The Fantasticks was consistently produced somewhere in the world from May 1960 right up until January 2002, when The New York Off-Broadway run folded in the aftermath of The World Trade Center's destruction. The lack of a production of The Fantasticks in New York was like a hole in the theatre landscape, so it seemed only a matter of time before some company would fill in the gap.
The Fantasticks is a sweet and deceptively simple musical about young lovers, with archetypal characters who are often referred to by terms like "The Girl" (Bonnie Fraser) and "The Boy" (Jason Robert Winfield). As might be guessed, The Girl and The Boy fall in love (despite their feuding fathers’ wishes), and the first act is a very wholesome little romance where true love conquers all. Or rather, love conquers all with a little help from the wiser older generation, who know the pitfalls of love.
It’s quickly revealed that the two fathers only pretended to be enemies, in order to dupe their children into falling into a “forbidden” love. (All of which is explained succinctly in a song called “Never Say No,” sung by the fathers). The final step of the fathers’ plan involves hiring a group of actors led by the dashing El Gallo (Paul Niebank) to engage in a zany caper that will ensure that the young lovers live happily ever after.
Of course there are layers upon layers to it, with many surprises in store for both the audience and the characters (after all, a simple little love story couldn't hold audiences for 45 years). The first act provides a perfectly happy ending, but things start to go bad after intermission, where reality strives to pull our young lovers apart. Tom Jones’s book does provide a happy ending, but he makes his characters work for their ever-afters.
Composer Harvey Schmidt packed The Fantasticks with memorable songs, including the classic “Try to Remember,” which has taken on an extra bit of sentimentality since the Off-Broadway production folded after 9/11.
There've been many, many productions of this show, so it couldn't be hoped that this would be the finest ensemble to ever perform it. The cast was certainly sufficient for the material; The Girl was girlish, The Boy was Boyish, but the only real standout was Niebanck as El Gallo. Co-director Dominic Cuskern found himself onstage in the role of “The Girl’s Father” and had some very funny moments when the two fathers goofed it up, vaudeville-style, in their “Never Say No” number.
Sarah Rizza’s costumes were pleasant bits of old-fashioned Americana, which suited the show’s setting of the near-past. Timothy J. Amrhein’s set design followedthe standard design used in most productions of this show, and used a nifty trap door to let actors pop out of a traveling trunk at various points in the show for some funny schtick.
While New York has certainly seen other, larger versions of The Fantasticks, this production was still a very pleasant way to revisit this timeless story.
(Also featuring: Mike Durkin, Tom Corbisiero, Darron Cardosa and Julia Kelly.)
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Copyright 2005 Charles Battersby