By Michael Tessler
Though the holidays are usually filled with joy, they’re certainly not without their own special breed of stress, which seems to melt away as Theatre Three gifts our community with a profound and magical experience that allows us to escape into the marvelous imaginative world of the late, great Charles Dickens. Theatre Three provides more than just a distraction — it provides unparalleled delights that will stir up the best childlike emotions in each of us.
Jeffrey Sanzel, the show’s director, faces the unique challenge of annually reimagining “A Christmas Carol.” He seamlessly completes this task with his usual grace and confidence. For over 30 years the show has been a must-see tradition for Long Island families and visitors. Sanzel’s vision shines brighter than ever as he masterfully directs his cast. While the story remains the same, its characters are all the more captivating because of the great direction he provides.
What’s most impressive is that not only does Sanzel direct, but he also stars in the iconic role of Ebenezer Scrooge. For those unfamiliar with the classic Dickens novel, Scrooge is a man whose greed supersedes his humanity. One night he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley (Steven Uihlein) who informs him that hell awaits him if he doesn’t change his ways. This propels him on an unlikely journey of self-reflection and change.
Sanzel plays not only an older Scrooge, but a younger more lively version of himself. His ability to change physicality and characters instantly is one of his most impressive qualities, and there are plenty!
Bob Cratchit, played by the ever-so-gentle Douglas Quattrock, is beyond endearing. There’s a righteousness and goodness about this man that can be felt genuinely by the audience. Cratchit, who works as a clerk for the elderly Mr. Scrooge, endures considerable workplace trauma to make sure his family is fed and taken care of. Despite his hard work, his youngest son, Tiny Tim, remains at the precipice of death. Quattrock will have you grinning cheek to cheek as he embraces his wife played with love by Suzie Dunn and the rest of the family.
Alongside Cratchit is the kind-hearted and abandoned nephew of Scrooge, Fred Halliwell. There’s a certain glee in Dylan Poulos’ performance. He’s almost infused with the spirit of Christmas itself, which I suppose would make sense as he also plays the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come! Halliwell seeks nothing more than to rekindle a relationship with his past by getting to know his only living relative, dear Uncle Scrooge. What he doesn’t realize is that his eyes are the same eyes as his departed mother, a painful reminder for old Ebenezer. Fan Scrooge Halliwell (Megan Bush/Sophia Knapp) lives and breathes in certain sequences, and perfectly portrays the love between two close siblings.
Among my favorite cast members is the larger-than-life Fezziwig, played with great fervor by George Liberman. He’s joined alongside his stage wife, played by Ginger Dalton. These two form a comedic pair that will have you smiling as wide as the horizon! There’s something so whimsical about watching Fezziwig’s ball unfold on-stage: the dancing, the singing, everything. Watching you can’t help but feel that you’re up there with them. My favorite part of this sequence is watching the curmudgeon Scrooge transform into a spruce young man who woos and proposes to Fezziwig’s daughter, Belle, played by a belle of extraordinary talent, Emily Gates.
All three spirits are truly splendid. Jessica Contino shines as the Ghost of Christmas Past, bringing Scrooge on a journey that forces him to reconcile many of the mistakes and heartbreaks a long life will bring. Bobby Montaniz nails perfectly the essence of the Ghost of Christmas Present, and while he’s not a giant, his impressive voice certainly sounds like he is! His deep laughter will echo in your belly all through the evening!
Finally the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come may be the most visually impressive puppetry I’ve seen at Theatre Three yet (and they pulled out an actual dragon for “Shrek!”). This massive and haunting figure must be at least 15 feet tall and is adorned in a black tattered cloak and hood and is perfectly embellished by the brilliant lighting layout by Robert Henderson.
In addition to an incredible cast and superb lighting, this is one of the most beautiful sets I’ve ever seen. There’s a craftsmanship that far exceeds your usual stage show, and not only does it show but genuinely adds to the ambiance of the production. I’ve got nothing but praise for Randall Parsons, the show’s production designer and his costume counterpart Bonnie Vidal.
There are many additional names in the cast and crew who are deserving of praise, especially the incredibly talented children who alternate each night and demonstrate a professionalism and talent well beyond their years. Give yourself and your loved ones a gift that is truly made of magic. Go see “A Christmas Carol.”
Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “A Christmas Carol” through Dec. 31. All tickets are $20 in November and range from $20 to $35 in December. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.