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Kevin F. Story

By Heidi Sutton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From left, Shane McGlone, Makayla Connolly, Lizzie Dolce, Meaghan Maher, Danny Feldman and Olivia Freiberger

By Heidi Sutton

The John W. Engeman Theater’s latest children’s production, “The Little Mermaid Jr.” opened last weekend with a big splash.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, Disney’s animated film “The Little Mermaid” was adapted for the stage in 2007 and made it to Broadway in 2008. Now a condensed children’s version of the Broadway musical swims over to Northport and does not disappoint. Kevin F. Story expertly directs a cast of 20 talented young actors in a shimmering production that runs weekends on the Engeman stage through October.

Meaghan Maher as Ariel. Photo by John Gadbery

The story centers around Princess Ariel (the incredible Meaghan Maher), the youngest of King Triton’s daughters who longs to leave her ocean home to live with humans. She often visits the surface to observe these strange creatures with legs and even has a secret collection of man-made thingamabobs and dinglehoppers.

One day she sees Prince Eric (played by the handsome Shane McGlone) on a ship and immediately falls in love. When his ship is caught in a storm caused by Ariel’s evil aunt, Ursula the sea witch (Olivia Freiberger), Eric falls overboard and is quickly rescued by the mermaid princess.

When King Triton (Theron Viljoen) finds out Ariel has been visiting the world above, they argue and she runs away, only to be ambushed by Ursula’s slippery minions Flotsam and Jetsam (Meaghan McInnes and Amelia Freiberger, respectively) who convince her that the sea witch can make her wish to be human come true. The catch is that Ariel will have to give up her voice and Eric must fall in love with her in three days or she would lose her soul forever. With a new pair of legs and help from her friends Flounder (Makayla Connolly), Sebastian (Danny Feldman) and Scuttle (Lizzie Dolce), Ariel sets off to follow her heart. Will she get her wish or will Auntie Ursula get in the way?

Ursula and her minions Jetsam and Flotsam. Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer

With music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glen Slater, the show features all the wonderful songs we have come to love including the fun-filled “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” the hilarious “Les Poissons” by Chef Louis (Scott Cousins) and the chilling “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” which has the profound underlying message that “a woman doesn’t know how precious her voice is until she has been silenced.” The highlight of the afternoon, however, is hearing Maher perform a breathtaking rendition of “Part of Your World.” What a voice! No wonder Ursula wants it!

In the name of Poseidon, bring your children to see this show. They’ll love you for it. Running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes including a 15-minute intermission. Booster seats are available and costumes are encouraged. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs. An autograph page is conveniently located toward the back of the program.

The John W, Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.” through Oct. 28. Children’s theater continues with “Frosty” from Nov. 24 to Dec. 30 and “Seussical the Musical” from Jan. 26 to March 3. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

*This article was updated on Oct. 5.

From left, The March Hare, The Dormouse and The Mad Hatter invite Alice to a Mad Tea Party in a scene from the show.

By Heidi Sutton

Alice and the Cheshire Cat

Oh my ears and whiskers! For too short a time, Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre will present the musical “Alice’s Most Decidedly Unusual Adventures in Wonderland,” a modern twist on the Lewis Carroll classic novel of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole and has a most peculiar experience. Although the story is over 150 years old, it has remarkable staying power and is considered to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre.

Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin F. Story, the show opens on a rainy day at Camp Lackaday Woods. The campers are bored and the lodge counselor tries to keep them entertained indoors with a sing-along. One of the campers named Alice (Meg Bush) sees a white rabbit (Heather Kuhn) appear and follows it, only to fall down a rabbit hole and meet The Cheshire Cat (Mark Jackett). “Which way should I go?“ she asks him. “It matters not where you go. When you get there you’ll find yourself here,” is the grinning reply, setting the tone for what’s to follow — a mind-bending production that’s simply delightful.

Alice meets The Caterpillar in a scene from the show.

During her “unusual adventures” Alice takes part in a “What’s Your Name” contest with The Caterpillar (Nicole Bianco); has a tea party with The Mad Hatter (Steven Uihlein), The March Hare (Kayla Jones) and The Dormouse (Julianna Bellas); hitches a ride with The White Knight (Matt Hoffman); meets Tweedledee (Jones) and Tweedledum (Hoffman); and is invited to a game of croquet by The Queen of Hearts (Ginger Dalton). When the kingdom’s tarts go missing, Alice is accused of stealing and must stand trial. Will she be found guilty by the queen and lose her head?

Of course, a show like this would not be possible without the supporting cast — members of the theater’s Preteen and Advanced Preteen summer acting workshop who play numerous roles including a deck of cards, flowers and contestants in a game show. The entire cast does a fantastic job.

Alice meets the Queen of Hearts.

Directed by Sanzel, the script is filled with riddles and jokes and the musical numbers, accompanied on piano by Douglas Quattrock, are terrific, especially “Tea!” by Uihlein (“We’re all mad here!”) and “Off With Their Heads” by Dalton (“Nothing cheers me up like a good clean chop!”).

Yes, the play is lots of nonsense, as Alice would say, but it sure is fun to watch. Don’t even try to figure it all out. It’s time to throw logic out the window and just sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

Buy a snack or beverage during intermission. Booster seats are available. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present three more performances of “Alice’s Most Decidedly Unusual Adventures in Wonderland” on Aug. 10 at 11 a.m. and Aug. 11 at 11 a.m. and again at 2 p.m. 

Children’s Theatre continues with “Kooky Spooky Halloween” from Oct. 6 to 27 and “Barnaby Saves Christmas” from Nov. 23 to Dec. 29. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Some of the cast members pose for photos at the end of last Saturday’s performance. Photo courtesy of John W. Engeman Theater

By Heidi Sutton

When the computer-animated fairy tale “Shrek” hit the movie theaters in 2001, it was a huge commercial success. Critics loved it also, calling it “an adorable, infectious work of true sophistication” (NY Daily News). The DreamWorks film went on to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, sprouted several sequels (including one in 3-D) and eventually morphed into “Shrek The Musical.” With book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, the show ran on Broadway from 2008 to 2010.

Loosely based on William Steig’s picture book by the same name, it tells the story of a green ogre named Shrek whose life is turned upside down when all of the fairy tale creatures in the kingdom are banished to his swamp by order of Lord Farquaad. Shrek strikes a deal with Farquaad to rescue Princess Fiona from a tower guarded by a fire breathing dragon in order to get his land back. Along with his sidekick, Donkey, he sets off on an adventure that will change his life forever.

Now everyone’s favorite ogre and his fairy tale friends have set up camp at the Engeman Theater in a children’s theater production of “Shrek The Musical.” The show, which runs through Sept. 2, is a condensed version of the Broadway musical yet manages to keep many of its wonderful songs and beloved scenes.

Directed by Kevin F. Story, the 14-member cast embraces the clever script and runs with it. Evan Schultz is terrific as the grumpy hermit turned hero, Shrek, who has little patience for his chatterbox companion, Donkey, perfectly executed by Marlin D. Slack. Channeling his inner Eddie Murphy, Slack shines in “Make a Move” and steals the show.

Sari Feldman plays a sassy Princess Fiona who is waiting for true love’s first kiss in order to break a witch’s spell. Young audience members will love “I Think I Got You Beat,” which features a farting and burping contest between Shrek and Fiona. “Better out than in I always say,” quips Shrek. 

Daniel Schinina tackles the role of Lord Farquaad, the ruthless ruler of Duloc, on his knees and with ease, and Jenna Kavaler is wonderful as the ferocious dragon who keeps three knights alive in the castle to sing backup when she’s feeling blue.

The members of the ensemble — Veronica Fox, Katie Dolce, Amanda Geraci, Sam Kronenfeld, Samantha Masone, Meaghan McInnes, Robbie McGrath, Jojo Minasi, Daniel Schinina and Jeff Tierney — round out the talented cast and play multiple roles throughout the show.

Many of the beloved storybook characters from the film make an appearance, including Gingy, Big Bad Wolf, Peter Pan, Wicked Witch, the Three Blind Mice, Pinocchio (yes his nose grows!) and the Three Little Pigs. Several of the popular lines from the original script that made the movie so great have been recycled as well, from Shrek’s “Ogres are like onions. We both have layers” and Donkey’s “In the morning I’m making waffles!” and of course, “Men of Lord Farquaad’s stature are of short supply.” 

There’s a lot to enjoy about this show, whether you are amazed at Pinocchio’s nose, grinning at the creativity behind the Gingerbread Man or laughing at Lord Farquaad’s legs. In the end, the beautiful finale, “This Is Our Story,” teaches us that you shouldn’t judge someone before you know them and that what makes us special makes us strong. Take your kids or grandkids to see “Shrek The Musical” — they’ll love it and so will you!

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs. An autograph page is conveniently located toward the back of the program. Booster seats are available.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Shrek The Musical” through Sept. 2. Children’s theater continues with Disney’s “The Little Mermaid JR” from Sept. 22 to Oct. 28 and “Frosty” from Nov. 24 to Dec. 30. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

From left, Aria, age 4, of Rocky Point and Cara, age 6, of Port Jefferson Station pose with the cast of ‘Rapunzel: The Untold Story!’ after last Saturday’s opening performance. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

The Brothers Grimm have left behind a tremendous legacy with their wonderful fairy tales including “Snow White,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Cinderella” and “Rapunzel,” just to name a few. The latter is the subject of Theatre Three’s latest children’s musical, albeit with a clever twist. Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin F. Story, “Rapunzel: The Untold Story!” turns the original fairy tale of a damsel trapped in a tower on its head and provides for a hilarious and magical afternoon.

The show is narrated by The Barker, enthusiastically played by Dylan Robert Poulos, who guides the story from the corner of the stage. “How will you be spending the hour? By watching a girl in a tower,” he quips.

Meg Bush, Jessica Contino and Dylan Robert Poulos in a scene from ‘Rapunzel: The Untold Story!’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

When a husband (Steven Uihlein) is asked by his pregnant wife (Melanie Acampora) to steal some vegetables from the witch’s garden next door, he reluctantly agrees. (Happy wife, happy life, right?) After being caught red-handed for the third time, he asks the witch (Meg Bush) if she will turn him into a frog? Take his first-born child? “No,” she replies, “Just … don’t do it again.” Turns out she is a good, sweet and kind witch and therein lies the twist. When the couple’s child is born, the witch decides to send over a vegetable basket to congratulate them and sprinkles it with a slow-releasing happiness potion.

As Rapunzel (Jessica Contino) enters her teenage years, she becomes increasingly ill-tempered, something many parents can relate to, and makes everyone’s life miserable. She refuses to cut her hair and is always in a rotten mood. The situation is so bad that her parents beg the witch to take her off their hands and lock her away in a tower. It is then that the witch realizes that she accidently mixed up the happy potion with a rotten potion — “I made a goof and the girl is proof” — and sets out to find a handsome prince (Andrew Lenahan) to break the spell. Will this version of “Rapunzel” have a happy ending?

Directed by Sanzel, the six adult cast members take the cleverly written script and run with it. They know their target audience well and do an excellent job conveying the story. A nice touch is the constant interaction with the audience. Whenever a problem arises, The Barker gestures for the lights to go up and asks the audience for encouragement, revealing the moral of the story — that the real magic in the world is friendship.

Accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, the original song and dance numbers, with choreography by Sari Feldman, are fun and engaging and the costumes by Teresa Matteson are spot on. Utilizing the gorgeous set from the current Mainstage production of “I Hate Hamlet,” with its Gothic castle interior and a balcony resembling a tower, is just the icing on the cake.

Snacks and beverages are available for purchase during intermission, booster seats are available and costumes are encouraged. Also, make sure to stop by and say hello to the cast in the lobby after the show. The actors welcome questions (“Is that your real hair?”) and readily pose for photos.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Rapunzel: The Untold Story!” through Feb. 24. Children’s theater continues with “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” from March 10 to April 14, “Stand Up! Stand Out! The Bullying Project” from April 21 to May 5 and “Goldilocks — Is That You?” from May 26 to June 9. All seats are $10. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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.

From left, Dana Bush, Michael Giordano, James D. Schultz, Frank Gilleece, Amanda Geraci and Sue Anne Dennehy in a scene from ‘The Pied Piper’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Sari Feldman/Franklin Inc.

Currently in production on the Mainstage, Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre brings us a kinder, gentler musical version of the classic fairy tale “The Pied Piper.” Written by Jeffrey E. Sanzel and Kevin F. Story and adapted from “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” by the Brothers Grimm, it tells the tale of a town that has a bit of a rodent problem. Millions of rats, some the size of toasters, have taken over every nook and cranny. Even the cats are afraid of the rats!

The mayor decrees that anyone who can come up with a successful plan to rid the town of the rats will receive 100 gold pieces. A mysterious stranger appears and convinces the mayor to pay him 974 gold pieces. With a handshake and a promise, a deal is made and the Pied Piper lures the rats away by playing his magical flute. When the mayor has a change of heart and refuses to pay the full amount, the piper seeks revenge by placing the children under a magical spell and leading them out of the town and into a mountain.

With six talented adult actors at the helm, the cast also includes 45 young actors from the theater’s summer Dramatic Academy workshop who portray the children of Hamelin. Frank Gilleece plays Mayor Bruce Armbuckle who does whatever his wife, Mrs. Hilda Arbuckle, played by Sue Anne Dennehy, tells him to do, which includes going back on his word. James D. Schultz plays the bumbling Police Chief Henry Kahnstible and his wife, Mrs. Natasha Kahnstible, is played with aplomb by Amanda Geraci. Dana Bush as Mrs. Lavinia Brewster, the richest woman in town, is terrific.

However, it is the amazing Michael Giordano as the Pied Piper who steals the show. Making his entrance toward the end of the first act, he commands the stage with his wonderful rendition of “I Can Rid You of the Rats.” The audience is entranced as he sings and dances and performs his signature one-handed cartwheel.

While all the young actors did a fine job, special mention should be made of Jamie Terlecki, as Lydia, the lone child left behind. A bright future awaits her on the theater stage.

Accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, the songs are playful and fun. Choreography by Sari Feldman is top notch, especially with “Hope Springs Eternal” and “The Blame,” as are the costumes, designed by Amanda Geraci.

Sanzel and Story’s play goes beyond the traditional tale of the Pied Piper with messages about keeping your word, cheating, forgiveness and, for the parents, that children are more valuable than gold. And that is the real magic behind this wonderful production.

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show and take a selfie. Next on the agenda is “Squawk: The Live Bird Show” on Aug. 23, a brand new musical titled “Alice’s Wonderland Adventures” from Oct. 3 to 30 and a Halloween Party for ages 4 and up on Oct. 24.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Pied Piper” on Aug. 7, 8, 14 and 15 at 11 a.m. and Aug. 8 and 15 at 2 p.m. Tickets are only $10 each. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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