|Sign up for our FREE weekly newsletter|
Buy an Ad
By John Quinn
Posted: Sept. 29, 2012 at 8:12 p.m.
May 3, 1960 marked the birth of an off-Broadway wonder. "The Fantasticks," a little gem of a musical, opened at the Sullivan Street Playhouse and ran continuously for the next 42 years. The wonders don't stop. It was revived in 2006 and is still in production at NYC's will-marketing-never-cease Snapple Theatre. This venerable crowd-pleaser hits the boards at The Encore Musical Theatre Company in Dexter with a production that handily demonstrates the show deserves its longevity.
The musical is based on "Les Romanesques" by Edmond Rostand, author of "Cyrano de Bergerac." "The Romancers" in turn is based loosely on the Greek legend of Pyramus and Thisbe. You know the basics: Feuding families living side-by-side, two star-crossed lovers who can only speak through a hole in the dividing wall, love tryst gone awry, double suicide – quelle tragique! Rostand turned the plot on its head and turned tragedy into comedy. The feud is a fraud – the fathers want a marriage and figure dangling forbidden fruit is the surest way to get willful kids to cooperate.
"The Fantasticks" is a mosaic of theatrical forms, borrowing heavily from Commedia dell'Arte. It is written for eight actors, two musicians; it dictates no set or costumes. It's a favorite for high school and community theater because it's so simple!
Woe to the amateurs that think so.
It's a marvelously poetic work, with deep characters and a complex, dark side. In addition, the score is a devil; with changing tempos, syncopated rhythms and, for the three principal singers, the demand for almost operatic ranges. When you're singing some of the most beloved songs in the American canon, including "Try to Remember" "You Are Love" and "Soon It's Gonna Rain," you want it just right.
All in all, The Encore production demonstrates the possibilities when solid material falls into capable hands.
The capable hand at the tiller is director Barton Bund, who puts some personal touches on conventional interpretation. "The Fantasticks" is a play within a play, made to look minimalist and spontaneous. Bund envisions his cast as a troupe of itinerate players, accompanied only by a chest of properties and a rack of sparse costumes. During the overture, we're lead to believe they've actually co-opted another company's theater. Thus, instead of playing on a mere raised platform, the cast makes full use of Leo Babcock's sumptuous, bi-level set. It's extraordinarily attractive and adds a dimension to the story lacking in other productions. Characters not in a given scene may be caught eaves-dropping from the balcony or from the dim passage beneath it.
The ever-versatile veterans Tobin Hissong and Paul Hopper play the wily fathers, Bellomy and Hucklebee. Their overly-romantic, bull-headed offspring are Thalia Schramm as Luisa and Ryan Dooley as Matt. As a final touch to drive the love birds into each other's arms, as well as to have an excuse for ending their non-existent feud, the fathers hire the mysterious El Gallo (Brian Thibault) to stage Luisa's abduction. He in, turn, sub-contracts an elderly actor (Keith Kalinowski) and his faithful Indian companion – who is no Indian at all – who has perfected "dying" on cue. Jamie Weeder dies very well, indeed.
In a moon-lit glade the lovers meet. The bumbling abduction is sprung. The Boy saves The Girl from the dastardly trio. The Fathers rejoice! Tableau! Happy Ending! Not so fast.
Infatuation doesn't last, and, "What at night seems oh so scenic / May be cynic by and by." The kids learn of the deception and go their separate ways. They have some growing up to do. Or as El Gallo reminds us in the reprise of "Try to Remember," "Without a hurt the heart is hollow."
The ensemble is top-drawer; playful, winning and very smooth. Brian Thibault, Thalia Schramm and Ryan Dooley are so right for their characters, but more importantly, they manage to ably deal with the pitfalls implicit in the score. Who stands out as original in this rendition is Gayle E. Martin as The Mute, who acts as the general factotum, providing props, filling in as extra characters, and making herself useful. Martin's extensive background in dance is beautifully in play here; she floats across the stage in basic black, in the most kinetic interpretation of the role I've seen. I'd liken it to a marionette show – and The Mute is pulling the strings.
There is something wonderfully old-fashioned about this musical. It's a reminder that quality will prevail over artistic fads and "The Fantasticks" will still be playing somewhere after "Cats" has its last yowl.
"Try to remember" to catch it while you can. "Remember?" Hah! I can't get the song out of my head. This is a very hummable score!
SHOW DETAILS: "The Fantasticks" continues at The Encore Musical Theatre Company, 3126 Broad St., Dexter, Thursday-Sunday through Oct. 21. Running time: 125 minutes. Tickets: $18-$32. For information: 734-268-6200 or www.TheEncoreTheatre.org.
Click here to comment on this review