" /> Review: 'Fantasticks' is a pleasant <!-- 151 --> though unenlightened <!-- 151 --> diversion » Marco Eagle

Review: 'Fantasticks' is a pleasant though unenlightened diversion

"The Fantasticks" is one of those legendary shows — it's the longest-running musical in history. It ran for 42 years, opening in May 1960 and closing in January 2002.


'The Fantasticks'

When: through Sept. 26; dinner at 6 p.m. and show at 8 p.m., for matinees, brunch at 11:30 a.m. and show at 1:15 p.m. and on Sunday evenings, dinner at 5 p.m. and show at 6:45 p.m.

Where: The Naples Dinner Theatre, 1025 Piper Blvd.

Cost: $37.50 and $42.50

Information: 514-7827

Right now, it's playing at the Naples Dinner Theatre through Sept. 26.

It's a sweet little musical, with chestnuts such as "Try to Remember" and "Soon It's Gonna Rain."

But while this production is pleasant, it didn't knock me out of my seat. There were moments I thoroughly enjoyed, and numbers I loved, but the show as a whole failed to win me over.

It's a quirky tale of two fathers who want to arrange a marriage between their children. Knowing that their respective son and daughter would balk at a pre-arranged marriage, the two pretend to feud and build a wall between their two houses. They tell their children to keep away from each other, which of course makes them fall in love.

Pamela Brumley plays Luisa, the girl, and David Perlman plays Matt, the boy next door. The two have some wonderful duets, including "Soon It's Gonna Rain" and "They Were You." They play believable 16 and 20-years-olds, wide-eyed and optimistic, curious about the world.

It's the two fathers, though, who steal the show. Dominic Quin-Harkin and D. Tomas Desimone are witty and colorful characters who liven up the action whether they're singing "Plant a Radish" (about how children never turn out the way you expect them to) and "Never Say No" (how children will do the direct opposite of what you tell them to do).

Kate Phillips is highly effective as The Mute, a kind of mime/propmaster.

But Scott Dispensa seems miscast as the thief and narrator El Gallo. He does justice to "Try to Remember" but his character lacks complexity and darkness. He's never a truly frightening figure; he's like a kid playing dress-up in a cape and hat.

His character is involved in one of the most troublesome spots in the plot. The two fathers hire him to abduct Luisa, so Matt will come to the rescue and the two fathers can break their pretend feud and allow their children to marry.

In "It Depends On What You Pay," the fathers and El Gallo sing about the various kinds of rapes for purchase.

I guess we're supposed to get a chuckle out of this, knowing the Luisa will never actually be raped and it's all just a set up, but I had trouble finding the humor.

The show was written in the late '50s and produced in the early '60s; it's a prime example of the unenlightened times, reflecting a kind of immature frat boy attitude towards women. It's just not funny.

In fact, the musical presents a very traditional view of gender relations. It's telling that of the eight characters, only two are women: one is mute and the other a naive 16-year-old girl.

Not exactly the best show to bring a date to.

Dick Westlake and Brice Corder bring some comic relief as they eat up the scenery as two overly dramatic actors for hire.

The show presents the stage (and gardening) as a metaphor for life. In the opening, characters step out of a large costume trunk, and throughout the show break the fourth wall to address the audience.

There are stage curtains and hanging ropes, and the actors use everyday things for props (a ladder for the wall and a tree, sticks for swords.)

The lyrics can be quite moving (e.g., "without a hurt/the heart is hollow") but sometimes the play seems simplistic or preachy in its attempt to be universal.

In a tiny, off-Broadway theater 30 or 40 years ago, I'm sure it had its charm.

But in a larger theater in Naples in 2004, "The Fantasticks," through pleasant, fails to live up to its name.

© 2004 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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