IF YOU GO
What: Timeless musical about a boy, a girl and a wall between them
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday & Sundays through May 5
Where: 2267 1st Street, Fort Myers
Information: (239) 332-4488, floridarep.org
Something else: Best availability after April 18
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
Call. Now. Get tickets to the Florida Rep production of "The Fantasticks." There's a reason the show has been running for decades in New York. Jason Parrish finds every one of them in this magical dreamscape that celebrates the whimsical fantasy of love. Seven weeks, then gone, like fragile dreams.
You, dear readers, will love the show. Florida Rep's usual well-heeled opening audience cooed in delight, sighed in wonder and clapped in joy and sheer merriment at streamers and confetti, the bask of moonlight and the banging of a drum. The smooth glissando of a harp evokes a garden, washed in lunar rays, the rapid tapping of piano keys the gallop of brigands.
"The Fantasticks" tells of silly fathers who plotted and built a wall between their gardens to make their children fall in love. El Gallo stages an abduction, allowing the boy to rescue the girl. The wall falls as moonlight romances bloom. Under the harsh glare of sunlight, the families bicker; the boy leaves. Only after the children experience the world can true happiness reign.
Gorgeous. Evocative. Well-acted. Sung even better. Subtle where it needs to be, over the top in exactly the right spots. The dads, doing an old-school ragtime-ish shuffle. Innovative staging that transforms the ArtStage Studio Theatre into a three-quarter thrust space, with wide aisles for battles, dances and more. I repeat, you're gonna love it.
"The Fantasticks," unfortunately, does nothing for me. I see exactly the sterling job that Jason Parrish and the entire team at Florida Rep did in assembling the show. Parrish succeeded remarkably well in his bold quest to give "Fantasticks" an update that would move the show into this millennium, but honor the whimsy and magical realism that was so entranced audiences. The folks next to me cooed, clapped and squealed with wonder at every puff of confetti, sprinkle of glitter and surprise stream of tinsel.
Jason Parrish wants the first half to feel like a moonlight fantasy, a walk through a magical woodland fill with lightning bugs, beautiful tunes tinkling through the trees and delights everywhere you turn. The second act brings a brighter focus, as characters learn hard truths. The audience gets harsher melodies, but also bigger songs, bolder numbers and faster pacing. Think of this half as the dream that drifts into slightly dark territory before you wake up to the happy ending and a rays of sunshine across your bed.
I'm just too much of a cynic to succumb to the show's magic. Don't step in my kumquats, don't water my magnolias. I think it appeals to anyone who is a true romantic at heart. Those of us who think with our head instead of our heart recognize the show for the fable it is. But if ever a production of "Fantasticks" was to seduce me with moonbeams and mutes and masks and glitter, it would be this one.
For starters, Craig Bockhorn, an actor of immense talent and stature, crawls out of a box at the side of the playing area clad in rags. El Gallo calls for players, these are the players. All look askance. Kabuki makeup. Flock of Seagulls hair. Miguel Cintron's Mortimer, the saddest sad Indian, at his side, banging a drum. So ridiculous the sight I chuckle just thinking about it two days later.
Bockhorn's Henry calls for a doublet. Then, as if he were assuming royal robes of finest ermine, he slips his arms into one of Roberta Malcolm's multicolored "creations" that makes shift to even earn the title "clothing." Such a sad doublet. Bockhorn obviously loves the chance to be completely silly, down to mis-reciting Shakespeare. So much fun. So much comic relief.
But the show. Molly Coyne arrived at Florida Rep for an internship. She wound up as Luisa. A trilling soprano, rosy-apple cheeks and a pert manner see her twirl through Christoper T. Simpson's temple-inspired space. A girlish, flirty manner sees her toy with Jacob January's prep-school clad Matt. If their chemistry feels a tiny bit mechanical, their voices and performances more than make up for it.
Coyne simply delights, making up for much of the show's slightly lagging pace (forgive it, it was written many decades ago) with a winsome manner and perky style. January brings a vivid passion and intensity to "I Can See It," turning Matt's second-half number into a powerful, heartfelt show-stopper.
Brendan Powers can sing! El Gallo brings the experience of life to the romantically inclined teens, while Powers brings style, panache and a smart red cravat the character takes much pleasure in fluffing. His skill as a dramatic actor allows Powers to glide into scenes and find the meaning of the least lines.
Mark Chambers (Bellomy) and Michael Marotta (Hucklebee) match nicely as the two fathers. Watching the tap dance to "Plant a Radish" brings literal excited screams of shocked glee. When the pounding on the stage jarred some confetti from the lights above, the crowd was set off again as the colorful paper drifted over Chambers and Marotta. Chambers brings his impertinent manner and gift for physical comedy and facial expressions, while Marotta once played Matt in the show and offers a deep understanding of the characters.
Mitchell Land's Mute, often overlooked, has an impressive style and compact sense of movement. Its important his character be part of the action, but not obtrusive; Land and Parrish achieved that. Malcolm's striped vest and leather messenger bag (for props) also achieves a distinctive look.
Simpson's raised platform set feels like a temple (or possibly a wrestling ring), with four poles and two wide aisles running up to it. Matthew McCarthy's magnificent lighting design, using a huge swathe of the ceiling, feels like either a rock concert or a PEZ factory on acid; he plays the light board like a piano, giving a whole new meaning to tripping the light "fantastick." Tim Cobb designed sound for the show.
Listen for the stirrings of Janelle House on the harp, but cast more of an ear for Justin Cowan on the piano. It is a piano-driven show. The lovely music, performed (and sung) by professionals, will make you want to pull out your (or your parents) old "Fantasticks" cast album or vinyl record from a box somewhere.
Pretty. Passionate. Poignant. Perfect for lovers both young and old. It is simply "fantastic." Go for the timeless tunes, stay for the fresh performances, Molly Coyne's enchanting Luisa, Craig Bockhorn's jolly Henry and Jacob January's absolutely first-rate Matt.
What's your favorite thing about "The Fantasticks?" Email 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.