Reviews

Review: ‘The Fantasticks’

By Beki Pineda, Boulder Magazine

THE FANTASTICKS – Music by Harvey Schmidt; Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones; Directed by Billie McBride. Produced by Town Hall Arts Center (2450 West Main Street, Littleton) through October 17. Tickets available at 303-794-2787 x5 or boxoffice@townhallartscenter.org.

Born in 1960 in the creative minds of Schmidt and Jones, THE FANTASTICKS is a classic show that everyone has done or seen at least once. It holds the record of the longest running musical on an American stage still after its 42 year run Off-Broadway in the Sullivan Street Playhouse. It even had a seven year run here in Denver in the now-gone Third Eye Theatre run by Joey and June Favre, one of the first shows I saw in Denver. People who go to the theatre regularly have seen multiple productions and have their favorite El Gallo, their favorite Old Actor and Mortimer, even their favorite Mute. Each production either teaches or reminds us of the joy of first love and the price of experience. This production adds to that library of musical wisdom.

Town Hall has assembled a kick ass cast for their version. You have to have a strong appealing personality for your El Gallo, the bandit narrator. They have found him in Randy Chalmers who seduces with a smile, swashes his buckles with style, abducts with abandon and dispenses hard won insights musically. “Without a hurt the heart is hollow.”

Katie Jackson lends her astounding vocal and acting chops to the crucial role of Luisa, the girl who falls in love twice in short order, once with Matt and once with the idea of adventure. Katie has a sweet appealing nature that conveys both the innocence and later disillusionment of Luisa. Her true love Matt is played by Carter Edward Smith with his usual flair and ease. What is there to say about Carter except that he can play anyone – old or young – with authenticity and grace.

Matt and Luisa are kept apart by a wall put up between the gardens of their parents who feign a feud to discourage their kids. Played by Boni McIntyre as Matt’s mother and Rick Long as Luisa’s father, they know the quickest way to get their children to do what they want is to tell them they can’t do it.  “Why do the kids put beans in their ears? They did it coz we said No.” They too learn that the best laid plans often go awry as their joint garden doesn’t quite pan out like they hoped.

An abduction scene is plotted by El Gallo and the parents which will allow Matt to rescue Luisa from the clutches of El Gallo (hired for the event), end the false feud and lead to a happy ending for all. When El Gallo needs extra players in the planned abduction, he calls on Henry, an Old Actor (played with magical aplomb by John Ashton) and Mortimer, his sidekick (a nearly unrecognizable Diane Wzionktka). Henry revels in proclaiming garbled Shakespeare and boasting of his past glories. Mortimer dies. That’s what he does best. Even though this production gave Mortimer’s death demonstration short shrift. John channels the ghosts of Shakespearean actors from Burbage to Olivier and yet adds his own casual appealing style to his character. Diane channels Dopey from the Seven Dwarfs for her Mortimer while still displaying humor and a desire to please. The Master Die-er in this Abduction scene was Randy as El Gallo who created a full three encore production out of his demise. The lone remaining player was Cal Meakins as The Mute who silently and unobtrusively provides the wall to separate the lovers, Luisa’s precious necklace from her mother, the leaves when it becomes fall, the snow when winter sets in, and the sparkly rain for ‘Soon It’s Gonna Rain.”

My only complaint with this production was the staging of the scenes of Matt’s adventures to find fame and fortune away from his family, but finds misery and loneliness instead. Placed at the top of the aisles in the seating area, in order to see the vignettes, everyone in the audience had to turn around in their seats. By the third ”misery,” most people had tired of it and just listened to the scene behind them instead of observing. I understand that Matt was “out in the world” by this time but staged this way made the scenes awkward for the audience to see Matt’s “agony.”

The production team at Town Hall always comes through with pizazz. The gazebo type setting designed by Michael Duran and constructed by Mike Haas and his crew added to the whimsy of the show. Lit by Brett Maughan with sound design by Curt Behm and costumes by Terry Fong-Schmidt, it all worked together for the audience’s enjoyment. The accompaniment on keyboard by Donna Debreceni and harp by Barbara Sims completed the ensemble. This may become your favorite FANTASTICKS in days to come. “Try to remember . . . .”

A WOW factor of 8.5!!

Review: ‘The Fantasticks’ gets magical treatment

By Sonya Ellingboe, Littleton Indepenedent

‘The Fantasticks’ gets magical treatment at Littleton Town Hall Arts Center

Bellomy (Rick Long) and Hucklebee (Bonnie McIntyre) are neighbors, who like to garden — and who wish their offspring would fall in love with each other as they grow up. They recognize they must not push it, or those kids will react negatively …

The pair schemes a bit, pretends to feud, thinking kids will be contrary and take a counter route … “The Minute You Say No” and talks about gardens as well: “Plant a radish, you get a radish …” is a recurring theme in the charming “The Fantasticks,” playing at Littleton Town Hall Arts Center through Oct. 17.

This is the longest-running theatrical production in the world, running for 42 years off-Broadway. The book and lyrics are by Tom Jones and music is by Harvey Schmidt.

El Gallo first sings the sentimental “Try to Remember,” setting the mood … We are in a magical story.

Director Billie McBride, who is also a very accomplished actress, has used a gentle touch on this tale.

After the parents, we meet Matt (Carter Edward Smith), who enters while the tall, lean, expressive Mute (Cal Meakins) hangs around on stage, occasionally supplying a prop piece … or a moon … “I’ll marry when I marry …,” Matt sings. “There is a girl…”

Sweet Luisa (Katie Jackson in lacy anklets and Mary Janes and a girlie dress) appears singing and looking dreamily at neighbor Matt … They talk through a wall of sorts.

Onstage most of the time is El Gallo, who speaks with a dry humor and may be up to no good at times. Randy Chalmers plays this part with imagination and humor — and straight face. He interacts and sings with the other cast members …

(I’d suggest addition of a song list to the online program of sorts — print it and carry with if you like to have actors’ names in hand, because there are none at the theater— a COVID casualty. Nor are there paper tickets …)

El Gallo explains dryly: “The lovers meet in secret … there may be musketeers and so forth … a happy ending, and so forth … cost? Depends on what you buy … perhaps an abduction is in order … first class, with trimmings, a couple singers, a string quartet …”

Music director Donna Debreceni performs on piano and harpist Barbara Lepke Sims adds a melodic accompaniment throughout — really pleasing to these ears … live music!

As the audience is seated, they notice a large wooden trunk onstage. It eventually opens and out come Henry (John Ashton) and Mortimer (Diane Wziontka), a pair of players, who are a delight. Mortimer specializes in dying on stage and proceeds to demonstrate — a hilarious spoof of theatrical traditions … “I’ve been dying ever since I was a child,” Mortimer explains …

I’ve enjoyed Ashton’s performances in the metro area for years and have never seen him look so absolutely delighted to be on stage … it’s been a tough time especially for those talented folks who love to entertain us … The man glows! “There are no small actors … only small parts,” Mortimer declares.

The parents, Bellomy and Hucklebee, are cranky with each other as they try for the best garden. They sing about how you have control over veggies — “Plant a radish, you get a radish,” while rearing children is not so predictable. They are competitive about their gardens and almost come to blows …

Complications ensue with the romance, but of course, there is eventually a happy ending to this quirky piece, which Town Hall first performed in a big tent in the 1980s, when Hudson Gardens opened.

What a great choice after a tough stretch!

The year’s program is announced: “Winter Wonderettes” and “Plaid Tidings” in repertory over the holidays, followed by “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Once on This Island,” and “The Wedding Singer.” There will be some short run musical programs-tba.

Town Hall Arts Center is at 2450 W. Main Street in downtown Littleton. Tickets cost $37 and $52, townhallartscenter.org, 303-794-2787, ext. 5.

On Oct. 4, proceeds from a special performance of “The Fantasticks” will be donated to the Denver Actors Fund, which has assisted many members of the theatre community over the years.

Review: ‘The Fantasticks’ still has it

By Blythe Smith, OnStage Colorado

Littleton Town Hall production features a powerful cast

The Fantasticks premiered in 1960, but all I knew about it going in was that it had the song “Try to Remember.” My high school, like most other high schools in America, put it on sometime in the early ’80s (I can still see the fading poster with all its commemorative counterparts on the choir room wall.)

Now playing at Littleton Town Hall Arts Center under the direction of Billie McBride, The Fantasticks shows why it still holds the title as longest-running theatrical production in the world (1960-2002 for the original off-Broadway production).

Matt, the boy (Carter Edward Smith) and Luisa, the girl (Katie Jackson) live next door to each other, and their feuding parents have built a wall between their homes. This, of course, only fans the flames of their young romance. We quickly find out that the neighbors actually like each other just fine and have intended for their children to marry all along. The wall is their clever and apparently successful experiment in reverse psychology. In order to really move the romance along, the scheming parents decide to hire a villain, El Gallo (Randy Chalmers, who’s also the narrator) to pretend to abduct the girl. Aiding in the plot are an aging actor, Henry (John Ashton) and his sidekick, Mortimer (Diane Wziontka). The boy will heroically save her, and the boy’s mother and girl’s father can end their pretend feud. Everything goes to plan, and so ends the first act.

In Act 2, matters deteriorate. The girl and boy quarrel, and the boy goes off to see the world. The villain courts the girl, who seems receptive to his dash and worldly ways. Their parents blame each other and begin to rebuild their wall. The boy and girl appear to be gaining new perspectives, which does not necessarily seem to be an improvement on their earlier naiveté.

I saw this production of The Fantasticks with my brother, and when I saw him again the next morning he asked, “Have you thought any more about the play?”

I had, but I’m still not sure what I think about it. The concept is very of its time, which is not to say it is bad, merely that I could see today’s audiences finding it somewhat confusing. I’m still not sure what the point of the show is, if it has one. You can’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone? Idealize your youth, because things will get worse? Young love is great, but you can’t really be in love until you’ve had some of the callow optimism knocked out of you? I’m still thinking.

What I can say, unequivocally, is that the performances are absolutely fabulous. Vocally, the songs are challenging, and the entire cast is up to the task. Katie Jackson has a gorgeous, crystalline soprano voice that fits her role perfectly. It would be worth seeing this show just to hear her, no matter what you thought of the plot. All the other actors are engaging, their songs and harmonies on point. Randy Chalmers is a winsome narrator.

Though some of the references (like the numerous Shakespeare puns) might go over the heads of some, there is also a lot of humor in the play. The physical comedy ages well enough, and the audience found a lot to laugh about. I also couldn’t help but be struck by the social commentary in the song “Round and Round,” which seems as appropriate now as it would have been 60 years ago.

And let’s face it, who isn’t glad to just be back in a theater after a year and a half? Everyone, from the theater staff to the actors to the audience, seemed glad to be there. It is worth noting pandemic norms and protocols. Masks are encouraged for all audience members, and most were wearing them. But you won’t be thrown out of the place if you aren’t wearing one (and they did have some available at the entrance).

What I really want to do is tell everyone to see everything right now — all the plays, all the concerts. This particular musical might be best enjoyed by an older audience, but the performances are so good that it should appeal to all ages.