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children’s theater

By Heidi Sutton

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, especially at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. While Scrooge undergoes a transformation on the Main Stage with A Christmas Carol, Barnaby the Elf is busy making sure all the Christmas presents are delivered on time in the adorable children’s musical, Barnaby Saves Christmas. The show opened last Saturday and runs through Dec. 30. 

Written over 18 years ago by Douglas Quattrock and Jeffrey Sanzel with music and lyrics by Quattrock, it remains  as relevant as ever with the ultimate message that “every day is a golden opportunity to be better than you used to be.”

It’s Christmas Eve and Santa’s workshop at the North Pole is a flurry of activity. Head elf Sam (Josie McSwane) and fellow elves Blizzard (Michelle LaBozzetta) and Crystal (Kaitlyn Jehle) are busy putting the final touches on the Christmas presents and loading them on the sleigh. A fourth elf, Barnaby (Ryan Worrell), is the newest trainee and has been given one task by Santa (Sean Amato) — to make a little stuffed bear with dark blue pants, buckles on his shoes and a bright yellow vest. 

When it’s time to deliver the presents to all the good little girls and boys, Barnaby is left behind with Mrs. Claus (Danielle Pafundi). He soon realizes that Santa has left the stuffed bear behind and convinces Blizzard’s fawn Franklynne (Samantha Fierro) to find Santa and “save Christmas.”   

On their adventure they crash land on the roof of the house of Sarah (Danielle Pafundi) and her nephew Andrew (Sean Amato) and learn all about Hanukkah and the Festival of Lights. They also come across S.B. (spoiled brat) Dombulbury (Steven Uihlein), a Scrooge in his own right who has stuffed up all the chimneys with coal with his partner in crime Irving (Jason Furnari), in order to ruin Christmas and has hypnotized Crystal and Blizzard to help him. With the help of his friends, Barnaby will save the day but just wait until you see how!

Directed by Sanzel, the entire cast does an incredible job telling this heartwarming story. The wonderful songs, accompanied on piano by Quattrock, are just lovely, with special mention to Worrell’s solo “Still With a Ribbon on Top,” Pafundi’s solo “Miracles” and Amato’s solo “Within Our Hearts.”

Gorgeous costumes that sparkle and shine for the holidays by Jason Allyn, the incredible lighting by Steven Uihlein and the great choreography by Sari Feldman tie it all together with a beautiful holiday bow. I can think of 100 reasons to go see this show but I will only give the first — it is an unforgettable experience the entire family will love. Elf and reindeer souvenirs will be sold before the show and during intermission and the entire cast will be in the lobby after the show for photos.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents Barnaby Saves Christmas on Nov. 26, Dec. 3, 10, 17, 24, 28, 29 and 20 at 11 a.m. Children’s theater continues with The House That Jack Built from Jan. 21 to Feb. 4, 2023 and Dorothy’s Adventures in Oz from Feb. 22 to March 18, 2023. All seats are only $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The cast, from left, Ari Spiegel, Derek Hough, Cassidy Gill and Alexa Oliveto. Photo by Heidi Sutton/TBR News Media

By Heidi Sutton

The children’s picture book Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems was an instant success when it was released in 2004 and won the Caldecott Honor in 2005. The story, based on the author’s 3-year-old daughter Trixie and her favorite stuffed animal, was followed by two sequels, Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity and Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion as well as an animated short film.

The cast, from left, Ari Spiegel, Derek Hough, Cassidy Gill and Alexa Oliveto.
Photo by Heidi Sutton/TBR News Media

Now the Smithtown Performing Arts Center pays homage to the award-winning book with a children’s theater production of Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical. With script and lyrics by Mo Willems and music by Michael Silversher, it  begins as Dad suggests that Mom take a trip to the spa while he takes their rambunctious pre-verbal daughter Trixie to the neighborhood laundromat. While Mom is hesitant, Dad insists he is up to the job. “It’s just one load of laundry. What could go wrong?”

Mom reminds Dad to make sure Trixie takes along her favorite stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny, and the adventure begins.

Dad and Trixie walk through their neighborhood, through the park and into the laundromat. Dad decides to go home to fix Trixie a snack but as they head back to the house things take a dramatic turn when Trixie realizes she has lost Knuffle Bunny. Can she make Dad understand what’s wrong? Will he be able to save the day?

Expertly directed by Evan Donnellan with musical direction by Robbie Torries, the four-member cast does a flawless job conveying the funny, silly, engaging and fast-paced story. 

Derek Hough, last seen on SPAC’s stage as Sebastian in The Little Mermaid, is incredible in the role of a clueless but well-meaning Dad and Alexa Oliveto shines in her role as the all-knowing Mom. Their duet “[Life Is] Tricky With Trixie” kicks off the show and sets the tone for a fun afternoon. 

Cassidy Gill is wonderful in the role of a frustrated Trixie and plays her character with infinite energy. While Trixie desperately attempts to communicate with her solo “Aggle Flaggle Klabble” and acts out by going “boneless,” she surprises everyone at the end with her first real word. Can you guess what it is? 

A versatile Ari Spiegel rounds out the cast and plays numerous supporting roles including a pigeon and a giant Knuffle Bunny.

A nice touch is the constantly changing screen in the background, from the exterior and interior of the family’s home to the laundromat and even a video of a fire truck driving by.

In the end, the show reminds us of the amazing lengths parents will go through for their children and that is worth the trip.

The Smithtown Performing Arts Center, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown presents Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical on Aug. 19 at 6 p.m., Aug. 20 at 2 p.m., Sept. 1 and 2 at 6 p.m. and Sept. 3 at 2 p.m. Running time is one hour with no intermission and snacks and drinks will be sold before the show. All seats are $18. To order, visit www.smithtownpac.org.

By Heidi Sutton

Looking for something to do with the kids on a hot and humid summer day? Allow me to recommend an afternoon of live theater. And with a princess, a prince, a wicked fairy and a spinning wheel, Theatre Three’s latest offering, the premiere of the timeless tale of Sleeping Beauty, will surely fit the bill. Oh and did I mention there’s A/C?

Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Douglas J. Quattrock, the musical follows the storyline closely but goes one step further in questioning why the wicked fairy put a curse on the princess ultimately causing her to fall asleep for one hundred years. Is she just plain evil or was it all just a misunderstanding?

Directed by Sanzel, a cast of 7 adult actors along with 26 preteen and teen actors from Theatre Three’s Dramatic Academy present this charming re-telling of the most wonderful fairy tale of all.

King Gilder and Queen Gwen have sent out invitations for Briar Rose’s first birthday party. While the good fairies Aurora and Lily receive theirs, the wicked fairy Algabrine does not. Insulted, she crashes the party and as her “gift” to the little princess, she casts a spell that Briar Rose will prick her finger on a spinning wheel on her 18th birthday and die. When she leaves, Lily, who has not given her gift yet, changes the spell to have Briar Rose fall into a deep sleep for one hundred years only to be awakened by her one true love.

The king decries that all spinning wheels be destroyed. But there’s always one somewhere, isn’t there?

Steven Uihlein serves as narrator and uses flashbacks to tell the story and to teach an important lesson along the way. Here we meet Algabrine when she was kind and sweet and witness the moment things take a dark turn. A nice touch.

Cassidy Rose O’Brien is perfectly cast as Briar Rose. Strong-willed, confident, thoughtful and kind, she is the perfect fairy tale heroine  and quickly becomes the audience favorite as does her counterpart, a terrific Kiernan Urso as Prince Constantine. Accompanied on piano by Quattrock, their duet, “When I Close My Eyes,” is magical. 

Aria Saltini and Heather Rose Kuhn are wonderful as fairies Aurora and Lily, as is Marianne Schmidt as Cecelia, Constantine’s mother. Josie McSwane knocks it out of the park as Algabrine and has the best entrance I’ve ever seen, thanks to the incredible sound effects and lighting. Costumes by Jason Allyn are the icing on the birthday cake.

The preteen and teen supporting cast play numerous roles throughout including singing and dancing and several have lines (great jokes!). For many, this is their first time performing in front of an audience and it is an amazing opportunity to hone their craft and all did an amazing job. 

With only three performances left,  order your tickets now. And if you reserve seats in the center section of the theater, you will be in for a special treat!

Take a keepsake photo with the cast in the lobby on your way out.

Cast: Steven Uihlein, Cassidy Rose O’Brien, Area Saltini, Heather Rose Kuhn, Josie McSwane, Kiernan Urso, Marianne Schmidt, Maggie Abcug, Kate Marin, Courtney Pearsall, Guiliana Vavalle, Jared Acevedo, Marlaina Baessler, Alissa Boryushkina, Mia Caputo, Aiden Choudhary, Tara Choudhary, Kelsie Curran, Erin Curtin, Ava Garcia, Kathleen Han, Faith Hennessy, Carissa Kaplan, Chloe Kelly, Sophia Kosinski, Amelia Lappe, Hailey Polanish, Lyla Reyes, Michael Rotundo, Francesca Scott, Sophie Weeks, Emilyanne Williams and Rebecca Williams.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents Sleeping Beauty on Friday, Aug. 12 at 11 a.m. and Saturday, Aug. 13 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Children’s theater continues with A Kooky Spooky Halloween from Oct. 8 to 22 and Barnaby Saves Christmas from Nov. 19 to Dec. 30. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Join Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson for one of its last two performances of “Puss-In-Boots,” a hilarious musical re-telling of a boy and his ingenious feline on July 29 and July 30 at 11 a.m. When Christopher inherits his father’s clever cat, he sets out on an adventure that takes him to the palace of King Vexmus and beyond and learns that faith comes from within. $10 per person. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Heidi Sutton

Wowie wow wow! Look who has taken up residence at the Engeman Theater in Northport! It’s Junie B. Jones, the outspoken and lovable six-year-old from the pages of Barbara Park’s best-selling children’s books starring in  Junie B. Jones The Musical. The delightful show, which opened last Saturday, runs through Aug. 28. 

Created by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, the play is an adaptation of four of Park’s books where Junie B. Jones navigates the ups and downs of first grade at Clarence Elementary School. When her mother gives her a Top-Secret Personal Beeswax Journal on her first day of school, Junie B. decides to record the school year and before long is filling the pages with her many adventures. 

While Junie B. is under the impression that things will be no different than last year, they are very different. In her first week, she finds that her best friend from kindergarten Lucille has found two new best friends – Camille and Chenille – because their names rhyme; the girl who she used to sit with in on the bus in kindergarten prefers to sit with someone else; she makes friends with Herb, the new kid at school; and she finds that she has trouble reading the blackboard — and she may need glasses. Grrrr. 

Add in the friendly cafeteria lady Mrs. Gutzman, a new lunchbox, Show & Tell, and an intense kickball tournament and you have the makings of a lovely morning of live theater.

Directed by Danny Meglio with musical direction by Luca Iallondardi and choreography by Jillian Sharpe, the six-member adult cast embrace the adorable script and transport back in time to elementary school and all the anxieties and life lessons that go with it.

Katie Dolce is perfectly cast as Junie B. Jones. From the minute she appears on stage, all eyes are on her and she quickly becomes an audience favorite with her sassy personality.

The incredible and versatile supporting cast — Daniel Bishop, Miranda Jo DeMott, Olivia Giorgio, Thomas Higgins and Alyssa Infranco — play multiple roles throughout the show including Junie B’s parents, her teacher Mr. Scary, her friends and classmates and seem to be having the time of their lives.

The fun-filled songs are the heart of the show, from the opening number “Top Secret Personal Beeswax” to the group finale, “Writing Down the Songs of My Life,” and are perfectly executed with special mention to the kickline number, “Gladys Gutzman.” 

Funny, entertaining and entirely relatable, Junie B. Jones The Musical  is a summer treat for young children and parents alike. 

Sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union, the John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport presents Junie B. Jones The Musical on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. Running time is 1 1/2 hours with one intermission. Tickets are $20. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

The cast of 'Elephant & Piggie's We're In A Play!', from left, Victoria Acquavita, Lorelai Mucciolo, Aubrey Gulle, Ryan Van Nostrand, Kat Conway and Gabriella Fugon. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

While my daughter and I enjoyed reading Mo Willem’s Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny series, she was already seven years old when his Elephant and Piggie series came out in 2007. What a shame. Geared for younger audiences, the award-winning and best- selling children’s books are filled with the many fun adventures of Gerald the Elephant and his ‘bestus’ friend Piggie.

A sign on Main Street in Smithtown welcomes ticket holders to the show. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Now several of those stories make their way to the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society for an outdoor musical titled Elephant and Piggie’s We Are in a Play! Presented by the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts (SPAC), the adorable show runs through July 29. 

With script and lyrics by Willems and music by Deborah Wicks La Puma, the show centers mostly around Elephant and Piggie’s We are in a Book! but draws from other stories including I Am Invited to a Party!, Elephants Cannot Dance!, Should I Share My Ice Cream?, Listen to My Trumpet! and I Love My New Toy!

Featuring six extremely talented young adults, the production is performed in vignettes as Gerald and Piggie solve problems throughout the day and learn friendship etiquette with the help of The Squirrelles, Ice Cream Penguin and Delivery Dog.

They go to a party hosted by the Squirrelles, wear silly hats, learn a new dance, and share ice cream. Their perfect day turns sour when Gerald accidentally breaks Piggie’s new toy and her feelings get hurt. Will their friendship end? Will The Squirelles come to the rescue?

Children have their photo taken with the cast after last Sunday’s performance. Photo by Heidi Sutton

The whole experience is very relaxed and informal and you can bring your own lawn chairs or sit on folding chairs under tents. For many of the children it is their first experience at live theater and they have the option of sitting on a blanket in front of the stage or sitting with their family. Many at last Sunday’s performance danced along to the music and giggled at all the jokes. Snacks and drinks are also permitted.

Towards the end of the show the cast suddenly realizes they are in a play with a captive audience. In a grand finale, they invite the crowd to join in the fun by clapping, shouting out “banana” and doing the “Flippy Floppy Floory” dance, a perfect ending to a wonderful afternoon.

Don’t forget your camera! – Stay after the show for a keepsake photo with the cast.

Cast:

Gerald: Ryan Van Nostrand

Piggie: Aubrey Gulle

Squirelles: Kat Conway, Gabriella Fugon & Lorelai Mucciolo

Delivery Doggie/Ice Cream Penguin: Victoria Acquavita

Elephant & Piggie’s ‘We’re In a Play’! will be held on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society, 239 E. Main St., Smithtown through July 29. Running time is one hour with no intermission. Tickets are $18 per person. To order, visit www.smithtownpac.org.

 

'The Little Mermaid Jr.' at SPAC

Ursula is just dying to see you in her lair this weekend! Join the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main Street, Smithtown for the final performances of “The Little Mermaid Jr.” on Saturday, July 23 or Sunday, July 24  at 2 p.m.

Based on one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved stories and the classic animated film, Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr.is a hauntingly beautiful love story for the ages.

With music by eight-time Academy Award winner, Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and a compelling book by Doug Wright, this fishy fable will capture your heart with its irresistible songs, including “Under the Sea,” “Kiss the Girl” and “Part of Your World.”

Ariel, King Triton’s youngest daughter, wishes to pursue the human Prince Eric in the world above, bargaining with the evil sea witch, Ursula, to trade her tail for legs. But the bargain is not what it seems, and Ariel needs the help of her colorful friends, Flounder the fish, Scuttle the seagull and Sebastian the crab to restore order under the sea. All seats are $25. To order, visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Read TBR News Media’s review here.

By Heidi Sutton

What’s your favorite color? If the answer is pink, then you should run, not walk, to the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport to catch a truly wonderful production of Pinkalicious the Musical. 

Based on the popular children’s book by Elizabeth and Victoria Kann, the show tells the story of a little girl named Pinkalicious Pinkerton who loves the color pink (“It’s a color like no other!”) and is obsessed with pink cupcakes.

Despite her parent’s warnings, Pinkalicious overindulges on the sugary delights and wakes up the next day pink from head to toe. The doctor diagnoses her with pinkititis and in order to keep it from becoming worse she has to eat healthy green foods. But Pinkalicious just can’t stop eating those cupcakes, and when she wakes up the second morning, she’s turned red. She realizes the only way out of this predicament is to follow doctor’s orders. But is it too late? Will she be red forever?

Directed by Danny Meglio with choreography by Jillian Sharpe, the show is an instant hit thanks to a talented cast of five who tackle this fast-paced script with ease. 

Perfectly cast in the role of Pinkalicious, Emilie Goodrich embraces her inner child to bring this colorful, energetic character to life and sparkles on stage. The other members of the family, the organized Mrs. Pinkerton (the delightful Kassie Kueffne), the busy Mr. Pinkerton (an incredible Justin Autz), and overlooked brother Peter (the multi-talented Jae Hughes) along with best friend Alison (the amazing Kara Vito), play multiple roles throughout the show with unbounded enthusiasm.

What’s special about this show is that each actor has a chance to shine with a solo, from Goodrich’s lovely “When Dreams Come True,” to Kueffne’s lullaby “You Get Just What You Get,” Vito’s “Pinkititis,” Jae Hughes’ heartfelt “I Got the Pink Blues,” and Autz in the “Finale.”

There are also so many wonderful moments in the show. At one point the family goes to the doctor’s office on a pink four seat bicycle. On the way back home, they take a detour through the aisles of the theater to go to a park with a real slide. While at the park Pinkalicious is surrounded by a bee, a bird and two butterflies who are attracted to her pink color in the cute number “Buzz Off.”  Another time, Pinkalicious has a dream about pink cupcakes who all of a sudden walk out of the refrigerator and start singing and dancing. Great stuff.

Pinkalicious is more than a story about eating your vegetables. It is about the power of communication, the love of family and the affirmation that a little pink goes a long way. Don’t miss this one. 

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport presents Pinkalicious The Musical through July 3. All seats are $20. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

By Heidi Sutton

When High School Musical was released as a Disney Channel Original Movie in 2006 it was an instant success and its soundtrack became the best selling album of the year. Spinoffs quickly followed with two more films, a series on Disney Plus, several stage adaptations and a novel. 

Now the smash hit musical comes to life on the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts stage as High School Musical Jr., a condensed production that manages to include all of the wonderful scenes, dances and songs we have come to love.

Often described as a modern version of “Romeo and Juliet,” the show follows high school junior Gabriella Montez as she transfers to East High School the day after winter break. She tells her new friends about a boy she met at karaoke night on New Year’s Eve. Turns out he’s Troy Bolton, captain of the basketball team. The two rekindle their friendship and find that they share a common interest — the theater. They decide to audition for the school play together.

The decision causes an uproar with their friends from different cliques who try to stop them. As if that weren’t enough, Troy’s father, who is also the basketball coach, is mad at him for not having his ‘head in the game’ and Drama Club President Sharpay Evans and her twin brother Ryan set out to sabotage them as well in their quest to win the lead roles. Will Gabriella and Troy succumb to peer pressure or will they remain steadfast and follow their dreams?

Directed by Courtney Braun Murano, Michael Gualtieri as Troy and Adrienne Porti as Gabriella lead a 23-member talented cast in retelling the story. From the first musical number, “Wildcat Cheer,” with its cartwheels and pom poms, to its grand finale, “We’re All in This Together,” the audience is transported to East High and all of the daily drama that comes with it.

The entire cast is superb with special mention of Ryan Van Nostrand who brings flair to the role of East High’s homeroom and drama teacher Ms. Darbus and steals the show. Van Nostrand also has the pleasure of delivering the best line — “Anything is possible in the theatre, Troy. There’s not a star in heaven you can’t reach, but you have to allow yourself to reach for it.”

Choreography is top notch, especially the big numbers like “Start of Something New” and “Getcha Head in the Game.” Costumes by Liz Honig are impressive, from the basketball team uniforms to Sharpay’s flashy outfits. Large panels with the school’s colors and mascot complete the picture.

The cast has poured their heart and soul into this family-friendly production and it shows in spades. Purchase a pair of pom poms in the lobby to cheer them on and to support this wonderful theater.

Cast (in alphabetical order): Gabby Blum, Logan Borre, Kieran Brown, Mairead Camas, Catherine Diakou, Julianne Donohue. Michael Gualtieri, Brody Hampson, Derek Hough, Max Lamberg, Emmerson Lebrecht, Kaylee Nguyen, Zach Podair, Adrienne Porti, Julie Ricotta, Alia Romanelli, Ryan Romanelli, Savannah Shaw, Amanda Sidman, Ari Spiegel, Ryan Van Nostrand, Emily Ann Weaver and Justin Walsh Weiner

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown presents High School Musical Jr. through May 15. Running time is one hour and 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission. All seats are $25. To order, visit www.smithtownpac.org.

All photos courtesy of Clicks by Courtney, LLC

By Heidi Sutton

Ladies and gentleman — it’s showtime! Dreamworks’ Madagascar: A Musical Adventure is back at the Engeman Theater in Northport in all its glory through May 8. Based on the much-loved 2015 animated comedy by the same name, the show follows the adventures of four best friends from New York’s Central Park Zoo — Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo and Melman the Giraffe.

It’s Marty’s 10th birthday and his friends throw him a surprise party. When it’s time to blow out the candles, the zebra’s only wish is to go to the wild. After the party he bumps into a bunch of plotting penguins who also want to escape from the zoo and go to Antarctica and Marty follows them to Grand Central Station. 

Discovering that their friend has gone, Alex, Melman and Gloria go after him but they and the penguins are soon recaptured by the zookeepers, tranquilized, and placed in crates en route to Kenya. On the boat the penguins escape their crate, take control of the ship and cause the crates to fall overboard and wash up on the shores of Madagascar. 

There they meet the illustrious King Julien, self-proclaimed Lord of the Ring-Tailed Lemurs, and his adviser, Maurice who see Alex as their new protector from the bloodthirsty foosa “who are always bothering us and ripping our limbs off.” 

While the three vegetarians enjoy the lemur’s daily diet of seaweed on a stick, Alex the carnivore starts to get hungry for his favorite food, steak, and begins to look at his best friends in a new light. Will the four friends be rescued in time or will someone end up on Alex’s dinner plate?

Directed by Andrew McCluskey, the show is funny, fast-paced and wildly engaging. All of the actors are excellent with special mention to the scene-stealing Jae Hughes as the narcissistic King Julien. The songs, including “Wild and Free,” “Relax, Be Cool, Chill Out,” are terrific as well. Choreographed by Jillian Sharpe, the big musical numbers — “Steak,“ “Living in Paradise,” and the iconic “I Like to Move It” —  bring the audience to their feet.

Utilizing the set from the theater’s current Main Stage production “A Bronx Tale,” the stage comes alive through the use of lighting, sound effects (like Alex’s roar and the ship’s horn), props and costumes. The standing ovation at the end of last Saturday’s performance was well-deserved. Don’t miss this one.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St. Northport presents Madagascar: A Musical Adventure on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. through May 8 (no show on April 17) with special spring break performances on April 21 and 22 at 11 a.m. All seats are $20. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.