Theater Review: MYSTIC PIZZA THE MUSICAL (La Mirada Theatre; Lesher Center in Walnut Creek; Harris Center, Folsom)

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by Michael M. Landman-Karny on February 5, 2024

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional,Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


In the ever-evolving landscape of film-to-stage musical adaptations, the latest entrant Mystic Pizza emerges as a charming addition. Based on the eponymous 1988 cult-classic film delight, we are brought back to the quaint environs of Mystic, Connecticut, and the intertwined lives of three young Portuguese-American women, childhood friends working as waitresses at the titular pizzeria. The musical, this version of which goes on a mini-tour after its premiere run at La Mirada Theatre, keeps the setting in a small coastal town, which adds a touch of nostalgia and picturesque charm (effectively transformed on a large one-unit set by Nate Bertone), making it relatable and appealing. The complexities of love and ambition and the themes of friendship and self-discovery  — woven into the film’s narrative with humor and heart — also remain. The coming-of-age elements still resonate, capturing the navigation of relationships and finding one’s path in life with energy and charm. (The film featured rising stars Julia Roberts, Annabeth Gish, Lili Taylor, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Conchata Ferrell, with the film debut of Matt Damon.)

Jordan Friend, Gianna Yanelli, Domo D’dante, Michael James and Jake Swain
Kyra Kennedy and Chris Cardozo

Fairly faithful to the movie, the show’s heavy-on-laughs book by prolific playwright Sandy Rustin (Broadway’s The Cottage) uses the jukebox format with iconic 1980s and ’90s pop and rock songs, some more successfully shoehorned into the script than others, including “Mad About You”, “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”, “True Colors”, and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, all successfully arranged and orchestrated by Carmel Dean (American Idiot). (Originally, the musical was to have featured an original score by Melissa Etheridge; her “I’m the Only One” remains.)

Jordan Friend, Gianna Yanelli, Krystina Alabado and Michael Thomas Grant
Chris Cardozo and Kyra Kennedy

Casey Hushion is back at the helm after staging the musical’s 2021 world premiere at Ogunquit Playhouse, and she’s brought her three leading ladies from that run as well: Krystina Alabado, Gianna Yanelli, and Kyra Kennedy. Hushion, a protégé of Broadway director Casey Nicholaw, directs with an emphasis on fast pacing and broad comedy — sometimes at the expense of serious moments, which need time to breathe. The show is good enough to take itself a bit more seriously. Yanelli, Kennedy, and Alabado have the same great chemistry of the three leads in the movie. All sing beautifully and switch effortlessly between musical theatre singing and rock belting. In “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, they are clearly having a blast, and so is the audience.

Jake Swain, Michael James, Domo D’dante, Jordan Friend,
Gianna Yanelli, Kyra Kennedy and Krystina Alabado
Krystina Alabado, Michael Thomas Grant, Jordan Friend,
Gianna Yanelli, Chris Cardozo and Kyra Kennedy

Daisy, the audacious spirit of the trio, is impeccably portrayed with an exquisite blend of vulnerability and defiance by Krystina Alabado, who takes us on an enthralling journey from self-doubt to self-discovery. With formidable vocal prowess and undeniable stage presence, Alabado — the show’s star — unquestionably shines as Daisy, who, knowing she can’t get by on her beautiful young looks forever, is insecure about what lies in her future, She doesn’t have the brains like her sister Kat, a bookish and naïve teenager. Kyra Kennedy is a captivating Kat, skillfully portraying the innocence of a young girl in love for the first time. Kat, with four jobs to pay for Yale — even with a scholarship — grows up quickly during a romance with a married architect. Adding a delightful dose of comic relief as JoJo is Gianna Yanelli, a gifted physical comedienne. While JoJo’s storyline — she’s freaked-out about about marrying her boyfriend at such a young age — may be lighter in tone, Yanelli’s impeccable timing infuses the production with serious levity. Oddly enough, Yanelli doesn’t have a solo performance; her talent certainly warrants one.

Gianna Yanelli and Jordan Friend
Krystina Alabado and Michael Thomas Grant

As the friends navigate the tumultuous waters of their personal lives, the pizza parlor serves as a poignant backdrop to their experiences. Their respective love interests are portrayed by three distinctive actors, each of whom possesses impressive vocal prowess. The charismatic Chris Cardozo embodies Tim Travers, the married architect who captures Kat’s heart. Michael Thomas Grant exudes an appropriate WASP demeanor as Charles Windsor Jr., the wealthy ex-law student who ensnares Daisy’s affections. The appropriately scruffy Jordan Friend is blue-collar worker Bill Montijo, an amateur rock singer and JoJo’s on-and-off fiancé.

Rachel Kae Wirtz, Michael Thomas Grant, Krystina Alabado and Kyra Kennedy
The Company

Leona Silvia is the owner and heart of the pizza parlor. Understudy April Josephine delivers a moving performance, embodying a sympathetic mother figure and showcasing her great singing and dancing abilities. SoCal theatre favorite Jeff Skowron is not only witty and versatile taking on the roles of a priest, a haughty restaurant critic, and a wealthy WASP millionaire, he’s a great character actor who gets laughs from basing his roles in reality.

The Company
Jake Swain, Monika Peña, Kyra Kennedy, Jeff Skowron,
Gianna Yanelli, Krystina Alabado, Rachel Kae Wirtz and Domo D'dante

The dynamic ensemble, brimming with energy and talent, leaves no room for weak links as they flawlessly execute the choreography by Connor Gallagher (the musical Beetlejuice), which certainly is energetic but lacks pizzazz or uniqueness that one would expect from a Broadway choreographer. Under music director Kristen Stowell, the cast sounds positively phenomenal, as does the rocking onstage band led by Jennifer Lin. To that end, Josh Bessom‘s sound is exceptional, making audible and intelligible each and every lyric.

Jeff Skowron, Alyssa M. Simmons, Michael Thomas Grant,
Krystina Alabado, Rachel Kae Wirtz, and Jake Swain
Rayanne Gonzales and Gianna Yanelli

Ryan J. O’Gara effectively enhances the tone of each scene with clever lighting and neon signs. Jen Caprio’s costumes perfectly capture that 1980s look, but as seen from the sixth row, Kaitlin Yagen‘s wigs are unfortunately either ill-fitted or simply cheap looking.

Barring comparisons from the movie, Mystic Pizza is an effectively entertaining jukebox musical which should have a rich afterlife in regional theatres. The familiar score, the themes of sisterhood and chosen family, and the standard romcom plotting may not be mystical, but they sure make for an entertaining night at the theatre.

Gianna Yanelli, Krystina Alabado, Kyra Kennedy and Rayanne Gonzales
The Company

photos by Jason Niedle

Mystic Pizza
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
14900 La Mirada Blvd. in La Mirada
ends on February 11, 2024
for tickets ($19 – $90), call 562.944.9801 or visit La Mirada Theatre

February 15-25, 2024 at Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek
February 28-March 3, 2024 at Harris Center in Folsom

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