The first production of Company Theatre's 30th Anniversary season is "The Fantasticks" a 1960 musical with music by Harvey Schmidt and book & lyrics by Tom Jones. The show first opened on May 3, 1960 off-Broadway, ran for 17,162 performances, closing on January 13, 2002 before re-opening in 2006. The Sullivan theatre where it first ran was renamed after Jerry Orbach who played the original El Gallo. The show tells an allegorical story, loosely based on the play "Les Romanesques" by Edmond Rostand, concerning two fathers who put up a wall between their houses to ensure that their children fall in love, because they know children always do what their parents forbid. Seeking to end the charade, the fathers hire the services of a handsome rogue, El Gallo who is also the play's narrator, a roving old actor and his Indian sidekick to stage a phony "abduction" of Luisa so that Matt can rescue her. The children enjoy reading so much that her favorite story is "The Rape of the Sabine Women" which first introduced the husband carrying his bride over the threshold not an actual rape as current day audiences view it. In the aftermath of this successful scheme, however, both the boy and girl experience hardships along the way. They rediscover their true love not poetic love, for each other, trying to develop a more mature relationship the second time around. Co-directors Michael Hammond and Michael Joseph infuse their hard working cast with energy to play these roles and the latter Michael obtains so outstanding vocals from the cast. Paul Katz plays the keyboards for the show but a special treat for the audience is having a real live harpist in the onstage orchestra, played by Deborah Feld-Fabisiewicz. The rifts and trills of the harp give the show the lush, romantic emphasis it needs. All these ingredients add up to a terrific musical treat presented by a multitalented cast.
Both directors make this well known show, fresh and alive for current day audiences. Director Michael Hammond usually tackles huge musicals like "Dreamgirls", "Peter Pan" and "Urinetown", choreographing chorus lines of people but in this show it becomes more intimate dance steps and blocking. Some of the dances in this show include "Soon It's Gonna Rain". "Round and Round" and the fathers two numbers. His clever dance steps enrapture the crowd. Director Michael Joseph usually plays the lead keyboards or conducts huge musicals like "Ragtime", "Big River" and "Miss Saigon". This time he entrusts the keyboard playing and conducting to Paul Katz and his trio of musicians. However, Michael's expertise shines in the vocal delivery of his cast with their harmonic blend in the duets and quartets. The clever set design is by Marc Ewart and James Valentin. It consists of the center platform with two extensions on each side complete with poles to attach the curtains necessary to change seasons and locales with ease. The fathers and children are onstage almost the whole show and sit with their backs to the crowd. A swing is lowered for the rain song and carnival style lights for "Round and Round". They also built a huge trunk where the Shakespearean actor and Indian enter for their scenes and it also holds all the necessary props for the show, too.The Moonlight lighting of Act 1 and the sunlit lighting of Act 2 is by Caleb Jon Magoon. (Sometimes on opening night the girl seemed to be in a bit of dark lighting but I am sure this minor glitch will be corrected by the expertise of the directors.) Costumes are by Kim Dickinson.
Leading this cast in this swashbuckling role of El Gallo is John King. He has a moustache and goatee, giving him a mysterious look and is clad all in black, with black leather pants, a long flowing cape with lavender lining, a Zorro-like hat and red kerchief around his neck. John bounds on and off the stage and platforms wonderfully, commanding every scene whether he is part of the action or narrating it. His strong baritone voice sells the well known song "Try to Remember where he sings about the changing seasons of a person's life and how they learn from it. John also sings "I Can See It" with Matt, a powerful song about what life is really like, warning him to be careful of what he wishes for and the sinister "Round and Round" with Luisa where she begins to see what life is really like but he keeps forcing her to put her mask back on which is like a pair of rose-colored glasses. John and the girl do a marvelous dance during this number while the rest of the cast members are torturing Matt in various locations including Venice, Egypt and India during his world travels. He gets to show off his comic side during the abduction scene with Henry and Mortimer and the abduction song with the fathers called "It Depends on What You Pay" where he describes different kinds of kidnapping plans to them. An important element in this show is the Mute who delivers props, introduces the show and the characters while not uttering a word. A very experienced actor must play this role because he can only act with his facial expressions and reactions to the other characters. In this case this dynamite character is fantastically played by Matt Richards, a senior at Pembroke High School. Even though he is young in years, his expressive face and acting keep you riveted to his performance throughout whether he is rebuilding the wall, throwing confetti, snow or making it rain. Matthew Torrance and Amy Kligerman play Matt and Luisa wonderfully, capturing the characters innocent love during Act 1, their tortured break up and renewed love in Act 2. Having seen Matt perform as Thuy in "Miss Saigon", I knew what his glorious tenor voice could do, and I was extremely pleased at learning that Amy's soprano voice could soar off the charts in their duets including "Metaphor", about their naive love, "Soon It's Gonna Rain" about their spending time together and "They Were You" where they realize everything they were searching the world for, was inside of each other all the time. (The latter is my favorite ballad in the show.) Amy is a pretty brunette with gorgeous blue eyes who's first number "Much More" where she yearns to learn more about life outside her books, introduces her lovely voice to the audience. Also outstanding are her obligatos in "Round and Round" with John. Matt's song "I Can Feel It" with John shows off his belting tenor range while they bound across the stage, leaping on and off the platforms. These two young performer do an excellent job on the jazz quartet song "This Plum is Too Ripe" with the two fathers where they discover they have grown to know each other too well. (Victoria Thornsbury plays Luisa at alternating performances.)
The other four roles are scene stealing roles and the four actors who play them, do not disappoint the audience. The comic fathers, Matt's, Hucklebee and Luisa's Bellomy are excellently played by Frank Piekut (who I reviewed in "Beauty and the Beast", "It's A Wonderful Life" and "To Kill a Mockingbird") and Dan Moore ( who I reviewed in "Ragtime", "Big River", "Showboat" and "Will Roger's Follies" with Michael Hammond as Will) They are hilarious as the ex-Navy man and button seller with their crazy antics who try to get their kids together by pretending to feud with each other. They get to show off their singing and dancing in their Spanish style song "Never Say No" and their vaudeville number "Plant a Radish" complete with shovel and hoe instead of canes. Both songs are show stopping numbers. Frank and Dan also sing with John in "It Depends on What You Pay" and with Matt and Amy in "This Plum is Too Ripe". The old actor Henry is played by Christopher Hagberg and the dying Indian, Mortimer with Cockney accent is played by Steve Dooner (who directed the powerful "Doubt" last October and who I reviewed in "The Producers" last month) They make their entrance and exit through a huge trunk. They abduct Luisa in Act 1 and torture Matt in Act 2. Chris spouts screwed up Shakespearean lines while wanting to show everyone his clippings, pretends to have a heart attack during the abduction scene with Matt and falls asleep and snores before El Gallo wakes him up. He delivers humorous lines: they are no small actors, only small parts and screams at Mortimer that he is standing in Henry's light. Steve who shoots an invisible bow and arrow which he kills himself with to show El Gallo how he has been dying onstage with Henry for forty years. The sword play in this scene is very funny and they abduct Matt in Act 2 while singing "An Episode" carrying on Henry's back with Mortimer holding his legs. Chris and Steve are a hoot in these madcap roles. So for a trip back to the carefree days of the 1960, be sure to catch "The Fantasticks" at Company Theatre before time runs out.(It is always fun to look back at this show having played Henry twice before in 1996 and 1998.)