Young lovers, meddling mothers, a clown, an Indian, two pirates, a caped bandit and many more come together this week to bring one of the most beloved musical comedies in modern American theatre to the Jerry Herman Ring Theater: The Fantasticks.
With a title that sounds deceptively like a song and dance number about ’80s superheroes, audience members unaware of the show’s exceptional history might expect more Xandu than Romeo and Juliet. That shouldn’t be a problem for the Ring’s typical baby boomer season ticket holder, but for students attending Totally Tuesdays (Tuesday night performances at the Ring are FREE for UM students) or any other night of the week, here’s a little background on The Fantasticks can only be categorized as, well, pretty fantastic. The Fantasticks originally opened on April 23, 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village in NYC. It churned out 17,162 performances without pause until it finally closed in 2002, making it the world’s longest running musical.
The Fantasticks is a modern version of classic Italian Commedia dell’Arte themes: love, loss, jealousy and a happy ending. Teenage neighbors, Louisa (Kristin Brown) and Matt (Jed Alevizos), have fallen in love across the wall that separates their two families. Little do they know, their mothers, Hucklebee (Arianna Hoeppner) and Bellomy (Lissa Rubin) built the wall and staged a feud on purpose, understanding the principles of reverse psychology. Once Louisa and Matt learn of their mothers’ scheme, they embark on the world alone in an act of rebellion and effort to find their own bliss.
Despite the overtly simplistic story line, less is more, and minimalist is the name of The Fantasticks’ game. The lack of concrete setting opens up the imagination. A small raised platform serves as the stage and the entire set is composed of merely a chair, a bench, and a trunk – even the wall is represented solely by the Mute (Lauren Dolk) holding a baton.
For a musical, the choreography is, perhaps, simpler than the set design, although the vaudeville-style song and dance duets between Hucklebee and Bellomy were charming and performed in well-appreciated unison. Disappointingly, the vocals overall were sub-par, with several cast members (Brown most often) lacking the power to project his or her voice to fill the intimate, 300-seat house. Brown is talented, however, and shines brightest when in an operatic style. But her soft, sweet voice seems contradictory to the melodramatic, self-absorbed, silly princess she portrays Louisa as.
Even if you might be disappointed that The Fantasticks isn’t actually a neon version of The Incredibles on roller skates, this 20th-century version of Edmond Rostand’s 19th century French satire Les Romanesques (translation: The Fantasticks, hence the title) will not only tickle your funny bone, but also allow you to witness a piece of musical theatre history.
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Dani McNally may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.