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Try to remember . . . But who could forget? When The Fantasticks closed four years ago after running for the previous 48, it might be thought it had honourably been laid to rest. But no. Here we are again knee-deep in whimsy, with The Boy, The Girl, their fathers, El Gallo et al, fresh as paint in a brand-new Broadway theatre.
What is even more amazing, one of the cast is performing his original role. Using the pseudonym Thomas Bruce, director Tom Jones, 76, who wrote the musical with Harvey Schmidt, is playing Henry Albertson, the old actor, an ancient thespian who delivers scraps of Shakespeare and non sequiturs with the relish of someone who has just written it. His diverting sidekick is Mortimer, “The man who does death scenes”, a decrepit Indian with a feather stuck in his headband and a loincloth over his tattered longjohns. He’s played hilariously over the top by Robert R. Oliver, also a veteran of the musical.
The whisp of a plot, based on Edmund Rostand’s Les Romanesques, concerns Louisa, the winsome, bell- voiced Sara Jean Stafford; her next-door boyfriend, Matt, the intense Santino Fontana; and Leo Burmester and Martin Vidonovic, their fathers, bickeringly in league to ensure their children’s union. Working on the premise that to gain something worthwhile you must first lose it, they engage the dashing rascal El Gallo (Burke Moses) with the help of the old actor, the Indian and the Mime (the nimble Douglas Ullman Jr) to challenge Matt in staging Louisa’s rape. Needless to say, things ultimately turn out happily for the young lovers after this somewhat sinister introduction to the setbacks of life and love.
Memory-etched songs include “I Can See It”, curiously a precursor of “Somewhere” from Sondheim’s l957 West Side Story; “Soon It’s Gonna Rain”, “Plant a Radish” and “They Were You”. Production values are flossier than in earlier versions but the modest curtain and poles of the original set have been retained, along with the single piano accompaniment, here played by Dorothy Martin with Erin Hill on the harp.
For anyone who has never seen the show – and presumably there’s a new generation on hand that hasn’t – The Fantasticks may come as a charming surprise about a time when, as one song suggests, “life was slow, and oh so mellow”. For the rest of us, it is always nice to try and remember that more innocent time, even if it never really existed. ★★★★☆
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