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Tuesday
May212019

Theatre Review - 'The Wizard of Oz'

‘The Wizard of Oz’ - Produced by Theatre Three, Port Jefferson - reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur 

When iconic composer Harold Arlen teamed up with lyricist ‘Yip’ Harburg to create the songs for‘The Wizard of Oz,’ the pair unwittingly contributed to what has become one of the most enduring stories in the show business trivia canon. 
 
In 1932 Harburg had provided the lovely lyrics for, among other classic numbers, ‘April In Paris.’Accordingly, when in the early forties a French newspaper reporter was on assignment interviewing theater celebrities in this country, the journalist sought out the famed lyricist and asked him what he assumed was a simple question: “What is your favorite memory of your time in Paris?” 
 
To the interviewer’s complete surprise, Harburg answered that he had never been to Paris. “What?” The reporter was absolutely stunned. “You created one of the most memorable songs ever written about ‘The City of Lights’ … you captured the very essence of Paris … and you say you were never there? Impossible!”
 
With characteristic aplomb ‘Yip’ Harburg merely shrugged and said, “Well, I’ve never been ‘Over the Rainbow,’ either.”
 
Those of us who had yet to witness a live performance of the stage production, ‘The Wizard of Oz,’adapted from one of the greatest motion pictures ever filmed … in any genre … made up for lost time when we attended the show’s Long Island debut at Theatre Three this past Saturday. And, what an entertaining experience it was!
 
Not only were we treated to a production that perfectly illustrated the sure-footed genius of director Jeffrey Sanzel, and the breathtaking scenic design of Randall Parsons, but we saw a musical that within fifteen minutes bowed in with a surprising and incredibly acrobatic dance routine. Furthermore, the showstopper was served up by a dozen sub-teen ‘Munchkins,’ some of whom were making their stage debuts … though you’d never guess it. Can you say impressive? The prediction here is that all of these kids are going places should they decide to stick with the theater. And they’ll owe a lot to their mentor, Jean P. Sorbera, who has choreographed more than sixty productions.
 
The starring roles in this most memorable of all children’s stories (based on the novella by L. Frank Baum) are almost too numerous to expect in one theatrical adaptation. Indeed, virtually all of the play’s headliners, including Dorothy’s indispensable dog, Toto, act, sing, and dance their way (well maybe not Toto) into our hearts without missing a beat. And it is essential that they do so consistently, because much of the musical’s magic stems from the universality of its message … that differing appearances and human frailties notwithstanding, nothing trumps love and friendship. And of course, “There’s no place like home.”
 
It would be foolish to grade the actors in this production according to their perceived talent … all are equally in command of their lines and inflections … all demonstrate brilliant stage presence … and (wonder of wonders) all sing and dance beautifully, while playing off one another at the same appropriate pace. Two or three key actors might be expected to achieve that kind of synchronization, but for thirty to attain it, is a significant rarity.
 
That said, there is one performance which (possibly because of the nature and complexity of the character portrayed) deserves to be labeled exceptional. It is that of ‘The Wicked Witch of the West’ as interpreted by the magnificent Theatre Three actress, Linda May. Even an audience composed largely of six, seven, and eight-year-olds was compelled to rise up and cheer Ms. May’s enactment of protagonist Dorothy’s nemesis during the curtain call.
 
If there was a sprinkling of boos, they undoubtedly represented a testimonial to the convincing nature of Linda May’s presentation, and the entire cast surely recognized the catcalls as tribute … not brickbat.
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 Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newest thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced to a standing room crowd at the Smithtown Library on May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

 

Sunday
Apr142019

Theatre Review - Theatre Three's 'Second Stage'

Theater Review - ‘Second Stage’ Review by Jeb Ladouceur Produced by Theatre Three, Port Jefferson

 

Since 1998 Theatre Three in Port Jefferson has conducted an annual festival consisting of five or six one-act plays, all of which are presented in a roughly two-hour period in the ‘Ronald F. Peierls Theatre‘ section of the 160-year-old Main Street playhouse. The festival serves a number of purposes: it offers live professional entertainment for the theater-going public, functions as an outlet for the talents of playwrights who might not otherwise be so accommodated, and provides local actors a convenient conduit for their talents.

For those who might be unfamiliar with Theatre Three’s intimate ‘Second Stage,’ it is ‘in the round’ and is located on the building’s lower level, immediately beneath the broad ‘Main Stage,’ with its familiar proscenium.
This year’s half-dozen brief dramas and comedies were chosen from among four hundred submissions world-wide, and in keeping with Theatre Three’s festival regulations, are all being produced here for the first time on any stage.
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While the six presentations understandably vary greatly in style, pace, and message, two of the productions stood out for this critic … and they are worthy of highest accolades for both writing and acting. Significantly, one (For a Moment in the Darkness We Wait) is a heartbreaking treatment of loneliness as experienced by two men, strangers unknown to one another, and separated by age, background, and status. They show us in piercing detail the universality of man’s need for affection and understanding. Veteran Douglas J. Quattrock and newcomer Ryan Schaefer are remarkable in this poignant vignette.
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The other standout, (The Unforgivable Sin of Forgiveness) a comedy and a good one, is so rat-a-tat funny that the audience virtually pleads for the two actors, an improbably married couple, to slow down and let us catch our breath between belly laughs. Of course they do not … and we are all the more victimized by the side-splitting hilarity from the pen of playwright Rich Orloff. Antoine Jones and Tracylynn Conner drew the assignment from Director Jeffrey Sanzel (who directed all the plays) and they couldn’t have been funnier.
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The Festival, which features thirteen admirable actors from Theatre Three’s ranks, runs thru May 5. All tickets are $20.    
Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newly completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced at the Smithtown Library on May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com 

 

Tuesday
Apr092019

Theater Review - 'The Miracle Worker'


 

Theater Review - The Miracle Worker’ by Jeb Ladouceur Produced by Theatre Three, Port Jefferson


Our history is peppered with uncounted instances of accomplishments that are so complex they sometimes boggle the mind. Occasionally, these phenomenal successes are all the more compelling because they stem from symbiotic relationships … that is to say they could not have been achieved without an interdependent bond between a pair of participants.

In this regard, one thinks immediately of the indomitable Wright Brothers, sibling Inventors who seemed able to peer into one another’s minds as they went about breaking the chains that theretofore had bound them to Earth. In Music, Gilbert and Sullivan, The Gershwin Brothers, and Rogers and Hammerstein were visionaries in their own discipline, each pair’s partner feeding off of his artistic counterpart in order to produce works that likely would have been impossible were it not for their collaboration.

We recognize the phenomenon in the field of Exploration too (Stanley and Livingston, as well as Lewis and Clark are examples) and in Literature … consider the unusual twosome of Truman Capote and Harper Lee. Indeed, few areas of interest to us as observers are without one or more of these famed sets of dual colleagues.

But perhaps the most unique team embodying synergetic interaction that we’ve encountered in our time is that of an 8-year-old child named Helen Keller who was blind and deaf, and the 20-year-old woman who became her teacher. The tutor’s name was Annie Sullivan, and her heroic story is as familiar as it was improbable.

To this day, incredulous observers ask themselves, “How does one teach a pupil to communicate when the prospective student has been deprived of three of her five senses since early childhood?” That was the challenge Annie Sullivan faced (and accepted) when in real life she agreed to instruct obstreperous Helen by ‘writing’ in the letters of the Manual Alphabet on the child’s palm … and then by insisting on her obedience.

Veteran Theatre Three director, Bradlee Bing, must have faced a stern and similar test when confronted with the prospect of finding a child young enough to play a convincing little Helen, while possessing the innate maturity to interpret such a demanding role effectively. But fortune smiled on Bing in the person of 11-year-old Cassandra LaRocco, a sixth grader with all the stage presence and instincts of an actress twice her age.

However casting Cassandra in ‘The Miracle Worker’ was only half of Bradlee Bing’s test. Now he had to find his title character … an early-twenty-year-old ‘Annie Sullivan’ who is a no-nonsense, second-generation Irish-American lass … with a touch of brogue, and the patience of Job. I have it on good authority that at her initial audition, Jessica Mae Murphy read five lines … and Director Bing announced that he had found his ‘Miracle Worker.’

This thrilling play by William Gibson premiered at Broadway’s Playhouse Theatre in 1959 with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke playing Annie and Helen respectively. Not only did ‘The Miracle Worker’ win four Tonys, the eventual film also produced Academy Awards for Bancroft and Duke in their leading roles. 

Interestingly, the play as it’s staged at Port Jefferson’s 160-year-old Theatre Three is not without its rare comic moments. This is largely because of Jessica Mae Murphy’s instinctive awareness of precisely when the audience is dying for a chance to laugh … even if only briefly. Murphy never overdoes it, mind you (she’s too much the consummate professional to commit such a gaffe) but by the same token the supremely talented woman never fails to respond appropriately when her patrons send their silent but unmistakable signal for comic relief. It’s grand to watch her work.

As the whole world knows, Annie Sullivan was ultimately successful in making Helen Keller the notable international celebrity that she became, but there’s a back story in this play, and Bradlee Bing makes sure it is properly presented. While little Helen is the primary focus of everyone’s concern, her father, Captain Keller (Michael Newman), has his own problem putting up with Helen’s disability. Annie quickly realizes that the doctrinaire Captain, too, needs her counseling … and she’s just the person to dish it out.

Susan Emory plays Helen’s sympathetic mother to perfection, and Eric J. Hughes (as brother James) provides a truly memorable culminating scene to balance his otherwise understated role. 

This fine production runs thru April 28th.

 

Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newly completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced at the Smithtown Library on May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com 

 

Thursday
Mar212019

Theater Review - 'A Gentleman's Guide To Love & Murder'

 

Theater Review – ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder’
Produced by Engeman Theater – Northport
                          Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur 

  ‘A Gentleman’s Guide…’ is unlike any other play you are likely to see this season or … for that matter … ever! Similarly, the musical version of a 1907 novel by Roy Horniman titled ‘Israel Rank - The Autobiography of a Criminal’ is quite possibly a reviewer’s worst nightmare, because no fewer than eight (count ‘em) eight of the dozen major roles are played over a 150-minute span by a single actor (Danny Gardner)!
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  If the madcap goings on … about conniving heir Monty Navarro (played by Sean Yves Lessard) who is ninth in succession to inherit the family fortune … were not so convincingly conceived by writer Robert L. Freedman (he adapted the farce for the stage), and cleverly choreographed by Vincent Ortega (a comic genius if ever there was one), it might be impossible closely to follow the proceedings that tumble across the John W. Engeman proscenium in a torrent of hilarity.
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  But the sly Navarro rivets our attention by figuring out novel ways to knock off those relatives who stand between him and the jackpot he covets. These dastardly devices include everything from death by bee sting, to decapitation while weightlifting. It’s all very farcical stuff, but this critic has seldom had as much fun in the theater.
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  Highlight of the evening is a vaudeville-style song and dance routine featuring two males that once might have been thought a bit naughty, but in our so-called ‘progressive’ age, has to be considered rather tame. It’s titled ‘Better With a Man’ and that said, one need not go into further detail to describe its content. Suffice it to say, hoofers Lessard and Gardner steal the play with their show-stopping routine. It’s very funny … superbly polished material.
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 Without question, in this musical the supremely talented Danny Gardner has been handed one of the most complex theatrical assignments imaginable. If you thought any actor taking on the dual roles of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had his hands full, you ain’t seen nuthin’ until you’ve watched (and heard) Gardner act, sing, and dance his way through eight juicy parts (of both sexes, yet) as if he were absolutely born to each role.
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  But while everyone is good in this show … the workmanlike dressers who see to Gardner’s numerous costume changes, though they are never seen onstage, deserve a special nod of appreciation. Some of these unheralded staffers work their miracles in a matter of 15 or 20 seconds … and that often includes applying and removing the star’s makeup as well as his clothing. Geez! We should have a special category for acknowledging the expertise of such professionals.
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  Meanwhile, perhaps it will serve to give the plaudits to ‘A Gentleman’s Guide…’ Director, Trey Compton. He will know how the kudos should be distributed. This musical could not possibly work without the diligence of its dressers.
 
Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newly completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced at the Smithtown Library on May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com 


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Tuesday
Mar052019

Theater Review - 'Nine'

Theater Review – ‘Nine’

Produced by: Theatre Three – Port Jefferson

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur    

 

  Sometimes theatrical projects that we undertake with blind conviction as teenagers, actually turn out to be the roaring successes we’d dreamed of. Such accomplishments are rare, of course … after all, few if any in the heady profession known as show business can legitimately wear the mantel of a Mozart, Merman, or Mark Twain. But in 1963, aspiring young composer/lyricist, Maury Yeston, became obsessed with Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film ‘8½,’ and twenty years after initially viewing it, he (with the help of master director Tommy Tune) turned the motion picture into a boffo Broadway musical.

  Yeston named his production simply ‘Nine’ … a number prophetically three short of the dozen Tony nominations (five of which resulted in wins) that the show ran off with in 1982. Add ten Drama Desk Award nominations (seven wins) and we’re talking about a smash musical by anybody’s reckoning.

  As we now know, 729 performances at Broadway’s 46th Street Theatre followed, after which the play was taken on tour in this country … opened internationally in London, Sweden, and Australia … and was revived to wide acclaim by New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company in 2003. The wonder of it all is that until the show’s stage debut in the eighties, composer and Yale alum Yeston had never anticipated that his ambitious project would effectively provide anything but his own satisfaction.

  ‘Nine’ centers on noted film director Guido Contini (played wonderfully by Brian Gill) and his search for a plot suitable to his upcoming movie. Not surprisingly, the film is to be a musical treatment of Giacomo Casanova’s life and his legendary womanizing in the eighteenth century … though it must be noted that our Guido is as much the romantically pursued during the amorous proceedings, as he is the reluctant pursuer. Frequently, this situation lands Contini in something of a pickle (there’s a tawdry joke in there somewhere) … indeed, we see that all the demands made by a virtual squadron of insistent honeys would undoubtedly have proven too much for a less gifted Lothario than Guido to accommodate.

  Ah, me. What’s a poor matinee idol to do?

  Well, if anyone would know, it would be Brian Gill. While co-starring with Tracylynn Conner in Theatre Three’s 2017 production of ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ the 160-year-old stage fairly sizzled as, under Jeffrey Sanzel’s direction, Conner and Gill found the chemistry required for that heartbreaking love story. Now, the Maestro has paired the two once again, and the match, though significantly less tension-filled this time, proves that ‘Bridges’ intensity was no fluke.

  By the same token, ‘Nine’ is no ‘Bridges of Madison County,’ … for few plays can match the brief Francesca Johnson-Robert Kinkaid saga for pure simpatico.

  Though it might be said that both stories have to do with the phenomenon which Canadian psychoanalyst Elliott Jacques originally termed, ‘Midlife Crisis,’ (and suggested that all of us experience it between the ages of 45 and 64) in ‘Nine’ Guido Contini gets a dose of the malady that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. In younger years, healthy males might think it heaven-sent to be chased by an endless bevy of breathtaking beauties, but ‘Nine’ puts the lie to that notion in no uncertain terms. Accordingly, what might have been viewed as a naughty little titillating show, is transformed by Sanzel et al into a compelling comment on human behavior. 

  All of the performances in this rather deep musical are quite good, and the cast is treated to a perfect, pastel set (Randall Parsons), appropriate costumes and lighting (Ronald Green III and Robert W. Henderson, Jr.), and some of the sweetest musical accompaniment (veteran Jeffrey Hoffman directs) to which we are likely to be treated this theater season. In the final analysis, it is the incomparable Brian Gill for whom it might be said this difficult piece of unforgettable theater could have been written … and the magnetic Linda May (Guido’s mother) whose consummate playacting commands our attention from first to last, deserves all the stars we’ve got.

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Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s topical thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced at the Smithtown Library on May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com