Theater

The cast performs the finale. Photo by Brian Hoerger

By Susan Risoli

There’s no reason why Theatre Three’s musical version of “Saturday Night Fever” can’t stand on its own, despite starting life as a famous film that defined an era. Audiences who grew up knowing John Travolta as Tony Manero should have open minds, right? Even when the opening night crowd includes one theater patron reenacting the “he hits my hair” scene … and a lady reminiscing about falling off her platform shoes … and a couple boogie-ing down the aisle to take their seats.

Above, the cast performs “Stayin’ Alive.’ Photo by Brian Hoerger

Fortunately for all, those memories didn’t get in the way during the show’s opening performance last Saturday night. The cast, crew and musicians of this version of “Saturday Night Fever” make it their own. We realize there will be subtlety at work here when the performance begins and we are told it’s July 1977, a sweltering summer when even Con Ed can’t take the heat. Then, when the cast takes the stage, they manage to look wilted and pent-up at the same time.

There is a sweetness in the characters as this cast brings them to life, and that’s a good thing. Nobody would dare say John Travolta, Donna Pescow and their colleagues weren’t great in the movie. But they looked older, wiser, already cynical and too tough to convey the fear behind their bravado. Under the direction of Jeffrey Sanzel, the Brooklyn residents on Theatre Three’s stage convince us that these people are kids, still in adolescence or barely out of it. They don’t know which way to turn — they’re lost and mixed-up. When the cast sings, “Life going nowhere, somebody help me,” we want to.

Bobby Peterson as Tony Manero delivers the physicality the role demands. This Tony can strut! But beyond Tony’s frustration, Peterson shows us his confusion, and that serves the story well. Maybe the neighborhood isn’t really the center of the universe? Maybe women can do things reserved for men, and vice versa? Peterson lets us hear the wheels turning in Tony’s head.

Bobby Peterson as Tony Manero and Rachel Greenblatt as Stephanie Romano. Photo by Brian Hoerger

When Tony meets his match in local-girl-made-good Stephanie Mangano, Rachel Greenblatt brings a different shading to the role. Stephanie’s upward mobility seems less grasping here, her ambition less brittle. She’s more like a real person, biting off more than she can chew and dealing with it. Greenblatt too brings the physicality her character needs, and with it a simplicity and economy of movement. With cool confidence, she ties a pretty scarf around her waist, and instantly her sweaty dance clothes become a chic ensemble. We understand why Tony chases her.

And then there’s Annette, played by Beth Whitford. As with all the actors, the youthful innocence of her interpretation of Annette makes the character more compelling. If anyone is trapped by the labels society slaps on you, it’s Annette. Nice girl? Whore? Young woman who makes her own rules? She doesn’t even know that other people don’t have the right to define her. We don’t know if she’ll end up victim or victor, but Whitford has us debating it long after the curtain comes down.

Surprisingly, this production is funny. Yes, the film had its comedic moments, but everything else was so heavy we didn’t laugh long. Here the comedy is part of the character’s daily lives. Tony and his friends are kids, after all, and sometimes kids act goofy. Also displaying skillful comedic timing are Jeff Pangburn as Frank Sr., Debbie D’Amore as Tony’s mother, and Steven Incarnato as Father Frank Jr. And do you have to be Italian to appreciate the show’s amusing cultural references? No, but it’s a sly treat if you are.

Bobby Peterson as Tony Manero. Photo by Brian Hoerger

And oh, the dancing, the costumes and the sets! Somehow we believe that the stage is a cavernous disco. When the full cast dances, it’s great fun to watch them. Remember that couple who take on Tony and Stephanie in the big dance contest? Their Latin dance routine is performed by Nicole Bianco and Alex Esquivel. Wow, just wow—control, passion and flow—something to see. Kudos to choreographer Whitney Stone, costume and wig designer Ronald Green III and scenic designer Randall Parsons for a job well done.

With musical direction by Jeffrey Hoffman, all of the songs are wonderful. Some are the classic 1970s tunes we already know from the Bee Gees — “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” “Jive Talking,” “You Should Be Dancing,” and “How Deep is Your Love” — sung here as part of the developing story. The actors do a good job of bringing fresh meaning to old friends. There are new songs too, and they work well.

Sometimes the characters in Theatre Three’s “Saturday Night Fever” are content. Sometimes they explode. Sometimes they don’t know what comes next, and neither do we. But they are well worth hanging out with.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present ‘Saturday Night Fever’ through June 24. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. Children under 5 are not permitted. Contains adult subject matter and language. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Rachel Greenblatt and Bobby Peterson in a scene from 'Saturday Night Fever.' Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Susan Risoli

Theatre Three’s upcoming musical production of “Saturday Night Fever” has all the irresistible energy of the 1977 film, while it turns up the story and character development. Actor Bobby Peterson of Hampton Bays will tackle the role of Tony Manero, a Brooklyn kid who knows we should be dancin’ — and reaching for a dream. Sitting in the theater’s intimate Griswold’s Café during off-hours, 29-year-old Peterson talked about the show and its lasting appeal.

Why should people come to this show?

This production has so much to offer. It has dance. It’s going to be fun and uplifting. It has enticing and entertaining characters. And people will witness a very beautiful story. In the movie, I think, the story gets lost.

Bobby Peterson will star in Theatre Three’s upcoming musical, ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

How does this version handle the differences between ‘Saturday Night Fever’ as a movie versus the musical?

How do people deal with it when they read the Lord of The Rings books, versus when they see the movies? A book can do things differently than what a movie can do or what a stage play can do. I just try to look at a story that I’m trying to convey. The first thing I look for is, is this version complete, and continuous, and succinct? Does it have well-written dialogue? Does it have good compositions? A lot of that comes from Jeff [Sanzel, Theatre Three executive artistic director], as the director of the show. As an actor and performer, my job is to convey a director’s vision and an author’s vision, to the best of my ability. I think all actors should be humble in that concept. You’re here to act as an instrument to convey the thoughts and concepts of another person, as best you can. I try to put my own work in technique, in the type of voice and the different inflections I’m going to use, in the dancing and singing.

Is it intimidating to play a role that people are so familiar with?

It is an iconic role. I want to put my own spin on it, but I think a lot of people are going to come to the musical having their own ideas about what John Travolta brought to this role. When I talk to people about it, they talk about the impact of Travolta on the dance floor.

What’s the most fun thing for you, about being in the show?

This is one of those classic triple-threat roles and it’s a challenge to me because every step of the way, there is every facet of what musical theatre is. There’s a lot of dancing. And the script is 130 pages long. It’s a huge memory challenge because there are so many little moments that weave in and out of the dancing. The cast is amazing too. I must say, everyone who Jeff has cast is really great for their roles.

What’s the least fun thing?

Probably the drive here from [home in] Hampton Bays!

Tony Manero has so much swagger. How do you convey the vulnerable part of his personality?

An actor can only be as good as the writer. I feel very supported by the writers, and by the piece itself. It has set up and designed scenes for the actors to convey deeper parts, and different sides, of the characters. This rendition has a scene where after Tony wins a dance contest, he has a whole two pages speaking to Stephanie about how it’s not right that he won, because there’s a couple who danced better than him. That’s his epiphany.

Will the audience have fun?

Yes, there’s plenty of that. When numbers like “Stayin’ Alive” and “Disco Inferno” come on, it is full-cast dancing. The choreographer Whitney Stone has done an amazing job making use of the space that we have. She’s designed her choreography very well. And she’s included some of those dance moves that people are going to want to see.

How did you prepare for this role?

For a role this size, I’ll really micromanage myself. I get home as early as I can, and spend the whole next day focusing on making sure that I’ll be good for the next show. Sometimes after rehearsals, I’ll go to the gym because it is a physically taxing role. There’s a lot of lifts with partners. There’s a strong incentive to really muscle-build, to make sure one is strong enough and fit enough to perform. Mentally, I’m always thinking about the script. I’m always reading through lines in my head. And I grew up as a pianist, so I play the accompaniments myself and sing along with them.

Promotional materials for this production say that it features Tony as ‘humble paint store clerk by day, dance king by night.’ Do you think everyone has that duality inside of them?

No, I don’t. Sometimes what people yearn for is a simple life. I don’t think it’s necessarily everybody’s struggle. I don’t think it can be, for the same reason that there can’t be too many cooks in the kitchen. Sometimes we need people to be comfortable in what they do and what they are, to bring balance to everything.

In the sequel to the film, Tony finds success as a professional dancer. But not everyone can succeed so completely, or on that level. Should we still try?

People can find contentment that they did try. But never trying can eat away at your soul forever. If people feel a calling within them, they’re going to be much better off doing something about that.

What else would you like our readers to know about this show?

I’m very excited for people to come and see it, and then to see what their reaction will be. I don’t think people are going to get completely what they’re expecting and I’m very excited to see how people are going to handle that and how they’re going to react.

“Saturday Night Fever” will run from May 20 through June 24 on the Main Stage at Theatre Three, 412 E. Main St., Port Jefferson. Tickets for adults $35; seniors and students $28; children ages 5 to 12 $20. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

Chris Brand and Brianne Kennedy in a scene from 'Oklahoma!'. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Katherine Espinoza

Calling all cowboys and farm girls yearning to see turn of the century Oklahoma Territory! The John W. Engeman Theater is the place for you! The Northport playhouse kicked off its seven-week run of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration, “Oklahoma!,” this past weekend to a full house. The musical, based on Lynn Riggs’ 1931 play, “Green Grow the Lilacs,” tells the story of cowboy Curly McLain and his romance with farm girl Laurey Willliams.

The original Broadway production opened on March 31, 1943, and was nominated for seven Tony Awards, along with a Pulitzer Prize for Rodgers and Hammerstein the following year.

Jane Blass as Aunt Eller. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Directed by Igor Goldin (“1776,” “Memphis”) the Engeman’s production is warm, funny and full of high-energy performances. The show opens in a barn, with Laurey’s wise and witty Aunt Eller (Jane Blass) churning butter while doling out advice. It quickly becomes clear that Eller’s steady hand and calm mind is needed to keep the town afloat. We encounter our lead cowboy Curly, played by a commanding Bryant Martin, soon after the opening scene. Belting out an incredible “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin,’” he tries to woo the beautiful Laurey (Kaitlyn Davidson) to the box social — what we today know as a local dance.

Despite Curly’s attempts at charming her, Laurey accepts an invitation from the hired hand Jud, played to perfection by Nathaniel Hackmann who returns to the Engeman stage fresh off of a powerful performance as the lead in “Jekyll & Hyde.”

A 15-minute “dream ballet” reflects Laurey’s struggle with her feelings about Curly and Jud. We see an actress who looks exactly like Davidson, and we see Davidson watching her, and eventually we understand what is unfolding before us …

Bryant Martin as Curly and Nathanial Hackmann as Jud. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Hackmann delivers once again, and makes you feel his loneliness and desire for Laurey with his rendition of “Lonely Room.” It’s hard not to feel for his character even as the rest of the town seems to shun him for being nothing more than the help.

One of Laurey’s friends, the very flirtatious Ado Annie (Brianne Kennedy) is causing heartache for her boyfriend Will Parker (Chris Brand) who has just returned from a rodeo in Kansas City where he has won the $50 needed to offer for her hand in marriage. Ado Annie has fallen for the town peddler Ali Hakim (Danny Gardner) who is a ladies man and doesn’t really want to marry her or any woman. Does she give the handsome Will her hand or does she run away with the peddler? Ali Hakim is very convincing as he tells her it’s “All er Nothin” and bares his heart.

The drama continues as the box social begins and the town gets ready for some dancing. Choreographed by Drew Humphrey (“Thoroughly Modern Millie”), the southern dance numbers are great fun, especially during “Kansas City,” where you get to see some fantastic cowboy moves.

Kaitlyn Davidson as Laurey and Bryant Martin as Curly in a scene from ‘Oklahoma!”. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

As the show continues on, Curly makes the audience believe in the power of love and root for his relationship to succeed. But you can’t count out Jud, who is sure to leave his mark on the stage as his character brings trouble to the town — you’ll almost want him to bring trouble just for another chance to see Hackmann on the stage.

The set, designed by D.T. Willis, is very authentic looking and effectively transports you back in time to the life of the early pioneers. Lasso ropes hang from the wooden walls of the barn and the stage is covered in wood to give the setting a rustic feel. Wooden stools and chairs were also hung from the walls.

Matthew Solomon brings the fashion fun to life, designing the costumes for the show. At the box social, the women trotted across the stage in laced up boots with a heel, antique gowns with petticoats underneath and adorned with lace and bonnets. The cowboys are dressed with leather chaps over their denim, cowboy hats and down to the last detail the spurs on their cowboy boots. The wedding gown Laurey wears is especially beautiful, covered in delicate lace from head to toe, and topped off with a long veil and beautiful bouquet of flowers.

Musical director Jeff Theiss brings all the tunes of the original show to life again and has you tapping your feet as the cast superbly sings the beloved classic “Oklahoma!” The music and romance and comedy combined make for a fantastic show. Come on down and join the fun as you relive life on the prairie!

Cast includes: Jane Blass, Chris Brand, Sari Alexander, Charles Baran, Robert Budnick, Kaitlyn Davidson, Danny Gardner, Nathanial Hackmann, Zach Hawthorne, Tyler Huckstep, Brianne Kennedy, Bryant Martin, Kaitlyn Mayse, Kim McClay, Danny McHugh, Nick Miller, Katilin Nelson, Meghan Nicole Ross, Connor Schwantes, Kelly Sheehan and Michael J. Verre.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Okalahoma The Musical” through June 25. Tickets range from $71 to $76 and valet parking is available. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

From left, Marielle Greguski, Jessica Ader-Ferretti, Jacqueline Hughes and Katie Ferretti star in ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On’ Photo courtesy of SCPA

By Rita J. Egan

The Wonderettes are back in town and they are as marvelous as they were during their high school days in the ’50s. The musical comedy “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On” opened at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts last Saturday, just in time for some warm weather fun.

Ronald Green III has done a terrific job in directing the four actors in the production, which is one of the sequels to the long-running off-Broadway hit “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” Written and created by Roger Bean, the story begins in 1969, as Cindy Lou, Betty Jean, Missy and Suzy reunite to perform at the retirement party of their former teacher at Springfield High, Miss McPherson.

From left, Katie Ferretti, Jacqueline Hughes, Marielle Greguski and Jessica Ader-Ferretti in a scene from ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On.’ Photo from SCPA

The first act provides a handful of hits from the ’60s, and as the party ends, Cindy Lou announces she has dreams of making it big in the music business. In the second act, at their 20-year high school reunion in 1978, the Wonderettes are as sensational as ever when they perform iconic hits from the ’70s. Katie Ferretti (Cindy Lou), Jessica Ader-Ferretti (Betty Jane), Marielle Greguski (Missy) and Jacqueline Hughes (Suzy) all deliver dream-worthy performances in this four-women show. Their vocals and harmonization are excellent, and they nail the corny girl-band dance moves of the past.

Ferretti has the right amount of sass and confidence to play Cindy Lou and is convincing as the girl who always gets the guy, and yet at times plays the role with enough tenderness that one can’t help but feel sorry for her when things don’t go quite her way.

Ader-Ferretti is witty as Betty Jane who always has a quick comeback for any situation, and despite that wit, the audience can also sense the singer’s big heart, especially for her on-again, off-again love, Johnny. Greguski is a sweet, quirky Missy who keeps everything together. When things look like they may go south with her husband Mr. Lee, she’s so lovable, theatergoers can’t help but feel sorry for her. Hughes is a giddy and ditzy Suzy, and while an actor on stage may not portray her high-school-sweetheart-now-husband, Richie, whether she looks out into the audience with affection or longing, one would be convinced that he is actually sitting in one of the seats.

When it comes to the story line, some of the highlights of the show are when the Wonderettes interact with the audience members. The improvised scenes with ticket holders lead to some of the funniest moments in the musical.

The list of songs that complement the story line is a baby boomer’s dream, and like the Wonderettes, the four women know how to belt out a tune from the first song “Gimme Some Lovin’” to the closing number that blends “We Are Family” with the reprise of “Gimme Some Lovin’.” The actresses harmonize beautifully, and they each have their time to shine in the spotlight multiple times during the musical with well-executed solos.

Ferretti delivers beautiful renditions of songs such as “You’re No Good,” “Band of Gold” and “Groupie (Superlove)” while Ader-Ferretti is soulful and strong during her numbers, especially with “I Keep Forgettin’,” “When Will I Be Loved” and “I Will Survive.” Greguski also is strong and soulful on songs such as “For Once in My Life” and “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” and Hughes delivers heartfelt versions of “More Than Yesterday” and “Lonely Night (Angelface).” The numbers are perfect examples of how theatergoers will believe Richie is sitting right in the audience with them.

The theater’s band, with conductor and keyboardist Melissa Coyle, Craig Coyle on keyboard, Ray Sabatello on guitar, Chad Goodstein on bass and Jim Waddell on drums, were just as wonderful as the stars of the show. SCPA’s “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On” is a delightful, high-energy production that will have you leaving the theater humming and feeling better than when you entered.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main Street, Smithtown, presents “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On” through June 17. All seats are $35. For show schedule and more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Debbie Reynolds in a scene from 'Singin' In the Rain'

By Ed Blair

Debbie Reynolds during the filming of ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown‘ in 1964

She was the quintessential “girl next door” — sweet, wholesome and unassuming. She was pretty and perky, had a dazzling smile and looked great in a cute summer dress. In short, she was the ideal, all-American girl every guy wanted to take home to meet his parents.

For many, Debbie Reynolds fit the classic romantic fantasy perfectly, whether she was dancing as an 18-year-old with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), rollicking in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (1964), for which she received an Oscar nomination, or crooning her chart-topping 1957 hit “Tammy.”

Reynolds’ daughter, Carrie Fisher, earned her star as another type of princess in her iconic role in the “Star Wars” series. Their relationship, and their coinciding deaths, were headline material that generated wide media attention, and the sometimes contentious interactions between mother and daughter will be a featured in “The Debbie Reynolds Story,” a musical theater tribute being presented at The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center from May 6 to June 15.

Debbie Reynolds with her daughter Carrie Fisher

The center has hosted a number of shows orchestrated by St. George Productions, which has brought to life the biographies of stars such as Bob Hope, Patti Page, Mickey Rooney and, most recently, Mary Martin and Dinah Shore. As in the past, presentations will be followed by a luncheon catered by Fratelli’s Italian Eatery and includes tea and dessert.

In a format familiar to audiences who continue to enjoy his live musical theater tributes, director/writer/producer Sal St. George’s latest offering details the life of Debbie Reynolds and her on-again-off-again relationship with her daughter, Carrie Fisher.

Setting the show’s time line, St. George explained, “The year is 1977. Debbie has recently completed ‘Irene’ on Broadway, as well her one-woman show, and is touring with ‘Annie Get Your Gun.’” Reynolds had received a Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for her role in “Irene,” and teenager Carrie Fisher had appeared on stage with her early during the musical’s run. “Carrie, now 20, is still in England promoting ‘Star Wars,’” St. George continued. “Although she is not [portrayed] in our show, Carrie’s relationship with her mother will be a major topic of discussion.”

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in a scene from the 1977 ‘Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope’

Indeed, that relationship has been scrutinized and commented upon in the media since the deaths of the two stars became headline stories in December of 2016. Reynolds’ kaleidoscopic career and rags-to-riches road to stardom contrasted sharply with Fisher’s experiences.

Paris Pryor, the actress who portrays Reynolds in The WMHO production, paid tribute to the late star’s achievements, pointing out that, “Although her death is still fresh in our minds, I hope our presentation will be a positive reflection on her rich legacy.”

St. George noted that Lucille Ball, Jimmy Stewart and Rosemary Clooney lived in the same neighborhood as Reynolds, and his production features actress Jordyn Morgan, who portrays Clooney. “It is an honor,” said Morgan, “to be re-creating the life of such a remarkable musical artist. Our production is a salute to two of Hollywood’s greatest icons.”

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, located at 97P Main St. in Stony Brook Village will present “The Debbie Reynolds Story” on May 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 17, 18, 20, 21, 24 (sold out), 25 and 31; June 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 11, 14 and 15. Performances are at 11:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m. on Sundays). Admission is $48 adults; seniors (60 and over) and children under 15, $45; and groups of 20 or more $40. Advance reservations are required by calling 631-689-5888.

Created by Ward Melville in 1939 as The Ward Melville Community Fund, The WMHO is a not-for-profit organization founded to maintain and enhance historical and sensitive environmental properties and to develop and foster community enrichment through cultural and educational experiences. To learn more about The WMHO, call 631-751-2244 or visit the website at www.wmho.org.

Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

The entire company. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Spring has finally arrived to the Village of Port Jefferson — the tulips, the daffodils, even the Bradford pear trees are in full bloom. Spring in the village also signals the arrival of another perennial favorite, “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit,” at Theatre Three. Written by Jeffrey E. Sanzel and the late Brent Erlanson and suggested by the characters created by Beatrix Potter, this adorable children’s musical has become an annual tradition for many families in the area.

Directed by Sanzel, the story follows the mischievous adventures of Peter Rabbit, played by Dylan Robert Poulos, and his cousin Benjamin Bunny, played by Steven Uihlein, as they sneak into Mr. McGregor’s garden again and again to steal his vegetables.

Caitlin Nofi, Beth Whitford and Melanie Acampora play good little bunnies Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail who spend most of their time searching for their wayward brother Peter. Jessica Contino is terrific as Mrs. Rabbit, playing the role with just the right amount of strictness.

Andrew Lenahan, last seen in “Raggedy Ann & Andy,” tackles the role of Mr. McGregor and does a fine job while Emily Gates shines as Mrs. McGregor. The two draw the most laughs from the parents when Gates says “We’re friends, aren’t we?” and Lenahan answers, “Are we? I thought we were married.”

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

The set is sparse, with a few props including a scarecrow, a few signs, a table and a trap door for a rabbit hole but let your imagination fly and you will see a mouthwatering garden full of parsley, cucumbers, tomatoes, string beans and lettuce that can be very tempting for a little rabbit. The costumes, designed by Teresa Matteson, are on point, from the farmer’s overalls to the little white tails on the rabbits with brand new dresses for Flopsy, Mopsy ad Cotton-Tail in soft shades of yellow, pink and purple.

With fresh choreography by Sari Feldman, the musical numbers, accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, are all fun and hip, especially “One More Time Around,” “Run, Peter, Run!” and “Peter’s Socks,” and the audience is treated to an encore performance of all the songs in a finale mega mix.

The show is action-packed with several chase scenes through the aisles, a Mission-Impossible-inspired heist to retrieve Peter’s socks and shoes and vest and jacket and hat from a scarecrow erected by Mr. McGregor, acrobatics (courtesy of Poulos) and audience participation. Throw in some singing and dancing and Theatre Three has a bona fide hit. So gather up all your good little bunnies and hop over to Theatre Three for a real spring treat.

Souvenir bunnies in various colors are sold during intermission, and booster seats are available. Meet the entire cast in the lobby after the show for photos.

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main St., in Port Jefferson will present “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” through May 6 with a sensory-friendly performance on April 23. Children’s Theater will continue with “The Princess & the Pea” from May 27 to June 10, “Aladdin & the Lamp” from July 7 to Aug. 10 and “The Frog Prince” from Aug. 4 to 12. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

From left, Phyllis March, Maryellen Molfetta and Ginger Dalton in a scene from the show. Photo by Brian Hoerger

By Michael Tessler

Theatre Three’s latest production “Where There’$ a Will,” opened last Saturday night to an intrigued audience. Originally produced in 1985 by an eighteen-year-old Jeffrey Sanzel, this wonderful piece of theater is such a hidden treasure that I’m glad it resurfaced just in time for me to review!

Our story begins as the late millionaire Hiram Cedricson, a self-proclaimed “Potato King,” has assembled his widow (and fourth wife), her not-so-new lover and a slapdash theater crew of washouts, has-beens and could-bes to hear his last will and testament be read aloud by a uniquely unqualified lawyer.

Phyllis March and Mary Ellin Kurtz in a scene from the show. Photo by Brian Hoerger

Hilarity ensues as the lawyer reveals that prior to Cedricson’s death he wrote an original play … with no prior experience in theater, with a title so funny that I’m unable to print it. His dying wish is for this cast and crew of misfits to perform the show verbatim, in a decrepit theater he purchased just before his death … in two weeks. If they can accomplish this, they each receive $500,000. If they fail, the snarky widow and her lover get all the money.

So despite quarrels and some seriously conflicting personalities, the group agrees to the terms. What none of them realize is that Hiram Cedricson was the furthest thing from a writer and that his show would be an accidental comedy of epic proportions! The result is as Cedricson so eloquently puts it — “wonderfug.” What’s best is that the ghost of Cedricson and two of his former wives (one dead, one divorced) get to enjoy the chaos as casual spectators from the balcony, bickering among themselves through the process.

Ginger Dalton in a scene from ‘Where There’$ a Will’. Photo by Brian Hoerger

By every definition this is an all-star cast — immensely talented, perfectly paced, and hilariously human. Expertly directed by Sanzel, each actor takes on a caricature so unique and well-written that it’s impossible not to feel emotionally invested in their success. There is such incredible range in their performances. All of these cast members could have and likely were leads in previous productions.

There are so many familiar faces that at times, and much to my amusement, I felt like I was watching a reunion show of Long Island’s greatest talent. Though I lack the column inches necessary to write in detail about each of these extraordinary actors, I do want to say that this is by far the best ensemble cast I’ve ever seen outside of a Broadway production. They are so much more than just funny — they are uniquely lovable, memorable and multidimensional.

This can be attributed not just to the enormous talent of this cast, but to the show’s ambitious and masterfully crafted script. Somehow, not a single character goes underutilized in both acts of this large-scale comedy.

From left, Phylis March, Jessica Contino and Mary Ellin Kurtz in a scene from Sanzel’s new play. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Though not a musical, there are several musical numbers, all of which will have you grinning cheek to cheek. Throughout the show there is a wonderful score dreamed up by Theatre Three’s Tim Peierls, and Randall Parsons creates a visually striking set, which is complemented perfectly by Robert Henderson’s lighting design. The young but extraordinarily talented Peter Casdia expertly stage manages the production, ensuring a flawless experience. Costume designer Chakira Doherty must have had some fun putting together the most uniquely diverse set of costumes I can remember in recent productions.

Jeffrey Sanzel and his assistant director Andrew Markowitz put on a genuinely charming production, perfect for ringing in the spring season. “Where There’$ a Will” feels like a classic that has been playing forever, and that’s because maybe it should be.

The cast: Steve Ayle, Marci Bing, Michael Butera, Carol Carota, Jessica Contino, Ginger Dalton, Susan Emory, Sari Feldman, Jack Howell, Joan Howell, Skyler Quinn Johnson, Mary Ellin Kurtz, Linda May, Phyllis March, Steve McCoy, Maryellen Molfetta and Ruthie Pincus

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Where’s There’$ a Will” through May 6 on the Mainstage. Tickets for adults $35; seniors and students $28; children ages 5 to 12 for $20. Children under 5 are not permitted. A matinee will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 3 with $20 tickets. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

From left, Phylis March, Jessica Contino and Mary Ellin Kurtz in a scene from Sanzel’s new play. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Melissa Arnold

Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, has worked in theater for more than 40 years. This spring, he is celebrating his love for the performing arts with his zany new comedy, “Where There’s a Will.” The show features a variety of personalities working to fulfill a man’s last wish — perform a play he wrote — in exchange for a hefty inheritance. But nothing is ever that simple…

The production features a cast of 17, including Long Island theater veterans Steve Ayle, Marci Bing, Michael Butera, Carol Carota, Jessica Contino, Ginger Dalton, Susan Emory, Sari Feldman, Jack Howell, Joan Howell, Skyler Quinn Johnson, Mary Ellin Kurtz, Linda May, Phyllis March, Steve McCoy, Maryellen Molfetta and Ruthie Pincus with original music by Tim Peierls. Sanzel shared the story behind the show and much more in a recent phone interview.

What’s the play about?

This is an outrageous comedy. What happens when a group of down-and-out showpeople are given the chance to inherit a half a million dollars? A man named Hiram Cedrickson was once the Potato King, and after his passing, he leaves a group of actors all of this money, providing that they perform a play he wrote exactly as he wrote it. They have to do it with no changes, from curtain to curtain call, including typos. If they don’t, all the money goes to his fourth wife, who is there following along in the script at rehearsals and at the performance. They’re very high stakes. It’s hard enough to learn lines (for a show) — imagine what it would be like if the lines are wrong!

What inspired you to write this play?

I originally wrote the play over 30 years ago, in 1985, and it sat in a drawer for 30 years, and then I took it out and did a lot of rewriting. At that time, it was my freshman year of college, and I was typing up papers for people as a side job. I’m a very fast typist, but I’m also terribly inaccurate. I make a lot of errors. And one day I asked myself, “What would it be like if people actually had to play the errors in a script?” That’s how it all came about. I’ve also always had a love for the kind of theater that celebrates (the theater and acting), so this show is about that as well.

What makes the story interesting to you?

It’s fun to watch these people with huge, very different personalities struggle and try to overcome the challenge (of the script).

Do you have a favorite character or identify with any of them?

Ever since I was 8 years old, I’ve loved (actress and singer) Ethel Merman. This show is really my tribute to her, as one of the major characters is based off of her.

Is there a message or take away from this show?

This is really about how people can come together for a shared cause and make things happen, even though they may be very different. But, of course, its main purpose is to make people laugh.

Why do you think people will enjoy it?

This is an extraordinary cast, sort of a who’s who in Long Island theater, and they bring so much reality to it. You come to sympathize for the characters and really root for these people.

“Where There’s a Will” will run from April 8 through May 6 on the Main Stage at Theatre Three, 412 E. Main St., Port Jefferson. Tickets for adults $35; seniors and students $28; children ages 5 to 12 for $20. Children under 5 are not permitted. A matinee will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 3 with $20 tickets. To learn more or to purchase tickets, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

Behold! The plotting penguins of Madagascar! Photo by Jennifer Tully

By Heidi Sutton

The cast of ‘Madagascar: A Musical Adventure’. Photo by Jennifer Tully

With much pomp and circumstance, the John W. Engeman Theater closes out its 2016-2017 Children’s Theater season with “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure.”

Excitement filled the theater air on opening day last weekend as the children waited anxiously to catch a glimpse of their favorite animal characters and to enjoy a live retelling of the animated classic. And let me assure you, they were not disappointed.

From the opening number, “It’s Showtime,” to the finale, an audience participation party version of “I Like to Move It,” the entire performance is a wild and wacky and wonderful musical celebration of friendship. The nine-member adult cast, skillfully directed by Jennifer Collester Tully, with several playing multiple roles, capture each original film character’s personality perfectly, especially the hypochondriac giraffe. Aside from performing on stage, the cast often wanders through the audience, keeping the young theatergoers at the edge of their seats with big smiles.

The show’s script follows the original movie closely, making it easy to follow. In the first of two acts we are introduced to best friends Alex the Lion (Andrew McCluskey) Marty the Zebra (Marquez Stewart), Gloria the Hippo (Rita Sarli) and Melman the Giraffe (Suzanne Mason) who are residents of New York’s Central Park Zoo.

Gloria, Marty, Alex and Melman in a scene from ‘Madagascar’. Photo by Jennifer Tully

It’s Marty’s birthday and he makes a wish that he could go back to the wild (which he thinks is Connecticut). Moments later he escapes with “cute and cuddly” penguins, Rico (Alyson Leonard), Kowalski (TracyLynn Connor), Private (Samantha Masone) and Skipper (Danny Meglio) who want to go back to Antarctica.

When Marty’s friends go looking for him, the entire group gets caught in the halls of Grand Central Station by the zookeepers and are tranquilized. When they wake up, the zoo animals are in crates on a ship headed to Africa. Caught in rough seas, the crates fall overboard and the four friends wash up on the shores of Madagascar. There they are promptly welcomed by King Julien (played to perfection by the incomparable Jacqueline Hughes), sidekick Maurice (Connor) and his tribe of ring-tailed lemurs who hope that Alex can protect them from the terrible foosa. Things only get wilder in the second act, but you’ll have to go see it to find out.

The wonderful songs, the adorable costumes by Jess Costagliola and the terrific choreography by Marquez Stewart are simply the icing on the cake. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” through April 30. After a short break, the 2017-2018 season will begin with “Pinkalicious The Musical” from July 22 to Aug. 27, “Cinderella” from Sept. 23 to Oct. 29 and “Frosty” from Nov. 18 to Dec. 31. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Liana Hunt as Emma Carew and Nathaniel Hackmann as Henry Jekyll in a scene from 'Jekyll & Hyde' at the Engeman Theater. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Victoria Espinoza

For theatergoers with one personality or more, the newest production at the John W. Engeman Theater has something for all. The Northport playhouse kicked off its seven-week run of “Jekyll and Hyde The Musical” this past weekend to a full house, and the multiple Tony-nominated production felt alive as ever on the Engeman stage.

Led by director Paul Stancato, who also serves as choreographer and has been at the helm of several other shows at the Engeman theater, the classic tale of Dr. Henry Jekyll and his doomed science experiment draws you in from the moment you meet the leading man.

The show starts with a stiff rejection, coming from the hospital board that refuses to support Jekyll’s experiments to understand why man is both good and evil and to separate the good from the evil. However, the doctor does not take defeat lying down and eventually decides to make himself the patient in the experiment. As the name of the show suggests, soon we have two leading men fighting for the spotlight, as Jekyll’s potions give birth to Edward Hyde, the purest projection of evil who lives inside Jekyll.

Above, Nathaniel Hackmann as Henry Jekyll In his laboratory in a scene from ‘Jekyll & Hyde.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Jekyll and Hyde are played to perfection by Nathaniel Hackmann. As soon as you hear him sing a soft and sad goodbye to his dying father in the first scene, you can’t help but be excited to hear him sing an evil tune, as his voice seems to have no limits. Hackmann makes you feel safe and happy as he sings “Take Me As I Am,” with his betrothed, Emma Carew, played by Liana Hunt, and then just a few songs later sinister seems much more fun as Hackmann belts his way through “Alive” and becomes Hyde.

Not only does Hackmann transport you through love, torment, sin and more with his voice, but he also convinces with his body language. He lurks and awkwardly shuffles across the stage as the murdering Hyde, while embodying the perfect gentleman when playing Jekyll. It becomes hard not to root for the antagonist when it’s so fun to watch his every move on stage.

Of course, Hackmann is not the only star of the show. Caitlyn Caughell plays a seductive yet vulnerable Lucy Harris, a lady of the night who entices both Jekyll and Hyde. Harris’ formidable voice is the perfect partner to Hackmann’s, and the moments featuring the couple are among the most enchanting, including the tragic love song “Dangerous Game.” It’s also not hard to understand why both the successful doctor and the mysterious Hyde enchant the young wench when Hackmann plays both — can you blame her?

Caitlyn Caughell as Lucy Harris and Nathaniel Hackmann as Edward Hyde in a scene from ‘Jekyll & Hyde.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Tom Lucca, who plays John Utterson, Jekyll’s loyal friend and lawyer, is also worth mentioning. Scenes where the two share the stage are very entertaining. The ensemble cast also has some stand-out moments, and it starts at the beginning with the hospital board all denying Jekyll. Each board member is worth focusing on for a minute, especially Joey Calveri as Lord Savage, whose facial expressions in every scene bring added fun to the stage. Ensemble songs like “Façade” and “Girls of the Night” highlight the singing strength of the cast.

The set, designed by Stephen Dobay, helps make Hyde even more menacing, with several long screens that cast Hyde as a prowling red shadow on the hunt. Each screen also has two empty frames hanging from the top, subtly reminding the audience of Jekyll’s original inspiration of each person having two sides in them: good and evil. And, of course, the orchestra, under the direction of Kristen Lee Rosenfeld, brings the pop rock hits of the original score to life and makes the evil tunes of the show all the more fun.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Jekyll and Hyde The Musical” through April 30 with Thursday, Friday and Saturday night shows, as well as afternoon shows on Saturdays and Sundays. Valet parking is available. Tickets range from $71 to $76. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.