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Amusement park and its people come to life again

In song, dance, and spoken word, Paragon Park lives again on stage

Globe file/1917

From the time he was 6 years old until his late teens, Bill Griffin of Quincy would spend a few days every summer at Paragon Park across from Nantasket Beach. He remembers there was something for everyone: the carousel, bumper cars, and ferris wheel for the children; the roller coaster and the splash ride for teens.

“I remember the Tunnel of Love,” said Griffin, now 64. “You would go through the tunnel, down the big hill, and there would be a big splash at the bottom. You and everyone walking around the ride would get wet.”

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When Griffin learned recently that a new musical had been written about Paragon Park, which closed in 1984, the memories came flooding back. He and his wife bought two tickets to the show as soon as they could.

Among those above a certain age, Paragon Park is beloved by thousands who worked, played, and reveled in one of the country’s first amusement parks. Realizing the park’s grip on the collective memory of the public, learning about the fascinating characters who shaped its history and culture, and knowing what makes a great story, Zoe Bradford and Michael Hammond set out two years ago to write a musical about the park.

Their efforts will come to fruition when “Paragon Park: The Musical” makes it debut next week at the Company Theatre in Norwell, and audiences can relive the magic of the park, if only for a moment.

And the demand is there. Without any major publicity campaigns, the entire run of the show from July 27 to Aug. 19 sold out, and an Aug. 14 performance was added to raise money for the theater.

“It was information that screamed to be a musical,” said Bradford, the Company Theatre’s cofounder and director. After years of research and first-hand interviews, a story began to emerge from Bradford and Hammond’s creative minds. They brought on Brookline lyricist and composer Adam Brooks to write 16 original songs.

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To Brooks, part of the appeal was bringing the history of Hull, the park, and the period to life.

“Most of my generation doesn’t even know the park existed, so it’s exposing the history in our own backyard,” he said.

But for many others, the musical will be like reconnecting with an old friend.

“It is such a personal thing for so many,” Hammond said. “Allowing people to revisit those memories is a very exciting thing to be a part of.”

Built in 1905 by whaling mogul George A. Dodge, Paragon Park came to symbolize South Shore summers with its cast of colorful regulars and popular rides — the Kooky Kastle, the Giant Coaster, the Congo Cruise, and of course, the carousel.

The year after the park closed, the Stone family, which owned and operated the park from 1920 on, sold the land for $5.5 million. The property was used for condominiums, and everything within the park’s gates was auctioned off piece by piece.

A boat from the Bermuda Triangle lives in a yard of a Hull resident as a planter; the Giant Coaster was resurrected as “The Wild One” in Six Flags America near Washington, D.C.; and the carousel moved just down the street.

The park itself, however, was no more. It began to live in memories rather than new experiences.

The musical visits the park in four of the eight decades of its existence, and weaves together real people and events that happened at the park with a fictional love story between an Italian immigrant and a girl from Boston’s high society.

According to the creative team, about 75 percent of the story is fact. Some of the smallest details, such as the little purple tickets that longtime park operator Larry Stone used to gave out for free rides on the coaster, have been researched and confirmed by witnesses.

Even some cast members have personal recollections of the park. David Giagrando, who plays Stone, is a Hull native and fondly remembers his summers there.

At age 16, Giagrando was hired by Stone as a game boy. One day he suggested to Stone that the park should have a clown, so in the early 1980s, Giagrando went into a supply closet, found a bag of makeup that was mostly lipstick, and became Squiggles the Clown.

While the setting of Paragon Park will be recognizable to many, the play itself provides the actors with the excitement of being part of something new.

“You come into this project without preconceived ideas of what it is supposed to look like or sound like,” said Juliana Dennis, who plays the elder Rose Stone, Larry’s mother. “It is exciting, educational, and heartwarming to create everything from scratch and be the benchmark for the role.”

It will be something audiences have never experienced, said Scott Wahle, who plays George Dodge. “It is an appealing idea as an actor to have the opportunity to be the first to define this character.”

The cast also has come to appreciate Paragon Park’s history, and everyone connected with the production is hoping that the audience takes away some of that feeling with them.

“Paragon Park couldn’t be forever,” Bradford said.

“But its legacy lasts, and leaves memories that can’t be taken.”

Tickets are available for a benefit performance at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 14 at The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive, Norwell. Tickets are $100 each and can be obtained at the theater’s box office, by phone at 781-871-2787, and online at www.companytheatre.com. Maureen Quinlan can be reached at maureensq@gmail.com.

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