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Me and Jezebel

‘Me and Jezebel’ Resurrects Bette Davis at Theatre Three
JANUARY 11, 2016 BY BARBARA ANNE KIRSHNER

“You leave the theatre feeling like you just spent the evening with Bette Davis!” exclaimed audience member Adrienne Pellegrino on opening night of playwright Elizabeth Fuller’s Me and Jezebel, a delightful treat being served up at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson through February 6.

Bette Davis had a reputation for being acerbic, determined and aggressive, all personal qualities magnified in her performances. In 1938, Davis won her second Academy Award for the role of headstrong Julie Marsden in William Wyler’s Jezebel. Fuller uses that name in the title of Me and Jezebel—initially a memoir adapted into this play—to reference Davis, the explosive character who imposed upon her family.

This legendary personality turned the lives of her tranquil Westport, Connecticut hosts upside down.

In 1985, 77-year-old Davis accompanied a mutual friend to the Fuller house one evening for dinner. The next day Davis called and asked to stay with the couple a night or two due to the New York hotel strike and the need for a quiet place to work on her biography. The star-struck Liz [Fuller] readily agreed—much to the dismay of her author husband, John Fuller.

This overnight stretched into a month-long invasion in which Davis dictated grocery lists without offering to pay, required a firm mattress and made numerous phone calls to Hollywood, Paris and Rome in a time when long distance calls were anything but free. Adding fuel to Davis’ already enflamed temper was her daughter’s tell-all book, My Mother’s Keeper, which was published that same month. Davis was seeking sanctuary from reporters, and what better place than this bucolic locale.

Directed by Theatre Three veteran Bradlee E. Bing, Me and Jezebel is a two-character comedy featuring Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni as Elizabeth Fuller and Marci Bing as Bette Davis. Both actresses deliver tour de force performances in their equally challenging roles.

Castrogiovanni’s Liz serves as narrator with the additional task of magically morphing at times into the 4-year-old playwright’s son, Christopher, at other times into husband John, holy roller Grace, and even a restaurant waiter.

Among the standout moments, is an argument between Liz and John, who is fed up with Davis’ extended stay. Both characters come to life simultaneously in Castrogiovanni’s versatile hands. Liz’s devotion is deep, initiated when as a child her O’l Ma granny introduced her to Davis’ films, and by Act II, she has adopted Davis’ mannerisms and fashion, which makes for an amusing vision—like an extra in All About Eve.

The task of recreating the legendary Bette Davis is not an easy one, yet an audible gasp is heard from the audience upon Bing’s first entrance as she resurrects Davis for the stage. Bing captures every nuance of Davis, from her staccato gait to her throaty tone and grandiose gestures punctuated with swirling cigarette smoke. She is a whirlwind crashing the serene Fuller household and spouting Bette-isms, such as “When they stop wanting your autograph, you’re finished,” or “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” Additionally, she spits out condemnations, revealing her jealousy and hatred for Joan Crawford.

There is a glimpse of a warm, caring side when interacting with Liz’s 4-year-old son during a visit to McDonald’s. Christopher flies into a tantrum when his happy meal doesn’t contain the airplane he wanted. Davis explains you don’t always get what you want and offers her disappointment at not being cast as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind as an example. But the following year she was offered Julie in Jezebel, and the rest is history. Chris hangs on her every word and the tantrum subsides.

Bradlee Bing and his wife Marci have been connected with Theatre Three since the early days of the playhouse. He formerly served as artistic director and is presently on Theatre Three’s Board of Directors. With this production, Marci gains yet another acting credit to her already impressive body of work.

Randall Parsons’ set, complete with receding forest green columns framing the detailed Fuller living room, is as attractive as it is serviceable for the actors. The lighting by Robert W. Henderson, Jr. emphasizes the living space while allowing the columns to function as a backdrop for the stage.

As director of Me and Jezebel, Bing has created a free-spirited, impeccably timed romp. This is a fun-filled evening of theater with just a touch of sentimentality.

Theatre Three is located at 412 Main Street in Port Jefferson. Call 631-928-9100 or visit theatrethree.com for more info, including tickets and show times.

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A Christmas Carol

Theatre Three’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ Is a Holiday Gift
By Barbara Anne Kirshner, Dan's Papers
November 16, 2015 

With the holiday season rapidly approaching it is time for Theatre Three to herald in its annual favorite, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Step inside this more than 160-year-old historic building and instantly be transported to Dickens’ Victorian England. Jeff Sanzel adapted and directs the play, and he performs Ebenezer Scrooge with relish every year for more than two decades.
 
One might question how the theater continues attracting audiences to a show that has been produced annually for over 20 years, but it does. This year’s opening night performance, on Saturday, November 14, attracted another large, enthusiastic crowd. Maybe audiences still flock to A Christmas Carol because of Theatre Three’s strong commitment to excellence. Regular A Christmas Carol aficionados will delight in the production’s latest twists and turns, while the integrity of Dickens’ enchanting tale remains intact.
 
The show begins even before the audience is in their seats. Actors gather in the main hall of the theater, adorned with festive Christmas decorations, and their sweet, soaring voices ring throughout the hall immersing the crowd in holiday cheer. Then the actors file out, signaling the audience to find their seats.
 
Meticulous care is taken in every aspect of this production, including the program, which is fashioned as a Victorian newspaper, Dickens’ Times, complete with headlines in Old English font.
 
Once seated, all eyes focus on a single spotlight, center stage, illuminating a black stand with what appears to be a glass globe, then a blackout followed by lights up on Scrooge’s office where he scoffs at his nephew, Fred Halliwell’s (Hans Paul Hendrickson) invitation to Christmas dinner. All holiday cheer is instantly extinguished, as is any request by the Seekers of Mercy for a charitable donation. Scrooge scoffs, “If they would rather die, they should do that then.”
 
Mrs. Dilber (Michelle Cosentino), the housekeeper, reminds Scrooge his partner Jacob Marley died 7 years ago this very night. Scrooge simply darns his robe, climbs into bed. Of course the audience is well versed in
what happens next, but the depth of Steve McCoy’s Jacob Marley is riveting. He is a true villain and we clearly understand why he is forced to spend eternity in chains with each link representing yet another illgotten
gain. When Marley speaks, a soul-chilling echo causes audible gasps from the audience.
 
Menacingly, he warns, “For seven years no rest, no peace, but you still have time.” A tremulous clatter of chains announces Marley’s disappearance, leaving Scrooge with a glimmer of hope if only he heeds the word.
 
The procession of spirits begins. Christmas Past (Amanda Geraci), striking in white satin Victorian dress, conjures Scrooge’s wretched childhood. Cast into an orphanage by his father, who blames Scrooge’s birth for his wife’s death, the child is alone even during the holidays.
 
Enter Fan, Scrooge’s older sister lovingly played by Megan Bush. She presents young Scrooge with the glass globe seen previously in the spotlight and surprises him with news that he is coming home for good. Unfortunately, his father can only bear three days of seeing him before banishing Scrooge back to the orphanage.
 
As a young man, Scrooge is working for Marley and learning the meaning of avarice. He proposes to his beloved Belle, played by Jenna Kavaler in charming, ingénue fashion. But the courtship is short-lived as she
returns his engagement ring, lamenting, “Another idol has replaced me…a golden one.”
 
Reliving that moment is wrenching for Scrooge. Christmas Past returns him to his bedroom, but peace is quickly broken by the Ghost of Christmas Present, James D. Schultz, who gives a standout performance complete with hardy laughter as he delights in taunting
 
Scrooge’s miserly ways, making him face the struggles of his humble clerk Bob Cratchit, deftly portrayed by Douglas J. Quattrock, who labors to provide for his large family, especially his fragile son, Tiny Tim (played by the adorable Alex Yagud-Wolek).
 
With lesson learned, a now giddy, magnanimous Scrooge uplifts the audience, raising Cratchit’s salary and promising medical care to save Tiny Tim. Scrooge bubbles, “The spirits of past, present and future shall shine through me.”
 
Jeff Sanzel is dynamic as Scrooge. The audience is with him from the moment he enters the stage as he takes us on an emotional journey—from mean and miserly, to gentle, sad, scared and finally elated. He is
surrounded by accomplished actors, many playing multiple roles, and Randall Parsons’ effective turntable sets easily morph from dark and macabre to light and merry, thanks to Robert W. Henderson, Jr’s inspired
lighting changes. Ellen Michelmore’s haunting sound effects, and period costumes by Randall Parsons and Bonnie Vidal further transport the audience.
 
This is a show for the entire family—so don’t just drop off the kids. People of all ages will adore this holiday gift.
 

Barnaby Saves Christmas

Barnaby Saves Christmas Is a Holiday Treat at Theatre Three
by Heidi Sutton December 2, 2015

During the month of December, Santa Claus has taken up residence at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson with Mrs. Claus and the whole gang for the theater’s 12th annual original production of “Barnaby Saves Christmas.”

With the book by Douglas Quattrock and Jeffrey Sanzel and music and lyrics by Quattrock, this adorable children’s musical has become a yearly tradition for many local families.

Under the direction of Sanzel, an enthusiastic cast of nine adult actors whisk the audience away to the North Pole. It’s Christmas Day and Santa, his elves and reindeer are on their way to deliver presents to all the children. Realizing Santa has left behind one of the presents, a teddy bear, the littlest elf Barnaby convinces the littlest reindeer, Franklynne, to set off on an adventure “to save Christmas.” Along the way they meet a Jewish family and learn all about Hanukkah, and bump into an evil villain who’s trying to ruin Christmas — ultimately learning the true meaning of the holiday season.

Reprising his role as Barnaby, Hans Paul Hendrickson is delightful as an elf trying desperately to fit in. His solo, “Still with the Ribbon on Top,” is heartfelt and his duet with Sari Feldman as Franklynne, titled “I’m Gonna Fly Now,” is terrific. Feldman is wonderful, playing her character with the perfect level of spunkiness and determination. The audience connects with the two from the beginning.

Steven Uihlein and Phyllis March are Santa and Mrs. Claus and double as the Jewish aunt and nephew characters, Sarah and Andrew. Uihlein’s solo, “Within Our Hearts,” is superb and March’s rendition of “Miracles” is moving.

Although it is Santa the children look forward to seeing, it is S. B. (Spoiled Brat) Dombulbury who steals the show. The incomparable Brett Chizever tackles the role of the evil villain with utter glee. Just a big kid himself, Chizever is perfectly cast. This is a fun role and Chizever relishes in it. Dana Bush, as Irmagarde, his partner in crime, is also an audience favorite. The only original cast member in the show, Bush always gives a strong performance as the wannabe songwriter who follows her heart.

Marquez Catherine Stewart gives a superbly humorous performance as Sam, the head elf who is desperately trying to stay on schedule and keep everything running smoothly. Amanda Geraci and Jenna Kavaler in the roles of Blizzard and Crystal, respectively, are an amazing supporting cast.

Choreographed by Stewart, the dance numbers are fresh and exciting, incorporating the Whip and the Nae Nae as well as a tap-dancing number — “Like Me!” — that is top rate.

This sweet, cleverly written holiday musical is a perfectly wrapped package with a bow on top. The story line, the songs and the message are all timeless and wonderful. And the audience agreed, as the children — yes, the children — yelled, “Encore!” over and over at the end.

Stay after for photos with Santa Claus if you wish — the $5 fee will support the theater’s scholarship fund — and meet the rest of the cast in the lobby.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “Barnaby Saves Christmas” on Dec. 5, 12, 19 and 26, with a special Christmas Eve performance on Dec. 24. All shows begin at 11 a.m. Tickets are $10 per person. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Sweeney Todd

THE VILLAGE TIMES
“Theatre Three’s SWEENEY TODD is a bloody masterpiece”

By Staci Santini September 24, 2015
To experience “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” the musical currently running at Theater Three in Port Jefferson, is to once again enter the clever imagination of Creative Director Jeff Sanzel. It is bold, it is daring, it is courageous and it is uncomfortable, as it should be. With productions such as “Les Misérables” and “Oliver” in his repertoire, Sanzel is no stranger to challenging and enormous projects, and Sweeney Todd is no exception. He brings the darkness of this satire to light and as we watch, as grievous as the subject matter may be, we are entertained.

Although there have been numerous publications attempting to give honesty to the story with references to actual people, Sweeney Todd is an urban legend. The story is based on a vengeful London Fleet Street Barber in 1785 who slits the throats of his customers. Mrs. Lovett is his pie-making accomplice, and together they join forces to make mincemeat out of his victims, literally. The pies become all the rage and cannibalism commonplace to Lovett’s naïve patrons. Opening at New York’s Uris Theater in 1979, the musical has consistently won numerous Tonys, including Angela Lansbury for Best Actress and Len Cariou for Best Actor. The infamous Stephen Sondheim is responsible for the award-winning score.

As is always the case with Theater Three, the performances are astonishing, but there were several other stars in the room the evening of the premier that were not on stage. This production is visual perfection. From the set to the lighting to sound to the choreography, the team Sanzel assembled for this production created a true optic masterpiece. Scenic Designer, Randall Parsons; Lighting Designer, Robert W. Henderson Jr.; Sound Designer, Peter Casdia and Choreographer, Sari Feldman took this show to soaring heights. Whether it was the actors running up and falling down in the aisles or witnessing victims slide off the barber chair and down into morbid eternity, the viewers were captivated by the imagery.

The costumes, as created by Ronald Green III, are sublime. Green’s vision of black and gray hues with pops of white serves the energy of this production well. They were a marvel to look at. The haunting score is handled well by the orchestra and under the musical direction of Jack Kohl, complements the shocking scenes on stage.
There is no actor in the Theater Three family of thespians more suited for the role of Sweeney Todd than Steve McCoy. His initial appearance on stage is chilling and the connection to the character Hannibal Lector in the movie “The Silence of the Lambs” is uncanny. Right before our eyes, McCoy creates a monster on stage, a singing, maniacal murdering monster with a heart. Only McCoy can do that and he does.

Outside of McCoy, Suzanne Mason as Mrs. Lovett commands our attention every moment she is on stage, which is often. Mason plays this unsavory character with such likability that we completely forget that she is not only a murderer’s accomplice, but his manipulative business partner as well. She is charming almost to a fault, from her brilliant cockney accent to her empathetic gestures to her completely sociopathic consciousness, we are enthralled with her. Once again, Sanzel’s intuition when it comes to selecting actors is right on point.
Amanda Geraci plays Johanna, reinforcing that her superior vocal range can take on any role she assumes. Her ethereal voice is a welcome distraction to the comedic yet gloomy story line. Bryan Elsesser as her paramour, Anthony Hope, is delightful; his version of the song “Johanna” is standing ovation-worthy. John Hudson as the Baz Luhrman-type character, Italian Barber Pirelli, is also a surprise and perfectly apprehended. Robert Butterley gives new meaning to word “chauvinist,” as he plays the very dislikable Judge Turpin and, as always, veteran Linda May is the ultimate forlorn Beggar Woman.

Honorable mention must be made of Andrew Gasparini as simpleton Tobias who does more than justice to this sympathy-invoking role.
Sweeney Todd might not be considered a musical for everyone, the subject matter coarse and offensive, but the irony is that, that is exactly the reason to see it. When a theater embraces a musical like Sweeney Todd in such a manner that it is enjoyable and appealing, purchasing a ticket should be instinctive. The value lies not so much in the story line, but in the performances and depiction of complex characters, which is done so well here.

There is an old saying that if you hang around the barber shop long enough, you will eventually get your haircut, in this case — your throat slit. Not sure you want to hang around Sweeney Todd too long, but it is sure worth a visit.

Oliver!
'Please, sir, give us more Oliver!
by Steve Parks, May 27, 2015

"In 'Oliver Twist,' I want to show Goodness triumphing over every form of adversity."
—Charles Dickens

It's not altogether clear that Dickens knew precisely how "Oliver Twist" would evolve when he began serializing the novel in 1837 -- except that (spoiler alert!) it would end well for the title character. But from the get-go of Lionel Bart's 1960 musical, now receiving a Theatre Three reincarnation, it's a given that the fix is in for Goodness to prevail.

As directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, also playing the complicated villain Fagin, "Oliver!" sings and dances with dramatic purpose, flawlessly accompanied by Jackson Kohl's orchestra.

From his first line, following the opening "Food, Glorious Food" anthem that bespeaks the nearstarvation diet of workhouse orphanages, Kiernan Urso as Oliver has us eating out of his outstretched hands, begging, "Please, sir, I want some more."

The sprawling story, encapsulated in the show that won a 1963 Tony for best original score and a 1968 Oscar for best picture, unfolds like a page-turner, framed by Randall Parsons' multilevel set of gaslight illumination (Robert Henderson Jr.) evoking 19th century London. Doug Vandewinckel
and Phyllis March temper their grim workhouse personas with hammy takes on the flirtatious "I Shall Scream."

Hans Hendrickson as the Artful Dodger (nattily costumed by Chakira Doherty) leads in the welcoming recruitment of Oliver into a life of crime with a boisterous "Consider Yourself." Sanzel, playing a thieves' den mother of sorts, prescribes the boy's assigned career on "Pick a Pocket or Two," a trade he taught Nancy, played with lusty abandon by Jennifer Collester Tully, who sings with ironic resignation, "It's a Fine Life." Later, she breaks our hearts with her ode to poor judgment in character with a passionate "As Long as He Needs Me." The "he," of course, is remorseless Bill Sikes, the monster criminal Fagin schooled.

Steve McCoy helps us see why speaking "My Name" makes everyone in earshot quiver in fear. The song serves as stark contrast to Oliver's pathetic query, "Where Is Love?" and the ensemble number "Who Will Buy?," choreographed with haunting precision by Marquez.

But nothing in musical literature surpasses "Reviewing the Situation" in moral ambiguity. Sanzel pulls it off with grace notes of humanizing humor while never excusing Fagin's child debasement.

Full disclosure: I'm partial to "Oliver!"—the first Broadway show I saw, way back when. Theatre Three's is the best I've seen since.

The Boy From Oz
BWW Reviews: The Boy From Oz at Theatre Three
by Melissa Giordano 10-1-14

The Tony nominated musical The Boy From Oz brings many emotions to the surface. The story is about the life of Australian entertainer Peter Allen. His zest for life, dealing with deteriorating health, and the love he is surrounded by create for the audience a roller coaster of feelings. For the record, Martin Sherman and Nick Enright have certainly created a story of heart and perseverance.

Jeffrey Sanzel superbly directs this wonderful incarnation - running through November 1st at Theater Three in Port Jefferson - with a gifted cast headed up by the talented Steve McCoy portraying Peter. The tale, set to Peter Allen's music, takes us through Peter's life from when he was starting out as an entertainer, him "making it" playing Carnegie Hall, his dysfunctional family, all the way until his untimely death. His marriage to Liza Minelli, fantastically portrayed by Sari Feldman, is also discussed as is his quarreling with Liza's mother, Judy Garland, portrayed by Lori Beth Belkin.

Additionally, a highlight among the cast is Andrew Timmins who is an absolute firecracker as Young Peter. His tap dance sequences draw a rousing round of applause as does his performance of "When I Get My Name In Lights". Also, a special mention to Brett Chizever, splendidly portraying Peter's partner Greg, who gives a moving performance of "I Honestly Love You" in Act Two. And Long Island theatre vet Mary Ellin Kurtz is divine as Peter's devoted mother, Marion.

Not on stage but also a focus is the live orchestra accompanying the stellar cast. Excellently led by Musical Director Jack Kohl, the orchestra is comprised of Bob Dalpiaz, Joel Levy, Mike Kendrot, Jeff Lange, Gary Meyer, Charles Clausen, Peter Auricchio, Rex Enderlin, Mike Chiusano, Jim Carroll, and Don Larsen. They practically sit in the audience stage right.

The entire cast is truly top notch and it seems each of them is truly enjoying their time in this production.

And so, The Boy From Oz is a great way to kick off Theatre Three's incredible 45th season. This brilliant cast and emotional story will make for a thrilling night of theatre.

The Boy From Oz is presented by Theatre Three of Port Jefferson, Long Island, through November 1st. Music & Lyrics by Peter Allen (and others), Book by Martin Sherman & Nick Enright, Original Production by Ben Gannon & Robert Fox, Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, Production Design by Randall Parsons, Costume Design by Ronald Green III, Lighting Design by Robert W. Henderson, Jr., Sound Design by Neil Creedon, Stage Management by Peter Casdia, Choreographed by Marquez Catherine Stewart, Musical Direction by Jack Kohl. For more information and to purchase tickets, please call (631)928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.
I Love You
"I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change Strikes a Chord Around the World"
by Steve Parks, March 5, 2015 steve.parks@newsday.com

Somewhere along the relationship spectrum, we've all been there. Dating. Love. Sex. Marriage. Omigod, children! And if we're lucky, maybe even love and sex after kids. So it shouldn't surprise us if a catchy little musical revue/sketch comedy that touches all those bases strikes a chord from New York to New Zealand.

"I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," which logged 12 years (1996-2008) and 5,003 Off-Broadway performances, makes a
winter-to-spring reappearance at Theatre Three, where Steve McCoy directs a game foursome in an on-the-make progression from first dates to funerals.

James D. Schultz and Lisa Brodsky pair up in negotiating past first, second and third dates in their characters' way-too-busy lives -- a scenario more relevant than ever in this era of virtual connections.
Next, Lisa Brodsky joins Kavaler in a "Single Man Drought" duet, setting a tone of desperation that pervades Act I, fitfully ending in wedding vows.

Brodsky gets Act II off to a rousing country-soap start with "Always a Bridesmaid," co-starring a typically hideous dress (costumes by Amanda Geraci). James Schultz regresses into baby babble as a new dad, then skips a couple of decades as he propositions a woman who, like him, is crashing the funeral of a stranger once or twice removed. His duet with Brodsky, "I Can Live With That," borders on terminally sweet, delivering them not quite to their graves. But this adept cast manages to age gracefully in vignettes signifying life's milestones, accompanied by Jack Kohl's heartbeat piano-bassdrum trio.

Just don't expect "Change," a cute diversion, to change your life.


Master Class
"Master Class at Theatre Three is a spellbinding tour de force not to be missed."
Originally published: June 10, 2014
By STEVE PARKS steve.parks@newsday.com

'I bark quite a bit," says Maria Callas, "but I don't bite."
For 20th century divas, being demanding and imperious was part of the job description. But as for the not-biting clause, Callas -- played by Marci Bing with fiercely guarded vulnerability -- isn't telling the truth. She bares metaphorical scars of bites she's taken out of her hide in the name of art and, yes, love.

Terrence McNally's 1996 Tony winner for best play -- last revived in 2011 -- receives an inspired reinterpretation at Theatre Three, directed with a keen ear for artistic and emotional authenticity by Jeffrey Sanzel.

When we meet Callas, teaching aspiring opera singers in a Juilliard concert hall, she's well past her prime. Her famously temperamental voice having surrendered to exhaustion, she retired as the world's greatest bel canto soprano in 1965. Callas, who died in 1977 at age 53, taught master classes at Juilliard. We are her audience for this session.

McNally's script appropriates her words recorded in these classes. But in this play with music -- it seems sacrilegious to call Puccini, Verdi and Bellini incidental -- McNally takes artistic license.

"Our first victim -- who is she?" Callas asks her accompanist, played by Steve McCoy on keyboard and in character. He alone fully appreciates the greatness of her presence. Cristina Faicco's meek Sophie flees in tears as Callas interrupts her on the first utterance, "O." John Hudson as Tony the tenor fares better. Though he, too, is interrupted, he has the courage -- Callas prefers an anatomically analogous term -- to challenge her with vocal authority.

But when Sharon enters in a ballgown, Callas rearms. "Never dress like that before midnight," she says in one of her gentler admonishments. Exit Sharon, who excuses herself to throw up offstage. But TracyLynn Conner's Sharon returns, dressed down a bit, to haunt Callas. In the role that won Audra McDonald the second of her six Tonys, Connor shows us (and Callas) her formidable operatic chops. Her voice sends Callas into reminiscent retreat, recalling glory nights at La Scala, represented in dreamlike tiers on Randall Parsons' elegantly simple set with lights of Robert Henderson Jr.'s design. Bing seamlessly crosses gender and generations in Callas' memory monologues, tracing romantic regrets as she loses Aristotle Onassis to Jackie the Widow.

"Master Class" at Theatre Three is a spellbinding tour de force not to be missed.

Bingo - The Winning Musical

 “Bingo! – The Winning Musical”
Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur, Smithtown Matters
Sunday, April 20, 2014


Everybody knows what Bingo is…but this is the first time I’ve seen the familiar game used as a metaphor for life’s foibles. Thus devised, one-liners spring from Michael Heitzman, Ilene Reid, & David Holcenberg’s hilarious “Bingo! The Winning Musical” in rat-tat-tat sequence. Example: In one scene when Sam the Bingo Caller announces that the next game’s objective is to form a single, straight line on the card…the thrice divorced, on-the-hunt sexpot Honey (perfectly played by Laura Bell) proclaims, “Ahhh…’Single’ and ‘Straight’…my two favorite words!”

The other three women in the diverse, Bingo-addicted quartet that continuously fires off similar rib-tickling gems are Vern, Patsy, and Bernice (Debbie D’Amore, Cristina Faicco, and Linda May). They are ably supported by Sam the Caller (Ed Brennan, who has miraculously made the switch from his recent portrayal of the tragic Javert in Les Miserables).

The entire cast of ‘Bingo! - The Winning Musical’ at Theatre Three. Photo by John Lanscombe.Minnie (Sheila Sheffield the Hall Manager) wanders the audience and plays a straight-faced shill for Sam as if the two have been at it for decades—that’s how good the timing is. And timing is everything in rapid fire give-and-take like theirs.

When a neophyte gambler, Alison (delivered convincingly by Amanda Geraci) arrives in the Bingo Hall, the petite gal with the big voice belts out “I’ve Made up My Mind” with authority that belies her diminutive stature. It’s one of a dozen songs rendered with equal gusto by various cast members. Geraci is assigned the only role even remotely associated with a plot in this essentially scenario-free variety show. Wisely, Director Jeffrey Sanzel elects not to emphasize the heavy aspect and risk losing a fun-loving audience that’s already been won.

As everyone involved in local theater knows, Theatre Three major domo Sanzel is about as versatile a figure as can be found in any of Long Island’s numerous playhouses. Having won last year’s Encore Award for his superb direction in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the executive artistic director of the company that’s rightfully become known as Port Jefferson’s ‘Broadway on Main Street’ has brought a talented troupe full circle. Gone (at least for now) is the gut-wrenching drama of persecution and anti-Semitism played out in a cramped Amsterdam attic…and not surprisingly, in its place Sanzel has mounted a contrasting farcical comedy!

At the outset, let it be said that this critic generally disdains the somewhat underhanded ploy used to name this play. To me, injecting a laudatory double entendre blurb into the name of a theatrical production is akin to titling a book, “A Terrific Novel!” or “My Favorite Mystery.” It smacks of presumption at best, and is intentionally deceptive at worst. Critiquing is best left to those of us who stake our reputations on the appropriate application of such adjectives.

But Mr. Sanzel didn’t name this comic romp, so he’s hardly to blame for any deception, intended or otherwise…and as a matter of fact, the musical on Theatre Three’s Mainstage thru May 24th happens to be ‘winning’…big time!

“Bingo! The Winning Musical” with its minimal cast, modest prop requirements, and contrived opportunities for audience participation, was an ideal off-Broadway vehicle in those regards. Indeed, “Bingo!...” never did make it to the Great White Way, and even downtown the production closed after a relatively brief run. My guess is the proletarian nature of the theme had a lot to do with that. It seems at least questionable whether die-hard Bingo aficionados are similarly dedicated theatergoers.

That said, Theatre Three has successfully used this comic freight train of a play to shine a light on human eccentricities. The result: ‘Bingo!...” deserves the acronym LOL!

Crossing Delancey

 'Crossing Delancey' review
Originally published: March 10, 2014 6:01 PM
Updated: March 11, 2014 9:40 AM
By STEVE PARKS steve.parks@newsday.com

Sam the Pickle Man complains that the matchmaker is "selling me like a used car."

Accustomed to peddling his sweet-and-sours, Sam figures he'd do a better sales job on his own. But Isabelle, the object of his sweet desire, has eyes only for the author of her fantasy dreams.

Boy meets girl. Girl rejects boy. Granny and Matchmaker interfere. You could call them obnoxious. But at a certain age, elders get away with anything short of mayhem. It's all so endearing and, yes, predictable -- forget spoilers -- as staged at Theatre Three. Tenderly directed by Mary Powers, "Crossing Delancey" will surprise no one. True love is destiny in such romantic comedies as Susan Sandler's play that became the 1988 movie starring Amy Irving (Mrs. Steven Spielberg at the time).

It's the getting there that pays off in this beautifully rendered mating dance choreographed on Randall Parsons' impeccably detailed uptown/downtown set anchored by an Orchard-Street-as-it-crosses-Delancey backdrop.

Even Isabelle suspects their inevitability when Sam sends her a hat. "I'm being wooed," she tells her bubbe.

As played by Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni, Isabelle is a late bloomer cloistered in the bookshop where she toils in futile hope that Tyler, the novelist who stops by to see how his books are selling, will remember her name. He never does -- until Izzy dons that hat. Castrogiovanni turns the neat trick of being convincingly helpless in Tyler's presence while maddeningly aloof in Sam's.

As Tyler, Steve Ayle rescues "Crossing Delancey" from saccharine overdose. Ayle makes this antihero slimy enough that we see what she sees in him -- girls Izzy's age love bad boys -- even as we want to slap some sense into her -- gently, of course. That's bubbe's role.

Sue Anne Dennehy as Izzy's granny oozes equal doses of wisdom and mischief in a way that teases us into thinking she might be our granny, too. Sheila Sheffield, as the ravenous matchmaker, pushes the comic buttons that make her seem entrepreneurially beneficent.

But it would all be wasted without a solicitous beau. That would be James Schultz as Sam, the man on a single-minded mission -- or rather a mission that would banish "single" from his vocabulary and Izzy's. You can't help but root for a Sam so ardently presented by Schultz.

Neither Sam nor Izzy looks both ways when crossing their Delancey.

Starting Here, Starting Now

 'Starting Here, Starting Now' review
Originally published: January 22, 2014 2:36 PM
By STEVE PARKS steve.parks@newsday.com

Lyricist Richard Maltby Jr. and composer David Shire might have been among Broadway's leading creative duos today -- with a little bit of luck. But that's a lyric from another show. As it is, Maltby and Shire count among their admirers no less a genius than Stephen Sondheim. The master, now 83, cites the wanderlust ditty "Travel" as one of the few songs by others that Sondheim wishes he'd written. Originally penned for a student production of "Cyrano" -- Maltby and Shire, both 76, first collaborated at Yale -- "Travel" is among two-dozen songs charmingly delivered in Theatre Three's resurrection of the 1977 Off-Broadway revue, "Starting Here, Starting Now."

In part because Maltby and Shire never made it to the top on Broadway, their extensive songbook remains relatively fresh. Their near misses are "Baby" (1983), the episodic musical about having them, and "Big: The Musical" (1996), based on the hugely popular Tom Hanks' reverse-Peter-Pan movie about a boy who grows up overnight. Both were multiple Tony nominees but winners of none, trumped by blockbusters "Cats" and "Rent," respectively. So, despite their vintage, many tunes from "Starting Here, Starting Now" may be new to your ears. Among the more familiar are the title song and "Autumn," both of which Barbra Streisand has recorded and included in her concert playlist.

The girl-boy-girl triangle of Jacqueline Hughes, Steve McCoy and Corryn David pays full-throated tribute to "Starting Here" etc., near the top of the show, elegantly accompanied by pianist Jack Kohl and his onstage bass/percussion ensemble. Hughes sings such antic numbers as the delightfully clever "Crossword Puzzle," while David belts out torchy laments, notably "What About Today." That leaves McCoy to play both cad (wooing one girl while texting another on "We Can Talk to Each Other") and fool for love ("I Don't Remember Christmas"). McCoy also makes a subtle fashion statement just by changing his hat and doffing his coat to reveal a bright purple shirt in "Flair" -- costumes by Bonnie Vidal and Randall Parsons, who also designed the terraced set suggesting a park.

Director Edward Carignan changes pace between tightly choreographed numbers for three ("One Step's" lyrically sublime "when did my world become splendid") and solo scene-chewing (Hughes in the over-the-top "I'm Going to Make You Beautiful").
"Starting Here, Starting Now" makes for pleasant date-night fare -- especially date nights for long-married couples no longer seeking to impress one another.

Stand Up! Stand Out! - The Bullying Project

LI theater troupe touts anti-bullying message
Originally published: March 7, 2014 9:14 AM
Updated: March 7, 2014 1:33 PM
By STEVE PARKS steve.parks@newsday.com


You wouldn't think a show about bullying would open with a game of patty-cake. But the bully and the girl she has targeted are both elementary students in Theatre Three's latest play for Long Island schools.

When it comes to bullying, it's never too early to reach schoolchildren. That's the theory behind "Stand Up! Stand Out! The Bullying Project," the puppet-and-people show aimed at kindergartners through fourth-graders.

"The idea is to get to them before bullying starts," says Jeffrey Sanzel, who has written 120 children's shows for Theatre Three, including four productions that have toured Long Island and the Northeast. Three shows, including the latest effort, are offered to Long Island school districts.
One show, "Class Dismissed: The Bullying Project," which debuted in 2007, targets fifth- through eighth-graders. The sequel is intended to "reach kids before patterns are established," said Douglas Quattrock, Theatre Three's director of development, whose specialty is composing music for children's theater. Quattrock recalls being bullied when his family moved from Queens to Selden.

"When I was growing up in the city, I had three older brothers, so no one picked on me," Quattrock said. "We moved out here when I was 16 and there were no big brothers to protect me. I'd transferred to a new school, and when you're in theater, people make certain assumptions. Mostly, it was a feeling of being left out."

That's one of the key messages in "Stand Up! Stand Out!," according to Sanzel, who worked on the latest "Bullying Project" for six years before its showcase last month on Theatre Three's main stage in Port Jefferson.

"I admit to being on both sides of the bullying coin," said Sanzel, who grew up in suburban Rochester and lives in Sound Beach. In his new play, bullying is more than physical threats and intimidation. It's also name-calling and social isolation.

Educational and theatrical

The company has a 30-year history in educational theater, beginning with "And These, Our Friends," an anti-DWI program for grades seven through 12. It toured for 20 years before going on hiatus.

"From the Fires: Voices of the Holocaust" premiered in 1996 and has been performed more than 500 times in schools, libraries, churches and synagogues from Toronto to Washington.
The two "Bullying Projects," with lyrics by Sanzel to Quattrock's music, round out Theatre Three's touring curriculum. "These shows are all educationally based, but theatricality's also important," Sanzel said. "We present something kids won't find in a movie or TV show."
But as Theatre Three's executive artistic director, Sanzel concedes that his motives aren't entirely altruistic.

"School tours are part of our income," he said. The company, which first pitched the show to the public in two Feb. 4 presentations, charges school districts $1,250 per performance. The plays run 35 minutes, plus 10 minutes for a question-and-answer session with the five cast members and puppeteer. Shows are designed to fit one class period.

The difference between "Class Dismissed" and "Stand Up! Stand Out!" -- besides the target audience's age -- is the focus. The first "Bullying Project," for middle schools, concentrates on the bully. The second focuses on bystanders who haven't learned to be mean yet.
"A kid who's a bully probably won't respond to a message play," Sanzel said. "But he may respond to peer pressure if kids who've gone along with picking on unpopular kids refuse to."

Guilt over doing nothing

In "Stand Up! Stand Out!" the bully is a girl. Olivia, like all the child characters, is played by actors in their 20s. Adults are represented by puppets, designed and manipulated by Tazukie Fearon. Olivia, played with a taunting, high-pitched tone by Amanda Geraci, enlists Jayden, portrayed by James Schultz, in playing "keep away" with a doll Nellie (Caitlin Nofi) has brought to school. The doll winds up in the possession of Peg (Jacqueline Hughes). While trying to concentrate on her homework that night, Peg feels guilty about doing nothing to intercede on Nellie's behalf. After consulting her puppet-parents, she returns the doll to Nellie at school the next day.

As part of a class assignment, Peg recruits Nellie, and later Tyler (Bobby Montaniz) and Jayden, for an anti-bullying skit involving fairy-tale characters -- from Alice and Cinderella to the Three Little Pigs and the ultimate bully, the Big Bad Wolf. Sari Feldman choreographs for both humans and puppets.

"I wish there was a show like this around when I was bullied in elementary school," said Hughes, 25, of Kings Park. "I was in first-grade and I remember the girl's name to this day."
Hughes said she draws from that experience to portray Peg. "I use childlike mannerisms without overdoing it. We don't want to mock or talk down to the kids in our audience. Skipping around and playing patty-cake in the first number, 'A Perfect Day,' gets us all in a kid frame of mind."
About a dozen performances have been booked so far, and Sanzel said he expects more to be added in the fall.

"The show started out as a musical based on 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears,' " he said. "It didn't work because, as any kid knows, the three bears aren't bullies. Once we turned to the Big Bad Wolf, it came together."

'Stand Up! Stand Out! The Bullying Project'
Booking: Ellen Michelmore, 631-928-2624, tt3md1@gmail.com

Study guide available here
Next free showcase: 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., May 13, 2014
Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson

Les Misérables

'Les Misérables' review: Powerfully done
Originally published: September 25, 2013 3:04 PM
Updated: September 27, 2013 11:04 AM
By STEVE PARKS steve.parks@newsday.com

The year is 1815 and prisoner 24601 is paroled after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to save his sister's starving son.

You could say Jean Valjean has an attitude.

"You robbed a house," Javert, the officer who arrested Valjean, reminds him with haughty moral assurance.

"I broke a window pane," 24601 confesses in snarky retort.

The sung-through exchange between Ed Brennan (Javert) and Steve McCoy (Valjean) sets the tone for director Jeffrey Sanzel's enlighteningly linear production of "Les Misérables" at Theatre Three.

The antagonists' mutually exclusive visions of godliness drive the Victor Hugo novel and monster-hit musical by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer.

McCoy projects both rage and tenderness -- the former in his defiant "Who Am I?" and the latter in "Bring Him Home."

Javert pursues Valjean for breaking parole, even after he turns himself into a model citizen. We hear agony in Brennan's robust voice in Javert's soliloquy, confronting his failure to execute God's punishment.

Along the way, lives are wrecked or rescued in a swirl of revolution that begins with the degradation of Fantine (Tamralynn Dorsa) in a house of evil -- the proprietors played with comic abandon by James Schultz and Jennifer Collester-Tully.

At Fantine's deathbed, Valjean pledges to raise Cosette, the daughter she'll never know. He keeps his word to the point of saving her beloved (Brett Chizever as Marius), one of the few survivors of an overrun street barricade in the student revolution that claims the lives of Eponine (besotted by unrequited love as played by Cristina Faicco), Enjolras (fervent Jeremy Hudson) and the brave child, Gavroche (Jonathan Koch alternating with James Tully). As Marius forsakes Eponine for Cosette (Katelyn Keating), Faicco delivers one of the show's several emotional highlights: the tragic torch ballad "On My Own."

Chakira Doherty's costumes deliver us to 19th century France with appropriate class delineation. Randall Parsons' spare set, abetted by Robert Henderson Jr.'s shrouded lighting, serves Sanzel's purpose of keeping each scene moving with minimal distraction, and serving a libretto that can be dizzying in its twists. Jack Kohl's six-piece orchestra accompanies with the rich sound of a larger ensemble -- enhanced by a deep cast with a chorus of actors who regularly play lead roles.

The straightforward storytelling -- story-singing, if you will -- enhances an already powerful tale.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

“All of These Spellers Are Letter Perfect”
by STEVE PARKS/steve.parks@newsday.com
News flash: "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" is rigged!

It's one of "Bee's" adorable conceits that four pre-selected audience volunteers join the adult cast playing junior high kids. But there's no way they could let a volunteer win. It would require an on-the-fly rewrite by Rachel Scheinkin and William Finn, creators of the 2005 Tony Award winner.
So, on Theatre Three's opening night, when the last volunteer nailed two in a row, she had to be eliminated with an unspellable word.
Then there's the matter of fairness. Defending champion Chip, a swaggering Chris Brady, gets the word "omphaloskepsis" (contemplation of one's navel). The next contestant is asked to spell "cow."

The other "real" contestants are TracyLynn Conner as Marcy, the robotic Miss Perfectionist; Jacqueline Hughes as hyper Miss Schwartzandgrubenierre, who has two daddies (hence the and instead of a hyphenated name); Jenna Kavaler as sweet Olive, who wishes her parents cared enough to be there; Bobby Montaniz as Mr. Barfee -- that's Bar-FAY, thank you -- who spells by writing words with his foot, and Matthew Paredi as self-doubting Leaf Coneybear.
Tamralynn Dorsa as former champion and co-referee of the bee introduces each contestant with quips she's written herself. ("Miss Rosenberg is the reason her mother drinks.")
James Schultz as the vice principal who will never be promoted and Kyle Petty as the community-service bouncer who escorts losers offstage complete the crew of misfits. Their humor is as infectious as their anthems, from "The Rules" to "The Champion" -- no spoilers here -- choreographed by Steve McCoy on Randall Parsons' gymnasium set to crisp accompaniment by Jack Kohl's ensemble. The flexible script invites contributions. Director Jeffrey Sanzel wisely allows Hughes to deliver her endorsement of gay marriage -- fitting for a character with co-fathers.
This "Bee" spells fun.


The Diary of Anne Frank

Theatre Three's more realistic 'Anne Frank'
April 11, 2013 by STEVE PARKS/steve.parks@newsday.com
In the re-adaptation of "The Diary of Anne Frank" we glimpse a real adolescent girl instead of a hagiographic idol.
"This is living history," says Jeffrey Sanzel, who is directing "Diary" for a second time at Theatre Three. The 1955 drama by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, revised in 1997 by Wendy Kesselman, opens Saturday.
The play is based, of course, on the journal Anne kept while in hiding in Amsterdam with her sister, Margot, their parents Otto and Edith, and four others. They remained in the secret annex upstairs from Otto Frank's business for more than two years -- July 1942 to August 1944. Anne had received as a gift for her 13th birthday (June 12, 1942) a red-and-white plaid autograph album that she used as a notebook. Until the family went into hiding, the diary read like any other young girl's -- jottings about school, friends and playing pingpong. Much of the rest of her diary -- the last entry was on Aug. 1, 1944 -- deals with claustrophobic conditions of the annex, as well as her fears and hopes. Her ambition was to be a famous author -- a wish she attained with tragic irony.
CENSORED VERSION That was all we knew of her diary until later editions were published after her father's death in 1980. Otto Frank, the family's sole survivor, censored his daughter's entries for the first publication in 1947. Unexpurgated editions of "The Diary of a Young Girl," published in 1989 and 1995, include passages reflecting Anne's emerging sexuality -- from menstruation to her crush on Peter, one of the eight who shared the annex space. She also wrote unflatteringly of her mother.
The revised stage adaptation reflects a side of Anne her father kept private.
"The new version makes her a real person," says Sanzel, who adds that he auditioned 40 girls to play Anne Frank before casting Ashley Iadanza, 17, who previously appeared in "The Children's Hour" at Theatre Three. "Of course she got angry with her mother at times. What adolescent doesn't?"
HAD SHE LIVED Anne Frank might be alive today if the Nazis hadn't sent her to Bergen-Belsen, where she and Margot died in 1945. Anne was 15. She'd be 83 today.
A cousin, Edith Gordon, born a few months before Anne, died of cancer in 2008 at age 79. Gordon, a former Three Village teacher and leading figure with Brookhaven's League of Women's Voters, once showed me a snapshot of her playing in a sandbox with Anne in Frankfurt, Germany. The girls were 3 at the time. Soon thereafter, Edith's father read Hitler's "Mein Kampf," which so alarmed him that he moved his family to safety in Milwaukee. Otto Frank moved his to Amsterdam. The Nazis invaded Holland in 1940.

Lost in Yonkers

'Lost in Yonkers' review: Best Neil Simon
Published: January 16, 2013
By STEVE PARKS steve.parks@newsday.com

You'll be forgiven if you mistake Neil Simon's "Lost in Yonkers" for an Arthur Miller play. It's been 20 years since the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning masterpiece by Broadway's (then) most bankable joke-meister closed. Every theater on Long Island staged it in the '90s. Except Theatre Three. Now Mary Powers has directed "Yonkers" with an appreciation of war's impact on family that we'd forgotten since World War II.

On this homey 1942 set by Randall Parsons, two teenage boys are left in the care of their grandmother when their widowed father hits the road to earn enough to pay off funeral debts. To the boys, played with natural charm by Sean Mannix and Michael Ruggiero, Grandma (Sue Anne Dennehy) is scarier than Hitler. Everyone raised by Grandma, including the boys' inexplicably normal father (Mark Cahill), regards her as a tyrant. Uncle Louie (Rob Schindlar) compensates by arming himself as a small-time gangster. Aunt Gert (Rebecca Riley) reflects the terror of her upbringing through a speech impediment. But no one suffers more than Bella, who's "not quite right." Marquez Catherine Stewart takes the role of Bella to levels I'm not sure even Simon envisioned.

When it opened in 1991, we assumed it was the temporary orphans who were "Lost in Yonkers." Thanks to Powers and Stewart's exquisite interpretation, we now see that Bella lost more than we can ever know. Instead of laugh lines, Simon's wisecracks become epiphanies.

Back To Bacharach And David

'BWW Reviews: BACK TO BACHARACH AND DAVID at Theatre Three: An Ode To the 60's
February 27, 2013
By Melissa Giordano

Back to Bacharach and David is a nice little gem of a revue. I was vaguely familiar with the music, but not familiar with this particular show prior to seeing it. However, with it being directed by the fantastic Long Island theatre vet Steve McCoy, I knew the audience would be in for a treat.

The show, as the title dictates, features Burt Bacharach and Hal David's biggest hits of the 1960's. Originally conceived by Steve Gunderson and Kathy Najimy, it made its off-Broadway debut in 1992 with Mr. Gunderson in the cast. Theatre Three's incarnation had a wonderful cast comprised of Michael Butera, TracyLynn Conner, Suzanne Mason, and Jennifer Collester Tully, each using their own name in the show. Everyone sounded fantastic and they performed 32 songs from Bacharach/David collection, some in rep.

Back-To-Bacharch-And-David-At-Theatre-Three-A-Ode-To-the-60s-20010101

The premise set at the beginning of the two-act performance was they are all co-workers at a local bar, closing up for the night. After a little dialog, the only in the show, they began the concert-like production with "The Look Of Love". They included, of course, some of the writing team's biggest songs like "A House Is Not A Home", "I Say A Little Prayer", and "Promises, Promises". Also among the audience favorites were "Always Something There To Remind Me", "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head", "What The World Needs Now", and a fun rendition of "Another Night". They even combined several of the songs and everything flowed very well.

Another highlight was the set done by Randall Parsons. The long, wooden, rustic bar with tall chairs took up half the stage. The entrance to the bar and another table were on the right side of the stage and a large window hung from above. Additionally, the costumes, done by Mr. Parsons and Bonnie Vidal, were simple as there were no costume or scene changes for the entire production. Green tee shirts were worn by all, but they made them their own. For example, Jennifer had one shoulder exposed while TracyLynn wore shorts and tights.

Indeed, you won't be disappointed if you're a devoted Bacharach/David fan. The cast is beyond talented and do the songs justice. Additionally, Theatre Three is on its way to a beautiful restoration. As it runs through March 30th, don't "Walk On By" Theatre Three and check out this delightful production.

Back To Bacharach And David is presented by Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, Long Island. Music by Burt Bacharach, Lyrics by Hal David, Directed by Steve McCoy, Musical Direction by Rick Deangelis, Scenic Design by Randall Parsons, Costume Design by Bonnie Vidal and Randall Parsons, Lighting Design by Robert W. Henderson, Jr., Properties by Julie Hoffman, Technical Direction by Neil Creedon of Avancy, Inc., Production Stage Manager is Michelle Manda.

A Christmas Carol

A Scrooge worthy of redemption
Published: November 28, 2012 2:00 PM
By STEVE PARKS steve.parks@newsday.com

In this 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth, there could scarcely be a finer tribute to his legacy than "A Christmas Carol" at Port Jefferson's Victorian-era Theatre Three.

Jeffrey Sanzel's adaptation, now approaching a quarter-century in its evolution, has been revised to clarify the tombstone gravity of Scrooge's as-yet dismal spiritual prospects. Sanzel's finely honed Ebenezer, all humbug but little harm (except to himself), is joined in this graveyard revelation by folks whose lives he might've touched had he let them touch him. The ghost of his Christmases Yet to Come (James Schultz) follows kindred Past (Jacqueline Hughes) and Present (Debbie Starker) spirits in their mission of awakening foretold by the chained specter of Scrooge's business partner, Jacob Marley (wailing Steve McCoy).Each spirit is amplified by Ellen Michelmore's otherworldly sound effects, morphing seamlessly in happier times remembered -- the Fezziwig Christmas party, for instance, at which young Scrooge proposes to Belle -- into 19th-century-and-earlier carols. Doug Quattrock as Scrooge's clerk, Bob Cratchit, endures his boss' wrath with the humility of a patriarch compelled to submit for his meager wage, while Joan St. Onge as Scrooge's housekeeper and Shultz, doubling as his nephew, stoke glimpses into Ebenezer's well-concealed humanity.

Randall Parsons' interior/exterior London set and his costumes with Bonnie Vidal accentuate the period tone, lit to candle effect by Robert Henderson Jr.It's a positively Dickensian "Carol."

Treasure Island

NEWSDAY 'Treasure Island' review: Musical gold in Port Jeff
September 17, 2012, by Steve Parks
steve.parks@newsday.com

As Jim and Long John say, the world is made up of "those who dream and those who dare."

A brash Theatre Three troupe demonstrates that dreams may be worth the dare. "Treasure Island: A Musical Adventure" makes an auspicious world premiere, implanting infectious tunes that hum in our heads as we spill out onto Main Street -- not Broadway.

Not yet.

Composer Gary William Friedman, who attended Saturday's debut, and lyricist Will Holt started work on "Treasure Island" following their 1970 Tony-nominated "The Me Nobody Knows" -- recruiting librettist Sherman Yellen, whose "The Rothschilds" played across the street. Together, they've pared Robert Louis Stevenson's novel into a lean, robust musical. In the first serious literary treatment of pirates, Stevenson wove a confluence of courage and greed into a boy's rite of passage. Moral ambivalence is embodied in Long John Silver, whose quest for buried treasure is as ruthless as the weapon that robbed him of his leg. As sung by Steve McCoy, "Another Side of Silver" captures Long John's conundrum, indeed that of all humanity: "We're none of us one thing or another."

McCoy's Long John is both vulnerable and impenetrable. His intimidating voice covers what he fears most -- that kindness will be exploited by fellow plunderers. Treating young Jim as the son he'll never have is part con to secure a map the boy liberated from Billy Bones (Odell Cureton), who died in hiding at the inn of Jim's mother (Phyllis March, whose voice doubles as Long John's salty parrot). Yet Long John's affection may be genuine. Jim, earnestly played by charismatic Hans Paul Hendrickson, finds himself torn by emotional loyalty to Silver and fealty to the ship's captain (John Hudson) and a fatuous squire (Frank Russo).

Ellen Michelmore's six-piece orchestra generates a richer sound than its number indicates, amplifying three swaggering songs: "Adventure," "In This Great Big World" and the irresistible "Pieces of Eight," choreographed by Sari Feldman (sword-fight choreography, Heath Cohen). Randall Parsons' spare set transports us from inn to island by way of crow's-nested ship, ominously lit by Robert Henderson Jr., while Kristy Leigh Hall's costumes swash many a buckle.

Can a pirate musical make it on Broadway? "Pirates of the Caribbean's" film franchise proves there's an audience for family-friendly high-seas adventure. "Treasure Island," crisply directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, asserts that the time for this timeless title is now.


Next to Normal

'Next to Normal', a musical that sears
May 22, 2012 by STEVE PARKS / steve.parks@newsday.com

"Next to Normal," making its Long Island premiere at Theatre Three, should come with a warning label. Experience has taught us that most musicals -- as opposed to operas -- come with a "feel good" expectation.
But when the song is about bipolar disorder, happy moments are regarded with suspicion. The highs, as anyone familiar with the manic-depressive state of mind can attest, are inevitably followed by crashing lows. When the afflicted person is your wife or mother, highs and lows are the roller coaster of your life, too.

We meet Diana in what appears to be a normal domestic setting. A silhouetted dinner table serves as coda to set designer Randall Parsons' modern bilevel home for Mom and Dad and teenage daughter. Dinner is served. But then a cake appears. Whose birthday? The son who died before daughter Natalie was born.

Gabe, the deceased infant who would be 18 had he lived, hangs over Diana like a shadow on her psyche. As played by Dylan Whelan, he's a demon, refusing to let his mother's life go on without him. No amount of denial by husband Dan, a gradually self-erasing Steve McCoy, can anesthetize Diana. So she's off again, singing with manic anticipation of "My Psychopharmacologist and I." It doesn't matter what Dr. Fine, a buttoned-up Steve Ayle, prescribes. Diana cannot be the wife or mother her family expects and, indeed, deserves, as long as she cannot be herself.
We hear and sometimes feel Diana's anguish, revealed in pitch-perfect disarray by Linda May, as it accelerates through "Just Another Day" while she makes sandwiches, assembly-line style, on the floor.

The music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey convey the impact on everyone's life -- not the least, Natalie's, an astonishingly astute Marissa Girgus. We ache for her. Natalie feels invisible to her mother, even as she fears turning into her. Her salvation, if she'd let him, could be Henry, the wannabe boyfriend played with sweet, stoner sensitivity by Brett Chizever.
Ellen Michelmore's six-piece orchestra, with searing strings by Nicole Caglione and Annette Perry-Delihas, amplify the Tony-winning score in support of the onstage emotional wreckage that earned the 2010 Pulitzer for drama.

Forsaking a lighter touch, director Jeffrey Sanzel pulls no punches, spares no tears in realizing the power of the line: "It's the price we pay to feel."


Play Dates

Play Dates, the latest by Sam Wolfson of Jewtopia fame, is a hilariously adorable play that speaks to everyone about a topic all too familiar: relationships. Making its Long Island premier at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson through May 5th, this production has a wonderful cast that will have you leaving the theatre laughing.

Staring Sari Feldman, BrIan Smith, James D. Schultz, and Lisa Brodsky, each person had multiple roles throughout the 90-minute three-act show. It kept the audience on their toes as the cast seamlessly went from character to character and scene to scene taking us on a journey of the different stages of relationships.

At the beginning of the show, Feldman and Smith played kindergarten children. Anyone could see they had a blast playing five-year-olds in Geranamals and taking their naps. Both of their comedy was great for their respective roles as well. Smith then played TV host "Dr. Love" helping people with their relationships. Over the loud speakers, the "callers" spoke of typical scenarios you'd find in relationships as well as other issues like dealing with being single. The later part of the show finds us with a married couple (Brodsky and Schultz) trying to get out of a rut after years of marriage, even suggesting a threesome. The audience laughed at suggestions they had to get back that spark they once had, perhaps picturing themselves in a similar situation.

The set was minimal, yet effective. A calico colored backdrop with a park bench was used for the early years. For the later years, they set up a bedroom/bathroom combo. Also, they set up several tables for the restaurant scene. Additionally, the costumes were modern, typical street clothes, as it is set in the present.

Currently being shown regionally, it hilariously reminds us that we forever come across the challenges of love. From the first childhood crush to keeping the fire going after many years of marriage to the single years when you think you're destined to be alone, relationships are never easy.

Indeed, it would be a surprise if Play Dates doesn't hit the Great White Way sometime in the future. There may have to be some development/expansion in the book - I could possibly see an older aged couple added, for example- but the production is certainly a great piece of comedic theater. Its relevance, realism, and comedic viewpoint make this a show well-worth seeing.

Sam Wolfson’s Play Dates making its Long Island premier at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, Long Island through May 5th. Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel; Scenic Design by Randall Parsons; Costume Design by Bonnie Vidal and Randall Parsons; Lighting Design by Evan Philip and Robert Teich, Sound and Projection Design by Elizabeth Castrogiovanni; Properties by Julie Hoffman; Technical Direction by Neil Creedon of Avancy, Inc.; Production Stage Manager is Michelle Manda.