LMT takes audience to New Jersey

(Photo by Kate Turner)
(Photo by Kate Turner)

From Thursday Jan. 24 to Saturday Jan. 26, the Theatre Auditorium was transformed into Hoboken, New Jersey circa 1956.  After months of rehearsals and hours dedicated to perfection, Laurier Musical Theatre (LMT) proudly unveiled their production of Once Upon a Time in New Jersey to the general public last week, and the public loved it. The show was witty, charming and endearing as the main character of Vinnie LoBianco struggled with a common aspect of life: getting out of the dreaded “friendzone”.

Once Upon a Time in New Jersey tells the story of shy grocer Vinnie LoBianco (Drew Chester) — a mama’s boy who is desperately in love with his best friend and co-worker Angie Moscato (Raquel Cadihla). However, Angie is oblivious to Vinnie’s affection and is chasing after his bad boy and renowned womanizer cousin Rocco Fabrizio (Connor McKay). Meanwhile, Celeste Castiglione (Natalie Roth) is the local dance teacher with no real clients because the town is terrified of her mobster husband Billy Castiglione (Patrick McCauley). After a passion-filled ‘dinner’ for Celeste and Rocco and a dinner gone wrong for Angie, Rocco finds himself being hunted down by Billy and decides to go to extreme length to save his ass: trades lives for a week with his cousin Vinnie.

The plot was believable and relatable —  who hasn’t had to swap lives with their cousin to avoid getting murdered by the mob? But in all seriousness, the musical chosen managed to achieve its goal of pleasing the audience. As usual, director Brandon Kuepfer and producer Ann Hascalovitz were able to choose a musical that successfully blended humour, drama and romance perfectly together that equally showcased every actor’s talents from lead actor to ensemble. It was extremely clear that the cast was passionate about the musical and did not want to be anywhere else but on stage.

Despite the overall talent of the cast, there were a few small yet significant technical problems. During musical numbers, the orchestra often overpowered the vocals onstage. This sound issue was present during the rest of the performance and was particularly noticeable during Chester’s dialogue in the opening scenes. Consequently, it was sometimes difficult to follow along with the plot or to fully be immersed in the story. Despite these minor difficulties, the show was excellent.
The acting and singing was strong for the most part. However. it was difficult to tell whether some of the vocals were delivered awkwardly to accentuate characterization or if it was simply a matter of stage fright. This was most notoriously seen in the characters of Buddy (Nick Carswell) and Tony (Nicholas Valenzuela). They played off of each other well but there were moments when their singing fell a little flat. In their duet “God Knows, Mrs. LoBianco”, they started off a little rocky but quickly gained confidence.

There were many standout performances, most notably from lead-actress Cadilha who had all eyes on her every time she was on stage. All leads were extremely impressive in their own right, bringing all their characters to life.

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