Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

The Fantasticks
The Players Centre for Performing Arts
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story


Mark Eichorn, Bill Sarazen, Eli Gilbert,
and Emma Devine

Photo Courtesy of The Players Centre for Performing Arts
The Fantasticks, currently playing at The Players Centre for Performing Arts, is one of my favorite musicals, also one of the most successful. The show opened Off-Broadway in 1960 and played at the same theater until 2002, then after a four year hiatus, another production opened, still off-Broadway and played until 2017. With book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt, The Fantasticks is about young love, set against a panorama of the rhythms of nature. There is not a dull song in the score, which includes "Try to Remember," "Soon It's Gonna Rain," and "They Were You" as its best known songs outside the show.

I had not seen the show in over 20 years until last year, when I saw a strongly reimagined version at freeFall Theatre in St. Petersburg, which revealed details likely lost in more traditional productions. Still, I have been looking forward to The Players' more traditional version, which does not disappoint.

Chip Fisher is narrator and anti-hero El Gallo. His singing and presence are strong; all that is lacking is the final layer of deep darkness that the very best exponents of the role bring. Often Matt and Luisa come off as bland. There is no danger here, both Eli Gilbert and Emma Devine have more than enough spunk, fine stage savvy, and plenty of voice to do justice to the strong vocal demands. Bellomy, her father and Hucklebee, his, are surefire roles with a showstopping number in each act and some nice comic moments from the script. In the hands of Bill Sarazen and Mark Eichorn, respectively, the vaudeville turns are in sure hands. I've seen Mr. Sarazen essay some nice supporting roles at this theater, so no major surprise how good he is. I'd not seen Mr. Eichorn in such a stand-out part, so the extent of his talent is a rich surprise. Bob Fahey as Henry, the old actor, is a comic hoot, and David Russell as his sidekick Mortimer, the man who dies, matches him, ham for ham, in the best possible way. Kay Siebold as The Mute aka The Wall brings a wistful presence, especially when tending to tidying up duties all over the stage.

Because The Players Centre stage also hosts much larger musicals, director Michael Newton-Brown opens the show up a bit without disturbing its intimacy. Choreography by Charlie Logan is reasonably well executed, but I wouldn't say that dancing is the strong suit for most of this cast. Costume design by Georgina Willmott is simple and effective, Newton-Brown's set design draws from almost 60 years of performance history, and lighting by Michael Pasquini gets the job done. Projections by Jay Poppe are minimal and very effective when they can be properly seen, but they often get lost way in the background.

Music direction by Alan Corey is lively, but instead of a second keyboard (Seth Wertz or Becky Heintz), bass (Chris Wiley) and percussion (Tony Martin), I so wish they had brought in a harp, as called for in the original scoring.

For me, a very good production of The Fantasticks is a treat. Seeing it reminds me that the book is every bit as good and perfectly matched in style with one of musical theater's greatest scores. Anyone who may never have seen this gem, what are you waiting for? For those who have and perhaps are over due for a refresher course, the stars are nicely aligned.

The Fantasticks runs through November 10, 2019, at The Players Centre for Performing Arts, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. Box Office: 941-365-2494. For more information visit www.theplayers.org.

Cast:
Matt: Eli Gilbert
Luisa: Emma Devine
Bellomy: Bill Sarazen
Hucklebee: Mark Eichorn
El Gallo: Chip Fisher
Henry: Bob Fahey
Mortimer: David Russell
Mute: Kay Siebold


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