With teenage rebellion and naivete as accessories, two meddling but well-meaning fathers bait their kids into a marriage, but they're not the only ones on the hook. Though the world's longest running musical is revived at the Snapple Theater Center with gusto, nostalgia dangles prettier than any other element that this production has to offer.
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
You know the story. Spirited boy meets comely female neighbor. Comely female neighbor falls for spirited boy. All is hunky dory between them, except for one thing: Their fathers hate each other. Can you remember how The Fantasticks made you feel the very first time? Perhaps you were a flower child or a baby boomer when you first experienced the starry-eyed, pristine love between the youngsters named Matt and Luisa. Can you taste the whimsy? If you can, then you're primed to revisit and enjoy Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's legendary musical.
Cynics, this one's not for you. Originally staged at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in 1960, the gush and mush that gave this show its longevity are not sparse for its return to off-broadway. This production runs on fantasy juice, and demands at least a sampling of your hopes and a portion of your heart to keep you from running. Not that you can't be otherwise engaged. There is enough talent here, exhibited by Burke Moses as El Gallo (or the cock in Italian and Spanish) and Sara Jean Ford as Luisa to keep you seated. Moses has great comedic timing, both in facial tics and body, to deliver a charming narrator. His crowing easily steals the show. 25-year old songbird Ford has a mellifluous voice that pierces the soul, but even giving in to her vibrato requires a degree of optimism.
Also impressive are substitute players John Deyle as Matt's (a forgettable Douglas Ullman, Jr.) father Hucklebee and Tom Flagg as Henry, the Old Actor. Deyle plays his role to the hilt and seems to genuinely be enjoying himself, even if he appears a tad tired. Flagg, short in stature but not in craft, is the straight man to Robert R. Oliver's outrageous, Tim-Conway-esque Mortimer (The Man Who Dies).
The reputation of this musical preceded it, and I was more than happy to see what many have heralded as timeless. Unfortunately, despite good performances and good renditions of old, popular favorites such as "Try to Remember" and "Soon It's Gonna Rain", I am hard-pressed to discern what exactly has made this show endure. The quality of the writing itself is satisfactory, but the overall sensation derived from this show is not "fantastic." It is adequate in its presentation of lasting love, but with the exception of a few El Gallo show tricks, is devoid of wow factor. If you can divorce your mind from 2007 and all that it entails, perhaps you may find this show more compelling, but I'm a little harder to get. They'll have to pull out more stops to sway me. Yet, since several in the current cast are Fantasticks' veterans, there may be more to this "world-renown" stuff than I can appreciate.
Now playing at the Snapple Theater Center: Duffy Theater, 1627 Broadway, New York, NY, 212.246.3828 For tickets: 212-307-7171