by Catherine Macallister
At a time where historically–based musicals are taking Broadway by storm, it seems fitting that a Nantucket musical should make its way to the island. “I don’t love the pun,” says the Lady Grey, narrator of Nantucket: The MusACKal, already drawing chuckles from the audience as she jokes about the title of the show. The laughs only grow as Theatre Workshop of Nantucket’s show takes off: full of hilarious insights, history, and talented actors, this show is a must-see. It is immediately apparent why they have returned for a second summer: it’s funny without being over indulgent, the music and script are fresh, and the cast of eight sing and dance through the show with incredible talent and skill.
While waiting for the show to start, take in the cobblestone stage with the backdrop of houses, shops, and docks that make up Nantucket. Lady Grey (Susan McGinnis), acts as the literal spirit guide for writers Sarah and Tom (Alexandra Kopko, William Burns) who are headed to Nantucket to pitch their unfinished musical to a producer. They have barely written any of the songs or script yet, but feel as though “7 songs about whaling” is enough to sum up the island. Lady Grey intercepts the pair on the way to meet the real producer and takes it upon herself to guide through Nantucket’s past, offering the 400-year history of Nantucket with the help of her ghostly “interns.” Whether you’re fresh off a tour of the Nantucket museums or have heard the history of the island a thousand times, you’ve never heard it like this. The show covers everything from the story of Maushop, who carried the native Wampanoag people to Nantucket on his shoulders, to the history of suffragists and abolitionists, to the present day—complete with the classic Nantucket style.
The cast is incredible, captivating the audience from the moment they step on the stage. The expressions and physicality of the characters shines a bright, yet humorous light on Nantucket’s founders, the inhabitants, and the visitors that come to the island. Tom and Sarah remain oblivious to the real world at first, Tom exclaiming, “There’s a Starbucks here?!” much to the disappointment of Lady Grey who reminds Tom that we are talking about the Starbuck family, “no franchises.” The back-and-forth in the show is amazing: mixing history with present day, snarky commentary, but never failing to capture the uniqueness of the island. The score is lively and moving, seamlessly transitioning from the opening “We Built Nantucket” to other audience favorites like “The Newest/Oldest House,” a duet between Tom, who envisions a sprawling mansion to replace the “Oldest” Historic House and Mary Gardner (Stacey Hardke) who is thrilled to have the “newest” built house that goes up to 55 degrees. Much to the disappointment of Lady Grey, whose adamant “this is not that kind of show” attitude tries to dissuade a summer romance from happening, Sarah and Tom fall in love on Nantucket, resulting in the love song “Endless Summer Breeze,” a wonderfully over-the-top love song, carried out by this expressive and talented duo. McGinnis’ Lady Grey, is articulate and dramatic, the perfect guide for this musical Nantucket tour. Despite her ghostly Grey Lady pallor, she lights up the stage with her vocal prowess, interactions with cast and audience, and through in a fantastic high kick or two.
The ensemble is made up of strong singers, dancers, and actors who switch seamlessly from historical figure to historical figure. You will be in hysterics as Laurel Devaney contorts her face and voice to match Tristram Coffin, a gruff seaman and even an infant Coffin family member. Torian Brackett plays Thomas Macy and a number of notable characters, showing off his impressive vocal skills and dance abilities, especially in “ The Only Life We Know.” Kyle Marra is the dance captain, putting on a wonderful tap dance performance as Ralph Waldo Emerson and imitating an almost Princess Bride-esque minister, leaving the audience in stitches. His performance as the minister is interrupted by Gabi Van Horn as Mary Coffin Starbuck, who delivers a spirited and sensational performance in “It’s Cool to Be a Quaker,” among other great performances throughout. Stacey Hardke is an excellent Maria Mitchell—complete with the face framing curls—and demonstrates her own vocal stamina in several songs, notably “(Ladies Run) The Nation of Nantucket” where Devaney, Kopko, and Van Horn also perform. The whole cast works so well together, singing through a clever score that will have you humming the tunes even after you’ve left the show. One song in particular highlights the attention paid by the writers of the music, book, and lyrics, “Quiet on the Island,” a slow, melancholy tune about Nantucket after the Great Fire of 1876 and the hope to rebuild despite shortcomings, shipwrecks, and the Great Depression. The score comes together perfectly, made memorable by the cast.
Director Graydon Gund returns to direct this summer with most of the original cast. His guidance, the musical direction of Matt Sav, and the stage managing capabilities of Sean McStravick and Freda Mattea keep the show running smoothly and at a great pace. Erika Bance’s choreography gives life to the show and an additional dimension to every song. The costume and prop design of Anne and Robin Breeding allow for easy costume changes that still pack a punch when actors jump forward to the next featured moment in time.
Nantucket: The MusACKal was written by Ryan Runstadler with Jeff Luppino-Esposito wrote The MusACKal, and Matt Sav and Jeff Luppino-Esposito composed the music and lyrics. At times the show feels reminiscent of current Broadway favorites like Hamilton or Book of Mormon, where real events, people and ideas are depicted in a clever and carefully constructed way. Sav’s bio says that he and Luppino-Esposito initially planned to write about Martha’s Vineyard, but you will be so glad that they opted for Nantucket instead. The talented team has filled the script and lyrics with references to places on-island, local favorites, and some of the new spots, too. You will appreciate the care they have taken to bring together all of the history of Nantucket in a succinct and sharp show.
The cast is a triple threat of vocal, acting and dance talent, underscored by a refreshing script and score that explores Nantucket history like you’ve never seen it before. Whether you’ve lived here your whole life, are just visiting for the summer or the day, this musical must make the cut for August activities. Sit inside the air-conditioned theatre at the Centre Stage in the Nantucket Methodist Church and prepared to be amazed as the history of Nantucket is shared with you in an all-too-quick 70- minute performance. The 6pm show, Wednesday-Sunday gives you plenty of time to make a 7:30 dinner reservation or catch the last ferry home as you end your day on Nantucket among notable historical figures and a cast that delivers a rip-roaring good time at the most “Nantucket” MusACKal in town! The show runs through September 1; buy your tickets at nantucketthemusackal.com.