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Teresa Matteson

From left, Jessica Contino, Meg Bush, K.D. Guadagno and Nicole Bianco in a scene from 'The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.' Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

In tandem with the release of the new animated film, “Peter Rabbit,” Theatre Three presents its annual live children’s theater production of “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” now through April 14. The action-packed show is the perfect way for families to enjoy spring break.

From left, Dylan Robert Poulos and Steve Uihlein. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

The original musical, written by Jeffrey Sanzel and the late Brent Erlanson, is loosely based on one of the best-selling books of all time, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter and features all of the beloved characters in the story.

Peter Rabbit and his cousin, Benjamin Bunny, are as naughty as ever this year as they sneak into their neighbor Mr. McGregor’s garden time and time again to steal his vegetables. When his patience grows thin, the farmer, who’s “a meanie with a temper like a bear,” sets out to stop the marauders once and for all. When Peter is caught in a trap, his mother must step in to help him. Will the two neighbors be able to come up with a compromise?

Directed by Sanzel, the eight adult cast members embrace the adorable script and run with it. Dylan Robert Poulos reprises his role as Peter with boundless energy and his astounding acrobats steal the show. Steven Uihlein, as Peter’s partner in crime, Benjamin, provides plenty of comic relief, and Jessica Contino is lovely as the calm and even-tempered Mrs. Rabbit.

Mrs. Rabbit with good little bunnies, Cotton-Tail, Flopsy and Mopsy.

When they’re not eating bread and milk and blackberries, Peter’s sisters, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail (the talented trio of Nicole Bianco, K.D. Guadagno and Meg Bush) spend much of the show looking for their brother in the theater, engaging audience members along the way. Andrew Lenahan and Elizabeth Ladd round out the cast as the harmonious duo Mr. and Mrs. McGregor who love their garden.

The familiar musical numbers, written by Kevin F. Story and accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, are the heart of the show. Choreography by Nicole Bianco is top notch, especially with “Run, Peter, Run” and the fun hip-hop number, “Peter’s Socks.” Costumes by Teresa Matteson are charming, from the bunnies’ colorful dresses of pink, yellow and blue to their white bunny tails.

About 5 minutes into Sunday morning’s show a little boy in the audience turned to his grandmother and loudly stated “This is so wonderful!!” This reviewer would have to concur. Grab your children or grandchildren and hop over to Theatre Three for an incredibly sweet treat. They’ll love you for it.

Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny have some fun with the McGregors.

Running time is approximately one hour and 10 minutes with one 10-minute intermission. Booster seats are available and souvenir bunnies in various spring colors will be sold before the show and during intermission for $5. Proceeds will help maintain the historic building. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” on March 17 and 24 and April 4, 5, 6, 7 and 14 at 11 a.m.

Children’s theater will continue on the Mainstage with “Stand Up! Stand Out! The Bullying Project” from April 21 to May 5; “Goldilocks — Is That You?” from May 26 to June 9 and a brand new original play, “The Princess Who Saved a Dragon,” from July 6 to Aug. 9. All seats are $10. For more information, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

From left, Emily Gates, Ashley Iadanza, Melanie Acampora, Bobby Montaniz and Steve Uihlein in a scene from ‘The Princess & the Pea’.Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc

When Hans Christian Andersen passed away in Copenhagen in 1875 the Danish government stated they had lost a national treasure. Although a writer of many genres, he is best remembered for his wonderful fairy tales, including “The Little Mermaid,” “The Red Shoes,” “The Snow Queen,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “Thumbelina” and, my favorite, “The Tinder Box.” As a child, I read them all but I always remember being fascinated by “The Princess & the Pea” and the curious image of a young girl trying to fall asleep atop of 10 mattresses.

The entire company of ‘The Princess & the Pea’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Through June 10, Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre kicks off its 2017-2018 season with a hilarious musical retelling of the sleepy story that is not to be missed. With a genius script written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Steve McCoy, the story teaches us that true nobility comes from inside.

Priscilla Noble and her friend Tom have just graduated from college. On the last day of school Tom reveals to Priscilla that he is really Prince Sterling of Pewtersberg and that he has feelings for her. He invites Priscilla to visit him at his castle over the summer so that they can get to know each other better. In the meantime his mother, Queen Irritata of Pewtersberg, has arranged for her son to marry Princess Monica from a neighboring kingdom. When both girls arrive at the castle, the queen puts them through a series of challenges that, in theory, only a true princess would overcome. Add a tower, a bunch of mattresses and a large pea and you’ve got yourself an entertaining afternoon of live theater.

Directed by Sanzel, a stellar cast of nine adult actors keep the young audience entranced. Never have I seen a more well-behaved group of children than at last Saturday morning’s performance, sitting quietly and just taking it all in, a true testament to the magic of live theater.

Jessica Contino and Dylan Robert Poulos star in ‘The Princess & the Pea’.Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc

Jessica Contino plays the lead role of Priscilla with confidence and determination. Continuously being put down for being a commoner by the queen, her character remains polite and respectful throughout. A perfect role model for today’s youth, she proves that studying and doing well in school pays off in the end.

Dylan Robert Poulos is perfectly cast as the tall, dark and handsome Prince Sterling and Andrew Gasparini shines as Lord Chancellor Pandergrovel.

Emily Gates is terrific in the role of Princess Monica, falling asleep all over the stage, much to the dismay of her sisters Princess Miranda (Melanie Acampora) and Princess Margot (Ashley Iadanza) who have been give strict orders by their parents to marry her off. And boy can she snore!

Newcomer Linda Pentz tackles the role of Queen Irritata of Pewtersberg, who seems to have a permanent migraine (“honestly!”), with aplomb. Determined to have her son marry royalty, her character remains stubborn until the very end.

Jessica Contino and Linda Pentz in a scene from ‘The Princess & the Pea’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

However, it is the queen’s brothers, Henry, Earl of Blunt, played by Steven Uihlein, and Richard, Duke of Yuck (yes you read that right), played by Bobby Montaniz, who steal the show with their comedic antics. These two should have a comedy act together!

The original score, with choreography by Sari Feldman, is fresh and hip, with special mention to “A Friend in Need,” “I Say, You Do!” and “The Test,” which is performed entirely in rap. Teresa Matteson’s detailed costumes, especially the intricate royal garb and wigs, are first rate, and live musical accompaniment by Steve McCoy on piano is a nice touch.

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photo ops and tell Princess Monica to get some sleep! Honestly!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Princess & the Pea” through June 10 with a sensory-friendly performance on June 4. Children’s Theatre will continue with “Aladdin & the Lamp” from July 7 to Aug. 10 and “The Frog Prince” from Aug. 4 to 12. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The entire cast of ‘Little Red Riding Hood: A Tale of Safety for Today’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Making its world premiere on Theatre Three’s Mainstage in Port Jefferson, “Little Red Riding Hood: A Tale of Safety for Today,” is a musical gem. Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin F. Story and directed by Sanzel, this modern version follows the classic Grimm fairy tale closely but also uses the tale as a tool to teach “stranger danger” in an effective way. The six-member adult cast, coupled with a clever and witty script, come together to create a truly special production.

The story revolves around Amanda Sally Desdemona Estella Barbara Temple, whom everyone calls Little Red Riding Hood because she always wears a red cape. Asked by her mother to go check on her grandmother, Granny Beckett, she ventures out over the river and through the woods to bring her some Girl Scout cookies. Her twin sisters, Blanche and Nora, accompany her halfway there; but Little Red Riding Hood sends them back home because Nora has a cold. Now alone, she encounters a stranger (William “Billy” de Wolf) and commits a series of safety mistakes, putting her grandmother and herself in grave danger.

Steven Uihlein serves as narrator and does a wonderful job introducing each scene. Uihlein also steps in periodically to play numerous supporting roles, including a policeman and a mailman.

Jenna Kavaler is perfectly cast as Little Red Riding Hood and tackles the role with aplomb. Her character’s changes in mood from annoyed to scared to confident are compelling.

Jenna Kavaler and Hans Paul Hendrickson in a scene from Theatre Three's 'Little Red Riding Hood' [1/28/16, 11:01 AM] Heidi Sutton (leisure@tbrnewspapers.com): Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.
Jenna Kavaler and Hans Paul Hendrickson in a scene from Theatre Three’s ‘Little Red Riding Hood’
[1/28/16, 11:01 AM] Heidi Sutton (leisure@tbrnewspapers.com): Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Melanie Acampora shines in the delicious role of Mrs. Temple, Little Red’s mother, who is so forgetful she can’t even remember her children’s names or who’s who.

Granny Beckett is superbly played by Andrew Gasparini, who clearly enjoys the role, poking fun at himself with an occasional deep note. His solo, “Who’s at My Door?,” is terrific.

Compared to the original tale, the wolf — played to the hilt by Hans Paul Hendrickson — is a relative pussycat, asking the audience if they have any steak or a bone, as he is always hungry. And his howl is not too shabby. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t eat Granny Beckett — she gets away.

Perhaps the most difficult role in the show is the one of twins Blanche and Nora, both played by Amanda Geraci. Geraci switches roles effortlessly, skipping on stage as Blanche, disappearing behind a wall and then returning with a shuffle as Nora, who is fighting a terrible cold. It’s not an easy task, but she pulls it off with perfection. Any minute audience members expect both of them to appear on stage — Geraci is that convincing.

Sanzel knows his target audience well and does an excellent job keeping the story moving along in a fun and captivating way. The action scenes are a nice touch, as the wolf chases Granny and Little Red around Granny’s house and is then chased by the entire cast.

In the last 10 minutes of the show, the actors discuss the safety mistakes that Little Red Riding Hood made, including talking to strangers, and what she should have done instead, a valuable lesson in a less than perfect world.

Teresa Matteson’s costumes are spot-on, from the head-to-toe fake fur on the wolf to Granny Beckett’s nightgown and shawl to Little Red’s cape. The musical numbers, accompanied on piano by the multitalented Steve McCoy, are the icing on the cake, especially “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Granny, What’s Happened to You?” Choreography by Sari Feldman is as top-notch as always.

The great story line, the wonderful songs and the important message it conveys makes this show a perfect reason to step in from the cold. The entire cast will be in the lobby after the show for photo-ops.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Little Red Riding Hood – A Tale of Safety for Today” for ages 3 and up through Feb. 20. Tickets are $10 each.

The season continues with “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” from March 5 to 26, followed by “Cinderella” from April 16 to June 11.  For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The entire cast of ‘Alice’s Wonderland Adventures!’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Lewis Carroll’s beloved classic may be more than 150 years old, but “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” still resonate with children and adults alike. Now Theatre Three’s creative geniuses Tim Peierls and Jeffrey Sanzel have written a brand new Alice-inspired children’s musical — “Alice’s Wonderland Adventures!” — that opened last Saturday. All the familiar characters are here, from the White Rabbit to the Mad Hatter, to the Queen of Hearts to the beloved Cheshire Cat. Throw in an appearance from Humpty Dumpty and Dorothy Gale, add a quick game of Wheel of Fortune for good measure, and you’ve got yourself a hit show.

Sanzel as director leads a talented group of seven adult actors, all of whom play multiple roles, through a delightful and clever production perfect for younger audiences. Seasoned actors Jenna Kavaler, Amanda Geraci, Hans Paul Hendrickson, Andrew Gasparini and Steve Uihlein are all outstanding, as are newcomers Mary Ortiz and Melanie Acampora, making their children’s theater in-house debut.

In the first act we meet Addison Carroll (Kavaler), an actress who is nervous that she will forget her lines as Alice in “Alice in Wonderland.” In a dream sequence, she finds herself transported to a magical land where the White Rabbit accidently takes her script. Addison spends the rest of the show chasing after the harried hare, trying to get it back. Along the way, accompanied by the Cheshire Cat, she has a tea party with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse; plays croquet with the Queen of Hearts, who enjoys shouting, “Off with their heads!” a bit too much; and visits with Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Addison’s adventures help her gain confidence and she awakens from her nap, ready to take on the world.

Sanzel knows his target audience well. Every scene is full of song and dance, fast-paced and short. Riddles and jokes run rampant throughout the production: “Why do flowers work in the kitchen? Because you can’t make tarts without flour!”

The 12 original musical numbers by Peierls, accompanied by Steve McCoy on piano, are the heart of the show. Hendrickson is outstanding in his solos, “We’re All a Little Mad Here” and “The Tweedle’s Song,” in which he impressively performs both Tweedle roles, making his solo a duet. Geraci shines in “So Much to Do,” and the entire company’s “Wonderland Within You” is the perfect finale.

The actors utilize the set from the evening show, “Sweeney Todd,” but that’s OK because the costumes and puppets are so colorful and fun, a set is not even necessary. From the caterpillar with his six arms to the long red robe of the Queen of Hearts, costume designer Teresa Matteson has done an excellent job. It is the 13 puppets, however, designed and constructed by the brilliant Tazukie Fearon, that steal the spotlight. From the moment they make an appearance, the children are mesmerized. This is live theater at its best. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show.

Five-year-old Josephine Cunniffe, of Stony Brook, who said she loved the show, enjoyed the performance with her grandparents. Her favorite character was the White Rabbit.

Ashley Kenter, who’s been coming to Theatre Three since she was a little girl, said her favorite characters were “Alice … and the bunny” and her favorite scenes were when the Cheshire Cat told knock-knock jokes. The 10-year-old, who was having her birthday party at the theater, said she decided to celebrate the milestone at Theatre Three “because there is a lot of room here and they have a lot of good shows.” Her favorite show of all time is “Barnaby Saves Christmas,” which by coincidence is the theater’s next children’s show, from Nov. 27 to Dec. 26.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “Alice’s Wonderland Adventures!” through Oct. 24. Tickets are $10. For more information, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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