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Theater

Last year's performance of 'The Nutracker.' Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.

By Kevin Redding

Toy soldiers, angels, sword-wielding mice and a sugar plum fairy are back in town to spread the magic of Christmas to audiences young and old.

For more than two decades, the North Shore community has looked to Port Jefferson’s Harbor Ballet Theatre to officially kick off the holiday season each year with its dazzling production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”Coming up on its 25th anniversary production, the not-for-profit dance company gears up to deliver another unforgettable spectacle. John Worrell, executive artistic director of the show, said that the calibre of their production has helped it become a holiday tradition among the community.

“The dancing, the dancers, the choreography and the sets are incredible,” said Worrell. “Just the way that we tell the story is very understandable and very easy for everyone to follow. It really sets the tone for Port Jefferson and Setauket and Stony Brook and Miller Place because everybody gravitates to get that holiday feeling.”

Harbor Ballet Theatre was founded in 1991 by Worrell and his wife Amy Tyler as an open company to give dancers of all ages the opportunity to be part of professionally staged ballet productions. Worrell said it was also created to allow anybody from anywhere to come and audition, which is why there are so many new faces on a year-to-year basis as well as longtime dancers.

Last year's performance of 'The Nutracker.' Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.
A scene from last year’s performance of ‘The Nutracker.’ Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.

This production will feature about 70 performers, a majority of them between the ages 6 and 25. Auditions were held in the second week of September and the first rehearsal took place on the first weekend of October, giving way to 10 to 12 strenuous yet worthwhile rehearsals before the final show. Some of the senior dancers in the show even committed six to seven days a week for at least two hours a day to rehearsal.

“That whole debate whether dance is a sport … they [dancers] train like athletes,” said Worrell. “They work drills everyday. To be able to get to the level they want to be and be able to do their solos in the second act and lift each other up, they have to work their butts off.”

Richard Liebert and Rebecca Stafford, seniors from Earl L. Vandermuellen High School, are among some of the more experienced dancers in the production. Liebert, who plays the Mouse King, said there are a lot of physical challenges.

“There are times [in the show] where I have to lift a girl over my head and turn her,” said Liebert. “It could be a bit intimidating … but it’s worthwhile. I love doing it.”

“We’re with our friends, so we’re having fun,” said Stafford, who plays Harlequin.

Worrell said that at the start of production, he and Amy watched the DVD from the previous year’s show and figured out what, if anything, they wanted to change. The most common changes year-to-year have to do with solos, which depend on the dancers in the show, what their strengths are, and what they feel most comfortable doing.

Worrell said that there are plans to add a new element this year but wants to keep it a surprise and “make sure that it works first.”“We try to add something new every year, every two years … just to keep it fresh, so the audience will find it fun to watch,” he said.

Join Harbor Ballet Theatre in celebrating its 25th anniversary of “The Nutcracker” and prepare to be swept away by the extravagant sets, rich costumes, passionate acting and dancing and Tchaikovsky’s masterful music.

Performances of “The Nutcracker” will be held on Friday, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. at Earl L. Vandermuellen High School, 350 Old Post Road, Port Jefferson. All seats are $25 in advance, cash or check only. For more information, please call 631-331-3149.

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.

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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.

Jeffrey Sanzel in front of a portrait of the late Brent Erlanson by Al Jones in Theatre Three’s lobby. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Katelyn Winter

Theatre Three in Port Jefferson has been a treasured fixture in the community for 47 years. Each year, the theater presents a Mainstage season of musicals, plays and “A Christmas Carol” while the Second Stage serves as an intimate venue for its annual Festival of One-Act Plays and Friday Night Face Off. The theater’s Children’s Theatre presents original musicals and acting classes are offered throughout the year. 

This summer, exciting events like the Sizzling Summer Concert Series and the Director’s Dinners, where you can dine with directors and designers pre-show, offer new ways to appreciate theater arts.

The upcoming Mainstage season has an especially personal meaning for Jeffrey Sanzel, who has been the artistic director there since 1993. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sanzel in his office at Theatre Three.

What can you tell us about the upcoming Mainstage season? Are any of the shows a personal favorite, or do you have a connection to them in any way?

Well, that’s an interesting question, because “A Christmas Carol” obviously I’ve made a life out of. I’ve been doing “A Christmas Carol” since 1988 so that has a very personal connection.

However, this season we’re actually doing an original play that I wrote called “Where There’s a Will.” I first wrote it 30 years ago, and a youth theater in Cleveland did it last fall. I hadn’t looked at it in 28, 29 years. The director of that company and I knew each other from the original production, so we had talked about it — I pulled it out, I did some rewrites, and they did it.

I went and saw it, and then I passed it around our staff, and people read it and said, you know, this is really worth looking at. So I’ve been in the process of rewriting it, and we’re doing that next April. So that has an incredibly personal connection for me. It kind of spans, when you look at the beginning of my career to where I am now, all of that.

Do you have any other hobbies, beyond playwriting?

No, I don’t really have any … wait, that’s not true. I started playing the ukulele two years ago! I started taking lessons two years ago, but that’s the first time I’ve ever had anything that is not directly related to theater.

In theater, actors wear costumes. But what’s your favorite article of clothing in your own closet?

I’m very partial to ties. I love ties, and there’s actually a story behind that. Our associate artistic director, Brent Erlanson, who actually was here before me, was an actor, a costumer, a musician, a composer and a designer — just a jack of all trades. We worked together for over 20 years. He passed away eight years ago, but he always used to give me shirts and ties for birthdays and Christmases, because he felt my wardrobe was really drab. And he’d give me these vibrant ties, and as I mentioned he passed away.

Now we have an actor who’s worked for us, off and on over the last few years, Brett Chizever. I told him that story, so he has started to, at every opening, bring me a different tie. So I have this whole collection that spans from Brent Erlanson to Brett Chizever, so it kind of ties the arc of my time here together.

Wow, that must be a lot of ties!

It is. I mean, he started doing this a few years ago, and originally Brett was just giving me ties for the shows he was in. Then it was the shows I was directing. Now every time he comes to an opening, there’s a tie. One time he hadn’t seen me before the show, and I did the pre-show speech, and I walked off the stage and up the aisle and out stretched a hand with the tie in it.

So, in your opinion, what makes doing theater here in Port Jefferson so special, as opposed to someplace else?

Well, we’re part of a community. And we’re part of a tradition that was started by Jerry Friedman, and then passed onto Bradley Bing, and then to me. We have this rich history, and we’re coming up on our forty-seventh season. We’ve had thousands of people come through our doors, as performers, craftspeople, musicians and designers, as well as patrons. There’s something about being in the same place, in this very cultural community, and watching things evolve over the years. This has been almost my entire adult life. I came here when I was 22, and I’m going to be 50. I’ve spent more of my life here than I haven’t.

Outside of Theatre Three, what is  the best show you’ve seen recently?

I saw “Fun Home” last week, which I thought was a beautiful production. I think it’s one of the best directed, designed and acted productions I’ve seen in years. It’s extraordinary — what they’ve done to tell the story. The artistry is jaw-dropping, and I thought that was impressive. I try to see a lot of shows, but it can be difficult because I’m here all the time. In the last year, I saw and loved “Something Rotten,” which was pure fun. I thought it was just terrific. It was smart, and funny, and spoke volumes to theater people. Also “Matilda” I thought that was a glorious mess. It’s kind of all over the place, but it’s so much fun. I’ve been theater-going my whole life, but as of right now, those are the things that jump out at me.

Do you have a go-to order at any restaurant in Port Jefferson for those late hours at work?

Yes, at The Pie, the lunch special. It’s the chicken teriyaki sandwich, which is definitely my go-to.

That sounds delicious. Looking toward the future, are there any shows you’d like to direct or see on the Theatre Three stage?

Well, I’ve gotten to a lot of shows on my bucket list. I’ve gotten to do “Next to Normal,” I got to do “Les Miserables” and “The Laramie Project.” As far as classics go, I love “Hello, Dolly!” We did that years ago when I was first here, and I didn’t get to direct it but that show just has a special place in my heart. There’s also a playwright Simon Grey, and I just love all his plays. He wrote one called “The Common Pursuit,” which is about academia, and I just think it’s a brilliant, beautiful play. I don’t know if it’s something we’d ever do, but as far as bucket lists go, it’s on there. And “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” by Jean Giraudoux, which I just love. I think it’s a beautiful, fantastical, dramatic show. It’s one of those things where on the page it’s okay, but if you saw it would be so vivid, so exciting!

What do you like the most about your work at Theatre Three?

Working with actors. I think what I’ve enjoyed the most, out of anything I do, is that interaction. The dynamic of working with actors on scripts, on developing roles, on character. As a director, the real heart of the work I get to do here is that.

Theatre Three’s 47th season opens with “Legally Blonde the Musical” on September 17. In the meantime, head over to one of its Sizzling Summer Concerts, the first of which is The Ghost of Jim Morrison: The Doors Tribute Band on Friday, July 8, at 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.theatrethree.com.

Author Katelyn Winter is a rising junior at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.,  majoring in English and creative writing. She is from Stony Brook and hopes to one day work in the publishing industry.

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

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.

Wendy (Moira Swinford) and Peter Pan (Alexandra Juliano) in a scene from Disney’s ‘Peter Pan Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo
Wendy (Moira Swinford) and Peter Pan (Alexandra Juliano) in a scene from Disney’s ‘Peter Pan Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo
Wendy (Moira Swinford) and Peter Pan (Alexandra Juliano) in a scene from Disney’s ‘Peter Pan Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Rita J. Egan

Before children fly from the nest and become adults, their childhoods are a wonderful time for them to discover and cultivate their talents. The young cast of Disney’s “Peter Pan Jr.,” which opened this past Saturday at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, prove they are ready for takeoff in the world of theater.

Brianne Boyd skillfully directs over 20 actors 18 years old and younger. Fans of the classic fairy tale will find all their favorite characters as well as many of the beloved songs from the 1953 Disney animated film that was based on the writings of J.M. Barrie.

In addition to the mischievous Peter who refuses to grow up, audiences will find a human-size Tinker Bell as well as the sweet and curious Darling children who follow Peter on a magical adventure to Neverland on the night when Wendy, the oldest, finds it’s her last night in the nursery. In the far-off land, they find the endearing Lost Boys, friendly Indians, mesmerizing mermaids and comical pirates led by Peter’s rival Captain Hook and his bungling first mate Mr. Smee.

The Smithtown production follows the tradition of a female filling Peter Pan’s pointy shoes by casting Alexandra Juliano in the main role. The actress admitted in a recent interview with this paper that before auditions she practiced standing like a male, and it looks like practice has made perfect, as she convincingly portrays the eternal boy. Juliano is a strong lead with solid vocal talents who especially shines during the number “I Won’t Grow Up” in the second act.

Tinker Bell (Cassiel Fawcett) in a scene from ‘Peter Pan Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo
Tinker Bell (Cassiel Fawcett) in a scene from ‘Peter Pan Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

Cassiel Fawcett is adorable as Tinker Bell whether she wears a scowl when the fairy is upset or charmingly chats to the audience. In the beginning of the first act, she explains that even though the audience sees her as life-sized and can understand her, most humans see her as a tiny being who only speaks the language of the fairies. The actress adeptly handles the light that shines on the stage to represent her flying as well as the shaker that mimics how Peter and friends hear her. She also demonstrates a sweet soprano voice during the number “Fly to Your Heart” as well as the reprise.

Moira Swinford captures the sweetness of Wendy Darling, the young girl on the brink of womanhood, perfectly. Her voice is soft and tender during all her numbers but is particularly lovely during the number “Your Mother and Mine” as she tenderly reminds her brothers they have a mother waiting for them at home. As for Cole Napolitano and Erika Hinson, as Wendy’s brothers John and Michael, they demonstrate talent beyond their years and are a joy to watch.

Zak Ketcham portrays a not so dastardly Captain Hook, which is fitting for a musical geared toward small children, and Andrew McCarty as Smee received a number of giggles with his antics.

In the first act, the Mermaids (Courtney Vigliotti, Alison Kelleher, Nicole Ellner, Georgia Apazidis) deliver a soothing serenade, “Sunbeams and Sea.”

Throughout the musical, the Pirates, Lost Boys and Chief Tiger Bamboo (Sean Kenny) and his tribe deliver fantastic group numbers, and to the delight of the youngsters in the audience, the Lost Boys and the tribe utilize the aisles during the entertaining number “Following the Leader.”

As for the dance routines during those ensemble numbers, Melissa Rapelje has choreographed some fun steps, but it’s when Leah Kelly as Tiger Lily dances her solo, that Rapelje’s choreography beautifully takes center stage.

Set designer Timothy Golebiewski has constructed a charming set to resemble a nursery with windows and beds that resourcefully transform into a ship bow in later scenes. Not to be forgotten are the variety of delightful costumes designed by Ronald Green III that range from the Darlings’ sleepwear to the eclectic garb of the Lost Boys to the colorful Tinker Bell costume. 

Disney’s “Peter Pan Jr.” is a delightful musical for those who believe in magical lands and those who have forgotten, but just like Mr. Darling at the end of the story, who will believe again.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main Street, will present Disney’s “Peter Pan Jr.” through June 19. Tickets are $15 per person. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Alexandra Juliano, far right, in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Rita J. Egan

Before she flies off to the University of Delaware in a few months, Alexandra Juliano is taking on one of her dream roles — Peter Pan. The Commack High School senior and other young actors, who are all 18 years old or younger, will be hitting the stage at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts in “Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.,” which opens on May 14.

The Commack native is no stranger to the stage. She has performed in various productions at the Dream Makers Performing Arts School in East Northport as well as her high school, most recently playing Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd.” Over the last few years, she has appeared at the Smithtown Theater in the junior versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Les Miserables,” as well as the Mainstage production of “The Little Mermaid” as Aquata, one of Ariel’s sisters.

Recently, Juliano took time out from rehearsals to talk about her portrayal of the iconic character of Peter Pan and about growing up.

How did you feel when you heard you got the part?
I was ecstatic; I was over the moon! I love doing shows here, especially the junior shows. I’ve done a Mainstage show and it was amazing, but the junior shows are really nice because I love working with the little kids and all my friends and everything. Peter Pan actually has always been my favorite Disney movie, ever, and Peter Pan himself has always been one of my dream roles. I love “Peter Pan” and everything that it’s about. So, not only did I know it was going to be a great experience because of that, but it’s a part I always wanted to play. I was so proud, so happy, so humbled to get the chance to play it.

What’s it like working with the cast and crew?
Amazing. I’ve done so many shows here and I’ve never had a bad experience from the adults to the directors to the kids. You just get so close to everyone. It’s such a warm environment.

Do you have a favorite song in the play?
I guess I have to say my favorite song is the first time the Darlings fly with me. The “You Can Fly” sequence, where the famous line is, “Neverland is second star to the right, straight on till morning.” I’ve always loved that line. I can’t wait for that magic with the audience, the little kids thinking that we’re flying.

What is the energy like with a children’s audience?
The energy in the audience is always so high. We do autographs after, and obviously performing onstage is amazing, but that’s one of my favorite parts, is the autographs after. For “The Little Mermaid Jr.” I was Sebastian, and the kids, just the things that they would say to you, they really believe that you’re the character. They thought I was this little red crab. I think that’s the best part. These kids come, and they’re so young some of them, and even the ones who are older, and they know that it’s not real, they still get sucked into it. They still have that Disney Magic. Like I said, even though I love performing, obviously, I love the autographs, and the energy that the kids show, the enthusiasm they show.

Do you think some of the kids in the autograph line will realize you’re a girl?
I’ve actually thought about that. I don’t know exactly what response I’m going to give yet if anyone says that to me. I’m thinking I’m going to have a short enough wig and if they say anything to me, I’ll just have to stay in character and say, “No, I’m Peter.” And I hope, even if they do realize I’m a girl, I hope that when I’m onstage, they’ll forget the fact that it’s a girl playing a boy, and just enjoy it for what it is.

Peter Pan and his friends are resistant to growing up. How do you feel about growing up?
It’s scary. I just paid my deposit for college actually this past weekend, and it’s really scary. My brother, my whole life I’ve grown up with me and him being very, very close … my older brother … When I was younger I was always like, “No, I want to be an adult. I want to wear the high heels and the lipstick,” but he was always like, “I just want to stay young forever.” And now that I’m actually wearing the high heels and the lipstick, I love looking back at the memories of being a kid. There are perks of being an adult but then there’s definitely reasons why I see that Peter didn’t want to grow up. It’s definitely a lot more fun being a kid.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
I would love to be an actress. Hopefully, knock on wood, but I’m actually majoring in dietetics, so nutritional sciences and stuff like that.

Do you plan on acting at college?
Yes, I plan on minoring in theater. Which is good, since I’m doing the minor, I’ll be able to audition for their shows and everything. And, I know already Ken [Washington] said next year for the summer show I’ll be able to audition for it when I get home from college. So, it’s good. Even though I’m not majoring in it, it will always be a part of my life.

Do you see yourself acting professionally?
I would love to be able to pursue it professionally. It’s such a risky and tough business. My parents have told me you’re more than allowed to audition, and they’ve even told me if you get a part while in school, you’re allowed to take time off to pursue a part on Broadway or off Broadway if you get that opportunity, because they know how important it is to me. I have my backup plan, I have the backup job, but I definitely would love to audition and put myself out there for it.

What advice would you give young actors?
Just keep trying out. You’re not always going to get the part you want. You’re not always going to get the lead role your first try or your second try. But, it’s all about making the best of the role you get, in theater so many people don’t see that, but there’s no bad role. Even ensemble in shows, they’re so much more than ensemble. I’m one of those people I’ll watch a show, and during the big dance numbers, I love seeing the facial expressions of the ensemble, and I love seeing the energy. And, the ensemble really makes or breaks a show. So ensemble is sometimes the best role. Just keep trying. Just keep going. Don’t get down on yourself. Because eventually you’ll get there, you’ll get the role you want.

So far, the experience with “Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.” has left the soon-to-be 18-year-old with  wonderful memories. She said not only does she enjoy working with the whole cast but the musical gives her a chance to perform with one of her best friends Cass Fawcett, who plays Tinker Bell. Juliano also said the young actors playing the Darlings — Moira Swinford (Wendy), Cole Napolitano (John) and Erika Hinson (Michael) — with whom she appears in many scenes, are exceptionally talented.

Catch Juliano and her fellow young actors at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts until June 19. The theater is located at 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, and tickets are $15 per person. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

This version corrects the last name of Erika, who plays Michael Darling.

Dondi Rollins, Jr. leads the entire cast in ‘Flying Low.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Fighting co-workers, a murder mystery and the future rituals of dating — Theatre Three’s shining jewel, the annual Festival of One-Act Plays, delved into all that and more as it opened last Saturday afternoon for a nine-performance run.

Now in its 19th year, the festival, under the direction of founder Jeffrey Sanzel, showcases six wonderful, original works selected from nearly 400 submissions. The actors take the audience on a marathon, performing the plays back to back.

From left, Steve Ayle, Joan St. Onge, Hans Paul Hendrickson, Amanda Geraci and Linda May star in a scene from ‘OK Computer.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
From left, Steve Ayle, Joan St. Onge, Hans Paul Hendrickson, Amanda Geraci and Linda May star in a scene from ‘OK Computer.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

The new plays go “from page to stage; from blank slate to fully realized production,” Sanzel explained. “These are premieres; they are ‘firsts.’” Raw themes such as depression, murder, love and work relationships are all explored on an equal playing field in the intimate setting of The Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the Second Stage.

The festival kicks off with John Kane’s “Ben and Rachel Go to the Movies,” starring veteran actors TracyLynn Conner and Brian Smith, whose relationship is revealed to the audience only by visits to the cinema over a span of more than 40 years. From their first date watching “Dr. Zhivago” (1965) to “Titanic” in the 1990s and beyond, we watch them grow old together.

Alex Dremann’s comedy “A Clean Dislike” introduces the audience to Annie (Linda May) and Marjorie (Joan St. Onge), co-workers who try, with hilarious sarcastic banter, to figure out why they don’t like each other, an issue that many can relate to. May and St. Onge tackle their roles with zeal and stay in character long after the play.

From left, Brett Chizever, Sheila Sheffield and Brian Smith star in ‘Bro.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
From left, Brett Chizever, Sheila Sheffield and Brian Smith star in ‘Bro.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

The most emotionally draining play is presented right before intermission with Jules Tasca’s “Flying Low,” which was inspired by the crash of A320 Airbus Flight 4U 9525 last March. The plane, which was traveling from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, plunged into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board. It was later discovered that the Germanwings co-pilot had deliberately crashed the plane. Dondi Rollins Jr. gives a powerful performance as the story dissects the sequence of events leading up to the tragic event, from the co-pilot breaking up with his girlfriend to suffering acute depression and not taking his medicine, to locking the pilot out of the cockpit and, finally, making his deadly decision. At the end of Saturday’s performance, there was not a dry eye in the room and the silence was deafening.

The festival continues after intermission with Robb Willoughby’s delicious dark thriller, “Bro.” After seeing his mother put white powder in his father’s coffee and then finding him dead shortly after, Mitchell, played by Brian Smith, is convinced that his mother is a murderer. The incident has left him so shaken that he has lost his job and has become paranoid about everything. His mother (Sheila Sheffield) insists the powder was just sweetener and that her husband died of a heart attack. She summons Mitchell’s brother Morgan (Brett Chizever) to help stage an intervention and get Mitchell psychological help. Is Mitchell crazy or isn’t he? Is his mother a murderer or isn’t she? And what’s this about a life insurance policy? The plot thickens.

A scene from "A Clean Dislike." Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
A scene from “A Clean Dislike.” Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Steve McCoy shines in his solo performance of “Why This Monologue Isn’t Memorized: A True Story” by Kurt Sass, which offers the audience a glimpse into one man’s struggle with memory loss after receiving shock treatments for his depression. In coming to terms with his fate, he concludes, “I will not remember your faces after today but I hope some of you will remember mine.”

The show closes with Tom Moran’s “OK Computer” to explore marriage and mating rituals in a futuristic dystopian world, a world in which a computer named Big Data plays matchmaker, choosing life partners for willing and unwilling bachelors. “No more guesses means no more messes” is the system’s motto. Hans Paul Hendrickson plays hapless victim Colin 3912, whose fate seems to be sealed as he is matched up with the mirror image of himself, Jillian 1293, played by Amanda Geraci.

The entire cast is superb, with notable mentions to the veteran one-act performer Smith, who has appeared in nearly three dozen plays, and newcomer Rollins who we simply must see more of.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present The 19th Annual Festival of One-Act Plays through May 14. Features adult content and language. Parental discretion is advised. Running time is two hours with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $18. For more information, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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