By Heidi Sutton
As the holiday season rolls around, the Village of Port Jefferson is one of the first towns on Long Island to fully embrace its joyful spirit. Z-Pita Café on Main Street is already decked in holiday lights from top to bottom, elves are busy getting Santa’s workshop ready on the corner of Barnum Avenue and West Broadway and preparations are underway to transport the seaport village back to the Victorian era for its 24th annual Charles Dickens Festival on Dec 7 and 8.
The latter was inspired by Theatre Three’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” Now in its 36th year, the show continues to delight and touch audiences of all ages, a testament to the brilliance of the theater’s Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel and the caliber of its cast. Last Saturday’s opening night performance received a much deserved standing ovation.
Based on the 1843 novella by Charles Dickens, it tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Sanzel), a successful business man who loves money more than anything else and has become bitter, lonely and stingy over the years, especially around the holidays. “I’ve devoted my life to the cultivation of business,” he explains.
We first meet the miserly old curmudgeon on Christmas Eve and witness him turn away the needy and a charity group and lose his temper with his clerk Bob Cratchit (Douglas J. Quattrock) and his always optimistic nephew Fred Halliwell (Steven Uihlein). “Keep Christmas in your own way and I will keep it in mine,” he warns Halliwell before kicking him out.
That evening Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his business partner Jacob Marley (Andrew Lenahan) who offers him one last chance at redemption. Draped in the chains he has forged in life, Marley tells Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits — the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future – in an attempt to save his immortal soul.
The Ghost of Christmas Past (Michelle LaBozzetta) takes Scrooge to Wellington House, the boarding school he attended as a young boy and where he spent many Christmases alone; we meet his adored sister Fan and his apprenticeship at Fezziwig’s, where the audience is introduced to Scrooge’s one and only love, Belle (Nicole Bianco). This is also where he meets Marley for the first time and where his life takes a terrible turn.
The Ghost of Christmas Present (Stephen T. Wangner) takes Scrooge to meet Bob Cratchit’s family and learn about the failing health of Tiny Tim and to a dinner party hosted by his nephew in one of the funniest moments in the show.
Lastly, the most intimidating specter, a 14-foot Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (operated by Steven Uihlein), shows Scrooge the shadows of what is yet to come, including his own death and how those around him are affected. In the end, Scrooge learns that “life is not about facts and figures. It’s about joy and family and Christmas.”
While the entire cast is excellent, it is Sanzel who commands the stage. One of his finest moments occurs when the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to Fezziwig’s holiday party. While at all other times he remains in the shadows as an observer, Sanzel suddenly jumps into the role of a younger Scrooge with boundless energy and dances the night away. The transformation is breathtaking.
As director, Sanzel succeeds in keeping the annual production fresh and exciting while maintaining its familiarity, allowing families to share in a story that touches on empathy, selflessness and charity, while providing lots of laughs, visual amazement and more than a few surprises. This year the lighting and sound effects by Robert W. Henderson Jr. take center stage and elevate the flawless production to the next level, a feast for the eyes and ears.
Arrive early and be treated to a selection of Christmas carols by the actors in the beautifully decorated lobby and stay afterward for a photo keepsake with Scrooge. The $5 fee goes to support the theater’s scholarship fund.
The Cast: Nicole Bianco, Ginger Dalton, Holly D’Accordo, Kailey D’Accordo, Ellie Dunn, Suzie Dunn, Alexa Eichinger, Julie Friedman, Eric J. Hughes, Kyle Imperatore, Audrey Kelly, Sophia Knapp, David Lafler, Edward Langston, Michelle LaBozzetta, Cassandra LaRocco, Andrew Lenahan, Douglas J. Quattrock, Michaela Reis, Leah Romero, Jeffrey Sanzel, Aiden Sharkey, Finn Thomas, Cameron Turner, Amber Walkowiak, Stephen T. Wangner, Steven Uihlein, Addyson Urso and Kiernan Urso.
Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” through Dec. 28. Please note all evening shows begin at 7 p.m. Running time is 2 hours. Tickets are $20 per person through November; $35 adults, $28 seniors and students in December. For more information or to order tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.
All photos by Brian Hoerger/ Theatre Three Productions Inc.