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Melissa Arnold

'Great Blue Heron' by Chris Bazer
Photo artist Chris Bazer shares magical images of nature in latest exhibit at Emma Clark Library

By Melissa Arnold

Like all great photographers, Christopher Scott Bazer has an eye for beauty. But he also knows how to take a beautiful image to the next level with a little computer magic.

It’s what he calls photo-art, a unique blend of traditional photography and modern, digital effects. The result is vivid and ethereal.

A collection of Bazer’s favorite pieces is on display at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket for the month of August in an exhibit called Essence of Nature.

‘Butterfly en rose’

Bazer has been a shutterbug for almost his entire life, starting out with a little Brownie camera at just 5 years old while growing up in Queens. “My mother was very artistic and became a very good painter in her own right,” said Bazer, who now lives in Huntington. “Her brother, my uncle, also painted, so I think [the artistic talents] came down from that side of the family.”

While Bazer didn’t major in art, he did take a handful of art classes while working toward a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Southampton College. During his time there, he had the chance to study under painter and filmmaker Larry Rivers.

After college, Bazer worked for a time as a salesman before settling into a successful 35-year career as a DJ. But his love for painting and photography never died. At one point, he was the brother-in-law of Richard Bernstein, an artist who ran in the same circles as Andy Warhol. “I learned so much from [Bernstein]. He ended up being one of my idols,” he said.

Now 70, Bazer has had more time to devote to his artwork. He’s done more than a dozen public exhibits in the last few years, mostly in libraries and village centers. He is one of many artists to benefit from the support of Princess Ronkonkoma Productions, an organization that helps the disabled and elderly find outlets to show their art.

Bazer said that he’s not much of a painter, but there are usually a few acrylic paintings in the mix at his exhibits. “My paintings are what you’d call folk art — they’re not meant to be taken as realistic,” he explained.

‘Shore wader’

As for photography, Bazer now uses an Olympus Stylus 1 to capture the world around him. It’s a natural part of his routine to bring the camera along whenever he’s headed out. His favorite subjects are wildlife and landscapes, especially beaches; and he enjoys taking photos of Coindre Hall’s boathouse on the Long Island Sound in Huntington.

As traditional photography evolved with the arrival of digital technology, Bazer was inspired by a whole new realm of possibilities.

“I just started playing around with the software that came with my camera and experimented with different effects and styles. What I’m able to do now is stuff that you were once only able to do in the darkroom, and it was hit or miss, and very expensive,” Bazer said. “What’s interesting is a lot of times I go out and take pictures and I’ll come home and look at what I have and not see anything good, but then I can work with it on the computer and end up with something really great.”

The Essence of Nature exhibit will feature 21 photos and paintings, all of which can be purchased as a low-number print. For information, contact Bazer directly at chrisbazer@yahoo.com or CSBazer Art on Facebook.

The Emma S. Clark Memorial Library is located at 120 Main Street, Setauket. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 631-941-4080 or visit www.emmaclark.org.

The cast of 'Grease'. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Melissa Arnold

When it comes to musical theater, few shows are more beloved with theatergoers than “Grease.” Can you blame us, though? It’s an old, familiar story: Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Things get messy.

Put simply, it’s a snapshot of teenage relationships that’s almost universally relatable. And thanks to the 1978 film adaptation starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, “Grease” is permanently cemented into the hearts of so many.

From left, Madeleine Barker (as Rizzo), Laura Helm (as Marty), Liana Hunt (as Sandy) and Sari Alexander (as Frenchy).

All this makes it the perfect summer kickoff for the John W. Engeman Theater’s 11th season. For those of you who are not familiar with the plot, “Grease,” written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, follows the Rydell High School Class of 1959 through the highs and lows of hormone-fueled infatuation.

At the center of it all is Sandy Drumbrowski (Liana Hunt), the naïve, charming new girl in town who catches the eye of notorious bad boy Danny Zuko (Sam Wolf). While the two develop a whirlwind summer romance, the transition back to Rydell High is a tough one. Peer pressure, social stereotypes and the desire to fit in pull Danny and Sandy in different directions while sending ripples of tension through their circle of friends. While it sounds like a lot of drama, the show is full of fast-paced banter and folly that will keep you laughing and singing along until the end.

Director Paul Stancato leads a cast of theater veterans in a well-polished performance that’s hard to criticize. Such high quality is what you can expect to see regularly at the Engeman.

Liana Hunt plays Sandy in a way that’s down to earth and totally believable. Her voice is strong without being over the top. “Hopelessly Devoted to You” allows her to shine on her own, which is appreciated in a show mostly comprised of duets and chorus numbers.

From left, Chris Collins Pisano (as Roger), Sam Wolf (as Danny), Chris Stevens (as Kenickie), Zach Erhardt (as Doody) and Casey Shane (as Sonny) perform ‘Greased Lightnin’.

As Danny, Sam Wolf builds fantastic chemistry leading the rebellious Thunderbirds. The first words in the iconic “Summer Nights” will leave no doubt about why Wolf got the role — he can sing, and that same passion translates to everything he does on stage.

But this production wouldn’t be what it is without the phenomenal supporting cast, who are every bit as talented as Hunt and Wolf. In fact, they nearly stole the show.

The T-birds (Zach Erhardt, Chris Collins-Pisano, Chris Stevens and Casey Shane) are hysterically funny. Their antics will make you laugh out loud, especially when they briefly dip into the audience. They’re also incredible dancers, pulling off flips and jumps like they’re nothing.

The Pink Ladies (Hannah Slabaugh, Laura Helm, Madeleine Barker and Sari Alexander) are a force of their own as well — each one stands out from the group with individuality and assertiveness. Of particular mention is Barker, who plays the cynical Betty Rizzo with tons of natural swagger, and Slabaugh, who you can’t help but love during “Mooning,” a duet her character Jan performs with Roger (Collins-Pisano).

From left, Madeleine Barker (as Rizzo), Laura Helm (as Marty), Liana Hunt (as Sandy) and Sari Alexander (as Frenchy).

The efforts of choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo and dance captain Tim Falter have definitely paid off in this production. Dancing is central to the plot in “Grease,” and the cast’s quick, complicated routines are worth shouting over. From the opening “Grease Is the Word” to the dance contest during “Born to Hand Jive,” they should be commended for both their skill and the stamina required to pull off the show.

And while you can’t see the band at the Engeman — they are tucked neatly under the stage — their rock ‘n’ roll carries the whole show. In fact, if not for their credits in the program, you might think the music was prerecorded. The six-man ensemble is led by conductor/keyboardist Alec Bart.

Costume designer Matthew Solomon does a fantastic job transporting us back to the ’50s. The dresses worn by the girls at the school dance are gorgeous and colorful, and their twirling skirts are perfect for all the dancing in that scene.

Liana Hunt (as Sandy) and Sam Wolf (as Danny) in a scene from ‘Grease’.

The set, designed by Stephen Dobay, is simple but functional. The stage is flanked by generic buildings on either side, but there are also a set of risers leading up to a second level. This area was transformed throughout the performance last Saturday night and allowed for multiple conversations or settings to occur at once. It works especially well as a stage for the school dance.

Overall, this production is exactly what you’d expect to see from such a classic show — there are no surprises, and that’s a good thing. Find your seats early to relax with a drink while listening to top hits from the ’50s, and make sure you stay through the curtain call for a brief, fun sing-a-long with the cast.

Runtime is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Be aware that strobe lights and haze are used throughout the show.

See “Grease” now through Aug. 27 at the John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport. Tickets range from $73 to $78 and may be purchased by calling 631-261-2900 or by visiting www.engemantheater.com. Free valet parking is available.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

Photo by Joyce Ravid

Former New York Times columnist and best-selling author to come to Huntington

By Melissa Arnold

Growing up, Anna Quindlen’s one and only dream was to write. Her life was flooded with the written word from the very beginning. Quindlen described herself as “a difficult child,” but teachers praised her for her writing skills. That encouragement led her to study English and creative writing at Barnard College in New York City and then on to a career in journalism.

“I always intended to be a novelist,” Quindlen said in a recent interview. “I only went into the newspaper business to pay the rent, but I loved it so much that I just stayed and stayed.”

Anna Quindlen will hold a special book signing at the Cinema Arts Centre on June 8.

Quindlen paved an extensive career as a columnist for the New York Times and Newsweek, even earning a Pulitzer Prize along the way. But then she returned to her first passion — fiction writing — and hasn’t looked back. Her beloved novels, including “One True Thing,” “Blessings” and “Black and Blue,” have amassed a dedicated fan base and time atop the New York Times Best Seller List. Her book, “A Short Guide to a Happy Life,” has sold more than a million copies.

Now, Quindlen is celebrating the paperback release of her latest novel, “Miller’s Valley,” with a stop right here on Long Island.

Long Island LitFest will host Quindlen on Thursday, June 8, at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington. The evening will include an intimate reading from “Miller’s Valley,” a meet-and-greet, a signed copy of the book and refreshments.

The LitFest, which launched in 2015 as an annual event bringing lauded authors to the area, has now grown to include occasional Long Island LitFest Presents evenings with a single author.

Claudia Copquin, the festival’s producer and foundress, calls it a labor of love. “My friends and I are avid readers and booklovers, but we’ve had to leave Long Island to go to book festivals and the sort,” she said. “We saw a need for something like this at a local level, and Long Islanders are well-read and very cultured. Authors are usually excited to get involved [with us].”

Copquin and members of the festival’s advisory board work to identify authors that would have an interest in making an appearance here. Many of the selected authors are preparing for or on a promotional tour for a book release, Copquin explained. In past years, they’ve hosted writers including Alan Zweibel, Adam Resnick, Dave Barry and many more.

Quindlen described “Miller’s Valley” as “set in a small farming community threatened by a government plan to dam and flood the valley, and its action stretches from the ’50s to the present. It’s about that period when Americans learned that their government might not have their best interests at heart. It’s also a period when the lives of women changed radically, and those changes are embodied in the book’s protagonist, Mimi Miller.”

Above, the cover jacket of Quindlen’s latest novel.

The book has received much praise. The Washington Post has called it “stunning,” USA Today writes it is “a breathtakingly moving look at family” and The New York Times Book Review calls it “overwhelmingly moving.”

Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotions at the Cinema Arts Centre, said the venue is thrilled to welcome Quindlen as part of a wide spectrum of events held there.

“While the [center] is more about film, we’re here to service the entire community and deliver them all kinds of opportunities in arts and culture,” Tawney said. “We’re a sanctuary for artistic and creative people, and Anna Quindlen is such a renowned, accomplished creator. She’s an artist in her own right. It’s fitting to have her come out here.”

Long Island LitFest Presents Anna Quindlen will be held at 7:30 p.m. on June 8 at the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington. Tickets, which must be purchased in advance, are $35 for members and $40 for the public. For more information, call 631-423-7611 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.org. To learn more about Long Island LitFest, visit www.longislandlitfest.com.

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

By Melissa Arnold

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

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

What’s the play about?

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

What inspired you to write this play?

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

What makes the story interesting to you?

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

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

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

Is there a message or take away from this show?

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

Why do you think people will enjoy it?

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

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

Above, the cover of the author’s latest book
A rescue dog resembling a fox and a beloved lake in Babylon become inspiration for Letourneau’s latest book.

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Marie Letourneau

Marie Letourneau of Farmingdale has always been a creative spirit, illustrating and writing a number of picture books for children. Her latest release, “Argyle Fox,” follows a day in the life of an adorable young fox looking for something fun to quell his boredom. It’s a windy day, however, and Argyle learns plenty about perseverance, trial and error as he searches for the perfect game to play.

Best suited for ages 3 to 7, the story teaches that failure is often a path to success and celebrates perseverance, creative thinking and an old-fashioned springtime activity. Letourneau took time out in preparing for a book launch party at Book Revue in Huntington on March 26 to chat about her latest venture.

Tell me a bit about your childhood. Have you always lived on Long Island?

I was born in Queens Village, but my family moved out to Lindenhurst on Long Island when I was 5. Shortly thereafter, we moved to Babylon village — that’s where I grew up, that’s my hometown.

Were you creative as a child? What were you involved in growing up?

I’ve been interested in art as far back as I can remember. I loved writing stories and drawing pictures. I would make little books out of paper and staples for family members. I was very interested in puppets (thanks, Jim Henson) and just about anything that had to do with art. I was, and I still am, a very visual person. I didn’t always do well in school because I was always too busy doodling in my notebooks.

Did you always want to become an author/illustrator? Who encouraged you to pursue it?

My parents and family were always encouraging of my art pursuits. When we were young, my mom would read to my sister and me at night. I remember looking at “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Winnie the Pooh” and thinking, “WOW! I want to do that! How do these people draw so well? How are books made? How do they get the drawing and words onto paper?” I think I was about 7 or 8 years old at the time. So, yes, I have definitely always wanted to write and illustrate. As an adult, my husband encouraged me to follow my passion to do artwork and create picture books. I couldn’t have done it without his patience.

Above, the cover of the author’s latest book

Did you go to school for this?

I attended Hofstra University’s New College Program where I majored in fine art, but I never studied illustration per se. I didn’t go to art school. I learned how to create picture books pretty much on my own.

Is this your first book?

No, the first book I wrote and illustrated is called “The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Freres.” The very first book I ever illustrated is called “Is a Worry Worrying You?”

What was the publishing process like? Did you go the traditional route, using a publisher, or did you self-publish?

I have never self-published. All of my books are through Tanglewood. Self-publishing has its own merits and value, but I prefer working with a publisher/art director. I enjoy collaborating and bouncing ideas off of another person. A professional “eye” is invaluable. Working with Peggy Tierney (publisher at Tanglewood) has upped my illustration game significantly. She’s amazing. She’s taught me so much. I am forever grateful to her.

What inspired you to write this book?

This is a long, disjointed story that happened over several years. Several years ago, I started writing a story about a child who wants to play outside on a windy day. I worked on it on and off for about a year or two.

Around that same time, we adopted a rescue dog, and we decided she looked very much like a fox. Because of this, my family and I considered naming her “Reynard,” which is French for fox. We ended up naming her Reynie, and, subsequently, I somehow became slightly obsessed with foxes. One night I was sketching foxes, and it dawned on me to change the character from a child to a fox. I named him Argyle after a beautiful little lake in my hometown of Babylon.

Why is Argyle Lake Park so special to you?

I spent a lot of time at Argyle Lake Park with my friends growing up. It’s very picturesque, full of ducks and swans, a waterfall bridge, flowering trees and small park. When I was very young, I would look for turtles there (never caught one) or walk my dog. In the winter, everyone gathered to ice skate. But I think one of my fondest memories of Argyle Lake was through my high school, Babylon Junior-Senior High School. The yearbook club always took the annual “senior year” group photo on the steps of the Argyle Lake waterfall. It was a privilege we always looked forward to as underclassmen.

How would you describe Argyle Fox?

Argyle is strong-willed, a little precocious, and a tad cheeky — but he has a very kind and creative heart.

Do you think kids can relate to Argyle?

I think kids will definitely relate to Argyle. Who hasn’t attempted something, only to find they don’t succeed the first time (or second, or third)? Failure, or “delayed success” as I like to call it, is such a wonderful teacher — it pushes us to look at things differently. It nudges us to reexamine our path to success. Most of all, I think it teaches us to find our patience.

What message do you hope kids take away from your book?

If at first you don’t succeed, creativity and persistence will get you there! But don’t forget to have fun along the way!

Tell me about your book launch party.

It will be at the Book Revue, which is at 313 New York Avenue in Huntington on Sunday, March 26 from 2 to 4 p.m. I will be doing both a reading and signing books (which are for sale at the event). We will have forest-themed cupcakes and everyone is invited to attend!

Where can the book be purchased?

“Argyle Fox” is available at Barnes and Noble stores and online, Amazon, and through many independent bookstores and online sellers.

What’s up next for you?

I’d love to continue publishing books for young readers. Right now, I am just stirring the creative pot in my mind and seeing what floats to the surface. You can learn more about me by visiting my website, www.marieletourneau.com. There you will find my books, illustrations, an events page and more!

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Jack Kohl

It becomes clear when you speak to Jack Kohl that he does nothing part-way. The 46-year-old Northport native is completely immersed in the arts, with an extensive career in music composition, piano and theater. Now, Kohl is sharing the stories that have captivated his imagination for decades. His first book, “That Iron String,” was critically acclaimed by reviewers. In late July, he released “Loco-Motive,” a philosophical novel that pays homage to his two greatest loves: Long Island and running.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Kohl about his latest venture. Both of your books are set on Long Island.

Were you born here?

Born in Manhattan, but we moved to Queens right after I was born, and then out to Northport when I was three. Except for a few brief periods of living away for work or school, I’ve always claimed Northport as my native place.

What do you love about this area?

What makes Long Island so remarkable is that whenever you go to the shoreline, you have all of New England looming in the distance, and at the same time, to the west, you have the whole of our republic, with so much to explore. I’ve never exhausted what the Island holds in my imagination.

Did you always want to be an author?

I think so. I was always a big pen-and-paper letter writer, and in my early 20s I had the will to write in large prose forms. A novel poured out of me about my happy childhood that was also set on Long Island, but it was never published. I grew up with my parents, particularly my mother, reading aloud to me from Dickens and Melville. I think the music of those two authors was inside me from very early on.

What are some of your other interests?

Most of my income is from my work as a pianist. I studied piano in pre-college in Juilliard and went on to get my master’s and doctorate in piano at the University of South Carolina as well. I teach some courses as an adjunct and do freelance performance as opportunities arise.

Are ‘Loco-Motive’ and your first book, ‘That Iron String,’ connected at all?

They are, in terms of setting. And if one reads both books very carefully, they’ll find that characters from “That Iron String” appear in the background of “Loco-Motive,” particularly the character Portsmouth Gord. I don’t intend to compare myself to Faulkner in any way, but he employed a similar weaving and overlapping of characters in his work as well.

Tell me about the story line.

I would say it’s a portrait of my experience learning to be a runner. I turned to running to help lose weight during my time in graduate school. I created a character who uses running in an irrational way to try to set the world’s problem’s aright. There are two very ordinary runners who, suddenly, during a race very much like Northport’s Great Cow Harbor 10K, break the world record significantly.

Part of the novel involves finding out why that was possible, and the great coincidence of those two people being in the same place. It also explores the almost sinister preoccupation of one of those runners with coaching the other to be even faster. The great theme of the book is whether or not improving our physical abilities can prove that the body (and physical matters) are superior to spiritual matters. The main character makes an argument that the physical realm is what we have to fight for.

What inspired you to write this book?

The narrator’s love affair with running is very much autobiographical. It’s a portrait of my experience learning to be a runner, as well as all the experiences I’ve had with the Northport Running Club and all of the wonderful characters I’ve met through running and fitness on Long Island. Of course, the town of Pauktaug is a stand-in for my own native village and so many other villages on the North Shore.

Even if one doesn’t quite follow all of the philosophical ideas in the book, I still think that people will enjoy its recognizable settings and the affectionate fallibility of the characters. They have a humorous preoccupation with their finish times, their fitness routines and all of the things that come with being a runner.

What do you like most about your books?

There’s so much literature out there about running, and I agree with the cliches — it makes you feel better and improves your way of life. I’ve made the majority of my best friends through running. But I think this book explores the psychic and spiritual elements of running like no other.

What is the target audience for this book?

I think adults or even a thoughtful older teen who enjoys literary fiction would be able to grapple with the book and enjoy it. There are no themes in it that would be inappropriate for children; it’s more a question of whether they can be successfully grasped. I’ve been happily surprised by the variety of people who responded positively to this book … you don’t need to be steeped in Fitzgerald or Melville to appreciate it.

Your books are published by Pauktaug Press. Is that your own company?

It is, yes. I had read about successful authors that went the route that eliminated the middle man in publishing and, after some difficulty finding a publisher for my first book, chose to pursue that myself. I also take pleasure in creating a recognizable place that exists mythically in the book. Pauktaug Press is a newspaper that exists in “Loco-Motive,” so it’s fun to create the illusion that it also exists in the real world. Some people don’t even question its reality.

What’s on the horizon for you?

“That Iron String” and “Loco-Motive” are part of the Pauktaug trilogy of books. Their successor, “You, Knighted States” takes Pauktaug and sets it back in 19th century Long Island and the Old West. It uses many of the same themes while focusing on the families and ancestors of the characters in the first two books. That book is in copy editing now and should be available in the spring.

“Loco-Motive” and “That Iron String” are available at www.jacksonkohl.com, Amazon and other major online retailers. Copies are also available at the Super Runners Shop, located at 353 New York Avenue in Huntington.

A Vought F-8K Crusader at the Intrepid Museum in New York City awaits your visit.

By Melissa Arnold

If you haven’t been to a library in a while, you probably still envision it as little more than rows of books and people reading. But times have changed, and these days, libraries are about so much more than checking out an old book. Just ask thousands of families across Long Island who have benefitted from their library’s Museum Pass Program.

The premise is a simple one: When you become a patron of your local library, which is free, you’ll get access to everything it has to offer. Collections run the gamut from traditional books and magazines to video games and digital content.

The majority of Suffolk County’s libraries also allow their patrons the chance to borrow a family pass for a number of area museums, both on Long Island and in New York City. While the participating museums vary for each library, popular destinations such as the Long Island Children’s Museum in Garden City and the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan are almost universally available.

Each library’s Museum Pass Program is funded through its own budget or with assistance from their local support organization. While it’s not clear which library on Long Island first offered museum passes, similar programs have existed for decades across the country.

According to Samantha Alberts of Suffolk County Library Services, libraries in Ohio were providing passes as early as the 1980s. In 2008, Sachem Public Library became one of the first local libraries to offer passes. “We try to be a source of inspiration and education for people, whether that’s on-site or out in the community, so it seemed like a natural fit to introduce people to new experiences,” said Lauren Gilbert, head of community services for the Sachem Public Library. They began approaching local museums to purchase family memberships — the same annual passes anyone can buy. Each museum has slightly different rules, but multiple adults and children can be admitted with just one pass. Gilbert said that in 2015 alone, passes to 17 museums were borrowed more than 2,000 times at Sachem. Other participating libraries have seen similarly impressive numbers, and the program’s popularity grows every year.

For the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket, the Museum Pass Program is a more recent addition to their offerings. “Earlier in 2013, we did a survey of our patrons asking about the kinds of services they’d want to see at the library,” explained Lisa DeVerna, head of the library’s Department of Community Outreach and Public Relations. “When we looked at the responses, people asked over and over again for museum passes.”

They launched their program modestly, with 10 museums in the first year. Now, they have passes for 21 museums, including seven in New York City. More than 1,000 passes were checked out at Emma Clark in 2015, and they’re on track to meet or surpass that number this year. “It’s so easy to use. I’m a patron here [at Emma Clark], and I’ve done it myself with my kids,” DeVerna said. “You just pick up the pass the day before your visit and bring it back before noon the day after. [At our library], you can even renew the pass for use the next day as long as there’s not a reservation on it already.”

Each library has its own policies for the program, but most will allow patrons to borrow passes several times a month, and sometimes more than one museum at a time. And with the option to reserve the pass online or by phone, it couldn’t be more convenient. Therese Nielsen, department head of Adult and Reference Services at the Huntington Central Library, said that each museum’s popularity varies over time, and that they occasionally add new museums based on patrons’ requests.

“Certain places tend to spike in popularity on a seasonal basis,” Nielsen explained. “The Old Westbury Gardens are popular in the fall and spring when everything is in bloom, people like to visit the Intrepid [Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City] when it’s not terribly hot outside. At the holidays, a lot of people like to visit Old Bethpage Village. The MoMA and Guggenheim [Museum, both in New York City] are popular throughout the year, as are the Long Island Children’s Museum and the Cradle of Aviation [both in Garden City].”

The museums Nielsen mentioned are only a slice of what’s available. The librarians were quick to say there’s something for everyone, and the program saves families the money they’d normally spend on a museum trip, where a family of four could pay $50 or more for admission. “I think that part of the benefit of living in this area is all the great access to cultural institutions. There’s so much to offer here and people have been so excited to take advantage of that,” DeVerna said. “And you no longer have to worry about it being too expensive because it’s right here for free.”

Contact your local library for details about the Museum Pass Program in your area.

A decorated mantle rings in the holidays at a Northport home during a previous tour. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society

By Melissa Arnold

For many families, nothing says it’s the holiday season quite like admiring the neighborhood in lights. If you agree, then Northport is where you’ll want to be on Sunday, Dec. 11, as they celebrate their annual holiday tour.

The self-guided tour is a highly anticipated event in the village with several hundred attendees coming out last year, according to Tracy Pfaff, director of the Northport Historical Society.

Previously called “Homes for the Holidays,” the tour has been renamed “Deck the Halls Holiday Tour” this year to reflect the inclusion of more than just decorated homes.

“Our inclusion of historic sites as well as private homes is a different spin on the house tour concept,” said Pfaff, who assumed the role of director earlier this year. “It allows us more freedom to welcome vendors, offer refreshments and entertainment without inconveniencing a homeowner.”

The iconic 1883 Thompson Building will be one of the stops during the holiday tour. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society
The iconic 1883 Thompson Building will be one of the stops during the holiday tour. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society

The iconic Thompson Building, located on Woodbine Avenue, is one of the properties set to be decorated to the nines for the tour. While there, visitors will be treated to live music and the opportunity to purchase a variety of gifts from local vendors. The building served as headquarters for the Thompson Law Book Company when it was first built in 1883, Pfaff said.

The company quickly became the largest employer in Northport — well-educated lawyers, writers and editors came to work at the company and would later settle in Northport, which led to the construction of homes, businesses and facilities to support the growing population.

Brú na Bó, a store featuring art, home decor, furniture and more designed by local craftsmen, will also be a stop on the tour this year. Located at 33 Scudder Ave., the property was completely transformed after once serving as storage space for the Thompson Law Book Company.

Another stop on the tour is the historic Lewis Oliver Farm, which is located on Burt Avenue. Since the 1800s, the farm has raised a variety of animals, including cows, alpacas, sheep, geese and more. In the past, it was also a dairy farm. While dairy production has ceased now, the farm is still home to a variety of animals and features a country store.

A scene from a previous house tour. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society
A scene from a previous house tour. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society

Of course, elaborately decorated homes are still a crucial part of the tour, with three families graciously opening their doors to visitors for the occasion. Each home is decorated exclusively by the residents, and each has its own unique story, Pfaff said.

“The houses we showcase on this tour are a combination of historically significant and beautifully decorated for the holidays. Naturally, there are only so many homes that have significant ties to [the village’s] earliest days, but every home still has a story to tell and a part to play in the history of Northport, including the recent past and today,” she said.

Tour attendees will receive a map on their arrival identifying the locations of each decorated home and building. They are free to travel from place to place at their leisure between noon and 4 p.m. Volunteers will greet visitors at each stop to share information and answer questions. There will be something different to enjoy at each stop on the tour, including entertainment, sweet treats, raffles and opportunities for shopping.

“Northport is such a charming town with an interesting history, beautiful homes and exquisite harbor views,” Pfaff said. “This tour is a perfect way to experience it.”

“Deck the Halls Holiday Tour” will be held on Dec. 11 from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets purchased by Dec. 10 are $31, $26 members. Tickets purchased on the day of the tour are $36, $31 members. For more information or to order tickets, visit www.northporthistorical.org/events or call 631-757- 9859.

Luke Hawkins (Bert), Katherine LaFountain (Jane Banks), Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins) and Christopher McKenna (Michael Banks) in a scene from 'Mary Poppins'. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

By Melissa Arnold

From left, Danny Meglio (Robertson Ay), Liz Pearce (Winifred Banks), Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins), Katherine LaFountain (Jane Banks) and Christopher McKenna (Michael Banks). Photo by Keith Kowalsky
From left, Danny Meglio (Robertson Ay), Liz Pearce (Winifred Banks), Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins), Katherine LaFountain (Jane Banks) and Christopher McKenna (Michael Banks). Photo by Keith Kowalsky

Sometimes, looking at life through a child’s eyes again makes everything better.

That’s exactly the opportunity you’re given in “Mary Poppins,” which kicked off a six-week run at the John Engeman Theater in Northport this week. And boy, is it a treat.

Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins). Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.
Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins). Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

The Engeman Theater has a reputation for pulling out all the stops for its shows, and “Mary Poppins” definitely reaps those benefits with a stunning, colorful background, detailed scenery and a cast of seasoned professionals, many of whom spent time on Broadway.

Directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey, this show is a Disney classic, with all the heartwarming moments and magical touches you’d expect. Set in early 1900s London, “Mary Poppins” gives a glimpse into the lives of the wealthy Banks family — workaholic husband George, his doting wife Winifred and their adorable-yet-mischievous children, Jane and Michael.

Try as they might, the Bankses can’t seem to find a nanny who will stick around – it might have something to do with the kids’ constant pranks and stubbornness. But Jane and Michael meet their match when Mary Poppins shows up from who knows where. Without any negotiation, she invites herself into their home and begins to work some real magic. Along the way, she introduces them to a host of quirky, mysterious characters that teach them about what’s really important in life.

Luke Hawking (Bert) and Ensemble performing "Step in Time." Photo by Keith Kowalsky.
Luke Hawking (Bert) and Ensemble performing “Step in Time.” Photo by Keith Kowalsky

The story’s unofficial narrator is Bert (Luke Hawkins), a charming chimney sweep with a deep affection for Mary Poppins and the Banks children. Hawkins will have you smiling the minute he takes the stage, and his appearances will tug on your heartstrings throughout the show. His tap dancing skills in “Step in Time” will leave you breathless.

Mary Poppins is played by Analisa Leaming, a newcomer to the Engeman stage with several Broadway credits under her belt. Leamings plays Poppins with all the poise and grace the role demands, with lovely, light vocals even on the highest notes. She also deserves a nod for the slight-of-hand tricks she performs throughout the show, maintaining character even during a rare moment when her props won’t cooperate.

Katherine LaFountain and Christopher McKenna play the Banks children with endless enthusiasm and joy. Both have an obvious love for the stage and there is nothing forced about their performances. You’ll fall in love with them both during “The Perfect Nanny” and “Practically Perfect,” two examples of their fantastic teamwork.

Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins). Photo by Keith Kowalsky.
Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins). Photo by Keith Kowalsky.

The special effects in “Mary Poppins” are what make the show truly great. Children in the audience might actually believe that Mary’s bag can fit anything, that she can instantly make sandwiches from a loaf of bread, or that she can even fly. Seeing her take flight with that famous umbrella is the highlight of the show.

The show’s set can rotate, expand and retract, which allows for easy transitions between several unique locations. The background is perhaps the most eye-catching element, however, with the London sky in silhouette and a colorful, illuminated sky that can create sunsets, nightscapes and even some psychedelic schemes.

Many of the supporting cast members are also worth a mention. In particular, George Banks’ childhood nanny Miss Andrew (Jane Blass) commands the stage during her brief performance. She has so much swagger and authority that when she’s called “the holy terror,” you’ll believe it in an instant. Also, the “bird woman,” played by Suzanne Mason, delivers a performance of “Feed the Birds” that’s both touching and haunting.

The ensemble has a huge role to play in “Mary Poppins.” Whether they’re seamlessly helping with set changes as chimney sweeps, tap dancing or serving as any number of whimsical creatures, they are an essential part of the show and every bit as talented as the lead actors. In fact, their performance in “Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious” and “Step in Time” are among the most impressive of the entire show. The two children’s ensembles, which will rotate throughout the show’s run, should be commended for their hard work and flawless routines.

While the band isn’t visible or credited at any point in the show, they do a flawless job in presenting songs from the original movie as well as many that were written for the stage version. Under the direction of Michael Hopewell, the band consists of keyboard, bass, drums and a variety of woodwind and brass instruments.

All told, “Mary Poppins” is exactly the joyful, inspiring tale so many of us seek out during the holidays. While it’s not a holiday-themed production, the theater is beautifully decorated for the season, and you can enjoy the occasional Christmas song and a festive drink at the piano bar before showtime.

Take a few hours this holiday season to leave your cares behind and gather the family for a night of laughter. You’ll be glad you did.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Mary Poppins” through Dec. 31. Run time is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Ticket prices vary from $71 to $76. To purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900.

Douglas Quattrock as Bob Cratchit in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’. Photo from Theatre Three

By Melissa Arnold

Acting has been a part of Douglas Quattrock’s life for decades now, but like a kid at Christmas, he waits all year to take the stage for Theatre Three’s “A Christmas Carol,” which opens this weekend. Quattrock, 52, of Selden, is director of development, group sales and special events coordinator for the theater. On stage, he’s Bob Cratchit, the long-suffering clerk of Ebenezer Scrooge and the father of Tiny Tim. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Quattrock as he prepares to play the quintessential character for the 27th year.

How long have you been with Theatre Three?

I performed in my first show at Theatre Three in 1982 and became an official part of the staff in 2004.

What got you interested in acting?

I grew up in New York City and then moved out to Long Island in high school. I had to take an elective, and they had a spot open in chorus, but I didn’t realize I could sing. After that I spent a lot of time in the music room and taught myself to play piano. From there I got involved with the school’s productions and discovered I had a passion for it, whether I was acting or on the stage crew.

When did you first appear in ‘A Christmas Carol’?

Back in 1989, I was doing a show in East Islip, and (director) Jeff Sanzel saw me perform. He came backstage and asked me if I would audition for Bob Cratchit for the upcoming production at Theatre Three.

From left, Doug Quattrock as Bob Cratchit and Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge in a scene from 'A Christmas Carol.' Photo from Theatre Three
From left, Doug Quattrock as Bob Cratchit and Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Photo from Theatre Three

Did you hope to play Bob Cratchit from the beginning?

Absolutely. I’d seen the production before and a few friends had done the role before me. I’ve loved the story for as long as I can remember. I love [Cratchit’s] hope and connection to his family — he comes from a large family, just like I do. We grew up in a small apartment and my parents always struggled to make Christmas special for us, even if they couldn’t afford much. They taught us it was all about family.

Do you feel you’ve brought anything new or different to the role?

As I’ve gotten older, I come to appreciate more the value of family and what really matters in life … I focus so much on that in the role. I hope people can see that, and that my family knows how much I love and appreciate their support.

Tell me about the cast.

While Scrooge, Mr. Fezziwig and myself have been the same for many years, there are also new people that come onboard every year. They bring a fresh, new energy to the show and new dynamics. For example, I’ve (appeared with) many different women who were playing Mrs. Cratchit over the years. Each of them has her own way of playing the role, which affects our relationship on stage. It’s really exciting to see how it changes with time.

From left,The Cratchit family, sans Tiny Tim, from left, Jace Rodrigues, Marquez Stewart, Douglas Quattrock, Zoe Kahnis and Kellianne Crovello in a scene from last year’s ‘A Christmas Carol’. Photo from Theatre Three
From left,The Cratchit family, sans Tiny Tim, from left, Jace Rodrigues, Marquez Stewart, Douglas Quattrock, Zoe Kahnis and Kellianne Crovello in a scene from last year’s ‘A Christmas Carol’. Photo from Theatre Three

What is it like working with the young people in the cast?

The children are just amazing. It’s fun to watch them grow up and go on to other roles in the show or other productions over the years. [Director] Jeffrey [Sanzel] works so hard to instill good values and responsibility in them, to let them know how important they are to the show. If they’re not on stage, they’re either watching rehearsals or doing homework — they need to keep up with every aspect of their lives. Theater provides such a wonderful outlet of expression and education for children.

What is it like working with Jeffrey Sanzel as both director and Scrooge?

He has so much passion and warmth not only for this story, but for everything he does here professionally. I consider him a friend. It’s amazing for me to watch him make the transformation into Scrooge — he’s very scary. It’s especially so because he’s also my boss in real life! But we have a unique relationship.

Is the show scary? Are there any special effects?

Yes, it is scary — we don’t recommend it for children under five, and if they’re five, they shouldn’t sit in the front. There are fog machines, strobe lights, loud noises, darkness, voices from below, a 14-foot ghost and much more. We recommend that they watch other versions of “A Christmas Carol” first so they have an idea of what the show’s about.

Is this your favorite time of year?

Without a doubt!

‘A Christmas Carol’ will be adding extra shows during the Port Jefferson Dickens Festival, which falls on Dec. 3 and 4 this year. What do you most enjoy about the Dickens Festival weekend?

It’s amazing seeing how the whole village embraces this production. They decorate [Port Jefferson] so beautifully and everyone comes together to support what we do. It’s like the whole place comes to life.

What is so special about community theater?

It’s about taking limited resources and creating the best productions from that. We create with heart, imagination and a lot of hard work. That comes from within. And when a show goes well, it’s that much more exciting and valuable.

People have said that you always make them teary-eyed in your last scene with Scrooge. How does that make you feel?

That’s my favorite scene, even though it’s the shortest between us. From Bob’s perspective, the whole story has been building up to that moment, when Scrooge says (Bob’s) son, Tim, will walk again. Scrooge has so many redemptive moments in the last few minutes of the show, and it’s so powerful. I love knowing that moves people. I want people in the audience to see that even the tiniest gestures of kindness can mean so much to someone. That is Christmas to me. If the audience can walk away with that message, and capture the spirit of the season, then I’ve done my job.

“A Christmas Carol” will run at Theatre Three, 412 E. Main St., Port Jefferson, from Nov. 19 to Dec. 30. All tickets are $20 in November and range from $20 to $35 in December. For information or to purchase tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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