Review: THE FANTASTICKS Enchants with Original Off-Broadway Staging Thanks to Director Sherman Wayne at Theatre Palisades
There are many reasons why THE FANTASTICKS original off-Broadway production ran a total of 42 years and 17,162 performances, making it the world's longest-running musical which continues to enchant audiences around the world. Aside from it being a "Romeo and Juliet" type story we can all relate to, but with a much happier ending, its most well-known song, "Try to Remember," speaks to everyone wanting to go back to a time in our lives when all things were much more simple, romantic, and totally carefree.
THE FANTASTICKS musical premiered in 1960, written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, telling an allegorical story, loosely based on the play The Romancers (Les Romanesques) by Edmond Rostand, concerning two neighboring fathers (Greg Abbott and Darin Greenblatt who tear up the stage singing "Plant a Radish") who trick their children, Luisa and Matt (Giane Morris and Jeremiah Lussier who, like everyone else in the Theatre Palisades production are perfectly cast in the roles), into falling in love by pretending to feud.
In Act I, the fathers build a wall between their much tended-to gardens to keep their children apart, which of course causes the teens yearn for each other. To increase their desire to be together ("Never Say No"), the fathers hire the dashing El Gallo (Drew Fitzsimmons in his best "pirate" character yet) to stage a mock abduction, leading them to inquire on the cost. "It Depends on What You Pay" is El Gallo's response, performed by the three men with perfect harmony and sarcasm.
Once the fee agreement is reached for a "first-class" abduction, El Gallo hires two traveling actors to stage the fake abduction of Luisa so that Matt can heroically seem to save her, ending the supposed feud. The two traveling actors, Henry and Mortimer are hysterically portrayed by Michael-Anthony Nozzi and Mark Fields Davidson as a doting elderly Shakespearean actor and his lanky often-Indian sidekick who specializes in death scenes. I guarantee you will not be able to stop laughing at their antics once they emerge from their costume box stage right.
That's the Act I story which takes place in the nighttime, with a crescent Moon hanging above the young lovers as they succeed in gaining their fathers approval to be together. But as Act II begins, El Gallo changes the Moon into the Sun, warning us the harshness of light will make things seem not as good as they appeared to be. In fact, when the children discover their fathers' deception, they reject the arranged love match and separate.
Each then gains disillusioning experiences of the real world thanks to their duets with El Gallo, ("I Can See It" and "Beyond That Road" with Matt; "Much More" and "Round and Round" with Louisa) seen in parallel fantasy sequences. After enduring separate hardships, they finally return to each other bruised but enlightened, and they renew their vows with more maturity. Thus the musical concludes with a happy ending, although with a knowing look to the audience, El Gallo makes us wonder just what may happen to them next as the musical concludes with the reprise of "Try to Remember."
Director Sherman Wayne, who spent eight years as company manager with the original off-Broadway production at the tiny Sullivan Street Playhouse, has lent his remarkable knowledge of the show's original staging to this production, keeping all aspects of the production as close to the original as possible. Set pieces are kept to a minimum, changed out by The Mute (Jeff DeWitt, who will entertain you silently from his very first appearance announcing the show in pantomime), who also loves to throw small squares of multi-colored shades of tissue paper to represent many things, such as red for blood or white for snow, holding a stick to represent the Wall, and tossing his bowler as the need strikes him. DeWitt excels in the role, making it a joy to watch his every addition to the show.
Kudos to Choreographer Victoria Miller, Musical Director Brian Murphy, Fight Choreography by Drew Fitzsimmons (yes, I noticed the foil toss), June Lissandrello whose costumes matched the original production as closely as possible, Producer Martha Hunter, and everyone else on the crew who added their talents to make the show a theatrical experience not to be missed. But most of all, my congrats to director Sherman Wayne for not only his set and lighting design skills to match the original off-Broadway production, but for casting such an excellent assortment of triple-threat actors to bring this musical's characters to the stage as its writers intended audiences to see them.
THE FANTASTICKS continues through October 8, 2017 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. at Theatre Palisades Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Cyn. Dr., (just south of Sunset) in Pacific Palisades 90272. There is free on-site parking. Tickets are Adults $25; Seniors & Students $22 and may be ordered by calling the box office at (310) 454-1970 or online at http://www.theatrepalisades.com. Tickets are also available at the box office beginning one hour prior to each performance.
Photos by Joy Daunis