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TracyLynn Conner

By Heidi Sutton

From Mainstage productions to children’s theater, to concerts and film screenings, comedy shows and improv, Theatre Three always has a lot to offer. However, it is the Festival of One-Act Plays that many look forward to each year with eager anticipation. 

Showcasing six original works selected from 425 submissions, the 22nd annual festival opened last weekend for a nine-performance run in the intimate setting of The Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the second stage. 

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, each short play is exciting; some dark, some funny, some sad, with lots of twists and turns. It is the unknown, the unfamiliar that makes it all so entertaining to watch. 

The show kicks off with Tom Slot’s “Playlist to Have a Crisis To.” Teenager Alexis (Nicole Bianco) has just hit a burglar dressed in a Santa Claus suit (Stephen T. Wangner) with an encyclopedia and he’s on the floor unconscious. She calls her girlfriend Tanya (Michelle LaBozzetta)to come over to wait for the police to arrive. When the man wakes up he claims to be the real Santa Claus. He knows things only Santa would know, but everyone knows he’s only a legend, right? And if he is real, will Alexis always be known as the girl who beat up Father Christmas?

Next up is “For a Moment in the Darkness, We Wait” by Libby Leonard, the touching story of two gay men, the older Bernard (Douglas Quattrock) and teenager Connie (Ryan Schaefer) struggling to hide their sexual identity in New York City the 1940s. You feel their pain, their frustration and their sadness in this emotional performance. 

The mood lightens greatly with “Perfectly Normal” by J. Joseph Cox, a hilarious look at the changing workplace. Antoine Jones, Suzie Dunn, Steve Wagner, Nicole Bianco and Ginger Dalton star in this delightful comedy. There’s a new boss in town and we hear of the workplace changes from breakroom gossip. “He swept in here like the Gestapo!” Employees are disappearing, Human Resources is boarded up, cavity searches are being conducted, and the final blow, coffee has been replaced by tea. This is normal?

“Family by Numbers” by Arianna Rose is the heartbreaking story of a family that loses a son in a hiking accident. Beautifully written, it  begins when the parents first meet, get married, raise three boys and then struggle with their tragic loss and one less number. Powerful performances all around by Steve Ayle, Linda May, Dylan Robert Poulos, Steven Uihlein and Ryan Schaefer.

After intermission, Rich Orloff’s “The Unforgivable Sin of Forgiveness” takes the stage. A wife (TracyLynn Conner) confesses to her husband (Antoine Jones) that she has been having an affair for three years. His response? “I know.” Taken aback, the wife turns the tables and demands to know why he hasn’t let on that he knew all this time. “You lied to your wife when all these years I’ve been faithful six days out of seven?” she exclaims in disbelief.

The final and longest act, “The Making of Medea’s Medea” by Chas Belov, is where the production of Medea’s modern-day retelling of her own story of revenge is played out on Theatre Three’s Mainstage while being turned into a documentary. We meet Medea, Jason, the actors that play them, the actors that play the part of the employees at Theatre Three, psychologists, Greek playwrights and more. The entire cast takes part with special mention to Linda May as the heartbroken and vengeful Medea.

With an excellent lineup and incredible cast, this festival is not to be missed. Get yourself a ticket before they sell out.

Sponsored by Lippencott Financial Group, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present the 22nd annual Festival of One-Act Plays through May 5. Running time is 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission. All seats are $20. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

From left, Brian Gill, Christina Muens, Abigail McCabe (on chair) and TracyLynn Conner in a scene from ‘Nine’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

Theatre Three continues its 49th season with the Broadway smash hit musical “Nine.” With book by Arthur Kopit and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, the award-winning show is based on the semi-autobiographical 1963 film of Italian film director/screenwriter Federico Fellini’s life, titled “8½.”

Clockwise from top left, TracyLynn Conner, Christina Muens, Abigail McCabe and Brian Gill in a scene from ‘Nine’
Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the musical follows the artistic journey of celebrated Italian director Guido Contini (Brian Gill) and his quest to find an idea for his next film. His last three films have been flops and he has an extreme case of writer’s block. A movie contract has been signed with his producer Liliane La Fleur (Debbie D’Amore) but there is no script. Should he write a Western? A Bible-inspired epic? A documentary? The stakes are high and time is running out.

As if Contini didn’t have enough to worry about, his wife Luisa (Christina Muens) is considering leaving him, his naive mistress Carla (Abigail McCabe) thinks he wants to marry her, and his muse, movie star Claudia Nardi (TracyLynn Conner) is getting tired of being cast in the same type of roles and is about to walk away.

To try to clear his head, Contini and his wife take a trip to the Fontane di Luna spa in Venice. Worried about deadlines, his producer tracks him down at the spa and insists he write a musical. Improvising on the spot, the director chooses to his own life experiences and relationships to create a Casanova-inspired flick and hires the staff at the spa to be the cast.

As the film begins to take shape, fantasy and reality are intertwined as Contini has constant flashbacks  — when he was a little boy (played by the adorable Brayden E. Bratti) with his mother (Linda May), and his many affairs, all in an attempt to seek cinematic inspiration.

In the role of Guido Contini, said to be one of the most demanding roles in musical theater, Brian Gill brilliantly leads the talented cast of “Nine” on a 2½-hour thought-provoking musical romp.

Accompanied by a seven-piece band led by Jeffrey Hoffman, the musical numbers are perfectly executed, with special mention to “Guido’s Song, “Folies Bergeres,” “Ti Voglio Bene/Be Italian” and the “Grand Canal.”

The top-notch choreography by Nicole Bianco, the beautiful costumes by Ronald Green III, the impressive set by Randall Parsons and the masterful lighting by Robert W. Henderson Jr., which lets the audience know what is real and what is flashback, ties it all together nicely. 

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Nine The Musical” on the Mainstage through March 23. Please note, “Nine” contains adult themes and situations. Parental discretion advised. The 2018-19 Mainstage season continues with “The Miracle Worker” from April 6 to 28 and “The Wizard of Oz” from May 18 to June 22. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The cast of 'The Addams Family'. Photo by Brian Hoerger

By Heidi Sutton

Halloween is still a few weeks away, but there’s something creepy and kooky and altogether spooky going on at Theatre Three that’s not to be missed.

The theater opens its 49th season with the musical comedy “The Addams Family,” a nostalgic trip down memory lane for fans of this atypical clan, and judging by the packed house on opening night, that amounts to quite a few.

Created by Charles Addams, the lovable, albeit macabre, family first appeared in a New Yorker comic strip in 1938 but truly came to life in the 1960s ABC television series starring John Astin and Carolyn Jones as Gomez and Morticia. The two film versions in the 1990s paved the way for the Broadway musical in 2010 starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth.

The cast of ‘The Addams Family’. Photo by Brian Hoerger

Last Saturday’s opening performance began as it should, with the audience snapping their fingers or clapping their hands to the iconic theme song, and suddenly they appeared — all the familiar, eccentric characters we have all come to love — Gomez (Matt Senese), Morticia (TracyLynn Conner), Uncle Fester (Rick Grossman), Grandma (Ginger Dalton), Wednesday (Jessica Murphy), Pugsley (Max Venezia), Lurch (James Taffurelli) and Thing and Cousin Itt (both played by Cameron Turner). What followed was a fun, wonderful evening of live theater.

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the show opens, most fittingly, in the family cemetery (“Oh the intoxicating smell of the graveyard!”) as the family lets their ancestors out of a mausoleum to celebrate what it is to be an Addams. It is here that we see the first of many “Thriller”-inspired musical numbers, expertly choreographed by Nicole Bianco, that dominate the show.

The storyline revolves around Wednesday who is all grown up and has fallen in love with a “normal boy,” Lucas Beineke (Matt Paredi) from Ohio (“the swing state!”), and wants to bring him and his parents, straight arrow Mal (Steve Ayle) and the perfectly rhyming Alice (Linda May), over for one “normal night.” She confides in her father that she wants to marry Lucas and makes him promise not to tell her mother yet, putting Gomez in several hilarious sticky situations and leading up to his solo, “Trapped (like a corpse in the ground).”

Matt Senese as Gomez and Jessica Murphy as Wednesday. Photo by Brian Hoerger

Uncle Fester, on the other hand, recruits the ancestors to find out if this is really true love, and if so, to help it along. Dressed in ghostly white costumes, they float in and out of every scene as they spy on the family’s affairs.

As the Beineke family arrive, they are invited to take part in the family game, Full Disclosure, during which everyone takes a sip from a sacred chalice and reveals something they’ve never told anyone. When Pugsley steals a magical potion from Grandma (“One swig of that and Mary Poppins turns into Madea!”) and pours it in the chalice, the evening takes a dark and eventful turn.

Accompanied by an outstanding eight-member band led by Jeffrey Hoffman, the 20 musical numbers perfectly tie the storyline together.   The costumes by Chakira Doherty are wonderful, especially for the ghoulish ancestors, and the Gothic set, cleverly designed by Randall Parsons includes panels that swivel and rotate to reveal different scenery. As the actors sing their solo or duet, they move toward the edge of the stage as the curtain closes, allowing the set to be quickly changed for the next scene.

With exceptional vocals, the entire cast become fully immersed in their individual character. The chemistry between Gomez and Morticia is as alive as ever. Morticia: “I feel darkness and grief and unspeakable sorrow.” Gomez: “I love it when you speak sexy, Cara Mia.” 

Matt Senese as Gomez and TracyLynn Conner as Morticia. Photo by Peter Lanscombe

Although she’s in love, Wednesday’s inner darkness makes several appearances, and Uncle Fester is as lovable as ever (yes, he is still in love with the moon.) Pugsley secretly loves to be tortured (electrocuted to be precise) by his big sister, Grandma is still wacky and Lurch is still grunting; but in the end they are just one big family that has to deal with every day issues just like everyone else.

In his director’s notes, Sanzel sums it up perfectly. “The ultimate message of ‘The Addams Family’ musical is to find out who you are so you can be true to yourself. Whether vacationing in the sewers of Paris, starting out in a new marriage or finding the spark in an old one, or flying to your true love (‘To the moon, Alice!’), the Addams Family and ‘The Addams Family’ remind us to ‘live before we die.’”

Go see this wonderful show. You’ll find much to cherish.

Stay after the performance for a photo with the cast on stage if you wish — the $5 donation goes to support the theater’s scholarship fund.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Addams Family” through Oct. 27. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students and $20 children ages 5 to 12. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The cast of ‘Curtains’

By Heidi Sutton

Theatre Three closes out its 48th season with a rousing revival of the musical comedy whodunit “Curtains.” The show, which opened on the Mainstage last Saturday night, will keep the audience guessing, and laughing, right up to until the very end.

With book by Rupert Holmes and music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb (both of “Chicago” and “Cabaret” fame), the eight-time Tony-nominated show had a successful Broadway run starring David Hyde Pierce (who won a Tony for his performance) from 2007 to 2008. Now the hilarious musical comes to Port Jefferson and does not disappoint.

A scene from ‘Curtains’

The play takes place at the Colonial Theater in Boston in 1959. A theater troupe is performing a new cowboy musical “Robbin’ Hood!” (think “Oklahoma!”) on opening night. As the ensemble performs the final act, “Wide Open Spaces,” it is clear that the star of the show, Jessica Cranshaw (Meg Bush) is a complete mess — singing out of tune, missing dance steps and flubbing her lines. (“I was distracted all night by a man waving his hands at me,” she laments. “That was the conductor,” the director mutters.) 

A few minutes after the final curtain Cranshaw collapses and is rushed to the hospital. It is later discovered that she has been murdered. “Now she has a conflict — she’s dead.”

Lt. Frank Cioffi (Steve McCoy) of the Boston Police Department, a homicide detective who happens to be a musical theater buff, is assigned to the case. The entire company is suspect, so he immediately places them on lockdown, barring them from leaving the theater until the case is solved.

The reviews are in!

The reviews come pouring in and they are brutal, especially from the Boston Globe. The producers decide to invite the newspaper’s critic, Daryl Grady (Andrew Gasparini), back when the show has been revamped.

The crew immediately starts reworking the songs and improving the scenes, with more than the occasional input from Detective Cioffi. “I’ve done a little community theater,” he admits modestly. “In ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ my Bottom was very well-received.” He is also distracted by one of the actresses, Niki (Jenna Kavaler) and their blossoming relationship is fun to watch.

In the meantime, a second victim, co-producer Sidney Bernstein (Lon Shomer) is found hanging from the rafters, Bernstein’s wife, Carmen (Mary Ellin Kurtz) is shot at and Cioffi is pushed off a catwalk and narrowly survives. The plot thickens.

As the show progresses, Cioffi starts peeling away the layers of this “family” to uncover romantic relationships, jealousy, blackmail, rocky family dynamics and infidelity. Will he be able to solve the crime in time or will the entire company be picked off one by one?

A scene from ‘Curtains’

Singing, dancing and clever humor abound in this production that showcases a cast of 23 uber-talented actors directed by Jeffrey Sanzel. The high-energy performances, choreographed by Whitney Stone, are exhausting to watch but the cast pulls them off with ease. The musical numbers, accompanied by a live orchestra led by Jeffrey Hoffman, are a nice blend of show tunes and love songs. The costumes and wigs designed by Chakira Dohertyn are fun, especially the cowboy and cowgirl outfits; and the Western-themed set, designed by Randall Parson, ties the whole show together nicely. 

The incredible cast also features Nicole Bianco, Christopher M. Fretto, Dylan Robert Poulos, James Taffurelli, James Schultz, Tracylynn Conner, Matt Senese, Melanie Acampora, Eric J. Hughes, Lindsay DeFranco, Kyle Breitenbach, Cassidy O’Brien, Steven Uihlein, Alex Esquivel, Jeffrey Pangurn and Kiernan Urso.

If you’re looking for a fun night out, don’t miss “Curtains.” Griswold’s Cafe, located on the lower level of the theater, will be open before the show and during intermission for a snack or beverage, and take a chance on a 50/50 raffle. You may win big! Running time is two and a half hours with one 15-minute intermission.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Curtains” through June 23. Contains mature content. After a brief hiatus, the 2018-19 Mainstage season will open with “The Addams Family” from Sept. 15 to Oct. 27. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

A scene from ‘Life, the Theatre, and Other Unlikelihoods’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

When a beloved community theater is about to turn 50, it is time to celebrate in a big way. For the next three years, Theatre Three in Port Jefferson will present a series of special events building up to its 50th anniversary, beginning with Life in the Theatre: A Glimpse Behind the Curtain on Sunday, May 20, at 7 p.m.

John Fugelsang will be the host of the evening

The fundraiser, which will be hosted by actor, comedian, broadcaster and Theatre Three alum John Fugelsang, will include an original comedy by Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel followed by a special guest appearance by musician, actor, writer and radio host Seth Rudetsky.

Founded in 1969 by Jerry Friedman and John and Linda Herr, the troupe started out performing at the Smith Haven Ministries at the Smith Haven Mall. “They all lived in the Three Village area, hence the name, ‘Theatre Three,'” said board member and former artistic director Bradlee Bing, who joined the group shortly after.

Over the years, Theatre Three occupied several different spaces including in the First Presbyterian Church on Main Street in the village before purchasing the current building at 412 Main St. in 1979 after the United Artist Theater closed. In the beginning, there were “only adult-themed musicals, plays and cabaret-style revues,” Bing said. The theater has since expanded to offer children’s theater, educational tours, concerts and acting lessons.

“It is inconceivable that 48 years have passed so quickly,” said Bing who first approached Sanzel about launching a three-year celebration.

Seth Rudetsky will be the headliner in the second act. Photo courtesy of Theatre Three

The event on May 20 will open with the world premiere of “Life, the Theatre, and Other Unlikelihoods,” a one-act musical  featuring original songs by Brian Crawley (Tony nominee for “Violet”), Tim Peierls, Douglas J. Quattrock and Sanzel. Starring Dylan Robert Poulos, the play will celebrate the joys and challenges of becoming an actor, from taking acting lessons as a child to landing that big role, or not.

Directed and narrated by Sanzel, the 17-member cast, playing dozens of roles, will also include Melanie Acampora, Marci Bing, Meg Bush, TracyLynn Conner, Jessica Contino, Ginger Dalton, Sari Feldman, Andrew Gasparini, Eric J. Hughes, Linda May, Phyllis March, Steve McCoy, Cameron Turner, Steven Uihlein and Stephen Wangner.

For Sanzel the experience of creating this one-act musical has morphed into “becoming a celebration of what we do … and is one of the greatest and most joyous writing experiences I’ve ever had.”

He continued, “Yes, the world of theater is fun and interesting but it is a huge amount of work and an enormous commitment. The flipside is the reward which is extraordinary. This play traces how we all come together as family in this amount of time and then we say goodbye and the poignancy of that.”

For Bing, this event is just the beginning. “We have identified it as year one, getting ready, year two, getting set and year three, go. We are developing activities that will prepare us for our final year celebration that will be a three-day event featuring a cocktail reception free of charge open to everyone that has ever been associated with the theater: actor, musician, technician, subscriber, ushers, family and friends on June 5, a semiformal sit down recognition, celebrity dinner on June 6 and a show at the theater highlighting 50 years of theater performances on June 7.”

For Sanzel, “It really is a celebration of theater, the universality, but it is also a celebration of Theatre Three. This event is the perfect launch toward our 50th anniversary.”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Life in the Theatre” on May 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50 presale, $75 at the door. Proceeds will go toward programming at the theater. To order, please call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

 

LEAVE US IN PEACE — WE JUST WANT TO DO PLAYS! TracyLynn Conner, Dondi Rollins and Morgan Howell Rumble in a scene from ‘Dark’

By Heidi Sutton

When a One-Act Play Festival receives 415 submissions, it cannot be easy to choose just a handful. But that’s exactly what Theatre Three’s Festival of One-Act Plays founder and Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel was tasked with doing this year and the result is extraordinary. Showcasing seven original works, the annual festival opened last weekend for a 10-performance run.

“For the first time on any stage, these works come to life,” explained Sanzel, who also serves as director. “These are premieres; they are ‘firsts.’ A comedy [is] followed by a drama, a farce by an experimental work …” in a two-hour marathon in the cozy setting of The Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the Second Stage, a space so intimate that it “allows the audience to breathe the same air as these … characters. There is no wall. There is no division.”

Steve McCoy and Dylan Robert Poulos in a scene from ‘At the Circus’

The show kicks off with Chip Bolcik’s “At the Circus,” starring veteran actor Steve McCoy and festival newcomer Dylan Robert Poulos. In an ironic twist, a trapeze artist (McCoy) and a clown (Poulos) have grown tired of life in the circus and dream of a life of normalcy, of running away with the audience. They long to have a house with a window to look out of, a driveway, the opportunity to drive to the grocery store. “They have no idea how lucky they are, do they?” wonders Poulos as he looks longingly into the crowd, giving nod to the old adage “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

Next up is “Interview with the First Family” by Tom Slot, a behind-the-scenes reality TV look at what really happened in the Garden of Eden and where they are now. Adam (Antoine Jones) is a surfer, Eve (Susan Emory) works at a bakery — “People can’t get enough of my apple pie,” Cain (Morgan Howell Rumble) is a convict doing time for killing his brother Abel and God (Linda May) is just sitting back seeing how the world spins and working on her stand up act. Her biggest regret? Creating the mosquito. 

“Plumb Desire,” written by Patrick Gabridge, is a hilarious take on how hard it is to find a good handyman these days and the relationships that develop. Darius (played by Steve Wangner) has found such a man in Jackson (Dondi Rollins), a plumber who has been renovating his bathroom. Jackson hasn’t shown up lately so Darius tracks him down and tries to woo him back with flowers and a six pack of beer. “I’ve been searching for a plumber for so long and you are the one,” he whines, adding, “Do you remember when we   replaced all the vents on the radiators?” Jackson finally breaks down and admits that “sometimes plumbers can be flaky — it comes with the territory.” Will he be back on Monday to finish the job?

TracyLynn Conner and Meg Bush in a scene from ‘Class”

Comedy switches to drama with Andrea Fleck Clardy’s “After Class.” Madison (Meg Bush in a powerful performance) is a mentally disturbed student who speaks of bringing a gun she’s nicknamed “Kim” to class as her teacher Amy Clausen (TracyLynn Connor) struggles with handling the scary situation.  

After intermission, “Bird Feed” by Melanie Acampora takes center stage. Three pigeons sit on a ledge in Manhattan chatting. It’s Georgie’s (Susan Emory) birthday — she’s two years old today. Her friends Bertha (Meg Bush) and Rayna (Nicole Bianco) want to take her out to celebrate when Bertha overhears someone saying that the average life span of a pigeon is just two and half years, leading to a contemplation on birthdays and mortality.  

There’s a mole loose in the world of acting in Jack McCleland’s “Dark.” It’s open hunting season and actors are being picked off one by one. Every time they find a hiding spot, they are mysteriously found and shot to death. Three actors — Steve (Morgan Howell Rumble), Meg (TracyLynn Conner) and understudy Carl (Dondi Rollins) are holed up in a warehouse and are being ordered to come out. “Leave us in peace! We’re actors — we just want to do plays!” they plead. One last warm up and they venture outside and the snitch is finally revealed as Ethel Merman’s rendition of “No Business Like Show Business” plays jubilantly in the background.

Meg Bush, Nicole Bianco and Susan Emory in a scene from ‘Bird Feed’

Sanzel saves the best for last with Charles West’s courtroom spoof, “Home Versus the Holidays.” A man is on trial for waving a sword at a church group singing Christmas carols in front of his home. The audience is sworn in as the jury and the judge (Linda May) calls the first witness to the stand, the chaperone to the group (Steve Wangner).

After the district attorney (Nicole Bianco) asks him some questions, the defense lawyer (Antoine Jones) is allowed to cross-examine and hilarity ensues. Using visuals, song lyrics and the alleged weapon, Jones turns the Christmas spirit on its head in a stunning performance that must be seen to be believed. You’ll be in stitches long after the show ends.

With an excellent lineup and incredible cast, this festival is not to be missed. Get your ticket before they’re sold out.

The cast: Nicole Bianco, Meg Bush, TracyLynn Conner, Susan Emory, Antoine Jones, Linda May, Steve McCoy, Dylan Robert Poulos, Dondi Rollins, Morgan Howell Rumble, Steve Wangner

Sponsored by Lippencott Financial Group, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present The 21st Annual Festival of One-Act Plays through May 6. Contains adult language and subject matter. Parental discretion is advised. Running time is two hours with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $20. To order, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Cast of Theatre Three's 'Nunsense'. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

Theatre Three continues its 48th season with the heavenly musical comedy “Nunsense.” The show, which opened on the Mainstage last Saturday evening, catered to a packed house ready to sit back, relax and have some fun. And judging by the rip-roaring laughter all night, it did not disappoint.

With book, music and lyrics by Dan Goggin, the original Off-Broadway production opened in 1985 and ran for 3,672 performances, becoming the second-longest-running Off-Broadway show in history. By the time it closed 10 years later, “Nunsense” had become an international phenomenon, having been translated into over 20 languages with more than 8,000 productions worldwide.

TracyLynn Conner, Sari Feldman and Jessica Contino in a scene from ‘Nunsense’

Now the congregation has taken up residence at Theatre Three and although Catholics will most identify with this hilarious show, audiences of all faiths are sure to have their spirits lifted as well.

The Little Sisters of Hoboken are in a bit of a pickle. While 19 of the nuns are off playing Bingo, the convent’s cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, accidently poisons the remaining 52 nuns by serving them a batch of botulism-laced vichyssoise. As one nun quips, “For 52, bon appetite was also bon voyage.”

After a successful greeting-card fundraiser, 48 of the sisters are laid to rest. Thinking there is plenty of money left over, Mother Superior spends the rest of the money on a plasma TV, leaving no money to pay for the last four burials. While the remaining deceased are temporarily stored in cold storage, five of the nuns decide to stage a variety show in the Mt. Saint Helen’s School auditorium to raise the rest of the money. “We’ve just got to get those girls out of the freezer,” they lament.

Sister Mary Regina (Phyliss March) and Sister Robert Anne (Sari Feldman) share a moment.

Under the skillful direction of Jeffrey Sanzel, the show’s über-talented cast is given the freedom to bring out the strong personalities of their characters and have a blast doing it. At the beginning of the production, the group sings, “Though we’re on our way to heaven, we’re here to raise some hell.” Blessed with wonderful harmonic voices, great comedic timing and a seemingly inexhaustable amount of energy, they put on quite a show.

The incomparable Phyllis March plays uptight Mother Superior Sister Mary Regina who loosens up quite a bit at the end of the first act in one of the funniest scenes in the play, and Linda May is wonderful as the second-in-command Sister Mary Hubert who has higher aspirations.

TracyLynn Conner is hilarious as the wide-eyed Sister Mary Amnesia who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head. “She just a big mess,” mutters Mother Superior under her breath. Conner steals the show with her duet with a puppet in “So You Want to Be a Nun.”

Sari Feldman is Sister Robert Anne, the streetwise understudy from Brooklyn who “Just wants to be a star” and finally gets the chance to shine brightly in Act Two. Jessica Contino rounds out the cast as the sweet Sister Mary Leo who dreams of being the first nun ballerina.

The brilliant script is full of hilarious puns — “How do you make holy water?” “I don’t know, how DO you make holy water?” “You boil the hell out of it!” — along with double entendres and every nun joke out there. The wonderful songs, 20 in all, are accompanied by the terrific Mt. Saint Helen’s School Band under the direction of Steve McCoy.

Vichyssoise anyone?Linda May, Phyliss March and TracyLynn Conner in a scene from ‘Nunsense’

A nice touch is the constant audience participation, which is strictly voluntary. Before the show and intermission the nuns greet the patrons and pose for photos, and during the show the audience takes part in a quiz with a chance to win prizes. A short film by Ray Mason and Sanzel starring the five sisters of Hoboken in the second act is just the icing on the cake. From the initial Mt. Saint Helen’s cheer to the final amen, “Nunsense” is simply divine and should not be missed.

Enjoy a drink at Griswold’s Café on the lower level of the theater and take a chance at 50/50 during intermission. The theater, more specifically, the nuns will be collecting donations for Hurricane Maria on behalf of Direct Relief at the end of the night.

Sponsored by Bridgehampton National Bank, the production is dedicated to the memory of Carolyn Droscoski who passed away suddenly on Feb. 5 at the age of 61. “Our hearts and our stage will be a little emptier.” Droscoski was a constant presence at Theatre Three, appearing on the  Mainstage, cabaret and children’s theater for over 40 years. According to the theater’s website, the actress appeared Off-Broadway and traveled the country in the various incarnations of “Nunsense” and is one of the few actresses to have played all five roles.

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main St. in Port Jefferson, will present “Nunsense” through March 24. The season will continue with “12 Angry Men” from April 7 to May 5 and the musical comedy “Curtains” from May 19 to June 23. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Rita J. Egan

That jolly, happy soul has returned to Northport. The family musical “Frosty” opened Nov. 18 at the John W. Engeman Theater and families filled the theater eager for the annual holiday treat.

The cast of ‘Frosty’ after last Saturday morning’s performance. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Directed by Richard T. Dolce, the production is a delightful twist on the story “Frosty the Snowman.” On the Northport stage, the snowman comes to life with the help of a scarf that is magical due to love instead of a magician’s hat and quickly becomes best friends with a little girl named Jenny.

When Jenny’s mother, who is also the mayor of Chillsville, is tricked into signing a contract with the evil Ethel Pierpot to build a machine to get rid of all the snow in Chillsville, Jenny must find a way to keep Frosty from melting.

Kevin Burns as the narrator opens the show, and it’s clear from the beginning that the audience will be part of the story. Burns easily interacts with the children and gets them involved. He also draws the most laughs as he goes from being bundled up for winter to wearing less and less each time he makes an appearance on stage to demonstrate how warm Chillsville is getting.

Kate Keating as Jenny is endearing as the sweet young girl who has no friends but possesses a warm heart. With touching vocals during “No Friends,” the audience connects with her at once.

Kate Keating and Matthew Rafanelli in a scene from ‘Frosty’

TracyLynn Conner played Ethel Pierpot on opening day and alternates the role with Cristina Hall. Conner portrays her character with the perfect mix of evilness and silliness reminiscent of Cruella Deville from “101 Dalmatians.” Children knew she was up to no good on opening day but weren’t afraid of her, which was apparent as they chatted with the actress during the autograph session after the show.

Matthew Rafanelli delivers Frosty perfectly with a sweet, friendly speaking and singing voice. He and Keating sound great together when they sing “One Friend Is Better Than No Friends.”

Ashley Brooke rounds out the cast beautifully, playing a loving, nurturing mother and mayor who realizes Chillsville is perfect the way it is no matter what Ethel Pierpot says.

The musical ends on the right note with the whole cast singing the Frosty theme song after doing an excellent job on the ensemble number “Thanks for You.”

Young audience members were delighted with the many opportunities when the actors encouraged them to participate. An especially cute part of the production is when the narrator asks the children in the audience for ideas to solve Frosty and Jenny’s dilemma at the end of the first act. After intermission, those ideas are shared with the characters. “Frosty” also provides a few fun opportunities for the actors to come into the audience, and the show contains many magical moments.

This time of year is perfect to create special memories, and the Engeman’s production of “Frosty” is guaranteed to add magic to any family’s holiday season. While the story is geared toward younger audiences, older siblings, parents and grandparents will find plenty to enjoy in the show, too.

Theatergoers can meet Frosty and friends in the lobby for photos and autographs after the show. An autograph page is located towards the back of the program.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present “Frosty” through Dec. 31. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

The cast of ‘Freckleface Strawberry The Musical’. Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer

By Rita J. Egan

Freckleface Strawberry and her friends have arrived in Northport, and they have a positive, uplifting tale to share with theatergoers of all ages. The charming “Freckleface Strawberry The Musical” debuted at the John W. Engeman Theater on July 22.

Based on the debut book in the “Freckleface Strawberry” series by Academy Award–winning actress and New York Times best-selling author Julianne Moore, the play features music and lyrics by Gary Kupper and musical book by Kupper and Rose Caiola.

Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer

The story follows the life of a 7-year-old who isn’t happy about the freckles that speckle her whole body. Through musical numbers and dialogue, audience members discover just how much Strawberry despises her freckles. At one point, she covers her face with a ski mask, and in the past, has tried to scrub them off. By the second act, the fast-moving tale develops into an inspiring story of loving yourself for who you are.

Directed by Marquez Stewart, the cast includes an ensemble of seven talented actors, including Northport High School student Meaghan Maher as an adorable and quirky Strawberry and the versatile actress Jacqueline Hughes playing the athletic Danny. Marielle Greguski is Jane and the protagonist’s mother with sweet and soothing vocals, while TracyLynn Conner is perky and energetic as Emily. Andrew McCluskey as nerdy Jake, Matthew Rafanelli as a lovable Harry and Rita Sarli as the perfect ballet girl round out the cast flawlessly.

Photo by Jessie Eppelheimer

The adult actors are extremely convincing as young kids dealing with growing pains and garnered several giggles from the audience members, especially in the first act when Hughes, McCluskey, Rafanelli and Sarli play members of the Freckleface Mafia. On opening day, the children in the audience were delighted when Rafanelli combed the aisles searching for someone who would want some freckles.

When Strawberry’s mother discovers how upset her daughter is about her freckles, Greguski and Maher sing a sweet and tender “Perfect.” The number is followed by another touching song, “Lonely Girl” by Sarli and Maher where Strawberry discovers that even when people appear to be perfect, they may not always feel that life is that way. Both songs contain positive, uplifting message that serve as a great lesson for children and a nice reminder for adults.

As the first act ends, Maher on lead is joined by the rest of the cast singing the upbeat tune “I Can Be Anything” and dancing fun choreographed moves by Stewart. When the second act begins, we are greeted by all of Strawberry’s friends once again as they sing “Be Like Her” and “Who’s the Kid in the Mask.”

Greguski has fun executing the rap “Creative Minds,” when she plays a teacher in one scene and does an impressive job. The rap is followed by the children sharing their poems with their classmates, which had many in the audience laughing in the debut performance.

During the poem readings, Jake is moved to share his inspirational piece, “Be Yourself,” and McCluskey’s vocals are strong when he sings lead on the song. Joining him on the chorus, the actors blend well on vocals, which is also apparent in songs such as “When You Got Friends” and “Different.”

It’s difficult growing up feeling different from everyone else, so it’s wonderful when a story such as “Freckleface Strawberry” comes around to remind us that it’s OK to be ourselves. The cast members at the Engeman do a great job in relaying this message, and the musical is a sweet treat that is just in time for summer fun — especially for those who may be getting a bit freckled from the bright sun. Meet the entire cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main Street, Northport, will present “Freckleface Strawberry the Musical” through Aug. 27. Runtime is approximately one hour with one 15-minute intermission, and booster seats are available for small children. The season will continue with “Cinderella” from Sept. 23 to Oct. 29 and “Frosty” from Nov. 18 to Dec. 31. Tickets are $15, and show times are Saturdays 11 a.m. and Sundays 10:30 a.m. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

James D. Schultz and TracyLynn Conner. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

The Long Island premiere of the musical “First Date” is set for March 5 at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, and actors TracyLynn Conner and James D. Schultz are thrilled that local theatergoers will get to experience the hilarious production with them.

The one-act play takes an amusing look at the trials and tribulations of today’s dating world when two people meet for a blind date at a restaurant in New York City. Conner, who plays serial-dater Casey, describes “First Date” as funny, witty and very current when it comes to today’s dating climate.

Schultz, who plays dating newbie Aaron, said the play is filled with great musical numbers, perfect comedic timing and sight gags yet doesn’t veer from its main purpose. “At the heart of all that is the relationship between Aaron and Casey,” the actor said.

While the two have shared the stage in productions in the past, such as “The Farnsworth Invention,” “Jekyll and Hyde” and “Man of la Mancha,” this is the first time they will be performing together as romantic leads. In addition to acting together, the two have been friends for years, and Conner is Schlutz’s vocal coach. The actors said they are having a great time working together and discovering their characters. 

“My character Casey has been on many, many, many dates. And James’ character, Aaron, this is his very first blind date in his whole life,” Conner said.

Schultz explained that his character has just gotten out of a relationship and has a lot of personal baggage. “When he meets Casey for the first time, he’s not entirely sure how it’s going to work out because she’s so different from him. He’s neurotic and conservative, and she’s very edgy and very fly by your seat, very artsy. And basically, they both awaken something in each other, and they find what makes the other person stronger, at least in that first date and the first time they meet each other,” the actor said.

Both are also excited to be working with director Jordan Hue and their fellow cast mates, Jeremy Hudson, Samm Carroll, Charles Jacker, Lauren V. Gobes and Michael Newman. Conner explained the rest of the actors play multiple roles, either in the restaurant or as past lovers, best friends or sisters in their imaginations.

“It’s a well-seasoned cast that knows exactly how to deliver a comedic line,” Conner said. She admitted that at times the cast can’t stop laughing in rehearsals.

Schultz agreed that they’re all having a great time. “We all mesh well which is what you hope for in a show.”

The actors are thrilled that the Smithtown run is the Long Island premiere of “First Date,” too, and they are confident audiences will like it. “While it’s rather new, it’s also something modern, something sweet, something that I think whether you’re young or old, you’ll be able to enjoy, and because it’s a quick show, you’ll come and have a nice evening at theater and feel something,” Schultz said.

Conner, who is currently single, pointed out that among the hilarity in the musical there are also touching, poignant moments. She said her song “Safer” will be hard to get through without her crying. “It’s just a really touching song, and I think any woman who has been in the dating world will hear this song and say ‘yes, that’s me’,” the actress said.

Schultz hopes that audiences will connect with the characters too and feel like they are watching a couple on a date. “What we’re striving for is trying to create a slice of life [with] the audience looking at these two people basically finding each other.” Conner added, “You see two people standing on the edge of something great if they let themselves see it.”

Off stage, standing on the edge of something great is a concept both actors are familiar with. While audiences will find out the fate of Casey and Aaron by the end of the play, Conner’s and Schultz’s futures are both continuing tales. The actors, who have performed extensively on Long Island, are auditioning and open to a variety of acting roles including for stage, commercials, television and film.

“I want to put myself out there for whatever is out there, whatever piques my interest,” Schultz said.

Conner agrees to being open to it all. “When you have a passion to do this, I feel like there are some shows I would do in a cardboard box just to be able to play that role.”

For now, Conner’s and Schultz’s calendars are booked up with 14 nights of first dates at the theater in Smithtown, and they invite local musical lovers to join them.

“It’s a great show for a date night out. Get the babysitter and just have a night out and possibly remember what your first date was like with your significant other,” Conner said.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main Street, Smithtown, will present “First Date” March 5 through March 26. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

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