“THE FANTASTICKS” LIVES UP TO ITS NAME AT THE LONG WHARF

BONNIE GOLDBERG

In a carnival, on a carousel, with a stick of spun pink cotton candy or a basket of kumquats in hand, possibilities swirl.  Romance is in the musical air of the calliope, magical wishes are granted, dreams can come true, if you just believe and let your imagination loose.  That is the premise of the world’s longest running and most beloved musical, “The Fantasticks,”
being infused with charming new life at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre until Sunday, November 1.

“The Fantasticks” which opened on Broadway May 3, 1960 and ran 17,162 performances, grew up humbly as a one act musical produced in three weeks for a summer theater production at Barnard College.  It was written by young men Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones who had met as college students in Texas and who came to New York to collaborate.  They had worked on a much heavier and ambitious production for years unsuccessfully before tossing together a lighter version in less than a month.

Intended as a spoof on “Romeo and Juliet,” the pair imagined it as a big Rodgers and Hammerstein musical on horseback, set on two ranches in the southwest, one Angelo and one Spanish.  What ultimately survived, after a lot of experimentation, was a fixation on vegetation and the seasons.  Both fathers are gardeners who have more luck planting seeds than they do growing children.  When you grow a cabbage, you get a cabbage, not a brussel sprout.  With children, who knows what will bloom.

The production has played all over the world, from the White House and its original home at the Sullivan Street Playhouse on Broadway, from Afghanistan and Australia to Zimbabwe and New Zealand and everywhere in between.  At the Long Wharf, it is infused with special magic and a spirit of adventure, under the whimsical direction of Amanda Dehnert.

Two fathers (Ray DeMattis and William Parry) have created an imaginary feud and built a wall between their adjoining houses, hoping by reverse psychology to bring their offspring to the marriage canopy.  Jessica Grove’s Luisa and David Nathan Perlow’s Matt take the bait and secretly plot to be together forever.

Of course, the tale has to take slippery twists when Luisa, who fancies herself a princess, is rescued by her gallant knight Matt from the arms of an errant bandit El Gallo, a daring Michael Sharon, who also serves as narrator.
When it comes to light that El Gallo was hired by the parents to fake the abduction, all the machinations of the papas unravel.  Also integral to the plan are Jonathan Randall Silver as the wall and magician’s helper and Joseph Tisa and Dan Sharkey as pirates and Indians and assorted comic villains.  The cast and the production are outstanding.

For tickets ($30-70), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven (exit 46 off I-95), at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org.  Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Watch how the sweet sixteen year old Luisa, daughter of a button seller, has her illusions unmasked but, ultimately, marries her prince, all the while learning that ‘without a hurt the heart is hollow.”

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