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Linda May

By Heidi Sutton

“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.” And so begins one of the most popular, most-adapted and most relevant holiday tales ever written, Charles Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol. Published on Dec. 19, 1843, the initial print run of 6,000 copies sold out by Christmas Eve. More than 178 years later, it lives on as a story of redemption and hope and serves as a reminder to keep the spirit of Christmas in our hearts all year round. 

In the book’s foreword, Dickens writes:

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Now the pages of the Dickensian story come to life once again as Theatre Three in Port Jefferson presents its 38th annual production of A Christmas Carol. The curtain went up this past Saturday to a full house.

While preparations are still underway to transform the seaport village back to the Victorian era for its 26th annual Charles Dickens Festival on Dec 3 and 4, Theatre Three is already dressed head to toe for the holidays and carolers entertain theatergoers before the show, setting the  tone for what is to come.

Adapted for the stage by Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel, A Christmas Carol tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Sanzel), a successful business man who has chosen money over everything else and has become bitter, lonely and stingy over the years, especially around the holidays. “I have devoted my life to the cultivation of business,” he explains.

We first meet the miserly curmudgeon on Christmas Eve, exactly seven years after the death of his business partner Jacob Marley (Stephen T. Wangner). Caught in a particulary bad mood, we witness him chase carolers from his office, turn away the needy and a pair of charity workers. He snaps at his underappreciated and underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit (Douglas J. Quattrock) and his chipper nephew Fred Halliwell (Sean Amato) the sole child of Scrooge’s deceased sister, Fan, who has dropped by to invite him for dinner. “Keep Christmas in your own way and I will keep it in mine,” he warns his nephew before kicking him out.

That evening Scrooge is visited by Marley’s tormented ghost who offers him one last chance at redemption. Draped in the chains he has forged in life, Marley tells Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits — the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.

The Ghost of Christmas Past (Danielle Pafundi) appears soon after, all aglow in a white dress, and takes Scrooge to Wellington House, the boarding school he attended as a young boy alone; we meet his adored sister Fan and his apprenticeship at Fezziwig’s (played by Scott Hofer), where the audience is introduced to Scrooge’s one and only love, Belle. This is also where he meets Marley for the first time and where his choices take him down a dark path.

The Ghost of Christmas Present (Scott Hofer) takes Scrooge to meet Bob Cratchit’s family where he learns about Tiny Tim’s failing health and to a dinner party hosted by his nephew where guests play a fun game of Yes or No. 

In one of the most anticipated and frightful scenes, a towering Ghost of Christmas Future (operated by Sean Amato) shows Scrooge the shadows of what is yet to come, including  at trip to the cemetery to see his headstone, and how the people in his life are affected after his death, including a disturbing scene where Scrooge’s housekeeper Mrs. Dilber (Ginger Dalton) attempts to profit from his demise. It is just what Scrooge needs to shake him to the core. In the end, he learns that “life is not about facts and figures. It’s about joy and family and Christmas.”

Directed by Sanzel, the entire production is flawless and the talented cast (playing multiple roles) is excellent. As Scrooge, Sanzel is at his finest in a role he has played almost 1500 times. This is most evident when the Ghost of Christmas Past takes his character to one of Fezziwig’s famous holiday parties. While otherwise slightly hunched over with a slow walk, Sanzel suddenly jumps into the role of a younger Scrooge and  takes part in a Wassail dance (choreographed by Sari Feldman) with boundless energy.

Although in its 38th year, the show is always evolving, remaining fresh and exciting while maintaining its timelessness and important message. The Victorian set, costumes and creative lighting tie it all together to create a magical evening at the theater.

Get your ticket to see this wonderful production “before you dot another ‘i'” and make it part of your holiday traditions. It will make your heart full.

Stay after the show for a photo keepsake with Scrooge. The $5 fee goes to support the theater’s scholarship fund.

The Cast: Sean Amato, Ava Andrejko, Ginger Dalton, Ellie Dunn, Alexa Eichinger, Samantha Fierro, Griffin Fleming, Julie Friedman, Skye Greenberg, Kathleen Han, Scott Hofer, Patrick Hutchinson, Linda May, Brooke Morrison, Danielle Pafundi, Douglas J. Quattrock, Michaela Reis, Dylan Paige Rumble, Vivian Leigh Rumble, Jeffrey Sanzel, Jennifer Salvia, Steven Uihlein,  Addyson Urso, Hannah Waller, Stephen T. Wangner and Cassidy Worrell.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol through Dec. 30. Tickets are $20 per person in November, and $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, and $20 children ages 5 and up in December. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Jeffrey Sanzel in a scene from 'Every Brilliant Thing.' Photo by Steve Ayle/Showbizshots.com

By Heidi Sutton

You’re seven years old. Your mother is in the hospital. Your father said she’s “done something stupid.”

Thus begins the remarkable one-man play, Every Brilliant Thing. Written by Duncan MacMillan with Jonny Donahoe, the story starts in 1973 as a young boy finds out his mother has attempted suicide. In response, he begins to make a list of everything brilliant about the world, everything worth living for — 1. Ice cream, 2. Water fights, 3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV, 4. The color yellow, 5. Things with stripes. When his mother returns from the hospital, he leaves the list on her pillow in hopes it will help her heal. She corrects his spelling and gives it back to him. 

Jeffrey Sanzel in a scene from ‘Every Brilliant Thing.’ Photo by Steve Ayle/Showbizshots.com

After his mother’s second suicide attempt ten years later, he brings the list out again and continues to add to it until it takes a life of its own. He leaves post-its all over the house in another attempt to reach out to her, to show her that life is truly worth living. When he falls in love with his future wife Sam, the list becomes a gift for her. When he struggles with his own depression, he rediscovers the list one final time until it reaches one million and helps him heal.

Now, in association with Response Crisis Center, the show heads to Theatre Three’s Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the Second Stage for its Long Island premiere. Under the direction of Linda May, the show stars Theatre Three’s Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel in an incredible performance.

The cabaret-style show recruits members of the audience to join Sanzel on stage to tell the story — the veterinarian who put his childhood dog Bark Twain to sleep — the character’s first experience with death; the father who prefers music over talking; and girlfriend Sam, who he meets in college.

Others participate from their seats  — his guidance counselor Mrs. Patterson, his favorite college professor — people who have made a profound difference in his life. Still others, when prompted, call out brilliant things from his growing list — 23. Mighty Mouse, 24. Spaghetti with meatballs, 25. Wearing a cape, 317. Stars Wars, 319. Laughing so hard you shoot milk out of your nose, 731. hammocks, 993. Having dessert as your main course.

Jeffrey Sanzel in a scene from ‘Every Brilliant Thing.’ Photo by Steve Ayle/Showbizshots.com

Sanzel’s performance is, for lack of a more fitting word, brilliant. His ability to improvise is impressive and his presentation is flawless. The audience, which he draws into the story, hangs on his every word from start to finish. The result is an intimate, funny, sad, emotional, heart-warming and cathartic experience that ends much too soon. 

While he works the room, Sanzel pauses often to addresses the audience about suicide prevention and depression:

“It’s important to talk about things — particulary things that are hardest to talk about.”

“It is common for children of suicides to blame themselves. It’s natural.”

“In order to live in the present we have to imagine a future that’s better than our past — because that’s what hope is.” 

And the final — “I have some advice for anyone contemplating suicide. It’s really simple advice. Don’t do it — things get better. They might not always get brilliant, but they get better.”

1092. Conversation, 2000. Coffee, 2005. Vinyl records, 9995. Falling in love, One Million. Listening to a record for the first time, turning it over in your hands, placing the needle down … and then sitting and listening while reading through the sleeve notes.

The list (and show) will change the way you see the world. Don’t miss this one.

Photo from Response Crisis Center

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents Every Brilliant Thing every Sunday at 3 p.m. through Aug. 28. Running time is one hour with no intermission. All seats are $20 with 50% of the proceeds benefitting the Response Crisis Center. Staff members from the Center will be at each performance to answer questions and provide information. Audiences are encouraged to fill out their own “brilliant things” on provided Post-It notes in the lobby, which will be on display throughout the show’s run. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

CONTENT WARNING: Although the play balances the struggles of life while celebrating all that is “truly brilliant” in living each day, Every Brilliant Thing contains descriptions of depression, self-harm, and suicide. It is recommended that only audience members 14 and older attend. If you or somebody you know is struggling, call Response 24/7 at 631-751-7500 or the National Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Jeffrey Sanzel in 'Every Brilliant Thing'

By Melissa Arnold

On any given day here in America, roughly 130 people die by suicide. Countless more are actively struggling with poor self-esteem, depression or self-harm. If it’s not you, then it’s likely someone you know and love. No one is immune. One bright spot: It’s also becoming more common to talk openly about mental health. More people are going to therapy or reaching out for help in other ways.

This summer, Theatre Three in Port Jefferson will present eight performances of an intimate, moving and funny one-man play called Every Brilliant Thing. The protagonist, a middle-aged man played by Jeffrey Sanzel, takes the audience along as he recalls his mother’s mental illness and multiple attempts at suicide, along with their impact on his own wellbeing.

Audience participation is a large part of ‘Every Brilliant Thing.’

What’s funny about that? Well, after his mother’s first attempt when he was seven years old, the young narrator sets out to make a list of everything in life that’s brilliant – like eating ice cream, or peeing in the ocean without getting caught. Some items on the list come with silly memories that put the honest, pure heart of a little kid on full display. And as he grows, so does the list. The hour-long show is equal parts heartbreaking and uplifting.

Sanzel, the theater’s executive artistic director, said he first discovered the show thanks to lighting director Robert Henderson.

“Robert attended the Utah Shakespeare Festival several years ago and bought the script [for this show] for me to read, just because he thought I’d enjoy it,” Sanzel recalled. “I thought it was a beautiful piece of writing, though I didn’t intend to do a production of it.”

Some time later, he bought a second copy of the script as a gift to his friend, director and actor Linda May.

“When I read the show, I said to Jeffrey, ‘Not only do I love this, but I think we need to do it, and we should do it together.’ Everything came together very quickly from there, and I feel like it was meant to be,” May said.

Every Brilliant Thing was originally set to open in July 2020, only to be tabled by the pandemic. May said the extra time has allowed them to delve much deeper into the show and its character.

Jeffrey Sanzel stars in the one-man show, ‘Every Brilliant Thing,’ on Theatre Three’s Second Stage through Aug. 28. Photo by Steven Uihlein/Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

“Jeffrey is very decisive and businesslike as a director, but I’ve had the opportunity to see a more vulnerable side of him as an actor,” she said. “This unnamed narrator really divulges personal parts of his life, and I knew that Jeffrey could bring that sensitivity and communicate how important it is to bring the issue of suicide into the open, without shame.” 

The show relies on some audience participation, with showgoers making brief appearances as significant people in the narrator’s memories — his father, a counselor, a young woman — and reading items from “the list” from Post-It notes they’re given on arrival. The resulting dynamic is personal and emotional, and each performance will have its own unique variations.

“I have to admit that audience participation isn’t my favorite thing, but it’s brilliantly woven into the fabric of the piece,” Sanzel said. “It’s very funny and balances out the darker elements, while remaining sensitive and respectful of the topic … In fact, this is probably the best play I’ve ever read on the subject of depression. It’s a common topic of discussion in theater, but this was captured in such a unique way.”

Theatre Three has partnered with Response Crisis Center of Long Island for this production. Founded in 1971 by volunteers after a suicide attempt at Stony Brook University, the center is now a 24/7 local hotline and chat service for people in crisis. They also function as a backup center for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, taking more than 5,000 additional calls, chats and texts from them each month.

“We want to give people the support they need and help them to stay safe. It’s hard to problem solve during a crisis situation — you can get a sort of tunnel vision and feel helpless. Talking to someone can help create distance from those feelings,” said Meryl Cassidy, the center’s executive director. “There’s tremendous relief that comes in sharing your story, having someone take the time to listen and help come up with a plan for safety.”

Sanzel approached Cassidy about using the performance to lessen stigma and shine a light on local resources.

Cassidy said that it was important to vet the play first to ensure its message was appropriate and accurate. While she had never heard of the play before, it was well-known to colleagues at the American Association of Suicidology, who were thrilled to endorse the production.

“People are afraid to say the word suicide or disclose thoughts of suicide, both because of stigma and fear of repercussions. But open and honest conversation about suicide saves lives — it’s so important to be able to speak frankly about what you’re feeling and know there are people you can talk to,” Cassidy said. 

Half of all gross ticket sales will directly benefit Response Crisis Center. Staff members from the center will be at each performance to answer questions, provide information and offer a listening ear. 

Audiences are encouraged to fill out their own “brilliant things” on provided Post-It notes, which will be on display throughout the show’s run — a constantly growing collection of reasons why life is worth living.

“It’s not only a lovely hour of theater — funny, sweet and poignant — but there’s something to take away from this show, and that’s being able to see people in crisis in a different way, without judgment,” May said. “If people walk away feeling more compassionate or less judgmental, or if someone finds the courage to reach out for help, then it’s a success.”

Every Brilliant Thing will run at 3 p.m. on Sundays from July 10 through Aug. 28 at Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson. Performances are held downstairs on the second stage. Tickets are $20. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com. Learn more about Response Crisis Center by visiting www.responsecrisiscenter.org. 

Note: Although the play balances the struggles of life while celebrating all that is “truly brilliant” in living each day, Every Brilliant Thing contains descriptions of depression, self-harm, and suicide. The show briefly describes attempted suicides and death by suicide. The show is recommended for ages 14 and up, with your own comfort level in mind. 

If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available 24/7 at 631-751-7500 or the National Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

Mention Steel Magnolias to anyone and the overwhelming response is, “Oh, I love that show!” It’s easy to see how this dramedy continues to be a fan favorite and Theatre Three’s production serves up an inviting dose of southern charm.

Playwright Robert Harling wrote this play as a tribute to his diabetic sister who died way too soon from kidney failure. She had been warned by doctors that childbirth could be dangerous to her health, but she ignored all warnings and gave birth, then died before her son reached school age. Harling first recounted this event in a short story as a catharsis, then adapted it into the play and eventually into the highly successful film.

To make this play shine, just the right actresses must be cast in these demanding roles so director Mary Powers dipped into the treasure trove of Theatre Three regulars to fill some of these roles. This resulted in a gifted ensemble that brings just the right mix of pathos and comedic timing.

Steel Magnolias brims with witty one-liners as it navigates through two years in the lives of six tightly-knit small-town women who share life’s ups and downs together. Set in the fictional Parish of Chinquapin, Louisiana, at flamboyant Truvy’s in-home beauty parlor, this shop doubles as the meeting place for the women of this town.

Truvy (Stephanie Moreau) has just hired shy Annelle, a beauty school graduate, as her assistant. Truvy’s first lesson is, “There is no such thing as natural beauty. Remember that or we’re out of a job.” Moreau’s Truvy exudes sunshine even when offering direction and support to Annelle played by Christine N. Boehm who delivers a dynamic performance as the insecure new kid in town who transforms into a spiritual and secure presence.

It is Shelby’s wedding day and she wants her hair styled in the fashion of Grace Kelly. Michelle LaBozzetta’s Shelby is as optimistic and bubbly as her favorite color pink, or as she likes to call it “blush and bashful,” but with a mind as determined and strong as steel. Nothing will stand in her way of accomplishing her deepest desire of becoming a mother, despite the warnings of her doctor that childbirth could be fatal.

Clairee, the widow of the former mayor, is played with gusto by Marci Bing. Clairee thrives on town gossip at the salon and she has some of the wittiest lines in the show like, “The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.” That line can only be topped by her declaration, “If you can’t say anything nice about anybody, come sit by me.” Bing is a joy as the outspoken Clairee who flings quips into the air letting them land where they may.

Truvy has given Annelle the task of styling the hair of M’Lynn, the mother of the bride. Linda May’s M’Lynn has her comedic moments like when describing Shelby’s choices for church décor declaring, “That sanctuary looks like it’s been hosed down with Pepto Bismol.” M’Lynn is the voice of reason but gets frustrated by her daughter’s reckless choices. May ultimately tears us apart with her motherly heartbreaking monologue.

Making a booming entrance is Ginger Dalton as Ouiser, the town curmudgeon. From the start, she is ranting, at first over Shelby’s father who has been shooting at birds and has stripped the blossoms from their shared magnolia tree. Dalton is hilarious with one liners like, “I’m not crazy! I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years.”

These six indomitable magnolias show they have the steel that will get them through anything.

Jason Allyn’s costumes give definition to the characters from Truvy’s glitzy smocks to Shelby’s signature pinks to Ouiser’s practical denim. He illuminates the Christmas scene with outfits of reds, greens, whites and sparkles. Lindsay DeFranco’s wig design is reminiscent of 80’s big hair piled high and teased or waste length.

Randall Parsons conveys a nostalgic 1980’s feel to Truvy’s beauty salon with its mint green backdrop and thick white moldings. The three entrances make it easy for the actresses to maneuver effortlessly around the set and creates smooth transitions from one scene into the next. James Taffurelli’s properties compliment Parsons’ set with sheer curtains, beauty salon chairs strategically placed center stage and Truvy’s signature sparkles.

Powers confided that Steel Magnolias was originally set for the spring of 2020 but never opened when the world shut down due to COVID. Luckily, the original cast was able to reunite for this production. Maybe that’s why we believe the poignant friendships of these memorable women.

Theater Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents Steel Magnolias through May 7. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

Do you have close-knit forever friends applauding your successes as well as offering encouragement during challenging times? If your answer is yes, then you are truly lucky to have such treasures in your life. The Marvelous Wonderettes, a feel good musical romp back to the 50’s and 60’s now playing at Theatre Three, follows four such friends as they navigate life’s often unpredictable twists and turns together.

Playwright Roger Bean was approached by the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre to write a small-scale musical for their black box space. With constrictions such as little room backstage, Bean wrote the one-act version of The Marvelous Wonderettes produced in 1999. He got the inspiration for the musical from a conversation with his mother about when she was a high school song leader and part of a singing trio. Bean also credits his mother for instilling in him a love of 50’s and 60’s music. 

That Milwaukee production was so successful that the theatre revived it in 2001, this time as a full-scale two-act musical. Then came the Los Angeles production in 2006 followed by a smash Off-Broadway run in 2008 with an Off-Broadway revival in 2016.

It’s prom night, 1958, at Springfield High School and song leaders, Betty Jean (Cassidy Rose O’Brien), Cindy-Lou (Noelle McLeer), Missy (Kate Keating) and Suzy (Ashley Brooke) in frilly crinoline dresses, wrist corsages and teased up hair burst onstage delivering a bouncy rendition of “Mr. Sandman” followed by “Lollipop” and segue into “Sugartime.” When Cindy-Lou steals the microphone and belts out Betty Jean’s signature song “Alleghany Moon,” slapstick antics of trying to upstage each other ensue thus highlighting their competitive natures and the hilarious tone of the show.

The girls explain to the crowd that they are last minute stand-ins for the evening’s entertainment. It seems the boys’ glee club lost the gig after lead singer Billy Ray Patton was suspended for smoking behind the girls locker room. They go on to announce the theme for this year’s prom, “Marvelous Dreams,” and break into a rapturous “All I Have to Do Is Dream” followed by “Dream Lover.”

Each girl in this ensemble is as unique as the individual colors they wear with Betty Jean and her all-American looks in lime green, the bespectacled and comedic Missy in orange, ditzy gum chewer Suzy in blue and self-centered Cindy-Lou in pink.

A nice choice of playwright Bean was to set Act II ten years later reuniting the girls at their 1968 class reunion. This act is brimming with pop 60’s tunes. The crinoline has now been replaced by flowing robes trimmed with feathers, knee high white go-go boots and hoop earrings. A lot has changed for each girl, but they come together once more in harmony realizing they have a bond that stands the test of time.

All four of these actresses deliver powerhouse performances with dynamic acting, rich voices and lithe dancing. Keating’s Missy is passionate as she reveals her crush in “Secret Love” and then gives a standout version of “Mr. Lee” replete with impressive, sustained notes that receive spirited applause from the audience. 

Brooke’s Suzy punctuates Act I with an exuberant “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” and then delivers an intense “Maybe I Know” in Act Two. O’Brien’s Betty Jean explodes in a heart-wrenching “You Don’t Own Me” followed by “That’s When the Tears Start” and McLeer’s Cindy-Lou sends chills in “Son of a Preacher Man” into “Leader of the Pack.”

It must be noted there is some humorous audience participation that puts the crowd right in the center of all the action.

Linda May’s direction keeps the festivities lively. She has created an ensemble that holds on to the audience from their first effervescent entrance until their final bow. Sari Feldman’s stylized choreography is reminiscent of the best girl groups of that era. Costumes by Ronald Green III are a cornucopia of colors and fabrics. Green’s attention to detail accentuates the 50’s and 60’s flavor of the show.

The band under the musical direction of Cesar Flores is built into the backdrop so they are onstage for the entire show keeping the energy high. Tim Haggerty’s sound design infuses exhilaration to each number.

Scenic design by Randall Parsons offers a buoyancy even before the show begins with a pink backdrop and sparkling fringe bordering the band shell. Lighting design by Robert W. Henderson, Jr. generates vibrancy to songs like “Lollipop” and “Wedding Bell Blues” as well as mood lighting with “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” and “That’s When the Tears Start.” The disco ball swirling blue spots around the theater is a nice touch to close Act I. Heather Rose Kuhn’s properties joins in the fun with giant lollipops, a hanging crescent moon and bubbles.

Theatre Three’s The Marvelous Wonderettes is such a fast-paced delight that at the end you can’t believe it’s over already. See it with your best friends — you’ll be glad you did!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents The Marvelous Wonderettes through March 26. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 and up. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com. 

 

By Heidi Sutton

The holidays have arrived at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson with the 37th annual production of A Christmas Carol. In the lobby the garland is hung and the tree is trimmed and in the Mainstage theater the Victorian London set awaits the wonderful imagination of Charles Dickens and the beloved retelling of a classic tale of redemption.

Based on Dickens’ 1843 novella of the same name, A Christmas Carol introduces the audience to Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter and miserly man who has chosen “the world of business” over love, friendships and community. We first meet Scrooge “of all the good days of the year” on Christmas Eve, exactly 7 years since his business partner Jacob Marley died, as he snaps at his clerk Bob Cratchit, dismisses his nephew Fred Halliwell and chases carolers away. We see Want in the corner, a specter who will haunt Scrooge the entire show.

Later that evening Scrooge is visited by Marley’s ghost who offers him a precious gift — one last chance at redemption. Draped in the heavy chains he has forged in life, Marley warns Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits — the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future – in an attempt to save his immortal soul.

In one of the most important parts of the show, the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge “the shadows of things that have been” — a series of events that led him to become the man he is today — from his mother dying at childbirth; his time at Wellington House, the boarding school where he spent many Christmases alone as a boy; his loving relationship with his sister Fan and his apprenticeship with the kind-hearted Fezziwig where he proposes to his first and only love, Belle.

The shadows also reveal the exact moment when he chooses to go into a business partnership with Marley (“and so it began”) and is overtaken by greed; when Belle walks out of his life; how he turns on Fezziwig; and the death of Fan.

The cheeky Ghost of Christmas Present arrives to teach Scrooge the joys of mankind. The first stop is Bob Cratchit’s home where he finds out about Tiny Tim’s failing health and that Cratchit’s oldest daughter works long hours in the workhouses to help the family pay their bills. Scrooge’s concern is evident. The mood lightens at a dinner party hosted by his nephew where the guests mock him in spirit during a game and compare him to a bear.

A daunting 14-foot Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge the shadows of what is yet to come, including his own death and how it affects those he has wronged. The frightening notion is exactly what the miser needs to turn his life around. His transformation on Christmas Day, especially in his interaction with Want, is a joy to watch. In the end, Scrooge discovers that old Fezziwig was right all along and that love is the only thing in life worth having.

Adapted for the stage by Theatre Three’s Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel, the show evolves and changes every year, keeping it fresh and exciting. This year the show features a revised underscoring created by musical director Brad Frey, slight changes to the opening and closing, a shivaree, and due to COVID regulations, Tiny Tim is a puppet, designed by gifted puppet designer Austin Michael Costello. 

The entire cast is excellent, with many playing multiple roles. Sanzel, who has played the role of Scrooge in over 1400 performances, is fascinating to watch. Slightly hunched over, his character walks slowly with a cane and eases into a chair with a groan. But when the Ghost of Christmas Past brings him to Fezziwig’s Christmas Party, he jumps out of the shadows with a straight back and becomes a young man again dancing the night away with Belle. 

Special mention must also be made of Douglas J. Quattrock in the role of Scrooge’s loyal clerk Bob Cratchitt (a role he has played over 750 times) whose love for his family and the holidays is unconditional. His character’s attempt to be strong for his family while his child is very sick tugs at the heartstrings.

The Victorian set, designed by Randall Parsons, is most impressive with fireplaces that glow, a four-poster bed that tucks away neatly into the wall when the set transforms to the London streets, a church with stained glass windows, and a living home decked out for the holidays. The period costumes, also designed by Parsons, are perfectly on point and the lighting and sound design by Robert W. Henderson Jr. is truly magical, a word that also best describes the entire production.

Sanzel says it best in his director’s notes.“A Christmas Carol is a beautiful reminder that we are members of a community and that our responsibilities go beyond ourselves. Scrooge’s pledge to Tiny Tim’s future shows his ability to help those in his life; his embrace of the specter of Want shows his commitment to the world entire. Dickens’ message is one not just for Christmas but for always.”

Don’t miss this beautiful show.

Arrive early and be treated to a selection of Christmas carols by the actors on the Second Stage on the lower level and stay after for a Polaroid photo with Scrooge for $5 to support the theater’s scholarship fund or take one with your cellphone at no charge. 

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents A Christmas Carol through Dec. 26. A special abridged sensory-sensitive performance will be held on Nov. 28 at 11 a.m. Running time is 2 hours with one intermission. Tickets are $20 each in November; $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12 in December. For more information or to order tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Heidi Sutton

Excitement was in the air as Theatre Three celebrated its reopening on July 10 with The Adventures of Peter Rabbit. Addressing the audience, director Jeffrey Sanzel said, “This is our very first theater performance since March 15 of last year. This is also our favorite children’s show of all time and I know you’re going to like it.” 

Well, that was an understatement.

For the next hour and 20 minutes the young theatergoers were treated to the mischievous adventures of Peter Rabbit and his cousin Benjamin Bunny … and loved every minute of it. 

Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and the late Brent Erlanson, the original musical is loosely based on one of the best-selling books of all time, The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, and features all of the beloved characters in the story. The eight adult cast members know their target audience well and keep them well entertained. 

Cast:

Peter Rabbit: Eric J. Hughes

Benjamin Bunny: Steven Uihlein

Mrs. Rabbit: Elizabeth Ladd

Flopsy: Meg Bush

Mopsy: Alyssa Montes

Cotton-Tail: Heather Rose Kuhn

Mr. McGregor: Darren Clayton

Mrs. Mcgregor: Linda May

The audience is whisked away to the countryside home of Mrs. Rabbit and her four bunnies who live next to Mr. and Mrs. McGregor. While Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail listen to their mother by staying inside and doing their chores, Peter and Benjamin spend the day sneaking into Mr. McGregor’s garden to satisfy their insatiable appetite for lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and string beans. The many trips to the garden patch eventually wear down the farmer’s patience, resulting in a great chase with a narrow escape.

The show is adorable on so many levels. Like two peas in a pod, Peter and Benjamin produce the most laughs with their antics and Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail spend most of their time looking for their wayward brother. And for some strange reason, the audience will walk away with a craving for bread and milk and blackberries.

The show is also a lesson in ingenuity. Trapdoors on stage become rabbit holes used by Peter and Benjamin to hide. An attempt to reclaim Peter’s socks and shoes and jacket and hat from a scarecrow in the garden turns into a scene from Mission Impossible complete with perilous stunts and spotlights. And when Peter retells the great chase to his family, the entire scene is reenacted in slow motion — a most spectacular feat.

Audience interaction is a big part of the show as the actors spend as much time in the aisles of the theater as on stage. When searching for Peter and Benjamin, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail run around asking the children if they’ve seen them (“They’re right behind you!”).  When Benjamin Bunny tried to jump onto the stage over and over again during last Saturday’s performance, the children called out words of encouragement (“You can do it Benjamin!). He took the stairs. 

With excellent choreography by Nicole Bianco, the musical numbers, accompanied on piano by Doug Quattrock, are catchy and fun, with special mention to “One More Time Around,”  “Run, Peter, Run!” and the hip hop number, “Peter’s Socks.” The final number incorporates all of the songs in a super mega-mix extravaganza.

Best suited for ages 3 to 8, The Adventures of Peter Rabbit is the perfect choice to celebrate Theatre Three’s reopening and the return of live theater. Your kids will love it.

Souvenir bunnies in various colors will be sold before the show and during intermission for $5 (proceeds will help maintain the historic building) and the entire cast is in the lobby after the show for a meet-and-greet.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents The Adventures of Peter Rabbit on Saturdays at 11 a.m. through Aug. 14. Children’s theater continues with A Kooky Spooky Halloween from Oct. 9 to 30 and Barnaby Saves Christmas from Nov. 20 to Dec. 26. All seats are $10. To order, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Heidi Sutton

Every now and then a show comes along that touches your heart and soul so deeply that you walk away at the end promising yourself to do better, be nicer, be kinder. Such is the case with Theatre Three’s latest offering, a revival of Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Driving Miss Daisy.” Directed by Linda May, the show opened last Saturday night and runs through Feb. 1. 

Part of the playwright’s “Atlanta Trilogy,” the storyline was inspired by Uhry’s father, grandmother Lena and Lena’s chauffeur of 25 years and explores the complexity of family, friendships and aging as well as racial and religious tensions in the South over the years.

Set in Atlanta from 1948 to 1973, it follows the lives of Daisy Werthan, a wealthy Jewish widow and retired fifth-grade teacher; her businessman son Boolie; and Daisy’s driver, Hoke Colburn. 

The 72-year-old Daisy has crashed her new car, and her son has decided she should no longer drive. Stubborn and proud (“It was the car’s fault!”), Daisy is not ready to give up her independence; but Boolie prevails and hires Hoke, a black man in his 60s who most recently drove for a Jewish judge. At first, Daisy is not too happy with the arrangement and refuses to even acknowledge Hoke. Over time, however, the two form an unbreakable bond.

Set in a series of short scenes, fans of either the original 1987 play or the 1989 Academy Award-winning film version of “Driving Miss Daisy” will absolutely love what Linda May has created. All of the wonderful moments are there, including the first time Daisy lets Hoke drive her to the Piggly Wiggly and Hoke excitedly calls Boolie to tell him, “I just drove your mama to the market. Only took me six days. Same time it took the Lord to make the world!” and when Daisy accuses Hoke of stealing … a 33-cent can of salmon.

The audience tags along on a visit to the cemetery to visit Daisy’s late husband’s grave and Hoke reveals he can’t read; Christmas at Boolie’s where Daisy gives Hoke a book to help him practice his writing; and on a road trip to Mobile, Alabama to visit relatives, where Hoke pulls over “to make water” against his passenger’s wishes and has to remind Daisy that “colored can’t use the toilet at any service station.”

One of the most emotional scenes is when the temple to which Hoke is driving Daisy is bombed. “Who would do that?” questions Daisy in a state of disbelief. “It’s always the same ones,” answers Hoke sadly and recounts the time his best friend’s father was lynched. 

May has assembled the ultimate dream team to portray this delicate drama. Phyllis March (“Nunsense,” “Where There’s a Will”) plays the opinionated and unfiltered Daisy who softens ever so slightly as the years pass and grows to love and appreciate Hoke and all he does for her. March’s performance is pure perfection, with special mention to the scene where Daisy suffers a memory loss and believes she is still a fifth-grade teacher. Emotional and raw, the scene takes the audience’s breath away. 

In a role his father played on the same stage 25 years ago, Antoine Jones (“Art,” “Festival of One Act Plays”) is absolutely magnificent as the even-tempered Hoke who puts up with the cantankerous Daisy. “Did you have the air-conditioning checked? I told you to have the air-conditioning checked,” says Daisy. “I don’t know what for. You never allow me to turn it on,” is Hoke’s exasperated reply.

Jones brings out the quiet dignity of a man who has dealt with racial discrimination his whole life but sees hope for the future in his daughter. We see Hoke’s relationship gradually evolve with Daisy from employee/employer to best friends. The final scene in the nursing home will have you reaching for the tissues. Antoine, your father would be so proud.

Steve Ayle (“The Addams Family,” “12 Angry Men,” “Art”) is wonderful in the role of Boolie, the dutiful son who puts up with his mother’s prickly personality, especially when she is insulting Boolie’s wife, Florene, who is there in spirit. “You’re a doodle, Mama!” says Boolie often in an attempt to diffuse the situation. Ayle’s facial expressions are spot on in this comedic role.

Incredibly, as the play progresses the actors get older right before our very eyes. The hair goes gray, then white; the walk slows down to a shuffle and it takes a bit longer to get out of a chair. The transformation is extraordinary.

Funny, sad, powerful, moving and brilliantly executed, Theatre Three’s “Driving Miss Daisy” is a wonderful way to kick off the theater’s 50th year. The swift and unanimous standing ovation on opening night was most deserved. Don’t miss this one.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents “Driving Miss Daisy” through Feb. 1. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 students and $20 for children ages 5 to 12. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.org.

Photos by Brian Hoerger and Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

tale of redemption, an epic battle of good and evil, teen romance, the bonds of friendship — these topics and more will be explored as Theatre Three celebrates 50 years of “Broadway on Main Street” with a revival of the six most popular shows in the theater’s history.

The season opens with a thrilling and chilling adaption of “Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical” by Paul Hadobas with book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and music by Frank Wildhorn featuring additional songs like “I Need to Know” and additional material which were cut from the original Broadway show.

Jeffrey Sanzel, who directed the theater’s 2005 production, returns to the helm to create a beautifully haunting show that is not to be missed.

Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 gothic novella, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” the classic story follows Dr. Henry Jekyll’s ill-fated quest to find a cure for his father’s mental illness. Years of experiments have produced a chemical formula that Jekyll is convinced can “separate the good and evil” from the human soul … “to help the tortured mind of man.” All he needs is a human test subject.

When his request to inject the formula into a patient at a mental hospital is turned down by the Board of Governors, a decision they will later regret, Jekyll feels he has no choice but to experiment on himself. The noble attempt to help those that cannot help themselves backfires and gives life to an evil alter ego, Edward Hyde, who terrorizes the citizens of London after dark.

From the moment Hyde makes an appearance, he seeks revenge for Jekyll and methodically hunts down the members of the Board of Governors and with a crack of the neck or a stab in the side they fall one by one. Jekyll remembers little of the murders, praying “they are merely nightmares,” but eventually Hyde “comes out of the shadows” and becomes an addiction, causing Jekyll to lose self-control in an emotional climactic ending.

In his Theatre Three debut, Alan Stentiford is simply incredible in the dual role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The actor’s transition from respected doctor to psychotic madman will make the tiny hairs on the back of your neck stand up. After each injection, the actor morphs into a rabid creature who slinks and lurks about in the dark, peering out through his unkempt hair with wild eyes. And wait until you hear him sing! Stentiford’s split-personality faceoff in “Confrontation” is mesmorizing and his opening night performance of “This Is the Moment” brought the house down.

Tamralynn Dorsa plays Jekyll’s loving and always supportive fiancée Emma Carew. Dorsa shines in this angelic role and her rendition of “Once Upon a Dream” is magical.

TracyLynn Conner is equally impressive as prostitute Lucy Harris who Jekyll befriends during a visit to the seedy drinking establishment, The Red Rat. It is her that Hyde visits the most often until his jealousy consumes him. Her emotional performance of “No One Knows You I Am” is wonderful.

Another standout in the show is Steven Uihlein in the role of Simon Stride, a former boyfriend of Carew, who has made it his personal mission to see Jekyll fail at every turn. Andrew Lenahan is also one to watch. As John Utterson, Jekyll’s friend and attorney, Lenahan gives a brilliant performance in “His Work and Nothing More.”

The beautiful costumes and wigs by Chakira Doherty meld perfectly with the evocative choreography by Nicole Bianco and the Victorian set, designed by Randall Parsons features Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory. Kudos also to musical director Jeffrey Hoffman, whose seven-piece orchestra keeps perfect pace and tune.

Jeffrey Sanzel has assembled an incredible cast and crew to kick off the theater’s golden anniversary and they all deserve a big round of applause. Happy anniversary Theatre Three! It’s time to relish the well-deserved spotlight.

The cast of ‘Jekyll & Hyde’: Melanie Acampora, Bryan Bowie, TracyLynn Conner, Dennis Creighton, Anthony D’Amore, Lindsay DeFranco, Tamralynn Dorsa, Emily Gates, Eric J. Hughes, Heather Kuhn, Michelle LaBozzetta, Krystal Lawless, Andrew Lenahan, George Liberman, Linda May, Stephanie Moreau, Douglas Quattrock, Jim Sluder, Alan Stentiford, James Taffurelli, Briana Ude, Steven Uihlein, and Ryan Worrell

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents “Jeykll & Hyde: The Musical” through Oct. 26. Contains adult themes and situations. The 2019-20 Mainstage season continues with Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” from Nov. 16 to Dec. 28, “Driving Miss Daisy” from Jan. 11 to Feb. 1, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” from Feb. 15 to March 21, “Steel Magnolias” from April 4 to May 2 and “Grease” from May 16 to June 21. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

 

By Heidi Sutton

From now through June 22, children and adults alike are invited to follow the yellow brick road on Main Street in Port Jefferson (yes, there is an actual yellow road painted on the sidewalk) through the double doors of Theatre Three to see a wondrous stage version of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

First published in 1900 as a children’s book titled “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” the classic story has given rise to many sequels, spin-offs and adaptations including radio shows, musicals and the iconic 1939 MGM film starring a 16-year-old Judy Garland.  

When Dorothy Gale from Kansas is swept away by a tornado, she is dropped in the Land of Oz and must make her way to the Emerald City to ask the Wizard to help her and her dog Toto get home. Along the way she befriends alternate versions of her family and neighbors including The Scarecrow, The Tinman and Cowardly Lion who protect her from the Wicked Witch of the West who wants Dorothy’s magic ruby slippers.

Theatre Three’s stage version, adapted by John Kane with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, follows the original MGM screenplay, leaving in additional verses to the songs, secondary script and musical numbers like “The Jitterbug” that didn’t make the final cut in the film. We learn the backstory about The Tinman (a bit macabre) and The Cowardly Lion (think “The Lion King”) and why the Winkies always chant “Oh wee-Oh, we-ohhhhh um.” The result is a fresh take on a beloved favorite.

Presenting a mainstage production of “The Wizard of Oz” with numerous sets, song and dance numbers and costume changes is not an easy feat, but Director Jeffrey Sanzel has assembled a talented cast of over 30 actors who pull it off with ease.

Ashley Ferraro is perfectly cast as Dorothy and her rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is enchanting. Dorothy’s faithful pet Toto is played by the adorable Miss Mia Donatuti who elicits many “Oh my’s” from the audience every time her four paws hit the stage or she peaks out of the basket.

So nice to see Jim Sluder back on Theatre Three’s stage, this time as Dorothy’s favorite, The Scarecrow, who is convinced he has no brain. Eric J. Hughes plays The Tinman who has plenty of heart but tends to rust a lot and Andrew Lenahan is the perfect Cowardly Lion and gives us a glorious performance of “If I Only Had the Nerve.” 

Linda May is outstanding as Almira Gulch/ Wicked Witch of the West. Close your eyes and you’ll swear Margaret Hamilton is on stage. May’s rendition of the famous line “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!” followed by that shrill cackle will send chills down your spine. 

Special mention should be made of The Munchkins, who, with their high little giggles, are a sweet addition to the story. Their big number, “Munchinkland,” complete with The Lollipop Kids and The Lullaby League, brings the house down.

The sets, designed by Randall Parsons, are impressive as well. Large painted panels slide back and forth, revealing the different scenes while posters depicting the cover and pages from the storybook adorn the edges of the stage. Taking a cue from the 1939 film, Uncle Henry and Auntie Em’s Kansas farm uses muted colors of browns and greens and then, in true Technicolor fashion, Dorothy and Toto arrive in Munchkinland where every color in the rainbow is utilized. 

In a stroke of genius, Sanzel uses flower umbrellas as props which, when opened, are the perfect hiding spot for Munchkins and make for a beautiful field of poppies. And wait until you see the special effects!

Accompanied by a powerhouse orchestra led by conductor Jeffrey Hoffman, the show’s big musical numbers are wonderfully choreographed by Jean P. Sorbera. Costumes by Chakira Doherty are a work of art.

In the end, the adventures of Dorothy, The Scarecrow, The Tin Man and The Cowardly Lion reinforce the power of friendship and that there really is no place like home.

In his director’s notes, Sanzel writes, “In our mind’s eye, we see this unusual quartet, arms linked, traveling down an unknown road. And herein lies the heart: The emphasis is in the journey. Growth comes from the venture and the efforts we make not just for ourselves but for those who walk the road with us.”

Dedicated to the faithful and young at heart, L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” closes out Theatre Three’s 2018-19 season as a vibrantly colorful rainbow. Don’t miss this wonderful family show.

Magic wands are sold before the show and during intermission and photos with Dorothy, Toto, The Tinman, The Cowardly Lion and The Scarecrow are available after the show. Donations are being accepted for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Also, take a chance at a raffle to win Almira Gulch’s bicycle. 

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Wizard of Oz” on the Mainstage through June 22 with a special evening start time of 7 p.m., Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3 pm. Running time is 2 hours 10 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. For more information or to order, please call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.