Sunday, June 20, 2010
"The Fantasticks": ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG
How many times have seen "The Fantasticks?" Hmmm...three, no four, no five! There probably weren't too many people (over the age of thirty) in the audience at last nights Premiere of the 50-year-old Harvey Schmidt/Tom Jones classic who hadn't seen it at least once before.
Why would this be so? It's simple: boy meets girl over the garden wall. He can't have her. Ooops, yes he can. Oops, no he can't. But in the end: Awwww. Is there a better formula than this? Add timeless songs into the mix (that can be played with one piano) and there you have it, brother and sister: a hit.
No, more than a hit. "The Fantasticks" ran from 1960 through just after 9-1-1. It is the longest running musical in history. Chew on that awhile.
Director Bill English has taken the show in a somewhat different direction, with a post-apocalyptic set which suggests there is a theater group in the dismal future which goes around the countryside performing this sweet play for people whose worlds have little pleasure remaining in them. The idea works. But - really - it doesn't matter all that much. Parents are still parents and kids are still kids and love -- well, everybody still needs it.
The cast is terrific. Jeremy Kahn as young Matt and Sepideh Moafi as Luisa not only look their part but they can sing! Louis Parnell and Joan Mankin are very funny as the kids' parents, Ray Reinhardt and Yusef Lambert shine as the aging actor (Henry) and his squire (Mortimer) who does all the death scenes and Tarek Khan is a perfect El Gallo, the bandit Luisa thinks she needs to find. It's hard to pick out a favorite, but the young leads must grab your heart if the show is to succed, and Kahn and Moafi do it with grace.
Corny? Oh God yes. If you plant this radish, you'll get this radish. Don't come see "The Fantasticks" if your idea of a great show is "Urinetown."
But this ain't Mary Poppins either. "The Fantasticks" is really quite a bit darker than anyone ever remembers. Some of its music recalls Leonard Bernstein -- remember that West Side Story opened in 1957 and The Fantasticks in 1960 -- but the songs you are sure to walk out of the playhouse singing are the sweet ones like "Try to Remember," "Soon It's Gonna Rain" and "They Were You."
Here is an interesting note: Author and Lyricist Tom Jones played Henry, the old actor, when the show opened in 1960. Fifty years later Jones is playing Henry again in a current Broadway revival, only this time he really is an old actor.
RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Fantasticks" Three Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. It's a show where the audience's imagination is everything, so it is crucial not to overproduce it. English's direction and Nina Ball's set and costumes give suggestions, but never get in the way. You'll love the kids. You'll love the codgers. And you'll hum the music for days. What's not to like?
San Francisco Playhouse
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Through Sep. 4