'Porkenstein' comes to Milford Fine Arts theater this weekend

For more than 30 years, Bert Bernardi has entertained audiences of all ages. Honing his talent for writing children's shows at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre that entertains parents as well as their offspring, Bernardi and theater partner Jimmy Johansmeyer will bring a new children's musical, Porkenstein, to Milford's Center for the Arts this weekend.

The world premiere of Porkenstein is Saturday, Oct. 19; there are two shows, 2 and 5:30 p.m. Performances are also Sunday, Oct. 20, 2 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 26, 2 and 5:30 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 27, 2 p.m. All seats are $17. To make a reservation, go to tickets@pantochino.com. Tickets will also be available at the door.

Based upon the book by Kathryn Lasky, Porkenstein “mashes together the stories of The Three Little Pigs and Frankenstein,” said Bernardi.

Under the auspices of Pantochino Productions, a children's theater company Bernardi and Johansmeyer launched in 2010,  Porkenstein features book and lyrics by Bernardi, costume and set design by Johansmeyer and music by Justin Rucc.

The eight-member cast includes professional and local actors. Rachael Dugas, of Milford, and teens Jessica Gagne, 16, of Seymour, and Kelsey Sullivan, 19, of Shelton, are part of the ensemble.

“We always like to give opportunities to younger people,” Bernardi noted. “This is how we both started out and we want to encourage young people to do the same.”

Bernardi attended the University of Bridgeport and shortly after graduation, he was hired to work as an actor at the Downtown Cabaret Theater. His knack for conceiving and writing clever and humorous, and often irreverent, interpretations of children's classic tales attracted adults as well as children. Bernardi was soon promoted to head the children's theatre company. For his canon of work-acting, conceiving, writing and directing more than 200 musicals for young audiences, Bernardi received the Connecticut Critics Circle's Tom Killian Award for Outstanding Contribution to Theater.

“I've always said that I want to write something that I personally think is funny,” Bernardi said. “I've always tried to put on shows that have something for adults, that older kids would find intriguing, and that would keep younger audiences engaged and entertained.”

Also an alum of the Downtown Cabaret Theater company, Johansmeyer collaborated with Bernardi for 16 years onstage. He also worked backstage as the theater's resident costume designer. Johansmeyer's resume also includes stints at several regional theaters in New York and Pennsylvania; he has designed costumes for various projects produced up and down the eastern seaboard, including Off-Broadway's Matthew Passion.

For the past two years, Pantochino Productions has held its summer theater camp in Milford.

“Last year we produced our Christmas Show at the Center for the Arts and it was a great fit,” Bernardi said. “We're happy to be able to play our entire third season here.”

Pantochino's next musical, The Great Cinnamon Bear Christmas Radio Show, opens on Friday, Dec. 6 and runs through Sunday, Dec. 29. Based upon a real radio show from 1937, the story focuses on the adventures of two children who embark with a teddy bear on a search for a Christmas tree star.

Pirate Schmirate, performed March 21 to 30, is the final show this season.

This year Pantochino launched it first Teen Theatre Company for young people age 13 and up in Milford. Rehearsals for  Godspell Junior Edition begin in December and registration is ongoing.  Performances are Friday, Feb. 29 and Saturday, March 1.

“This is a great opportunity for kids that age who cannot attend our camps in the summer,” Bernardi said. “Rehearsals are on Saturdays so it's possible for them to also participate in their school plays.”

Growing in Milford, Mass., Bernardi began to perform in teen theater shows when he was 13. These experiences fueled his passion to pursue a career in the arts.

“We hope to inspire the kids to continue to do what they love,” he said. “Also, by participating in the teen shows, they get the experience of working on a play with professionals and expanding their skills.”

This summer Bernardi and Johansmeyer will resume teaching their three week camp program. Fairfield clothing designer Jennifer Butler said her two daughters Olivia, 13, and Hazel, 9, have enjoyed attending camp each year.

“They learn techniques for improvisation, singing and dancing,” Butler said. “I”m always amazed they can remember their lines and cues. They did two weeks of camp where they learn a play all week and then perform it on Friday. They also participated in the Broadway camp where an actor from a major show comes in and teaches the kids a number from their show.”

For more information about the Milford Center for the Arts, call 203-878-6647. The Center is located at 40 Railroad South, Milford.