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Theater

From left, Lorelai Mucciolo, Evan Donnellan and Jae Hughes rejoin the cast of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas at the Smithtown Historical Society for the holidays. Photo from SPAC

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts presents an outdoor performance of Ken Ludwig’s ’Twas the Night Before Christmas at the Smithtown Historical Society’s Roseneath Cottage, 239 E. Main St., Smithtown on Nov. 27 to 29, Dec. 12, 13, 19, 20 and 24 at 11 a.m. Join a mouse, an elf, and a spunky little girl on a quest to find out why Santa missed their house last year. A joyful tribute to the holiday season! Tickets are $18 per person. Masks are mandatory. Stay after for photo opportunities with Santa at his workshop (5 person maximum) for an extra fee. For more information or to order, visit www.smithtownpac.org.

'Hamilton' Photo by Joan Marcus

Reviewed By Jeffrey Sanzel

No single theatrical event of the past ten years has had the presence of the musical Hamilton. The powerhouse blockbuster crossed into everyday culture unlike any previous work in the American theater. Eleven Tony-Awards and the Pulitzer Prize is only the beginning of the list of accolades and honors Hamilton has received.  Ardent fans in New York and across the country guaranteed years if not decades of sold-out performances.

In full disclosure, I saw the Broadway production as well as the national tour. In 1923, literary critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge said of Edmund Kean: “To see him act, is like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.” Until I sat in a theater and watched Hamilton, I had not truly appreciated this statement. (Theatre Three alum/Long Island native Ryan Alvarado was the standby for Hamilton, Burr, and King George in the tour. I had the great joy of seeing his extraordinary performance in the titular role in San Francisco.)

Hamilton: An American Musical (its full title) is the sole creation of the unparalleled Lin-Manuel Miranda who had already risen to prominence with his In the Heights. Miranda used the Ron Chernow biography Hamilton (2004) as his source, but this is no traditional musical biopic. With his unique book, music, and lyrics, he has fashioned a celebration unlike any other, and in doing so, has redefined what theater can be.

The score is flawless alchemy, drawing from hip hop, R&B, pop, and soul as well as traditional musical theater. Each song is a crafted gem of tune and words, perfectly fitting the moment and the character. The book alternates between the historical and the personal, shifting seamlessly from one to the other. Director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler clearly understood Miranda’s intentions as their staging is both breathtaking and clear, synthesizing every moment, every beat.

The casting of people of color is not about color-blind or color-conscious casting. It is not a theatricalization or a nod towards political correctness. It can be taken as a bold statement about the founding of this country, including its references to immigration. It is a fusion of history and time, reflecting both its historical roots and the era in which it first appeared.  However, it is a different world from when Hamilton opened in 2015, and the musical’s resonance is quite different in 2020.

The Hamilton that made its debut July 3 on Disney Plus is edited from three live performances in 2016 plus several scenes that were filmed in an empty theater to provide the opportunity for close-ups. Christmas has come early because this is a gift.

Over the years, there have been various attempts to bring the experience of live theater to television with varying success. The American Playhouse presentation of Into the Woods (1991) was one of the stronger examples, featuring the show’s original cast. The Public Theatre’s presentation of The Apple Plays, composed of four plays by Richard Greenburg, worked extremely well. It’s interesting to note that a fifth Zoom/COVID play presented in April — without an audience — was the best of all of them.

The recent line of live productions made for television — a clumsy Sound of Music, an overly rewritten The Wiz, a painfully wrong-headed Peter Pan — are examples of how not to do it. Oddly, Grease managed to capture some of the excitement and energy of a live performance — highlighted by actors rushing from soundstage to soundstage in golf carts. While it’s not exactly theater, the “live” element was maintained.

This is a long way of saying that there is always a danger of trying to capture those “flashes of lighting.”

However, stage director Kail has wisely chosen to offer as close to a faithful representation of seeing it in the theater as possible. The majority of the taping is in wide-shots that allow for the scope of the production, but there is still a liberal use of close-ups as well as shots from backstage towards the audience, from the wings, etc. Kail emphasizes the big picture but knows when to bring us in to the individuals. The compensation for not being “in the room where it happens” is that we are given an opportunity to see myriad details that we certainly would have missed in the theater.

One of the treasures of this recorded Hamilton is that it preserves the original company. And this cast is exceptional: a group of young (only two casts members were even in their forties) and astoundingly talented singer/dancer/actors execute a story with not only precision and commitment but unparalleled joy.

As Hamilton, Miranda mines both the humor and pathos. The pain he shows in “It’s Quiet Up Town” is only matched by Phillip Soo’s as Eliza Schuler Hamilton singing “Burn.” Daveed Diggs plays the Marquis de Lafayette with great flair but it his outrageous Thomas Jefferson and “What’d I Miss?” that brings down the house.

Leslie Odom Jr. balances the fence-sitting reserve of Aaron Burr with his fierce, underlying desire for power and position; Odom brings reality to Burr’s complicated psyche and his “The Room Where It Happens” is a breath-taking showstopper.

Jonathan Groff literally foams at the mouth as King George, who is simultaneously hilarious and dangerous. Renée Elise Goldsberry’s exposed honesty as Angelica Schuyler shows the entire range of human emotions in “Satisfied,” the counterpoint to her sister’s “Helpless.”

Christopher Jackson brings dignity and humility to George Washington, especially in his farewell “One Last Time.” And while several principals play dual roles, none is better than Okieriete Onaodowan as the brash Hercules Mulligan and the almost blushing James Madison; it truly is like watching two entirely different performers.

Thousands of words have been written on Hamilton but none can capture the magic of this landmark work of art. It should — no, must — be seen. “Flashes of lightning?” Hamilton is a full-on electrical storm.

Rated PG-13, Hamilton: An American Musical is now available on Disney Plus.

File photo

Dear Engeman Theater patrons,

We hope you are all healthy and safe as this period of uncertainty continues. 

It’s been six weeks since Gov. Cuomo closed all non-essential businesses. We have been watching his daily updates, as well as the national news, to try and get some indication of when live theaters will be safely allowed to open again. While we have not been able to determine when that will be, the one thing we do know is that theaters, along with other large places of assembly, will be among the last businesses to be allowed to open.

 As a result of this reality, and with keeping people’s safety and health in mind, we have decided to remain closed through at least June 30. This means, unfortunately, that we will need to postpone “Sister Act” again, which we had tentatively moved to the May 14 through June 28 time slot.

This is merely a postponement.  Our plan is to reschedule “Sister Act” for later in the year so you will have an opportunity to see it once we are safely allowed to reopen.

Thank you for your patience and understanding. To be clear, there is nothing you need to do at this time.  We will reach out to you with updated schedule information once we know when we can reopen.

We look forward to seeing you back at the theater as soon as it is safe to do so.  We will continue to update you when we receive new information. Until then, please stay well.

Richard Dolce and Kevin O’Neill

John W. Engeman Theater Producers

Lucky me, our Mother’s Day celebration this year included a trip into New York City to see “My Fair Lady.” Now this show, which I first saw on Broadway in 1956 just after it was launched, was a trip down memory lane for me. It was also a bellwether for how much our culture has changed. At the time of its premiere 62 years ago, the play was the “Hamilton” of its time, creating the adulation and frenzied response for tickets that we are familiar with today.

“My Fair Lady” was a different sort of musical for its many-layered themes and clever, witty lyrics. It stood apart from the golden era of Rodgers and Hammerstein marvels like “South Pacific” and “Oklahoma!” that had preceded it. This wasn’t in the mold of a romantic musical but rather one about personal transformation and English class rigidity.

The play, by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, had as its inspiration from the ancient world, Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” and more recently George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.” This is the story of a sculptor, talented but alone, who carves a beautiful woman out of stone and then falls in love with her. He prays to Venus to bring her to life, and the goddess of love hears him. The statue becomes flesh and blood beneath his hands, and what comes next is the essence of the story.

In the Lerner and Loewe iteration, two high society phoneticians named Henry Higgins and retired army Col. Hugh Pickering make a bet over whether the way English people speak — their accents — lock them into their class and station for their entire lives. Higgins feels that if he can teach a low-born pupil to speak the King’s English, he can change that person’s life. Now we are in the time of Edwardian England, and the person who overhears the conversation and offers herself up for self-improvement is Eliza Doolittle. A Cockney flower girl in Piccadilly Circus, she is both terrified of what is to come and palpably ambitious, insisting that while she is a “good girl,” not looking for anything carnal, she desperately wants to learn.

So Higgins takes her into his elegant home and professorial life and works intensely with her in his laboratory for months while Pickering looks on and offers help wherever he is needed — after being assured by Higgins that there will not be any hanky-panky involved. Higgins vehemently asserts to Pickering that he is not interested in emotional relationships. The experiment between the high-born cerebral bachelor and the “guttersnipe” pupil thus begins. Will Higgins succeed and win the bet?

We know Eliza will succeed, even as we watch her anguished attempts to learn what Higgins is working so hard to teach. There are testing moments for her progress and teaching opportunities that include a riotously funny visit on opening day to Ascot Racecourse. Fun is poked unmercifully at the pretensions of the upper classes.

Finally, the big test arrives, a ball where Eliza is going to be introduced to and judged by those swells
assembled. She, of course, pulls it off and is thought to be of Hungarian royal blood. But is she congratulated? Well, you have to go see the play. I’m not about to spoil the ending for those unfamiliar with the plot.

But her triumph is not the point. Her future is. What is to become of this person who has transcended her class, with its freedoms, grime and penury notwithstanding, and is now locked into the bourgeois rules for women in an ossified society? Is she to become Higgins’ mistress? And what about him? She has now awakened emotions in him that he has long walled off from his daily life. Will he ask her to marry him? He, too, has been transformed.

The answer is that 1956 was quite different to 2018. Can you guess?

Last year's performance of 'The Nutracker.' Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.

By Kevin Redding

Toy soldiers, angels, sword-wielding mice and a sugar plum fairy are back in town to spread the magic of Christmas to audiences young and old.

For more than two decades, the North Shore community has looked to Port Jefferson’s Harbor Ballet Theatre to officially kick off the holiday season each year with its dazzling production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”Coming up on its 25th anniversary production, the not-for-profit dance company gears up to deliver another unforgettable spectacle. John Worrell, executive artistic director of the show, said that the calibre of their production has helped it become a holiday tradition among the community.

“The dancing, the dancers, the choreography and the sets are incredible,” said Worrell. “Just the way that we tell the story is very understandable and very easy for everyone to follow. It really sets the tone for Port Jefferson and Setauket and Stony Brook and Miller Place because everybody gravitates to get that holiday feeling.”

Harbor Ballet Theatre was founded in 1991 by Worrell and his wife Amy Tyler as an open company to give dancers of all ages the opportunity to be part of professionally staged ballet productions. Worrell said it was also created to allow anybody from anywhere to come and audition, which is why there are so many new faces on a year-to-year basis as well as longtime dancers.

Last year's performance of 'The Nutracker.' Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.
A scene from last year’s performance of ‘The Nutracker.’ Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.

This production will feature about 70 performers, a majority of them between the ages 6 and 25. Auditions were held in the second week of September and the first rehearsal took place on the first weekend of October, giving way to 10 to 12 strenuous yet worthwhile rehearsals before the final show. Some of the senior dancers in the show even committed six to seven days a week for at least two hours a day to rehearsal.

“That whole debate whether dance is a sport … they [dancers] train like athletes,” said Worrell. “They work drills everyday. To be able to get to the level they want to be and be able to do their solos in the second act and lift each other up, they have to work their butts off.”

Richard Liebert and Rebecca Stafford, seniors from Earl L. Vandermuellen High School, are among some of the more experienced dancers in the production. Liebert, who plays the Mouse King, said there are a lot of physical challenges.

“There are times [in the show] where I have to lift a girl over my head and turn her,” said Liebert. “It could be a bit intimidating … but it’s worthwhile. I love doing it.”

“We’re with our friends, so we’re having fun,” said Stafford, who plays Harlequin.

Worrell said that at the start of production, he and Amy watched the DVD from the previous year’s show and figured out what, if anything, they wanted to change. The most common changes year-to-year have to do with solos, which depend on the dancers in the show, what their strengths are, and what they feel most comfortable doing.

Worrell said that there are plans to add a new element this year but wants to keep it a surprise and “make sure that it works first.”“We try to add something new every year, every two years … just to keep it fresh, so the audience will find it fun to watch,” he said.

Join Harbor Ballet Theatre in celebrating its 25th anniversary of “The Nutcracker” and prepare to be swept away by the extravagant sets, rich costumes, passionate acting and dancing and Tchaikovsky’s masterful music.

Performances of “The Nutcracker” will be held on Friday, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. at Earl L. Vandermuellen High School, 350 Old Post Road, Port Jefferson. All seats are $25 in advance, cash or check only. For more information, please call 631-331-3149.

Luke Hawkins (Bert), Katherine LaFountain (Jane Banks), Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins) and Christopher McKenna (Michael Banks) in a scene from 'Mary Poppins'. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

By Melissa Arnold

From left, Danny Meglio (Robertson Ay), Liz Pearce (Winifred Banks), Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins), Katherine LaFountain (Jane Banks) and Christopher McKenna (Michael Banks). Photo by Keith Kowalsky
From left, Danny Meglio (Robertson Ay), Liz Pearce (Winifred Banks), Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins), Katherine LaFountain (Jane Banks) and Christopher McKenna (Michael Banks). Photo by Keith Kowalsky

Sometimes, looking at life through a child’s eyes again makes everything better.

That’s exactly the opportunity you’re given in “Mary Poppins,” which kicked off a six-week run at the John Engeman Theater in Northport this week. And boy, is it a treat.

The Engeman Theater has a reputation for pulling out all the stops for its shows, and “Mary Poppins” definitely reaps those benefits with a stunning, colorful background, detailed scenery and a cast of seasoned professionals, many of whom spent time on Broadway.

Directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey, this show is a Disney classic, with all the heartwarming moments and magical touches you’d expect. Set in early 1900s London, “Mary Poppins” gives a glimpse into the lives of the wealthy Banks family — workaholic husband George, his doting wife Winifred and their adorable-yet-mischievous children, Jane and Michael.

Try as they might, the Bankses can’t seem to find a nanny who will stick around – it might have something to do with the kids’ constant pranks and stubbornness. But Jane and Michael meet their match when Mary Poppins shows up from who knows where. Without any negotiation, she invites herself into their home and begins to work some real magic. Along the way, she introduces them to a host of quirky, mysterious characters that teach them about what’s really important in life.

Luke Hawking (Bert) and Ensemble performing "Step in Time." Photo by Keith Kowalsky.
Luke Hawking (Bert) and Ensemble performing “Step in Time.” Photo by Keith Kowalsky

The story’s unofficial narrator is Bert (Luke Hawkins), a charming chimney sweep with a deep affection for Mary Poppins and the Banks children. Hawkins will have you smiling the minute he takes the stage, and his appearances will tug on your heartstrings throughout the show. His tap dancing skills in “Step in Time” will leave you breathless.

Mary Poppins is played by Analisa Leaming, a newcomer to the Engeman stage with several Broadway credits under her belt. Leamings plays Poppins with all the poise and grace the role demands, with lovely, light vocals even on the highest notes. She also deserves a nod for the slight-of-hand tricks she performs throughout the show, maintaining character even during a rare moment when her props won’t cooperate.

Katherine LaFountain and Christopher McKenna play the Banks children with endless enthusiasm and joy. Both have an obvious love for the stage and there is nothing forced about their performances. You’ll fall in love with them both during “The Perfect Nanny” and “Practically Perfect,” two examples of their fantastic teamwork.

Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins). Photo by Keith Kowalsky.
Analisa Leaming (Mary Poppins). Photo by Keith Kowalsky.

The special effects in “Mary Poppins” are what make the show truly great. Children in the audience might actually believe that Mary’s bag can fit anything, that she can instantly make sandwiches from a loaf of bread, or that she can even fly. Seeing her take flight with that famous umbrella is the highlight of the show.

The show’s set can rotate, expand and retract, which allows for easy transitions between several unique locations. The background is perhaps the most eye-catching element, however, with the London sky in silhouette and a colorful, illuminated sky that can create sunsets, nightscapes and even some psychedelic schemes.

Many of the supporting cast members are also worth a mention. In particular, George Banks’ childhood nanny Miss Andrew (Jane Blass) commands the stage during her brief performance. She has so much swagger and authority that when she’s called “the holy terror,” you’ll believe it in an instant. Also, the “bird woman,” played by Suzanne Mason, delivers a performance of “Feed the Birds” that’s both touching and haunting.

The ensemble has a huge role to play in “Mary Poppins.” Whether they’re seamlessly helping with set changes as chimney sweeps, tap dancing or serving as any number of whimsical creatures, they are an essential part of the show and every bit as talented as the lead actors. In fact, their performance in “Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious” and “Step in Time” are among the most impressive of the entire show. The two children’s ensembles, which will rotate throughout the show’s run, should be commended for their hard work and flawless routines.

While the band isn’t visible or credited at any point in the show, they do a flawless job in presenting songs from the original movie as well as many that were written for the stage version. Under the direction of Michael Hopewell, the band consists of keyboard, bass, drums and a variety of woodwind and brass instruments.

All told, “Mary Poppins” is exactly the joyful, inspiring tale so many of us seek out during the holidays. While it’s not a holiday-themed production, the theater is beautifully decorated for the season, and you can enjoy the occasional Christmas song and a festive drink at the piano bar before showtime.

Take a few hours this holiday season to leave your cares behind and gather the family for a night of laughter. You’ll be glad you did.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Mary Poppins” through Dec. 31. Run time is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Ticket prices vary from $71 to $76. To purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900.

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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.

Jeffrey Sanzel in front of a portrait of the late Brent Erlanson by Al Jones in Theatre Three’s lobby. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Katelyn Winter

Theatre Three in Port Jefferson has been a treasured fixture in the community for 47 years. Each year, the theater presents a Mainstage season of musicals, plays and “A Christmas Carol” while the Second Stage serves as an intimate venue for its annual Festival of One-Act Plays and Friday Night Face Off. The theater’s Children’s Theatre presents original musicals and acting classes are offered throughout the year. 

This summer, exciting events like the Sizzling Summer Concert Series and the Director’s Dinners, where you can dine with directors and designers pre-show, offer new ways to appreciate theater arts.

The upcoming Mainstage season has an especially personal meaning for Jeffrey Sanzel, who has been the artistic director there since 1993. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sanzel in his office at Theatre Three.

What can you tell us about the upcoming Mainstage season? Are any of the shows a personal favorite, or do you have a connection to them in any way?

Well, that’s an interesting question, because “A Christmas Carol” obviously I’ve made a life out of. I’ve been doing “A Christmas Carol” since 1988 so that has a very personal connection.

However, this season we’re actually doing an original play that I wrote called “Where There’s a Will.” I first wrote it 30 years ago, and a youth theater in Cleveland did it last fall. I hadn’t looked at it in 28, 29 years. The director of that company and I knew each other from the original production, so we had talked about it — I pulled it out, I did some rewrites, and they did it.

I went and saw it, and then I passed it around our staff, and people read it and said, you know, this is really worth looking at. So I’ve been in the process of rewriting it, and we’re doing that next April. So that has an incredibly personal connection for me. It kind of spans, when you look at the beginning of my career to where I am now, all of that.

Do you have any other hobbies, beyond playwriting?

No, I don’t really have any … wait, that’s not true. I started playing the ukulele two years ago! I started taking lessons two years ago, but that’s the first time I’ve ever had anything that is not directly related to theater.

In theater, actors wear costumes. But what’s your favorite article of clothing in your own closet?

I’m very partial to ties. I love ties, and there’s actually a story behind that. Our associate artistic director, Brent Erlanson, who actually was here before me, was an actor, a costumer, a musician, a composer and a designer — just a jack of all trades. We worked together for over 20 years. He passed away eight years ago, but he always used to give me shirts and ties for birthdays and Christmases, because he felt my wardrobe was really drab. And he’d give me these vibrant ties, and as I mentioned he passed away.

Now we have an actor who’s worked for us, off and on over the last few years, Brett Chizever. I told him that story, so he has started to, at every opening, bring me a different tie. So I have this whole collection that spans from Brent Erlanson to Brett Chizever, so it kind of ties the arc of my time here together.

Wow, that must be a lot of ties!

It is. I mean, he started doing this a few years ago, and originally Brett was just giving me ties for the shows he was in. Then it was the shows I was directing. Now every time he comes to an opening, there’s a tie. One time he hadn’t seen me before the show, and I did the pre-show speech, and I walked off the stage and up the aisle and out stretched a hand with the tie in it.

So, in your opinion, what makes doing theater here in Port Jefferson so special, as opposed to someplace else?

Well, we’re part of a community. And we’re part of a tradition that was started by Jerry Friedman, and then passed onto Bradley Bing, and then to me. We have this rich history, and we’re coming up on our forty-seventh season. We’ve had thousands of people come through our doors, as performers, craftspeople, musicians and designers, as well as patrons. There’s something about being in the same place, in this very cultural community, and watching things evolve over the years. This has been almost my entire adult life. I came here when I was 22, and I’m going to be 50. I’ve spent more of my life here than I haven’t.

Outside of Theatre Three, what is  the best show you’ve seen recently?

I saw “Fun Home” last week, which I thought was a beautiful production. I think it’s one of the best directed, designed and acted productions I’ve seen in years. It’s extraordinary — what they’ve done to tell the story. The artistry is jaw-dropping, and I thought that was impressive. I try to see a lot of shows, but it can be difficult because I’m here all the time. In the last year, I saw and loved “Something Rotten,” which was pure fun. I thought it was just terrific. It was smart, and funny, and spoke volumes to theater people. Also “Matilda” I thought that was a glorious mess. It’s kind of all over the place, but it’s so much fun. I’ve been theater-going my whole life, but as of right now, those are the things that jump out at me.

Do you have a go-to order at any restaurant in Port Jefferson for those late hours at work?

Yes, at The Pie, the lunch special. It’s the chicken teriyaki sandwich, which is definitely my go-to.

That sounds delicious. Looking toward the future, are there any shows you’d like to direct or see on the Theatre Three stage?

Well, I’ve gotten to a lot of shows on my bucket list. I’ve gotten to do “Next to Normal,” I got to do “Les Miserables” and “The Laramie Project.” As far as classics go, I love “Hello, Dolly!” We did that years ago when I was first here, and I didn’t get to direct it but that show just has a special place in my heart. There’s also a playwright Simon Grey, and I just love all his plays. He wrote one called “The Common Pursuit,” which is about academia, and I just think it’s a brilliant, beautiful play. I don’t know if it’s something we’d ever do, but as far as bucket lists go, it’s on there. And “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” by Jean Giraudoux, which I just love. I think it’s a beautiful, fantastical, dramatic show. It’s one of those things where on the page it’s okay, but if you saw it would be so vivid, so exciting!

What do you like the most about your work at Theatre Three?

Working with actors. I think what I’ve enjoyed the most, out of anything I do, is that interaction. The dynamic of working with actors on scripts, on developing roles, on character. As a director, the real heart of the work I get to do here is that.

Theatre Three’s 47th season opens with “Legally Blonde the Musical” on September 17. In the meantime, head over to one of its Sizzling Summer Concerts, the first of which is The Ghost of Jim Morrison: The Doors Tribute Band on Friday, July 8, at 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.theatrethree.com.

Author Katelyn Winter is a rising junior at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.,  majoring in English and creative writing. She is from Stony Brook and hopes to one day work in the publishing industry.

M.E. Junge (Ariel) sings “The World Above” in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar

This summer, families will have the opportunity to swim under the sea with Ariel and all her friends as The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre presents one of Disney’s most beloved classics, “The Little Mermaid.”

Gregg Sixt as King Triton in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Gregg Sixt as King Triton in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Ronnie Green as Scuttle in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Ronnie Green as Scuttle in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

The full-length musical, which opened last Saturday night at the CM Performing Arts Center, brings the ocean to life on the Oakdale stage and follows Ariel’s adventure to find true love — and her voice. The show delights children and adults with a dazzling production, special effects and unforgettable music.

Kristen Digilio and Patrick Grossman (who also serves as set designer and choreographer) skillfully direct a talented cast of more than 20 in this fun adaptation of the Danish fairytale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. Music is by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater from the 1989 animated film.

M.E. Junge is perfectly cast as Ariel the mermaid princess and shines in her solos, “The World Above,” “If Only (Ariel’s Lament),” and “Part of Your World.” Bobby Peterson is the romantic Prince Eric with standout vocals, and he is as handsome as can be. Kin-Zale Jackson perfectly plays Sebastian, Ariel’s lobster friend, Jamaican accent and all. His rendition of “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” brings down the house.

Kyle Petty (Chef Louis) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kyle Petty (Chef Louis) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

The wicked sea witch, Ursula, is played flawlessly by Erica Giglio-Pac, who commands the stage with her powerful voice and presence and is chilling during her performance of “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” Kyle Petty is hilarious as the French Chef Louis who chops and guts his way through “Les Poissons.” His chase after Sebastian through the castle draws the most laughs. Petty is a delight to watch and is on stage for too short a time.

The supporting cast does a wonderful job, with special mention to Flounder (Victoria Tiernan), Scuttle (Ronnie Green), the electric eels Flotsam (Matthew W. Surico) and Jetsam (Kevin Burns), King Triton (Gregg Sixt) and Grimsby (Andrew Murano).

Multiple sets are featured for both the above and underwater scenes with a ship, a castle, coral reef and lots of waves. Green’s costumes complement the set perfectly, with vibrant outfits, wigs (more than 40 are used during production) and tons of glitter. From Ursula’s dress, with six additional legs, to King Triton’s crown and trident, everything pulls together nicely. Lighting was designed by Allison Weinberger, with spotlighting neatly handled by Jacqueline Hughes and Marielle Greguski and the choreography was exceptional, especially during “One Step Closer,” in which Eric and Ariel dance the Waltz, and the tap dance number “Positoovity” with Scuttle and his seagull friends.

Erica Giglio-Pac (Ursula) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Erica Giglio-Pac (Ursula) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

This is a wonderfully family-friendly show and although the scenes with Ursula could be a little frightening for a younger child, the clever script — chock full of sea-themed puns, like “as long as you live under my reef, you will live by my rules” and “a squid pro quo” — as well as the singing, dancing and special effects make it all worthwhile.

As a special nod to the children in the audience, the crew turns on bubble machines during “Under the Sea“ from the sides of the theater and on stage, releasing, according to the program, 15 gallons of bubble juice during each show. Although the evening show starts at an earlier time of 7:30 p.m., it runs for two and a half hours with one 15-minute intermission, perhaps too long for the younger audience.

The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, will present Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” through July 9. Tickets range from $16 to $29, with VIP seats for $40.

The theater closes its 38th season with “West Side Story” from July 30 to Aug. 28. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.org.

From left, Matthew W. Surico as Flotsam, M.E. Junge as Ariel and Kevin Burns as Jetsam in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
From left, Matthew W. Surico as Flotsam, M.E. Junge as Ariel and Kevin Burns as Jetsam in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kin-Zale Jackson (Sebastian) and M.E. Junge (Ariel) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kin-Zale Jackson (Sebastian) and M.E. Junge (Ariel) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

Tessa Grady (As Millie Dillmount) in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Heidi Sutton

“Thoroughly Modern Millie” opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport last Saturday, a fitting finale to its 2015-16 season. With music by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics by Dick Scanlan and book by Richard Morris and Scanlan, the play is based on the 1967 film starring Julie Andrews and won six Tony awards, including Best Musical in 2002. It has been making the rounds in community theater and high school productions ever since.

Sarah Stevens (as Miss Dorothy Brown) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) sing “How the Other Half Lives” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo from Michael DeCristofaro
Sarah Stevens (as Miss Dorothy Brown) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) sing “How the Other Half Lives” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo from Michael DeCristofaro

Drew Humphrey directs the talented cast with polish and precision. From the jazzy opening number, “Not for the Life of Me,” the show takes off running and never loses momentum.

The year is 1922 and “modern gal” Millie Dillmount, played by Tessa Grady, has just arrived in the Big Apple from Salina, Kansas, with the sole intent of marrying for money instead of love. Within minutes, she is robbed of her hat, her purse and a shoe. She quips, “10 minutes in this town and I have my New York horror story.” Grady is perfectly cast as a determined woman who takes charge of her own destiny and jumps right in to the flapper lifestyle with a new wardrobe and hairstyle. However, things start to go haywire when her “Chinese” landlady, Mrs. Meers, turns out to be an impostor involved in a white slavery ring in China, and the rich man Millie wants to marry doesn’t seem to notice her.

Daniel Plimpton (as Jimmy Smith) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) sing “I Turned a Corner” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Daniel Plimpton (as Jimmy Smith) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) sing “I Turned a Corner” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

With fancy footwork and pitch-perfect voices, the entire cast shines, with special mention to Daniel Plimpton (playing Jimmy Smith), Sarah Stevens (as Miss Dorothy Brown), Nicole Powell (as Muzzy Van Hossmere) and Tim Rogan (playing Mr. Trevor Graydon), who all gave stellar performances. However, it is Michele Ragusa, in the delicious role of Mrs. Meers, and her two henchmen, Ching Ho, played by Anthony Chan, and Bun Foo, played by Carl Hsu, who steal the show. Meers’ famous line, “Sad to be all alone in the world,” said every time she comes upon an orphan and next victim, draws the most laughs.

The show is a feast for the eyes, with glittering flapper dresses and three-piece suits designed by Kurt Alger perfectly capturing the era. The set is equally impressive. Cleverly designed by Jonathan Collins, panels on the stage resemble a sparkling New York City skyline, and when spun around reveal small additions to a scene such as a desk or a bench.

Nicole Powell (as Muzzy Van Hossmere) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.' Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Nicole Powell (as Muzzy Van Hossmere) and Tessa Grady (as Millie Dillmount) in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Choreographers Dena DiGiacinto and Humphrey do an incredible job incorporating the jazz age’s dance styles, including the Charleston, the shimmy and the can-can. “The Speed Test” in which Millie shows her typewriting speed, accompanied by a highly energetic tap ensemble, is breathtaking. As a special treat, conductor/keyboardist James Olmstead and his eight-piece powerhouse band belt out jazz and blues tunes flawlessly throughout the night, completing a wonderful evening of live theater.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Thoroughly Modern Millie” through July 10. Running time is approximately two hours, including one 15-minute intermission. Tickets range from $69 to $74 with free valet parking.

The season continues with “Mamma Mia!” from July 21 to Sept. 11, “1776” from Sept. 22 to Nov. 6 and “Mary Poppins” from Nov. 17 to Jan. 1, 2017. To order tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Anthony Chan (as Ching Ho), Michele Ragusa (as Mrs. Meers) and Carl Hsu (as Bun Foo) sing “Muqin” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Anthony Chan (as Ching Ho), Michele Ragusa (as Mrs. Meers) and Carl Hsu (as Bun Foo) sing “Muqin” in a scene from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro