'Fantasticks' is old-fashioned, but still fun
By Ed Huyck, City Pages, Minneapolis
Mon., Jul. 18 2011
The original production of The Fantasticks ran for an eye-popping 17,162 performances Off Broadway over 42 years, as generations took in the Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt fantastical musical interpretation of Edmond Rostand's Les Romanesques. The current production at Theatre in the Round won't be around nearly as long, but it retains many of the charms of the original, long-running production. If you're not familiar, the show centers on two youngsters, Matt and Luisa, who fall in love across the wall their feuding fathers have built between their properties. As it turns out, the wall is a ruse, as the fathers long ago decided to arrange a marriage between their children and are using the separation to spark their love. They seal the deal by staging an abduction using a company (well, two is a company, right?) of aging, traveling actors, and a mysterious man named El Gallo. After Matt drives them off, all seems right... until the opening of act two, where, under the harsh light of day, the love under false pretenses starts to wilt. Both Matt and Luisa head off into the wide world, where they find that their innocence is a detriment and the swords are much, more real. By the play's end they are both much wiser, and have a far deeper understanding of their lives and love.
Two of the key charms in The Fantasticks are the classic songs and the intimate, spare staging that embraces numerous theatrical traditions. From the opening notes of "Try to Remember," you can hear that you are in good hands and the Theatre in the Round company does a solid job bringing the music to life. As the lovers, Lars Lee and Carolyn Bartell Strauss both display plenty of musical chops and steady charm, playing their characters' innocence to the hilt. Gary F. Davis and Joel Thingvall also sing and perform well as their crusty, feuding fathers. Carl Schoenborn turns in a fine performance as El Gallo, who serves both as an instigator in the plot and the narrator. He brings out the character's easy charm throughout, though some of the singing and dancing leaves him a bit breathless and seemingly straining to keep up with the rest of the company. As the old actors, Jim Bitney and Tom Lockhart ham it up all the way with delirious results, especially Lockhart, who showcases his character's skill at playing death with an epic performance that takes him through the entire arena, and outside of it, and even gets to showcase a few moves that made him a semi-finalist on Dance Fever (and would have likely made Deney Terrio and Motion proud). Now, this is a 1950s version of a 19th-century play, so the gender politics are more than a little old-fashioned, with poor Luisa mainly pining for her love or being easily tricked by El Gallo (to be fair, Matt doesn't come off much better) as she waits impatiently for her true love to return. The Fantasticks runs through July 31.
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