By Barbara Anne Kirshner
It’s curtains up on another scintillating season of shows at the Engeman! How can they top last year’s caliber productions that offered one magnificent show after the other? Well, they have done it again with an effervescent Mystic Pizza.
The musical was adapted from the 1988 film classic starring Julia Roberts about three young coming of age waitresses working at a small-town pizzeria in Mystic, Connecticut, a town that is quiet all winter but bustling with tourists in the summer. The real pizza parlor was a popular place in Mystic since 1973 and became the inspiration for the film after being visited by screenwriter, Amy Jones.
The world premiere was at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine in 2021. Interesting to note that the concept for a Mystic Pizza musical was first visited in 2007 as part of the plot in season 2 of the NBC sitcom 30 Rock.
This juke box musical rocks with some of the best tunes from the 80’s and 90’s including those of Melissa Ethridge, John Mellencamp, Van Morrison, Phil Collins, Pat Benatar and Debbie Gibson. The songs compliment a substantial script that centers around the lives of three teenage Portuguese waitresses at this pizzeria who are on the threshold of making major decisions concerning lives, careers and romance. The plot highlights the contrast between the working class living in Mystic year-round and the affluent tourists who summer there.
Igor Goldin in his Director’s Notes commented on how intriguing it was to work on a musical that had only one prior production. That allowed him to open the door for creating without any preconceived ideas. The result is a true feast of sight and sound starting with an ingenious set designed by Kyle Dixon that gives the feeling of a New England fishing village with a rustic backdrop and featuring a large A-frame structure, center stage on a turntable that revolves into various settings. Jose Santiago’s lighting design enhances each set change and establishes mood.
The show is energetic right from the start with John Mellencamp’s spirited Small Town that instantly immerses us in the lives of these townies. The songs are well chosen and placed in just the right spots to help drive the story line. Under the direction of Sarah Wussow, the band wraps itself around each of these pop tunes and is a driving force in delivering emotions. Ashley Marinelli’s choreography compliments the energy of the show with joyous, bouncy movement that embraces the rock tone. Costumes by Dustin Cross appropriately contrast the classes with tight fitting miniskirts for townies as opposed to collegiate styles for upper class.
The three waitresses are engaging as they navigate into adulthood. There is Jojo (Michelle Beth Herman), who faints at her wedding to Bill (Stephen Cerf) but is conflicted since she doesn’t want their relationship to end. She aspires to make something of herself and dreams of owning her own restaurant. Cerf, a consummate vocalist and dancer, punches out Addicted to Love with revved up passion telling us just how committed he is to Jojo. Their duet Take My Breath Away highlights their exquisite vocals and undeniable chemistry.
Sisters Kat (Brooke Sterling) and Daisy (Emily Rose Lyons) are complete opposites. Daisy longs to get out of this Connecticut town and thinks her only option is to attract a well-healed summer tourist. She meets Charles Gordon Windsor, Jr. (Jake Bentley Young), who comes from a wealthy family but is equally disenchanted with his life. His secret desire to be an artist is overshadowed by his father’s insistence that he become a lawyer. Charlie encourages Daisy to have faith in herself and go for what she really wants which is to become a lawyer. Lyons and Young turn in a sensual performance with I Think We’re Alone Now. But conflict erupts when Daisy realizes he invited her to a family dinner as a show of rebellion against his parents’ plans for his future. Young and Lyons’ Hit Me With Your Best Shot is electrifying.
Kat is the smart one, accepted into Yale and is an aspiring astronomer, but naïve in matters of the heart having fallen for Tim (Corbin Payne), an architect who is new in town working on restoration of an old historic residence. As Kat, Sterling embraces the emotion of first love with a poignant Lost in Your Eyes. Sterling and Payne share a sweet moment in When I See You Smile, but their characters’ relationship crumbles when Tim confesses to being in a loveless marriage.
Leona (Kathryn Markey) is charming as the owner of the pizza shop who exudes concern for her teenage waitresses and mischievous in not revealing the secret ingredient to her specialty sauce until just the right moment.
Kent M. Lewis (The Fireside Gourmet) keeps us in suspense as the aloof critic who will either make or break the pizza shop with his review.
The company adds so much fun and animation to this polished production. and an enthusiastic standing ovation punctuated the sterling performance during last Saturday’s show. The Engeman has done it again with this delightful romp into its 15th season. Catch Mystic Pizza through Oct. 30.
The John W. Engeman Theater is located at 250 Main St., Northport. For tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.