who tackles the difficult role of Waddles Greenway the penguin with aplomb. Mercilessly bullied by Harry Hoppit, the hapless bird holds her own and treats the audience to a wonderful tap dance number, “The One and Only,” in the second act.

The entire production has a nostalgic 1940s feel and pays homage to the Golden Age of Radio. With the ultimate message that friendship is the greatest bond and that dreams really can come true, “The Three Little Kittens” is purrfectly adorable. Don’t miss it. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents “The Three Little Kittens” through March 23. All seats are $10. Children’s theater continues with “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” from April 12 to 27 and a Mainstage production of “The Wizard of Oz” (call for ticket prices) from May 18 to June 22. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

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

By Heidi Sutton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A scene from Theatre Three’s ‘From the Fires’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Sabrina Petroski

“Just another body for the ovens.” Haunting, isn’t it? This sentence comes from Theatre Three’s educational touring show “From the Fires: Voices of the Holocaust.” This play, the story of two young Jewish girls living through the reign of Hitler and the persecution of the Jewish people, has been presented in schools and community centers across the tristate area, going as far south as Washington and Virginia, and as far north as Richmond Hill, outside of Toronto, Canada. 

“From the Fires” was written by Jeffrey Sanzel, the executive artistic director of Theatre Three in Port Jefferson and has been touring since 1996. According to Sanzel, he has always been passionate about the Holocaust and making sure the atrocious events of the past never disappear.

The cast

Nicole Bianco

Marci Bing

Michelle LaBozzetta

Douglas J. Quattrock

Jeffrey Sanzel

Steven Uihlein

Theatre Three was looking for a new show for its educational program, Sanzel began searching for a show within the topic of the Holocaust, but none of them seemed right. Eventually, he decided to write one, immersing himself in research, finding survivors to interview and spending three days at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. After five months of writing, the cast, including Sanzel, went into rehearsal with an unfinished script, which was edited and rewritten over the six weeks of rehearsal.

“‘From the Fires’ has had an amazing response,” said Sanzel in a recent interview. “If it hadn’t we wouldn’t still be touring it this many years later! There has been an incredibly positive reaction.” 

According to Sanzel, there are many schools, synagogues, churches and community centers all over Long Island that book the show every year or every other year. Michael Serif, a history teacher at Friends Academy in Locust Valley, first experienced “From the Fires” at Seaford High School in 2001. Since then, Serif has requested to bring the 40-minute play to every school he has worked in, including Locust Valley High School and Friends Academy. The theatrical piece is performed for grades 6 to 12.

“I’ve seen the play probably close to a dozen times in several different schools, and every time when the show is complete you can hear a pin drop in the audience,” said Serif in a phone interview. “The kids are so very deeply affected by the play.”

“From the Fires” depicts the Holocaust through the eyes of Rachel and Evy, two young girls from Berlin who grew up watching the world turn from a peaceful place to a place where people are ripped from their homes and murdered because of their religion. 

John S. D’Aquila served as a medic in the 11th Armored Division during World War II, under Gen. Patton and was a witness to the horrors of the death camp at Mauthausen as a member of the liberating force. File photo

It begins with the liberation of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in 1945 by a young soldier, then flashes back to 1937 where the audience sees Rachel, Rachel’s father and Evy go through all the changes in the laws and their lives; Rachel’s father losing his business, Rachel and her father going into hiding; Rachel, Evy and Rachel’s father being deported; Rachel’s father being killed in a gas chamber; and Rachel carrying Evy through the hardships they experience at the concentration camp. Sanzel says that having the story told by two young girls resonates more with younger viewers.

“One comment that a teacher made to their students was that part of the play’s power was that it reminds you that the people who went through this were just like you,” said Sanzel. 

“The kids in the audience can see themselves in Rachel and Evy. Any survivors they would have met would be in their eighties and nineties, and they don’t think of them as themselves. ‘From the Fires’ puts it in perspective; it follows two kids who could be any two kids, and it gives it that universal connection.” 

The play has a small cast, with each actor portraying up to half a dozen roles throughout the show, and keeps to a minimalistic set. A very important part of the show, according to Sanzel, is how the gradual change in the laws is shown. 

“From the Fires” is meant for young audiences so there is no graphic content shown on stage. “You get to see their day-to-day lives, the change in the laws, and then of course the concentration camp,” said Sanzel. “It’s all an emotional appeal. There’s nothing graphic in the play so it’s angled to be watched from that standpoint. On stage you can’t really re-create the horrors of the Holocaust, so we emphasize the personal — the personal losses, the personal survival.”

‘Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and that’s why it’s so important to keep teaching it. ‘

­— Jeffrey Sanzel

“From the Fires” is a work of historical fiction, one character is based on a real person. In May of 1945, Army medic John D’Aquila aided in the liberation of the Nazi death camp in Mauthausen, Austria. D’Aquila, a Theatre Three board member at the time the play was being created, was the inspiration for the American soldier who provides the framing device. While Sanzel was researching and writing the play, D’Aquila shared his personal experience, voicing things he had never said before.

“It was the first time he had ever spoken about his experience of liberating the camp because they were told when they went home not to talk about it, just to go back to their lives” said Sanzel. “He became the basis for the American soldier that opens and closes the show, and over the years [D’Aquila] would come to many of the road performances and in-house shows to speak. It became a passion for him to be connected to this because it was cathartic.” A resident of Belle Terre, D’Aquila passed away in 2014 at the age of 91.

After every performance the cast holds a Q&A, where the audience can ask questions about the performance, about the cast or about the Holocaust in general. Sanzel said that the questions he hears the most are, “Are you Jewish?” and “Did this actually happen?” 

“From the Fires” opens doors to educating younger generations that reading from a textbook doesn’t. According to Serif, many of the history and English teachers within Friends Academy take the play and use it as a teaching opportunity, talking about it in class for days after and even referring back to it throughout the rest of the year. 

“The children often ask complicated questions, so we give them our best answer and then encourage them to go back to their classes and talk about it in more detail,” explained Sanzel. 

According to Sanzel, there are two main reasons he does the show. The first is to keep this event in history alive, so after those that experienced it firsthand are gone the stories don’t disappear with them. The second is to teach kids that they can stop things like the Holocaust from happening again. It all boils down to bullying, seeing someone being harassed and choosing to say something instead of sitting idly by while it happens, or even joining in. The Holocaust was made up of people joining in or ignoring the bad things because it didn’t personally affect them.  

“There’s a danger in people thinking of history as ‘back then,’ that’s how we begin to let go of things and we can’t,” said Sanzel. “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and that’s why it’s so important to keep teaching it.”

For more information or to book a performance, contact Theatre Three’s touring coordinator Marci Bing at 631-928-9202 or Marci@theatrethree.com.

By Heidi Sutton

In Theatre Three’s latest children’s show, the audience is invited to enter the magical world of “Jack & the Beanstalk” or “The Boy Who Cried Giant!” Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin F. Story, the musical combines the classic English fairy tale with the well-known fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” to produce a most entertaining afternoon.

Jack (Eric J. Hughes) lives with his mother (Ginger Dalton) and his best friend Filpail the Cow (Nicole Bianco). Although he is a nice boy, Jack tends to exaggerate and has told so many tall tales that no one believes him anymore. “Someday your stories are going to get you in trouble,” warns his mother. Jack also receives a visit from the Fairy Mary Goodwing (Michelle LaBozzetta) who tries to convince him to “always tell the truth and you will be true to yourself.”

One day his mother tells him that they have no other choice than to sell Filpail to Butcher Blackstone (Steven Uihlein). On the way to the market Jack and his cow bump into two gypsies, Marco and Margot (Andrew Lenahan and Brielle Levenberg), who claim they want to buy Filpail for “cowpanionship” and trick Jack into trading her for some magic beans.

Jack’s mother is furious when she finds out what happened and throws the beans away. A giant beanstalk suddenly appears, and when Jack climbs it he discovers a castle in the sky occupied by a cranky giant, the giant’s wife (Suzie Dunn), a golden harp and a hen that lays golden eggs. But with Jack’s poor track record, will anyone believe him?

Under the direction of Jeffrey Sanzel, an energetic cast of eight adult actors play multiple roles during this thrilling adventure. From the first musical number, “Ballad of Jack’s Device/Song of Boasting,” accompanied on piano by Douglas Quattrock, you know you’re in for a fun treat.

Costume designers Teresa Matteson and Toni St. John have outdone themselves this time with colorful outfits; “giant” props, including a three-foot-long sneaker; and a beanstalk that magically grows all the way to the ceiling. The creative and polished choreography by Nicole Bianco pulls it all together nicely.

Come in out of the cold and warm up with the magic of “Jack & the Beanstalk!” Audiences of all ages will love this wonderful show. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos. 

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Jack & the Beanstalk” through Feb. 23. Children’s Theatre continues with “The Three Little Kittens” from March 2 to 23 and “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” from April 13 to 27. All seats are $10. For more information or to order, call 928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Daniel Dunaief

Brian Hoerger saw the doors bowing inward. A deluge of about 4 inches of rain in an hour or so in Port Jefferson on Sept. 25 sent a river of water toward Theatre Three, which was holding auditions for “A Christmas Carol” and was preparing to share “The Addams Family” a few days later.

Brian Hoerger in front of Theatre Three

The doors and nearby windows were no match for water that came flooding in, submerging a lighting board, damaging props and leaving tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

Hoerger, the facilities manager at the theater founded in 1969, sprang into action, salvaging what he could, removing what was unrecoverable and stabilizing the situation enough that he could leave around midnight and return six hours later to continue the cleanup effort.

To hear his friends tell it, Hoerger’s response, which included coordinating more than 50 volunteers and prioritizing a way to get the theater back in action just a few days later, is typical of a man committed to the community.

Hoerger has “an unparalleled devotion to helping others,” said Mollie Adler, who attended high school in Port Jefferson with him. “He’s always been extraordinarily helpful.”

In response to the devastating water in the building, Hoerger “worked nonstop,” said Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director of Theatre Three. “He was physically cleaning, he was supervising the things that had to be thrown out and he was dealing with a lot of the main stage electrical stuff.”

Margot Garant, mayor of Port Jefferson, recalled how she and Hoerger were “knee deep in the water,” and that he “goes above and beyond” with his lighting expertise.

“You call him, and he’s always there for you,” she said.

Hoerger was involved in setting up the rental for the replacement of the dimmer rack, which provides the stage lighting.

“He put the theater first, and he put the needs of the staff and the cast that was running in ‘The Addams Family’ first,” Sanzel said. “He stayed positive the whole time. He was always available.”

Hoerger wasn’t involved in much theater. A friend from when the two of them were 5, Eric Cherches, who was then a board member at Theatre Three, suggested that Hoerger give the theater a chance when he returned to Long Island in 2014.

Hoerger said he was hooked, especially by the production of “Sweeney Todd.”

“It was a great show, and the talent was amazing,” recalled Hoerger, who has helped with lighting, carpentry and building sets. While the Theatre Three cast and crew appreciate all he does to support them, he has also built up a reputation as a cook.

Beyond his work with Theatre Three, Hoerger has contributed in numerous other ways.

He pitches in with prom decorations.

The downstairs of Theatre Three after the flash flood. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Little kids will accompany their parents to work on the prom for older siblings or cousins,” said Cherches, a lawyer at the Law Offices of Eric D. Cherches in Port Jefferson. “Everybody knows [Hoerger]. He has a way of making everybody a friend.”

Hoerger has been helpful to Adler, who has had three surgeries for breast cancer and is a single mom dealing with significant financial challenges.

“My house was falling apart,” Adler said. “He helped organize a group of guys we went to school with” to come repair holes in the deck, to paint her door and to repair other problems.

Adler bakes Miss Mollie’s Brownies to support herself and her family. Hoerger brought her brownies into Theatre Three, which shares in the profits for the baked goods.

In addition to the many roles Hoerger has played at Theatre Three, which also include serving as a photographer, the organization has offered him a chance to stand in front of the lights he ensures are working. Sanzel asked Hoerger if he’d be willing to play the role of Mr. Fusco, the hardware store owner in “Saturday Night Fever.”

“That’s not my thing,” Hoerger said. “I enjoy watching the shows and being behind the scenes.”

Hoerger’s colleagues at Theatre Three appreciate his preparation and contributions in the moments when torrential rains don’t hit.

“Any time there’s a chance of heavy rain, he is out there with his pump and hoses snaked around the parking lot,” said Vivian Koutrakos, managing director at Theatre Three. “I’m more impressed with that” in those moments “when we’re not calling on the world to come help us.”

Bringing his childhood friend to the group was “the best thing I did during my almost 10 years on the board,” Cherches said.

Jude Law and Eddie Redmayne star in ‘Fantastic Beasts 2.’ Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers

By Jeffrey Sanzel

The thirty minutes prior to seeing “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” were taken up with trailers for movies that were almost exclusively CGI. One film after another displayed a visual and auditory assault of effects. This was an appropriate herald to the main attraction.

The latest addition to the Potterverse is a hodgepodge of characters too numerous to mention — and, in the case of the script — too numerous to develop. Several plots (and what seems like myriad subplots) wander around the two hours and fourteen minutes of playing time.

Eddie Redmayne in a scene from the movie. Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers

Vaguely at the center is Eddie Redmayne, returning from the first film, as Newt Scamander, an expert in exotic magical creatures.  Redmayne has created a character that mumbles and meanders his way through the story to the point where the audience wants to scream  “Please make eye contact with anyone!”

The first film, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” had a benign whimsy with dark edges. The newest entry is basically a mess of hidden secrets and a very frightening look at fascism through the actions of the titular villain (played by Johnny Depp, alternating restraint and scenery-chewing) as a budding Hitler — complete with a chilling nod to the Nuremberg Rally.

There are other villains and half-villains; there are holdovers from the first film; and there are new characters with shifting or surprising allegiances. In short, there are just too many characters. This would all be well and good if the movie had a modicum of charm. It plods, alternating between grand effects and brooding close-ups.

Director David Yates has directed much of the film like it’s ready to be the newest ride at Universal’s theme park.  Visually, it is stunning and the designs are striking but the center is hollow. There is a lack of depth and the actors are left to play with little-to-no dimension. 

Sadly, blame must go to Potter creator J.K. Rowling, who is credited with the screenplay.  The Harry Potter books are works that will endure as great literature. The world Rowling created was populated with people whom we grew to know, care about, and, ultimately, love.  There was honesty and humor, and, most importantly, humanity.   

Unfortunately, she brings very little of this here and seems to contradict or reinvent elements that were part of and at the heart of the series. Even the glimpses of Hogwarts and Jude Law’s Dumbledore seem foreign in this setting.

Finally, we are left with what feels like a very long set-up to the next film. Rowling has announced that there are three more films to come. We can only hope that she finds the magic that was so lacking in this sophomore outing.

Rated PG-13, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindenwald” is now playing in local theaters

By Heidi Sutton

Barnaby, Santa and Franklynne in a scene from the show.

This weekend the Village of Port Jefferson will celebrate its 23rd annual Charles Dickens Festival. Among the many events to attend this year will be Theatre Three’s production of “Barnaby Saves Christmas.” Written 15 years ago by Douglas Quattrock and Jeffrey Sanzel, the adorable musical, with its wonderful score and dance numbers, is the perfect way for families with young children to kick off the holiday season.

It’s Christmas Eve at the North Pole and Barnaby, the smallest elf in Elf School, is busy making a toy that Santa requested — a little stuffed bear with dark blue pants, buckles on his shoes and a bright yellow vest. When he realizes that Santa has left without it, he enlists the help of Franklynne, the littlest reindeer, to track down Santa and give the toy to him.

S.B. Dombulbury is up to his old tricks again!

During their adventures they meet Sarah and Andrew who teach them about Hanukkah and the Festival of Lights. They also bump into the sneaky S.B. Dombulbury and his henchperson Irma who are trying to ruin Christmas by stuffing all the chimneys with coal.

As director, Sanzel has assembled an outstanding cast to convey the story.

Eric Hughes returns for his third year as Barnaby, perfectly capturing his character as just wanting to fit in, and Michelle LaBozzetta tackles the role of Franklynne (It’s spelled with two n’s and a y — that makes it a girl’s name!) with just the right amount of spunkiness one would expect from a flying fawn. Andrew Lenahan is incredible in the dual role of Santa and Andrew, and Ginger Dalton is charming as both a slightly confused Mrs. Claus and Sarah.

Nicole Bianco and K.D. Guadagno play Crystal and Blizzard, two of Santa’s elves who are constantly hypnotized by S.B. Dombulbury to help him carry out his evil plan and at one point chase Barnaby and Franklynne through the audience like zombies in one of the funniest moments in the show. As a special treat, Jason Furnari, who originated the role of Barnaby, plays Sam the stressed-out head elf. However, it is the comedy tag team of Steven Uihlein as S.B. (spoiled brat) Dombulbury and Dana Bush as Irma that steal the show with their many antics. Their journey to redemption is heartfelt.

Santa’s elves, Barnaby, Sam, Blizzard and Crystal

The nine songs, accompanied by Quattrock on piano, are delightful, with special mention to “Miracles” and “Within Our Hearts.” The costumes, designed by Teresa Matteson and Toni St. John, are fun and festive as is the choreography by Bianco, and the special effects through the use of lighting is magical.

With the underlying message to “be the very best you can be,” “Barnaby Saves Christmas” is a beautiful story of hope, miracles and love. Don’t miss this one.

Souvenir elf and reindeer dolls will be available for purchase during intermission. Stay after the show for a photo with Santa Claus if you wish — the $5 fee goes to support the theater’s scholarship fund — and meet the rest of the cast in the lobby. Running time is one hour and 10 minutes with one intermission. Booster seats are available.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Barnaby Saves Christmas” through Dec. 29. Children’s theater continues with “Jack & the Beanstalk” from Jan. 19 to Feb. 23. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“Not to brag (well, this is my story, so I guess if I’m going to brag, this is the place to do it, right?) but my house is the most beautiful, most magical, most jaw-droppingly fabulous place in the world …”

So begins Jenna Gavigan’s charming young adult novel “Lulu the Broadway Mouse,” appropriately subtitled “Tiny Dreamer. Big Dream.” And what is the protagonist’s house? It is the Shubert Theatre, located at 225 West 44th Street in New York City. Here is where the sassy young mouse and her family work and reside.

Jenna Gavigan

Gavigan made her Broadway debut as a teenager in the 2003 “Gypsy” revival, which starred Bernadette Peters. It is clear that Lulu is both a celebration of the author’s experience as well as a peek behind the curtain. “Show business is an uncertain path full of highs and lows, hills and valleys, sunshine and clouds … but still …” The tale (tail?) paints a picture of a theater world that is both exciting and challenging, full of rewards and disappointments — but, most of all—lessons in life.

Lulu works with her mother in the wardrobe department and has one goal:to perform on a Broadway stage. While it’s a daunting proposition, she is a wonderful role model of inspiration and drive:

“Here’s the thing, though. In case you’d forgotten. I know I’m eloquent and funny and it’s easy to forget … I’m a mouse. A darn cute and talented one, but, well mice can’t be on Broadway. At least, none of us ever have been. I know it’s not fair. It’s just the way it is. True, plenty of things never happened until they did. No one had ever walked on the moon until that Neil Armstrong guy did it.”

Lulu we learn (like all mice) can talk. “We can talk everywhere … but so far, only theatre people listen.” Gavigan creates a mythology with the story of a seamstress, Bet, who befriends Poppy, the first mouse ever to work in the building. It is a wonderful story in the narrative’s rich tapestry. “These mice are here to help us,” says Bet. “They’re our coworkers, not our enemies.” 

Lulu’s world is populated with a winning variety of characters including the stage manager, the child wrangler, the dance captain, backstage staff, actors and, of course, the show’s star, the regal-yet-kind Stella James. “What’s important is to remember that it takes a team, a village, a family to put on a Broadway show and take care of the theatre.” Here is the bustle of theater life, the demands of rehearsals and the excitement of performance. And we are appropriately reminded that it is not just the performers but everyone from box office to backstage who make the magic.

Driving the story is the arrival of young and diminutive Jayne, the new understudy for the show’s child star, Amanda. Amanda is the epitome of selfish and self-absorbed; she is a bully and a manipulator.  “Sometimes dreams come with terms and conditions. Sometimes dreams come with Amanda.” But Gavigan ultimately presents a dimensional character, whose harshness is rooted in a deep-seated insecurity.

What ensues in this enchanting work and how Lulu pursues her dream make for an eventful and engaging journey: “Because everyone — no matter what size or species — deserves to live their dream.”

While the book will be embraced by children (and adults) with a passion for theater, the lessons that are offered are universal and told in a way that all readers will embrace the joy that is both the heart of Lulu and Lulu the Broadway Mouse.

Recommended for middle school readers, “Lulu the Broadway Mouse” is available at your local Barnes & Noble bookstore; can be ordered at Book Revue in Huntington; and is online at Running Press Kids, Hatchette Book Group; Barnes & Noble; and Amazon. For more information on the author, visit iamjennagavigan.com and on Twitter and Instagram @Jenna_Gavigan.

Comedy fundraiser

Chris Roach will join the group on Nov. 3.

Long Island Comedy Festival will host a special Stand-Up Comedy fundraiser at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson on Saturday, Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. to help the beloved theater recover from recent flash flood damage. Comedians from around the country will be flooding the Theatre Three stage including Talia Reese, Jamie Gravy, Maria Walsh, Michael Somerville, host Paul Anthony and, just announced, Chris Roach. Tickets are $39 per person. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

 

  • Comedians from around the country will be FLOODING the Theatre Three stage!
  • The audience will experience a WAVE of Laughter & hilarious fun!
  • RUSH IN to get your tickets to this outrageous night of LIVE Stand-Up Comedy!

 

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The cover of Dineen's novel

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

In his novel, “Suburban Gangsters,” Michael P. Dineen paints a bleak picture of the drug dealing/criminal culture on Long Island, spanning the 1980s right through the War on Drugs of the 2000s. And while Dineen is dealing with a difficult and often ugly story, he has managed to create an engaging and occasionally darkly humorous chronicle.  

Clearly, the book is a fictional account of his own life, told first person through Huntington resident Patrick Hunter. While Hunter was born in New York City, he was raised on Long Island. And while his experience focuses mainly on the drug dealing issues that were faced locally, he tells a universal story.

Hunter is the son of a cold and demanding Army vet and New York City firefighter. He starts off as an athlete but strays from the path. He can trace the turning point to his father refusing to co-sign a car loan for him. “Had my conversation gone differently with my father in the spring of 1985, I may have never become a criminal.” By his junior year, it is this deep-seated anger with his father that turns this jock into a burnout and juvenile delinquent.  

The cover of Dineen’s novel

A combination of intense training and steroids also fuel his rage and anti-social behavior. He and his friends “trained like animals” in this hybrid martial art called American Combat Karate. His change in personality draws him to like-minded and like-feeling young people. He begins using cocaine and then successfully selling it. “I had no clue that we had just opened Pandora’s box.” This metaphor points to the perils that follow. 

Dealing out of his home, Hunter could clear $5,000 to $10,000 a week. “For being average kids from the suburbs, that was serious dough. And we were just starting to scratch the surface of this modern-day gold rush.”

It’s not long before the enterprise begins to grow: “Settling into a nice routine, we began expanding the scope of our business. In addition to selling cocaine, we were now selling steroids, pain pills, other pharmaceuticals, and even small amounts of marijuana. And we also began some small loan sharking.”

Hunter gives an unflinching description of the toll that cocaine and crack cocaine have taken on the community. Throughout the book, there are devastating reports of destruction — both of people and property. (A wilding incident secures his gang’s creed but also called them to the police’s attention.) It is a brutal world where the anger and danger manifest in violent and senseless brawling. The only loyalty in this cutthroat existence is to money. There are many stories here of drug users that involve beatings and worse.  

His life is populated with equally damaged souls. When he falls in love, drugs predictably complicate his life. His girlfriend (and later wife), Vanessa, is a cocaine user and later addicted to pain pills. He shows that there is no emotional security when dealing with an addict. Love may blur the problems but it won’t make them go away. His partner, Jake, is a study in contrast. Jake is a high risk-taker and that causes a much earlier fall than Hunter. Even those who are committed to him in their own way are a liability in this hard society.  

The first shift is when dealers begin making deals with the police and FBI. As they begin to roll over, it becomes an era defined by survival. The narrative refrain is to “trust no one” as the likelihood is betrayal. His life alternates between dealing and partying and hiding and running.

Throughout the narrative, Hunter addresses issues of karma. The fact that he is the one who hooks Vanessa on Percodan (and eventually she goes back to cocaine) is just as much his fault as hers. There is the overall ruin that visits all who are involved. “When you are caught up in the hustle game making easy money, it’s almost impossible to voluntarily stop. It’s just as hard to stop dealing drugs, as it is to stop using drugs. Making that money becomes just as addictive.”

In addition to the drug world, there is theft. A gang called the Crash and Carry Gang are featured throughout. A highly dangerous crew that steals and fences, the intersection of Hunter and these men only furthers his twisted existence.

After a number of years, Hunter shifts his dealing to only selling marijuana and becoming a police informant. This gives both security and the ability to rat out the competition. He and his second partner, Big Ray, make a fortune while serving as police informants:

“We just finished a two-year run of basically being able to deal drugs with police protection. Our involvement with them and setting up that huge bust allowed us to operate while they looked the other way. It may sound crazy, but it’s true. Had you told me back in 1985 that seven years later I would still be dealing, only acting as a double agent by being a federal informant, I would have said you were nuts. But that is the insanity of this lifestyle. If you weren’t smart enough to roll with the changing times, you would have the life expectancy of a housefly.”

The fact is, by this time, everyone was either being caught or flipping. Everyone with whom Hunter had been involved was either cooperating or in jail.

Through all of this, glimmers of Hunter’s humanity come through. There is a poignant account of the death of a friend to heroin overdose (one of many in his journey).  

His love for the daughter he has by Vanessa and his fear for her safety is also very honest. The devastating loss of his karate mentor coincides with the dissolution of his marriage.

And in 1998, Hunter gets hooked on painkillers. The final portion of the book, entitled “To Hell and Back,” is the ultimate karmic payback. He begins the section with an unflinching assessment of the opioid and heroin crises: 

“The painful truth is no one seemed to care when heroin was devastating the inner city minority neighborhoods. Now that Little Johnny and Suzy from the bourgeoisie started dying, people finally started taking notice. That is politics for you. … For years, my fellow criminals and I cashed in on the suffering and unquenchable desire of a population that demanded drugs. It was almost like taking candy from a baby, it was so easy. But now the universe was about to flip the script and teach me a punishing lesson, you reap what you sow.”

While he began with a pill addiction, like so many, Hunter shifted to heroin because it was both cheaper and more accessible. His own downfall is inevitable:

“[H]eroin became the new love of my life. It was a total obsession for me. My habit became enormous overnight. Within a few weeks, I was sniffing twenty bags or two bundles a day. This continued for about three months until [his dealer] just up and disappeared. Now unable to get it, I began to panic. Withdrawal began creeping in and I was miserable.”

What ensues is a circle of detox, followed by relapse, methadone clinics, jail, homelessness … There is a harrowing observation that after 9/11, dopers thoughts were only how would they get their fix? And, of course, the question of how did he get here haunts him: He went from a million dollar drug business to being a junkie with nothing to his name. It is not until 2008 that Hunter is finally drug free and has his life on track.

In the beginning, Dineen writes with wonder at his often good luck … and later is accepting of his ultimate fate. In the end, he reaches both a sense of self and responsibility. His final thought is an important warning:

“So let this be a cautionary tale to anyone who is thinking about embarking on a life of crime or being involved with narcotics. There is no riding off into the sunset, no Hollywood endings when it comes to drug and crime. You will be lucky to escape with your freedom, and most importantly, your life!”

“Suburban Gangsters” by Michael P. Dineen is available online at Amazon.com or from its distributor AT www.dorrancepublishing.com.

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