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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Once Upon a Time in New Jersey
Enchants at Village Theatre

Once Upon a Time in New Jersey
Krystle Armstrong and
Dane Stokinger

In keeping with the upbeat reception it received as part of their summer festival of "Village Originals" a few summers back, Village Theatre has staged an enchanting main stage production of the charming Once Upon a Time in New Jersey, book and lyrics by Susan DiLallo ands music by Stephen Weiner. Though the DiLallo/Weiner songs at times sound a little too much like similar pastiche tunes from Little Shop of Horrors, the best of them have a charm and zest all their own. And under director/choreographer Steve Tomkins' assured hand, a high octane cast makes the show an unabashed treat.

DiLallo's story is sort of The Prince and the Pauper meets Guys and Dolls set in 1956 Hoboken, N.J., as the nerdy deli clerk Vinnie LoBianco trades lives with smooth-talking ladies' man Rocco Fabrizio who is anxious to hide away from mobster Billy Castiglione whose wife Celeste has been one of Rocco's conquests. Vinnie's deli co-worker and childhood pal Angie is also smitten with Rocco, so Vinnie figures he can win her over by taking on Rocco's persona. Rocco finds out life as a deli worker is a far cry from his usual swingin' lifestyle, Angie gets turned off by the faux Rocco's womanizing, and things get really complex when Billy comes gunning for the wrong Rocco. But, like all "once upon a time" type tales, a happy ending is reached by the show's curtain.

Christian Duhamel is a lovable sad sack as Vinnie, and has great moments of comedy as he uneasily transforms into Rocco. Duhamel is well paired with Krystle Armstrong's spirited and sweet-voiced Angie. Dane Stokinger is the comic center of the show as the vain-arrogant Rocco, and has a great vocal style to boot. Carolyn Magoon admirably upholds the fine blonde bimbo tradition of such characters as Miss Adelaide, Lina Lamont, and Audrey from Little Shop as lonely mob-wife Celeste, and Eric Polani Jensen makes a comically menacing Billy. As Rocco's sidekicks, Nick DeSantis and Matt Shimkus offer accomplished comic support, and Bobbi Kotula gets off a few good laughs, despite being underused in the solo-less role of Vinnie's doting Italian Mama Millie. Top-notch vocals and comedic zeal are provided by Charissa Bertels, Kristin Culp and Nicole Boote as Loretta, Conchetta, and Etta, and Art Anderson starts the show off with a bang with his silky vocal lead on the title song, and offers stalwart support throughout as the narrator and in several key bit player roles.

Standout numbers in the score, besides the aforementioned title tune, include Angie and Celeste's duet "Quiet Little Dinner"; a giddy paean to "Rocco"; an uproarious "Tango" featuring Rocco, Billy and Celeste; Angie's "Someone That I Hate"; and the hilarious "Quando Scungilli." Many of the show's funniest numbers have their lyrics obscured when musical director R.J. Tancioco's otherwise simpatico band plays a bit too loudly.

Bill Forrester's scenic design is a deliciously cartoony vision of Hoboken, and lighting designer Greg Sullivan creates a nice array of looks for the various settings. Costumer Harmony J.K. Arnold has created a playful array of bright kitschy '50s costumes.

Opening nighters at Once Upon a Time in New Jersey heartily appreciated this well wrought slice of comic nostalgia, and it seems likely that subsequent audiences will respond just as effusively.

Once Upon a Time in New Jersey runs through April 22, 2007 at Village Theatre, 303 Front Street North in Issaquah, the moves to the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Avenue in Everett, April 22-May 12, 2007. For more information, visit Village Theatre on-line at www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Jay Koh



- David-Edward Hughes



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