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The Wizard of Oz

By Heidi Sutton

From now through June 22, children and adults alike are invited to follow the yellow brick road on Main Street in Port Jefferson (yes, there is an actual yellow road painted on the sidewalk) through the double doors of Theatre Three to see a wondrous stage version of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

First published in 1900 as a children’s book titled “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” the classic story has given rise to many sequels, spin-offs and adaptations including radio shows, musicals and the iconic 1939 MGM film starring a 16-year-old Judy Garland.  

When Dorothy Gale from Kansas is swept away by a tornado, she is dropped in the Land of Oz and must make her way to the Emerald City to ask the Wizard to help her and her dog Toto get home. Along the way she befriends alternate versions of her family and neighbors including The Scarecrow, The Tinman and Cowardly Lion who protect her from the Wicked Witch of the West who wants Dorothy’s magic ruby slippers.

Theatre Three’s stage version, adapted by John Kane with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, follows the original MGM screenplay, leaving in additional verses to the songs, secondary script and musical numbers like “The Jitterbug” that didn’t make the final cut in the film. We learn the backstory about The Tinman (a bit macabre) and The Cowardly Lion (think “The Lion King”) and why the Winkies always chant “Oh wee-Oh, we-ohhhhh um.” The result is a fresh take on a beloved favorite.

Presenting a mainstage production of “The Wizard of Oz” with numerous sets, song and dance numbers and costume changes is not an easy feat, but Director Jeffrey Sanzel has assembled a talented cast of over 30 actors who pull it off with ease.

Ashley Ferraro is perfectly cast as Dorothy and her rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is enchanting. Dorothy’s faithful pet Toto is played by the adorable Miss Mia Donatuti who elicits many “Oh my’s” from the audience every time her four paws hit the stage or she peaks out of the basket.

So nice to see Jim Sluder back on Theatre Three’s stage, this time as Dorothy’s favorite, The Scarecrow, who is convinced he has no brain. Eric J. Hughes plays The Tinman who has plenty of heart but tends to rust a lot and Andrew Lenahan is the perfect Cowardly Lion and gives us a glorious performance of “If I Only Had the Nerve.” 

Linda May is outstanding as Almira Gulch/ Wicked Witch of the West. Close your eyes and you’ll swear Margaret Hamilton is on stage. May’s rendition of the famous line “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!” followed by that shrill cackle will send chills down your spine. 

Special mention should be made of The Munchkins, who, with their high little giggles, are a sweet addition to the story. Their big number, “Munchinkland,” complete with The Lollipop Kids and The Lullaby League, brings the house down.

The sets, designed by Randall Parsons, are impressive as well. Large painted panels slide back and forth, revealing the different scenes while posters depicting the cover and pages from the storybook adorn the edges of the stage. Taking a cue from the 1939 film, Uncle Henry and Auntie Em’s Kansas farm uses muted colors of browns and greens and then, in true Technicolor fashion, Dorothy and Toto arrive in Munchkinland where every color in the rainbow is utilized. 

In a stroke of genius, Sanzel uses flower umbrellas as props which, when opened, are the perfect hiding spot for Munchkins and make for a beautiful field of poppies. And wait until you see the special effects!

Accompanied by a powerhouse orchestra led by conductor Jeffrey Hoffman, the show’s big musical numbers are wonderfully choreographed by Jean P. Sorbera. Costumes by Chakira Doherty are a work of art.

In the end, the adventures of Dorothy, The Scarecrow, The Tin Man and The Cowardly Lion reinforce the power of friendship and that there really is no place like home.

In his director’s notes, Sanzel writes, “In our mind’s eye, we see this unusual quartet, arms linked, traveling down an unknown road. And herein lies the heart: The emphasis is in the journey. Growth comes from the venture and the efforts we make not just for ourselves but for those who walk the road with us.”

Dedicated to the faithful and young at heart, L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” closes out Theatre Three’s 2018-19 season as a vibrantly colorful rainbow. Don’t miss this wonderful family show.

Magic wands are sold before the show and during intermission and photos with Dorothy, Toto, The Tinman, The Cowardly Lion and The Scarecrow are available after the show. Donations are being accepted for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Also, take a chance at a raffle to win Almira Gulch’s bicycle. 

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Wizard of Oz” on the Mainstage through June 22 with a special evening start time of 7 p.m., Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3 pm. Running time is 2 hours 10 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. For more information or to order, please call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Above, Mia in the role of Toto at Theatre Three Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Jeffrey Sanzel with Mia

Theatre Three in Port Jefferson will open the family musical “The Wizard of Oz” on May 18. Appearing in the role of Toto is the lovely Shih Tzu mix Mia Donatuti. Director Jeffrey Sanzel sat down with Mia to talk about her life, her love of cheese, and her upcoming Theatre Three debut.

How are you today, Mia?

I’m good! It’s good to be here!

Well, we’re very glad to have you.

Thank you!

So, we’ve been rehearsing now for a few weeks

Yes, we have. It’s fun! So many people and smells!

That’s very true. We thought it would be fun to find out more about you.

OK!

Where were you born?

Oh. I’m not sure. I know I came to my home from the Kent Animal Shelter in 2014.

And how old are you now?

A lady never tells her age!

Of course. Where do you live now?

I live in a house. With doors. And windows.

That sounds very nice.

It is!

And where is the house?

It’s in East Patchogue. I live with my mommy, Dawn, and my six doggie siblings.

What’s that like?

It’s really terrific! Some of my siblings are big and some are small. The littlest is five pounds. The biggest is ninety-two pounds!

That’s a big family.

Mommy has also fostered a lot of other doggies. I’ve lived with twenty-seven foster doggies since I came to live there.

That’s great. Do you have a favorite sibling?

Well, I’m the Princess so …

Got it.

I like Mommy best. I share my toys and bedding with my brothers and sisters but I don’t share my Mommy’s right cheek for sleeping time.

Fair enough.  

Do you have any cheese?

Uh, no. Not right now. But I’ll get some.

Thank you.

I understand you have a job.

It’s kind of a job but it’s more than that. When Mommy’s daddy went into a nursing home, Mommy brought me for visits. After Grandpa came home, Mommy decided to keep bringing me there on Sundays. So I become a service dog. I like the people SOOOOO much. I spend most of my time with the people who don’t have visitors or lots of family.

That’s great.

Sometimes, they line up to hold me. Once, this really nice lady tried to run away with me!

Oh, my!

Another time, another really nice lady carried me around like I was her baby for an hour and sang me nursery rhymes. She was very sweet.

Was it hard to get certified as a service dog?

No. I just needed to show them that I was focused and not rambunctious. Which I’m not! It wasn’t hard. I love going.

What do you like best about being a service dog?

Sitting on people’s laps. I like attention.

Could we talk about ‘The Wizard of Oz’?

Sure! 

Is this your stage debut?

Well, no … I actually I played Toto in an elementary school production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Mommy’s niece played a munchkin. It was fun to work with the young kids. But this is my first time on a real big stage.

I’ve noticed that you don’t bark.

No. It’s not ladylike.  

What are you looking forward to most about playing Toto?  

Being with the cast. Everyone is so nice. And I’m going to get to meet people after the show.

Really?  

Uh-huh! Anyone who wants can have their picture taken with me and Dorothy and the Scarecrow and the Lion and the Tinman after the show. That’ll be fun! I’ll get to meet so many new people. I like meeting new people.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like getting out of the house by going grocery shopping or to the movies. I like to go out. I like dressing up. I’m a bit girly. I don’t like bows in my hair but I like sweaters.

Anything else?

I like to eat. Liverwurst. Cheese. Bacon. Cheese.  

Do you have any words of encouragement for other dogs who might want to get involved in theater?

It’s a great experience for doggies with a good disposition to see and be seen!

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today.

You’re welcome. Cheese, please?

Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

“The Wizard of Oz” plays May 18 through June 22 at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. For tickets and information, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com. Stay after the show for a photo with Dorothy, Toto and their friends.

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Open auditions

Follow the yellow brick road to Theatre Three! The theater, located at 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will hold an open cast call for children ages 8 to 17 (no taller than 4’10”) for the roles of munchkins on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. for its upcoming production of “The Wizard of Oz” from May 10 to June 22. Auditions for adult roles and ensemble tracks for ages 15 and up will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. All roles are open. Be prepared to sing and dance. Bring picture/resume if available. For further details, call 631-928-9202 or visit http://theatrethree.com/auditions.html.

Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

In honor of its 80th anniversary, “The Wizard of Oz” returns to over 700 select theaters nationwide on Jan. 27, 29 and 30, courtesy of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies. The beloved classic will include an exclusive commentary by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

The 1939 musical fantasy film, based on the 1900 children’s book by L. Frank Baum, starred Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, a young girl who dreams of more than her life on a small Kansas farm and suddenly finds herself whisked away by a tornado to the magical world of Oz.

The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film was nominated for several Academy Awards upon its release, including Best Picture, which it lost to “Gone with the Wind” but won for Best Song (“Over the Rainbow”) and Best Original Score.

Considered to be one of the greatest films in cinema history, “The Wizard of Oz” was one of the earliest films to be deemed “culturally significant” by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Participating movie theaters in our neck of the woods include  AMC Loews Stony Brook 17, 2196 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook on Jan. 27 at 2 and 5 p.m., Jan. 29 and 30 at 7 p.m.; and Island 16 Cinema de Lux, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville on Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. To purchase your ticket in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

The cast of 'The Wizard of Oz'. Photo courtesy of Engeman Theater
Dorothy and friends delight audiences at the Engeman

By Rita J. Egan

The John W. Engeman Theater closes out its 2017-2018 Children’s Theater with a charming version of the cherished children’s tale, “The Wizard of Oz.” The Northport venue debuted the musical on March 24, and Suzie Dunn has done an excellent job directing the eight adult actors down the yellow brick road.

Based on the children’s books by L. Frank Baum, “The Wizard of Oz” tells the story of young Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto. When a tornado sweeps Dorothy away from her home in Kansas and over the rainbow to a magical land, she meets witches, Munchkins and three charming travel companions. While the Engeman’s “Wizard” is an abridged version of the story — no poppies and less of the witch’s monkeys and guards — all the favorite characters and songs from the 1939 MGM Studios motion picture are present.

Danielle Aliotta’s portrayal of Dorothy is as endearing as Judy Garland’s was in the movie, and the actress sings a sweet “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with strong, clear vocals.

 

Jacqueline Hughes and Danielle Aliotta in a scene from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Photo by Jennifer Tully

Her companions down the yellow brick road are just as delightful. Jacqueline Hughes (Scarecrow), Danny Meglio (Tin Man) and Andrew McCluskey (Cowardly Lion) do fantastic jobs during their respective numbers, “If I Only Had a Brain,” “If I Only Had a Heart” and “If I Only Had the Nerve.” McCluskey’s vocals are also wonderful during his solo “If I Were King of the Forest.”

Maeve Barth-Dwyer has perfected the evil shrill voice of the Wicked Witch, and Antoine Jones plays the Wizard of Oz and the Emerald City doorman with just the right amount of quirkiness. Marielle Greguski is lovely as both Glinda and Auntie Em and sings beautifully with Aliotta on the reprise of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

With no poppies to put Dorothy and friends to sleep, the witch tries to undermine their mission with the help of a tap dancing jitterbug played by Marquez Catherine Stewart, an upbeat number that was cut from the original motion picture to shorten it. While the song and dance routine may not have been fitting for the perilous journey in the movie, it is perfect for a live production for children. Stewart, Aliotta, Hughes, Meglio and McCluskey do a fantastic job with this refreshing number.

Danielle Aliotta, Danny Meglio and Jacqueline Hughes in a scene from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Photo by Jennifer Tully

Young audience members at the Sunday show were thrilled to see the actors walk through the aisles while they were on their way to the Emerald City to see the Wizard. Costume designer Jess Costagliola has done a wonderful job replicating the character’s costumes, especially Glinda’s pretty pink gown, and a few of the actors dressed in giant hats with big googly eyes are adorable as the Munchkins.

Sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union, the Engeman’s “The Wizard of Oz” is a special treat for audience members of all ages, and a wonderful tribute to a nearly 80-year-old classic that proves there’s no place like home. Running time is 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission, booster seats are available and children can meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs. (An autograph page is included at the back of the program.)

The John W. Engeman Theater, located at 250 Main St., Northport, presents “The Wizard of Oz” through April 29. Children’s Theater returns for the 2018-2019 season with “Shrek The Musical” from July 28 to Sept. 2 followed by “The Little Mermaid Jr.” from Sept. 22 to Oct. 28, “Frosty” from Nov. 24 to Dec. 30, “Seussical The Musical” from Jan. 26 to March 3, 2018, and ends with “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” from March 23 to April 28. All seats are $15. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Mark your calendars for upcoming classic movies at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts Center. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Rita J. Egan

The year 2015 marked Smithtown’s 350th anniversary and the return of movies to the town. In addition to commemorative events, locals were able to stop by the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts and take in a feature film to enhance their trip down memory lane.

The movie theater that once operated in the building where SCPA stands today opened in 1933 and offered motion pictures until November of 2001. Toward the end of November 2014, the building, which has not been significantly altered aesthetically in over 80 years, once again became home to beloved movies to commemorate the town’s milestone. While the original lineup of films planned for the theater will wrap up on Oct. 30 with “The Sixth Sense” and “The Exorcist,” management has planned to offer more movies in the upcoming months. Tickets for this double feature are $10.00.

Nov. 27 — ‘The Wizard Of Oz’
Dec. 4 — ‘A Christmas Story’
Jan. 8 — ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956)
Jan. 9 — ‘Rocky’
Jan. 15 — ‘The Addams Family’
Jan. 16 — ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’
Jan. 22 — ‘Carrie’ (1976)
Jan. 23 — ‘The Silence of the Lambs’
Feb. 5 — ‘Network’
Feb. 6 — ‘Dirty Harry’
June 16 — ‘Hook’
June 24 — ‘Thelma & Louise’
*All movies start at 7 p.m. and are $8 per ticket.

Ian Washington, house manager, hosted numerous movie nights at the theater this year. Washington said while attendance varied, overall the movie nights were well received by local residents. During the year he heard comments such as “we’re so happy you’re doing this again” and “please keep doing it.”

Washington said in addition to theatergoers being pleased to see the films, they also requested that the performing arts center show others. “It was a great experience and a great test run of what we know we can do,” he said.

The house manager said among the over 60 films that the theater offered in 2015, he was excited to see movies such as “Rain Man,” the original “Batman,” “Spaceballs” and “Blazing Saddles.” He said the more popular movies with audiences were “Casablanca,” “Gone with the Wind,” “King Kong” and the most attended of all of them, “A Christmas Story.” Washington said “Jaws” and the “Back to the Future” trilogy also did well.

Like last season, the motion pictures will alternate with the performing arts center’s live stage presentations. After the double feature of thrillers on Oct. 30, the theater has a dozen movies scheduled until the end of June with the possibility of more being added for the last few months of 2016.    

“People love that we’re doing it again,” said Washington.

The new lineup of movies will kick off with “The Wizard of Oz” on Friday, Nov. 27, at 7 p.m., and once again, back by popular demand, there will be a holiday showing of “A Christmas Story” on Friday, Dec. 4.

Last year management chose many of the movies based on local residents’ memories of their visits to the theater throughout the decades. This time around, films were selected based on whether they are hitting a milestone anniversary in 2016. Due to this selection process, theatergoers can once again enjoy classics such as “Rocky,” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Carrie,” “Dirty Harry” and “Thelma & Louise” on the big screen in the upcoming year.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is located at 2 E. Main Street in Smithtown. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

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