What is the special magic which has kept “The Fantasticks” alive all these years? Opening off-Broadway in 1960 and running for 42 years (17,162 performances), it has become the world’s longest-running musical. And now the Music Theatre of Connecticut offers its own version of this classic, capturing some of the magic in its own way.
“Fantasticks” is, as we know, a fairy tale endowed with the bittersweet quality expected of the genre. Boy and girl fall in love, grow disenchanted, separate, and ultimately come together to live happily ever after…more or less. The two young people live side by side, separated by a wall erected by their fathers (courtesy of the Pyramus and Thisbe myth). But it’s all pretense; the fathers really want the kids to get together. But they know chances are better if they pretend opposition, like the Montagues and Capulets. Furthermore, they order a fake abduction and hire a character known as El Gallo to carry off the scheme -- and the girl.
This production’s dollop of magic comes from Shanna Ossi, who plays the mime. She weaves in and out of the story, enhancing each scene -- a mute, mimed commentary. Director Kevin Connors sets the mood with Ossi’s help.
And Tony Larson, serving as both El Gallo and the Narrator, adds both authority and sex appeal to the proceedings. He nails the show and keeps it going. Others in the cast add varying degrees of professionalism, ranging from solid entertainment to, alas, an amateurish touch.
Other cast members include (in alphabetical order) Jack Doyle, Jacob Heimer, Carissa Massaro, Jim Schilling and Lou Ursone. But Bill Nabel, in a typical show-biz plot, was replaced at the eleventh hour by veteran actor John Flaherty. Nabel, unfortunately, had been hospitalized, and Flaherty came through with a last-minute performance, which, of course, thrilled the audience (who had been apprised of the crisis by director Connors at the show’s opening). Doyle and Ursone, as the conniving parents, execute several delightful song-and-dance routines, right on target. Heimer and Massaro are appealing as boy and girl, but others disappoint.
Though this “Fantasticks” is less than the best of MTC efforts, it may be that we’ve seen too many renditions over the many years. More exciting are the MTC plans for the future, as they expect shortly to move to larger quarters. Watch for announcements.
This review also appears on ny-cttheaterscene.com