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Luke Hampson

By Heidi Sutton

In perfect timing with winter break, DreamWork’s “Shrek Jr.” along with all its fairy-tale creatures have taken up residence at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts in Smithtown. The fun musical runs through March 1. 

Based on the popular 2001 animated film and picture book by William Steig, the show is an edited version of the Tony award-winning Broadway musical but still features many of the beloved scenes and songs we have come to love. 

With book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, it tells the story of how a “little ogre came to live in the swamp with a beautiful princess and his best friend, and a gingerbread man, and a very handsome puppet, and an elf, and a fairy godmother, and a witch, and a crossdressin’ wolf and three pigs!” In short, if you are a fan of classic fairy tales, you’ll love this show.

It’s Shrek’s 7th birthday and, as with all ogres, his parents tell him he must move out and find his own place to live. (“Watch out for men with pitchforks!”) Shrek settles into a swamp far, far away and life is good until all of the fairy-tale creatures in the kingdom of Duloc are exiled to his land by order of Lord Farquaad, the ruthless ruler of Duloc.

In order to get his land back, Shrek strikes a deal with Farquaad to rescue Princess Fiona from a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon and bring her back to be Farquaad’s queen. Along with the wisecracking Donkey, the ogre embarks on a journey to save the fair maiden and learns valuable lessons, including what makes us special is what makes us strong.

Directed and choreographed by Tommy Ranieri, the talented young cast of 23 embraces this 2½-hour large-scale production and leaves us wanting more. Lead actors Hunter Pszybylski, Leah Kelly and Luke Ferrari shine in their roles as Shrek, Fiona and Donkey; and Luke Hampson steals the show as the tiny terror Lord Farquaad. 

As with all musicals, the songs are the heart of the show, and what wonderful songs they are from the opening group number, “Big Bright Beautiful World”; to Pszybyiski’s beautiful solo “Who I’d Be”; Kelly’s “Morning Person” complete with tap and Irish step dancing; to the finale “This Is Our Story”; and a rousing rendition of Smash Mouth’s “I’m a Believer” to send us on our way.

The multiple costumes of fairy-tale characters, designed by Chakira Doherty, cut no corners and wait until you see the dragon! The elaborate sets by Tim Golebiewski, makeup and special effects tie the entire production together nicely.

SPAC has presented a wonderful opportunity for young adults to hone their craft. This is their story — let them share it with you. Meet Shrek, Fiona and Donkey in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs.

Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown presents “Shrek The Musical Jr.” through March 1. Performances are held on Saturdays and Sundays at various times and Feb. 17 to 21 at 1 p.m. for Presidents Week break. Children’s theater continues with “Moana Jr.” from April 10 to 19. All seats are $18. For further information or to order tickets, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

For more photos from the show, visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com.

Photos by Courtney Braun/ SPAC

Back row, from left, Anthony M. Panarello, Angelina Mercurio (understudy for Veronica Fox) and Brody Hampson; front row, from left, Luke Hampson and Ryan Cavanagh. Photo by Tommy Ranieri

By Heidi Sutton

Fresh off the massive children’s theater production of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts scales things down with a musical retelling of Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The show opened last weekend and runs through Aug. 18.

Written and composed by the award-winning duo of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (“Seussical”), the “fractured fairytale” takes the 19th-century Danish author’s best known story and adds song and dance to create a delightfully charming treat.

At only 14 years old, Emperor Marcus the Third is nervous to take the throne. After all, he’s only finished Chapter 1 of “How to Be an Effective Emperor”! To make matters worse, the kingdom’s river is starting to overflow and a hole in the road is getting wider. The villagers come to Marcus for help, but the newbie has difficulty making decisions. When the palace’s mop boy Arno suggests he dress the part, Marcus becomes obsessed with his royal attire.

Outfit after outfit produced by Deena the Royal Clothesmaker is rejected. Seizing an opportunity, a swindler named Maurice weasels his way inside the palace and offers to make magic clothes that are “invisible to fools and liars.” Ignoring the counsel of his Royal Advisor William, the emperor gives Maurice the green light and begins plans to hold a parade to show off his new wardrobe. Will someone get Marcus out of this royal mess, or will he reveal more than he bargains for?

Tommy Ranieri directs and choreographs a talented quintet of actors that grab this comedic masterpiece by its royal coattails and run with it, effectively producing something very special.

Luke Hampson is exceptional as the clueless new ruler; Veronica Fox and Anthony M. Panarello do an excellent job portraying worrywarts Deena and William who fear they will lose their jobs because they can’t see the magic clothing; and Brody Hampson plays the role of con artist perfectly.

But it is Ryan Cavanagh in the role of Arno who steals every scene he is in and quickly becomes an audience favorite. In the end, it is he who teaches Marcus the important lesson of “it’s not what’s on the outside but what’s on the inside that counts.”

The wonderful songs tie the show together, with special mention to “The Ancestor Song,” “Only a Guy Like You,” “How Am I Ever Gonna Get To Sleep?” and “Invisible.”

The show offers no special effects or fancy sets, just good old-fashioned live theater the way it was meant to be. The actors are funny and entertaining and are as devoted to making the audience reflect as to making them laugh. Hans Christian Andersen would be proud.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown presents “The Emperor’s New Clothes” through Aug. 18. Children’s theater continues with “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure Jr.” from Sept. 14 to Oct. 27 and “Shrek the Musical Jr.” from Feb. 1 to March 1. All seats are $18. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

By Rita J. Egan

On Saturday, May 18, the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts debuted “Les Misérables School Edition,” and its only flaw is the title. With exceptionally talented teenagers and preteens, the production resembles that of a main-stage musical.

Luke Ferrari and Leah Kelly

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, with book by Alain Boublil, music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and Boublil, the musical digs into the depths of human nature. A myriad of emotions is explored from despair, fear and loathe to love, hope and forgiveness. The young actors in the Smithtown production have the skill and talent to take on the complex characters, and they seem to understand what drives them, which is essential when it comes to a classical musical such as this one.

“Les Misérables” opened in New York City in 1987 and ran until 2003, making it the fifth-longest show on Broadway. Two revivals on the Great White Way followed, one from 2006 to 2008 and another from 2014 to 2016.

Aubrey Alvino and Zak Ketchum

Set in the early 19th century in France, “Les Misérables” follows Jean Valjean who is released from prison after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. While Valjean at first feels hopeless for a second chance, the kindness of a bishop inspires him to break his parole and live a new life. While continually avoiding the wrath of police inspector Javert, Valjean goes on to become a successful factory owner, who grants the dying wish of Fantine by giving her daughter Cosette a better life. In later years, Valjean becomes a protective father who resists letting his daughter go as she falls in love with Marius, a young idealist and revolutionist.

In the Smithtown production, directed by Cara Brown, Luke Ferrari is outstanding as Valjean. He captures the former prisoner’s despair and anger earlier in the show and later in the play begins to soften as a more mature and paternal Valjean. His singing is flawless in every song, especially during “Bring Him Home” in the second act when he appeals to God to keep Marius safe.

Angelina Mercurio, center, as Fantine

Hunter Pszybylski is the perfect choice for Javert as he seems to portray the stern character with ease. The actor’s voice is mature beyond his years, and he knows how to command the spotlight, which is his during his solos “Stars” and “Soliloquy (Javert’s Suicide).”

Angelina Mercurio is wonderful as Fantine and delivers a heartbreaking solo with “I Dreamed a Dream,” and she and Ferrari sound incredible during “Come to Me (Fantine’s Death).” Zak Ketcham makes for a handsome Marius, and he proves to be another strong vocalist on all his songs including “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” where he beautifully captures the heartbreak of surviving the tragedy of losing his friends at the barricades.

Aubrey Alvino also captures the heartbreak of Eponine’s experience as she yearns for Marius who only has eyes for Cosette. Her solo “On My Own” during the May 19 show was a tearjerker, and her duo with Ketcham “A Little Fall of Rain” was just as lovely.

Leah Kelly is the naive Cosette, and her vocals are sweet and delightful, especially during “A Heart Full of Love.” Gabby Blum, who plays a young Cosette, performs a perfect “Castle on a Cloud.” Luke Hampson, as Thénardier, and Alexa Adler, as Madame Thénardier, are delightful as the greedy and crafty innkeeper and his wife. The pair play an essential role in the musical to provide some comedic relief, and both actors know how to garner a good number of chuckles from the audience.

All of the cast members provide superb vocals and exceptional performances, which are front and center during numbers such as “At the End of the Day,” “ABC Cafe/Red and Black,” “Lovely Ladies,” “Drink With Me” and “Do You Hear the People Sing.” Everyone on stage and behind the scenes of “Les Misérables School Edition” should be proud of the production, and with this kind of young, local talent, the future looks bright for regional theater.

With only six performances left, the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present “Les Misérables School Edition” through June 2. All tickets are $20. For more information, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

All photos by Courtney Braun