Littleton Town Hall production features a powerful cast
The Fantasticks premiered in 1960, but all I knew about it going in was that it had the song “Try to Remember.” My high school, like most other high schools in America, put it on sometime in the early ’80s (I can still see the fading poster with all its commemorative counterparts on the choir room wall.)
Now playing at Littleton Town Hall Arts Center under the direction of Billie McBride, The Fantasticks shows why it still holds the title as longest-running theatrical production in the world (1960-2002 for the original off-Broadway production).
Matt, the boy (Carter Edward Smith) and Luisa, the girl (Katie Jackson) live next door to each other, and their feuding parents have built a wall between their homes. This, of course, only fans the flames of their young romance. We quickly find out that the neighbors actually like each other just fine and have intended for their children to marry all along. The wall is their clever and apparently successful experiment in reverse psychology. In order to really move the romance along, the scheming parents decide to hire a villain, El Gallo (Randy Chalmers, who’s also the narrator) to pretend to abduct the girl. Aiding in the plot are an aging actor, Henry (John Ashton) and his sidekick, Mortimer (Diane Wziontka). The boy will heroically save her, and the boy’s mother and girl’s father can end their pretend feud. Everything goes to plan, and so ends the first act.
In Act 2, matters deteriorate. The girl and boy quarrel, and the boy goes off to see the world. The villain courts the girl, who seems receptive to his dash and worldly ways. Their parents blame each other and begin to rebuild their wall. The boy and girl appear to be gaining new perspectives, which does not necessarily seem to be an improvement on their earlier naiveté.
I saw this production of The Fantasticks with my brother, and when I saw him again the next morning he asked, “Have you thought any more about the play?”
I had, but I’m still not sure what I think about it. The concept is very of its time, which is not to say it is bad, merely that I could see today’s audiences finding it somewhat confusing. I’m still not sure what the point of the show is, if it has one. You can’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone? Idealize your youth, because things will get worse? Young love is great, but you can’t really be in love until you’ve had some of the callow optimism knocked out of you? I’m still thinking.
What I can say, unequivocally, is that the performances are absolutely fabulous. Vocally, the songs are challenging, and the entire cast is up to the task. Katie Jackson has a gorgeous, crystalline soprano voice that fits her role perfectly. It would be worth seeing this show just to hear her, no matter what you thought of the plot. All the other actors are engaging, their songs and harmonies on point. Randy Chalmers is a winsome narrator.
Though some of the references (like the numerous Shakespeare puns) might go over the heads of some, there is also a lot of humor in the play. The physical comedy ages well enough, and the audience found a lot to laugh about. I also couldn’t help but be struck by the social commentary in the song “Round and Round,” which seems as appropriate now as it would have been 60 years ago.
And let’s face it, who isn’t glad to just be back in a theater after a year and a half? Everyone, from the theater staff to the actors to the audience, seemed glad to be there. It is worth noting pandemic norms and protocols. Masks are encouraged for all audience members, and most were wearing them. But you won’t be thrown out of the place if you aren’t wearing one (and they did have some available at the entrance).
What I really want to do is tell everyone to see everything right now — all the plays, all the concerts. This particular musical might be best enjoyed by an older audience, but the performances are so good that it should appeal to all ages.
By Beki Pineda
SHOUT – Created by Phillip George, David Lowenstein and Peter Charles Morris; Directed by Kate Vallee. Produced by Town Hall Arts Center (2450 West Main Street, Littleton) through June 20, 2021. Tickets available for live performances and streaming at 303-794-ARTS or townhallartscenter.org.
The very first song on this program celebrating the music popular among girl singers in the 60’s is “England Swings.” I can vouch firsthand that England was swinging in the 60’s because I was living there from 1964 to 1967. Not doing much swinging myself however; but did get to witness as music and fashion burst on the streets and on the TV. This production recalls with fondness the music and the mentality of this time. The patter in-between the songs vividly illustrates the prevalent female state of mind in this pre-feminist era. . . which elicited audible groans from the women in the audience. Were we really ever that naïve?
The five women singers who comprise this cast pay homage to the music of the amazing Petula Clark (“Round Every Corner,” “I Know a Place,” Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” “I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love,” “A Sign of the Times,” and all time favorite “Downtown”), the soulful Dusty Springfield (“Wishing and Hoping,” “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” “All I See is You,” and the rocking “Son of a Preacher Man”), Sandie Shaw (“How Can You Tell”), Lulu (“To Sir With Love” and the title song), Shirley Bassey (a parody of “Goldfinger” callec “Coldfinger”) and Cilla Black (“You’re My World”). Mary Hopkins remembrance of “Those Were the Days” added an even deeper sense of nostalgia. The girls even allowed American’s to invade the party by including Dionne Warwick’s hit “Wives and Lovers” and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking.” The very slight insignificant contribution of men to the festivities were with Roger Miller’s “England Swings” and Len Barry’s “One-Two-Three” – fun to hear again.
But the ladies of the cast made the evening. Their energy and vocal renderings brought back the era and the memories. The Mary Quant style dresses conceived and created by Costumer Terri Fong-Schmidt conjured images of Twiggy and Sassoon hairstyles. Performing on a set straight out of the American LAUGH-IN show, the girls recreate an English style variety show. Hanna Dotson, Piper Lindsay Arpan, Amy Dollar, Valerie Igoe, and Ryahn Evers are all making their Town Hall debut, as well as Director and Choreographer Kate Vallee. A winning team to be sure, they performed together as though they had been doing the show for months, instead of it being opening night. While all the girls had outstanding solos, Hanna stole my heart with her renditions of the Petula Clark songbook. It was so enjoyable to see each of these talented ladies step into the spotlight time and again and sing their little socks off. Each of them have spent hours in the chorus of other musicals; each of them deserve this chance to show audiences that they have what it takes to carry a show. Good on you, ladies.
The stories and patter between songs enhanced the impression of the (somewhat) innocent 60’s. “I tried coke once but the ice cubes kept getting stuck in my nose!” “In my family, inheritance means my mother’s hips!” A unique little side note: It was so much fun to be there the night that Piper’s husband and son Tucker attended the show. Because every time I glanced down the aisle at Tucker, he was dancing in his seat and miming the words to his mother’s activities having watched her rehearse. Obviously a dancer in the making!
Many theatres are choosing light-hearted small cast productions to ease their way back into the spotlight. This joyful musical was a good choice for Town Hall. For those still leery of public outings, the production is also available for streaming on certain dates – check the website for time and date. It is guaranteed to make you smile and sing along.
A WOW factor of 8.5!!
By Addison Herron-Wheeler (OUT FRONT Magazine)
We’ve now heard this a million times, but the past year-and-a-half has been incredibly tough on the theatre community. Like other entertainment industries, it was virtually destroyed by COVID, with any remaining shows moving online entirely for a livestreamed experience.
Now, as the world is finally getting vaccinated and opening back up, shows are slowly returning, and one of them is Town Hall Arts Center’s You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.
For those still not fully vaccinated, or just feeling a little squirmy about the idea of going back to in-person shows, put your worry at rest. Town Hall has done an amazing job of making things safe. The actors, who have to undergo regular COVID testing, are encased in a glass box on the stage. While this may sound odd, it doesn’t impact visibility or sound. There is still a live band, nestled to the side of the stage and all wearing masks, and you can still feel the energy coming from the performance and get that live theatre feel, instead of the livestream blues.
There are also plenty of precautions in place when it comes to the audience. Shows are smaller capacity in order to make sure parties can distance from other parties, and exiting the theatre is done safely, in shifts.
COVID precautions aside, the show itself is also wonderful. For those familiar with the classic musical, there aren’t really any surprises or new twists, but each of the characters is warm, funny, philosophical, and engaging, just as they are intended to be. Probably because live theatre has been missing for so long, and the actors are so excited to get back in the spotlight, each performer seems to be throwing themselves 110 percent into what they are doing to tell a compelling and timeless story.
Similarly, the stage accommodations don’t do anything to diminish an amazing, stand-out, set and scenery. While the set is simple and childlike, intentionally, of course, the bright colors in the costumes and set pieces weave seamlessly in with the story, and you get some cool lighting effects and even a kite that really flies.
If you’re itching for some live theatre done safely, make sure to catch You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at Town Hall Arts Center in Littleton, Thursday through Sunday and running through April 18.