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Jeffrey Sanzel

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.

From left, Emily Gates, Ashley Iadanza, Melanie Acampora, Bobby Montaniz and Steve Uihlein in a scene from ‘The Princess & the Pea’.Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc

When Hans Christian Andersen passed away in Copenhagen in 1875 the Danish government stated they had lost a national treasure. Although a writer of many genres, he is best remembered for his wonderful fairy tales, including “The Little Mermaid,” “The Red Shoes,” “The Snow Queen,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “Thumbelina” and, my favorite, “The Tinder Box.” As a child, I read them all but I always remember being fascinated by “The Princess & the Pea” and the curious image of a young girl trying to fall asleep atop of 10 mattresses.

The entire company of ‘The Princess & the Pea’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Through June 10, Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre kicks off its 2017-2018 season with a hilarious musical retelling of the sleepy story that is not to be missed. With a genius script written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Steve McCoy, the story teaches us that true nobility comes from inside.

Priscilla Noble and her friend Tom have just graduated from college. On the last day of school Tom reveals to Priscilla that he is really Prince Sterling of Pewtersberg and that he has feelings for her. He invites Priscilla to visit him at his castle over the summer so that they can get to know each other better. In the meantime his mother, Queen Irritata of Pewtersberg, has arranged for her son to marry Princess Monica from a neighboring kingdom. When both girls arrive at the castle, the queen puts them through a series of challenges that, in theory, only a true princess would overcome. Add a tower, a bunch of mattresses and a large pea and you’ve got yourself an entertaining afternoon of live theater.

Directed by Sanzel, a stellar cast of nine adult actors keep the young audience entranced. Never have I seen a more well-behaved group of children than at last Saturday morning’s performance, sitting quietly and just taking it all in, a true testament to the magic of live theater.

Jessica Contino and Dylan Robert Poulos star in ‘The Princess & the Pea’.Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc

Jessica Contino plays the lead role of Priscilla with confidence and determination. Continuously being put down for being a commoner by the queen, her character remains polite and respectful throughout. A perfect role model for today’s youth, she proves that studying and doing well in school pays off in the end.

Dylan Robert Poulos is perfectly cast as the tall, dark and handsome Prince Sterling and Andrew Gasparini shines as Lord Chancellor Pandergrovel.

Emily Gates is terrific in the role of Princess Monica, falling asleep all over the stage, much to the dismay of her sisters Princess Miranda (Melanie Acampora) and Princess Margot (Ashley Iadanza) who have been give strict orders by their parents to marry her off. And boy can she snore!

Newcomer Linda Pentz tackles the role of Queen Irritata of Pewtersberg, who seems to have a permanent migraine (“honestly!”), with aplomb. Determined to have her son marry royalty, her character remains stubborn until the very end.

Jessica Contino and Linda Pentz in a scene from ‘The Princess & the Pea’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

However, it is the queen’s brothers, Henry, Earl of Blunt, played by Steven Uihlein, and Richard, Duke of Yuck (yes you read that right), played by Bobby Montaniz, who steal the show with their comedic antics. These two should have a comedy act together!

The original score, with choreography by Sari Feldman, is fresh and hip, with special mention to “A Friend in Need,” “I Say, You Do!” and “The Test,” which is performed entirely in rap. Teresa Matteson’s detailed costumes, especially the intricate royal garb and wigs, are first rate, and live musical accompaniment by Steve McCoy on piano is a nice touch.

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photo ops and tell Princess Monica to get some sleep! Honestly!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Princess & the Pea” through June 10 with a sensory-friendly performance on June 4. Children’s Theatre will continue with “Aladdin & the Lamp” from July 7 to Aug. 10 and “The Frog Prince” from Aug. 4 to 12. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The cast performs the finale. Photo by Brian Hoerger

By Susan Risoli

There’s no reason why Theatre Three’s musical version of “Saturday Night Fever” can’t stand on its own, despite starting life as a famous film that defined an era. Audiences who grew up knowing John Travolta as Tony Manero should have open minds, right? Even when the opening night crowd includes one theater patron reenacting the “he hits my hair” scene … and a lady reminiscing about falling off her platform shoes … and a couple boogie-ing down the aisle to take their seats.

Above, the cast performs “Stayin’ Alive.’ Photo by Brian Hoerger

Fortunately for all, those memories didn’t get in the way during the show’s opening performance last Saturday night. The cast, crew and musicians of this version of “Saturday Night Fever” make it their own. We realize there will be subtlety at work here when the performance begins and we are told it’s July 1977, a sweltering summer when even Con Ed can’t take the heat. Then, when the cast takes the stage, they manage to look wilted and pent-up at the same time.

There is a sweetness in the characters as this cast brings them to life, and that’s a good thing. Nobody would dare say John Travolta, Donna Pescow and their colleagues weren’t great in the movie. But they looked older, wiser, already cynical and too tough to convey the fear behind their bravado. Under the direction of Jeffrey Sanzel, the Brooklyn residents on Theatre Three’s stage convince us that these people are kids, still in adolescence or barely out of it. They don’t know which way to turn — they’re lost and mixed-up. When the cast sings, “Life going nowhere, somebody help me,” we want to.

Bobby Peterson as Tony Manero delivers the physicality the role demands. This Tony can strut! But beyond Tony’s frustration, Peterson shows us his confusion, and that serves the story well. Maybe the neighborhood isn’t really the center of the universe? Maybe women can do things reserved for men, and vice versa? Peterson lets us hear the wheels turning in Tony’s head.

Bobby Peterson as Tony Manero and Rachel Greenblatt as Stephanie Romano. Photo by Brian Hoerger

When Tony meets his match in local-girl-made-good Stephanie Mangano, Rachel Greenblatt brings a different shading to the role. Stephanie’s upward mobility seems less grasping here, her ambition less brittle. She’s more like a real person, biting off more than she can chew and dealing with it. Greenblatt too brings the physicality her character needs, and with it a simplicity and economy of movement. With cool confidence, she ties a pretty scarf around her waist, and instantly her sweaty dance clothes become a chic ensemble. We understand why Tony chases her.

And then there’s Annette, played by Beth Whitford. As with all the actors, the youthful innocence of her interpretation of Annette makes the character more compelling. If anyone is trapped by the labels society slaps on you, it’s Annette. Nice girl? Whore? Young woman who makes her own rules? She doesn’t even know that other people don’t have the right to define her. We don’t know if she’ll end up victim or victor, but Whitford has us debating it long after the curtain comes down.

Surprisingly, this production is funny. Yes, the film had its comedic moments, but everything else was so heavy we didn’t laugh long. Here the comedy is part of the character’s daily lives. Tony and his friends are kids, after all, and sometimes kids act goofy. Also displaying skillful comedic timing are Jeff Pangburn as Frank Sr., Debbie D’Amore as Tony’s mother, and Steven Incarnato as Father Frank Jr. And do you have to be Italian to appreciate the show’s amusing cultural references? No, but it’s a sly treat if you are.

Bobby Peterson as Tony Manero. Photo by Brian Hoerger

And oh, the dancing, the costumes and the sets! Somehow we believe that the stage is a cavernous disco. When the full cast dances, it’s great fun to watch them. Remember that couple who take on Tony and Stephanie in the big dance contest? Their Latin dance routine is performed by Nicole Bianco and Alex Esquivel. Wow, just wow—control, passion and flow—something to see. Kudos to choreographer Whitney Stone, costume and wig designer Ronald Green III and scenic designer Randall Parsons for a job well done.

With musical direction by Jeffrey Hoffman, all of the songs are wonderful. Some are the classic 1970s tunes we already know from the Bee Gees — “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” “Jive Talking,” “You Should Be Dancing,” and “How Deep is Your Love” — sung here as part of the developing story. The actors do a good job of bringing fresh meaning to old friends. There are new songs too, and they work well.

Sometimes the characters in Theatre Three’s “Saturday Night Fever” are content. Sometimes they explode. Sometimes they don’t know what comes next, and neither do we. But they are well worth hanging out with.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present ‘Saturday Night Fever’ through June 24. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. Children under 5 are not permitted. Contains adult subject matter and language. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Rachel Greenblatt and Bobby Peterson in a scene from 'Saturday Night Fever.' Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Susan Risoli

Theatre Three’s upcoming musical production of “Saturday Night Fever” has all the irresistible energy of the 1977 film, while it turns up the story and character development. Actor Bobby Peterson of Hampton Bays will tackle the role of Tony Manero, a Brooklyn kid who knows we should be dancin’ — and reaching for a dream. Sitting in the theater’s intimate Griswold’s Café during off-hours, 29-year-old Peterson talked about the show and its lasting appeal.

Why should people come to this show?

This production has so much to offer. It has dance. It’s going to be fun and uplifting. It has enticing and entertaining characters. And people will witness a very beautiful story. In the movie, I think, the story gets lost.

Bobby Peterson will star in Theatre Three’s upcoming musical, ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

How does this version handle the differences between ‘Saturday Night Fever’ as a movie versus the musical?

How do people deal with it when they read the Lord of The Rings books, versus when they see the movies? A book can do things differently than what a movie can do or what a stage play can do. I just try to look at a story that I’m trying to convey. The first thing I look for is, is this version complete, and continuous, and succinct? Does it have well-written dialogue? Does it have good compositions? A lot of that comes from Jeff [Sanzel, Theatre Three executive artistic director], as the director of the show. As an actor and performer, my job is to convey a director’s vision and an author’s vision, to the best of my ability. I think all actors should be humble in that concept. You’re here to act as an instrument to convey the thoughts and concepts of another person, as best you can. I try to put my own work in technique, in the type of voice and the different inflections I’m going to use, in the dancing and singing.

Is it intimidating to play a role that people are so familiar with?

It is an iconic role. I want to put my own spin on it, but I think a lot of people are going to come to the musical having their own ideas about what John Travolta brought to this role. When I talk to people about it, they talk about the impact of Travolta on the dance floor.

What’s the most fun thing for you, about being in the show?

This is one of those classic triple-threat roles and it’s a challenge to me because every step of the way, there is every facet of what musical theatre is. There’s a lot of dancing. And the script is 130 pages long. It’s a huge memory challenge because there are so many little moments that weave in and out of the dancing. The cast is amazing too. I must say, everyone who Jeff has cast is really great for their roles.

What’s the least fun thing?

Probably the drive here from [home in] Hampton Bays!

Tony Manero has so much swagger. How do you convey the vulnerable part of his personality?

An actor can only be as good as the writer. I feel very supported by the writers, and by the piece itself. It has set up and designed scenes for the actors to convey deeper parts, and different sides, of the characters. This rendition has a scene where after Tony wins a dance contest, he has a whole two pages speaking to Stephanie about how it’s not right that he won, because there’s a couple who danced better than him. That’s his epiphany.

Will the audience have fun?

Yes, there’s plenty of that. When numbers like “Stayin’ Alive” and “Disco Inferno” come on, it is full-cast dancing. The choreographer Whitney Stone has done an amazing job making use of the space that we have. She’s designed her choreography very well. And she’s included some of those dance moves that people are going to want to see.

How did you prepare for this role?

For a role this size, I’ll really micromanage myself. I get home as early as I can, and spend the whole next day focusing on making sure that I’ll be good for the next show. Sometimes after rehearsals, I’ll go to the gym because it is a physically taxing role. There’s a lot of lifts with partners. There’s a strong incentive to really muscle-build, to make sure one is strong enough and fit enough to perform. Mentally, I’m always thinking about the script. I’m always reading through lines in my head. And I grew up as a pianist, so I play the accompaniments myself and sing along with them.

Promotional materials for this production say that it features Tony as ‘humble paint store clerk by day, dance king by night.’ Do you think everyone has that duality inside of them?

No, I don’t. Sometimes what people yearn for is a simple life. I don’t think it’s necessarily everybody’s struggle. I don’t think it can be, for the same reason that there can’t be too many cooks in the kitchen. Sometimes we need people to be comfortable in what they do and what they are, to bring balance to everything.

In the sequel to the film, Tony finds success as a professional dancer. But not everyone can succeed so completely, or on that level. Should we still try?

People can find contentment that they did try. But never trying can eat away at your soul forever. If people feel a calling within them, they’re going to be much better off doing something about that.

What else would you like our readers to know about this show?

I’m very excited for people to come and see it, and then to see what their reaction will be. I don’t think people are going to get completely what they’re expecting and I’m very excited to see how people are going to handle that and how they’re going to react.

“Saturday Night Fever” will run from May 20 through June 24 on the Main Stage at Theatre Three, 412 E. Main St., Port Jefferson. Tickets for adults $35; seniors and students $28; children ages 5 to 12 $20. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

The entire company. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Spring has finally arrived to the Village of Port Jefferson — the tulips, the daffodils, even the Bradford pear trees are in full bloom. Spring in the village also signals the arrival of another perennial favorite, “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit,” at Theatre Three. Written by Jeffrey E. Sanzel and the late Brent Erlanson and suggested by the characters created by Beatrix Potter, this adorable children’s musical has become an annual tradition for many families in the area.

Directed by Sanzel, the story follows the mischievous adventures of Peter Rabbit, played by Dylan Robert Poulos, and his cousin Benjamin Bunny, played by Steven Uihlein, as they sneak into Mr. McGregor’s garden again and again to steal his vegetables.

Caitlin Nofi, Beth Whitford and Melanie Acampora play good little bunnies Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail who spend most of their time searching for their wayward brother Peter. Jessica Contino is terrific as Mrs. Rabbit, playing the role with just the right amount of strictness.

Andrew Lenahan, last seen in “Raggedy Ann & Andy,” tackles the role of Mr. McGregor and does a fine job while Emily Gates shines as Mrs. McGregor. The two draw the most laughs from the parents when Gates says “We’re friends, aren’t we?” and Lenahan answers, “Are we? I thought we were married.”

A scene from ‘The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

The set is sparse, with a few props including a scarecrow, a few signs, a table and a trap door for a rabbit hole but let your imagination fly and you will see a mouthwatering garden full of parsley, cucumbers, tomatoes, string beans and lettuce that can be very tempting for a little rabbit. The costumes, designed by Teresa Matteson, are on point, from the farmer’s overalls to the little white tails on the rabbits with brand new dresses for Flopsy, Mopsy ad Cotton-Tail in soft shades of yellow, pink and purple.

With fresh choreography by Sari Feldman, the musical numbers, accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, are all fun and hip, especially “One More Time Around,” “Run, Peter, Run!” and “Peter’s Socks,” and the audience is treated to an encore performance of all the songs in a finale mega mix.

The show is action-packed with several chase scenes through the aisles, a Mission-Impossible-inspired heist to retrieve Peter’s socks and shoes and vest and jacket and hat from a scarecrow erected by Mr. McGregor, acrobatics (courtesy of Poulos) and audience participation. Throw in some singing and dancing and Theatre Three has a bona fide hit. So gather up all your good little bunnies and hop over to Theatre Three for a real spring treat.

Souvenir bunnies in various colors are sold during intermission, and booster seats are available. Meet the entire cast in the lobby after the show for photos.

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main St., in Port Jefferson will present “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” through May 6 with a sensory-friendly performance on April 23. Children’s Theater will continue with “The Princess & the Pea” from May 27 to June 10, “Aladdin & the Lamp” from July 7 to Aug. 10 and “The Frog Prince” from Aug. 4 to 12. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

From left, Phyllis March, Maryellen Molfetta and Ginger Dalton in a scene from the show. Photo by Brian Hoerger

By Michael Tessler

Theatre Three’s latest production “Where There’$ a Will,” opened last Saturday night to an intrigued audience. Originally produced in 1985 by an eighteen-year-old Jeffrey Sanzel, this wonderful piece of theater is such a hidden treasure that I’m glad it resurfaced just in time for me to review!

Our story begins as the late millionaire Hiram Cedricson, a self-proclaimed “Potato King,” has assembled his widow (and fourth wife), her not-so-new lover and a slapdash theater crew of washouts, has-beens and could-bes to hear his last will and testament be read aloud by a uniquely unqualified lawyer.

Phyllis March and Mary Ellin Kurtz in a scene from the show. Photo by Brian Hoerger

Hilarity ensues as the lawyer reveals that prior to Cedricson’s death he wrote an original play … with no prior experience in theater, with a title so funny that I’m unable to print it. His dying wish is for this cast and crew of misfits to perform the show verbatim, in a decrepit theater he purchased just before his death … in two weeks. If they can accomplish this, they each receive $500,000. If they fail, the snarky widow and her lover get all the money.

So despite quarrels and some seriously conflicting personalities, the group agrees to the terms. What none of them realize is that Hiram Cedricson was the furthest thing from a writer and that his show would be an accidental comedy of epic proportions! The result is as Cedricson so eloquently puts it — “wonderfug.” What’s best is that the ghost of Cedricson and two of his former wives (one dead, one divorced) get to enjoy the chaos as casual spectators from the balcony, bickering among themselves through the process.

Ginger Dalton in a scene from ‘Where There’$ a Will’. Photo by Brian Hoerger

By every definition this is an all-star cast — immensely talented, perfectly paced, and hilariously human. Expertly directed by Sanzel, each actor takes on a caricature so unique and well-written that it’s impossible not to feel emotionally invested in their success. There is such incredible range in their performances. All of these cast members could have and likely were leads in previous productions.

There are so many familiar faces that at times, and much to my amusement, I felt like I was watching a reunion show of Long Island’s greatest talent. Though I lack the column inches necessary to write in detail about each of these extraordinary actors, I do want to say that this is by far the best ensemble cast I’ve ever seen outside of a Broadway production. They are so much more than just funny — they are uniquely lovable, memorable and multidimensional.

This can be attributed not just to the enormous talent of this cast, but to the show’s ambitious and masterfully crafted script. Somehow, not a single character goes underutilized in both acts of this large-scale comedy.

From left, Phylis March, Jessica Contino and Mary Ellin Kurtz in a scene from Sanzel’s new play. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Though not a musical, there are several musical numbers, all of which will have you grinning cheek to cheek. Throughout the show there is a wonderful score dreamed up by Theatre Three’s Tim Peierls, and Randall Parsons creates a visually striking set, which is complemented perfectly by Robert Henderson’s lighting design. The young but extraordinarily talented Peter Casdia expertly stage manages the production, ensuring a flawless experience. Costume designer Chakira Doherty must have had some fun putting together the most uniquely diverse set of costumes I can remember in recent productions.

Jeffrey Sanzel and his assistant director Andrew Markowitz put on a genuinely charming production, perfect for ringing in the spring season. “Where There’$ a Will” feels like a classic that has been playing forever, and that’s because maybe it should be.

The cast: Steve Ayle, Marci Bing, Michael Butera, Carol Carota, Jessica Contino, Ginger Dalton, Susan Emory, Sari Feldman, Jack Howell, Joan Howell, Skyler Quinn Johnson, Mary Ellin Kurtz, Linda May, Phyllis March, Steve McCoy, Maryellen Molfetta and Ruthie Pincus

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Where’s There’$ a Will” through May 6 on the Mainstage. Tickets for adults $35; seniors and students $28; children ages 5 to 12 for $20. Children under 5 are not permitted. A matinee will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 3 with $20 tickets. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

From left, Phylis March, Jessica Contino and Mary Ellin Kurtz in a scene from Sanzel’s new play. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Melissa Arnold

Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, has worked in theater for more than 40 years. This spring, he is celebrating his love for the performing arts with his zany new comedy, “Where There’s a Will.” The show features a variety of personalities working to fulfill a man’s last wish — perform a play he wrote — in exchange for a hefty inheritance. But nothing is ever that simple…

The production features a cast of 17, including Long Island theater veterans Steve Ayle, Marci Bing, Michael Butera, Carol Carota, Jessica Contino, Ginger Dalton, Susan Emory, Sari Feldman, Jack Howell, Joan Howell, Skyler Quinn Johnson, Mary Ellin Kurtz, Linda May, Phyllis March, Steve McCoy, Maryellen Molfetta and Ruthie Pincus with original music by Tim Peierls. Sanzel shared the story behind the show and much more in a recent phone interview.

What’s the play about?

This is an outrageous comedy. What happens when a group of down-and-out showpeople are given the chance to inherit a half a million dollars? A man named Hiram Cedrickson was once the Potato King, and after his passing, he leaves a group of actors all of this money, providing that they perform a play he wrote exactly as he wrote it. They have to do it with no changes, from curtain to curtain call, including typos. If they don’t, all the money goes to his fourth wife, who is there following along in the script at rehearsals and at the performance. They’re very high stakes. It’s hard enough to learn lines (for a show) — imagine what it would be like if the lines are wrong!

What inspired you to write this play?

I originally wrote the play over 30 years ago, in 1985, and it sat in a drawer for 30 years, and then I took it out and did a lot of rewriting. At that time, it was my freshman year of college, and I was typing up papers for people as a side job. I’m a very fast typist, but I’m also terribly inaccurate. I make a lot of errors. And one day I asked myself, “What would it be like if people actually had to play the errors in a script?” That’s how it all came about. I’ve also always had a love for the kind of theater that celebrates (the theater and acting), so this show is about that as well.

What makes the story interesting to you?

It’s fun to watch these people with huge, very different personalities struggle and try to overcome the challenge (of the script).

Do you have a favorite character or identify with any of them?

Ever since I was 8 years old, I’ve loved (actress and singer) Ethel Merman. This show is really my tribute to her, as one of the major characters is based off of her.

Is there a message or take away from this show?

This is really about how people can come together for a shared cause and make things happen, even though they may be very different. But, of course, its main purpose is to make people laugh.

Why do you think people will enjoy it?

This is an extraordinary cast, sort of a who’s who in Long Island theater, and they bring so much reality to it. You come to sympathize for the characters and really root for these people.

“Where There’s a Will” will run from April 8 through May 6 on the Main Stage at Theatre Three, 412 E. Main St., Port Jefferson. Tickets for adults $35; seniors and students $28; children ages 5 to 12 for $20. Children under 5 are not permitted. A matinee will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 3 with $20 tickets. To learn more or to purchase tickets, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

From left, Brian Smith, Steven Uihlein, Phyllis March and Joan St. Onge in a scene from ‘Lower Education’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Michael Tessler

Raw, imaginative, thought-provoking and brave. Unafraid to push the envelope and tackle some of society’s most dynamic and difficult issues. At times, irresistibly funny, wildly inappropriate and enormously fun. There are so many ways to describe Theatre Three’s Festival of One-Act Plays but ultimately it comes down to this: theater at its absolute finest.

Tucked below the main stage of Theatre Three’s Athena Hall is a black box theater named after the late Ronald F. Peierls. This second stage creates a wonderfully intimate atmosphere for the audience and provides a perfect venue for all seven shows.

Since the 1998 to 1999 season, Theatre Three has received an incredible 8,000 one-act play submissions. Of those entries, it has presented 113 world premieres by 79 different playwrights. What you’re seeing really is the best of the best.

Clockwise from left, Antoine Jones, Kate Keating, Joan St. Onge and Jacqueline M. Hughes in a scene from ‘Counting Sheep’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

One-acts, for those who are not familiar, are just that — a single-act show. Often varying in length and subject matter, they are given the flexibility to tackle things playwrights would usually be unable to address with a mainstage production. In my mind, a great one-act is a lot like the center of an Oreo. They skip all the fanfare and get right to the creamy good stuff in the middle. They rely not on orchestra pits, colorful costumes or dynamic sets but rather on vigorous acting, quality writing and superb direction.

“Counting Sheep” by Jae Kramisen, “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?” by Patrick Gabridgen, “The Kitchen Fairy” by Scott Gibson, “Lower Education” by Lewis Shilane, “A New Lease” by Tony Foster, “Upset over Nothing” by Robin Doupé and “When Driven” by Melanie Acampora all made their debut last Saturday afternoon. These writers vary in age, gender and at least one was from out-of-state.

Just prior to the premiere I had the opportunity to talk to Theatre Three actress and playwright Melanie Acampora. “I started writing three years ago” delving into the process of creating a one-act. It’s less pressure than acting,” she said. One of the hardest parts of writing a script is seeing how it’ll be adapted. When asked if she was pleased with Theatre Three’s adaption, Acampora replied,“It’s even better than in my head, thanks to Jeff [Sanzel].”

From left, Skyler Quinn Johnson and Brian Smith in a scene from ‘How Does It Feel to Be a Problem.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Sanzel, the festival’s founder and director of all seven shows, proves once again what enormous talent we have right here on Long Island. His skills transcend genre and are wonderfully on display — up close and personal for the whole audience to enjoy. How a person could direct so many shows while finding time to sleep is beyond me!

This emotional roller coaster will have you leaving the theater with a newfound appreciation for playwrights. Unlike the bravado of Broadway, they cannot hide behind the pomp and circumstance of massive musical numbers or high-priced sets (although I do love a good ole’ kickline).

Each show’s success depends almost solely on its craftsmanship and its cast. That being said, there was not a single actor I didn’t love during these seven performances. Many of the actors took on not just one role but several in multiple shows, displaying their incredible capabilities and range as performers.

Whether you are a theater aficionado or a first-time theatergoer, get yourself a ticket before they sell out. This wonderful experience is only on stage for a limited time. To the playwrights, my hat is off to you, brava and bravo. Hoping to see more of your work soon!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present The 20th Annual Festival of One-Act Plays through April 1 at The Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the Second Stage. Tickets are $18 per person. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Please note: Adult content and language. Parental discretion is advised.

Front row, from left, Wendy Feinberg, co-director PJDS; Honey Katz, board member PJDS; Lyn Boland, co-director PJDS; Allan Varela, chairman, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council; Barbara Sverd, co-director PJDS; and PJDS board members Phyllis Ross and Lynn Rein; back row, from left, Doug Quattrock, director of development, group sales and special events coordinator at Theatre Three; Vivian Koutrakos, managing director at Theatre Three; Julie Diamond, director of communications at the Long Island Museum; and Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director at Theatre Three. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

It’s official! Bethpage Federal Credit Union and the Long Island Press recently announced the 2017 winners of their Best of Long Island survey, now in its 11th year. Among the elite few was The Port Jefferson Documentary Series, which won for Best Film Festival.

“We were surprised and delighted when we were nominated in the early fall of last year. We had never been nominated before and the other nominees were all big names on the film festival scene. We never expected to actually win!” said Lyn Boland, co-director of the Port Jefferson Documentary Series, adding “This award means so much because it tells us that people appreciate what we are trying to create — a way to enjoy great, new documentaries, on the big screen, in our community. A big thank you to everyone who voted for us!”

Sponsored by the Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council, the Suffolk County Office of Film and Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts, the series has presentend award-winning documentaries in the fall and spring for 11 years, with screenings most recently held at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson and The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook.

“The series has made an extraordinary contribution to the arts community for over thirty years. It has been our honor at Theatre Three to even be a small part of this vital institution,” said Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director at Theatre Three.

Neil Watson, executive director at the LIM, concurred, stating “The museum is thrilled to partner with the Port Jefferson Documentary Series on these ongoing presentations. This collaboration strengthens and expands our connection to the community, and offers another rich layer of programming for our growing audience.”

The series kicks-off its Spring 2017 line-up on Monday, March 13 at Theatre Three with a screening of “Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing.” For more information and the full schedule of films, visit www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.