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'Mystic Pizza,' the musical

So maybe it was one of Mystic's finest moments on the big screen.

There was beautiful, not-yet-a-movie-star Julia Roberts opining on the limiting confines of little old Mystic.

"The only reason to get married is to get the hell out of Mystic," Roberts, in character as Daisy, said under her breath, as she and her sister and pal gossiped their way through a waitressing shift at Mystic Pizza.

I took a nostalgic lap through "Mystic Pizza," the movie, this week — it streams on Netflix — after hearing that a stage version will premiere this summer at Ogonquit Playhouse in Maine: "Mystic Pizza," the musical.

I will confess a big soft spot for the 1988 movie. I consumed it more than once over the last year, pandemic comfort food.

Of course, like most people around here, I enjoy seeing the movie version of home, familiar scenes that come to life, a fishing trawler passing through the Mystic drawbridge, while Lili Taylor, JoJo, screams at her fiancé, the captain, from the sidewalk, or Roberts striking a sexy pose next to a disabled Porsche on North Main Street in Stonington, trying to hitch a ride.

I recognize people I know who were extras.

And I giggle to myself at all the ways the producers come up with impossible scenes, like quickly delivering a pizza on a motor scooter from a place locals know to be Stonington Borough to Ford's Lobsters in Noank.

And of course each time I watch, I can't help but think, what a beautiful place. Wouldn't it be great to live there. Even poor people have views of the water.

It also gets some of the culture right.

"The tourists: you can't live with them and you can't live without them," is no doubt a lament many real restaurant owners, like Leona of Mystic Pizza, might express.

I've never, however, quite understood the universal staying power of the movie, how even after all these years tourists still come and take pictures of themselves in front of Mystic Pizza in Mystic.

Of course, we locals know that the movie version of Mystic Pizza was a building in Stonington Borough, and the real owner of the restaurant, instead of being a warm-hearted substitute mother to three young women, went to jail on tax evasion charges, accused of not reporting cash from the business.

But the lore of the movie does live on, evidently enlisting an entire new generation drawn to the story of three young women sorting out romance in a small town.

One has her heart broken after an affair with a married man. One falls in love with a rich prep, a prince of Stonington summers. And one finally agrees to marry the man she loves, a fisherman, and accepts her transition to adulthood.

You can't help but want to cry with them along the way.

For movie buffs, there is also a brief appearance by a young Matt Damon, hardly even a cameo since he was as far from eventual stardom then as was Roberts.

There is also a curious scene that seems almost a premonition when you watch it now. A television is playing in the background and a narrator of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" is describing the interior of Mar-a-Lago, which none of us could have known then would someday become ground zero of the 21st century Republican Party.

I guess the movie has some of the magic that makes Leona's pizzas so special, a kind of cinematic secret sauce.

The question is: Will there be as much secret sauce to the musical?

I might hope to see it make its way to a theatrical venue here. But I don't think it will ever have the same magic for locals, seeing our beautiful hometown on the big screen and listening to a now famous actress talking about getting the hell out.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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