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Charles Dickens

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Port Jefferson was crawling with costumed characters and Christmas spirit on Saturday and Sunday for the 20th annual Charles Dickens Festival.

Residents and visitors took rides on horse-drawn carriages, met Santa Claus, heard music from the 19th century and checked out a puppet parade.

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Festival of Trees returns to the Village Center

A scene from a previous year’s Charles Dickens Festival. Photo by Bob Savage

The Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, in conjunction with the Village of Port Jefferson, will host the 20th Annual Charles Dickens Festival this weekend, Dec. 5 and 6, throughout the Village of Port Jefferson. The Village will magically transform into the Dickensian era, with streets filled with roaming characters such as Father Christmas, the Dickens Mayor, Scrooge, the Town Crier and the beloved chimney sweeps.

A scene from a previous year’s Charles Dickens Festival. Photo by Bob Savage
A scene from a previous year’s Charles Dickens Festival. Photo by Bob Savage

All events are open to the public and most attractions are free of charge. Begin your Dickens adventure with a Grand Opening Celebration Parade on East Main Street, Saturday morning at 11 a.m.

The festivities will feature many returning favorites, including ice skating at the Village Center, a cappella performances by choirs and harmony groups, Nutcracker performances, magic shows by The Great Wizard of the North, and many fine musical performances by area musicians. In addition, this year’s festival will feature Theatre Three’s 32nd annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”

Returning for its second year is the Festival of Trees, located on the second floor of the Port Jefferson Village Center. The festival was the brainchild of Jill Russell, who handles public relations for the Village. “I first saw it years ago in Oklahoma City, where I grew up. They [also] had something called Festival of Trees. It was almost like an international festival of trees. Different countries were represented,” said Russell in a recent phone interview.

Eighteen beautifully decorated trees will grace the second floor, decorated in various themes. New entries this year include the First United Methodist Church, Ace Hardware, the Fox and the Owl Inn, The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, Antique Costumes and Prop Rentals by Nan, Theatre Three and Olde Town Gardens, whose tree will feature a train.

Returning favorites include, among others, Jolie Powell Realty, Port Jefferson Rotary, Stony Brook Confucius Institute, Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Bridgehampton National Bank, Danfords Hotel and Marina, Friends of the Port Jefferson Free Library, the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council and Red Sled. In addition, top sponsors Empire National Bank and Maia Salon Spa and Wellness will also showcase a tree in the festival.

The trees were set up last weekend and the designers came in on Sunday and Monday to decorate. The event has really taken off. “We still get people asking ‘How do you get a tree?’ It is wildly popular,” said Russell. “It goes through the month of December, and it is so beautiful and people enjoy it so much because they come to ice skate, they come to see the trees — both things feed off of one other; they go look at the gallery exhibit. It just breathes a whole new life to the Village Center. With the ice rink and the Festival of Trees, it has been really incredible.”

“Already, in year two, it has become competitive — with not what you do to your tree but how you embellish the tree and the surrounding area and how you create a theme,” she laughed. “It’s been fun.”

New to the Dickens Festival this year will be an event titled Let There Be Light, a dazzling light show projected on Village Hall. Animated characters will appear in the front windows surrounded by swirling Christmas decorations, giant snowflakes and sparkly stars. The presentation will be available for viewing during the weekend from 6 to 7:30 p.m., on the half hour, for 15 minutes of dazzling fun and will be shown each weekend leading up to Christmas — weather permitting. The Harbormaster building will be transformed into Cookieland, where children can decorate their own holiday-oriented cookies and houses.

As in past years, East Main Street will become Dickens Alley, and Fezziwig’s Ball, featuring live music on traditional instruments led by a dance caller, will take place at the Masonic Lodge. An impressive model train display will be featured on the corner of East Main and Main on Dec. 5, from noon to 5 p.m. and Dec. 6, from noon to 4 p.m., while the Port Jefferson Free Library will feature new programming and the fabulous Dickens Cottage next to the main building.

Horse and carriage rides will thrill the young and young-at-heart, and the trolley will help transport visitors to various venues throughout the Village for the entire weekend. The Port Jeff Jitney bus will transport visitors to and from downtown, from the free parking areas found outside the Village.

 This year’s honoree is Pat Darling Kiriluk, the creator of a holiday tradition and highlight of the festival — Santa’s Workshop, located at the corner of W. Broadway and Barnum Avenue. Join Santa and his elves and wind through three whimsically decorated rooms. Twinkling white lights, elaborate confection displays, and giant nutcrackers are just a few of the signature elements that bring the magic of Christmas to life. The workshop will be open weekends from 1 to 5 p.m. through Dec. 14.

The 20th Annual Dickens Festival will conclude with a Parade of Puppets and a ceremony at Village Hall on Sunday evening. For a complete schedule of events, visit www.pjdickens.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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George Liberman reprises role for 9th year

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

By Rita J. Egan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Stacy Santini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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