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'Breaking Up Is Hard to Do' in Port Jeff

Phyllis March and Stephen Doone star in "Breaking

Phyllis March and Stephen Doone star in "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" at Theatre Three, through March 17, 2012. Credit: Theatre Three / Peter Lanscombe/

As a 19-year-old, Neil Sedaka earned $86.50 a week accompanying cha-cha lessons on piano by day and playing ballroom music by night at Esther's Catskills resort. That summer, he fell in love with the owner's 16-year-old daughter, now his wife of nearly 50 years.

So we know where the creators of the 2005 jukebox musical "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" got their story line inspiration -- if you can call a by-the-numbers plot inspired.

Steve McCoy directs and choreographs this calorie-free confection at Theatre Three with an appropriately light touch. If you're of a certain age (Does Connie Francis ring a bell?), the show may even supply a midwinter's glow over some bygone summer romance.

Marge has been dragged to the Catskills for Labor Day weekend by her friend Lois. This was supposed to be her honeymoon destination. But the groom lost his way to the altar. Dumb-blonde Lois tells Marge, in one of her serial malapropisms, "There are plenty of fish in the trees." Cue the song "Where the Boys Are."

Randall Parsons' nightclub set, brightened by early-'60s costumes co-designed by Bonnie Vidal, frames Doug Quattrock's onstage band at Esther's Paradise resort.

Sedaka hits that can't be linked to the transparent plot -- "Stupid Cupid" suits Lois, played with clueless aplomb by Jennifer Collester-Tully -- are shoehorned into the nightclub act. "Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen," sung by recording-star-wannabe Del Delmonico (Rob Schindlar), gets a comic lift from an audience volunteer who's beyond counting candles.

To lift her friend's spirits, Lois tells Del that Marge's dad is in the music business. Implausibly, that's enough to send Del into charm overdrive. Rebound Marge is soon imagining herself as his every-month "Calendar Girl." Meanwhile, Gabe, the resort geek, swoons in silence, dreaming of their "Laughter in the Rain" romp together.

In her self-pitying "Solitaire," Marge -- as sung by Laura Bell -- almost brings drama to "Breaking Up" with her searing rendition. The resort's namesake, played by Phyllis March, and her longtime secret admirer, a comedian wistfully portrayed by Stephen Doone, also interrupt the levity with a touching "King of Clowns" duet.

Although Schindlar does the show a favor with his underwhelming Del -- he's not supposed to be good enough for "American Bandstand" -- Brett Chizever's Gabe should knock the bobby socks off any "Bandstand" babe. But instead of superstar sparks, there's a shy-boy sweetness to his "Love Will Keep Us Together" audition. We suspect Dick Clark would pass.

WHAT "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," music by Neil Sedaka, lyrics by Sedaka, Howard Greenfield and Philip Cody, book by Erik Jackson and Ben Winters

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through March 17 at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson

INFO $14-$28; theatre, 631-928-9100

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