BWW Review: Winter Park Playhouse Closes Season with Longest Running Musical, THE FANTASTICKS
THE FANTASTICKS opened for the first time in a small Off-Broadway theater in Greenwich Village in 1960. It has enjoyed astonishing popularity and is still running Off-Broadway to this very day. Recently, the Winter Park Playhouse opened this timeless show to close out its 2015-2016 season.
The gifted, poetic script for THE FANTASTICKS was written by Tom Jones with accompanying musical score by Harvey Schmidt. Not having seen the show until this week, I've been wondering why it has become so legendary and iconic. It is often described as maintaining a "simple" plot, but this term sells the show short. The surface plot is a common love saga: boy meets girl next door, fathers of boy and girl trick children to induce romance, romance falls apart, couple seeks happiness elsewhere and couple eventually comes back together. But despite this rather straightforward story, there is great depth and complexity hidden in the many thought-provoking themes that carry the emotional weight of the show.
Disillusionment is front and center throughout the production. With the song, "This Plum is Too Ripe" in the opening for Act II, we watch as the picture-perfect concept of love fades into reality. I think we can all relate. As we progress through life, we often find ourselves saying, "when X happens, I will be happy," with X being anything from a new job to a spouse or a child. But inevitably, once we obtain the X factor, we find ourselves asking, "now what?" It's like a perpetual push in the human psyche for more. As Luisa and Matt discover that what they thought would make them happy (i.e., their love) failed to do so, they vow to find something more, outside of their small-town world. In modern day terminology, the kids develop a very serious case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
While the Playhouse's production of THE FANTASTICKS is entertaining and colorful, it lacks the overall spirit I was hoping for in the longest running musical of all time. Act I feels tired, but the pace picks up with more character depth and dynamism for Act II.
The combined role of show narrator and captor/bandit, El Gallo, is played by Shawn Kilgore. This is not an easy role and requires clever technique. Kilgore is versatile on stage and his deep bass vocals create a dramatic mood, especially in "It Depends on What You Pay." But, I longed for a hint more charisma as he attempts to lure the audience in for Act I and during his seductive interactions with Luisa in Act II.
Molly Jackson is sweet as a candied apple as Luisa. Her warm vocals are endearing and she is clearly well-rehearsed. That being said, I was left missing a sincere audience connection. I wanted to feel her love develop for Matt in Act I, but it only scratched the surface. Her most enjoyable moments are in the end of Act II, especially when joined with Dustin Russell, playing Matt, in "They Were You." This sensitive number brought out a deeper bond between Luisa and Matt as the couple realizes the world's tantalizing charms are not so fulfilling after all. Russell has a dreamy Ken-doll look that works well for the role. He displays great musicality throughout the entire show, especially during "Metaphor" in both Acts.
Broadway veteran, David Thome plays Luisa's father, Bellomy and newcomer, Glenn Gover, takes on the role of Matt's father, Hucklebee. I enjoyed this partnership immensely and found the duo to play off each other almost rhythmically. Thome is pure expert craftsman and his ease and grace in the spotlight reach out and grab you during this show. Gover is making his debut at the Playhouse and audiences are sure to enjoy his zest. He is feisty and vivacious on stage... always keeping his energy high and our interests peeked with lots of movement. My favorite moment for this team is in Act II as they reminisce and rekindle their tumultuous, but endearing friendship. The pair brings forth marvelous sincerity in "Plant a Radish," the song about how you know what you're getting when you plant a vegetable seed, but not so much in the child department.
The most fantastic moments of this show come from Michael Edwards, a fan-favorite actor who has been involved with the Playhouse since its inception 14 years ago. Edwards plays Henry, who is hired by the fathers as part of their scandal to entice Matt and Luisa to fall in love. Edwards connects with us the second he looks up and plays the most absurd characters, ever engaged in an incredibly creative flow. His energy pairs nicely with the always delightful, Todd Allen Long, who portrays Henry's sidekick, Mortimer. Edwards and Long balance each other's yin and yang and bring continuous laughs during their limited time on stage.
The cast is made complete with the Mute/Wall enjoyably played by Jasmine Forsberg, a blooming, talented actress with lots of spunk. Music Direction by Christopher Leavy and Sound Design by Jeremiah Stenberg are noteworthy and serve to enhance the production. The musicians for the show include the typical cast of talented characters, Chris Leavy, Ned Wilkinson and Sam Forrest.
Directed by the Playhouse's Artistic Director, Roy Alan, THE FANTASTICKS is playing May 13-22 and June 2-11 so there is still time to get tickets to the always enjoyable and cozy, Winter Park Playhouse. A few performances are already sold out so don't delay. The runtime is almost two and a half hours with a 15 minute intermission. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30pm, Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2:00pm and select Wednesday, Friday and Sunday matinees take place at 2:00pm as well. Call 407-645-0145 or visit the Winter Park Playhouse's website, http://www.winterparkplayhouse.org for tickets and more information.
Photo Credit: Oxley Photography