‘Paragon Park’: A stirring musical tribute to an icon

Michael Hammond and company members in “Paragon Park: The Musical.” Photo Zoe Bradford

NORWELL – When you get to be a certain age, memories become even more important, especially when they are about a place that has long since ceased to exist.

The Company Theatre’s production of “Paragon Park: The Musical” is the second bite of the apple for the creators: Michael Hammond, an actor and playwright, and Zoe Bradford, who wrote the book, with music and lyrics by Adam Brooks and orchestrations by Jerilyn Sykes.

Their 2012 world premiere production won the prestigious Moss Hart Award at the New England Theatre Conference and spawned a string of sell-outs.

The piece has been tweaked and tightened a bit.  Hammond and Bradford, the co-founder of the Company Theater with Jordie Saucerman, are both master storytellers and their book will satisfy those who made many pilgrimages to the seaside playground as well as those whose who never entered its gates.

“Paragon Park” pays tribute to a dreamer named George A. Dodge, played by Hammond, who first imagined a playground for people of all ages and economic means on the Hull seashore

Dodge overcame a daunting number of roadblocks to finally open the park in 1905, as alas, it was not, ahem, embraced at first  by many of Hull’s residents, especially those Brahmins from Boston who made it their summer playground, and people such as Florestta Vining (Anne Snodgrass Gardiner), the self-proclaimed mayor of Hull.  

It closed in 1984 and the last remaining ride on the property – the carousel built for the park in 1928 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company — was sold at auction in 1985, a scene depicted in the show in the number “One Last Ride.”  It also survives today, albeit a few hundred yards down the road from its original site.

And while the show depicts the almost 80-year history of the park, it is also a love story between a proper Bostonian, a young lady named Tilly (the talented Macy Hohenleitner of Hanover, a  theater student at Goldsmiths, University of London) who meets an Italian immigrant gondolier named Rinaldo (played by Jared Troilo, an award-winning actor prominent on many local stages). Tilly’s decision makes fellow Bostonian Ogden (Evan Cole) very unhappy                                                                                               A case of mistaken identity will force Rinaldo back to Italy, but there will be a reunion between them, by which time Tilly will have become a mother.

There are also historical figures injected into the plot who are along for the carousel ride, including William Gardiner, who gives both humor and heart to the role of John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, the congressman and mayor of Boston who became the maternal grandfather of President John F. Kennedy. He was also a showman who could be coaxed into singing (“The Irish-Italian Way”). The late Richard Cardinal Cushing (Dan Hannafin), orphans and nuns in tow, was also a frequent visitor, and also part of the musical number “Over The Bridge and Down 3A.”

The described the excitement many felt as they journeyed down George Washington Boulevard in Hull and turned to see the Giant Coaster looming before them.

The Stone family carried on the legacy of Dodge for 60 years, first under the stewardship of Rose Stone (Melissa Carubia), who along with her husband bought the park from George Dodge in 1920.

Rose’s son Larry (an energetic Steve Dooner) and his wife Phyllis (Alice Potrenza) also helped resurrect the park after a devastating fire in 1963, also depicted in the show.

Brooks’ score is solid, anchored by “One Last Ride” as well as the love ballad “The World is Your Own” and the title tune, “Paragon Park.”

Resident choreographer Sally Ashton Forrest routinely works wonders with cast of varying skills, and here she’s put to the test with a cast of 32, and production numbers such as “One Last Ride,” the spectacular “Hades to Paradise,” and “Carousel.”

The production values are as solid as the rest of the production. Set designer Ryan Barrow works in concert with prop designer James A. Valentin to recreate the atmosphere of the park, complete with a replica of the famed carousel that exists today, albeit a few hundred yards down the road form its original site.

Paula Peasley-Ninestein has done solid work at North Shore Music Theatre among other area theaters, and her costume designs are one of the highlights of the show, especially in several lavish production numbers.

Music director Steve Bass and his 14-piece orchestra give full voice to the score.

Of course, this show came with a ready-made clientele: many of the theater’s subscribers you would presume to be South Shore residents who made their down to the Hull seashore.

In all, “Paragon Park” Is an impressive and no doubt expensive theatrical achievement, given the large cast, number of costumes et al. Still, it’s hard to see a big future for the musical outside the Company Theatre, since the sheer size of the piece works against it in budget-conscious times.

But watching the love, care and detail that went into this production, enjoy the here and now. “Paragon Park: The Musical” won’t bring the iconic playground back, but it will remind you of why we loved it so and what an important part it played in both the history and development of Hull.

The Company Theatre production of “Paragon Park: The Musical.” Book by Michael Hammond and Zoe Bradford. Music and lyrics by Adam Brooks. Orchestrations by Jerilyn Sykes. Directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman. Staging and choreography by Sally Ashton Forrest. Music direction by Steve Bass. Set design by Ryan Barrow. Lighting design by Adam Clark. Costume design by Paula Peaseley-Ninestein. Props design by James A. Valentin. At the Company Theatre through Aug. 18. Companytheatre.com.

Jared Troilo and Macy Hohenleitner in “Paragon Park: The Musical.” Photo: Zoe Bradford