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Jeffrey Sanzel

The cast of 'Pumpkin Patch Magic.' Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

Just in time for Halloween, Theatre Three brings us “Pumpkin Patch Magic” or “If at First You Don’t Succeed,” a spooktacular musical for young children that is as sweet as a Kit Kat bar. Written over 20 years ago, the play has emerged from the shadows with a complete makeover and returned to the stage last Saturday. With fresh new lyrics and music by Jules Cohen, wonderful direction by Jeffrey Sanzel, a brilliant script chock full of rhyme, and a cast that is top notch, this show is sure to become an annual tradition.

It’s October in the Land of Halloween and everyone has certain chores in order for pumpkins to end up in pumpkin patches all over the world. The gnomes, known for their homegrown gnome poems, have to grow the pumpkins, the witches have to fly the pumpkins to the patch, the ghosts have to place the pumpkins in the patch without being seen and the rulers of the land have to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Fairy Loquacious Chattelot, played by Jessica Contino, serves as narrator and introduces the audience to four citizens of the Land of Halloween who are trying to help but can’t. Norman Gnome (Steven Uihlein) has trouble growing a pumpkin — during one attempt he ends up growing a head of lettuce! “I’m all thumbs and none of them are green,” he laments. His fellow gnomes, Nemo (Kyle Breitenbach) and Nathan (Dylan Poulos) feel Norman is useless and in the way. Ermengarde Broomwellsweepalot (Emily Gates), the witch, doesn’t know how to fly so is tasked by her fellow witch Ethel Broomwellsweepalot (Zoe Dunmire) with taking care of all the other chores including painting broom handles.

The gnomes of 'Pumpkin Patch Magic.' Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.
The gnomes of ‘Pumpkin Patch Magic.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Graham Ghost (Jason Furnari) can’t seem to turn himself invisible — his conversations with Harvey the invisible ghost are hilarious! — and Princess Pumpkin (Melanie Acampora) is a nervous mess who has trouble making decisions and therefore can’t rule the Queendom, much to the dismay of her mother Queen Honoria (Ginger Dalton). Tensions run high. Will the Fairy Loquacious Chattelot help them with some good advice? Or will her advice backfire? Will the children find pumpkins in the pumpkin patch to decorate or will Halloween be ruined?

The musical numbers, with their jazzy undertones, are the heart of the show. From the opening number, “It’s Halloween!” by the whole company, to the clever “I’m All Thumbs,” sung by the gnomes, to Graham Ghost’s solo, “I’m Gettin’ Out [Moving to a Ghost Town],” each song, accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, is better than the next. Costumes by Teresa Matteson are another highlight of the production with noticeable effort and attention to detail. Choreography by Sari Feldman is fun and hip, especially during “Not Easy Being Me.”

Children are encouraged to come to the show in their Halloween costumes. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photo-ops. Running time is 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Theatre Three, 412 Man St., Port Jefferson will present “Pumpkin Patch Magic” through Oct. 29. A special sensory-sensitive performance is scheduled for Oct. 9 where the house lights will remain on throughout the performance and children may move around the theater. Next up is the 13th anniversary of “Barnaby Saves Christmas” from Nov. 25 to Dec. 30 (sensory-sensitive performance on Nov. 27.) All tickets are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

From left, Rachel Greenblatt, Brittany Lacey, Jenna Kavaler and Amanda Geraci in a scene from ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Michael Tessler

“Legally Blonde” is the sort of film I’d usually enjoy bundled up in a blanket on a cold winter day, perhaps while digging into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, laughing loudly to myself. And yet Saturday night at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson I found myself sharing in that same wholesome joy surrounded by hundreds of others equally filled with laughter and milewide smiles. “Legally Blonde: The Musical” doesn’t shy away from its film roots but rather embraces them, incorporating songs and themes that deliver the story like never before!

Jeffrey Sanzel, the show’s director, continues to demonstrate a mastery of theater worthy of Broadway or the West End. This is not a compliment I deliver lightly, but it is so rightfully deserved. His ability to transcend genre and create flawless spectacles of comedy, drama, music and dance have stunned me continuously through the many shows I’ve now reviewed. Not once have I left the theater’s Athena Hall without being uplifted or captivated by the raw, genuine emotions neatly packed within the confines of a Theatre Three production.

Brittany Lacey as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde: The Musical. Photo by Brian Hoerger
Brittany Lacey as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde: The Musical. Photo by Brian Hoerger

“Legally Blonde,” while a light-hearted romp, was certainly no exception to that rule. After a long and difficult week I found myself leaving the theater feeling lighter than air. Not even for a moment is the beautiful illusion of theater ruined, undoubtedly because of Sanzel’s magic touch. His actors are so well-paced, so well-trained, a truly regimented troupe of thespians. Their stage comes to life.

Our protagonist is the stuff of “Greek” legend, and by that I mean she’s the president of the Delta Nu sorority at UCLA. Elle Woods, your quintessential popular blonde stereotype, is awaiting an overdue dinner with her longtime college boyfriend (played with lovable arrogance by Chris Brady) whom she expects to propose. Hilarity ensues as quite the opposite happens. Without spoiling too much, Elle begins on an unlikely adventure to Harvard Law School, a place not exactly known to be fashion forward!

This show is filled to the brim with comedic caricatures playing on our preconceived notions in a delightful way. From the hunky UPS man played to comedic perfection by Kyle Breitenbach to the rude, snobby, love-to-hate law student Vivienne Kensington played impressively by Caitlin Nofi, to the “blood in the water” lawyer Professor Callahan played by Theatre Three veteran Steve McCoy.

Brittany Lacey and Brett Chizever in a scene from 'Legally Blonde: The Musical' byPhoto by Brian Hoerger
Brittany Lacey and Brett Chizever in a scene from ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’ byPhoto by Brian Hoerger

At the show’s center is actress Brittany Lacey. Her performance as Elle Woods is local theater at its finest. Her voice both powerful and soft, her delivery of lines so expressive and authentic, and most impressively her ability to dance in flawless precision while belting notes that require two and a half lungs. Many times throughout the production, I wondered if the show’s original writers had somehow met Lacey and based the show’s protagonist after her. Casting could not have been better. She’s accompanied by the awkwardly lovable Emmett played with a special tenderness by Brett Chizever. Before the show’s end you’ll love these two!

Randall Parsons has built a set of simplistic brilliance, the entire stage enclosed by an ever-changing border of glowing lights complemented perfectly with Robert W. Henderson’s lighting design. Shining in the spotlight is the brightest pinks I’ve ever seen with gorgeous costumes by Su Jung Weaver. All these elements are coordinated seamlessly by stage manager Peter Casdia. Jeffrey Hoffman, the show’s musical director, expertly leads a “Greek” chorus and a cast of superb vocal talents. From the show’s opening number, “Omigod You Guys,” to the more touching “Ireland” it seems there was not a mark to be missed! Don’t miss out on seeing this show. I guarantee it’ll take a “chip off your shoulder!”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson kicks off its 47th Mainstage season with “Legally Blonde: The Musical” through Oct. 29. Tickets range from $20 to $35. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The Sisters of Delta Nu in Theatre Three's production of 'Legally Blonde: The Musical' at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Rebecca Anzel

Brittany Lacey stars in ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’ at Theatre Three from Sept. 17 to Oct. 29. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.
Brittany Lacey stars in ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’ at Theatre Three from Sept. 17 to Oct. 29. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Theatre Three in Port Jefferson is gearing up for its next Mainstage production, “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” which will open on Saturday, Sept. 17. The role of Elle Woods will be played by 28-year-old Brittany Lacey, best known to Theatre Three regulars as Mimi in “Rent” and as Belle in “A Christmas Carol” when she was a company member there from 2010 to 2012. I had the opportunity to sit down with Brittany before rehearsals last Friday night to ask her about her latest role.

Why did you decide to audition for the role of Elle Woods?

This is a dream role of mine and having the chance to perform it here at Theatre Three makes it even more special. It’s like I’m coming home and now I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m a huge fan of Reese Witherspoon. I love her! I think she’s very funny and talented. Of course, I don’t know her personally, but she seems like such a good person — like Hollywood hasn’t gotten to her.

What is your favorite scene in the show?

I just discovered it the other day. My favorite scene is “What You Want.” The song has three parts to it and all are great! Our choreographer, Whitney Stone, came up with this amazing dance and it’s just a lot of fun. It’s like one big party on stage. A lot of the cast is involved in the number. I like when you’re on stage with everyone else because you’re able to share everyone else’s energy and I think it makes it a more memorable experience.

What is your favorite song in the show?

“Take It Like A Man.” That has become my favorite one. I don’t know what it is about it — I love singing it. I play it opposite Brett Chizever (in the role of Emmett Forrest). It’s a real joy. Brett is great. How many weeks does the cast rehearse before production? Four or five weeks … I’m not exactly sure. Because most people work during the day, we rehearse from 7:15 at night to 10:30 and then on weekends, we’ll have five-hour rehearsals. It’s a lot of repetition and practice. And, after I go home, it’s all I listen to. I drive my boyfriend crazy making him run lines with me!

What is it like working with the director, Jeffrey Sanzel?

I love working with Jeff. He’s a strict director, but in a good way. Jeff cares about everyone on that stage and what they’re doing. He really works with you to make sure you’re comfortable. It’s all about putting out a great product and everyone feeling proud of their performance. What is it like working with your castmates? I only knew a handful of them going in, and everyone is so nice. This cast is very supportive. I haven’t had that in a while so it’s really, really nice.

Who is playing the role of the UPS guy? Is he cute?

He’s so much younger than me — am I allowed to answer that? But no, the ladies will be quite happy with who they’re watching up there. Kyle Breitenbach is doing a great job with the role. He’s very funny.

Brittany Lacey with the only four-legged member of the show, Taxi. Photo courtesy of Theatre Three
Brittany Lacey with the only four-legged member of the show, Taxi. Photo courtesy of Theatre Three

I noticed the show will have a real dog in the role of Bruiser Woods. What is she like?

Her name is Taxi, like a taxi cab. She’s a chihuahua. Caitlin Nofi (who plays Vivienne in the show) has a friend who was kind enough to lend us Taxi, and she’s a star! She came in with a pink and purple bow around her neck and owned that stage. And she’s so good! She’s calm.

Have you ever performed on stage with an animal before?

I don’t think so! I’ve played a lot of animals, but no I don’t think I’ve ever had one on stage. It definitely makes me nervous because you just want the animal to feel okay up there. You don’t want to scare it. It’s fun though! It’s different, because at the end of the day, you’ll see what she wants to do. If she wants to prance around the stage, she’s going to prance and we’re going to let her.

What is it like being a part of a production at Theatre Three?

It’s a great experience. I feel like this theater tries to make it feel like a home for their actors and that you’re a part of their family. You don’t always get that in other places. Everyone works really hard because they just put their whole heart into it, and that is another reason I love to come back here. Jeff [Sanzel] is the leading force of that. The heart he has for theater, for this theater in general, is ginormous. It’s great because then that falls onto the rest of us and it makes you want to put even more effort into the show.

Why should people come see the show?

Because we really want you to! No, no, I think we’re putting a lot of hard work into it. We’re just getting into tech week, but I believe we’re putting out a really good production and I hope it’s fun for them. We promise to entertain you! We all love what we’re doing, so I think that always translates to the audience. If we’re having fun, hopefully that means they’re having fun watching it.

Do you have a favorite spot in Port Jefferson that you like to go to?

As soon as rehearsal’s over, I go down to Ralph’s. I love my ices and ice cream! It’s like my after rehearsal treat. What are your plans after this? I don’t have any definitive plans yet, but I’m sure it will involve auditioning. A lot of this job, of being an actor, is putting yourself out there and hoping that casting directors like what you have to offer.

Anything else you would like to add?

I’m having fun, I’m loving this experience and I can’t wait to open this show!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Legally Blonde: The Musical” from Sept. 17 to Oct. 29. Tickets range from $20 to $35. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Amanda Geraci (Maid Marian) and Steven Uihlein (Robin Hood) star in 'The Misadventures of Robin Hood.' Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Hear ye, hear ye! Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men have taken up residence at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson through Aug. 13 as the theater presents the world premiere of “The Misadventures of Robin Hood.”

With original script and music by Jeffrey Sanzel, Steve McCoy and Douglas Quattrock adapted from the well-known English folklore “Robin Hood,” the new musical comedy follows the timeless tale closely but turns out to be more like Mel Brooks’ 1993 film “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.” With equal parts adventure and silliness, the show is a perfect way to enjoy a lazy summer afternoon.

Sanzel skillfully directs eight adult actors who are clearly in their element. The actors are joined on stage by a supporting cast of 35 young members of the theater’s summer acting classes who help the story along with narration and song. It’s the 12th century and King Richard the Lionheart has gone to fight in the Crusades, leaving his brother Prince John in charge who orders the Sheriff of Nottingham to collect taxes from the poor villagers. When Robin of Locksley protests, he is banished from the kingdom and retreats to Sherwood Forest. There he assembles his group of Merry Men and, with the help of Maid Marion, becomes Robin Hood, robbing the rich to give to the poor.

The cast of Theatre Three's 'The Misadventures of Robin Hood'
The cast of Theatre Three’s ‘The Misadventures of Robin Hood.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

The lines are very cheeky: “Why does everyone have to repeat everything I say?” “It’s more dramatic that way!” and the fast-paced show is action packed with sword fights and archery contests. There’s even a bit of magic thrown in as the sheriff acquires a belt that when put on changes his appearance. Oh and the sheriff gets booed — a lot.

Steven Uihlein is hilarious as the absent minded bumbling swashbuckler Robin Hood who just can’t seem to get anyone’s name right including his bride to be, and Amanda Geraci is wonderful as the very patient Maid Marian, or as the program says, “patient beyond words.”

After an absence of more than five years, Jason Furnari returns to the Theatre Three stage to tackle the villainous role of The Sheriff of Nottingham and steals the show. Furnari, best known for his role as the original Barnaby in “Barnaby Saves Christmas” and as Peter in “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit,” is simply wonderful and delivers a stellar performance.

Newcomer Mark Jackett, standing well over six feet, is perfectly cast as Little John, and veteran Andrew Gasparani is an excellent Friar Tuck. Ginger Dalton, as Mrs. Buttertom, Melanie Acampora as Bettris Much and Emily Gates as Anne Much round out the cast and do a fine job.

Accompanied on piano by McCoy, the songs are fun and catchy with special mention of Geraci’s beautiful rendition of “Robin My Love” and Furnari’s “What Makes a Man a Man.” Costumes by Teresa Matteson are on point from Robin Hood’s traditional Lincoln green outfit to Friar Tuck’s robe to Maid Marian’s beautiful gown.

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photo ops.

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main Street in Port Jefferson, will present “The Misadventures of Robin Hood” Aug. 12 at 11 a.m. and Aug. 13 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Children’s theater continues at Theatre Three with “Pumpkin Patch Magic” from Oct. 1 to 29, “Barnaby Saves Christmas” from Nov. 25 to Dec. 30 and “The 3 Little Pigs” from Jan. 21 to Feb. 4. All tickets are $10. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Jeffrey Sanzel in front of a portrait of the late Brent Erlanson by Al Jones in Theatre Three’s lobby. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Katelyn Winter

Theatre Three in Port Jefferson has been a treasured fixture in the community for 47 years. Each year, the theater presents a Mainstage season of musicals, plays and “A Christmas Carol” while the Second Stage serves as an intimate venue for its annual Festival of One-Act Plays and Friday Night Face Off. The theater’s Children’s Theatre presents original musicals and acting classes are offered throughout the year. 

This summer, exciting events like the Sizzling Summer Concert Series and the Director’s Dinners, where you can dine with directors and designers pre-show, offer new ways to appreciate theater arts.

The upcoming Mainstage season has an especially personal meaning for Jeffrey Sanzel, who has been the artistic director there since 1993. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sanzel in his office at Theatre Three.

What can you tell us about the upcoming Mainstage season? Are any of the shows a personal favorite, or do you have a connection to them in any way?

Well, that’s an interesting question, because “A Christmas Carol” obviously I’ve made a life out of. I’ve been doing “A Christmas Carol” since 1988 so that has a very personal connection.

However, this season we’re actually doing an original play that I wrote called “Where There’s a Will.” I first wrote it 30 years ago, and a youth theater in Cleveland did it last fall. I hadn’t looked at it in 28, 29 years. The director of that company and I knew each other from the original production, so we had talked about it — I pulled it out, I did some rewrites, and they did it.

I went and saw it, and then I passed it around our staff, and people read it and said, you know, this is really worth looking at. So I’ve been in the process of rewriting it, and we’re doing that next April. So that has an incredibly personal connection for me. It kind of spans, when you look at the beginning of my career to where I am now, all of that.

Do you have any other hobbies, beyond playwriting?

No, I don’t really have any … wait, that’s not true. I started playing the ukulele two years ago! I started taking lessons two years ago, but that’s the first time I’ve ever had anything that is not directly related to theater.

In theater, actors wear costumes. But what’s your favorite article of clothing in your own closet?

I’m very partial to ties. I love ties, and there’s actually a story behind that. Our associate artistic director, Brent Erlanson, who actually was here before me, was an actor, a costumer, a musician, a composer and a designer — just a jack of all trades. We worked together for over 20 years. He passed away eight years ago, but he always used to give me shirts and ties for birthdays and Christmases, because he felt my wardrobe was really drab. And he’d give me these vibrant ties, and as I mentioned he passed away.

Now we have an actor who’s worked for us, off and on over the last few years, Brett Chizever. I told him that story, so he has started to, at every opening, bring me a different tie. So I have this whole collection that spans from Brent Erlanson to Brett Chizever, so it kind of ties the arc of my time here together.

Wow, that must be a lot of ties!

It is. I mean, he started doing this a few years ago, and originally Brett was just giving me ties for the shows he was in. Then it was the shows I was directing. Now every time he comes to an opening, there’s a tie. One time he hadn’t seen me before the show, and I did the pre-show speech, and I walked off the stage and up the aisle and out stretched a hand with the tie in it.

So, in your opinion, what makes doing theater here in Port Jefferson so special, as opposed to someplace else?

Well, we’re part of a community. And we’re part of a tradition that was started by Jerry Friedman, and then passed onto Bradley Bing, and then to me. We have this rich history, and we’re coming up on our forty-seventh season. We’ve had thousands of people come through our doors, as performers, craftspeople, musicians and designers, as well as patrons. There’s something about being in the same place, in this very cultural community, and watching things evolve over the years. This has been almost my entire adult life. I came here when I was 22, and I’m going to be 50. I’ve spent more of my life here than I haven’t.

Outside of Theatre Three, what is  the best show you’ve seen recently?

I saw “Fun Home” last week, which I thought was a beautiful production. I think it’s one of the best directed, designed and acted productions I’ve seen in years. It’s extraordinary — what they’ve done to tell the story. The artistry is jaw-dropping, and I thought that was impressive. I try to see a lot of shows, but it can be difficult because I’m here all the time. In the last year, I saw and loved “Something Rotten,” which was pure fun. I thought it was just terrific. It was smart, and funny, and spoke volumes to theater people. Also “Matilda” I thought that was a glorious mess. It’s kind of all over the place, but it’s so much fun. I’ve been theater-going my whole life, but as of right now, those are the things that jump out at me.

Do you have a go-to order at any restaurant in Port Jefferson for those late hours at work?

Yes, at The Pie, the lunch special. It’s the chicken teriyaki sandwich, which is definitely my go-to.

That sounds delicious. Looking toward the future, are there any shows you’d like to direct or see on the Theatre Three stage?

Well, I’ve gotten to a lot of shows on my bucket list. I’ve gotten to do “Next to Normal,” I got to do “Les Miserables” and “The Laramie Project.” As far as classics go, I love “Hello, Dolly!” We did that years ago when I was first here, and I didn’t get to direct it but that show just has a special place in my heart. There’s also a playwright Simon Grey, and I just love all his plays. He wrote one called “The Common Pursuit,” which is about academia, and I just think it’s a brilliant, beautiful play. I don’t know if it’s something we’d ever do, but as far as bucket lists go, it’s on there. And “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” by Jean Giraudoux, which I just love. I think it’s a beautiful, fantastical, dramatic show. It’s one of those things where on the page it’s okay, but if you saw it would be so vivid, so exciting!

What do you like the most about your work at Theatre Three?

Working with actors. I think what I’ve enjoyed the most, out of anything I do, is that interaction. The dynamic of working with actors on scripts, on developing roles, on character. As a director, the real heart of the work I get to do here is that.

Theatre Three’s 47th season opens with “Legally Blonde the Musical” on September 17. In the meantime, head over to one of its Sizzling Summer Concerts, the first of which is The Ghost of Jim Morrison: The Doors Tribute Band on Friday, July 8, at 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.theatrethree.com.

Author Katelyn Winter is a rising junior at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.,  majoring in English and creative writing. She is from Stony Brook and hopes to one day work in the publishing industry.

The cast of ‘Godspell’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Michael Tessler

Theatre Three’s production of “Godspell,” which opened last Saturday night, is local theater at its finest. A musical by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak, it originally opened off Broadway in 1971 and has had many revivals since then. Uniquely reimagined by director Jeffrey Sanzel, Theatre Three’s production succeeds in every category with beautiful lighting, a fluid set, expert choreography, tremendous acting and voices that will leave you yearning for more.

Sanzel, who had previously directed several productions of “Godspell,” brings a refreshing twist to the story, having it take place in the here and now. The cast portray not characters, but their actual selves. Everything you watch is playing out in real time, and it genuinely feels like it’s happening for the first time. The result is miraculous, as it adds a depth and weight to the show that makes it all the more human.

Biblical Spoiler Alerts: Each touch, every moment of embrace, was so unique and powerful. You feel so connected with the magnanimous presence of Jesus, portrayed masterfully by Hans Paul Hendrickson. You sympathize with Judas (Patrick O’Brien) whose dynamic personality and lovability makes his betrayal all the more devastating and personal.

Broken into two acts, the first is a series of parables told by Jesus’ disciples through songs and skits. They will have you in stitches from laughing. Each parable contains a beautiful lesson of morality. In the second act you bear witness to the betrayal of Jesus. Though the tone of the show dramatically changes, the cast still delivers, showing off their impressive range as actors.

What’s most remarkable about this production is its cast. This ensemble effortlessly plays with your heartstrings as their harmonies echo through the belly of the theater. They don’t limit their stage to the stage. More often than not they’re in the audience sharing the experience with you. Their collective voice is so powerful, so beautiful, and instills you with a sense of togetherness. During the production you feel as though you’re a part of something very special.

Hans Paul Hendrickson as Jesus and Patrick O’Brien as Judas in a scene from ‘Godspell.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Hans Paul Hendrickson as Jesus and Patrick O’Brien as Judas in a scene from ‘Godspell.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

In Act One, Amanda Geraci serenades with perfection in her rendition of the musical theater classic “Day by Day.” Bobby Montaniz’s booming voice rings perfectly during his soulful performance of “All Good Gifts.” Act Two, though darker in tone, does have some upbeat moments. Among them is the devilishly sexy “Turn Back, O Man” performed by the talented Elena Faverio. You’ll hold back tears during “By My Side,” a beautiful duet between Jenna Kavaler and Aria Saltini. In the audience, you can’t help but feel the urge to clap and sing along.

The show’s excellent choreography is also to be noted. With each musical number it feels the cast members outdo themselves. No doubt this can be attributed to choreographer Marquez Stewart whose vision translated wonderfully on stage. Her direction of Jesus and Judas during “All for the Best” is a real treat as the duo tap dances in tandem. Many of the musical numbers cleverly include American Sign Language, adding an extra dimension to an already beautiful repertoire of music. “Godspell’s” other great success is in its attention to ambiance. Lighting designer Robert W. Henderson Jr. programs some of the most impressive light sequences I’ve ever seen in a local show. “Heavenly” seems like a fitting adjective.

Behind the cast is Steve McCoy, musical director, who leads a team of expert musicians who brought the score to life in a way that only great instrumentalists can. Randall Parsons’ costume design was also a job well done with Jesus wearing his signature Superman shirt and Judas adorned in what I assume was a cleverly repurposed military coat from “Les Miserables.” Every cast member’s costume so perfectly fit the quirkiness of their personalities. Also deserving of credit is stage manager Peter Casdia who expertly ran the production from behind the scenes.

Arguably the highlight of the show is one particular scene that turns the stage into an old-fashioned slide projector. Comically narrated by Judas, the entire audience erupted into five minutes of non-stop bellyaching laughter. If for this scene alone, go see this show.

“Godspell,” while inspired by the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, isn’t exclusively a Christian show. Its message of community, love and compassion are delivered in a way that doesn’t require you to adhere to the Christian doctrine. Even as a secular Jew, I found myself humming along to “We Beseech Thee” and thinking to myself “I love Jesus!”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Godspell” through March 26. Contains adult themes. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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Hans Paul Hendrickson, second from right, with the cast of ‘Godspell’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Rita J. Egan

When it comes to the lead role in “Godspell,”  one important trait for the actor to have is charisma. During a recent interview with Hans Paul Hendrickson, it was obvious that he not only possesses this important characteristic but also enthusiasm for the musical’s upcoming run at Port Jefferson’s Theatre Three, as well as working with his fellow cast members and director Jeffrey Sanzel.

The company member was in middle school when he first saw the production at a local high school. “I was just blown away by how it was so different than anything else I had known in the musical theater realm,” he said.

After seeing the show, Hendrickson bought the album on iTunes. “I bought it and I lived it. I listened to it over and over again. And then, when I found out that they were doing it this year when I was signing my company contract, I was very much excited, and very eager to get a chance to get a crack out of it,” the actor said.

While it’s a role he always wanted, Hendrickson explained his reasons have changed since rehearsals started. He also said he finds himself getting along even easier with people, and taking the stance of turning the other cheek when someone does him wrong. “Originally I wanted to play it because it’s the lead, and he has great songs, and who wouldn’t want to play Jesus Christ. And also, the person who played it at the high school was someone I admired through doing theater and looked up to, which made me want to play it even more,” he said.

“But as I’ve gotten the role it’s kind of become a situation where, I’m not saying I’m becoming the character, but I’m adopting his teachings. I’m becoming able to relate to what he’s saying because a lot of what he says in the show is straight out of the Bible, and it’s not exactly written in the most plain of terms, but through my work with Jeff I’m able to connect that stuff with my life. And I’m able to adopt these ideals and these thoughts and these concepts of this man, and the character and the actor are becoming one,” he added.

The actor said the play asks, “If this charismatic character came into your life for one day, how will he change you?”

“In our production, we kind of take the name of Jesus out of the play. We are focusing more on the teachings and the identity, the being, the idea of Jesus. Rather than them addressing me as Jesus and me wearing a beard and long hair, we kind of focus on the love aspect,” said Hendrickson.

“Throughout the rehearsal process, Jeff [Sanzel] has been emphasizing the idea to me of leading from behind. Yes, [Jesus] is the leader but he kind of is the gas in the tank of the ensemble. He helps them to realize that they have all the teachings and understandings in themselves. And as he teaches them to tell these parables and these stories, not only do they learn the lessons about the stories but they learn lessons about themselves.”

The actor explained that the Theatre Three production takes place in an old theater, and as the musical opens, we are introduced to characters representing theater regulars such as the shining star, the understudy, the costumer and the director. While the beginning number shows disconnect, the Jesus character, who happens to be the janitor, comes in to help connect everyone. “We kind of wanted to emphasis the idea that he could be anyone. It’s not about, yes, he was the son of God, but he’s also the son of man.”

While Hendrickson has a number of favorite moments in the musical, he said he loves how the cast comes together in “Save the People” and feels a surge of energy that he said organically came along in the rehearsal process. The number first starts with Hendrickson and Patrick O’Brien, who plays Judas, on stage, and then everyone joins in with the band dropping out for about four measures where everyone sings a cappella.

“There’s such a surge of energy. And, it’s something that you don’t get in every production, and it’s something that you can’t take for granted as a performer, because it’s so genuine of everybody coming together for this one purpose. I’m getting goose bumps just talking about it,” Hendrickson said. “They’re almost coming together to be together. They’re not entirely sure why they are coming together but there’s something pulling them, there’s something bringing them in. Their vocals are just so on point at that moment.”

As for his fellow cast members, Hendrickson said they all bring different energies and personalities, and they jokingly refer to themselves as the God Squad. “There’s not a weak link up there.”

The actor credits Sanzel for bringing out the best in all of the cast members. He explained the director doesn’t just simply direct but also pulls the best from each actor, discussing with each their thoughts about the role and any problems they may encounter. Hendrickson said Sanzel also understands how to take into account the actors’ ideas of approaching a role and making the entire cast feel connected. “He’s created a completely judgment-free zone, which we’re able to try, and which we’re able to grow, and which we’re able to love and love each other, and love the work that we’re putting together.”

After “Godspell,” Hendrickson said he will appear at the theater in the one-act play “OK Computer” by Tom Moran  at the Ronald F. Peierls Theater on  the Second Stage at the end of April and as Pinocchio in the Mainstage musical “Shrek” in May. The 23-year-old plans to take the summer off and then audition, something Hendrickson said he’s more confident about than in previous years due to this past year as a Theatre Three company member.

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, will present “Godspell” from Feb. 27 to March 26. For more information, please visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

Jenna Kavaler and Hans Paul Hendrickson in a scene from Theatre Three's 'Little Red Riding Hood' [1/28/16, 11:01 AM] Heidi Sutton (leisure@tbrnewspapers.com): Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

Making its world premiere on Theatre Three’s Mainstage in Port Jefferson, “Little Red Riding Hood: A Tale of Safety for Today,” is a musical gem. Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin F. Story and directed by Sanzel, this modern version follows the classic Grimm fairy tale closely but also uses the tale as a tool to teach “stranger danger” in an effective way. The six-member adult cast, coupled with a clever and witty script, come together to create a truly special production.

The story revolves around Amanda Sally Desdemona Estella Barbara Temple, whom everyone calls Little Red Riding Hood because she always wears a red cape. Asked by her mother to go check on her grandmother, Granny Beckett, she ventures out over the river and through the woods to bring her some Girl Scout cookies. Her twin sisters, Blanche and Nora, accompany her halfway there; but Little Red Riding Hood sends them back home because Nora has a cold. Now alone, she encounters a stranger (William “Billy” de Wolf) and commits a series of safety mistakes, putting her grandmother and herself in grave danger.

Steven Uihlein serves as narrator and does a wonderful job introducing each scene. Uihlein also steps in periodically to play numerous supporting roles, including a policeman and a mailman.

Jenna Kavaler is perfectly cast as Little Red Riding Hood and tackles the role with aplomb. Her character’s changes in mood from annoyed to scared to confident are compelling.

The entire cast of ‘Little Red Riding Hood: A Tale of Safety for Today’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Melanie Acampora shines in the delicious role of Mrs. Temple, Little Red’s mother, who is so forgetful she can’t even remember her children’s names or who’s who.

Granny Beckett is superbly played by Andrew Gasparini, who clearly enjoys the role, poking fun at himself with an occasional deep note. His solo, “Who’s at My Door?,” is terrific.

Compared to the original tale, the wolf — played to the hilt by Hans Paul Hendrickson — is a relative pussycat, asking the audience if they have any steak or a bone, as he is always hungry. And his howl is not too shabby. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t eat Granny Beckett — she gets away.

Perhaps the most difficult role in the show is the one of twins Blanche and Nora, both played by Amanda Geraci. Geraci switches roles effortlessly, skipping on stage as Blanche, disappearing behind a wall and then returning with a shuffle as Nora, who is fighting a terrible cold. It’s not an easy task, but she pulls it off with perfection. Any minute audience members expect both of them to appear on stage — Geraci is that convincing.

Sanzel knows his target audience well and does an excellent job keeping the story moving along in a fun and captivating way. The action scenes are a nice touch, as the wolf chases Granny and Little Red around Granny’s house and is then chased by the entire cast.

In the last 10 minutes of the show, the actors discuss the safety mistakes that Little Red Riding Hood made, including talking to strangers, and what she should have done instead, a valuable lesson in a less than perfect world.

Teresa Matteson’s costumes are spot-on, from the head-to-toe fake fur on the wolf to Granny Beckett’s nightgown and shawl to Little Red’s cape. The musical numbers, accompanied on piano by the multitalented Steve McCoy, are the icing on the cake, especially “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Granny, What’s Happened to You?” Choreography by Sari Feldman is as top-notch as always.

The great story line, the wonderful songs and the important message it conveys makes this show a perfect reason to step in from the cold. The entire cast will be in the lobby after the show for photo-ops.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Little Red Riding Hood – A Tale of Safety for Today” for ages 3 and up through Feb. 20. Tickets are $10 each.

The season continues with “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” from March 5 to 26, followed by “Cinderella” from April 16 to June 11.  For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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From left, Douglas Quattrock, Jeffrey Sanzel and Hans Paul Hendrickson in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Photo by Elizabeth Castrogiovanni, Kayline Images

Theatre Three’s 32nd annual performance of “A Christmas Carol” opened last weekend. “Too early,” you may say. “It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.” Perhaps, but the spirit of Christmas — giving selflessly and spending time with the ones you love — is a message that holds true all year.

The show is based on Charles Dickens’ classic novel of cranky old miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who is concerned only with business. One Christmas Eve, the ghost of his deceased business partner Jacob Marley appears, wearing the chains he’d forged in life, “link by link,” and tells Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits — the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, who help him discover the true meaning of Christmas.

Published more than 170 years ago, Dickens’ tale of redemption quickly resonated with the working class and has remained a holiday favorite ever since.

Adapted for the stage by Theatre Three Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel in 1983, the production is constantly evolving, revising itself, with subtle changes that keep it fresh. The audience is led through a gamut of emotions, from fear to sadness to pure joy — a true testament to the magic of live theater.

The show brings back familiar faces year after year, with Sanzel (Scrooge), Douglas Quattrock (Bob Cratchit), Steve McCoy (Jacob Marley) and George Liberman (Mr. Fezziwig) leading a talented cast of 20 who, combined, play nearly 100 roles. The entire company, from the seasoned actors to the children, does a phenomenal job.

Sanzel, who also directs, is in every scene and is wonderful. In a scene with the Ghost of Christmas Past, he instantly transforms from an old, hunched-over tired man to a young man again, dancing the night away at Fezziwig’s holiday party. The transition is effortless and quite remarkable.

Quattrock’s performance as Bob Cratchit is particularly moving, especially in his scenes with Tiny Tim (played by Ryan M. Becker), and Steve McCoy is a daunting Marley. Other standouts include Liberman as the jolly Mr. Fezziwig, Kiernan Urso in the role of young Scrooge and Amanda Geraci, who reprises her role as the sweet but sassy Ghost of Christmas Past. James D. Schultz tackles a new role this year as the cheeky Ghost of Christmas Present “to show the joys of mankind” and does a tremendous job. Newcomer Hans Paul Hendrickson brings an elevated level of tenderness to the role of Scrooge’s optimistic nephew, Fred Halliwell, that is top-notch and operates the towering Ghost of Christmas Future with ease.

A Victorian set designed by Randall Parsons, period costumes by Parsons and Bonnie Vidal, lighting by Robert W. Henderson Jr., music and sound by Ellen Michelmore and the many special effects pull it all together nicely to create a first-class production. Be it your second time or your 32nd, Theatre Three’s “A Christmas Carol” is well worth revisiting.

Arrive a little early and be treated to a selection of Christmas carols by the actors in the lobby and stay afterward for photo ops with Scrooge (proceeds benefit the theater’s scholarship fund).

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “A Christmas Carol” on the Mainstage through Dec. 27. New this year, all evening shows begin at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The entire cast of ‘Alice’s Wonderland Adventures!’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Lewis Carroll’s beloved classic may be more than 150 years old, but “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” still resonate with children and adults alike. Now Theatre Three’s creative geniuses Tim Peierls and Jeffrey Sanzel have written a brand new Alice-inspired children’s musical — “Alice’s Wonderland Adventures!” — that opened last Saturday. All the familiar characters are here, from the White Rabbit to the Mad Hatter, to the Queen of Hearts to the beloved Cheshire Cat. Throw in an appearance from Humpty Dumpty and Dorothy Gale, add a quick game of Wheel of Fortune for good measure, and you’ve got yourself a hit show.

Sanzel as director leads a talented group of seven adult actors, all of whom play multiple roles, through a delightful and clever production perfect for younger audiences. Seasoned actors Jenna Kavaler, Amanda Geraci, Hans Paul Hendrickson, Andrew Gasparini and Steve Uihlein are all outstanding, as are newcomers Mary Ortiz and Melanie Acampora, making their children’s theater in-house debut.

In the first act we meet Addison Carroll (Kavaler), an actress who is nervous that she will forget her lines as Alice in “Alice in Wonderland.” In a dream sequence, she finds herself transported to a magical land where the White Rabbit accidently takes her script. Addison spends the rest of the show chasing after the harried hare, trying to get it back. Along the way, accompanied by the Cheshire Cat, she has a tea party with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse; plays croquet with the Queen of Hearts, who enjoys shouting, “Off with their heads!” a bit too much; and visits with Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Addison’s adventures help her gain confidence and she awakens from her nap, ready to take on the world.

Sanzel knows his target audience well. Every scene is full of song and dance, fast-paced and short. Riddles and jokes run rampant throughout the production: “Why do flowers work in the kitchen? Because you can’t make tarts without flour!”

The 12 original musical numbers by Peierls, accompanied by Steve McCoy on piano, are the heart of the show. Hendrickson is outstanding in his solos, “We’re All a Little Mad Here” and “The Tweedle’s Song,” in which he impressively performs both Tweedle roles, making his solo a duet. Geraci shines in “So Much to Do,” and the entire company’s “Wonderland Within You” is the perfect finale.

The actors utilize the set from the evening show, “Sweeney Todd,” but that’s OK because the costumes and puppets are so colorful and fun, a set is not even necessary. From the caterpillar with his six arms to the long red robe of the Queen of Hearts, costume designer Teresa Matteson has done an excellent job. It is the 13 puppets, however, designed and constructed by the brilliant Tazukie Fearon, that steal the spotlight. From the moment they make an appearance, the children are mesmerized. This is live theater at its best. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show.

Five-year-old Josephine Cunniffe, of Stony Brook, who said she loved the show, enjoyed the performance with her grandparents. Her favorite character was the White Rabbit.

Ashley Kenter, who’s been coming to Theatre Three since she was a little girl, said her favorite characters were “Alice … and the bunny” and her favorite scenes were when the Cheshire Cat told knock-knock jokes. The 10-year-old, who was having her birthday party at the theater, said she decided to celebrate the milestone at Theatre Three “because there is a lot of room here and they have a lot of good shows.” Her favorite show of all time is “Barnaby Saves Christmas,” which by coincidence is the theater’s next children’s show, from Nov. 27 to Dec. 26.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “Alice’s Wonderland Adventures!” through Oct. 24. Tickets are $10. For more information, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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