THE FANTASTICKSBook and Lyrics by Tom Jones and Music by Harvey Schmidt
Based on Les Romanesques by Edmond Rostand
Music Theatre of Denton
Director - Tyler Donahue
Assistant Director / Stage Manager - John Norine, Jr.
Scenic Design - Tyler Donahue
Lighting Design - Vicki Kirkley
Costume Coordinator - Linda Wallace
CAST (as listed)
The Narrator - Joe Brown
The Mute - Pat Watson
The Girl - Diane Powell
The Boy - Maurice MacDougall
The Girl's Father - Joel Duran
The Boy's Father - Burl Proctor
The Old Actor - Johnny Williams
The Man Who Dies - Ted Minette
The Piano Player - Alec Bart
The Harp Player - Ellen Ritscher Sackett
The Bass Player - Sara Bollinger
Reviewed Performance: 3/6/2011
Reviewed by Clyde Berry, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
There is a lengthy history behind this production that ran for over 42 years off-Broadway before finally closing. It only recently reopened on Broadway in the Snapple Theater Center in the Jerry Orbach Theater (named for one of the original cast members).
According to MTI, the original producers have made a 9,620% return on their original investment. There's even the film version that took several years to complete before being released into obscurity. So what makes this tale so enduring and popular?
The story is a basic one, which speaks to the universal nature of love and life. Simply put, two fathers conspire to match-make their children. They are successful, but the children discover the trick and decide life has better experiences out there for them. The families struggle to move on as each person learns to cope with the choices they make. While seemingly simple, the universal nature of the story and minimal production needs require a deft hand and often a clever gimmick to tell the story.
In that sense, Director Tyler Donahue has done well. His take on The Fantasticks is a traditional one. There is a central platform on the stage around which the actors, when not "on stage" sit and witness the story told. The musicians are also onstage, in costume, and participate in some of the action.
However, the execution of this fable is a bit uneven. For example, the bottom of the stage has a gravel pit whose reason for being is still not explained by the end of the performance. One musician is visibly without costume/make-up (beside the other musicians who are) yet still in the midst of the action. Some actors observe "off-stage" in character, while others do not, looking around the theater, talking to the musicians, or picking at a wig. Dramatically, Act I is much stronger in detail and story-telling than Act II. Still, as a whole production, Donahue succeeds in making the basics work even if there is the potential for more detailing.
As our narrator, Joseph Montgomery Brown plays El Gallo with a detached air. He speaks not so much to the audience, but at them, which, instead of bringing them into the universal experience, creates a wall of distanced judgment. Instead of the wise manipulator for the sake of a greater good, this portrayal comes off as a smarmy trickster.
Brown would be better served to have more moments where he can react to the downfall of the characters in his sympathetic narrator capacity. Vocally, Brown is struggling to both hit and hold his notes, and is fatigued at the start of the second act. However, Brown is consistent in his characterization, and soldiers on in spite of difficulties. He maintains a good energy and is interesting to watch as he struts around the stage.
Pat Watson is well cast as The Mute. His bio notes an interest in physical storytelling, and his enthusiasm is clear on stage. After one curtain speech, he provides a second one, and in pantomime warns the audience what happens if they forget to turn off their phones. While he has more to do in Act I as far as setting things in motion, he also spends a great deal of time on stage reacting to everything going on around him. It is not easy to be present and responsive without pulling focus, but Watson handles this easily and well. If anything, he could be involved in the manipulation of the story/characters a great deal more.
Diane Powell and Maurice MacDougall portray the young lovers. MacDougall himself is a younger performer, and easily has the energy, innocence, ignorance, and youthful cocky attitude that Matt, The Boy, should have. Powell comes across as more worldly, and doesn't capture the na?ve nature of The Girl. Both have wonderful voices, and it is quite a pleasure to hear them sing both alone and together. It is difficult to buy them as a loving couple as they often stay away from each other, and when together seem nervous to actually touch and interact. This does work to their advantage when their relationship is troubled.
Playing the manipulative fathers are Joel Duran as The Girl's Father, and Burl Proctor as The Boy's Father. Duran comes off as a very sympathetic and emotional father to counter Proctor's more pragmatic one. The men work well off each other, but could make more out of their "feuding" sections before the trick is revealed, giving both more of an arc. Also, each Father works well in scenes with their child. These two have as much of a symbiotic relationship with each other as their kids do, essentially going through the same cycles with them.
As the comedians, The Old Actor and The Man Who Dies, Johnny Williams and Ted Minette succeed in bringing a different energy to their scenes. Williams does well as the aged Shakespearian actor, befuddled, doddering, yet still full of heart. Minette's sidekick role is less successful, as he seems unwilling to completely commit to a cockney accent. Both are good-natured clowns to the other characters, and where some physical bits seem a bit forced, they make up for it with enthusiasm and earn the big laughs for the evening. The abduction itself is a particularly strong moment.
Donahue's set is basic and perfectly appropriate for the piece. He makes good use of all areas, keeping the action downstage of the proscenium and intimate. Vicki Kirkley creates an extremely effective light design for the space and show. With basic washes that change with the mood, follow spots, and a nice effect with the back scrim / underneath the platform space, many pretty looks are established. Linda Wallace's costumes are interesting choices, although Mr. Minette seems to get the short straw.
The Fantasticks is a show that will be around for quite a while this year in productions across the Metroplex. It would be interesting to compare the choices, performances, and resources put into all the various ones and see which one "gets it right" in everyone's unique opinion. MTD's production is a great starting point, but only runs one more weekend.
Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones and Music by Harvey Schmidt
Music Theatre of Denton
Through March 13th, 2011
Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:00pm
at historic Campus Theatre in downtown Denton
214 W. Hickory Street
For tickets and information, go to www.musictheatreofdenton.com or call the box office at 940-382-1915.