If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

“Fantasticks” Is Finale for Westport’s MTC

The 1960 musical classic, “The Fantasticks”, is as timeless as ever and it now serves as the season-ending production for the Music Theatre of Connecticut. It also marks the Westport theatre’s final production in their current space before moving to a larger venue next fall. That is very good news and so is any opportunity to enjoy this bittersweet musical once again.

“The Fantasticks” is a deceptively simple adult fairy tale about two neighboring fathers who forbid their children, Luisa and Matt, from having any contact. Of course, this only makes the youngsters more determined than ever to meet. But, wait -- this was the fathers’ plan all along, so the kids become a couple and happiness reigns throughout the land! That is, until act two, when the bloom comes off the rose and the reality of real relationships sets in. “The Fantasticks” has more grit than you may recall and dares to subvert its sunny optimism for cruel cynicism without missing a beat. The Harvey Schmidt/Tom Jones score is as glorious as ever with “Try to Remember” probably its most popular song.

At MTC, director Kevin Connors has done a capable job of bringing “Fantastics” to the claustrophobic confines of the theatre’s tiny stage. With only a piano as orchestra (and all that is needed in the talented hands of musical director David Wolfson) and a circus tent as the backdrop, this “Fantastics” starts a tad too cutesy. There is a fine line between childlike and childish and the initial playing by fathers Huckebee (Lou Ursone) and Bellomy (Jack Doyle) is questionable. Fortunately, this doesn’t last long and the actors soon render several show highlights including their delightful duets on “Never Say No” and “Plant a Radish”.

The central couple is also endearingly played by Carissa Massaro and Jacob Heimer. Mr. Heimer -- so good in MTC’s wonderful “Next to Normal” last season -- has a boyish enthusiasm that is contagious while the lovely Miss Massaro’s lyrical soprano voice easily melts hearts. They work well together and when that happens, you have won half the battle for any successful production of “The Fantasticks”. Also impressive is Tony Lawson’s well-sung El Gallo, who narrates the tale and brings enough machismo and panache to the role to make you believe that Luisa would look at him twice.

Diane Vanderkroef’s colorful costuming pleases, but I would have liked to see designer Carl Tallent’s carnival theme incorporated within the production more. Some of the performers could also tone down the broadness and do a little less given such intimate surroundings - no need to play to the balcony when there isn’t one. But, all said, this is an unpretentious and likable rendering of a musical theatre classic.

“The Fantasticks” continues at the Music Theatre of Connecticut in Westport through May 4. For ticket reservations call 203.454.3883 or visit: www.musictheatreofct.com.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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