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Musical

The cast of 'Side By Side By Sondheim'. Photo by Steven Uihlein/Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Rita J. Egan

The cast and crew at Theatre Three have once again created an entertaining production of music and laughs with Side by Side by Sondheim. The show debuted on the Port Jefferson stage Feb. 18. 

Countless songs throughout the decades have been loved for generations, and Broadway tunes are no exception. The late composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim is among the talents who created those gems, and Side by Side by Sondheim is a testament to his immense talent by celebrating his earlier works.

From left, Linda May and Emily Gates in the duet ‘If Momma Was Married’ from Gypsy.

The production featuring music and lyrics by Sondheim as well as music by Leonard Bernstein, Mary Rodgers, Richard Rodgers and Jule Styne debuted in London in 1976 and on Broadway in 1977. The musical revue may leave some in the audience wanting to know more about Sondheim, as he composed so much more after the late 1970s. Despite this factor, it’s the perfect starting point to enjoy his contributions to the arts.

In Theatre Three’s version, director Christine Boehm has expertly directed a cast of five, and conductor Jeffrey Hoffman, on piano, leads bassist Logan Friedman and percussionist Don Larsen seamlessly from one number to another. The three are visible on stage the entire show and, a few times, join in on the jokes with the actors.

Emily Gates, Linda May, Ryan Nolin and Jack Seabury are the main vocalists in the production and have wonderful chemistry together. All four deliver strong performances whether singing as a quartet, trio, duo or solo.

Ana McCasland serves as narrator to fill in the audience on some of the backstories of Sondheim’s songs and his life, including how he met Leonard Bernstein, providing an interesting glimpse into musical history for Broadway enthusiasts.

May shines during “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music, and then just as easily makes everyone laugh during a silly number called “The Boy From,” a song featured in Sondheim’s off-Broadway revue The Mad Show.

Jack Seabury and Ryan Nolin perform ‘We’re Gonna Be All Right’ from Do I Hear a Waltz.

Gates belts out a “Losing My Mind” from Follies so beautifully and perfectly that it’s the tearjerker it’s meant to be. She and May on “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love” capture all the anger, sorrow and tenderness that Maria and Anita felt after Bernardo’s death in West Side Story.

Seabury sings a touching “Anyone Can Whistle” from the musical of the same name, and Nolin delivers a strong “Being Alive” from Company. Nolin also is a delightful surprise during “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” a favorite tune from Gypsy. Seabury and Nolin are also priceless singing the duet “We’re Gonna Be All Right” from Do I Hear a Waltz. The song was originally written for a woman and man singing about their relationship, but the singers are wonderful in embracing the updated spin on the song.

McCasland is a charming narrator and has her chance to sing during “I Never Do Anything Twice,” featured in the movie The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. Not only did she shine, she also had fun with the song, garnering laughter from the audience as she performed the tune to the hilt.

Subtle choreography and simple, colorful blocks of light on stage rounded out the show beautifully. Theatre Three has produced a lighthearted Side by Side by Sondheim, which is a breath of fresh air. The Cabaret-style revue is perfect for ending a special night or taking in some musical history.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents Side By Side By Sondheim through March 18. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12 (under 5 not permitted), $20 Wednesday matinees. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photos by Steven Uihlein/Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

It’s curtains up on another scintillating season of shows at the Engeman! How can they top last year’s caliber productions that offered one magnificent show after the other? Well, they have done it again with an effervescent Mystic Pizza.

The musical was adapted from the 1988 film classic starring Julia Roberts about three young coming of age waitresses working at a small-town pizzeria in Mystic, Connecticut, a town that is quiet all winter but bustling with tourists in the summer. The real pizza parlor was a popular place in Mystic since 1973 and became the inspiration for the film after being visited by screenwriter, Amy Jones.

The world premiere was at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine in 2021. Interesting to note that the concept for a Mystic Pizza musical was first visited in 2007 as part of the plot in season 2 of the NBC sitcom 30 Rock.

This juke box musical rocks with some of the best tunes from the 80’s and 90’s including those of Melissa Ethridge, John Mellencamp, Van Morrison, Phil Collins, Pat Benatar and Debbie Gibson. The songs compliment a substantial script that centers around the lives of three teenage Portuguese waitresses at this pizzeria who are on the threshold of making major decisions concerning lives, careers and romance. The plot highlights the contrast between the working class living in Mystic year-round and the affluent tourists who summer there. 

Igor Goldin in his Director’s Notes commented on how intriguing it was to work on a musical that had only one prior production. That allowed him to open the door for creating without any preconceived ideas. The result is a true feast of sight and sound starting with an ingenious set designed by Kyle Dixon that gives the feeling of a New England fishing village with a rustic backdrop and featuring a large A-frame structure, center stage on a turntable that revolves into various settings. Jose Santiago’s lighting design enhances each set change and establishes mood.

The show is energetic right from the start with John Mellencamp’s spirited Small Town that instantly immerses us in the lives of these townies. The songs are well chosen and placed in just the right spots to help drive the story line. Under the direction of Sarah Wussow, the band wraps itself around each of these pop tunes and is a driving force in delivering emotions. Ashley Marinelli’s choreography compliments the energy of the show with joyous, bouncy movement that embraces the rock tone. Costumes by Dustin Cross appropriately contrast the classes with tight fitting miniskirts for townies as opposed to collegiate styles for upper class.

The three waitresses are engaging as they navigate into adulthood. There is Jojo (Michelle Beth Herman), who faints at her wedding to Bill (Stephen Cerf) but is conflicted since she doesn’t want their relationship to end. She aspires to make something of herself and dreams of owning her own restaurant. Cerf, a consummate vocalist and dancer, punches out Addicted to Love with revved up passion telling us just how committed he is to Jojo. Their duet Take My Breath Away highlights their exquisite vocals and undeniable chemistry.

Sisters Kat (Brooke Sterling) and Daisy (Emily Rose Lyons) are complete opposites. Daisy longs to get out of this Connecticut town and thinks her only option is to attract a well-healed summer tourist. She meets Charles Gordon Windsor, Jr. (Jake Bentley Young), who comes from a wealthy family but is equally disenchanted with his life. His secret desire to be an artist is overshadowed by his father’s insistence that he become a lawyer. Charlie encourages Daisy to have faith in herself and go for what she really wants which is to become a lawyer. Lyons and Young turn in a sensual performance with I Think We’re Alone Now. But conflict erupts when Daisy realizes he invited her to a family dinner as a show of rebellion against his parents’ plans for his future. Young and Lyons’ Hit Me With Your Best Shot is electrifying.

Kat is the smart one, accepted into Yale and is an aspiring astronomer, but naïve in matters of the heart having fallen for Tim (Corbin Payne), an architect who is new in town working on restoration of an old historic residence. As Kat, Sterling embraces the emotion of first love with a poignant Lost in Your Eyes. Sterling and Payne share a sweet moment in When I See You Smile, but their characters’ relationship crumbles when Tim confesses to being in a loveless marriage. 

Leona (Kathryn Markey) is charming as the owner of the pizza shop who exudes concern for her teenage waitresses and mischievous in not revealing the secret ingredient to her specialty sauce until just the right moment.

Kent M. Lewis (The Fireside Gourmet) keeps us in suspense as the aloof critic who will either make or break the pizza shop with his review.

The company adds so much fun and animation to this polished production. and an enthusiastic standing ovation punctuated the sterling performance during last Saturday’s show. The Engeman has done it again with this delightful romp into its 15th season. Catch Mystic Pizza through Oct. 30.

The John W. Engeman Theater is located at 250 Main St., Northport. For tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

'The Lightning Thief'

Percy Jackson MusicalThe Smithtown Performing Arts Center, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will be hosting auditions for performers aged 16 and up for the upcoming MainStage production of ‘The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical , on Monday, Aug. 22.

ALL ROLES ARE OPEN. This is a mainstage show and there will be performance stipends available to those who are cast. There is the potential for daytime school performances during the week in addition to the scheduled performance dates. Please be specific with your weekday availability on your audition form.

This production will be directed and musically directed by Robbie Torres, and choreographed by Julie Stewart.

Sign up begins at 7 p.m., and auditions will begin at 7:30 p.m.. Please prepare 16-32 bars of a song from a similar musical (Pop/Rock, Contemporary Broadway), and bring sheet music, a recent headshot and resume. Callbacks (if necessary) will be held Thursday, August 25 at 7:30 p.m. You will be notified by email if you are needed for a callback. Please do not call the theatre, the phone is not monitored.

All gender identities and expressions, racial & ethnic backgrounds, and physical and cognitive abilities are encouraged to audition.

If you are unable to attend the in-person audition, a video audition may be submitted. Please contact [email protected] for more information.

Rehearsals will be held at SPAC beginning August 29, and will be from 8 – 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, with the potential to add Fridays and weekends if necessary. Please be accurate with your conflicts on your audition sheet. No conflicts will be accepted for tech week, Saturday September 24 – Thursday September 29.

Performances:

  • Fri, Sept 30 – 8PM
  • Sat, Oct 1 – 2PM
  • Sat, Oct 1 – 8PM
  • Sun, Oct 2 – 2PM
  • Fri, Oct 7 – 8PM
  • Sat, Oct 8 – 2PM
  • Sat, Oct 8 – 8PM
  • Sun, Oct 9 – 2PM
  • Mon, Oct 10 – 2PM
  • Fri, Oct 14 – 8PM
  • Sat, Oct 15 – 2PM
  • Sat, Oct 15 – 8PM
  • Sun, Oct 16 – 2PM
  • Fri, Oct 21 – 8PM
  • Sat, Oct 22 – 2PM
  • Sat, Oct 22 – 8PM
  • Sun, Oct 23 – 2PM
  • Fri, Oct 28 – 8PM
  • Sat, Oct 29 – 2PM
  • Sat, Oct 29 – 8PM

Synopsis: 

As the half-blood son of a Greek god, Percy Jackson has newly-discovered powers he can’t control, a destiny he doesn’t want, and a mythology textbook’s worth of monsters on his trail. When Zeus’s master lightning bolt is stolen and Percy becomes the prime suspect, he has to find and return the bolt to prove his innocence and prevent a war between the gods. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the thief. He must travel to the Underworld and back; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and come to terms with the father who abandoned him. Adapted from the best-selling book The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and featuring a thrilling original rock score, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is an action-packed mythical adventure “worthy of the gods” (Time Out New York)

Character Descriptions:

PERCY JACKSON – Son of Poseidon, a good kid with a teenage temper

ANNABETH – Daughter of Athena, smarter than you

GROVER – A happy-go-lucky satyr, like a hippie kid with hooves. Also plays:

MR. D, aka DIONYSUS – God of wine, snarky camp director

LUKE – Son of Hermes, cool camp counselor. Also plays:

GABE UGLIANO – Percy’s foul stepfather

ARES – God of war, rock star in leather pants

MINOTAUR – Half-man, half-bull

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART

SALLY JACKSON – Percy’s hard-working mother. Also plays:

SILENA BEAUREGARD – Daughter of Aphrodite

THE ORACLE – a hippie mummy

ECHIDNA – Mother of monsters

CHARON – Ferryperson to the Underworld

MR. BRUNNER, aka CHIRON – Wise centaur, part-time Latin teacher. Also plays:

POSEIDON – God of the sea, salty beach bum

HADES – God of the dead, aging rock star type

AUNTY EM, aka MEDUSA – Avid sculptor

KRONOS – A voice in a pit

KURT COBAIN

CYCLOPS

CLARISSE – Tough jock girl, daughter of Ares. Also plays:

MRS. DODDS – A Fury posing as a substitute algebra teacher

KATIE GARDNER – Daughter of Demeter

THALIA – Daughter of Zeus, tough

BIANCA – A mysterious girl in 1930’s clothes

NEWSCASTER

JANIS JOPLIN

SQUIRREL

For further information, visit www.smithtownpac.org.

By Julianne Mosher

After more than a year of being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts finally opened its doors and did so with a bang on Saturday, June 10 with its showing of the two-time Tony Award-winning hit musical Green Day’s American Idiot.

The rock opera, comprised mostly of songs from Green Day’s critically acclaimed 2004 album of the same name as well as several songs from its follow-up release, 21st Century Breakdown, is set in present time and centers around three friends; Johnny, Will and Tunny. The three dream of leaving their stifling, suburban lifestyle and plan to leave and head to the big city. 

In the nine-minute-long narrative, “Jesus of Suburbia,” the three are ready to board the bus, as Will’s girlfriend, Heather, tells him she is pregnant, so he stays. Johnny and Tunny head off, singing along to Green Day’s hit, “Holiday.”

The city is exciting, but eventually the duo realizes it’s not it’s all cracked up to be. Tunny quickly gives up on life in the fast lane, joins the military and is shipped off to war. Johnny turns to drugs and finds a part of himself that he grows to dislike, has a relationship and experiences lost love. Will, at home, drowns his sorrows in alcohol and marijuana. The audience sees Johnny’s addiction to heroin grow, with the help of St. Jimmy, his manifestation of a rebellious drug-dealing alter ego. 

At SPAC’s Saturday viewing, Mike Visconti’s St. Jimmy was full of energy and angst. The whole cast, in their best 90s punk-styled costumes, had the best chemistry as they head-banged the night away.

Standout performances were by Andrew Murano (Johnny) for his passion and depth of a character who was just trying to find his place in the world. Robbie Torres’s voice and range in “Before the Lobotomy” moved the audience nearly to tears. 

All of the cast members had individual talents that were spotted from the seats like Samantha Rosario’s range in “Extraordinary Girl” that could have been heard on Broadway.

For theater lovers who are fans of “Rent” or “Hair,” “American Idiot” is the lovechild of the two. 

The show contains content that might not be suitable for everyone, including adult language, themes and situations depicting sexual activity and simulated drug use, but its message is clear — life might not always turn out the way we think it will, and sometimes going home is perfectly okay when a plan doesn’t pan out. 

Don’t be an idiot — go see this groundbreaking musical.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown presents Green Day’s American Idiot on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through July 31. Tickets are $45 per person, $40 for seniors 55+ and members. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

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Center, from left, Ariana Rose and Jo Ellen Pellman in a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Netflix

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

In 2018, the musical The Prom made its Broadway debut at the Longacre Theatre.  With music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and book by Bob Martin and Beguelin, it dealt with a group of narcissistic Broadway actors who are trying to change their unlikable images. Looking for a cause, they select a lesbian high school student who is denied the right to take her girlfriend to the prom. The quartet of Broadway performers travel to the conservative Edgewater, Indiana, where, in an attempt to help, they wreak havoc. Ultimately, it all works out in the way that musical comedies do.

There was a great deal of feel-good material and a lot of messages about understanding and tolerance in the show. Casey Nicholaw strongly directed the production, if leaning a bit into the over-the-top humor alternating with easy sentimentality. His choreography was engaging and vigorous, often leaning towards the athletic. The original cast was made up of Broadway veterans who brought out the best in the material. For the most part, the reviews were good but it failed to find an audience and closed within the year.

James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells and Meryl Streep in a scene from the film. Netflix photo

Ryan Murphy, who was one of the Broadway producers, has now directed a film version which has been released on Netflix and is also currently playing in movie theaters. Murphy recruited Martin and Beguelin to write the screenplay with the majority of the score intact. They have opened it up, taking advantage of a range of locations to give it more variety and a more kinetic energy. There are also some good flashbacks that enhance the story as well. Murphy has shown the same care and whimsy here that he did with the recent Netflix miniseries Hollywood, and the result is an entertaining two hours.

Murphy has replaced the entire Broadway company with well-known film and television personalities. So many cinematic stage transfers have been ruined by stunt casting that fails to preserve the integrity of the source material. That said, Murphy has assembled an excellent company who deliver. 

Meryl Streep is delightful as the Broadway diva, Dee Dee Allen. She is outrageous but grounded in her own selective reality and manages to make Dee Dee both insufferable and likable, often simultaneously. Her singing voice is solid, and she manages the big numbers well enough. Andrew Rannells is a younger, edgier take on the Julliard-trained Trent Oliver; he has real musical theatre chops (The Book of Mormon) and a hipper approach to the character.

Keegan-Michael Key evokes the right balance of controlled concern and star-struck fan as the principal who is enamored with Dee Dee. Kerry Washington brings snap and spark to the outraged PTA president who is doing all she can to keep the prom “straight.”  Kevin Chamberlin is charming as the long-suffering agent.

Only Nicole Kidman seems lost as the perpetual chorus girl, Angie Dickinson. Her vocals are adequate but she never finds her way with the character. It is also clear that she is uncomfortable with the Fosse style and it undermines her big number — “Zazz” —  and ultimately the character’s core.

Jo Ellen Pellman has a beautiful voice and winning presence as Emma Nolan, the girl who just wants to go to the prom. She shines through the entire film — one just wishes she wasn’t smiling the entire time; the absence of angst makes the final moments not quite as cathartic. Ariana DeBose as Alyssa, the daughter of the crusading PTA president, ably shows her internal conflict as Emma’s closet girlfriend and delivers in her musical number, “Alyssa Greene.” The ensemble of young singer-dancers handle the big numbers well and have a nice ease about them.

But if the film belonged to any one performer, it would be James Corden as Barry Glickman, Dee Dee’s costar in the failed Eleanor Roosevelt musical that incites the entire plot. He is warm and funny but truly vulnerable. He is completely at home as both a singer and a dancer, making his numbers some of the best moments. In many ways, it becomes just as much his story as Emma’s.

The film has a strong start, moving quickly from place-to-place and song-to-song, everything cast in a musical comedy glow. There are many excellent production numbers that are hilarious — “Changing Lives,” “It’s Not About Me,” and “Love Thy Neighbor” — and just plain joyous —“Tonight Belongs to You.” Murphy wisely retained Nicholaw as choreographer.

It is unfortunate that the second half of the movie sags a bit with dramatic scenes that have been introduced to give both weight and extended background to Barry and Dee Dee. While it gives the two actors an opportunity to emote, the tonal shift and the additional time do nothing to drive the action forward.

These additions necessitated the trimming of several numbers, most notably “The Acceptance Song,” done at a monster truck rally.

This is a minor quibble in an overall enjoyable outing. The Broadway quartet learn and grow, just as we know they would.  Emma and Alyssa celebrate their love with the exuberant “It’s Time to Dance” — as celebratory here as it was on Broadway.

If people take exception to the ease with which minds are changed and bigotry is overcome, it should be reminded that this is the world of fantasy. Just as with his Hollywood, Murphy offers us not necessarily the world we have but perhaps the world we can hope for — and some really terrific production numbers along the way.

Rated PG-13, The Prom is currently playing in local theaters and on Netflix.

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How difficult must it be to become someone else? Somehow, Abby Mueller, an actress who probably isn’t a household name, transforms into the legendary singer Carole King in the Broadway musical “Beautiful.”

It’s a risky proposition. Many of us already know songs like “So Far Away” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which means we know what the song should sound like, even if we can’t sing it in tune.

And yet, Mueller, who is clearly the star of a show about another star, pulls it off incredibly well, giving us the energy, the soul, the innocence and the ambition of a remarkable talent.

Watching and, more importantly, listening to the show is a transformative experience. Music has that remarkable power, bringing us back to a car when we might have often heard “Up on the Roof” or sending us back in our minds to a dance party where we threw ourselves across the floor of a friend’s house as we invented our own steps to “The Loco-Motion,” where “everybody’s doing a brand new dance, now.”

Even though the dance isn’t so brand new anymore, it feels revived when we watch the high energy action on stage.

My wife and I snuck away before the end of the summer to see the musical, which left us humming and singing the songs through the next day.

The musical itself, like many other Broadway stories, is a collection of dialogue, a loose story and a compilation of rollicking music. The story line follows the musical career of King and her writing partner and husband Gerry Goffin, whom she married when she was 17 and pregnant. The audience feels as if it’s witnessing the birth of these songs, as Goffin pairs his familiar lyrics to the music King wrote.

The first half of the show, which is considerably longer than the second, is like a collection of musical candy tossed to a hungry audience.

I snuck glances around the room at some of the other people fortunate enough to take a musical joyride and I saw that, like me, several of the guests, who were mostly in their late 40s and older, had smiles plastered on their faces.

The second act doesn’t contain as many songs and delves into the more challenging and sadder parts of King’s life, where she endures the hardship of her husband’s infidelities and the creative tension that sometimes won the battle over his creative talent.

King, as we know, lands on her feet, becoming the legendary composer, singer and songwriter who was inducted with Goffin into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 for their songwriting.

The energy on stage throughout the show, with performances by a talented team reviving the style and moves of the Shirelles and the Drifters, rival the thrill of watching the cast of “Mamma Mia!” who belted out the familiar Abba songs.

The difference here, however, is that the script is not a plot written to tie together songs, but evolves as the backstory behind the early days of music that long ago circled the United States and the world.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” definitely lives up to the awards it has won, including the 2015 Grammy for best musical theater album and its two Tony Awards in 2014, which include a well-deserved honor for Mueller.

The only speed bump during this otherwise wonderful ride is the dramatic downshifting in the second act, where the drama, while no doubt true to life, slows the musical momentum. Still, the conclusion and the experience are rewarding, allowing us to reconnect with the legendary singer’s past, and our own.

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Almost everyone likes movies. But have you ever fantasized about making a movie? Now I’m not talking about a home movie of the kids swimming or starring in a play. I mean the big stuff, with lights, camera, action, Hollywood director’s chair, first-tier actors and bullhorn. Well, our newspapers are now in the filmmaking business, and it was history that made us do it.

History, particularly our local history about the Revolutionary War – the battle of Long Island, the Battle of Setauket, Nathan Hale and the Setauket Spies are as exciting to read as any stories today. In fact, they are remarkably relevant, as aspects of the Constitution are regularly part of our political discussions today. For what were the Patriots fighting, putting their lives and possessions on the line, bleeding and dying? And what are we doing with that heritage?

History makes for great storytelling, as the producers of “TURN” on AMC discovered over the last four years. Their version of history was inspired by fact but strung together by fiction. So on the anniversary of the Setauket Spy Ring last year, we  filmed a dramatic narrative of the Culper Spies wholly based on fact. To our great delight, that short film, which is on our website and YouTube, Facebook and other places, won first prize from the New York Press Association for video made by a newspaper.

Encouraged by our success and entranced by the many triumphant and also heart-wrenching stories that happened right here on Long Island some 240 years ago, we are making a full-length film this year, and we begin shooting locally this weekend. This time we are going all the way, with a cast of professional producers, directors, actors and first-rate equipment. The set is a work of art in itself, a recreation of the fort in the Battle of Long Island in Brooklyn Heights. We have 135 re-enactors coming from distant parts — Saratoga, New York; members of our own Long Island Third New York regiment; Murrysville, Pennsylvania; and Fairfield, Connecticut — to stage the battle that almost lost the Revolutionary War before it even truly began. They will be carrying authentic muskets, shooting gunpowder, spilling blood and gore profusely (thanks to our famous special effects person) and otherwise re-creating history. Best of all about this film, we are delving into the lives and personalities of the historic figures whose actions made victory possible. Be assured that we are characterizing them authentically, both colonists and British, fleshing out what details have come down to us from historians and corroborated by our local historical societies.

Several local organizations, institutions and residents are helping to support and underwrite this ambitious production: The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the Three Village Historical Society, The State University at Stony Brook, the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities (SPLIA), Theatre Three and the law firm of Glynn Mercep & Purcell. Some support is not so local, perhaps including the Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City and the Nathan Hale Homestead Museum in Coventry, Connecticut. Many places have indicated their interest in showing the film, including some local teachers and administrators. What a painless way to teach local history.

As we have been reaching out to the many people involved in this venture, we have come across many enriching details. For example, the Sherwood-Jayne Farm, where some of the action takes place, has original planking from Founding Spy Benjamin Tallmadge’s home, the Brewster House was a tavern and home of a cousin of fellow Culper Spy, Caleb Brewster, historic Benner’s Farm where we are doing some of the filming, comes down to us over the centuries, and the 1709 Thompson House, home of a local doctor, is one the beautiful preservations of the WMHO. And by the way, the Caroline Church on the Green in Setauket has a musket ball lodged in its steeple.

History is the glue that holds a community together, and our particular history is the platform on which our nation was built. We are proud to bring these stories to you on film, as well as in print, and we invite any organizations, businesses and residents who might like to be credited with making this production a reality to contact us directly. Call me at 631-751-7744 and become a part of the history of our hometowns.

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It’s a great history lesson. It’s a gymnastic dance performance. It’s a riveting narrative. It’s a clever rap session. It’s an authentic hip-hop musical, almost like an opera. It’s a whirlwind of energy. And it’s a remarkably true story. What is it? It’s “Hamilton,” the hottest Broadway show in many years.

We know that just about everything that is endlessly hyped usually disappoints. Just two things immediately come to my mind where for me there was no let down: the Grand Canyon and “Hamilton.” Now the anticipation ratcheted up was enormous. I bought the tickets when my friend turned 90 years old. It seemed like an appropriate birthday present, this story from the deep past. After all, for many dinners and evenings she had kept me fascinated with her eyewitness retelling of history from the first half of the 20th century. Now we were both going to see early American history come alive on the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

Let it be told that my friend will shortly be 92. Yes, she and I waited almost two years to get in to see this show. I also invited my 15-year-old granddaughter and another friend a generation younger than I to join us. With that span in ages, we were going to get an accurate demographic spectrum of reactions.

We LOVED it, all of us, from the opening number to the last sad moments of Hamilton’s life. It was witty, it was impassioned, it was fun, it was sexy, it was literate, it was tragic and it was wonderfully written, sung, acted, costumed and staged.

In truth, Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography, “Alexander Hamilton” (2004), had great material to work with. Hamilton’s life had everything a playwright could have asked for, with perfect timing now for such a story. Hamilton, born out of wedlock in the mid-1750s (exact year uncertain) and orphaned when his mother died in 1768, comes as penniless immigrant from the Caribbean to make his way. He had distinguished himself through his writing at an early age, and men of means sent him to New York. He arrived in the midst of the pre-Revolutionary tumult, was accepted at King’s College (now Columbia University), met some of the key figures of the day and became George Washington’s aide-de-camp, in good part because he spoke French and could translate between Washington and his French ally.

He fought against the British at Yorktown in 1781, married the second daughter of a rich New Yorker, authored the majority of The Federalist Papers, became a successful lawyer, went on to be the first secretary of the treasury, from which position he established the banking system of the nascent United States, was blackmailed in what was one of the nation’s first sex scandals, and ultimately died from a bullet fired by his longtime rival, Vice President Aaron Burr, during a duel on a strip of land above the Hudson in Weehawken. If it sounds like a peripatetic life, that certainly describes the fierce energy of the play about him.

I had the same feeling about this play as I did so many years ago when “My Fair Lady” with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews ended, that I had just witnessed some sort of breakthrough Broadway event. And as the characters of “Hamilton,” the Founding Fathers, come alive the way they did in that other excellent historic play, “1776,” we recognized them for their magnificent talents and their all-too-human faults.

The erudite New York Times drama critic, Ben Brantley, had this to say about the play when it opened on Broadway in August 2015. “I am loath to tell people to mortgage their houses and lease their children to acquire tickets to a hit Broadway show. But ‘Hamilton’ … might just about be worth it.”

So it’s expensive (unless you win tickets through the lottery that has been set up), it requires patience to wait for the actual performance date on the ticket, and most of the original cast is long gone. But none of that matters. There was never a marquee name connected with the show, unless it was that of Miranda. But his acting wasn’t the reason to go, it was his writing: music, words and creativity. And all that is still there, a wonderful respite from the politics of today.

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The perfect family movie for the holidays

Meet Disney's newest princess, Moana!

By Erika Riley

Disney’s newest musical movie masterpiece, “Moana,” opened in theaters this holiday season and is unsurprisingly a hit. Kids and adults alike will enjoy its strong protagonist, charming sidekick, beautifully crafted songs and inspirational message.

The story starts with an introduction to a Pacific Islander myth about the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and how he stole the heart of Te Ka. He hoped to bring it to the humans who he lived to serve, but instead opened up a darkness that still crept through the oceans to the present day.

Moana is the daughter of the chief of an island in the Pacific, where everybody lives peacefully and works together to make sure the island is running smoothly. Moana is destined to run the island one day but can’t help wanting to see what’s beyond the reef. Her exploratory nature gets the best of her. When the island is in trouble due to the darkness Maui unleashed, she takes it upon herself to take off on a boat and get the heart back.

The movie feels less like a Disney princess movie after that and more like an adventure, as we watch Moana sail across the ocean in search for Maui. She is simultaneously strong and flawed; while she is confident in her abilities and determined to save her island, she is also not a very good sailor or navigator, or very convincing when she does meet Maui. Yet we watch her grow and learn, and that’s an arc that is rarely seen out of “princesses.” Moana does, however, declare that she is not a princess, insisting that she is the daughter of the chief.

Moana is fronted by new voice actress and native Hawaiian Auli’i Cravalho, who beautifully brings her to life, especially during her musical numbers. This is the first musical movie that Disney has released since “Frozen” in 2013, and it does not disappoint. Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” co-wrote the original songs for the movie with Mark Mancina and Opetia Foi’a. The songs are both catchy and empowering and have a very similar driving groove to them that can be found in the “Hamilton” sound track. “How Far I’ll Go” and its reprises are the most influential songs in the movie, and can easily be seen as the new “Let It Go.” Johnson makes his musical debut with Maui’s “You’re Welcome,” a catchy and fun song that helps flesh out Maui’s self-righteous and confident character.

While the plot of the movie is similar to what Disney has done in the past, with a female protagonist going on a quest with the help of a man, it takes a steep curve in the fact that it does not have a love interest. Even though Moana is traveling with Maui, there is never any foreshadowing that they will be in a relationship, and they remain friends throughout the movie. In the end, it’s Moana who saves the day and figures out how to bring peace and prosperity back to her home, not Maui.

The movie is geared toward kids but will also be perfect for parents and teenagers who are nostalgic for classic Disney movies. While the humor is sometimes geared more toward children, there are some comments throughout the movie where Disney pokes fun at itself that adults will pick up on more.

Moana is a great role model for kids, and the inclusion of Pacific Islander culture is a stark contrast from movies like “Tangled” and “Frozen,” which featured white protagonists. Moana learns more about her culture throughout the movie, and it’s a beautiful part of the plot, and an arc rarely seen in fairy tales.

Moana is a great choice for a movie to see with the whole family this holiday season. It is currently playing at AMC Theaters across the Island, as well as PJ Cinemas in Port Jefferson Station.

About the author: Stony Brook resident Erika Riley is a sophomore at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She is interning at TBR during her winter break and hopes to advance in the world of journalism and publishing after graduation.

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If you have had enough of politics and pundits this week, come with me for a nostalgic trip through the golden age of Broadway musicals. I was carried back to those heady days of the 1950s by a recent New York Times article about the lost art of sneaking in for the second act, impossible today due to post-9/11 security. Now I don’t know if you have ever indulged in this type of larcenous activity, so I will explain how it worked — at least for me and my merry little band.

I attended junior high and high school at 68th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. The subway was right at the corner of our Gothic-style building. This is important information for you to know in order to follow our exploits. The other bit of vital info is that our school day officially ended each afternoon at 2 p.m., rather than the usual 3 p.m. for the rest of the schools under the New York City Board of Education’s auspices.

Shortly after I started in seventh grade, I fell in with a happy group of kids who lived across town, on the Upper West Side. While that was decades away from what we know today as the highly cultured and worldly UWS, nonetheless these kids were a lot more culturally savvy than I was. Every Wednesday, which is of course matinee day, they would slip out of our last class some 15 minutes early, slither quietly through the side door of the school and make a beeline for the subway stairs 20 feet away.

Somehow I came to be included in this precocious group. We would ride the local to 59th Street, descend to the lowest level of the station, which in those days housed the BMT line, ride it through Midtown to 49th Street and Broadway and arrive at the predetermined show of our choice just as intermission was ending and the smokers were returning to their seats for the second act.

No one ever checked the tickets for the second act in those days. And there were always empty seats sprinkled throughout the theater that we claimed for our own. If the real seat owner arrived, most often the usher would help us find another seat since it was fairly common practice for young people to move closer to the stage in those days if there was opportunity. I doubt the ushers realized they were helping scofflaws.

In this way, I saw some of the most famous plays with their original casts during what turned out to be the most memorable period of American musical theater. Of course I didn’t know that then, I just knew I was having a fine old time and we didn’t even have to pay the subway fare because we had student passes.

Of course I never told my parents what we were doing every Wednesday afternoon, and somehow we never got caught leaving school early. Perhaps the faculty understood where we were going and thought it more important than the last 15 minutes of classes.

But my parents may have wondered from time to time because I seemed too knowledgeable about the current musicals, their actors and composers. There were the Rodgers and Hammerstein classics: “Oklahoma!,” “Carousel,” “The King and I,” “South Pacific” and “The Sound of Music” (the latter two with Mary Martin); Frank Loesser and his “Guys and Dolls,” “The Music Man,” “West Side Story” and Chita Rivera; Ethel Merman, Gertrude Lawrence, Yul Brynner, Gene Kelly and Gwen Verdon; Irving Berlin and Cole Porter — they were all in my world.

And then there was the best of the best, its eloquence, melody, intelligence and heart standing at the head of those magnificent musicals, Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady.” I can still hear the music, with its clever lyrics, playing in my head. Led by Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, it was the longest running show on Broadway for years thereafter. And we saw them all — at least by half.