Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
La Comedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro, Ohio, does an admirable job of providing audiences with a good mix of old and new shows, small and large ones. For their latest production, they present the intimate classic The Fantasticks. La Comedia supplies a solid and worthwhile showcase of this timeless show, thanks in large part to first rate cast and effective direction.
The Fantasticks opened Off-Broadway in May of 1960, and didn't close until January 2002, making it the longest running Off-Broadway musical in history. The show has returned with a revival production, which has been running Off-Broadway for over a year. This musical fable tells the story of 16-year-old Luisa and 20-year-old Matt, neighbors who fall in love after their fathers erect a wall between their properties, and forbid them to talk to each other. In actuality, the fathers want the pair to fall in love and marry, but realize the children will resist an arranged marriage. They seek the help of the mysterious El Gallo to stage an abduction of Luisa so Matt can rescue her and create a valid justification for the kids being allowed to marry. The cruel realities of life create challenges for the young couple, however, and love's resiliency is tested.
The book for The Fantasticks by Tom Jones is charming, tenderhearted and playful. Though the story does have some slow spots (especially in act two) and relies a bit too much on unsophisticated humor, the tale is a universal one. The book uses numerous storytelling devices and has dialogue containing some wonderfully playful language. In the original production, the word "rape" was used to mean "abduction," but, as has commonly become the case, the word is replaced in this production with either "raid" or "abduction" in every instance in order to be acceptable to modern audiences.
Mr. Jones (lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music) have scored a number of Broadway shows, such as 110 in the Shade and I Do! I Do! , but The Fantasticks remains their most famous piece. Songs such as "Try to Remember," "Soon It's Gonna Rain," "They Were You" and "I Can See It" contain poetic words and pleasantly homespun melodies. The songs create the perfect mood for the show and are comfortable on the ears.
La Comedia has done a great job of casting the show. Joel Halstead possesses a handsome voice and the right amount of courageous tenacity as The Narrator/El Gallo. Kara Guy shows off a splendid singing voice as Luisa and captures the flighty naivety of the role perfectly. As Matt, Brandon Haagenson supplies the needed exuberance of youthful love in act one, as well as the sadness of a young man beaten down by the harshness of the world in act two. Gordon Gray and Chris Beiser demonstrate some vaudeville-style razzmatazz as the fathers, and Ernie Rowland (Henry), Bobb James (Mortimer) and Christopher James (Mute) supply humor and support to great effect.
Director Eric Johnson wisely stages the show in the traditional manner, emphasizing the innocence of new love and the ability for true mature love to overcome even the most difficult circumstances. The likeable designs by Matthew J. Evans are likewise similar to the usual visuals, with a set made out of a few poles, benches, a banner with the show title and a sun/mood cardboard cutout. The effective lighting is by Jay S. Rozema, and Jane Sizemore and Jody Williams supply costumes that one expects to see for the piece.
La Comedia's traditional staging of The Fantasticks boasts a fine cast, and should prove entertaining for newcomers to the piece and those wishing to re-experience this classic show. The Fantasticks runs through October 29, 2007, and tickets can be ordered online at www.lacomedia.com or by phone at 1-800-677-9505.-- Scott Cain