BWW Interview: Joey Sanzaro and MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS at The Growing Stage

BWW Interview: Joey Sanzaro and MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS at The Growing Stage

The Growing Stage (TGS), The Children's Theatre of New Jersey, located in the Historic Palace Theatre in Netcong concludes its 37th Main Stage season with Mr. Popper's Penguins. The show runs from May 3 to May 19. The show is based on the popular novel by Richard and Florence Atwater. It features music and lyrics by George Howe, with a book by Robert Kauzlaric. The production is directed by Lori B. Lawrence, TGS's Director of Educational Programming, and features Musical Direction by Stephen Fox with Choreography by Jillian Petrie.

In Mr. Popper's Penguins, money is tight and times are tough in the town of Stillwater. With no houses to paint till next spring, Mr. Popper is stuck at home daydreaming of Arctic adventures, while Mrs. Popper must scrimp and save just to put beans on the table. But with the unexpected arrival of a spirited penguin named Captain Cook, a new horizon opens before them and before long the Poppers have a snowdrift in the living room and a dozen delightful penguins living in the house. With an ever-increasing bill for canned shrimp, what can the wonderfully imaginative Poppers do but train the penguins and take the show on the road! It's a flipper-flapping musical tale that will make you believe in the power of ingenuity and determination.

Mr Popper's Penguins features the talents of six professional performers in the cast. Returning to the Palace are: Joey Sanzaro as Mr. Popper; Lyndsey Brown as Mrs. Popper; Donald Danford as Admiral Drake/Others; Niall Ng as Captain Cook the Penguin. Making their Growing Stage debuts are Jessica Stanzek as Mrs. Callahan/Others and Sarah Emaline Melton as Greta the Penguin. had the opportunity to interview Joey Sanzaro who plays Mr. Popper in the upcoming show.

Joey Sanzaro is delighted to return to the Growing Stage. He was last seen at the Palace Theater as The Lion in Growing Stage's fall production of The Wizard of Oz. Joey studied acting at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. Since training, he has worked professionally in theatrical productions all over the country, including the second national/international tour of Sister Act the Musical. Some favorite credits include Les Miserables (Jean Valjean), Ragtime (Tateh), Sweeney Todd (Sweeney Todd), Jesus Christ Superstar (Judas), The Wizard of Oz (The Lion), and Into the Woods (The Baker).

Tell us a little about how your education influenced your career as an actor.

Education in general is invaluable to an actor. I've come to realize that there is no such thing as useless information. Anything and everything can be turned into a creative choice.

As far as actor training goes, The Stella Adler Studio taught me that acting wasn't some ethereal, mystical thing that only a handful of special people can do. It is a reliable, repeatable process that can be broken down into parts. It gave me a solid foundation upon which any performance can be built. My training is my best friend when approaching a role. Without it, I'd be lost.

Why do you think children's theatre is so important for young people and their families?

Stories are all about meaning. They teach us about who we are. I think it is crucial for children to be exposed to theater because it helps them to understand themselves. It is also a wonderful opportunity for parents and children to share in a positive experience.

"Mr. Popper's Penguins" is a classic children's book. What makes it ideal for staging as a play?

The great thing about this show in particular is that it forces both the cast and the audience to be creative. Of course the penguins are only puppets that are operated by adult performers. But if we manage to do our jobs well enough, the audience will participate in the illusion through suspension of disbelief. They'll become an active part of the fantasy. That level of audience engagement is what makes this a perfect story for the stage.

Tell us a little about your role as Mr. Popper.

Mr. Popper is a dreamer. When he walks down the street, instead of seeing a drab suburb, he sees a world full of excitement and potential. He transforms the mundane into the extraordinary through the use of his imagination. He dreams of exploring Antarctica because he believes it will satisfy his sense of adventure. Throughout the course of the story, with the support of his all too patient wife, he has a different kind of Antarctic adventure that teaches him the value of home.

Can you tell us a little about the special touches that audiences can expect in the show?

I have a feeling that the audience, particularly the young members of the audience, will enjoy the creative use of puppetry. There is a sequence involving the entire cast in which the Poppers and the penguins perform a sort of manic circus act. It is a genuinely funny and exciting musical number.

We'd love to know more about the team at The Growing Stage that is making Mr. Popper's Penguins happen.

The show is directed by Lori Lawrence. Lori has an amazing sense of humor which is what gives this production its charm. Part of what makes her such a fantastic director is her ability to balance her openness to exploration and collaboration with her vision for the show. As an actor, she makes me feel a sense of structure and freedom at the same time. That is the ideal scenario.

Our choreographer Jillian Petrie has a true talent for using the space creatively. I enjoy working with her because she places the story above all else. I'm always impressed and excited by her contributions to the show.

And of course there is Mr. Stephen Fox, our musical director. Stephen, like Jillian and Lori, is always thinking in terms of story. He is meticulous in shaping the dynamics of the songs and giving them a sense of growth. He brings such positivity and heart to the work.

Also working on the production is our stage manager, Nicole Rizzo. Nicole is a very talented performer in her own right. I had the pleasure of working onstage with her in The Wizard of Oz. I'm happy to have an opportunity to work with her again.

I'm also excited to work with this talented cast of actors, several of whom are also returning to The Growing Stage.

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

Audiences should know that while kids will definitely love the show, there is truly something for people of all ages to enjoy.

Anything else, absolutely anything you want BWW readers to know.

I'd just like to stress the importance of organizations like The Growing Stage who provide quality entertainment to children. Live theater is such a powerful and special thing to experience. Speaking not only as a professional actor, but as someone who teaches acting to kids and teens, I can attest to the power that theater has in helping children grow into mature, well-rounded, empathic adults. Support live theater whenever possible.

BWW Interview: Joey Sanzaro and MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS at The Growing Stage

Mr. Popper's Penguins runs May 3 to May 19 with performances on Saturdays and Sundays at 4:00 PM and a special Opening Night Performance, May 3rd at 7:30PM followed by a post-show reception. On May 19th at 1PM, The Growing Stage will present a sensory friendly performance. At this performance, see the full production in a safe, supportive environment. Ticket prices are $28 for adults, $22 for seniors and $18 for children. To purchase tickets, please visit or call (973) 347-4946. Group rates are available.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Joey Sanzaro and The Growing Stage

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From This Author Marina Kennedy