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Max Venezia

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Jessica Murphy will play the role of Wednesday in Theatre Three’s ‘The Addams Family.’

By Melissa Arnold

Jessica Murphy in the role of Wednesday. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

From their first appearance in comic strips in the 1930s, the iconic Addams family has won the hearts of many for their “creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky” antics. Their story has been told and retold through television, movies, books and even video games. This fall, Theatre Three in Port Jefferson will present “The Addams Family” musical, which debuted on Broadway in 2010.

The show finds the Addams children approaching adulthood, and for daughter Wednesday, there are certainly some growing pains. She’s fallen head over heels for a boy, her first real love, and to her family’s horror, he’s … well, normal. And the Addamses are anything but normal. Things are bound to get weird when Wednesday brings her beau and his parents home to meet her family. Underneath all of the zany comedy you’d expect from “The Addams Family” is a story about love, family, growing up and acceptance. It’s a lighthearted, silly show that’s perfect for the Halloween season.

Jessica Murphy of Northport plays everyone’s favorite goth girl, Wednesday Addams. The 23-year-old shared her thoughts on the show and making her Theatre Three debut.

Matt Senese (Gomez) and Jessica Murphy

How did you get your start in acting?

I started doing small plays and dance recitals when I was around four years old. It was just a hobby, but I found that I really loved being on the stage, being a presence and making people laugh. I did shows all through high school, and in my senior year I was cast as the lead. I wanted to pursue acting professionally, but I didn’t think I could make a career of it. Originally I was going to study elementary education at Loyola University in Maryland. I had always wanted to be a teacher — my mother and grandmother were both teachers, and I love working with kids. But in the car on the way home from orientation I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else but theater.

How did your family respond?

They were incredibly supportive and encouraged me to take a gap year. Afterward, I went to SUNY Geneseo and eventually graduated from there with a bachelor’s degree in musical theater. Now I’m just focusing on getting involved with as many theaters and productions as I can.

What made you want to audition for this show?

I love the music from “The Addams Family,” and my mom saw [this show] on Broadway and loved it. I had never been to Theatre Three before, so I was excited to get involved in a group that was new to me.

Were you nervous about being a newcomer?

It was a little intimidating going to a theater for the first time that has such a devoted base of actors. Many of them have done multiple shows at Theatre Three and so they know each other well. But it’s been a fantastic experience. Everyone has been so kind and I’ve loved working with them — they are all incredibly talented.

Jessica Murphy and Max Venezia will play the roles of Wednesday and Pugsley in Theatre Three’s “The Addams Family”

Were you hoping to be cast as Wednesday?

Honestly, I just wanted to be a part of it! I was hoping for the role of Wednesday, but wasn’t necessarily expecting it … they asked if I wanted time to think it over, but I was so excited that I said yes immediately.

What do you like about your character?

This show gives a completely different take on Wednesday because she’s much older than she’s usually portrayed. She’s grown into her own independent person who knows who she is and what she wants. We also spend a lot of time on the family aspect of the show — Wednesday will always be her mother’s daughter, but she’s really a daddy’s girl at heart. 

Do you have a favorite scene in the show? 

There’s a scene in the second act when [Addams family patriarch] Gomez sings a song called “Happy Sad.” — It’s a more serious father/daughter moment that’s very touching. Most of the show is so zany, but it’s one of those moments where we see that underneath all the craziness in the family, they have deep love and affection for each other.

What is the best reason to come see this show?

At the end of the day, this show is all about love. It’s fun during this time of year to have a show with these kooky and crazy characters, but they really have a lot of heart to them as well. And of course, there’s a lot of laughs!

“The Addams Family,” opens this Saturday, Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. The show runs through Oct. 27. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. No children under 5 are permitted. To purchase tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Austin Levine and Max Venezia are starring in James and the Giant Peach. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Before “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” before “Matilda” and even before “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Roald Dahl wrote the classic children’s novel, “James and the Giant Peach.”

The story follows the adventures of James Henry Trotter, an orphan who lives with his two mean aunts, Spiker and Sponge. Life for him is sad and lonely — until he meets a grasshopper, spider, earthworm, centipede and a ladybug aboard a giant, magical peach!

Now, over 50 years later, the story comes to life as a musical at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport on Oct. 3. Nearly 30 children auditioned for the role of James and ultimately two young actors, Max Venezia and Austin Levine, were chosen to share the role. Adult actors will play roles in the supporting cast.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing these amazing kids in between rehearsals at the Engeman’s Performing Arts Center across the street from the theater.

Max, whose favorite subject is math, is in the sixth grade at South Ocean Middle School in Patchogue. His path to become an actor began when he found out his friend Ava was taking voice lessons; so he started taking them too. His vocal coach later encouraged him to try out for a role in “Seussical” at Kids for Kids Productions in Oakdale. “That’s what my first show was and I’ve just loved it ever since,” he said.

At the young age of 11, Max already has an impressive resumé that includes roles in “The Music Man,” ”Gypsy” and as Snoopy in “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.” “This will be my 22nd show,” said Max, whose most recent role was as part of Fagin’s Gang in “Oliver!” at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson.

Austin, who also loves math, is a sixth-grader at Commack Middle School. In second grade, he landed a role in “Annie” at the Suffolk Y in Commack and was immediately hooked. Since then, the 11-year-old has been in over 10 shows including “Mary Poppins,” “The Full Monty” and “Peter Pan” at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale.

Austin decided to audition for the role of James because “I had never done something at the Engeman and I wanted to because its nice to go try out, [to] go to different theaters.”

When preparing for the role, Max read “James and the Giant Peach” for the first time. “When I saw it, at my age, I thought this is creepy,” he said. Added Austin sheepishly, “I have not read the book — I should though.”

Austin’s favorite scene in the show includes the song “Shake It Up,” where James accidently spills a magic potion setting off a series of peculiar events.

Both Max and Austin said they enjoy working with the adult cast, which includes James D. Schultz, Alyson Clancy, Suzanne Mason, Michael Verre, Kate Keating, Samantha Carroll, Danny Meglio and Jacqueline Hughes.

“I love them. They are so fun to work with,” said Max, adding that he learns a lot from them and takes notes.

Austin agreed. “Because sometimes it’s hard to work with little kids because they are not mature [enough]. It’s a great learning experience,” he said.

Austin, who said he enjoys working with Max the most, usually does not get nervous during a show. “When it’s an audience of, like, 1,000 people and I can’t see them, I’m fine with that. It’s just when I can see them in person, it’s a little weird.”

Max’s favorite show on Broadway is “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time,” while Austin said he favors “Mary Poppins” because “it is such a great story.”

Rehearsal has been every day after school, usually from 4 to 7 p.m. Max, who hopes to become “an actor and if not that, a teacher, probably either science or math,” does his homework in the car to Northport and on the ride home and sometimes stays up late to finish. Austin, who lives closer, likes to come home from school, relax, go to rehearsal, come home, eat, do his homework for two hours, go to sleep “and do the same thing over again the next day,” he laughed.

Both say their parents have been wonderfully supportive.

Director Jennifer C. Tully said the two boys were chosen because of “their amazing ability at such a young age to capture the sweetness and spunk of James.”

“Both [Max and Austin] are such talented young performers onstage and such genuinely good kids offstage. While both of them have put their own stamps on the role, they both exude the heart and joy that drives this beautiful production,” said James D. Schultz, who plays the role of the Grasshopper.

“I’m blown away by how hard they have worked and their very mature ability to create a rich and layered character,” added Tully. “It has been a pleasure!”

Come see Max and Austin and the entire cast of “James and the Giant Peach” at the John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, from Oct. 3 to Nov. 8.  Performances are on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.