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Theatre Three

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

By Michael Tessler

Theatre Three’s production of “Godspell,” which opened last Saturday night, is local theater at its finest. A musical by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak, it originally opened off Broadway in 1971 and has had many revivals since then. Uniquely reimagined by director Jeffrey Sanzel, Theatre Three’s production succeeds in every category with beautiful lighting, a fluid set, expert choreography, tremendous acting and voices that will leave you yearning for more.

Sanzel, who had previously directed several productions of “Godspell,” brings a refreshing twist to the story, having it take place in the here and now. The cast portray not characters, but their actual selves. Everything you watch is playing out in real time, and it genuinely feels like it’s happening for the first time. The result is miraculous, as it adds a depth and weight to the show that makes it all the more human.

Biblical Spoiler Alerts: Each touch, every moment of embrace, was so unique and powerful. You feel so connected with the magnanimous presence of Jesus, portrayed masterfully by Hans Paul Hendrickson. You sympathize with Judas (Patrick O’Brien) whose dynamic personality and lovability makes his betrayal all the more devastating and personal.

Broken into two acts, the first is a series of parables told by Jesus’ disciples through songs and skits. They will have you in stitches from laughing. Each parable contains a beautiful lesson of morality. In the second act you bear witness to the betrayal of Jesus. Though the tone of the show dramatically changes, the cast still delivers, showing off their impressive range as actors.

What’s most remarkable about this production is its cast. This ensemble effortlessly plays with your heartstrings as their harmonies echo through the belly of the theater. They don’t limit their stage to the stage. More often than not they’re in the audience sharing the experience with you. Their collective voice is so powerful, so beautiful, and instills you with a sense of togetherness. During the production you feel as though you’re a part of something very special.

Hans Paul Hendrickson as Jesus and Patrick O’Brien as Judas in a scene from ‘Godspell.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Hans Paul Hendrickson as Jesus and Patrick O’Brien as Judas in a scene from ‘Godspell.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

In Act One, Amanda Geraci serenades with perfection in her rendition of the musical theater classic “Day by Day.” Bobby Montaniz’s booming voice rings perfectly during his soulful performance of “All Good Gifts.” Act Two, though darker in tone, does have some upbeat moments. Among them is the devilishly sexy “Turn Back, O Man” performed by the talented Elena Faverio. You’ll hold back tears during “By My Side,” a beautiful duet between Jenna Kavaler and Aria Saltini. In the audience, you can’t help but feel the urge to clap and sing along.

The show’s excellent choreography is also to be noted. With each musical number it feels the cast members outdo themselves. No doubt this can be attributed to choreographer Marquez Stewart whose vision translated wonderfully on stage. Her direction of Jesus and Judas during “All for the Best” is a real treat as the duo tap dances in tandem. Many of the musical numbers cleverly include American Sign Language, adding an extra dimension to an already beautiful repertoire of music. “Godspell’s” other great success is in its attention to ambiance. Lighting designer Robert W. Henderson Jr. programs some of the most impressive light sequences I’ve ever seen in a local show. “Heavenly” seems like a fitting adjective.

Behind the cast is Steve McCoy, musical director, who leads a team of expert musicians who brought the score to life in a way that only great instrumentalists can. Randall Parsons’ costume design was also a job well done with Jesus wearing his signature Superman shirt and Judas adorned in what I assume was a cleverly repurposed military coat from “Les Miserables.” Every cast member’s costume so perfectly fit the quirkiness of their personalities. Also deserving of credit is stage manager Peter Casdia who expertly ran the production from behind the scenes.

Arguably the highlight of the show is one particular scene that turns the stage into an old-fashioned slide projector. Comically narrated by Judas, the entire audience erupted into five minutes of non-stop bellyaching laughter. If for this scene alone, go see this show.

“Godspell,” while inspired by the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, isn’t exclusively a Christian show. Its message of community, love and compassion are delivered in a way that doesn’t require you to adhere to the Christian doctrine. Even as a secular Jew, I found myself humming along to “We Beseech Thee” and thinking to myself “I love Jesus!”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Godspell” through March 26. Contains adult themes. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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Hans Paul Hendrickson, second from right, with the cast of ‘Godspell’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Rita J. Egan

When it comes to the lead role in “Godspell,”  one important trait for the actor to have is charisma. During a recent interview with Hans Paul Hendrickson, it was obvious that he not only possesses this important characteristic but also enthusiasm for the musical’s upcoming run at Port Jefferson’s Theatre Three, as well as working with his fellow cast members and director Jeffrey Sanzel.

The company member was in middle school when he first saw the production at a local high school. “I was just blown away by how it was so different than anything else I had known in the musical theater realm,” he said.

After seeing the show, Hendrickson bought the album on iTunes. “I bought it and I lived it. I listened to it over and over again. And then, when I found out that they were doing it this year when I was signing my company contract, I was very much excited, and very eager to get a chance to get a crack out of it,” the actor said.

While it’s a role he always wanted, Hendrickson explained his reasons have changed since rehearsals started. He also said he finds himself getting along even easier with people, and taking the stance of turning the other cheek when someone does him wrong. “Originally I wanted to play it because it’s the lead, and he has great songs, and who wouldn’t want to play Jesus Christ. And also, the person who played it at the high school was someone I admired through doing theater and looked up to, which made me want to play it even more,” he said.

“But as I’ve gotten the role it’s kind of become a situation where, I’m not saying I’m becoming the character, but I’m adopting his teachings. I’m becoming able to relate to what he’s saying because a lot of what he says in the show is straight out of the Bible, and it’s not exactly written in the most plain of terms, but through my work with Jeff I’m able to connect that stuff with my life. And I’m able to adopt these ideals and these thoughts and these concepts of this man, and the character and the actor are becoming one,” he added.

The actor said the play asks, “If this charismatic character came into your life for one day, how will he change you?”

“In our production, we kind of take the name of Jesus out of the play. We are focusing more on the teachings and the identity, the being, the idea of Jesus. Rather than them addressing me as Jesus and me wearing a beard and long hair, we kind of focus on the love aspect,” said Hendrickson.

“Throughout the rehearsal process, Jeff [Sanzel] has been emphasizing the idea to me of leading from behind. Yes, [Jesus] is the leader but he kind of is the gas in the tank of the ensemble. He helps them to realize that they have all the teachings and understandings in themselves. And as he teaches them to tell these parables and these stories, not only do they learn the lessons about the stories but they learn lessons about themselves.”

The actor explained that the Theatre Three production takes place in an old theater, and as the musical opens, we are introduced to characters representing theater regulars such as the shining star, the understudy, the costumer and the director. While the beginning number shows disconnect, the Jesus character, who happens to be the janitor, comes in to help connect everyone. “We kind of wanted to emphasis the idea that he could be anyone. It’s not about, yes, he was the son of God, but he’s also the son of man.”

While Hendrickson has a number of favorite moments in the musical, he said he loves how the cast comes together in “Save the People” and feels a surge of energy that he said organically came along in the rehearsal process. The number first starts with Hendrickson and Patrick O’Brien, who plays Judas, on stage, and then everyone joins in with the band dropping out for about four measures where everyone sings a cappella.

“There’s such a surge of energy. And, it’s something that you don’t get in every production, and it’s something that you can’t take for granted as a performer, because it’s so genuine of everybody coming together for this one purpose. I’m getting goose bumps just talking about it,” Hendrickson said. “They’re almost coming together to be together. They’re not entirely sure why they are coming together but there’s something pulling them, there’s something bringing them in. Their vocals are just so on point at that moment.”

As for his fellow cast members, Hendrickson said they all bring different energies and personalities, and they jokingly refer to themselves as the God Squad. “There’s not a weak link up there.”

The actor credits Sanzel for bringing out the best in all of the cast members. He explained the director doesn’t just simply direct but also pulls the best from each actor, discussing with each their thoughts about the role and any problems they may encounter. Hendrickson said Sanzel also understands how to take into account the actors’ ideas of approaching a role and making the entire cast feel connected. “He’s created a completely judgment-free zone, which we’re able to try, and which we’re able to grow, and which we’re able to love and love each other, and love the work that we’re putting together.”

After “Godspell,” Hendrickson said he will appear at the theater in the one-act play “OK Computer” by Tom Moran  at the Ronald F. Peierls Theater on  the Second Stage at the end of April and as Pinocchio in the Mainstage musical “Shrek” in May. The 23-year-old plans to take the summer off and then audition, something Hendrickson said he’s more confident about than in previous years due to this past year as a Theatre Three company member.

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, will present “Godspell” from Feb. 27 to March 26. For more information, please visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

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Singer/songwriter to take fans down a road of memories

John Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil. Photo by Heather Bunker

By Rita J. Egan

On Feb. 13, music lovers will be traveling country roads, and not-so country roads, to Theatre Three in Port Jefferson when the venue presents Ted Vigil: A Tribute to John Denver.

John Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil. Photo by Heather Bunker
John Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil. Photo by Heather Bunker

For the last few years, Ted Vigil has been touring the country with the tribute show and providing the late singer’s fans a night of musical memories. When Douglas Quattrock, the theater’s group sales coordinator and director of development and marketing, and Vivian Koutrakos, managing director, found out the singer was interested in performing on Long Island, they watched a video of him and were extremely impressed.

Quattrock said that Vigil not only physically resembles the late singer but also perfectly captures how Denver would sing and perform right down to every intonation. “I was blown away because I grew up with his music,” he said.

Preferring rock music when he was younger, creating a John Denver tribute show wasn’t always the musical road Vigil was on. However, he couldn’t escape many noticing the resemblance to Denver, who died in a plane crash in 1997. He was only 53.

“I get it every day. I get it at the grocery store. I get it when I’m jogging with my ski hat on. It’s the first thing that my mother-in-law said when I met her 30 years ago: ‘You kind of look like John Denver’,” Vigil said in a recent phone interview. 

When he began performing as a teenager in Olympia, Washington, Vigil would sing and play drums with local rock bands. The entertainer said the resemblance to Denver wasn’t as obvious when he was younger. He admitted he used to have big ’80s hair — “permed and ratted up. I definitely had a different look going on,” he said.

Vigil said that while his style of music was different from Denver’s, he was familiar with the singer’s songs because his mother would play the musician’s 8-tracks in her car.

While Vigil always enjoyed performing, after he got married and had children he took a break from the stage and worked as a truck driver. Through the years, his music style also changed. “As I got older I kind of started moving away from the harder rock and started listening to other stuff,” he said.

Once his children were older, Vigil started performing again, and the Denver look-alike found his musical style meshing with the legend’s more and more.

‘It’s the first thing that my mother-in-law said when I met her 30 years ago: You kind of look like John Denver.’ — Ted Vigil

In 2006 he, along with thousands of contestants from 28 states, New Zealand, Australia and Canada entered the Talent Quest 2006 contest in Laughlin, Nevada. He arrived at the contest prepared to participate in the rock/pop category where he sang the Led Zeppelin song,“Rock and Roll,” and the Guns N’ Roses hit, “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” When he arrived, someone suggested he also enter the country category.

While he didn’t win in rock/pop, he walked away with first place in the country category singing Denver’s “Annie’s Song” and “Rocky Mountain High.” While he was in Nevada, many commented on how he resembled the late singer, and after that he entered and won the KOMO TV 4’s Northwest Afternoon Celebrity Look-Alike Contest.

At his appearance at Talent Quest, he caught the attention of a pilot and sound engineer that both had worked with Denver, and they encouraged him to do a tribute show. His first one was in 2006, and by 2009, he was touring all over the states.

In 2010 Steve Weisberg, a former lead guitar player with Denver, began to perform on stage with Vigil. The singer said while touring for four years with Weisberg, who passed away in 2015, he learned a lot about Denver, and during downtime on the road, the guitar player would share with him how the late singer would approach songs.

“He was fun to play with and people loved him. He told stories and jokes on stage about his experience working with John. I really miss Steve,” the singer said.

Vigil admitted that even though he knew a few guitar chords, he needed to learn more for the tribute show, because Denver was an accomplished guitar player. Once he learned the songs on the instrument, he said he was blown away by the technicality.

“It was really a challenge for me to learn these songs on the guitar. I didn’t realize how great a guitar player John was. Also, how difficult it was to sing in a more quiet tone, and you have that voice control, you have the long extended notes, and with all the bravado and all that, it’s really beautiful. John used his voice like an instrument. He was just a really technical singer,” Vigil said. 

John Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil. Photo by Heather Bunker
John Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil. Photo by Heather Bunker

The singer, who also is a songwriter, released an album in 2010 with his own and Denver’s songs. Currently, he is working on his next CD with all original tunes. He said performing Denver’s songs has affected his performances overall. “John has definitely influenced me a lot as far as style and just being a more rounded singer, instead of screaming rock ‘n roll stuff,” he said.

Vigil, who had the opportunity to play at Denver’s Windstar Foundation in Aspen before it dissolved, is looking forward to the intimate setting of Theatre Three. The singer, who has performed both solo and with a seven-piece band, said he’ll be bringing his solo show to the theater. While he enjoys performing with a band, he feels in some settings the audience can hear the lyrics better when there are less instruments, which he finds fitting for Denver’s music. “I think John’s music really was emotional, and it really hits the heart,” the singer said. 

Vigil said he will perform at Theatre Three many of the songs that music lovers remember of Denver’s including “Rocky Mountain High,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Annie’s Song” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” He also enjoys performing “Grandma’s Feather Bed,” “Like a Sad Song” and “Poems, Prayers and Promises,” which weren’t played on the radio as much as the legend’s other songs.

“My favorite songs are some of the side B record songs where they didn’t get a lot of airplay but they are just beautiful songs,” he said.

The singer will also perform a couple of his own pieces, including “Sing My Songs,” which he wrote as a tribute to Denver and other popular singers who have passed away.

Vigil is grateful to be touring and meeting so many interesting people and sharing their memories of Denver. He believes music is an important part of life. “It’s such a wonderful thing — music. It really helps people I think emotionally and spiritually and mentally to cope with life because life is hard,” he said.

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, will present Ted Vigil: A Tribute to John Denver on Saturday, Feb. 13, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 per person. For more information, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ad in the Port Jefferson Echo: Jan. 13, 1927, page 2. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Athena Hall, now known as Theatre Three on Main Street in Port Jefferson, was a community hall from 1874, when it was built, until it was remodeled into the Port Jefferson Theatre in 1928 with raked seating for 473.

Until then, it was an open flat-floor area above Griswold’s machine shop, where vaudeville and minstrel shows, magic lantern shows, automobile shows, local plays and other events were held which usually included music and entertainment, and by the early 1900s, “moving pictures” as well.

Ad in the Port Jefferson Echo: Jan. 13, 1927, page 2. Photo from Beverly Tyler
Ad in the Port Jefferson Echo: Jan. 13, 1927, page 2. Photo from Beverly Tyler

Athena Hall was also used for the high school graduations, as a meeting house, election headquarters, dance hall, roller skating ring and by various organizations such as the Port Jefferson fire department which held a benefit show in 1927, featuring a one-act play, a movie and the Port Jefferson High School orchestra. Earlier the same year, Bridgeport radio station WICC held a two-night show featuring Charlie Cole and His Famous Radio Singing Orchestra, with music for dancing every night from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. There were even musical and Charleston dance contests during the auto show in January 1927.

About this same year, 12-year-old Blanche Carlton was asked to play the piano before the film that day and to accompany her close friend Veronica “Ronnie” Matfeld who would be singing. Blanche (Carlton) Tyler Davis is my mom and she told me this story over tea one day just recently.

Mom said, “I believe it was all arranged by Charlie Ruggles who got the director to run the skits at the theater before the movie. I think the director’s name was John. Ronnie was going to sing and I would play the piano. I could hear the tunes so I didn’t need the music and I could pick out other tunes. For the last piece Ronnie sang “Ave Maria” and when she reached the higher notes I was supposed to be at the top notes on the piano and then when Ronnie reached the highest note I was to reach for the notes beyond the piano and fall off the stool onto the stage — and I did.” That was the end of the skit. My mom Blanche and Veronica went off the back of the stage and the movie started.

Ruggles came to live in East Setauket in 1926 and purchased a property at 16 Old Coach Road. He maintained this East Coast residence until 1942.

Ruggles was probably best known for his performances as a character actor in films such as “Bringing Up Baby” (1938) with stars Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. In this crazy, hectic comedy film he played Maj. Applegate, a big-game hunter. Ruggles appeared in about 100 feature films over a more-than 50-year career.

He began on the stage and became well known for his work in radio and television.

Ruggle’s career included Long Island at the Players-Lasky studio (later to become Paramount Pictures), based in Astoria, where he made four silent films in 1915. His comedic talents also extended to his personal relationships and he made many friends, some famous in their own right, as detailed in the Brooklyn Daily Star for May 13, 1927.

“Due to the cordial relations existing between Charles Ruggles, popular comedian of ‘Queen High,’ at the Ambassador Theater, and Lieutenant Commander Byrd, Clarence Chamberlain, Bert Acosta and other famous airmen, the actor has erected a huge searchlight on his estate near East Setauket, L. I., to guide the flyers in their aerial navigation during the night hours.”

Ruggles didn’t spend a lot of time on Long Island. After all, he couldn’t be here and make all those films and be on the stage in New York as well as in radio and television. However, in a story headlined “Movie Star at East Setauket,” as detailed in the Mid-Island Mail, Oct. 1, 1936, he did come here often: “Charles Ruggles of the movies flew from the coast last week to spend several days at his home in East Setauket. The well-known comedian is a frequent visitor here.” Ruggles was also here enough to be included in the 1930 census for East Setauket along with his future wife Marion La Barba.

Many other vaudeville, minstrel and Broadway actors came to this area with its pleasant villages and picturesque harbors. Getting out of the noise and smells of the city was one reason to come to places like Port Jefferson and Setauket and the presence of local theaters, dance halls and entertainment venues just added to the appeal.

Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society.

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Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni as Elizabeth Fuller and Marci Bing as Bette Davis in a scene from ‘Me & Jezebel.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Michael Tessler

Bette Davis epitomized glamour, style, and sexiness for decades. And then, she didn’t. Consumed by controversy, she fell, like most stars do, only to land in a most unexpected place.

Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni as Elizabeth Fuller and Marci Bing as Bette Davis in a scene from ‘Me & Jezebel.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni as Elizabeth Fuller and Marci Bing as Bette Davis in a scene from ‘Me & Jezebel.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Written by Elizabeth Fuller and directed by Bradlee Bing, Port Jefferson’s Theatre Three brings Bette Davis back to life for a roaring good time in their production of “Me and Jezebel,” a true story that shows a side of the Hollywood legend that very few have seen before.

Marci Bing is Bette Davis. Each of her steps is made with such dramatic purpose, each line delivered with diction so precise you could slice bread. You’d be hard-pressed to find an audience member who hadn’t convinced themselves they were actually watching “The Fifth Warner Brother” herself.

Bing, a longtime actress at Theatre Three, takes a lifetime of experience to the stage to deliver an unforgettable performance. She captures not the starlit diva of yesteryear, but rather the aged, raspy, resentful, yet regal nonetheless, 77-year-old Bette Davis.

This dynamic character would prove a serious challenge for even the most veteran performers, yet Bing delivers on all levels, leaving you desperately surfing through Turner Classic Movies afterwards to catch Bette Davis classics like “Of Human Bondage” and “Jezebel.” Her perfectly-paced performance will make you love her, hate her, then love her all over again.

On her opposite, is the relatable, and significantly tamer, Mrs. Fuller, the real-life writer who unexpectedly became hostess to one of Hollywood’s greatest and most controversial stars. Played by the extremely talented Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni, another Theatre Three veteran, this young mother finds herself face-to-face with her childhood hero. This true encounter is recreated perfectly on-stage, using a storytelling style slightly different from your usual stage production.

Castrogiovanni shines as she plays not just Mrs. Fuller, but also her stern husband, rambunctious son, and a southern evangelist determined to convert the often unholy Bette Davis. Her impressive balancing of these secondary characters will make you laugh, sneer, and sniffle. Each character takes on a life of its own and interacts flawlessly with Davis.

Perhaps my favorite part of Castrogiovanni’s performance was the reverence not just for Davis, but for her real life counterpart, Marci Bing. These two form a chemistry that brings the whole show together and brings the whole house down. Her tension, starstruck mannerisms, and admiration feel so authentic that it’s hard not to believe what you’re watching isn’t actually happening for the first time. Castrogiovanni could revisit the show in a few years and easily pick up the role of Bette Davis.

Much of the show’s success can be attributed to Mr. Bradlee Bing. His expert direction helped create an atmosphere perfect for shaping these characters. The simple set and subtle lighting helped bring the Fuller’s New England cottage to life. This provided excellent embellishments to an already marvelous performance.

If you know Bette Davis, you’ll love the show. If you’ve never heard of her, you’ll fall in love with her the night you see it.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Me & Jezebel” through Feb. 6. Contains adult themes and language. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The entire cast of ‘Barnaby Saves Christmas’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

During the month of December, Santa Claus has taken up residence at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson with Mrs. Claus and the whole gang for the theater’s 12th annual original production of “Barnaby Saves Christmas.”

The entire cast of ‘Barnaby Saves Christmas’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.
The entire cast of ‘Barnaby Saves Christmas’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

With the book by Douglas Quattrock and Jeffrey Sanzel and music and lyrics by Quattrock, this adorable children’s musical has become a yearly tradition for many local families.

Under the direction of Sanzel, an enthusiastic cast of nine adult actors whisk the audience away to the North Pole. It’s Christmas Day and Santa, his elves and reindeer are on their way to deliver presents to all the children. Realizing Santa has left behind one of the presents, a teddy bear, the littlest elf Barnaby convinces the littlest reindeer, Franklynne, to set off on an adventure “to save Christmas.” Along the way they meet a Jewish family and learn all about Hanukkah, and bump into an evil villain who’s trying to ruin Christmas — ultimately learning the true meaning of the holiday season.

Reprising his role as Barnaby, Hans Paul Hendrickson is delightful as an elf trying desperately to fit in. His solo, “Still with the Ribbon on Top,” is heartfelt and his duet with Sari Feldman as Franklynne, titled “I’m Gonna Fly Now,” is terrific. Feldman is wonderful, playing her character with the perfect level of spunkiness and determination. The audience connects with the two from the beginning.

Steven Uihlein and Phyllis March are Santa and Mrs. Claus and double as the Jewish aunt and nephew characters, Sarah and Andrew. Uihlein’s solo, “Within Our Hearts,” is superb and March’s rendition of “Miracles” is moving.

Although it is Santa the children look forward to seeing, it is S. B. (Spoiled Brat) Dombulbury who steals the show. The incomparable Brett Chizever tackles the role of the evil villain with utter glee. Just a big kid himself, Chizever is perfectly cast. This is a fun role and Chizever relishes in it. Dana Bush, as Irmagarde, his partner in crime, is also an audience favorite. The only original cast member in the show, Bush always gives a strong performance as the wannabe songwriter who follows her heart.

Marquez Catherine Stewart gives a superbly humorous performance as Sam, the head elf who is desperately trying to stay on schedule and keep everything running smoothly. Amanda Geraci and Jenna Kavaler in the roles of Blizzard and Crystal, respectively, are an amazing supporting cast.

Choreographed by Stewart, the dance numbers are fresh and exciting, incorporating the Whip and the Nae Nae as well as a tap-dancing number — “Like Me!” — that is top rate.

This sweet, cleverly written holiday musical is a perfectly wrapped package with a bow on top. The story line, the songs and the message are all timeless and wonderful. And the audience agreed, as the children — yes, the children — yelled, “Encore!” over and over at the end.

Stay after for photos with Santa Claus if you wish — the $5 fee will support the theater’s scholarship fund — and meet the rest of the cast in the lobby.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “Barnaby Saves Christmas” on Dec. 5, 12, 19 and 26, with a special Christmas Eve performance on Dec. 24. All shows begin at 11 a.m. Tickets are $10 per person. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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From left, Douglas Quattrock, Jeffrey Sanzel and Hans Paul Hendrickson in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Photo by Elizabeth Castrogiovanni, Kayline Images

Theatre Three’s 32nd annual performance of “A Christmas Carol” opened last weekend. “Too early,” you may say. “It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.” Perhaps, but the spirit of Christmas — giving selflessly and spending time with the ones you love — is a message that holds true all year.

The show is based on Charles Dickens’ classic novel of cranky old miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who is concerned only with business. One Christmas Eve, the ghost of his deceased business partner Jacob Marley appears, wearing the chains he’d forged in life, “link by link,” and tells Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits — the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, who help him discover the true meaning of Christmas.

Published more than 170 years ago, Dickens’ tale of redemption quickly resonated with the working class and has remained a holiday favorite ever since.

Adapted for the stage by Theatre Three Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel in 1983, the production is constantly evolving, revising itself, with subtle changes that keep it fresh. The audience is led through a gamut of emotions, from fear to sadness to pure joy — a true testament to the magic of live theater.

The show brings back familiar faces year after year, with Sanzel (Scrooge), Douglas Quattrock (Bob Cratchit), Steve McCoy (Jacob Marley) and George Liberman (Mr. Fezziwig) leading a talented cast of 20 who, combined, play nearly 100 roles. The entire company, from the seasoned actors to the children, does a phenomenal job.

Sanzel, who also directs, is in every scene and is wonderful. In a scene with the Ghost of Christmas Past, he instantly transforms from an old, hunched-over tired man to a young man again, dancing the night away at Fezziwig’s holiday party. The transition is effortless and quite remarkable.

Quattrock’s performance as Bob Cratchit is particularly moving, especially in his scenes with Tiny Tim (played by Ryan M. Becker), and Steve McCoy is a daunting Marley. Other standouts include Liberman as the jolly Mr. Fezziwig, Kiernan Urso in the role of young Scrooge and Amanda Geraci, who reprises her role as the sweet but sassy Ghost of Christmas Past. James D. Schultz tackles a new role this year as the cheeky Ghost of Christmas Present “to show the joys of mankind” and does a tremendous job. Newcomer Hans Paul Hendrickson brings an elevated level of tenderness to the role of Scrooge’s optimistic nephew, Fred Halliwell, that is top-notch and operates the towering Ghost of Christmas Future with ease.

A Victorian set designed by Randall Parsons, period costumes by Parsons and Bonnie Vidal, lighting by Robert W. Henderson Jr., music and sound by Ellen Michelmore and the many special effects pull it all together nicely to create a first-class production. Be it your second time or your 32nd, Theatre Three’s “A Christmas Carol” is well worth revisiting.

Arrive a little early and be treated to a selection of Christmas carols by the actors in the lobby and stay afterward for photo ops with Scrooge (proceeds benefit the theater’s scholarship fund).

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “A Christmas Carol” on the Mainstage through Dec. 27. New this year, all evening shows begin at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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George Liberman reprises role for 9th year

Alexander Yagud-Wolek and George Liberman in last year’s performance of ‘A Christmas Carol.' Photo by Elizabeth Castrogiovanni, Kayline Productions

By Rita J. Egan

In the classic tale “A Christmas Carol,” a glimpse of his younger years working for Mr. Fezziwig provides a delightful vision of Christmas past for Ebenezer Scrooge. This holiday season, for the 9th year in a row, actor George Liberman will take on the role of the miser’s former boss in Theatre Three’s adaptation of the holiday classic.

It’s a character the actor loves portraying and one whose kind-hearted spirit he captures perfectly, with great energy and a jovial laugh.

The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, and asked Scrooge if he knew it. “Know it!” said Scrooge. “Was I apprenticed here?”

They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welsh wig, sitting behind such a high desk, that if he had been two inches taller he must have knocked his head against the ceiling, Scrooge cried in great excitement: “Why, it’s old Fezziwig! Bless his heart; it’s Fezziwig alive again!”

Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shows to his organ of benevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice.

Excerpt from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” 1843

“Fezziwig was a good businessman, but he believed that a happy workplace is a prosperous workplace, exactly the opposite of the environment that Scrooge is working in. His workplace was miserable; he was miserable. The Fezziwig workplace was totally different. You kind of see that when you go into the whole Fezziwig sequence in the show. It’s just a happy place,” said Liberman, who has played this role more than 400 times.

“The Fezziwig party — he’s inviting all of his workers, regardless of their class. He’s inviting his neighbors in; he’s having a great time. He wants everyone to enjoy themselves,” the actor said. “He’s bubbly, he’s happy; he has a great relationship with his wife. That’s kind of the way I try to portray him — being very, very happy and very bubbly, very full of life — and that’s what I love about the role.”

Douglas Quattrock, director of development and marketing, and group sales and marketing coordinator, who has played Bob Cratchit in the production for the last 12 years, said Liberman has a great understanding of the Fezziwig role. Quattrock explained that the character adds that touch of humanity to the story, where the most important thing is love.

“I think George embodies that. I’ve noticed that tenderness grow over the years. Every year he’s brought that nuance to it that a lot of actors who might play the role once or twice might not capture,” Quattrock said.

Liberman’s relationship with Theatre Three began in 1991, when he attended a performance of “Sweeney Todd.” The actor enjoyed the show so much he began auditioning and through the years has appeared in “Man of La Mancha” (Captain of the Inquisition), “Guys and Dolls” (Rusty Charlie) “Fiddler on the Roof” (Lazar Wolf), as well as others.

Jeffrey Sanzel, Theatre Three’s executive artistic director, describes Liberman as a go-to person who always has great chemistry with his castmates. “George is one of the easiest people to work with. I have never heard anybody say anything other than he’s wonderful,” Sanzel said, who also directs “A Christmas Carol” and stars as Scrooge.

Liberman’s interest in performing began during his days at Adelphi University. While a student there, he was a member of the Adelphi University Octet. The singing group would perform throughout New York State, and he appeared in one of the university’s musicals, “Little Mary Sunshine.” However, he said after graduating from college, due to working full-time and family responsibilities, he didn’t perform again until 1991, appearing in Theatre Three’s production of “Man of La Mancha”.

It wasn’t until the husband and father retired from working as an administrator for the New York State Office of Mental Health nine years ago that he approached Sanzel about participating in “A Christmas Carol.” He explained that the holiday production’s rehearsal and performance schedule would have been too demanding for him while working full-time.

Sanzel said he knew Liberman was perfect for the role of Fezziwig. “He’s very warm. There’s a real honesty about George, which comes across on stage because he’s that way in life,” the director said.

Liberman’s participation in “A Christmas Carol” keeps him, as well as the other actors, extremely busy the last few months of the year. Rehearsals this year began in the beginning of October, when the cast met downstairs to run through their lines, and on Oct. 26, they began rehearsing on stage, with a good percentage of the set constructed. Liberman, who loves to golf, said jokingly that he’s not quite sure what he would do this time of year if he weren’t rehearsing and performing on stage, especially with golf season being over.

Jenna Kavaler, George Liberman and Jeffrey Sanzel in last year’s performance of ‘A Christmas Carol.' Photo by Elizabeth Castrogiovanni, Kayline Productions
Jenna Kavaler, George Liberman and Jeffrey Sanzel in last year’s performance of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Photo by Elizabeth Castrogiovanni, Kayline Productions

Liberman said he enjoys working with his fellow “A Christmas Carol” actors, both those who have returned from previous years and newcomers. He said Michelle Cosentino will be playing Mrs. Fezziwig for the first time and is wonderful in the role.

Cosentino enjoys working with Liberman as well, and she said she appreciates how welcoming and patient he is. “He’s pretty much Christmas 24/7. It’s like happiness is bursting out of him,” Cosentino said.

Liberman said he continually learns more about the story and the role and has added some refinements over the years, and he said he has grown as an actor as well. The growth has occurred not only due to playing Fezziwig each year, but also by watching Sanzel take on the role of Scrooge every holiday season. Liberman said he has learned a lot by watching the director, especially with how he shades his character in different ways.

In addition to his appreciation for what Fezziwig stands for, Liberman said the theme of “A Christmas Carol” also brings him back each year. He said, for him, the classic holiday story shows that even when you are as mean as Scrooge is, a person can learn the errors of his way.

“The message of the show is a very uplifting, positive message, as it progresses through the show. So I really enjoy doing it,” the actor said.

Liberman hopes that theatergoers will enjoy the message of the holiday story as much as he does. “I would hope that when people walk away, they’re inspired, and they come away with the notion that even the meanest of characters, the meanest of people, can be redeemed and can change, can see the positive in people and can do something positive for those around them,” he said.

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, will present its 32nd annual production of “A Christmas Carol” from Nov. 14 to Dec. 27. Ticket prices range from $15 to $30. For more information and show times, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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