By Beki Pineda
THE FANTASTICKS – Music by Harvey Schmidt; Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones; Directed by Billie McBride. Produced by Town Hall Arts Center (2450 West Main Street, Littleton) through October 17. Tickets available at 303-794-2787 x5 or email@example.com.
Born in 1960 in the creative minds of Schmidt and Jones, THE FANTASTICKS is a classic show that everyone has done or seen at least once. It holds the record of the longest running musical on an American stage still after its 42 year run Off-Broadway in the Sullivan Street Playhouse. It even had a seven year run here in Denver in the now-gone Third Eye Theatre run by Joey and June Favre, one of the first shows I saw in Denver. People who go to the theatre regularly have seen multiple productions and have their favorite El Gallo, their favorite Old Actor and Mortimer, even their favorite Mute. Each production either teaches or reminds us of the joy of first love and the price of experience. This production adds to that library of musical wisdom.
Town Hall has assembled a kick ass cast for their version. You have to have a strong appealing personality for your El Gallo, the bandit narrator. They have found him in Randy Chalmers who seduces with a smile, swashes his buckles with style, abducts with abandon and dispenses hard won insights musically. “Without a hurt the heart is hollow.”
Katie Jackson lends her astounding vocal and acting chops to the crucial role of Luisa, the girl who falls in love twice in short order, once with Matt and once with the idea of adventure. Katie has a sweet appealing nature that conveys both the innocence and later disillusionment of Luisa. Her true love Matt is played by Carter Edward Smith with his usual flair and ease. What is there to say about Carter except that he can play anyone – old or young – with authenticity and grace.
Matt and Luisa are kept apart by a wall put up between the gardens of their parents who feign a feud to discourage their kids. Played by Boni McIntyre as Matt’s mother and Rick Long as Luisa’s father, they know the quickest way to get their children to do what they want is to tell them they can’t do it. “Why do the kids put beans in their ears? They did it coz we said No.” They too learn that the best laid plans often go awry as their joint garden doesn’t quite pan out like they hoped.
An abduction scene is plotted by El Gallo and the parents which will allow Matt to rescue Luisa from the clutches of El Gallo (hired for the event), end the false feud and lead to a happy ending for all. When El Gallo needs extra players in the planned abduction, he calls on Henry, an Old Actor (played with magical aplomb by John Ashton) and Mortimer, his sidekick (a nearly unrecognizable Diane Wzionktka). Henry revels in proclaiming garbled Shakespeare and boasting of his past glories. Mortimer dies. That’s what he does best. Even though this production gave Mortimer’s death demonstration short shrift. John channels the ghosts of Shakespearean actors from Burbage to Olivier and yet adds his own casual appealing style to his character. Diane channels Dopey from the Seven Dwarfs for her Mortimer while still displaying humor and a desire to please. The Master Die-er in this Abduction scene was Randy as El Gallo who created a full three encore production out of his demise. The lone remaining player was Cal Meakins as The Mute who silently and unobtrusively provides the wall to separate the lovers, Luisa’s precious necklace from her mother, the leaves when it becomes fall, the snow when winter sets in, and the sparkly rain for ‘Soon It’s Gonna Rain.”
My only complaint with this production was the staging of the scenes of Matt’s adventures to find fame and fortune away from his family, but finds misery and loneliness instead. Placed at the top of the aisles in the seating area, in order to see the vignettes, everyone in the audience had to turn around in their seats. By the third ”misery,” most people had tired of it and just listened to the scene behind them instead of observing. I understand that Matt was “out in the world” by this time but staged this way made the scenes awkward for the audience to see Matt’s “agony.”
The production team at Town Hall always comes through with pizazz. The gazebo type setting designed by Michael Duran and constructed by Mike Haas and his crew added to the whimsy of the show. Lit by Brett Maughan with sound design by Curt Behm and costumes by Terry Fong-Schmidt, it all worked together for the audience’s enjoyment. The accompaniment on keyboard by Donna Debreceni and harp by Barbara Sims completed the ensemble. This may become your favorite FANTASTICKS in days to come. “Try to remember . . . .”
A WOW factor of 8.5!!