To celebrate their 10th year anniversary in Annapolis, MD, Infinity Theatre Company, has restaged their first show and created a new take on The Fantasticks for 21st century audiences. While inventive, the reason to see this 1960’s Jones & Schmidt musical now is the same reason that four decades of audiences flocked to the Sullivan Street Playhouse and to numerous revivals since then: the story and the music.
It’s a simple plot: boy sees girl, they fall in love, obstacles thrown in their way drive them apart, the two learn how to overcome them and end up together. It has the first love quality of a Romeo and Juliet only this time, the parents scheme to get the kids together, and Act One closes with a happy ending. I suspect The Fantasticks has held a special place in our memories for all these years because it poses the question: what happens after Happily Ever After? And that provides the action for Act Two.
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With a wink and a nod to modern technology, director Alan Ostroff’s concept has the lovers take selfies with their cell phones. The Fathers, Bellomy (an engaging Jimi Kinstle) and Hucklebee (a twinkle-eyed Peter Boyer) have a grand time singing karaoke to “Say No”, one of the liveliest songs in the show.
Spiffy cartoon-like projections (Projection Designer Alexandria Kelly Colburn) come complete with emojis. Even the fringed back curtain gets its own projections to remind us we’re not in the 60’s anymore.
Ostroff has cast his show smartly: Anna Fagan and Nate Janis as Louisa and Matt make not only a charming and believable pair of young lovers, but are a dual musical powerhouse with Fagan easily soaring up to the score’s highest notes.
El Gallo, narrator, huckster, villain, and sympathetic teacher is played by Signature Theatre and Arena Stage regular, Thomas Adrian Simpson, and he is a standout here. Not only a superb singer and actor, he gets to show off his stage combat skills in El Gallo’s battle with Matt, fencing first with wooden swords, then light sabers and ending with El Gallo’s prolonged and hysterical faked death scene.
As extraordinary as the singing is, backed by a four piece orchestra, there are a few misfires. Ostroff has chosen to seat the audience on the stage with the stage curtain concealing the front of the venue. A runway divides the audience and there’s a narrow stage a handspan away from the closest seats. Putting a full audience in the smaller space seems a bit claustrophobic. Sitting in the first rows may feel too close. I was seated further back and missed a fight scene staged in the wings area.
The Fantasticks at Infinity Theatre Company closes July 14, 2019. Details and tickets
The poetry of the script may seem somewhat stilted to modern ears. Ostroff has his main characters perform in as naturalistic a way as possible. But he has given Henry, the old actor, (Brit Herring in what is usually a plum acting role,) and his sidekick Mortimer (Noah Heie gives him a jittery interpretation) and the Mute (Kelsie Hicks,) who plays the wall separating the couple, some curious hand and arm movements more reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s Robot dances. Not sure what to make of them.
But don’t let these shortcomings dissuade you from a trip to Annapolis to once again revel in “Try to Remember” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” sung by these superb performers. And maybe bring some young people to see the show that has entranced generations.
The Fantasticks . Book & Lyrics by Tom Jones . Music by Harvey Schmidt . Directed by: Alan Ostroff
Music Director: Solon Snider . Cast: Thomas Adrian Simpson as El Gallo; Kelsie Hicks as The Mute; Jimi Kinstle as Bellomy; Peter Boywer as Hucklebee; Anna Fagan as Luisa; Nate Janis as Henry; Noah Heie as Mortimer, Ensemble: Geneva Croteau, Edima Essien; Jason Quackenbush . Choreographer/Producing Associate: Kelsie Hicks . Fight Director: Brit HerringCostumes: Jeannette Christianson . Projection Design: Alexandria Kelly Colburn . Lighting Design: Dylan Uremovich . Audio Design/Projection Engineer: Wes Shippee . Music Director/Conductor/Keyboard 1: Solon Snider . Keyboard 2: Noah Dion . Bass: Bob Abbott . Percussion: Noah Heie . Stage Manager: Kate Kilbane . Asst. Stage Manager/Technical Director: Meagan Spry . Produced by Infinity Theatre Company . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.