Theater Review: Moana Jr. sets sail on a voyage of discovery in Smithtown
By Heidi Sutton
For the second year in a row, the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts will present outdoor performances of Disney’s Moana Jr. on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society through Aug. 14. With a new performance space behind the Frank Brush Barn, a larger and more elaborate set, fresh choreography and the return of most of the original cast, the show launched last Thursday night and brought the house down.
The Cast:Moana: Gabriella FugonMaui: Michael GualtieriGramma Tala: Gianna OppedisanoSina: Adrienne PortiChief Tui: Logan O’LearyTamatoa: Alia RomanelliPua: Zachary PodairHei-Hei: Lorelai MuccioloChief Ancestor I: Max LambergChief Ancestor I: Dylan O’LearyChief Ancestor II: Gabby BlumChief Ancestor III: Gabrielle ArroyoRight Claw: Derek HoughLeft Claw: Justin Walsh WeinerTeFiti/TeKa: Savannah ShawEnsemble/Claw Understudy: Ari SpiegelEnsemble: Jonathan Setzer
The strong-willed daughter of Chief Tui and his wife Sina, Moana lives on the Polynesian island of Motunui, never straying beyond the safety of the lagoon. When the island’s coconuts turn black and the fish in the lagoon disappear, she follows the advice of her grandmother and sets sail on a journey across the Pacific Ocean to find the demigod Maui, so that he might help her restore the heart of Te Fiti, the Polynesian goddess of earth and life, and save her people from starvation.
Along the way, the pair stop at Lalotai, the Realm of Monsters, to retrieve Maui’s magical fishhook from Tamatoa, a giant coconut crab, and battle the volcanic demon Te Kā.
Directed by Courtney Braun and Jordan Hue, with musical direction by Melissa Coyle, the stage adaptation follows the 2016 animated film Moana closely and hits all the right notes with the wonderful songs by Lin Manuel-Miranda from the film including “Where You Are,” “How Far I’ll Go,” “Shiny,” “I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)” and “You’re Welcome.”
The young energetic cast does an excellent job in retelling the story.
Reprising her role as Moana, Gabriella Fugon is perfectly cast and tackles her solos with confidence and ease. Her rendition of “How Far I’ll Go” could easily match that of Auli’i Cravalho (the voice of Moana in the film). Her vocals are flawless.
Michael Gualtieri is equally matched as the self-centered and egotistical Maui. His rendition of “You’re Welcome” is magnificent.
While the entire cast has strong voices, special mention must also be made for Logan O’Leary in “Where You Are,” and Alia Romanelli in “Shiny.”
The show itself is a visual feast for the eyes. Costumes by Ronald R. Green III are colorful and fun with Polynesian dresses, grass skirts, leis and flowers in the hair. The set, designed by Michael Mucciolo, is quite impressive. Everywhere you look the legends and traditions of the Polynesian people are evident with Moana’s traditional camakau (canoe) and oar as the centerpiece. Long flowing sheets in shades of blue are used to represent waves and a screen print depicts the beach and ocean.
As with many children’s theater productions, there is a moral to the story, best described by co-director Courtney Braun. “Moana really provides a lesson for each individual audience member. A journey of self-love and passion for some, the importance of family for others, and most importantly — a strong message of perseverance and overcoming fears.”
Don’t miss this one.
While folding chairs are available, theatergoers are welcome to bring blankets or chairs for seating. Mats are available for smaller children who would like to sit up front. Bathrooms are available on the premises and merchandise and water will be sold before and after the event (debit or credit only).
The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts presents Moana Jr. on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society, 239 E. Main St., Smithtown on various dates and times through Aug. 14. Running time is one hour with no intermission. Tickets are $18 per person. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.