Two love-struck teenagers, two mischievous fathers, a bandit, a wall, a mute and a little magic…what could possibly go wrong? You can find out in Infinity Theater Company’s charming production of the romantic musical from a simpler time, The Fantasticks, written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. Since its opening in May 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York City’s Greenwich Village, and its current Off-Broadway revival, The Fantasticks has become the longest-running musical in the history of American theater. In celebration of the show’s 50th anniversary, producing artistic directors Anna Roberts Ostroff and Alan Ostroff selected The Fantasticks as Infinity’s debut production presented at the Children’s Theater of Annapolis, Maryland.
“Try to remember the kind of September, when life was slow and oh, so mellow,” croons the mysterious and charming El Gallo, in a stand-out performance by Michael Padgett, as he narrates the show’s opening scene with the lovely and well-known ballad, “Try to Remember.” His strong, deep voice beautifully fills the small venue. The first act, set in the heartland of America, begins with Matt (Alan Ostroff), a young boy, expressing his overwhelming love for his neighbor’s young daughter, Luisa (Anna Roberts Ostroff). Despite the fact that they are neighbors, Matt and Luisa cannot interact easily because their fathers built a wall between their respective backyards. Undeterred, Matt and Luisa secretly meet in the soft moonlight and sweetly sing to express their love and desire to be together.
Meanwhile, Luisa’s father Bellomy, enjoyably played by Anthony Morelli, clandestinely meets with Matt’s father, Hucklebee (Gary Leimkuhler) to discuss their plan to get the children together. We learn that they built the wall and told their children to stay away from each other with the hope that Matt and Luisa would defy their wishes (as many children are apt to do!) and fall in love. However, the fathers decide to arrange a fake kidnapping of Luisa by El Gallo, the bandit, who with the help of his two hired actors, hilariously portrayed by Laurence K. Cantor (Henry) and Darron Cardosa (Mortimer), abducts Luisa. Matt “saves” her and in the process comically slays everyone much to Luisa’s admiration.
The fathers’ clever plot screeches to a halt in act two when the harsh sun comes out causing both Luisa and Matt to realize that perhaps they have made a mistake and do not really love each other. But do they? Under the influence of El Gallo and his sidekick, the mute (Robin Cannon), the young teens follow new and sometimes dangerous pursuits as this romantic tale of love and innocence lost takes unexpected twists and turns.
Michael Padgett’s El Gallo truly carries the show with his deep, booming voice and dominating stage presence. Equally enjoyable is the very funny Anthony Morelli as the vegetable-loving and mischievous Bellomy. The duets sung by Bellomy and Hucklebee drag on a bit but both actors put as much energy into the silly choreography as possible resulting in some of the show’s most memorable moments. The funniest moment, however, is El Gallo and Mortimer’s hilarious fake death scene. The entire audience chuckled with laughter as the men continued to die over and over.
Matt and Luisa’s chemistry on stage is enjoyable to watch and seems very genuine. Roberts Ostroff continuously charms the audience with her lovely soprano voice and expressive acting. Ostroff’s voice, however, has a few pitch issues and is not as strong as Roberts Ostroff’s but the emotional delivery of his singing and acting succeeds in bringing Matt to life.
On a side note, Robin Cannon plays the “puppet-master” mute, who moves silently and gracefully around the stage during the show. She interacts with the audience and El Gallo, but I am unclear why director, Tina Marie Casamento, has Cannon mimicking many of the motions of the other actors, such as Luisa. I frequently found myself distracted by her movements, though they were graceful.
The charm of The Fantastick’s depends on a particular kind of “magic” created between the ensemble cast and the audience. This show is nicely presented and does a good job of creating that magic for the audience. However, it is the type of show that leaves some theater patrons enchanted while others are totally confused. But the pure innocence and simplicity of the score and the lyrics is what keeps me interested in this show. Beautiful ballads including: “Try to Remember,” “They Were You,” and “Soon it’s Gonna Rain,” will keep you happily humming as you exit the theater.
Book and lyrics by Tom Jones
Music by Harvey Schmidt
Directed by Tina Marie Casamento
Produced by Infinity Theater Company
Reviewed by Sabrina C. Daly
The Fantasticks runs thru August 8, 2010
For details, directions and tickets, click here.