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Marci Bing

A scene from ‘Life, the Theatre, and Other Unlikelihoods’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

When a beloved community theater is about to turn 50, it is time to celebrate in a big way. For the next three years, Theatre Three in Port Jefferson will present a series of special events building up to its 50th anniversary, beginning with Life in the Theatre: A Glimpse Behind the Curtain on Sunday, May 20, at 7 p.m.

John Fugelsang will be the host of the evening

The fundraiser, which will be hosted by actor, comedian, broadcaster and Theatre Three alum John Fugelsang, will include an original comedy by Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel followed by a special guest appearance by musician, actor, writer and radio host Seth Rudetsky.

Founded in 1969 by Jerry Friedman and John and Linda Herr, the troupe started out performing at the Smith Haven Ministries at the Smith Haven Mall. “They all lived in the Three Village area, hence the name, ‘Theatre Three,'” said board member and former artistic director Bradlee Bing, who joined the group shortly after.

Over the years, Theatre Three occupied several different spaces including in the First Presbyterian Church on Main Street in the village before purchasing the current building at 412 Main St. in 1979 after the United Artist Theater closed. In the beginning, there were “only adult-themed musicals, plays and cabaret-style revues,” Bing said. The theater has since expanded to offer children’s theater, educational tours, concerts and acting lessons.

“It is inconceivable that 48 years have passed so quickly,” said Bing who first approached Sanzel about launching a three-year celebration.

Seth Rudetsky will be the headliner in the second act. Photo courtesy of Theatre Three

The event on May 20 will open with the world premiere of “Life, the Theatre, and Other Unlikelihoods,” a one-act musical  featuring original songs by Brian Crawley (Tony nominee for “Violet”), Tim Peierls, Douglas J. Quattrock and Sanzel. Starring Dylan Robert Poulos, the play will celebrate the joys and challenges of becoming an actor, from taking acting lessons as a child to landing that big role, or not.

Directed and narrated by Sanzel, the 17-member cast, playing dozens of roles, will also include Melanie Acampora, Marci Bing, Meg Bush, TracyLynn Conner, Jessica Contino, Ginger Dalton, Sari Feldman, Andrew Gasparini, Eric J. Hughes, Linda May, Phyllis March, Steve McCoy, Cameron Turner, Steven Uihlein and Stephen Wangner.

For Sanzel the experience of creating this one-act musical has morphed into “becoming a celebration of what we do … and is one of the greatest and most joyous writing experiences I’ve ever had.”

He continued, “Yes, the world of theater is fun and interesting but it is a huge amount of work and an enormous commitment. The flipside is the reward which is extraordinary. This play traces how we all come together as family in this amount of time and then we say goodbye and the poignancy of that.”

For Bing, this event is just the beginning. “We have identified it as year one, getting ready, year two, getting set and year three, go. We are developing activities that will prepare us for our final year celebration that will be a three-day event featuring a cocktail reception free of charge open to everyone that has ever been associated with the theater: actor, musician, technician, subscriber, ushers, family and friends on June 5, a semiformal sit down recognition, celebrity dinner on June 6 and a show at the theater highlighting 50 years of theater performances on June 7.”

For Sanzel, “It really is a celebration of theater, the universality, but it is also a celebration of Theatre Three. This event is the perfect launch toward our 50th anniversary.”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Life in the Theatre” on May 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50 presale, $75 at the door. Proceeds will go toward programming at the theater. To order, please call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

 

Steve McCoy as John Barrymore and Dylan Robert Poulos as Andrew in a scene from 'I Hate Hamlet'. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

Fresh on the heels of “A Christmas Carol,” Paul Rudnick’s delightful comedy “I Hate Hamlet” rings in the New Year at Theatre Three with a touch of Shakespeare, a friendly ghost and loads of laughs, all the while examining the age-old debate about the art of live theater versus the fame of television and film.

Directed by Mary Powers, the story centers around Andrew Rally (Dylan Robert Poulos), a successful television actor on the sitcom “L.A. Medical” and the star in a series of commercials peddling breakfast cereal. When the show is suddenly canceled, Andrew moves from California to New York City to try his hand at live theater and is offered the lead role in the Central Park stage production of the tragic masterpiece, “Hamlet: Prince of Denmark.”

Above, the cast of ‘I Hate Hamlet’. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

From all outward appearances, Andrew is living the good life: a beautiful girlfriend, the perfect apartment just off Washington Square and the chance to hone in on his craft by performing the works of the Bard. However, inside he is lacking confidence, his girlfriend of five months, 29-year-old Deirdre McDavey (Jessica Contino), is keeping a firm grip on her chastity leaving him frustrated, his new digs appears to be haunted and, for some reason, he just hates “Hamlet.”

When his agent Lillian Troy (Marci Bing) informs Andrew he is living in the same apartment once occupied by John Barrymore, whose portrayal of Hamlet led to him being called the “greatest living American tragedian,” Deirdre and real estate broker Felicia Dantine (Linda May) find the whole scenario too coincidental to pass up and the four conduct a séance to conjure up the dead actor. Shortly thereafter, Barrymore’s specter (Steve McCoy) appears in the apartment dressed as Hamlet and sets out to convince the insecure actor that he can and should take the part. Only visible to Andrew, producer Gary Peter Lefkowitz (Steve Ayle) and Lillian, Barrymore’s ghost cannot leave until opening night and utilizes his time teaching Andrew how to duel and to appreciate the poetry that is “Hamlet.”

When Gary offers Andrew a new role in a television pilot with the promise of millions of dollars and fame, the actor must decide between Shakespeare in the Park or commercial success. Which will he choose? That is the question.

Jessica Contino as Deidre and Steve McCoy as John Barrymore in a scene from ‘I Hate Hamlet’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Costumes are wonderful, especially the Shakespearian garb, and the set is most impressive indeed. In the first act, the two-level apartment, complete with fireplace, long staircase and balcony, is in disarray, with moving boxes scattered about, a rolled-up carpet and couches wrapped in plastic. As the lights go up in the second act, the apartment has been beautifully transformed to Barrymore’s heyday of the 1920s, bearing a remarkable resemblance to the interior of a Gothic castle.

With a stellar cast, top-notch performances and terrific script, “I Hate Hamlet” promises a lovely evening at the theater. Whether you are a fan of Shakespeare or it’s not your cup of tea, either way you’re in for a wonderful treat. Don’t miss this one.

Enjoy a drink at Griswold’s Café on the lower level of the theater and take a chance at 50/50 during intermission. Proceeds will help upgrade and maintain the historic building.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “I Hate Hamlet” through Feb. 3. Contains adult subject matter; parental discretion is advised. The Mainstage season continues with the musical comedy “Nunsense” from Feb. 24 to March 24 and the courtroom drama “12 Angry Men” from April 7 to May 5. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 students and seniors, $20 children ages 5 to 12. 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.