By Roz Friedman
Long Wharf Theatre is presenting “The Fantasticks,” a musical that ran for over 30 years in the tiny Sullivan Street Theatre in NY, produced by a courageous man named Lore Noto. Robert Viagas wrote a book about this phenomenon. My family and I saw this production many, many times. If anyone came to visit us from another state or country, we took them to “The Fantasticks.” We just loved its challenge to use one’s imagination like the play, “Our Town,” its message of love and responsibility, its simple elegance, and its poetry and music. Finally, the show took a break, and then began once again. It is now playing at the Jerry Orbach Theatre of the Snapple Theatre Center on West 50th St. Mr. Orbach, one of the most gifted and versatile of actors, was the first El Gallo, and although it wasn’t his very first role, it was his most important. It was there that he was discovered, as were so many over the years.
I attended the show at Long Wharf on Sunday, October 25, and it will end on November 1st. As in all the musicals they produce, Long Wharf reinterprets the original, and this is no exception. I am not a fan of that approach, particularly with musicals that were successful and beloved. There was a reason why a production played for 30 years. So refresh them, do not change them. Amanda Denhart’s decision to set “The Fantasticks” in a run-down amusement park does nothing for the play, but complicates things. Tom Jones, the Book writer and lyricist, was on hand afterwards to talk about the inspiration and inception of the play and that was wonderful. Harvey Schmidt created those wonderful melodies for “Try to Remember,” “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” “Plant a Radish,” and “They Were You.” Classmates at the University of Texas, they remain working partners.
But saying all that, the cast and the fine musicians, Music Director Bill Corcoran, Piano, and Colleen Potter, Harpist, who accompanied them, were lovely. Jessica Grove possesses a beautiful clear soprano voice and sparkling persona in the role of Luisa, the 16 year old, who yearns to be special and be kissed on the eyes, She falls in love with her neighbor, Matt. He’s played by David Nathan Perlow, who is handsome and classic in the part of this love-sick guy who wants to see the world, and suffers when he does.
Michael Sharon is a clownish El Gallo, where he should be more threatening. He is a nice baritone, attractive, and with the right direction could really play this part the way it should be. Jonathan Randall Silver is quietly fine as The Mute, and we hope we can hear him talk and sing some day since, as well as a magician, he studied at LAMDA, The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Ray DeMattis as Bellomy, Luisa’s father is charming; Dan Sharkey as Huckabee, Matt’s father, a good foil for him. William Parry as Henry, the old actor and Joseph Tisa as Mortimer are good fun. Sharon Jenkins’ Choreography, Eugene Lee’s Set, lit by Nancy Schertler, Jessica Ford’s Costumes, all pale next to Jim Steinmeyer and Jeff Grow’s magic.
“The Fantasticks” will play only through Nov. 1 at LW Mainstage.
This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS PUBLIC RADIO