BWW Reviews: THE FANTASTICKS Lacks Emotion
Enjoying its 29th season, Terrific New Theatre is presenting THE FANTASTICKS now through September 13th. Directed by TNT founder Carl Stewart, a fixture in the Birmingham theatre scene for over 50 years, this production definitely has its ups and downs.
THE FANTASTICKS is the longest running musical in history, running a total of 42 years off-Broadway. It is one of the most produced plays by school and community theatres ever. It lends itself to being done with minimal sets and has a lovely story that few can find fault with. TNT's production is done with only a piano for accompaniment, and a minimal set. According to the assistant director Kathleen Jenson, they tried to use much of the show's original blocking, so I will assume the set is laid out similar to the original set as well.
Patrick Johnson as El Gallo, did a good job of being humorous in the first act, as well as helping to move the pace of the play along. In the second act, which drug a bit for me, Johnson becomes more sinister as he puts the move on Luisa, played by Christy Vest. At one point Johnson actually seems to unexpectedly transform into the charismatic character that could lure a young girl away from her family and her first true love. Although his singing voice is not strong, I am more accepting of that weakness in a good actor, therefore Johnson is forgiven for any lack of vocal skills.
The two Dads are cute and although some of their choreographed numbers show up their lack of dancing skills, for the most part I enjoyed when they were on stage. Most of the other characters on stage have good moments and some not so good moments. Henry, as played by Thom Satterfield, is way over the top and in the first act makes the show. He is funny, outrageous and brings the show to life. In the second act his huge personality is often distracting from what is happening in the plot. I don't know if he is capable of dialing it back a bit, but blending into the background is definitely not Satterfield's talent.
Ms. Vest played Luisa as a bright eyed 16 year old very well. Her voice is certainly capable of hitting all of the high notes required. It is up to her in the second act to show us most of the lessons of this play, how we look at the world through a mask, see things as we wish and not how they truly are, and how exhausting all of this can become. Eventually she realizes that El Gallo has duped her and that she still longs for her first true love. I did not see the range of feelings that this part requires. Those peaks and valleys of emotion are what really tell the story to the audience. I have seen this play numerous times before, but my companion last night had not. He left the theatre a bit confused and missed out on some of the lessons to be learned from this show. I feel it is because of the lack of depth from Ms. Vest's portrayal. I hope the emotions will grow as the run of the show continues.
TNT is definitely one of the gems of the Birmingham theatre community and I hope they are around to celebrate many more years.