Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The Fantasticks

Does a show, written in the 1960s and designed to celebrate a simpler time, still play in the cell phone, computer games, ipod 2000s? 

It does, if the show is the immensely popular “The Fantasticks,” the longest running show of any kind in United States history and the longest running musical in the world.  “The Fantasticks.” with book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt, is a legend of musical theatre, playing off-Broadway at the Sullivan Street Playhouse from 1960 until its closing in January 2002.  It returns to Music Circus after an absence of 37 years.

What is the appeal of a show with essentially no set, save for two benches, no fancy costumes, no special effects, no razzle-dazzle lighting, and only 4 musicians in the pit? 

Perhaps it appeals to the youth in all of us.  The Narrator, in his opening song, asks us to “try to remember a kind of September when life was slow and oh so mellow...”  We then share the fresh love of two youngsters, the beautiful falling in love, the painful falling out of love, the joy of discovering that love was there all along.

In less talented hands the story may not play quite so successfully, but electricity and chemistry fairly ooze out of the 8 members of the cast of this production.  They draw us in instantly and we are lost in this simple world, remembering our own kinds of September.

The Montagues and the Capulets could take a lesson from the two fathers in this play.  The parents want their kids to marry and figure that the way to drive them together is to forbid them to see each other. 

Don Mayo is Hucklebee, The Boy’s father.  He has a big voice and glides around the stage like melted butter. 

The Girl’s Father, Bellomy, is played by Steve Routman, fastidious man with the precision of an accountant.

Their second act duet, “Plant a Radish,” is delightful.

As The Girl (Luisa), Yuka Takara is irresistible.  From the moment she is introduced as a 16 year old girl, longing for her own true love and going through the dramatics that accompany teen age angst, she intoxicating.  She sings beautifully and her duets with The Boy are delicious.

James Snyder as The Boy (Matt) has an open honesty about him.  His love for Luisa is palpable.

The central figure is The Narrator (Norm Lewis).  Lewis is tall, commanding, and mesmerizing.  He holds the audience in the palm of his hand with his opening song and keeps them there throughout the show.

Debbi Fuhrman has an amazing impact as the mute who acts as the wall between the gardens of the two families, and supplies the minimal props that are used.
The buffoons, Henry (Sal Mistretta) and Mortimer (“the Man Who Dies”) played by Chris Weikel add a delightful Shakespearean touch to the story with their faux abduction of Luisa.

All’s well that ends well, and after some sadness, The Boy and The Girl discover that true love doesn’t lie any farther than the back yard.

If you have never seen “The Fantasticks,” by all means take this opportunity to acquaint yourself with theatre history.  If you have seen “The Fantasticks,” treat yourself to a new cast and a delightful production.

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