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Theatre Three

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A scene from ‘The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor.’ Photo from PJDC

The arrival of cooler weather signals the start of a perennial favorite, the Port Jefferson Documentary Series.

Supported by the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council and grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and the Suffolk County Film Commission, the PJDS begins its 22nd season on Monday, Sept. 21, at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. The fall series, which will run through Oct. 27, marks the program’s 11th anniversary and the 22nd season of documentaries.

“We are very, very excited,” Lyn Boland, co-director of the film committee that has arranged the documentary series since 2005, said in a recent phone interview. Along with Boland, the committee — nicknamed the Film Ladies — includes co-director Barbara Sverd, Wendy Feinberg, Honey Katz, Phyllis Ross and Lorie Rothstein.

Seven award-winning documentaries will be featured this season, each complemented by a guest speaker who will answer questions at the end of the screening. This year’s selections will explore topics such as genocide, drug cartels, the online black market, art, tradition, cartoons and government cover-ups.

The process of choosing the documentaries is labor-intensive.“[The volunteer committee] gathers the movies from several different sources,” Boland explained. The members go to film festivals like the Hamptons International Film Festival and “try to personally grab one of the directors from one of those films. … We did that with ‘Meet the Patels,’ which was at the Hamptons last fall, and we showed it in the spring and it’s opening in theaters in September. So that’s like the dream sequence.”

‘Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict,’ Photo from PJDC
‘Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict,’ Photo from PJDC

Other festivals they regularly attend include the Tribeca Film Festival, the Stony Brook Film Festival and the American Film Institute’s festival in Washington, D.C. “So we try to go to festivals, we keep an eye on what’s going on in the news and we keep an eye long distance on the big festivals like Toronto, Sundance,” Boland added. “We also get a lot of emails from documentary organizations.”

The committee aims to screen films that people could not easily find elsewhere, so they avoid films that are streaming on services like Amazon or on television, for example.

When selecting the films, “We look for a great story that needs to be told,” Boland said. “We look for a film that’s well made because we really want to keep the standards up. We look for a subject that we haven’t shown too much of; something that’s new. We look for balance in the season. We also have to worry about our budget, being sure that we can afford the speaker and afford the distribution fee.”

Boland is most excited about the screening of the action-drama “Cartel Land.” She called the film — whose credits include executive producer Kathryn Bigelow, who directed “The Hurt Locker” and “Point Break”  — “an amazing story.”

“For a documentary to come out and be picked up by somebody who is as famous as she is and who is a feature director, it’s just an additional testament to how amazing this film is.”

The first five documentaries will be screened on Mondays at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, at 7 p.m. The last two will be screened at the Charles B. Wang Center on the Stony Brook University campus at 6 p.m., also on Mondays. Doors open one half-hour before showtime. Tickets for all films are $7 and will be sold at the door. Admission is free for undergraduate students at the Stony Brook screenings.

The group is always looking for volunteers of all ages to help out at the event.

“We want this to go on beyond us and it would be great to have enough volunteers to have a continuing staff that keeps renewing itself,” Boland said.

For more information or to volunteer, call 631-473-5220 or visit www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.

Film schedule
• The fall season will kick off at Theatre Three with “Deep Web” on Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. The documentary reveals the inside story of Ross William Ulbricht, the convicted 30-year-old entrepreneur accused of being the “Dread Pirate Roberts,” creator and operator of the online black market Silk Road. Winner of Best International Feature at the Global Visions Festival, the film explores “how the brightest minds and thought leaders behind the deep web are now caught in the crosshairs of the battle for control of a future inextricably linked to technology, with our digital rights hanging in the balance.” Narrated by Keanu Reeves, the guest speaker will be director Alex Winter, who played Bill S. Preston, Esq. alongside Reeves in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

An image from ‘Love Marriage in Kabul.’ Photo from PJDC
An image from ‘Love Marriage in Kabul.’ Photo from PJDC

• The second film in the series, “Very Semi-Serious” by Leah Wolchock, to be screened on Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. at Theatre Three, delves into the history of The New Yorker magazine’s cartoons and gives a behind-the-scenes look at the cartoon department. Cartoon editor Bob Mankoff provides “revealing access to his weekly pitch meetings where aspiring and established cartoonists present their work, and where pride is left behind, as hundreds of submitted cartoons get rejected.” It is the winner of the best Bay Area documentary feature at the Golden Gate Awards following the San Francisco International Film Festival. Guest speaker will be New Yorker cartoonist and former Stony Brook resident George Booth, who is featured in the film.

“Cartel Land,” to be screened on Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. at Theatre Three, focues on the Mexican drug war, especially vigilante groups fighting Mexican drug cartels. The film focuses on Tim “Nailer” Foley, the leader of volunteer border patrol group Arizona Border Recon, and Dr. José Mireles, a Michoacán-based physician who leads the Autodefensas, one of the vigilante groups. Matthew Heineman won the Best Director Award and Special Jury Award for Cinematography for the film in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The guest speaker will be producer Tom Yellin.

The fourth film, titled “The Russian Woodpecker,” will be screened at Theatre Three on Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. The documentary follows Ukranian artist Fedor Alexandrovich, who believes the catastrophic Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 was an elaborate government cover-up designed to mask a failed 8-billion-ruble antenna, known as the “Russian Woodpecker,” intended to interfere with Western radio frequencies and located near the radioactive site. Rich with Soviet history and the stories of the area’s former residents, this documentary chronicles the history of one of the most chilling events of our time as well as Alexandrovich’s attempts to spread the word of his theory. Winner of the World Documentary Grand Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Director Chad Gracia will be the guest speaker of the evening.

• The series continues on Oct. 19 with a screening of “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict” at Theatre Three at 7 p.m. Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland uses recently unearthed audio recordings from 1978-79 of the art collector’s last interviews and archival photos to create a portrait of one of the most powerful women in the history of the art world. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this spring. Guest speakers will be producers Dan Braun and David Koh. Gallery North in Setauket is co-sponsoring the event.

“The Killing Fields of  Dr. Haing S. Ngor,” to be screened at the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University on Oct. 26 at 6 p.m., is seen through the eyes of one of the most well-known survivors of the Cambodian genocide, Dr. Haing S. Ngor. The film recently won the Best Documentary Audience Award at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. The guest speaker will be Dr. Ngor’s niece, Sophia Ngor Demetri, who escaped from Cambodia with Dr. Ngor and appears in the film, and his nephew, Wayne Ngor, who narrates the film.

• The final film in the series, “Love Marriage in Kabul,” will be screened at the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University on Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. The film follows the quest of an Afghan-Australian woman, Mahboba Rawi, as she “passionately negotiates and challenges old traditions” to make a love marriage happen in Kabul. The film provides a rare glimpse into the courtship and marriage customs of Afghanistan. In English and Persian with English subtitles, this film was the winner of the Audience Choice Award at the Sydney Film Festival. The guest speaker, via Skype, will be producer Pat Fiske.

From left, Dana Bush, Michael Giordano, James D. Schultz, Frank Gilleece, Amanda Geraci and Sue Anne Dennehy in a scene from ‘The Pied Piper’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Sari Feldman/Franklin Inc.

Currently in production on the Mainstage, Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre brings us a kinder, gentler musical version of the classic fairy tale “The Pied Piper.” Written by Jeffrey E. Sanzel and Kevin F. Story and adapted from “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” by the Brothers Grimm, it tells the tale of a town that has a bit of a rodent problem. Millions of rats, some the size of toasters, have taken over every nook and cranny. Even the cats are afraid of the rats!

The mayor decrees that anyone who can come up with a successful plan to rid the town of the rats will receive 100 gold pieces. A mysterious stranger appears and convinces the mayor to pay him 974 gold pieces. With a handshake and a promise, a deal is made and the Pied Piper lures the rats away by playing his magical flute. When the mayor has a change of heart and refuses to pay the full amount, the piper seeks revenge by placing the children under a magical spell and leading them out of the town and into a mountain.

With six talented adult actors at the helm, the cast also includes 45 young actors from the theater’s summer Dramatic Academy workshop who portray the children of Hamelin. Frank Gilleece plays Mayor Bruce Armbuckle who does whatever his wife, Mrs. Hilda Arbuckle, played by Sue Anne Dennehy, tells him to do, which includes going back on his word. James D. Schultz plays the bumbling Police Chief Henry Kahnstible and his wife, Mrs. Natasha Kahnstible, is played with aplomb by Amanda Geraci. Dana Bush as Mrs. Lavinia Brewster, the richest woman in town, is terrific.

However, it is the amazing Michael Giordano as the Pied Piper who steals the show. Making his entrance toward the end of the first act, he commands the stage with his wonderful rendition of “I Can Rid You of the Rats.” The audience is entranced as he sings and dances and performs his signature one-handed cartwheel.

While all the young actors did a fine job, special mention should be made of Jamie Terlecki, as Lydia, the lone child left behind. A bright future awaits her on the theater stage.

Accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, the songs are playful and fun. Choreography by Sari Feldman is top notch, especially with “Hope Springs Eternal” and “The Blame,” as are the costumes, designed by Amanda Geraci.

Sanzel and Story’s play goes beyond the traditional tale of the Pied Piper with messages about keeping your word, cheating, forgiveness and, for the parents, that children are more valuable than gold. And that is the real magic behind this wonderful production.

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show and take a selfie. Next on the agenda is “Squawk: The Live Bird Show” on Aug. 23, a brand new musical titled “Alice’s Wonderland Adventures” from Oct. 3 to 30 and a Halloween Party for ages 4 and up on Oct. 24.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Pied Piper” on Aug. 7, 8, 14 and 15 at 11 a.m. and Aug. 8 and 15 at 2 p.m. Tickets are only $10 each. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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Air-conditioned fun

"Cinderella's Glass Slipper" is running at the Smithtown Performing Arts Center through August 23. Photo from Smithtown Performing Arts Center

It’s really hot out there and lugging the kids, the water bottles and the snacks can be enough to bring on the whining — from you, as much as from them. So, let’s bring on the air-conditioning with some fun indoor activities.

Theater

Nothing livens up the day like a little live theatah! And the kids love hobnobbing with the cast afterwards during the meet and greets.

Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, known for its great children’s productions, is putting on “Jack and the Beanstalk” on Friday and Saturdays through August 6 and “The Pied Piper” from August 7 to August 15. Not only is the price right —$10 a ticket —it’s just the right length to keep the littlest kids from squirming. And after the show, you can grab lunch or an ice cream or even have tea at The Secret Garden nearby!

For more information, go to theatrethree.com.

The Smithtown Performing Arts Center also puts on children’s productions performed by young adults. “Cinderella’s Glass Slipper” is running from July 27 to August 23 on Saturdays and Sundays. These tickets are a little more pricey at $15 per ticket.

There’s a shopping center adjacent to the theater with many lunch-time offerings, but that’s if you get that far, since an Italian ice stand is just one door away…

For more information, go to smithtownpac.org.

Museum Row in Garden City

One of the most underrated destinations on the island, in my opinion, is the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City. From the moment you enter the glass-encased lobby, you are greeted with airplanes — a Blue Angel jet, for one — dangling from the high ceilings. Before entering the galleries, the kids can enjoy the playroom, complete with a life-size space shuttle and cockpit with buttons and levers to push and experiments to conduct. The kids also love to pretend to be airline passengers in the airline seats —taken from a real airplane — and in the remains of a real galley with pretend food.

Once you’ve dragged the kids from the playroom — and believe me, they’ll need to be dragged, even the nine-year-olds who are technically too old for the play area —you can hit the galleries, which give a history of flight and space. While the first few exhibits explain concepts like “lift,” the majority of the displays feature real airplane cockpits, military jets, a pontoon plane along with flight memorabilia from the World Wars and the early passenger jet days.

Some of the other highlights — really, there are too many to name — include a Blue Angels motion simulator ride, a lunar module prototype, as well as a replica of the lunar module that brought Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon.

Other museum offerings, at an additional cost, are a space-themed café with hot dogs and other such snacks, a Firefighter’s Museum and a planetarium and Imax theater. This museum is definitely a personal favorite, and it’s open everyday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Labor Day. For more information, go to the website at cradleofaviation.org.

Just next door to the airplane museum is Nunley’s Carousel. We always try to stop in on our way from the museum. For $2 each, you and your children can take a turn on this classic, old-fashioned merry-go-round. Check the website before you leave home for the hours!

Many are familiar with the wonders of the Long Island Children’s Museum. From it’s Tots Spot play area where the kids can pretend to drive a Long Island Railroad train, be commercial fisherman or climb to the top of the lighthouse and slide down, to its musical instrument exhibit, this is a museum that caters to all ages.

While some of the most popular exhibits are the bubbles, the “beach” area — the sand has a real allure during the winter — and the two-story climbing structure, there are a host of activities to keep the kids entertained. Many of the more sophisticated exhibits such as the building blocks and displays on communication and music are upstairs.

There is a lunchroom with vending machines, and, of course, the café over at the Cradle of Aviation. The museum is open every day until September 7, 2015 and closed on Mondays after. For more information, go to the website licm.org.

 

By Rita J. Egan

Vocalist Amber Ferrari has been busy preparing a brand new show that she will debut at Port Jefferson’s Theatre Three on Aug. 1. Well known on Long Island for her brilliant “Joplin’s Pearl” production, dedicated to 60s icon Janis Joplin, this time around Ferrari has decided to take on a living legend — Madonna.

The show, titled “Material Girl Featuring Amber Ferrari,” will open with the singer performing songs from Adele, Heart, Alanis Morissette, Aretha Franklin and more, including a couple of her own songs. Ferrari said the second half will consist entirely of Madonna’s hits from the 80s, as well as “Vogue,” which hit the charts in 1990.

Amber Ferrari as Madonna. Photo by Rich Balter Photography
Amber Ferrari as Madonna. Photo by Rich Balter Photography

Unlike “Joplin’s Pearl,” where Ferrari wears a wig and is dressed head-to-toe like Joplin, in this show the singer will wear costumes inspired by Madonna’s famous wardrobe, but she won’t pretend to be her.

“It’s going to be more about enjoying Madonna’s fun music,” Ferrari said.

The singer said she and her husband Chris started discussing the idea of a Madonna show a few years ago and kept it in mind until they had some free time. The couple is excited about the fact that potentially they will have two productions to perform for their audiences. Ferrari is also thrilled to sing more pop songs, as opposed to the rock songs she is known for performing.

“I wanted to pick another icon in a different genre other than rock, because my first set is usually the majority rock ‘n roll,” the singer said.

Douglas Quattrock, director of development, and group sales and marketing coordinator at Theatre Three, has known Ferrari since they performed together in “Woodstockmania: Woodstock in Concert” at the theater a decade ago. He said the audience is in for a fun night, and he knows the singer’s unique and versatile voice can handle any artist’s songs.

“It’s going to be something new, but with the same energy. She throws 120 percent into everything she does. She’s just amazing,” Quattrock said.

Ferrari said she grew up listening to Madonna and lists “Material Girl,” “Into the Groove,” “Holiday,” “Dress You Up,” “La Isla Bonita,” “Like a Virgin,” and “Express Yourself” among her favorites. She said she always thought they were dynamite songs, and she’s including all of them in the Aug. 1 production.

The singer has been busy rehearsing the last few weeks with her fellow band members, which include her husband Chris on guitar, Eddie “Yaz” Yeznach on bass and Jim Carroll on drums. At the Aug. 1 show, Ferrari and band will also be joined by Frank Centrone on keyboard, Billy Aberle on background vocals, and the singer’s father, Bob Hansen, on percussions.

In addition to rehearsals, Ferrari has been working on the costumes for the show, including an 80s-style wedding dress and outfits inspired by Madonna’s “Material Girl” gown and “Lucky Star” outfit. She invites the audience members to join in on the ‘80s fun by asking them to wear their favorite outfit from the decade.

“I think it’s going to be a blast, and I think everyone is going to be surprised. It will take them back to the ‘80s,” Ferrari said.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “Material Girl Featuring Amber Ferrari” on Aug. 1 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 and may be purchased by calling 631-928-9100 or by visiting www.theatrethree.com.

‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ comes to Theatre Three

The cast of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

It’s important to be honest, right? That’s the message Theatre Three is spreading in its latest endeavor, “Jack and the Beanstalk” or “The Boy Who Cried Giant.” With book and lyrics by Jeffrey Sanzel, the musical production follows the original fairy tale closely with a sprinkle of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and makes for great entertainment.

Jack lives in a small village with his mother and his best friend, Filpail the cow. Blessed with a vivid imagination, Jack has “a habit of making the truth look like a pretzel.” He has told so many tall tales (“I can even wash a cat!”) that no one believes him anymore. When he finally tells the truth — that he climbed up a beanstalk to a giant’s castle — it falls on deaf ears and therein lies the moral of the story.

For an hour and a half, the talented cast of eight adult actors, directed by Sanzel,  whisk the audience away to a magical faraway land filled with song, dance and much laughter. From the first musical number, the “Song of Boasting,” accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, you know you are in for a real treat. With music and lyrics by Kevin F. Story, and choreography by Sari Feldman, all the songs are terrific, with special mention of the “Ballad of the Empty Pail” and “Song of the Beans.”

Michael Giordano is perfectly cast as Jack and quickly draws the audience in with his energetic personality. His one-handed cartwheels and leapfrogs over Filpail are impressive and keep the young audience on the edge of their seats. For many, these acrobatics are as magical as anything in the story.

Olivia Andrunik, new to Theatre Three’s stage, plays Jack’s mother with just the right amount of scolding and love. Tamralynn Dorsa plays the Fairy Mary Goodwing who just can’t seem to say goodbye. Her rendition of “Song of Truth-Telling” was beautiful. James D. Schultz is hilarious as the giant’s wife, and he commands the stage with his solo, “Song of the Giant’s Wife.” Frank Gilleece plays the butcher in the first act and the giant in the second, and does a fine job as always.

Amanda Geraci and Andrew Gasparini make a great team as Margot and Marco — the thieves who trick Jack into trading his cow for magic beans — and switch roles effortlessly in Act II as Henrietta the Hen and Harry the Harp.

But it is the indefatigable Kevin F. Story as Filpail the cow who steals the show with his “mooving” rendition of “Song of the Cow.”

Add special effects like a magical beanstalk, hilarious props such as a giant shoe and terrific costumes designed by Geraci, and the end result is an enjoyable afternoon of live theater that your kids and you will love. Meet the cast up close and personal in the lobby after the show.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “Jack and the Beanstalk” through Aug. 7. Tickets are $10. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The entire company of ‘Puss in Boots’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Sarah E. Bush, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

For too short a time, Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre is presenting a delightful adaptation of “Puss in Boots” on the Mainstage. Written by Steve McCoy and Jeffrey Sanzel, the story is loosely based on the 17th century fairy-tale by Charles Perrault, sans the ogre and with a surprise ending.

In Theatre Three’s version, ‘Boots’ chronicles the journey of a poor boy named Christopher. Kicked out of his home by his two older brothers and their wives, with no possessions but his father’s cat, Puss, Christopher sets off to the palace of King Vexmus to seek his fortune. He soon discovers that the cat can talk and wants to help him. A plan is hatched to pose as the rich Marquis of Carabas to win the heart of Princess Anafaizia and the adventure begins.

Jeffrey Sanzel directs a cast of 10 adult actors who deliver a first-rate performance. Hans Paul Hendrickson shines in the leading role of Christopher and also serves as storyteller. His kind and sweet personality quickly gains the sympathy of the audience. Amanda Geraci is wonderful as Puss. Your ‘basic cat of all trades,’ she sings and dances in practically every scene with boundless energy.

Jenna Kavaler is the beautiful Princess Anafaizia, who quickly reveals that her beauty is only skin deep. Bobby Montaniz and Andrew Gasparini are a terrific team as Christopher’s mean brothers, Amos and Shank. Their antics up and down the aisles to try to catch Christopher with a large net are priceless. James D. Schultz is in top form as the bumbling King Vexmus. Hilarious as usual, he clearly enjoys being onstage, making children and adults laugh. Schultz is perfectly matched with newcomer Tiffany Bux as Queen Ire. Bickering like an old married couple, they are very entertaining. Dana Bush as Ida, Marquéz as Missy and Gabrielle Comanda as Julia are a great supporting cast.

Choreographed by the super talented Marquéz and accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, the musical numbers are a real treat, from the sweet duet “Take a Moment for Yourself,” sung by Geraci and Comanda, to the catchy tune of “Song of the Marquis of Carabas.” At last Sunday’s performance, many children were observed rocking back and forth in their seats to the music, taking it all in.

The set is simple but effective, utilizing props from the set of the theater’s evening performances of “Oliver!” Imagination is called for, especially when Puss takes the royal family on a tour of her master’s lands. The costumes, designed by Aimee Rabbitt are spot on, with sharp contrast between the rich and the poor.

Overall, Theatre Three’s “Puss in Boots” is funny, entertaining and a perfect introduction to the magic of live theater. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for a meet-and-greet and photo opportunities.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “Puss In Boots” on June 6 and 13 at 11 a.m. followed by “Jack & the Beanstalk” from July 10 to Aug. 7 and “The Pied Piper” from Aug. 7 to 15. Tickets are $10 each, with group discounts for 10 or more. For more information, please call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Kiernan Urso as Oliver, Jennifer Collester Tully as Nancy and Steve McCoy as Bill Sikes in a scene from ‘Oliver!’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Stacy Santini

Bravo! Bravo! The vociferous roar emanating from the admiring standing spectators after the closing act at Theatre Three last Saturday evening was definitely symbolic of the caliber of Jeffrey Sanzel’s “Oliver!” Sanzel recreates Broadway on our local stage as only he can do with this meritorious musical, once again proving that his ability to recreate classical gems in such an appealing manner is unsurpassed. Adults and children alike gleefully piled into the bustling near sold out theater anticipating how this Dickens masterpiece would unfold; and unfold it did, brilliantly.

Of the numerous adaptations of Charles Dickens’ second novel, “Oliver Twist,” Lionel Bart’s accommodation emphasizes the author’s thematic visions exquisitely, and it is no surprise that Andrew Lloyd Weber credits Bart as the father of the British musical. It premiered at the Wimbledon Theatre on June 30, 1960, and much like the original director/choreographer team of Peter Coe and Malcolm Clare, Theatre Three’s Jeffrey Sanzel and Marquez have created a production of potential award winning magnitude.

“Oliver!” is the tale of a young orphan boy who unbeknownst to him was born into a wealthy lineage. Seemingly destined to a life toiling away in 1800 workhouses, his fate takes a turn when he meets a group of thieving pickpockets masterminded by a man named Fagin. The triumph of good over evil eventually prevails, but the ending is secondary to the journey Oliver must take to reach that destination.

Kiernan Urso as Oliver at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.
Kiernan Urso as Oliver at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

With a cast of 57, many still in middle school, this could not have been an easy feat, but the synchronization, timing and actual performances are so exceptional that the enormity of the show takes a back seat to the world-class depiction as it releases itself to the audience.

The moment Kiernan Urso takes the stage as Oliver viewers are held captive. His sweet, melodic British accent and sympathy-evoking countenance are merely precursors for his performance of the infamous song, “Where Is Love?” It is all over after that as the audience is utterly and completely engrossed in the story line.

As his savior, Mr. Brownlow, played by Ron Rebaldo states, “There is something in that boy’s face,” and yes there is. Kiernan, a sixth-grader at Longwood Middle School, undoubtedly will be adding numerous roles to his repertoire in years to come.

Each actor in this musical has certainly earned his or her placement among this ensemble, but there are a few that not only stand out but soulfully elevate their characters to lofty heights and usher this “Oliver!” into a new dimension.

Dickens’ examination of external influences corrupting what is innately pure could not be depicted without the character of Fagin, portrayed by Sanzel. Not only does he direct “Oliver!” but he also takes the stage as this charismatic charlatan. We are all used to seeing him as Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” which he does so phenomenally that one would think it would be an adjustment to see him in another Dickens’ role, but our fears are very quickly laid to rest when he comes out of the gate with a rendition of “Pick a Pocket or Two” and commands the stage with all the veteran finesse to which viewers have grown accustomed. Sanzel has a unique ability to take unsavory characters and make us not only like them but want to know them. The abhorrent behavior Fagin displays is transcended by Sanzel, and as he rouses with his adolescent gang of thieves we are periodically thrown into hysterics with one liners such as “Go to bed or I will sing again.”

Returning to Theatre Three’s stage is the stunning raven-haired Jennifer Collester Tully as Nancy. Her vocal range is superior and she is resplendent in this role. Struggling with her relationship with the repugnant character Bill Sikes, played by Steve McCoy, she brings new meaning to the cliché of a woman standing by her man. Her performance is so heartfelt that as she sings the forlorn, “As Long As He Needs Me,” we are beguiled to the point of tears. Partnering her with the baron of maleficent characters, Steve McCoy, was smart and their chemistry is palpable. As expected, McCoy portrays Sikes as intensely as he does Jacob Marley in “A Christmas Carol” and Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables.”

More than noteworthy are performances by Linda May as Old Sally and Hans Hendrickson as The Artful Dodger. May’s shrill deliverance of her abusive rants are piercing and repugnant, as they should be, and Hendrickson’s Dodger is amusingly coy.

New to the Theatre Three family is Doug Vandewinckel as Beadle Bumble. As one of the initial characters introduced, his presence on stage cannot be overlooked. The banter between him and Widow Corney, played by Phyllis March, is delightful, and the whimsical, “I Shall Scream” is a welcome debut to the comedic elements of the story.

The set sustaining all the mayhem and debauchery is stark and fitting. The costumes and set design induce a feeling of poverty and desperation. Although the simplicity is not indicative of lack of detail, the production staff — including Ellen Michelmore, James Kimmel, Steven Uihlein, Peter Casdia, Alexander Steiner, Tyler D’Accordo, Kristen Lees, Amanda Meyer, Bonnie Vidal, Brad Wilkens, Tim Moran, Michael Quattrone and Jacob Ziskin — have created a daunting synergistic panorama.

The movement upon stage is perfection. Each nuance as choreographed by Marquez seems obligated to sustain the music and acting laid out before the audience. The accompanying orchestra led by Jackson Kohl realizes the purity of Sanzel and Marquez’s vision fully as well and the talent of musicians Mike Chiusano, Marni Harris, James Carroll, Don Larsen and Kohl should not be overlooked.

“Oliver!” is by far one of the finest productions to grace Long Island stages and exactly as it ought to be. It more than entertains — it delivers countless levels of enjoyment and raises the bar for future artistic aspirations universally. Kudos Theatre Three, Kudos.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Oliver!” through June 27 on the Mainstage. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The cover jacket of Jack Kohl's book, That Iron String. Photo from Kohl

By Stacy Santini

“Call me Portsmouth” … so the opening line of Jack Kohl’s new book, “That Iron String” could read. Faintly echoing thematic visions from “Moby Dick,” Kohl’s character, Portsmouth, narrates a sophisticated storyline much as Ishmael does in Melville’s world-class epic novel. Not for a very long time has Long Island birthed an author who unabashedly delivers a tale so worthy of recognition. “That Iron String” cannot be called an easy read, but it is not meant to be. Its intricately woven plot certainly entertains, but its value lies in the book’s prodigious subject matter, esoteric themes and philosophical questions.

Author Jack Kohl. Photo from Kohl
Author Jack Kohl. Photo from Kohl

A Northport native, Kohl’s adoration for the picturesque towns that hug the Long Island Sound is apparent. There is a fond innocence for the town that has claimed him and this easily translates in “That Iron String,” which is set in a fictional small water-side enclave on Long Island called Pauktaug. Describing his utopic passion for Long Island, Kohl states, “As I walk along the beaches of the north shore, I see Long Island in the light of the tremendous shadow of New England. It is right there across the water; almost as if New England is a giant hen that laid an egg which became our home.” With main character names such as Portsmouth and Boston, his affinity for all things New England is also appreciable, and theoretical relevance from authors such as Emerson, Thoreau and Hawthorne play a prominent role in development of the novel’s copious themes. The title itself, “That Iron String,” is a derivative from the famous Emerson essay, “Self-Reliance.”

Identification as author joins Kohl’s prestigious resume and is aligned with pianist, musical director, conductor and scholar. Classically trained, Kohl commenced his piano studies as a child under Marie Babiak; he went on to attend the pre-college division of The Juilliard School, completing his educational tenure with a doctor of music arts degree in piano performance. Currently associate musical director at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, Kohl has accompanied numerous theatrical productions over the decades and continues to perform as a solo pianist in both the classical tradition and jazz. It is not surprising that his novel draws deeply from his experience in those genres.

The piano is at the forefront of “That Iron String,” and both the instrument and the music that emanates from it are personified and central to the plot. When discussing one of the driving forces that inspired him, Kohl speaks of Moby Dick. “Of all the interpretations of Moby Dick, I most related to the analysis that was a hyper-burlesque of Emersonian Transcendentalism.” Kohl has an erudite vernacular, and one often feels they are in a Victorian tea parlor when speaking with him. However, do not let the dogma of this inspiration frighten you because the book unwraps itself beautifully and has all the components that will keep a reader’s attention. Murder, mystery, intrigue, competition, love, and family values are all interwoven within the philosophical, amorphous boundaries.

The Pianist plays to a different audience with an intensely thought-provoking tale of passion, achievement
and murder.

The book is essentially about two cousins, Portsmouth and Boston, who are raised in Pauktaug by close relatives. Growing up under sweeping elm trees, the Calvinistic idealism of their youth seems to be grounding for one and muddying for the other. From an early age when they were not skinning knees running through woods and frolicking about on the local beaches, they both studied classical piano. Eventually, the pair parted ways as they individually moved away from Pauktaug to complete collegiate studies and become concert pianists.

Although both did exceptionally well, it is overwhelmingly apparent that one of them is more than gifted with infinite skills and supernatural ability. This ability drives him further and further into isolation and forces self-introspection that is revealed throughout the novel in a series of letters. The plot unfolds slowly as they return home to practice for a competition for which they have both qualified after many, many years of not seeing one another. There are numerous surprises along the way as well countless representations of beautiful imagery.

Longing to debunk clichés, Kohl knew the book would have to be much more substantial than a storyline about a pianist who struggles and would eventually have some kind of victory over those struggles. Kohl wanted something more for his potential readership than the unoriginality of that type of theme. While sketching notes, Kohl examines how he started to unravel a deeper image of that concept, “I thought what if I had a pianist who knows there is nothing he can do to be playing better than he is and is still very idealistic about his fellow man. He wants to persist and keep playing but his career begins to wane in competitions according to the judges and he doesn’t understand why; who or what is to blame? He starts to develop this anger and it builds up and builds up, where is this anger to go? This was my jumping off point for the plot.”

When conversing with Kohl, one will find that one of his favorite words is “balderdash,” which can be translated to mean “senseless talk or writing,” ironic for an author who has written a novel that is anything but.

“That Iron String” is available for purchase at www.amazon.com.

Kiernan Urso as Oliver and Jeffrey Sanzel as Fagin in a scene from ‘Oliver!’ at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Erin Dueñas

Twelve-year-old Kiernan Urso can trace his love of acting back to preschool where a creative teacher engaged him and his classmates in games of “Let’s Pretend” where the only limit was their imaginations.

“She let us choose whoever we wanted. We would all pick a character, and she would write a script based on the characters,” said Kiernan. “I remember once there was a play with Peter Pan and Rocky Balboa and three Disney princesses. That’s when I learned that performing was a way of communicating.”

In addition to “Let’s Pretend” sessions, the Longwood Middle School sixth-grader said he would accompany his father, a teacher in Longwood, to the plays put on at school.

“I remember sitting in the front row and thinking I can see myself doing that.”

On May 23, Kiernan will take to the stage as the title character in “Oliver!” at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson.

It will be his third time on the main stage there, having appeared in “A Christmas Carol” as Scrooge as a Boy this past year and Tiny Tim the year before. Kiernan said he is excited to play Oliver.

“He is very innocent but very strong,” Kiernan said of his character. “He can survive anything. Despite his life, that hasn’t gone well, he’s a fighter and he won’t give up.”

But playing the title role, which puts him in nine of the play’s 12 scenes, is also making Kiernan nervous.

“Playing the main character is nerve-wracking,” he said. “What are people going to think? I don’t want to disappoint anyone.”

With rehearsals at least five times a week, preparing for “Oliver!” has taken up a lot of Kiernan’s time, but he manages to complete schoolwork thanks to supportive teachers and making good use of his time.

“I get my homework done during the school day and maybe some in the morning,” he said. “I don’t know how I do it but it works out.”

The demanding rehearsal schedule also keeps Kiernan’s mom Christina busy, driving her son back and forth from their home in Ridge to Port Jefferson.

“It’s all worth the crazy hours. It’s such a great experience for him” she said. “To see that spark in your child’s eye — to see him love it and not just like it. It’s all worth it.”

A self-described movie buff, Kiernan said he enjoys watching movies with a lot of drama, and he said he would love to appear in a horror movie one day. He is a big fan of television as well, counting the ABC show “Once Upon a Time” as a favorite.

“I love how they twist fairy tales and compress them with our modern world,” Kiernan said. “I would love to be on that show someday. I don’t even care what character I would play.”

Kiernan said eventually he would like to audition for commercials and possibly even Broadway. A dream role would be to play King Triton in “The Little Mermaid.”

“He’s in control and I like the feeling of how he can boss people around.”

For now Kiernan is enjoying his time at Theatre Three, which he said is unlike anything he has ever experienced.

“The adults here treat you like one of them,” he said. “They are not distant and they try to help you out and do what it takes to make you comfortable.”

Kiernan said he is particularly inspired by Jeffrey Sanzel, who is directing “Oliver!” and playing the role of Fagin. Sanzel also plays Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.”

“The way he directs, acts and portrays any character he plays is amazing,” Kiernan said. “I want to be like that when I grow up.”

Sanzel is equally impressed with Kiernan.

“When he auditioned for Oliver, we saw something truly extraordinary,” Sanzel said. “It was a combination of raw honesty and underlying fire. In Kiernan, we saw the passion and the light that shines through underneath. The audience will root for him from the first moment to the last.”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present the timeless musical “Oliver!” from May 23 to June 27. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

From left, Bobby Montaniz, Amanda Geraci and James D. Schultz in ‘The Littlest Pirate.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Avast ye! Theatre Three’s world premiere of the musical adventure, “The Littlest Pirate,” which opened last Saturday, takes us from a baseball diamond to a treasure hunt on Diamond Isle and is a rollicking home run.

Written by Tim Peierls and Jeffrey Sanzel, the play tells the story of Annalise, a young girl who wants to play on the Petaluma Pirates Little League baseball team who are always losing to the Rovers from Roger’s Refrigeration. When the coach tells her that the only way she can be on the team is to cheat, Annalise is torn between playing a sport she loves and doing the right thing. She falls asleep on a bench and is swept away into a Pirate Dreamland where she faces the same dilemma when she encounters a band of pirates who want her to switch a real treasure map with a fake one.

Sanzel, who also directed the show, has gathered an enormously talented group of seven adult actors who all tackle duel roles with inexhaustible energy. The petite Amanda Geraci is the perfect choice to play Annalise, the littlest pirate. An incredible actress and singer, Geraci’s solo, “Always Wanted to Play Baseball,” is amazing.

James D. Schultz shines as Coach Wallop and Captain Pyrate who only speaks Pyrish. The one and only Bobby Montaniz is hilarious as he tells numerous jokes as Bobbo and Pirate Parrot. Hans Paul Hendrickson plays the role of twins, Fred and Norville and the Pirate Forvilles, which wasn’t an easy task, but he pulls it off with ease. Jenna Kavaler is wonderful as Jenny, the Petaluma Pirates’ best baseball player who really just wants to play the oboe. Evelyne Lune, as Erin Petaluma and The Pirate Queen, is the all-knowing matriarch of the group and switches roles effortlessly. Rounding out the cast is Andrew Gasparini as Boyd and Pirate Boyd, a terrific actor who has found his own niche on stage and clearly enjoys what he’s doing.

Although the set is minimal with only a few props, costume designer Margaret Ward has spared no expense with matching baseball uniforms and colorful pirate outfits. Choreographed by Marquéz Stewart and accompanied on piano by Peierls and on bass by David Goldberg, the musical numbers are superb, especially “How to Speak Pyrish” and the delightful “Great Day for a Treasure Hunt,” which you will be humming on your way out of the theater.

As with most children’s shows at Theatre Three, there are moral lessons sprinkled throughout the performance. In this case, kids will learn about cheating and the everlasting lesson of “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” It is no easy task getting a young audience to sit still for periods at a time, but “The Littlest Pirate” does the trick. No restlessness here  — just children sitting wide-eyed on the edge of their seats, enthralled by the enchantment of live theater. Kids of all ages will enjoy “The Littlest Pirate.” It is funny, entertaining and a great way to spend a Saturday morning.

The entire cast will be in the lobby after the show for a meet and greet and photo opportunities.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Littlest Pirate” on Saturday mornings at 11 a.m. through May 9. Tickets are $10 per person. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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