Book and Lyric by Tom Jones
Music by Harvey Schmidt
Directed by Aaron Babcock
Musical Direction by Spenser Crosswell
Choreography by Jonathan Guise
Starring Charlie Stevens, Lorelei Sandberg, and Wesley Speed
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL</strong>
“The Fantasticks” is one of those feel-good chestnuts you want to dislike, but every time it gets staged the story’s charm and warmth sneaks up behind you, bops you over the head with a romance, and steals you heart and cell phone. The story is fairy tale simple – their dads, Hucklebee (Rod Cathey) and Bellomy (Adam Shorts-brown) raise the children under the guise of a neighborly feud, knowing that will make the kids fall in love. When the hormones kick into overdrive, Luisa (Sandberg) and Matt (Speed) try to elope, but the dads cut them off at the pass by arranging an abduction by the dashing El Gallo (Stevens). The pair falls in love, only to split up after the harsh sunshine of intermission. Adventures ensue, the dads have a falling out, but the slightly older and more experienced teens return to make everything happily-ever-afterish. You’ve seen it a hundred times, but it never fails to grab you.
I never completely got behind Luisa and Matt, but they presented vocal power when the music called for it. More to my liking was Mr. Stevens, his voice was warm and pleasant, and his “Try To Remember” sold the show from the beginning of the first act. The dads both found chemistry, they both had absent wives, but even when they were fighting over watering radishes and pruning kumquats, they seemed to genuinely like each other. Larry Stalling as The Old Actor and David Clayton West as Mortimer were both perfect for the role – Stallings acted lost and confused, yet jealous of his light and time on stage, and Mortimer had a Bud Abbott single-mindedness in doing that one special thing he was good at: dying on stage.
Backing the show were a piano (James Naven) and a harp (Dawn Marie Edwards) adding a nice classy edge to the show. The stage was minimal, as required, and the action flowed up and through the seats bringing the story into the laps of the audience. If you’re not carefully, you might trip one of them. While “The Fantasticks” is an easy sell, it’s emblematic of the times: in today’s tough environment, risky shows may be too risky, and its best to pull in the artistic horns until things get safe. This is a safe and well loved show, pleasant to watch and unlikely to challenge any of your prejudices.
For more information, please visit http://www.theatredowntown.net