Music and motion add to appeal of ‘Mystic Pizza,’ in its world premiere at Ogunquit

If you are looking for a hot slice of theatrical fun, you might want to head out to see the latest show at the Ogunquit Playhouse. “Mystic Pizza: A New Musical” is now serving up its specialty in the open-air Leary Pavilion adjacent to the historic theater building at the venerable summer haven.

The world premiere musical, based on the highly regarded 1988 romantic comedy that catapulted Julia Roberts to stardom, gathers a bunch of period music around intertwining tales of love among the residents of a New England coastal community defined by seaside mansions, a working waterfront, pubs and pizza joints.

Three young woman servers at the titular establishment find that love is the most unnerving yet maybe (only maybe) the most important element missing from their lives. But, like their boss’s much sought-after pizza sauce recipe, it’s hard to get a hold of the secret ingredient that will bring their various hopes and ambitions together into a palatable whole.

With only a few tweaks, the show stays fairly close to the plot lines of the now legendary film which was known for its subtle treatment of themes of young love in a world slowly awakening to social change. Issues of traditional gender and class roles along with burgeoning questions of diversity are still wrapped, in this new musical, in a sweet story of three likable young women.

The production relies on classic hits from the 1980s and ’90s (with a few outliers) that are artfully integrated into the story. The result works to produce the usual lift of hearing those great old tunes once again without them becoming the obvious raison d’etre of the show. It’s a good story (book by Sandy Rustin, based on the film) matched up very nicely with good music (directed, arranged and supervised by Kristin Stowell and Carmel Dean) that makes this show an all-around treat. Of course, director Casey Hushon and choreographer Liz Ramos have also added integral parts to the highly entertaining whole.

A talented cast led by Krystina Alabado, Kyra Kennedy and Gianna Yanelli confirms the Ogunquit Playhouse’s long tradition of bringing top quality Broadway up-and-comers to their summer stage.

Alabado plays Daisy Arujo, the role originated by Julia Roberts, a curvy cutie of Portuguese heritage much liked by the guys but looking for something more out of life, with or without her suitor, the upperclass Charlie (Corey Mach). Alabado’s vocal strength meets the test in a range of numbers from the all-out Melissa Etheridge hit “I’m the Only One” to a combative “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” in duet with Mach.

A touching arrangement of the Cindi Lauper hit “True Colors,” is sung in duet by Daisy and her Yale-bound sister Kat (Kennedy), whose relationship with the older Tim (Joel Perez) is in question. The latter pair share sweet duets earlier on “Into the Mystic” and “When I See You Smile.”

Yanelli rounds out the essential threesome and provides a good deal of the show’s laughs with her Jojo’s on-again, off-again relationship with loveable lunkhead Bill (Garrett Marshall). Their duets on “Take My Breath Away” and “Mad About You” score big. Many of the ensemble rockers in the show like “Addicted to Love,” “Manic Monday” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” also provide dazzling combinations of music and motion.

Rayanne Gonzales, as pizza chef Leona, leads an inspired musical mash-up with “All I Need is a Miracle/You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” backed by the six-piece band and enlivened by high-energy, period-inflected choreography.

The set easily pieces together the several locations of the show’s action and the lighting keeps attention appropriately focused within the very wide stage at the pavilion.

It’s hard to know if a new musical will make it to Broadway, if that is even the plan with this show.  But, as long as the production is anywhere near as good as it is in Ogunquit, “Mystic Pizza” has the ingredients to make it a popular success wherever it plays.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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Music and motion add to appeal of ‘Mystic Pizza,’ in its world premiere at Ogunquit