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“The Fantasticks” at CSF is Fanciful, but Not Extraordinary

The Fantasticks is most well-known for being the longest-running musical on Broadway, running for 42 years and 17, 162 performances. Most people attribute this accomplishment to the simple and universal story (a tale that combines forbidden love and coming of age with the best of them) and the well-known music, including the songs “Try to Remember,” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain.”

HE SAID: I have only ever seen this show done with a very minimal scenic design, including one production that had an almost entirely bare stage. So to walk into the theater and see antiques and trinkets hung from the rafters and swooping in to meet at the center above the stage was somewhat surprising. As the show went on, the swooping structures actually began to look like the inside of a circus tent. I don’t know if that was the intent, but it really helped elevate the idea that these are actors who are putting on a production, which is very important to this show.

SHE SAID: I thought that the set design actually worked, and particularly enjoyed when the performers pulled crucial props (Luisa’s mask, the abductors swords, etc.) from a pile of other props stacked up on the sides of the stage. It gave the feeling that the players carried around every stage piece they could find should they ever need it in their travels. The stage actually achieved a balance that several of the actors did not, between the heightened exaggeration and the simple honesty in the story. While the stage was both presentational and appropriate, I thought that a few of the performers crossed from archetype to stereotype.

HE SAID: For me, the problem was certain actors never really settling into the humanity of their characters. Louisa, played by Emily Van Fleet, seemed to be playing the character as more quirky and child-like than prissy (which is the clichéd interpretation). I loved the choice, but I never quite felt the growth the character went through. On the other hand, Matt (Nick Henderson) from naiveté to manhood quite nicely, but when he started singing his character somewhat disappeared. The two characters that are arguably the most theatrical and larger than life, the two players, were easily the most human and consistent performances. Henry, played by Sam Sandoe, and Mortimer, Ian Andersen, both inhabited their zany characters with a sense of simplicity and basic honesty which let the comedy come flooding out. Mortimer’s multiple silent deaths were unbelievably funny.

SHE SAID: I was entertained by almost everyone, not just Henry and Mortimer. For me, two of the best acting performances were Tammy Meneghini and Timothy Orr, who played the scheming parents of the two lovers. Meneghini’s role is traditionally played by a man, and I thought that her performance was touching and precisely on comedic point. Unfortunately, the transposition of the songs did not always sit well on her singing voice. This was exacerbated by the staging, which was partially in the round, which often had her facing away from the singers she was harmonizing with, giving each section of the audience only one note at a time.

HE SAID: You are right on two things. First, the idea of casting Huckabee as a mother was wonderful! Aside from her hitting the comedic opportunities, I thought having the boy’s mother and the girl’s father created an interesting parallel to what was happening with the children’s story. Second, the harmonies just never landed. However, I think that problem went across the board – Matt and Louisa, the parents, and larger group numbers. I would like to attribute it to staging, but there were plenty of times where they were looking directly at each other and the harmonies just did not mesh well at all in my opinion.

SHE SAID: I didn’t notice any chronic problems with harmonies, although individual voices did search for pitches every once in a while, with the exception of Luisa. With the beautiful harp onstage, I wished that the keyboard part were filled with an acoustic piano and not an electronic keyboard, although I understand that can be challenging when the stage is used by a repertory company. I’ll also mention that I thought it was directed very well (by Sands Hall) – I noted at several points that the use of space on stage was thoughtful and successful, even in the challenging partial round.

THEY SAID: Overall, The Fantasticks at Colorado Shakespeare Festival is imperfect but there are several pockets of absolute hilarity and a few truly touching moments. The festival chose to do an American classic, and struggled (as most classics do) to become relevant and exciting for modern audience members. The production is worth seeing, and we’re already looking forward to seeing these same performers in other plays that are playing in repertory at CSF this summer.



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