The Fantasticks: Remembered and Reimagined
REVEW: THE FANTASTICKS
BY RYAN M. LUÉVANO
The Fantasticks, music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones, as endured the test of time as the world’s longest-running musical; however the musical itself has not necessarily kept up with the times . . .until now. Under the direction of Seema Sueko and with the collaboration of Tom Jones this classic show is given a fresh and innovative reimagining at the Pasadena Playhouse.
From the very beginning Sueko’s concept is clear—set during an unnamed war, a group of eight actors and two musicians break into an abandoned theatre and using everything inside put on a show right before our eyes. With this type of minimalistic theatre the audience is given the chance to use their imagination, to fill in the blanks as props, costumes and other surprises are pulled out of a single trunk.
One of the most refreshing choices is to have a multicultural cast, which is certainly something that is of the present, not the 1960s norm. This casting decision follows suit with the musical’s overall themes of love, friendship and compassion. Another perceptible change to the original version is to the character Mortimer, originally a feathered headdress-wearing Indian chief, has been transformed into an old Shakespearean actor. All of these adjustments blend to form a version of The Fantasticks that retains all the enchantment of the original with contemporary flare and savoir-faire that today’s audience’s relish.
The choreography by Kitty McNamee is exciting adding another level of visual splendor to the show. The famous “Abduction Ballet” is the most choreography in the show and is the most invigorating number you should look forward to seeing. McNamee utilizes the entire stage in this scene that keeps the audience fully engrossed—it’s a fine piece of dance that blends the action of the story and movement. The movement and staging in the song “Round and Round” is another specular moment, this time employing commedia dell’arte elements within the song’s dark waltz atmosphere.
Leading the cast, as El Gallo, Philip Anthony Rodriguez is superb—he has no trouble earning the audience’s attention with his charismatic and rugged character. His rendition of “Try to Remember” is bewitching and his performance in the “Abduction Ballet” is impressive. The two leads Luisa (Ashley Park) and Matt (Conor Guzman) are as good as it gets: energetic, youthful with voices that resound with young love. The two fathers are an magnificent duo, the casting here is perfect, Reggie Davis and Gedde Watanabe give audience delightful renditions of the classic tunes “Never Say No” and “Plant a Radish”. Hal Linden is an immediate crowd favorite with his hilarious antics and broad comedy—whenever he’s onstage you’re in for some good laughs. Alyse Rockett (The Mute) is graceful and expressive in all of her movement about the stage; with every step she takes you know she’s a skilled dancer who is completely in control.
WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC DIRECTOR?
Music director David O. put together a glorious display of vocal talent in this production. He and harpist Liesl Erman join the cast as players putting on a show; David leads from the piano zealously playing Schmidt’s timeless score and Erman follows suit with her spectacular harp
passages. The choice to use the original chamber orchestrations wholly fits Sueko’s concept while adding a whimsical and music box element to this already fairytale-like production.
At the heart of The Fantasticks is a simple tale of love; its story even bears a slight resemblance to Romeo and Juliet, yet this revived production manages to heighten these themes and the message that: “without a hurt, the heart is hollow”. Whether you’ve seen the show before, or are familiar with the movie, you should definitely come to the Pasadena Playhouse and see what new life Sueko’s brought to this classic romantic musical.
Dates: September 6 – October 2, 2016
Playing Tuesday through Friday evenings at 8:00 p.m.
Schedule: Saturdays at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Tickets: Online sales and information: PasadenaPlayhouse.org or by phone: 626-356-7529.