BWW Review: PARAGON PARK: THE MUSICAL: One Last Ride on the Carousel
Paragon Park: The Musical
Book by Zoe Bradford and Michael Hammond, Music and Lyrics by Adam Brooks, Orchestrations by Jerilyn Sykes; Directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman; Musical Director, Steve Bass; Staging and Choreographer, Sally Ashton Forrest; Set Design, Ryan Barrow; Lighting Design, Adam Clark; Costume Design, Paula Peasley-Ninestein; Props Design, James A. Valentin; Projection Design, Corey Cadigan; Stage Manager, Liz Shapiro
CAST (in alphabetical order): Elinor Ault, Katherine Ault, Tim Bevens, Ruthie Capella, Melissa Carubia, Jessica Carvalho, Ben Cavallo-Smith, Evan Cole, Sarah Dewey, Steve Dooner, Hannah Dwyer, Anna Snodgrass Gardiner, William Gardiner, Janaysia Gethers, Jillian Griffin, Sam Groll, Michael Hammond, Dan Hannafin, Macy Hohenleitner, Helen Lee, Cynthia Krebs, Doug Marsden, Todd Merritt, Maureen O'Neill, Alice Potenza, Bryan Sabbag, Lauren Sabbag, Cristian Sack, Charlie Solari, Jared Troilo, Owen Veith, Sean Verre
Performances through August 18 at The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive, Norwell, MA 02061; Box Office 781-871-2787 or www.companytheatre.com
Paragon Park: The Musical, like the titular amusement park itself, returns for a second life at The Company Theatre in Norwell, some seven years after its world premiere. A beautiful working carousel serves as a focal point, as well as a metaphor for the ups and downs of the libretto and the uneven, albeit entertaining, quality of the production. Spanning eight decades, from the development of the Park in 1905, to its heydays in 1920 and its rise from the ashes in 1963, to the final spins and auction of the carousel in 1985, Paragon Park is a lovingly-crafted reflection of a moment in time, with book by Zoe Bradford and Michael Hammond, and music and lyrics by Adam Brooks.
The story is bookended by emotional scenes of the sale of the carousel ("One Last Ride"), and goes back to the founding and development of the Park by whaling mogul George A. Dodge (Hammond) in the first act. We meet the townsfolk of Hull and some of The Bostonians who would head to Nantasket for recreation. There's Mayor John Francis "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald (William Gardiner), a well-known pol of the day and Rose Kennedy's father; an unelected town mother, Floretta Vining (Anne Gardiner); Ogden (Evan Cole), an ambitious, entitled young man in pursuit of wealth, power, and Tilly (Macy Hohenleiter), a lovely, free-spirited young woman who will not be bought. Most of the performers at Paragon Park are immigrants, chief among them Rinaldo, an Italian Gondolier (Jared Troilo), and Amira, a West African dancer/fortune teller (Janaysia Gethers). A lively trio of youngsters (Tim Bevens, Hannah Dwyer, and Owen Veith) are representative of the children who benefit from Dodge's vision.
Bradford, Hammond, and Brooks also had a vision, to write the history of the beloved landmark as a musical, while developing characters and situations that are relevant for today's audiences. There's plenty of small town politics, quirky characters, changing social mores, and human interest stories to flesh out both the drama and the comedy. In fact, the book of Paragon Park feels a little overstuffed and could use with some paring down. However, the music is terrific, with about a dozen and a half songs in the eclectic score. Equally important, the 32-member ensemble consists of a cadre of talented vocalists who, along with Musical Director Steve Bass and a virtuosic 15-piece orchestra, know how to deliver Brooks' musical numbers, orchestrated by Jerilyn Sykes.
Bradford wears an additional hat as co-director with Jordie Saucerman, and Sally Ashton Forrest handles staging and choreography. The trio successfully wrangles the large cast, keeping their movements consistent with the throngs on the midway, or patrons of a club, or summer tourists on the beach. Ryan Barrow (set design), Adam Clark (lighting design), and Corey Cadigan (projection design) collaborate to evoke the spirit and aura of the Park, while employing a series of painted backdrops and colored spots, especially effective when fire strikes. Costume designer Paula Peasley-Ninestein does outstanding work to bring alive the couture of each of the four featured decades, and props designer James A. Valentin adds his touch to the details of the 20th century.
Hammond is a natural in the role of Dodge, conveying his passion and expertise, but Hohenleiter is the sparkling star of the production. At first, I thought her character was just one of the local kids, but she grows into a feisty young woman and talented singer. When she opens her mouth in song, be prepared to be wowed. In addition, she and Troilo share sparks in the forbidden romance and make beautiful music together. He also assumes the immigrant mantle, reminding us that the newcomers to our shores may not have been any more welcome a hundred years ago than today, but that some of them responded with dignity and honor.
Amusement parks like Paragon Park and the old Revere Beach are nostalgic relics of a very different time. If they had not fallen victim to development, it is unlikely that they would have been able to thrive as bigger, faster, more daring rides were engineered to offer entertainment to a new generation of thrill-seekers. However, to those of us who have fond memories of the venues from the last century, Paragon Park: The Musical reminds us of the fun-filled summer nights we experienced and the simple joy of riding the carousel.
Photo credit: The Company Theatre (Michael Hammond)