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Jason Furnari

By Heidi Sutton

While Ebenezer Scrooge undergoes a transformation on Theatre Three’s Mainstage in “A Christmas Carol,” Santa’s littlest elf Barnaby experiences a metamorphosis of his own in the theater’s adorable children’s production of “Barnaby Saves Christmas.” The show runs through Dec. 28.

With a clever script by Douglas J. Quattrock and Jeffrey Sanzel with music and lyrics by Quattrock, the holiday production teaches us that Christmas lies within our hearts.

It’s Christmas Eve and the North Pole is a flurry of activity. Barnaby (Eric J. Hughes), the littlest elf in Elf School, is busy making a toy that Santa (Andrew Lenahan) requested — a little stuffed bear with dark blue pants, buckles on his shoes and a bright yellow vest — while desperately trying to fit in. His constant attempts to be helpful fail, as he knocks down presents, bumps into fellow elves Blizzard (Krystal Lawless), Crystal (Nicole Bianco) and Sam (Jason Furnari) and makes a big mess.

When it’s time to deliver the presents to all the good little girls and boys, Barnaby and Blizzard’s fawn, Franklynne (Michelle LaBozzetta), are left behind with Mrs. Claus (Lorrie Maida). “You’ll have to wait to grow a little bit,” explains Sam. Barnaby soon realizes that Santa has left the stuffed bear behind and convinces Franklynne to embark on a journey to find Santa and “save Christmas.”   

On their adventure they crash land on the roof of the house of Sarah (Lorrie Maida) and her nephew Andrew (Andrew Lenahan) 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 Irma (Dana Bush), in order to ruin Christmas. Yes, Barnaby will save the day — as evident in the title — but just wait until you see how!

Directed by Sanzel, the cast perfectly executes this beautiful story. The wonderful songs, accompanied on piano by Quattrock, are the heart of the show, with special mention to “Still With a Ribbon on Top” and “Within Our Hearts.”

Costumes by Teresa Matteson and Toni St. John are colorful and festive and the choreography by Nicole Bianco is fresh and fun. Special effects abound, elevated by the futuristic lighting and, spoiler alert, it even snows in the theater!

With the ultimate message to be the very best that you can be, “Barnaby Saves Christmas” is a must see this holiday season.

Souvenir elf and reindeer dolls will be available for purchase during intermission. Stay after the show for a photo keepsake with Santa Claus on stage if you wish — the $5 donation supports the theater’s scholarship fund — and join the rest of the cast in the lobby for a meet and greet.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents “Barnaby Saves Christmas” through Dec. 28. Children’s Theater continues with “Little Red Riding Hood” from Jan. 18 to Feb. 22 and “Hansel & Gretel” from Feb. 29 to March 21. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe/Theatre Three Productions Inc.

A sensory-friendly performance of 'Cinderella' will be held on July 7. Photo from Theatre Three

By Melissa Arnold

Jason Furnari was 11 years old when he appeared onstage for the first time as part of a school production. Acting immediately became his passion, and he was eager to be in as many shows as possible.

Jason Furnari

One day, Furnari’s school took a field trip to Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. His life would never be the same. “As soon as I saw the stage I knew I had to be up there,” recalled Furnari, now 34. He auditioned for his first Theatre Three show in 2002, and soon became one of the theater’s full-time actors, appearing in local shows and becoming a part of their professional touring troupe. His credits include “The Laramie Project,” “A Christmas Carol,” “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” and “Barnaby Saves Christmas,” to name a few.

In a gesture of gratitude to the theater, Furnari has announced that his Port Jefferson Station based real estate company, EXIT Realty Island Elite, will sponsor Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre and offer complimentary tickets to its sensory-friendly performances. 

“I love acting so much because you get to go onstage for a few hours and tell a story. If people are having a bad day, you can bring a smile to their face,” Furnari said. “Every day when we go onstage, we get to see how much the kids really enjoy live theater. They get a glimmer in their eye, and I wanted as many people as possible to experience that joy.” 

That desire to do good has run through the entirety of Furnari’s career journey. He studied nursing, worked in restaurants, and ultimately launched a successful real estate career, helping families find their dream homes. All the while, he continued to do occasional shows with Theatre Three, hoping for the day he could give back to them, too.

Furnari’s moment finally came during rehearsals for “Barnaby Saves Christmas” this past December. Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director of the theater, was preparing the cast for their upcoming sensory-friendly performance. 

Each Children’s Theatre production has one performance that is specifically tailored to those with sensory processing disorders or other special needs. The shows provide lower volume levels, remove sudden noises, leave the house lights on and are accepting of audience noise and movement. Sensory-friendly shows also offer complimentary social stories, booklets which explain the parts of the theater, its employees, what to expect at a show and more, all accompanied with helpful pictures.

“I was talking to them about the sensory-friendly shows, and I said that I would love for someone to come along and underwrite those performances, so we could just give the tickets away for free and we wouldn’t have to charge,” Sanzel recalled. “Jason pulled me aside and said, ‘I’ll do it.’ He committed in that moment and [the free tickets] began immediately with the next show. “I was stunned but not surprised because Jason is such a profoundly generous person. It was an amazing moment for us.”

In addition to underwriting the sensory-friendly shows, EXIT Realty Island Elite will be the official sponsor for Theatre Three’s children’s performances for the 2019-20 season. 

Jason Furnari, center, in a scene from last year’s ‘Barnaby Saves Christmas’

Vivian Koutrakos, managing director at Theatre Three, noted that, while the theater is a not-for-profit, they still have expenses and need support. “At the theater, we want to treat everyone equally and provide an experience that anyone can enjoy, regardless of their needs,” Koutrakos said. “I’ve known Jason for a long time, and he’s done so well for himself. He always wanted to give back to the theater and make sure it was cared for, even when he didn’t have the means to do so himself.”

Sensory-friendly performances at Theatre Three began in 2016 when the parent of an actor with special needs encouraged Sanzel to pursue it. Since then, he said the feedback from audiences has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The families and organizations that come to the sensory-friendly shows are so appreciative and grateful,” Sanzel said. “And now that we’ve eliminated the costs, it’s an opportunity they’ll always be able to enjoy.”

Theatre Three is located at 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. Upcoming sensory-friendly children’s performances include “Cinderella” on July 7; “A Kooky Spooky Halloween” on Oct. 6; “Barnably Saves Christmas” on Nov. 24; “Little Red Riding Hood” on Jan. 19, 2020; “Hansel and Gretel” on March 8, 2020; “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” on April 19, 2020; and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” on May 31, 2020. All shows begin at 11 a.m. and tickets are free. 

For more information or to make a reservation, please call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Eric Hughes and Sari Feldman star in 'Barnaby Saves Christmas'. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

In 2003 Douglas Quattrock and Jeffrey Sanzel sat down and wrote an adorable holiday story for children about a little elf and a tiny reindeer who show us that “Christmas lies within our hearts.” Celebrating its 13th anniversary this year, Theatre Three’s production of “Barnaby Saves Christmas” has become a beloved tradition in Port Jefferson and one that is looked forward to each December.

The cast of ‘Barnaby Saves Christmas’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
The cast of ‘Barnaby Saves Christmas’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Under the direction of Sanzel, nine adult actors whisk the audience away to the North Pole and into the home of Santa and Mrs. Claus. It’s the night before Christmas and Santa, his elves and reindeer are on their way to deliver presents to all the children. When the littlest elf Barnaby realizes that Santa has left behind a little stuffed bear, he convinces the tiniest reindeer Franklynne to find Santa and “save Christmas.” Along the way they bump into an evil villain named S. B. Dombulbury who, with his partner in crime Irmagarde, is trying to ruin Christmas for everyone, and meet a Jewish family and learn all about the Festival of Lights.

Newcomer Eric Hughes tackles the role of Barnaby with boundless energy and a couple of back flips too! Accompanied on piano by Quattrock, who also wrote all of the music and lyrics, Hughes’ solo, “Still With a Ribbon on Top” is terrific as is his performance in “My Big Shot” in the second act. Sari Feldman, who also choreographs the numbers, returns as Franklynne, the little reindeer who is afraid of flying, specifically the landing part. The scene where Barnaby helps Franklynne perfect her landing skills, “I’m Gonna Fly Now,” is the highlight of the show.

Jason Furnari, who originated the role of Barnaby 13 years ago, and Phyllis March play the roles of Santa and Mrs. Claus this year and also double as the Jewish aunt Sarah and nephew Andrew, who seems to have very selective hearing. Furnari’s solo ”Within Our Hearts” is heartfelt and March’s rendition of “Miracles” is beautiful.

From left,  Dylan Robert Poulos, Dana Bush, Steven Uihlein and Jessica Contino in a scene from ‘Barnaby Saves Christmas’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.
From left, Dylan Robert Poulos, Dana Bush, Steven Uihlein and Jessica Contino in a scene from ‘Barnaby Saves Christmas’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Emily Gates plays Sam the head elf who is trying to stay on schedule and keep track of elves Crystal (Jessica Contino) and Blizzard (Dylan Robert Poulos). Their interactions are the funniest moments in the show.

Steven Uihlein plays S.B. (Spoiled Brat) Dombulbury, the antagonist in the show. “I’m just misunderstood,” he laments as he and Irmagarde (Dana Bush) stuff the chimneys with coal so he can steal all the presents. When his plan is uncovered, the cast chases him through the audience, much to the delight of the children. Will Barnaby and Franklynne stop S.B. Dombulbury from “stealing Christmas”? Will they learn the true meaning of Christmas?

If you haven’t already done so, make “Barnaby Saves Christmas” a holiday tradition with your family. You’ll be glad you did. Souvenir elves and reindeer will be available for purchase during intermission. Stay after the show for a photo with Santa Claus on stage if you wish — the $5 fee goes to support the theater’s scholarship fund — and meet the rest of the cast in the lobby.

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main Street in Port Jefferson, will present “Barnaby Saves Christmas” on Dec. 10, 17, 28, 29 and 30 with a special Christmas Eve performance on Dec. 24. All performances begin at 11 a.m. Running time is 1½ hours. Recommended for ages 3 and up. Up next is a production of “The Three Little Pigs” from Jan. 21 to Feb. 25 and “Raggedy Ann & Andy” from March 4 to 25. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.