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Musical

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How difficult must it be to become someone else? Somehow, Abby Mueller, an actress who probably isn’t a household name, transforms into the legendary singer Carole King in the Broadway musical “Beautiful.”

It’s a risky proposition. Many of us already know songs like “So Far Away” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which means we know what the song should sound like, even if we can’t sing it in tune.

And yet, Mueller, who is clearly the star of a show about another star, pulls it off incredibly well, giving us the energy, the soul, the innocence and the ambition of a remarkable talent.

Watching and, more importantly, listening to the show is a transformative experience. Music has that remarkable power, bringing us back to a car when we might have often heard “Up on the Roof” or sending us back in our minds to a dance party where we threw ourselves across the floor of a friend’s house as we invented our own steps to “The Loco-Motion,” where “everybody’s doing a brand new dance, now.”

Even though the dance isn’t so brand new anymore, it feels revived when we watch the high energy action on stage.

My wife and I snuck away before the end of the summer to see the musical, which left us humming and singing the songs through the next day.

The musical itself, like many other Broadway stories, is a collection of dialogue, a loose story and a compilation of rollicking music. The story line follows the musical career of King and her writing partner and husband Gerry Goffin, whom she married when she was 17 and pregnant. The audience feels as if it’s witnessing the birth of these songs, as Goffin pairs his familiar lyrics to the music King wrote.

The first half of the show, which is considerably longer than the second, is like a collection of musical candy tossed to a hungry audience.

I snuck glances around the room at some of the other people fortunate enough to take a musical joyride and I saw that, like me, several of the guests, who were mostly in their late 40s and older, had smiles plastered on their faces.

The second act doesn’t contain as many songs and delves into the more challenging and sadder parts of King’s life, where she endures the hardship of her husband’s infidelities and the creative tension that sometimes won the battle over his creative talent.

King, as we know, lands on her feet, becoming the legendary composer, singer and songwriter who was inducted with Goffin into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 for their songwriting.

The energy on stage throughout the show, with performances by a talented team reviving the style and moves of the Shirelles and the Drifters, rival the thrill of watching the cast of “Mamma Mia!” who belted out the familiar Abba songs.

The difference here, however, is that the script is not a plot written to tie together songs, but evolves as the backstory behind the early days of music that long ago circled the United States and the world.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” definitely lives up to the awards it has won, including the 2015 Grammy for best musical theater album and its two Tony Awards in 2014, which include a well-deserved honor for Mueller.

The only speed bump during this otherwise wonderful ride is the dramatic downshifting in the second act, where the drama, while no doubt true to life, slows the musical momentum. Still, the conclusion and the experience are rewarding, allowing us to reconnect with the legendary singer’s past, and our own.

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Almost everyone likes movies. But have you ever fantasized about making a movie? Now I’m not talking about a home movie of the kids swimming or starring in a play. I mean the big stuff, with lights, camera, action, Hollywood director’s chair, first-tier actors and bullhorn. Well, our newspapers are now in the filmmaking business, and it was history that made us do it.

History, particularly our local history about the Revolutionary War – the battle of Long Island, the Battle of Setauket, Nathan Hale and the Setauket Spies are as exciting to read as any stories today. In fact, they are remarkably relevant, as aspects of the Constitution are regularly part of our political discussions today. For what were the Patriots fighting, putting their lives and possessions on the line, bleeding and dying? And what are we doing with that heritage?

History makes for great storytelling, as the producers of “TURN” on AMC discovered over the last four years. Their version of history was inspired by fact but strung together by fiction. So on the anniversary of the Setauket Spy Ring last year, we  filmed a dramatic narrative of the Culper Spies wholly based on fact. To our great delight, that short film, which is on our website and YouTube, Facebook and other places, won first prize from the New York Press Association for video made by a newspaper.

Encouraged by our success and entranced by the many triumphant and also heart-wrenching stories that happened right here on Long Island some 240 years ago, we are making a full-length film this year, and we begin shooting locally this weekend. This time we are going all the way, with a cast of professional producers, directors, actors and first-rate equipment. The set is a work of art in itself, a recreation of the fort in the Battle of Long Island in Brooklyn Heights. We have 135 re-enactors coming from distant parts — Saratoga, New York; members of our own Long Island Third New York regiment; Murrysville, Pennsylvania; and Fairfield, Connecticut — to stage the battle that almost lost the Revolutionary War before it even truly began. They will be carrying authentic muskets, shooting gunpowder, spilling blood and gore profusely (thanks to our famous special effects person) and otherwise re-creating history. Best of all about this film, we are delving into the lives and personalities of the historic figures whose actions made victory possible. Be assured that we are characterizing them authentically, both colonists and British, fleshing out what details have come down to us from historians and corroborated by our local historical societies.

Several local organizations, institutions and residents are helping to support and underwrite this ambitious production: The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the Three Village Historical Society, The State University at Stony Brook, the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities (SPLIA), Theatre Three and the law firm of Glynn Mercep & Purcell. Some support is not so local, perhaps including the Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City and the Nathan Hale Homestead Museum in Coventry, Connecticut. Many places have indicated their interest in showing the film, including some local teachers and administrators. What a painless way to teach local history.

As we have been reaching out to the many people involved in this venture, we have come across many enriching details. For example, the Sherwood-Jayne Farm, where some of the action takes place, has original planking from Founding Spy Benjamin Tallmadge’s home, the Brewster House was a tavern and home of a cousin of fellow Culper Spy, Caleb Brewster, historic Benner’s Farm where we are doing some of the filming, comes down to us over the centuries, and the 1709 Thompson House, home of a local doctor, is one the beautiful preservations of the WMHO. And by the way, the Caroline Church on the Green in Setauket has a musket ball lodged in its steeple.

History is the glue that holds a community together, and our particular history is the platform on which our nation was built. We are proud to bring these stories to you on film, as well as in print, and we invite any organizations, businesses and residents who might like to be credited with making this production a reality to contact us directly. Call me at 631-751-7744 and become a part of the history of our hometowns.

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It’s a great history lesson. It’s a gymnastic dance performance. It’s a riveting narrative. It’s a clever rap session. It’s an authentic hip-hop musical, almost like an opera. It’s a whirlwind of energy. And it’s a remarkably true story. What is it? It’s “Hamilton,” the hottest Broadway show in many years.

We know that just about everything that is endlessly hyped usually disappoints. Just two things immediately come to my mind where for me there was no let down: the Grand Canyon and “Hamilton.” Now the anticipation ratcheted up was enormous. I bought the tickets when my friend turned 90 years old. It seemed like an appropriate birthday present, this story from the deep past. After all, for many dinners and evenings she had kept me fascinated with her eyewitness retelling of history from the first half of the 20th century. Now we were both going to see early American history come alive on the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

Let it be told that my friend will shortly be 92. Yes, she and I waited almost two years to get in to see this show. I also invited my 15-year-old granddaughter and another friend a generation younger than I to join us. With that span in ages, we were going to get an accurate demographic spectrum of reactions.

We LOVED it, all of us, from the opening number to the last sad moments of Hamilton’s life. It was witty, it was impassioned, it was fun, it was sexy, it was literate, it was tragic and it was wonderfully written, sung, acted, costumed and staged.

In truth, Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography, “Alexander Hamilton” (2004), had great material to work with. Hamilton’s life had everything a playwright could have asked for, with perfect timing now for such a story. Hamilton, born out of wedlock in the mid-1750s (exact year uncertain) and orphaned when his mother died in 1768, comes as penniless immigrant from the Caribbean to make his way. He had distinguished himself through his writing at an early age, and men of means sent him to New York. He arrived in the midst of the pre-Revolutionary tumult, was accepted at King’s College (now Columbia University), met some of the key figures of the day and became George Washington’s aide-de-camp, in good part because he spoke French and could translate between Washington and his French ally.

He fought against the British at Yorktown in 1781, married the second daughter of a rich New Yorker, authored the majority of The Federalist Papers, became a successful lawyer, went on to be the first secretary of the treasury, from which position he established the banking system of the nascent United States, was blackmailed in what was one of the nation’s first sex scandals, and ultimately died from a bullet fired by his longtime rival, Vice President Aaron Burr, during a duel on a strip of land above the Hudson in Weehawken. If it sounds like a peripatetic life, that certainly describes the fierce energy of the play about him.

I had the same feeling about this play as I did so many years ago when “My Fair Lady” with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews ended, that I had just witnessed some sort of breakthrough Broadway event. And as the characters of “Hamilton,” the Founding Fathers, come alive the way they did in that other excellent historic play, “1776,” we recognized them for their magnificent talents and their all-too-human faults.

The erudite New York Times drama critic, Ben Brantley, had this to say about the play when it opened on Broadway in August 2015. “I am loath to tell people to mortgage their houses and lease their children to acquire tickets to a hit Broadway show. But ‘Hamilton’ … might just about be worth it.”

So it’s expensive (unless you win tickets through the lottery that has been set up), it requires patience to wait for the actual performance date on the ticket, and most of the original cast is long gone. But none of that matters. There was never a marquee name connected with the show, unless it was that of Miranda. But his acting wasn’t the reason to go, it was his writing: music, words and creativity. And all that is still there, a wonderful respite from the politics of today.

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The perfect family movie for the holidays

Meet Disney's newest princess, Moana!

By Erika Riley

Disney’s newest musical movie masterpiece, “Moana,” opened in theaters this holiday season and is unsurprisingly a hit. Kids and adults alike will enjoy its strong protagonist, charming sidekick, beautifully crafted songs and inspirational message.

The story starts with an introduction to a Pacific Islander myth about the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and how he stole the heart of Te Ka. He hoped to bring it to the humans who he lived to serve, but instead opened up a darkness that still crept through the oceans to the present day.

Moana is the daughter of the chief of an island in the Pacific, where everybody lives peacefully and works together to make sure the island is running smoothly. Moana is destined to run the island one day but can’t help wanting to see what’s beyond the reef. Her exploratory nature gets the best of her. When the island is in trouble due to the darkness Maui unleashed, she takes it upon herself to take off on a boat and get the heart back.

The movie feels less like a Disney princess movie after that and more like an adventure, as we watch Moana sail across the ocean in search for Maui. She is simultaneously strong and flawed; while she is confident in her abilities and determined to save her island, she is also not a very good sailor or navigator, or very convincing when she does meet Maui. Yet we watch her grow and learn, and that’s an arc that is rarely seen out of “princesses.” Moana does, however, declare that she is not a princess, insisting that she is the daughter of the chief.

Moana is fronted by new voice actress and native Hawaiian Auli’i Cravalho, who beautifully brings her to life, especially during her musical numbers. This is the first musical movie that Disney has released since “Frozen” in 2013, and it does not disappoint. Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” co-wrote the original songs for the movie with Mark Mancina and Opetia Foi’a. The songs are both catchy and empowering and have a very similar driving groove to them that can be found in the “Hamilton” sound track. “How Far I’ll Go” and its reprises are the most influential songs in the movie, and can easily be seen as the new “Let It Go.” Johnson makes his musical debut with Maui’s “You’re Welcome,” a catchy and fun song that helps flesh out Maui’s self-righteous and confident character.

While the plot of the movie is similar to what Disney has done in the past, with a female protagonist going on a quest with the help of a man, it takes a steep curve in the fact that it does not have a love interest. Even though Moana is traveling with Maui, there is never any foreshadowing that they will be in a relationship, and they remain friends throughout the movie. In the end, it’s Moana who saves the day and figures out how to bring peace and prosperity back to her home, not Maui.

The movie is geared toward kids but will also be perfect for parents and teenagers who are nostalgic for classic Disney movies. While the humor is sometimes geared more toward children, there are some comments throughout the movie where Disney pokes fun at itself that adults will pick up on more.

Moana is a great role model for kids, and the inclusion of Pacific Islander culture is a stark contrast from movies like “Tangled” and “Frozen,” which featured white protagonists. Moana learns more about her culture throughout the movie, and it’s a beautiful part of the plot, and an arc rarely seen in fairy tales.

Moana is a great choice for a movie to see with the whole family this holiday season. It is currently playing at AMC Theaters across the Island, as well as PJ Cinemas in Port Jefferson Station.

About the author: Stony Brook resident Erika Riley is a sophomore at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She is interning at TBR during her winter break and hopes to advance in the world of journalism and publishing after graduation.

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If you have had enough of politics and pundits this week, come with me for a nostalgic trip through the golden age of Broadway musicals. I was carried back to those heady days of the 1950s by a recent New York Times article about the lost art of sneaking in for the second act, impossible today due to post-9/11 security. Now I don’t know if you have ever indulged in this type of larcenous activity, so I will explain how it worked — at least for me and my merry little band.

I attended junior high and high school at 68th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. The subway was right at the corner of our Gothic-style building. This is important information for you to know in order to follow our exploits. The other bit of vital info is that our school day officially ended each afternoon at 2 p.m., rather than the usual 3 p.m. for the rest of the schools under the New York City Board of Education’s auspices.

Shortly after I started in seventh grade, I fell in with a happy group of kids who lived across town, on the Upper West Side. While that was decades away from what we know today as the highly cultured and worldly UWS, nonetheless these kids were a lot more culturally savvy than I was. Every Wednesday, which is of course matinee day, they would slip out of our last class some 15 minutes early, slither quietly through the side door of the school and make a beeline for the subway stairs 20 feet away.

Somehow I came to be included in this precocious group. We would ride the local to 59th Street, descend to the lowest level of the station, which in those days housed the BMT line, ride it through Midtown to 49th Street and Broadway and arrive at the predetermined show of our choice just as intermission was ending and the smokers were returning to their seats for the second act.

No one ever checked the tickets for the second act in those days. And there were always empty seats sprinkled throughout the theater that we claimed for our own. If the real seat owner arrived, most often the usher would help us find another seat since it was fairly common practice for young people to move closer to the stage in those days if there was opportunity. I doubt the ushers realized they were helping scofflaws.

In this way, I saw some of the most famous plays with their original casts during what turned out to be the most memorable period of American musical theater. Of course I didn’t know that then, I just knew I was having a fine old time and we didn’t even have to pay the subway fare because we had student passes.

Of course I never told my parents what we were doing every Wednesday afternoon, and somehow we never got caught leaving school early. Perhaps the faculty understood where we were going and thought it more important than the last 15 minutes of classes.

But my parents may have wondered from time to time because I seemed too knowledgeable about the current musicals, their actors and composers. There were the Rodgers and Hammerstein classics: “Oklahoma!,” “Carousel,” “The King and I,” “South Pacific” and “The Sound of Music” (the latter two with Mary Martin); Frank Loesser and his “Guys and Dolls,” “The Music Man,” “West Side Story” and Chita Rivera; Ethel Merman, Gertrude Lawrence, Yul Brynner, Gene Kelly and Gwen Verdon; Irving Berlin and Cole Porter — they were all in my world.

And then there was the best of the best, its eloquence, melody, intelligence and heart standing at the head of those magnificent musicals, Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady.” I can still hear the music, with its clever lyrics, playing in my head. Led by Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, it was the longest running show on Broadway for years thereafter. And we saw them all — at least by half.

M.E. Junge (Ariel) sings “The World Above” in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar

This summer, families will have the opportunity to swim under the sea with Ariel and all her friends as The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre presents one of Disney’s most beloved classics, “The Little Mermaid.”

Gregg Sixt as King Triton in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Gregg Sixt as King Triton in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Ronnie Green as Scuttle in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Ronnie Green as Scuttle in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

The full-length musical, which opened last Saturday night at the CM Performing Arts Center, brings the ocean to life on the Oakdale stage and follows Ariel’s adventure to find true love — and her voice. The show delights children and adults with a dazzling production, special effects and unforgettable music.

Kristen Digilio and Patrick Grossman (who also serves as set designer and choreographer) skillfully direct a talented cast of more than 20 in this fun adaptation of the Danish fairytale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. Music is by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater from the 1989 animated film.

M.E. Junge is perfectly cast as Ariel the mermaid princess and shines in her solos, “The World Above,” “If Only (Ariel’s Lament),” and “Part of Your World.” Bobby Peterson is the romantic Prince Eric with standout vocals, and he is as handsome as can be. Kin-Zale Jackson perfectly plays Sebastian, Ariel’s lobster friend, Jamaican accent and all. His rendition of “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” brings down the house.

Kyle Petty (Chef Louis) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kyle Petty (Chef Louis) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

The wicked sea witch, Ursula, is played flawlessly by Erica Giglio-Pac, who commands the stage with her powerful voice and presence and is chilling during her performance of “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” Kyle Petty is hilarious as the French Chef Louis who chops and guts his way through “Les Poissons.” His chase after Sebastian through the castle draws the most laughs. Petty is a delight to watch and is on stage for too short a time.

The supporting cast does a wonderful job, with special mention to Flounder (Victoria Tiernan), Scuttle (Ronnie Green), the electric eels Flotsam (Matthew W. Surico) and Jetsam (Kevin Burns), King Triton (Gregg Sixt) and Grimsby (Andrew Murano).

Multiple sets are featured for both the above and underwater scenes with a ship, a castle, coral reef and lots of waves. Green’s costumes complement the set perfectly, with vibrant outfits, wigs (more than 40 are used during production) and tons of glitter. From Ursula’s dress, with six additional legs, to King Triton’s crown and trident, everything pulls together nicely. Lighting was designed by Allison Weinberger, with spotlighting neatly handled by Jacqueline Hughes and Marielle Greguski and the choreography was exceptional, especially during “One Step Closer,” in which Eric and Ariel dance the Waltz, and the tap dance number “Positoovity” with Scuttle and his seagull friends.

Erica Giglio-Pac (Ursula) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Erica Giglio-Pac (Ursula) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

This is a wonderfully family-friendly show and although the scenes with Ursula could be a little frightening for a younger child, the clever script — chock full of sea-themed puns, like “as long as you live under my reef, you will live by my rules” and “a squid pro quo” — as well as the singing, dancing and special effects make it all worthwhile.

As a special nod to the children in the audience, the crew turns on bubble machines during “Under the Sea“ from the sides of the theater and on stage, releasing, according to the program, 15 gallons of bubble juice during each show. Although the evening show starts at an earlier time of 7:30 p.m., it runs for two and a half hours with one 15-minute intermission, perhaps too long for the younger audience.

The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, will present Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” through July 9. Tickets range from $16 to $29, with VIP seats for $40.

The theater closes its 38th season with “West Side Story” from July 30 to Aug. 28. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.org.

From left, Matthew W. Surico as Flotsam, M.E. Junge as Ariel and Kevin Burns as Jetsam in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
From left, Matthew W. Surico as Flotsam, M.E. Junge as Ariel and Kevin Burns as Jetsam in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kin-Zale Jackson (Sebastian) and M.E. Junge (Ariel) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kin-Zale Jackson (Sebastian) and M.E. Junge (Ariel) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

Tessa Grady (As Millie Dillmount) in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Heidi Sutton

“Thoroughly Modern Millie” opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport last Saturday, a fitting finale to its 2015-16 season. With music by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics by Dick Scanlan and book by Richard Morris and Scanlan, the play is based on the 1967 film starring Julie Andrews and won six Tony awards, including Best Musical in 2002. It has been making the rounds in community theater and high school productions ever since.

Sarah Stevens (as Miss Dorothy Brown) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) sing “How the Other Half Lives” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo from Michael DeCristofaro
Sarah Stevens (as Miss Dorothy Brown) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) sing “How the Other Half Lives” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo from Michael DeCristofaro

Drew Humphrey directs the talented cast with polish and precision. From the jazzy opening number, “Not for the Life of Me,” the show takes off running and never loses momentum.

The year is 1922 and “modern gal” Millie Dillmount, played by Tessa Grady, has just arrived in the Big Apple from Salina, Kansas, with the sole intent of marrying for money instead of love. Within minutes, she is robbed of her hat, her purse and a shoe. She quips, “10 minutes in this town and I have my New York horror story.” Grady is perfectly cast as a determined woman who takes charge of her own destiny and jumps right in to the flapper lifestyle with a new wardrobe and hairstyle. However, things start to go haywire when her “Chinese” landlady, Mrs. Meers, turns out to be an impostor involved in a white slavery ring in China, and the rich man Millie wants to marry doesn’t seem to notice her.

Daniel Plimpton (as Jimmy Smith) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) sing “I Turned a Corner” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Daniel Plimpton (as Jimmy Smith) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) sing “I Turned a Corner” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

With fancy footwork and pitch-perfect voices, the entire cast shines, with special mention to Daniel Plimpton (playing Jimmy Smith), Sarah Stevens (as Miss Dorothy Brown), Nicole Powell (as Muzzy Van Hossmere) and Tim Rogan (playing Mr. Trevor Graydon), who all gave stellar performances. However, it is Michele Ragusa, in the delicious role of Mrs. Meers, and her two henchmen, Ching Ho, played by Anthony Chan, and Bun Foo, played by Carl Hsu, who steal the show. Meers’ famous line, “Sad to be all alone in the world,” said every time she comes upon an orphan and next victim, draws the most laughs.

The show is a feast for the eyes, with glittering flapper dresses and three-piece suits designed by Kurt Alger perfectly capturing the era. The set is equally impressive. Cleverly designed by Jonathan Collins, panels on the stage resemble a sparkling New York City skyline, and when spun around reveal small additions to a scene such as a desk or a bench.

Nicole Powell (as Muzzy Van Hossmere) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.' Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Nicole Powell (as Muzzy Van Hossmere) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Choreographers Dena DiGiacinto and Humphrey do an incredible job incorporating the jazz age’s dance styles, including the Charleston, the shimmy and the can-can. “The Speed Test” in which Millie shows her typewriting speed, accompanied by a highly energetic tap ensemble, is breathtaking. As a special treat, conductor/keyboardist James Olmstead and his eight-piece powerhouse band belt out jazz and blues tunes flawlessly throughout the night, completing a wonderful evening of live theater.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Thoroughly Modern Millie” through July 10. Running time is approximately two hours, including one 15-minute intermission. Tickets range from $69 to $74 with free valet parking.

The season continues with “Mamma Mia!” from July 21 to Sept. 11, “1776” from Sept. 22 to Nov. 6 and “Mary Poppins” from Nov. 17 to Jan. 1, 2017. To order tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Anthony Chan (as Ching Ho), Michele Ragusa (as Mrs. Meers) and Carl Hsu (as Bun Foo) sing “Muqin” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Anthony Chan (as Ching Ho), Michele Ragusa (as Mrs. Meers) and Carl Hsu (as Bun Foo) sing “Muqin” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

The cast of ‘Shrek The Musical’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Michael Tessler

Putting on “Shrek The Musical” is no easy feat. There are countless characters, huge set requirements, fantastical costumes and puppets both small and … dragon-sized. Theatre Three’s bold production of “Shrek” takes these challenges in stride, resulting in a masterful production befitting the scope and size of its Broadway counterpart.

Donkey (Bobby Montaniz) and Shrek (Danny Stalter) in a scene from ‘Shrek The Musical.’ Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Donkey (Bobby Montaniz) and Shrek (Danny Stalter) in a scene from ‘Shrek The Musical.’ Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Jeffrey Sanzel, the show’s director, is deserving of great praise as he takes on the task with his usual grace and theatrical virtuosity. His versatility as a director is to be commended, such range and vision is an unusually rare thing. As a frequent spectator of his work, I’m beyond grateful that he makes every show a thrilling new experience, and his interpretation of “Shrek” is certainly no exception to that rule.

The production is filled with show-stopping numbers (21 of them!) and every song outdoes the previous. From the leads to the ensemble, each cast member delivers a spectacular performance worthy of the show’s Tony-nominated score.

One of my directors growing up would often remind me that a successful show lets people “leave their brains at the door”  — it’s an escape from reality, and even the slightest mistake can upend that magical facade. This is why this production of “Shrek” was so uniquely satisfying. There was not a moment when I wasn’t fully swept up by the show’s phenomenal cast and harmonies.

Our title character Shrek, played by Theatre Three newcomer Danny Stalter, was an absolute treat. Stalter plays upon the Mike Myers’ legacy but forges his own unique style that is both endearing and hugely rewarding. This dynamic character undergoes development in nearly every scene. This progression is captured beautifully by Stalter whose well-conceived performance only enhances the emotional moments. Shrek, while grotesque and green on the outside, has a beautiful voice that will send chills down your spine more than once.

His partner-in-crime is a jackass, and by that I mean Donkey. Played with sass and master comedic timing by Bobby Montaniz, this hard not to love character steals the show and often! Admittedly his performance of “Make a Move” has been stuck in my head for hours, and I’m not complaining because it’s still making me laugh.

Danny Stalter as Shrek, Jenna Kavaler as Princess Fiona and Bobby Montaniz as Donkey star in ‘Shrek The Musical’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Danny Stalter as Shrek, Jenna Kavaler as Princess Fiona and Bobby Montaniz as Donkey star in ‘Shrek The Musical’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

In theater they say “there are no small roles, just small people,” which bring us to Lord Farquaad, the Lord of Duloc, played to perfection by Matt Senese. This miniature-sized dictator had me laughing so hard, I’m surprised they didn’t kick me out of the theater. Senese makes perfect use of his tiny costume legs, dancing, jumping and kick-lining fearlessly. As if being funny weren’t enough, he also has a voice that is sure to wow!

Jenna Kavaler, a Theatre Three veteran, plays Princess Fiona flawlessly. Having just watched her performance in “Beau Jest,” I was amazed at her range as an actress. She is funny and wildly entertaining, especially during one particularly gassy sequence with Shrek. Her voice is beautiful but shines best during her three-part harmony with her younger Fiona counterparts played by Leah Bloom and Ella Watts. Their performance of “I Know It’s Today” was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard in local theater.

Steve McCoy choreographs the show to perfection, while Jeffrey Hoffman masterfully manages musical direction. Robert W. Henderson Jr. lights up the show with expert design and Patrick Grossman brings to life some fantastic fairy tale costumes. All in all, this family-friendly production is the perfect way to spend a weekend! If you don’t believe me, see below for a few notes from my little cousins who joined me for this special review!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Shrek the Musical” through June 25. Evening shows begin at a family-friendly time of 7 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $30.

All are invited to a Director’s Dinner on the Second Stage on June 5 at 5:45 p.m. with Jeffrey Sanzel for a fascinating behind the scenes look of the making of “Shrek” following the 3 p.m. show. Tickets, which include dinner and a show, are $53 adults, $48 seniors and students, $45 children ages 6 to 12.

For more information or to order tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

From left, Aida, Liam and Maddox pose with the program and their green ogre ears after the Shrek show last Saturday night. Photo by Michael Tessler
From left, Aida, Liam and Maddox pose with the program and their green ogre ears after the Shrek show last Saturday night. Photo by Michael Tessler

KID CRITIQUES:

Aida (age 7½): I loved when Donkey shaked his booty at Shrek! I liked the dragon because she had a nice voice!

Liam (age 5½): My favorite part is seeing Donkey! He’s really funny! Especially when he fell from the tree and made a little wall!

Maddox (age 5½): Loved the tap dancing and when Shrek kicks! And when Shrek found out Fiona’s secret!

Matt Senese will portray Lord Farquaad in Theatre Three’s latest production, ‘Shrek the Musical.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Rita J. Egan

Armed with hockey-grade shin and knee guards, Patchogue resident Matt Senese is ready to hit, not the ice, but the stage as Lord Farquaad in Theatre Three’s upcoming Mainstage production of “Shrek the Musical.”

For those who may not be familiar with the 2001 DreamWorks movie or 2009 Broadway musical, Lord Farquaad is the diminutive archenemy of Shrek and friends. Senese, who jokes that he is “5 feet 7 inches with a lot of sleep,” will play the role on his knees in order for the audience to get the full effect of just how small his royal nuisance is. The shin and knee guards under his costume protect his lower legs from injuries.

Matt Senese will portray Lord Farquaad in Theatre Three’s latest production, ‘Shrek the Musical.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Matt Senese will portray Lord Farquaad in Theatre Three’s latest production, ‘Shrek the Musical.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

The seasoned actor, who is also a fourth-grade teacher at Maud S. Sherwood Elementary School in Islip, has appeared in over 300 local productions as well as regional theater outside of New York. Recently, Senese took time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his participation in the upcoming production.

How did you feel when you learned that you got the part?
I was very excited! Jeff (Sanzel), the artistic director, cast me before it was even announced. He asked me about it last year. So, I’ve known for a year that I was going to be doing it which gave me time to … learn it and kind of get used to dancing on my knees.

How are rehearsals going?
They’re great. I think it’s going to be a wonderful show. It’s a very hard working group.

Do you have a favorite number in the musical?
The favorite thing that I do is a song called “What’s Up, Duloc” where it’s kind of a … Las Vegas number, so it’s got back-up singers and dancers. But, I’m doing it on my knees with these tiny legs so it’s very funny. I think my favorite song in the show though is one that I’m not in, and it’s called “Freak Flag.” It’s a song about just being yourself — everyone is different; nobody is perfect. So just let your freak flag fly.

For you is that the main message of ‘Shrek’?
Absolutely. It’s a great musical to bring the whole family to because it’s a musical that celebrates differences. Also, the wonderful thing about this story is it’s not your typical fairy tale. Usually the princess kisses the frog, and the frog turns into a handsome prince. It’s a musical about an ogre who falls in love with a princess and at the end of the story, she turns into an ogress. They’re both ogres at the end of the show, and happy to be ogres because it’s not about looks, it’s about love.

Do you have plans after the musical ends at Theatre Three?
No, I don’t. I’m just going to take it easy. I think after “Shrek” I’m going to rest up and enjoy myself, and then in the fall, look for something to do.

Do you have anything to share with locals who want to act?
I think people who live on Long Island are very lucky in the fact that there are so many theaters. We’re lucky. There are other places you go to, and they really don’t have any kind of local theater and they have to wait until tours come through. We live in a place that really has a lot of art. I think if that’s your passion, then there is a lot opportunity for it on Long Island.

What do you hope the audience will take away from this production of “Shrek the Musical”?
First and foremost, I hope they’ll be entertained. I hope they’ll leave whistling a tune from the show because I think the score is really wonderful. Sometimes you go to see a show and you really can’t whistle any of the tunes. This show you can take so much of that with you. The music is very catchy; it’s very inspirational.
And, I hope that they just get the message. The message of “Shrek” is to just be yourself. There’s no such thing as perfection in the world. We’re led to believe…as children we’re taught these fairy tales, but really nothing in life is a fairy tale, and that is what I think “Shrek” shows. It’s about love. It’s about love and accepting who you are and accepting everyone else for who they are.

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, will present “Shrek the Musical” from May 21 to June 25. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

Sari Feldman, Amanda Geraci, Aria Saltini and Melanie Acampora star in a scene fron ‘Cinderella.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

A sweet little fairy tale waltzed into Theatre Three last weekend and quickly stole the hearts of the entire audience. The theater is closing its 2015-16 children’s theater season with the perfect choice: a classic retelling of “Cinderella.”

Many little princesses sat in the audience during Saturday’s opening to see Cinderella find her true love and live happily ever after.

With book, music and lyrics by Douglas J. Quattrock, Theatre Three’s version of this rags-to-riches story is full of singing, dancing, magic, quirky characters and lots of laughs. In short, your kids will love it.

From left, Jenna Kavaler and Amanda Geraci star in a scene from ‘Cinderella.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
From left, Jenna Kavaler and Amanda Geraci star in a scene from ‘Cinderella.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the eight adult cast members all deliver stellar performances and clearly love the craft they have chosen. In a nod to the 17th century author of the modern Cinderella story, who is commonly referred to as the father of the fairy tale, the show’s narrator is named Charles Perrault. This “squire to the sire,” played by Andrew Gasparini, transports theatergoers to a faraway land ruled by King Utterly Charming (Steven Uihlein), who wants to retire to Boca and pass the crown on to his handsome son, Prince Charming (Hans Paul Hendrickson) — and yes, he is indeed charming. However, the king feels that his son should get married first and invites all eligible maidens to a royal ball.

The squire delivers the invitations to the home of the beautiful Cinderella (Amanda Geraci), who is still being treated badly by her wretched stepsisters (Sari Feldman and Melanie Acampora) and mean stepmother, played by newcomer Aria Saltini.

Left behind while the three meanies go to the ball, Cindy is visited by her fairy godmother, Angelica, wonderfully portrayed by Jenna Kavaler. Speaking with a Southern accent, Angelica quickly cooks up a beautiful gown and sends Cinderella on her way.

During Cinderella’s infamous missing shoe episode, Prince Charming interacts with all the little princesses in attendance, asking them for their shoe sizes as he searches for the glass slipper’s owner — a nice touch.

The songs, with Steve McCoy accompanying on piano, dominate the show. Geraci’s solo, “A Girl Like Me (And a Boy Like You),” is sweet as she dances with a broom and dreams of falling in love, and her duet with Hendrickson, “Here in Your Arms (The Waltz)” is delightful. Special mention should also be made of Gasparini’s solos, “Once Upon a Time” and “Take a Chance.”

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

Teresa Matteson’s costumes are on point, from Cinderella’s beautiful gown to Prince Charming’s crown. Feldman’s choreography ties it all together.

Meet the entire cast in the lobby after the show and stay for a special photo with Cinderella and the Prince.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “Cinderella” through June 11. The new season will begin on the Mainstage with “The Emperor’s New Clothes” from July 8 to Aug. 5 and the premiere of “The Misadventures of Robin Hood” from Aug. 5 to 13. All seats are $10. For more information, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.