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Theatre Three

From left, Andrew Gasparini, Frank Gilleece and Steven Uihlein in a scene from ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

“The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen is as relevant today as it was when it was first published in 1837 and has been translated into over 100 languages. Through Aug. 11, Theatre Three in Port Jefferson presents an original musical retelling of the classic fairy tale that is both witty and funny and a perfect way to spend a summer afternoon.

The Grand Festival of the Autumn Moon is just around the corner and the Emperor would like a new suit to wear. Not happy with the court tailor’s latest creations, a call is sent out across the land and two con men posing as weavers, Joseph and Jeremiah, answer. They set about creating a new suit of clothes for the Emperor that is so exquisite and delicate that “it cannot be seen by fools.” In the meantime, they tell the emperor of the latest fashions in other kingdoms, which he simply must copy, setting off a series of hilarious costume changes.

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the eight adult actors never miss a beat in this fast-paced comedy. Frank Gilleece is ideally cast as the vain Emperor and Zoe Dunmire as the Empress and Melanie Acampora as the Princess complement him perfectly. Children’s theater veterans Andrew Gasparini (Jeremiah) and Steven Uihlein (Joseph) are very convincing as the two con men who try to pull off “the tailor scam.” As court tailor, Amanda Geraci effectively displays a variety of emotions from insulted to insecure to jealous as she is replaced by the new “weavers.”

Newcomer Emily Gates gives an outstanding performance in the toothy role of Court Dentist, examining everyone’s mouth and passing out sugar-free gum. Even the audience is under scrutiny. “A dentist’s work is never done!” she exclaims. Gates takes this flossy character and runs with it.

Aria Saltini plays Ann, the girl who befriends Jeremiah and Joseph and becomes an accomplice in their scam. Will she have a change of heart and expose them? Or will the emperor be exposed?

The original score, with choreography by Bobby Montaniz, is the heart of the show with great duets like “Song of Agreement” with Acampora and Saltini and “I Can Work with You” with Geraci and Gates as well as “It’s Time” sung by the whole company. Teresa Matteson’s elaborate costumes, especially the many outfits for the Emperor, are wonderfully on point and live musical accompaniment by Tim Peierls on piano, David B. Goldberg on electric bass and Tessa Peierls on flute and piccolo is a nice touch.

There are always lessons to be learned at Theatre Three’s children’s shows and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is no exception. Here the morals of the story are that it’s not what’s on the outside but the inside that truly matters, to always tell the truth and to floss after every meal! Young children will love this story along with the singing and dancing, and adults will have a terrific time as well, seeing a fresh take on a story they know from their own childhoods.

Up next is the premiere of “The Misadventures of Robin Hood” from Aug. 5 to 13, “Pumpkin Patch Magic!” from Oct. 1 to 29 and a holiday favorite, “Barnaby Saves Christmas” from Nov. 25 to Dec. 30. Tickets are $10 each. To order, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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.

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.

Ellen Michelmore was the musical director at Theatre Three. File photo

Ellen Michelmore, who served as the Theatre Three musical director for more than 25 years, died early Friday morning, the theater said on its Facebook page. She was 63.

Since her start with a production of “Evita” in 1986, Michelmore worked with hundreds of actors and musicians at the theater in her hometown of Port Jefferson. Even through a few battles with leiomyosarcoma, a cancer that infects muscle tissue, Michelmore was known for her energy and for giving her all, and was named a Port Times Record Person of the Year in 2014.

Ellen Michelmore was the musical director at Theatre Three. File photo
Ellen Michelmore was the musical director at Theatre Three. File photo

“She is a craftsperson, an artist, a teacher and a mentor,” Theatre Three Executive Director Jeffrey Sanzel said at that time. He quoted composer Jerry Herman to describe her style: “‘Someone puts themselves last, so that you can come first.’ That is Ellen.”

People who knew her have called her generous, patient, kind, strong and remarkable. And she made a mean Bolognese sauce.

“I don’t think there was a single person who ever came across her who didn’t love her,” Sanzel said in a phone interview on Friday. “And I’m not one to use superlatives [but] she was an extraordinary human being, she was an artist, but just the depth of her love and compassion and sensitivity were unlike anyone we’ve ever had in this theater family, and her loss will be felt forever.”

As the lead of Theatre Three’s music department, Michelmore touched both audiences and staff.

Musician Michael Chiusano said people who worked with her respected and appreciated her honesty: “If your part is not prepared, she will tell you where you stand,” he said previously.

Ellen Michelmore as a young child. File photo
Ellen Michelmore as a young child. File photo

And Broadway actress and singer Amy Justman, who began working with Michelmore as a 10-year-old in 1989, said the music director was “kind and giving but tough.”

“I had never seen a woman like Ellen,” she said when Michelmore was named a Person of the Year. “She sent me on a path. … I have a lifelong connection to her and am so grateful for her.”

Michelmore played such a big role in the Theatre Three community that the theater honored her with a musical tribute in 2014, called “Ellen Michelmore: Notes From The Heart,” that featured singers, actors and musicians who had worked with her.

Michelmore is survived by her husband, Jeff Lange, who is also a musician. He has previously noted, “Ellen’s passion has been her job ever since she arrived at Theatre Three.”

Her presence is not something that will soon be forgotten at the theater. Sanzel said Friday, “In all that she’s been through in these last five years, her bravery was extraordinary and she never stopped loving all the people around her.”

Funeral arrangements had not yet been made early Friday afternoon.

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.

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.

Jenna Kavaler and Brett Chizever share a light-hearted moment in ‘Beau Jest.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Michael Tessler

Ever leave a theater feeling lighter than air? Theatre Three’s production of “Beau Jest” left me with this happy sensation I haven’t yet been able to shake.

Mary Powers masterfully directs an all-star cast in a perfectly paced stage comedy. Originally written by James Sherman, this show can best be described as a love child between “Fiddler on the Roof” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”  And let me tell you, it makes for a beautiful combination.

Sarah Goldman, the show’s protagonist (and arguably antagonist) is the kind of girl my grandmother would have loved for me to date. Pretty, smart, successful, and most importantly … Jewish. Like so many children she’s torn between pleasing her parents while being true to herself. Played by the hard-not-to-love Jenna Kavaler, you can’t help but sympathize with this love-struck young woman whose biggest fear is hurting the ones she loves most.

From left, Bob Kaplan, Scott Joseph Butler, Ginger Dalton, Brett Chizever and Jenna Kavaler in a scene from ‘Beau Jest.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
From left, Bob Kaplan, Scott Joseph Butler, Ginger Dalton, Brett Chizever and Jenna Kavaler in a scene from ‘Beau Jest.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Sarah is romantically involved with a man opposite of the “nice Jewish boy” stereotype. Chris Kringle is a marketing executive and Sarah’s secret boyfriend whom she hides from her overly traditional and protective family. Played with immense talent by Steven Uihlein, Chris just can’t seem to catch a break. As if being named after the North Pole’s most popular resident wasn’t bad enough, he finds himself in love with someone who cannot love him back — openly that is. 

To make matters worse, Sarah finds herself hounded by her parents to the point where she invents a fake boyfriend. What started as a tiny lie quickly snowballs into an impossible to contain catastrophe. Her pretend boyfriend isn’t just Jewish, but he’s also a doctor, and a surgeon at that! Desperate to maintain the facade, Sarah hires Bob, a struggling actor turned male escort who is given the impossible task of pretending to be Sarah’s Jewish surgeon boyfriend. Brett Chizever is brilliant in his portrayal of Bob. Chizever can best be described as a master of comedic timing and expressions. He’ll have you in stitches before the show’s end.

Sarah’s mother, Miriam Goldman, is played to perfection by the hysterical and enormously talented Ginger Dalton, who was for me the highlight of the show. To say she is dramatic would be an understatement and a disservice to the beautifully accurate portrayal of an overly concerned Jewish mother. Who knew a person could sigh with such fervor? Dalton offers a magnificent performance and is complimented perfectly by her equally talented partner Bob Kaplan who portrays her husband Abe, a Tevye-like patriarch stuck in the wrong century but nonetheless endearing.

From left, Bob Kaplan, Ginger Dalton and Brett Chizever in a scene from ‘Beau Jest.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
From left, Bob Kaplan, Ginger Dalton and Brett Chizever in a scene from ‘Beau Jest.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Last, but certainly not least, is Sarah’s brother Joel, a divorced psychiatrist played by Scott Joseph Butler whose dry humor blends perfectly with this already well-rounded show. Butler’s subtle comedy is so effective and peaks in the second act during one particularly hysterical tirade.

“Beau Jest” succeeds beautifully as it establishes itself as a living sitcom, complete with a live studio audience, some great inside jokes, and a cast you can’t help but fall in love with. Each knock on the door welcomes a new whirlwind of comedy, drama and beautifully scripted madness; the perfect way to spend an evening with someone you love.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “Beau Jest” through May 7. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

‘Speed Sisters.’ Photo from GPJAC

By Melissa Arnold

Movie buffs, rejoice! After a long and dreary winter, it’s time to explore politics, health care, pop culture and more with a new season of the Port Jeff Documentary Series.

This month will mark the beginning of the 23rd season for the PJDS, which has brought compelling and award-winning documentaries of all kinds to our area in the spring and fall since 2005. The festival is sponsored by the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, the Suffolk County Film Commission and the New York State Council on the Arts.

It’s a labor of love for the “film ladies,” the six board members who plan the festival from the ground up twice each year. They include co-directors Barbara Sverd and Lyn Boland, as well as Wendy Feinberg, Honey Katz, Phyllis Ross and Lorie Rothstein.

Each year, the film ladies travel to some of the biggest film festivals in the area, among them the Tribeca Film Festival in Lower Manhattan, the Stony Brook Film Festival and the Hamptons Film Festival. They also closely follow online buzz for film festivals they can’t attend.

‘Sweet Micky for President.’ Photo from GPJAC
‘Sweet Micky for President.’ Photo from GPJAC

“Everyone on the board searches for films independently and brings them back to the group. This way, we get a lot of variety because we all like different things,” said Boland.

While each board member has her own opinions, they’re all looking for those films that generate a lot of interest and offer wide appeal. All of them are fresh off the circuit, and you won’t be able to see them on TV or other outlets, Boland explained.

Boland has always loved documentaries, and the series was born out of the desire to see them closer to home. She said those first films were chosen sitting around a kitchen table with the help of her late friend and law partner, Sondra Brooks. “I would hear about these great documentaries nominated for Academy Awards, but there was absolutely nowhere around here to see them. We wanted to change that,” Boland said.

These days, documentary film is one of the most common entry-level styles, leaving more titles and themes to explore than ever.

Each film lady selects two of her personal favorite documentaries to bring back to the group for discussion. Then, they write letters to directors and production teams of their favorite films, asking them to consider sending the group a copy for screening. Once the films arrive, everyone gets a say; 5/6 of the group must love the film in order for it to make the festival’s short list. It also has to fit well with that season’s other selections and budget. The final list features seven films, one for each board member and a seventh unanimously chosen by all the ladies.

Boland admitted that her two favorites for this season are the films she chose, which she affectionately calls “her babies.” They are “The C Word,” an eye-opening expose into cancer treatment and its many flaws, and “Speed Sisters,” which follows the unexpected experiences of five female race car drivers in Palestine.

During the series, each film is followed by a Q-&-A session or discussion with someone on the film’s production team, usually the director. It is an opportunity for audiences to delve deeper into the film’s development and themes.

Boland said that putting the series together twice each year is a lot of work, but there’s never bad blood in the group when they make the final selections.

Director Amber Fares photo from GPJAC
Director Amber Fares photo from GPJAC

“[The board members] volunteer to do this and it’s really like a year-round job,” Boland said.  “I can’t even say how many films I see each year, but I watch several every week. All but one of us have been involved from the beginning and it’s such a respectful environment. We do this because we’re passionate about it.”

In addition to showing the films at Theatre Three, the festival has recently added the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook as a co-host. The film ladies approached the museum after its former co-host, Stony Brook University’s Wang Center, could no longer participate.

The museum works with the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council on a regular basis, which made them a perfect fit. They’ve recently obtained a new projector and sound system, and Boland is looking forward to showing films there.

“Film is a vibrant artmaking medium, and the museum will be adding even more films to see as we move forward with our expanding public programming,” said Neil Watson, executive director of the Long Island Museum. “Partnering with the Port Jefferson Documentary Series is the perfect opportunity to extend both of our organizations into this rich and diverse community.”

The documentary series wouldn’t be possible without the support of numerous volunteers. Every season, help is needed for each part of the process, from distributing flyers and running the ticket booths to  tracking down directors and even recommending new films. A contact page for volunteers and board members can be found at the festival’s website, www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.

The film ladies encourage hesitant viewers to try even one of this season’s films. Boland said that documentaries offer an extra touch of magic you just won’t find in a fictional movie.

“When you see a moving documentary, it shakes you the way a feature film does, but you have that extra level of emotion in knowing it’s all real,” she said.

The Port Jefferson Documentary Series will be held at 7 p.m. every Monday from March 14 to April 25 at Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, and the Long Island Museum, 1200 Rt. 25A, Stony Brook. For the first time this year, moviegoers can purchase their tickets in advance. General admission for each film is $7. To learn more about the PJDS, this season’s films or to purchase advance tickets, call 631-473-5220.

Film schedule

A scene from ‘The C Word.’ Photo from GPJAC
A scene from ‘The C Word.’ Photo from GPJAC

■ The spring season will kick off with “Sweet Micky for President” at Theatre Three on March 14. Winner of the Grand Jury Award and Audience Award at the Slamdance Film Festival and Best International Director Award at the Documentary Edge Film Festival, the film recounts the story of Pras Michel, Grammy Award-winning rapper and founder of The Fugees, as he returns to his homeland of Haiti postearthquake and finds a corrupt government in paralysis. Wanting desperately to turn the tides there, he becomes the backbone of a presidential campaign for Michel Martelly, aka “Sweet Micky,” Haiti’s most popular and outlandish pop star. The film is presented in English, Creole and French with English subtitles. Guest speakers for the evening will be Director Ben Patterson and Pras Michel.

The second film in the series, “Janis: Little Girl Blue” by Amy Berg, will be screened at Theatre Three on March 21. It follows the life and career of renowned classic rock musician Janis Joplin prior to her sudden and tragic death in 1970 at the age of 27. The film explores the private side of Joplin’s life with new intimacy. Joplin’s own words tell much of the film’s story through a series of letters she wrote to her parents over the years, many of them made public here for the first time. The screening will be followed by a live performance of Joplin’s music by Amber Ferrari and a Q-&-A moderated by Norman Prusslin, director of the Media Arts Minor at Stony Brook University, co-founder of The Long Island Music Hall of Fame and founding general manager of WUSB 90.1 FM in Stony Brook.

On March 28, the Long Island Museum will host a screening of “The Anthropologist,” a film that tells the stories of anthropologists Margaret Mead and Susie Crate through their daughters’ perspectives. The film highlights how people all over the world, from Siberia to the Chesapeake, deal with changes in culture and the environment. The documentary won the Best Environmental Film award at the Nevada International Film Festival. The film is presented in six different languages. Director Daniel Miller will speak after the screening.

“Waiting,” to be screened on April 4 at the Long Island Museum, explores the cultural experiences and adjustment of three Italians from varied backgrounds immigrating to middle-class America. The film won the Big Apple Film Festival Cityscape Award and a 2015 Spotlight Documentary Film Award. Presented in English and Italian with English subtitles, guest speakers will include Director Cristian Piazza and one of the subjects followed in the film, actor-turned-opera-singer Paolo Buffagni.

■ On April 11, you’ll rethink your perspective on cancer treatment when Theatre Three screens “The C Word.” Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the film asks one pointed question: “With all of the resources and efforts in the war on cancer, why are we still losing?” It also exposes the multilevel, systematic problems in cancer care — the habits that predispose us to disease and a fixation on treatment instead of on the root causes of our ailments. The film is presented in English and French. “The C Word” was directed by one of its subjects, cancer survivor Meghan O’Hara, who will be on hand as the evening’s guest speaker.

“Karski and the Lords of Humanity” will take you back in time to World War II on April 18 at Theatre Three. This film tells the little-known and amazing story of Jan Karski, a highly intelligent and multilingual Polish man who was once a prisoner of war. He then goes undercover into Hitler’s concentration camps to bear witness to the Nazi atrocities and expose them worldwide. The film received the Best Polish Film award at the The Jewish Motifs International Film Festival in Warsaw, and Jan Karski was awarded a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. The evening’s speaker will be Director Slawomir Grunberg.

The final film in the series, “Speed Sisters,” will be shown at Theatre Three on April 25. Set in Palestine, it follows five female standouts in a thriving car racing scene. Held at improvised tracks — a vegetable market, an old helicopter pad, a security academy — the races offer a release from the pressures and uncertainties of life on the West Bank.  These women are setting a precedent in a male-dominated sport in a male-dominated country, and people everywhere are taking notice. “Speed Sisters” was awarded Best Documentary at the Adelaide Film Festival and the Audience Award at the IFI Documentary Festival. It is presented in Arabic and English with English subtitles. Director Amber Fares will speak after the film.

From left, Hans Paul Hendrickson, Steven Uihlein, Andrew Gasparini and Dana Bush in a scene from ‘The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

When Theatre Three announces the return of a perennial favorite, “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit,” everyone knows that spring is just around the corner. Even more fitting, this year marks 150 years since the birth of Beatrix Potter, who created all of the wonderful characters in the production, from Mrs. Rabbit, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail to Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny and the McGregors. Written by Jeffrey E. Sanzel and the late Brent Erlanson, the show mimics Potter’s “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” closely with a kinder, softer story line. Sanzel directs a talented cast of eight adult actors to bring us this delightful musical that has become a wonderful tradition for families all over the Island.

The cast of ‘The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
The cast of ‘The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

The story follows a mischievous Peter Rabbit who, because of his insatiable appetite for parsley, cucumbers, tomatoes, string beans and lettuce, is constantly drawn to Mr. McGregor’s garden despite his mother’s wishes. Many trips to the garden patch with his cousin, Benjamin Bunny, eventually wear down the farmer’s patience, ending in a great chase scene through the theater, which is reenacted in slow motion later on.

The show opens with a sweet rendition of “Morning” by Mrs. Rabbit, played by Amanda Geraci, and never loses its momentum. Marquéz Catherine Stewart, Jenna Kavaler and Melanie Acampora are the good little bunnies Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail, respectively, who spend most of the show trying to find their “wayward brother” Peter, played with unbounded energy by Hans Paul Hendrickson. Dana Bush returns as a patient Mrs. McGregor after a few year’s absence and Andrew Gasparini tackles the role of Mr. McGregor for the very first time, playing the stingy and cranky farmer perfectly, sans the desire to eat the rabbits. Steven Uihlein, who plays the role of cousin Benjamin Bunny, rounds out the cast and does a terrific job.

Imagination plays a big part in the show, as the set design is sparse, utilizing a trapdoor on stage as a rabbit hole and constructing a makeshift scarecrow. Costumes, designed by Teresa Matteson, are on point, from Mr. McGregor’s overalls to the little white tails on the rabbits. Kudos to Michelle Manda for a terrific job on the lighting, especially during a Mission Impossible scene when Peter and Benjamin attempt to retrieve Peter’s clothes from the scarecrow.

The musical numbers, written by Kevin F. Story and accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, are all showstoppers, especially “One More Time Around,”  “Beware! Mr. McGregor!” and “Peter’s Socks,” which Stewart, also the choreographer, has converted to a fun hip-hop piece. All of the songs are incorporated into the finale, a perfect ending to a Theatre Three classic.

Souvenir bunnies in various colors are up for sale during intermission, and the entire cast is in the lobby after the show for a meet-and-greet.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” through March 26. Children’s theater will continue on the Mainstage with “Cinderella” from April 16 to June 11, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” from July 8 to Aug. 5 and “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.

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