IF YOU GO
What: Timeless musical about feuding fathers, silly children and the magic of moonlight
When: 8 p.m. 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 2 p.m. & 7:30 Dec. 5 and 12.
Where: G&L Theatre on the campus of Community School of Naples, 13275 Livingston Road, Naples
Information: 888-966-3352 or theatrezone-florida.com
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
WHAT DID YOU THINK?
Did you see this show? What did you think? Leave a comment below or e-mail your thoughts on "The Fantasticks" to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your review might wind up in print or on naplesnews.com.
NAPLES — Mark Danni pulls a painted moon, a sheet and a few props out of TheatreZone's box of theatrical tricks in a bid to capture the stage magic of beloved musical "The Fantasticks." Carried along by a spectacular performance from Mark Sanders and a healthy dose of imagination, the effort succeeds - just.
"The Fantasticks," with music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones, opened off-Broadway in 1960 and ran for 42 years and 17,162 performances. It stands as the longest-running musical in the world, although Agatha Christie murder mystery "The Moustrap" opened in 1952 and still entertains tourists in London's West End.
Based on an 1890 French play "Les Romanesques," the show tells the story of two fathers who build a wall between their houses in order to trick their children into falling in love. When the youngsters discover the deception, they reject the match and go out into the world before realizing that they love each other after all.
Anyone coming into "The Fantasticks" cold might not appreciate the array of flavors the show has to offer. Audiences will either adore "The Fantasticks" or walk away baffled - there's little middle ground, for the show serves up a rigid, stylized presentation drawn more from the Italian Commedia dell'arte than the fluid show-stopping musicality of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
"Try to Remember," the show's signature song, opens the show as a wistful plea for times gone by, not a showstopper - of which there are none. The entire script for "The Fantasticks" reads like poetry (think Shakespeare, sans the iambic pentameter) and music means a piano and a harp, nothing more. One character, The Mute (Juliet Jewett) does not speak a single word during the entire show, although she's an active participant.
Danni, thanks in part to TheatreZone's small stage, captures some of the the original plucky Greenwich Village magic that helped the show run for more than four decades, right down to the makeshift props and simplistic set. The talent and magical "presence" the show requires are there - but a niggling inattention to detail keeps the show earthbound instead of launching it to fantastical heights.
Mark Sanders (a tremendous El Gallo) narrates the show in a role created by Jerry Orbach. His robust, mellifluous voice when belting out "Try to Remember" at the top of the show signals a glorious evening of song whenever he steps to the front of the stage. Sanders backs a glorious voice with excellent timing and delivery, plus an artful, wicked turn as he carries on during the "It Depends on What You Pay" piece.
Ladd Boris (Hucklebee, the Boy's Father) and John Felix (Bellomy, the Girl's Father) share a delightful pair of dances - "Never Say No" and comic delight "Plant a Radish," both paeans to the whims of raising children. "Radish" gets bigger laughs, thanks in part to Karen Molnar's active choreography. The pair seem like an old vaudeville team mugging for laughs and fencing with a pair of garden shears and a watering can.
Vincent Teschl (The Boy) and Molly Anne Ross (The Girl) share decent chemistry together, although the height disparity between the two can be distracting at times (even if there's a throwaway joke at the start of Act II). Towering, rail-thin Teschl grabs one of the night's big moments singing "I Can See It." Gary Obeldobel (Henry) and Leo Wolfe (Mortimer) get consistent laughs during their comic segments as washed-up actors.
The peculiar word poetry of "The Fantasticks" requires a particular rhythm and style of delivery - both from the cast and from the audience - and neither felt quite at home on opening night. The first act also feels ponderous and heavy instead of light and magical. The quick second act - with two enchanting dance numbers "This Plum is Too Ripe" and "Radish" - flies by.
A subtle, clever costuming scheme identifies characters by their garb - sleek, pure white for the virginal lovers, stark black and a cape for villain El Gallo, comical patterns for the funny, feuding fathers and a sparkling, jeweled costume for the magical Mute (complete with purse containing an endless supply of glitter). Only the costumes for journeymen actors Henry and Mortimer feel out of place - looking less faded elegance and more craft store project.
"The Fantasticks" trades on metaphors for fantasy, mystery and the allure of moonlight. Despite that, it always feels like there's just too much bright light washed across the stage during key moments, especially the tender "Soon It's Gonna Rain," the closest the show has to a traditional love ballad, during the first act.
The show trills with the sounds of love and heightened drama, plus a healthy dose of comedy. What "The Fantasticks" does best is make audiences believe in magic, music and the power of moonlight fantasies. Don't miss Mark Sanders belting out the timeless "Try to Remember" or comical dance duet "Plant A Radish."
CORRECTION: A version of this story posted on Friday, December 3, contained errors in credits for several actors in TheatreZone's production of "The Fantasticks." Mark Sanders plays "El Gallo," while Juliet Jewett plays "The Mute."
I "Try To Remember" that something witty goes here. E-mail me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.