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The Fantasticks
a Musical
by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt

COMPANY : Centerstage North Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The Art Place - Mountain View
ID# 3765

SHOWING : February 11, 2011 - February 26, 2011



The Fantasticks, the longest running musical in the world, tells the story of a young boy and girl who fall in love with the help of their meddling, matchmaking fathers, but become restless and stray from each other. This is a celebration of love – first love, lost love, and ultimately, true love. Written by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, The Fantasticks has delighted audiences across the world. The score features such well-known musical theatre standards as Try to Remember, Much More, and I Can See It.

Music Director Mandy Kirkpatrick
Director Karen Worrall
Mute Cheryl Baer
El Gallo Kelly David Carr
Mortimer Mike Crowe
Bellomy Frank Harris
Henry Lin Harrison
Luisa Amanda Leigh Pickard
Matt Mark W. Schroeder
Hucklebee Steve Worrall
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Nice to Remember
by Dedalus
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Every now and then, a production comes along that’s surprisingly likeable. I was never that big a fan of “The Fantasticks,” the long-running confection about love and growing up and theatrics. Sure, I’ve always liked it when I’ve seen it and I even have the old old record on vinyl that I’ll listen to every couple of years or so. But it was never one of those shows that I simply HAD to see or HAD to do or even HAD to listen to.

Yet here I am, singing (so to speak) the praises of CenterStage North’s production of “The Fantasticks.” For some reason, this production showed me why this show works so well in small venues, and why it has proved so long-lasting.

The set is a small stage that spills out onto the wide Art Place playing area. During a sprightly overture, the four principal actors come out and get prepared for the play. A mime-faced mute and a tall and imposing narrator help them with their costumes. They strike a pose and we’re off.

The narrator goes into the familiar strains of “Try to Remember,” a subversively sad song extolling the virtues of the past, entreating us to “follow follow follow” that golden memory. He then takes us back to the days of young romance, that first blush of passion that is always surprising and sublime. We meet Matt and Luisa, neighbors whose fathers are feuding and who are kept apart by a wall. Before long, it is revealed that the fathers are “closet friends” who have contrived the feud to bring the children together (if you need an explanation of that tortured logic, well, as the song says, “Children, I guess, must get their own way / The minute that you say ‘No!’”).

Now that the younger generation has fallen in love, the fathers need to put another barrier in their way. So, they make a contract with our narrator (who calls himself “El Gallo” – “The Rooster” for those of you with a penchant for language). El Gallo will hire some second-rate actors to play kidnappers. Luisa will be abducted (“Raped” in the politically-incorrect parlance of the classics), Matt will save her, the “feud” will end, and everyone will live happily ever after.

Of course, “happily ever after” is a relative phrase and Act Two shows us what happens AFTER the happy ending. This second act has always been a source of my dissatisfaction with this show – it relies on the premise that walls, feuds, and kidnappings aren’t great obstacles to romance, that such relationships are “too easily won.” This is a premise I’ve always found a bit hard to swallow. In any case, we see Matt go out “into the world” where he faces all sorts of trials and dangers. Being the female (this was written in the late fifties after all), Luisa remains behind where she is wooed and betrayed by El Gallo. The point is that this crucible of contrivance is necessary for maturity and a healthy marriage. Again, a premise I find a bit hard to swallow.

So, with all my objections to this script, why did I like this production so much? One reason is the artifice at the root of the play. This is obviously a play with players. Props (and characters) are pulled out of an on-stage box, and are deliberately suggestive rather than realistic. Contrivance is the stock-in-trade of these characters, so the contrivances of the plot seem an organic part of the whole. In this context, shallow, even meaningless, platitudes (“See it with your ears / Hear it with the inside of your hand”) seem profound and fraught with implication.

Second, the songs are (mostly) sweet and memorable, lyrical without being cloying. The dialogue has its own music (written in a sort of blank verse) that flows in and out of the songs as easily as a brook through a meadow. Most of the numbers are emotionally complex, happy songs in minor keys, dramatic songs with whimsical melodies, angry songs about minutiae.

Lastly, this cast and this production are appealing, using the intimacy of the Art Place stage to its full advantage. Yes, Mark Schroeder and Amanda Hardie are a bit older than Matt and Luisa, but they both bring an air of innocence and excitement that makes them believable. Ms. Hardie, in particular, gives Luisa’s “madness” an appealing eccentricity that amuses while it moves. As the fathers, Steve Worrall and Frank Harris are funny and eager, doting and energetic, and are the perfect foils for the younger folks. And Kelly Carr’s El Gallo centers the entire production with a swagger and a verve that are positively enticing. Tall and elegant in his satin cape, he woos the audience as much as he woos the characters, and tells the story with all the energy you could ask.

As the actors-for-hire, Lin Harrison and Mike Crowe orate and emote and die and swagger and carry their hambones on their sleeve, chewing the scenery, their lines, and their death scenes with a comic relish that is absolutely delectable. If Cheryl Baer is a bit too emotionally not-there for my tastes (I’ve seen Mutes steal this show with their expressiveness and wry unspoken miens – Ms. Baer plays it totally stone-faced and non-reactive), she nevertheless keeps the plot and props moving.

So, even if the show is not the fantastic extravaganza some folks expect from any musical, it is nevertheless a quietly appealing production, one that is proving “Nice to Remember” many days after the experience. Follow, Follow, Follow …

-- Brad Rudy (BK

Note: Normally, I’d beef about the “sanitizing” of the lyrics of “It Depends on What You Pay,” greatly reducing the number of references to “rape.” However, these days the “classic” meaning of the word has been largely forgotten, and the original “joke” was in fairly poor taste to begin with. The fact that the new lyrics still “scan” deserves at least a sorta kinda kudo (“abduction” after is a longer and less evocative word than “rape”).

A Mephistopholean Take
by playgoer
Sunday, February 27, 2011
When I heard that Mark W. Schroeder and Amanda Leigh Hardie were taking on the roles of young lovers Matt and Luisa in Centerstage North's "The Fantasticks," I knew something a little unusual was going on. These two are not as young as the roles call for, and they are known more for quirkiness than for standard romantic lead good looks. I also remembered the critique of Kelly David Carr having a "pleasant pop-rock voice" in "The Spitfire Grill," so I wondered how a softer voice would work in the role of El Gallo. I needn't have worried. These three are the standouts of the production.

The scenic set-up of the show is as simple as is called for, with the addition of some flats in the background, their backs facing the audience. This is a theatrical production, with the actors acknowledging the audience on their entrances and with some nice by-play of El Gallo with lady audience members.

Costumes, by Karen Worrall, are generally striking. Mike Crowe and Lin Harrison, as the actors Mortimer and Henry, have faded finery to wear. Steve Worrall and Frank Harris, as the fathers, sport a variety of textures and patterns. Amanda Leigh Hardie has a simple, fitted white dress, while Kelly David Carr is in shiny, sparkly black with orange-red accents. Cheryl Baer, as the mute, has a simple, cheery costume. Only Mark W. Schroeder is given nondescript clothing to wear. Lighting shows up the costumes to full effect.

Voices are good throughout. The pace of many songs, however, is far too slow. This gives the show a plodding feel, even though the accompanying quartet has a lovely sound. More energetic direction throughout would have helped immensely.

Choreography by Maura Neill is generally simple, becoming most effective in the moments when El Gallo acts as puppetmaster to the lovers and their fathers. The act one finale introduces this concept, and "I Can See It" and "Round and Round" in the second act solidify it. Kelly David Carr's stunning good looks and imposing physique suit him well as the Mephistophelean El Gallo, a wicked twinkle in his eye and half sneer/half smile on his face.

Mark W. Schroeder brings sincerity and youthfulness to his role as Matt. His speeches flow more smoothly than those of any other Matt I've seen. Even his singing voice takes on a youthful timbre, although the music seems to be a tad too low for his voice, with the lowest notes lacking in volume. He is matched and more by Amanda Leigh Hardie, whose soaring head voice sounds glorious, and whose acting choices tend toward the quirky and comic. They're a well-balanced pair, engaging the audience's sympathies from the start.

The Henry of Lin Harrison is robust and powerful, with none of the fragile, aged poignancy I prefer in the role. Still, he brings nice energy to his moments. On the other hand, Mike Crowe's death scene as Mortimer has no personality and shows no attempt to connect with the audience. This is in stark contrast to El Gallo's death scene, which Kelly David Carr milks delightfully.

The Bellomy of Frank Harris and the Hucklebee of Steve Worrall are well-matched, blending nicely in song and with both sounding a tad stilted in their book scenes. Both are holdovers from the original Centerstage North production of "The Fantasticks" twenty years ago, though appearing in different roles this time. It's wonderful when a theatrical company manages to carry on strong over so many years. "The Fantasticks," while hardly perfect, is a perfectly enjoyable entertainment and will carry this company on to its next production. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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