Directed – Adam Hester
Technical Director – Jason Leyva
Music Director – Rebecca Lowrey
Harpist – Danielle Cordray
Choreographer – Shannon Walsh
Costume Design – Alexander Eddins
Set Design – Gary Varner
Properties – Donna Hester
Sound Designer – Kathryn Marbry
Lighting Designer – Alex Bigus
El Gallo – Wyn Delano
Matt – Jonathon Steffins
Luisa – Nicole Neely
Hucklebee – Russell Vaden
Bellomy – David Tinney
Henry – Gordon Fox
Mortimer – Michael Stafford
Mute – Shannon Walsh
Reviewed Performance 6/5/2016
Reviewed by Scott W. Davis , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The Fantasticks has been around for a long time. Firehouse theatre brings its rendition of the show to the DFW area for all to enjoy. The show was written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt in 1960 and ran off Broadway for an astonishing 42 years straight making it the longest running musical ever. The show can be set in any time period but most settle for the mid 1800’s prior to electricity. The story follows two main characters Matt and Luisa’s journey through love with of course a few pitfalls for them to triumph over. Usually done with a minimal set and band The Fantasticks tends to be a favorite for many community theatres around the country.
The Firehouse’s production definitely reminded me of the days of living in New York with very little cash needing something to do that evening. There’s always The Fantasticks to go to, and we did many times. This was one of the best times at a theatre that I’ve had in a long time. Director Adam Hester put together a wonderful team to recreate this gem of a show with help of course from Rebecca Lowrey. Design team aside Mr. Hester’s casting is just as good with several DFW veterans including Gordon Fox, David Tinney, Shannon Walsh, Russell Vaden, and Nicole Neely. Then the addition of DFW new comers Wyn Delano, Michael Stafford, and Jonathon Steffins he builds a truly all star cast. The show flows nicely from scene to scene with little to no breaks. Mr. Hester has blocked the show in a way that the action stays center through most of the show but utilizes the scaffolding nicely to break up the monotony. I was glad to see that Mr. Hester used the alternative abduction scene rather than the rape scene for this production, the rape scene may have been appropriate in the 60’s but I do rather agree more with the abduction scene instead.
The set was designed by Gary Varner and really made good use of space in the theatre. While being very traditional to the show there was scaffolding up stage center with a platform jetting out from under it. The band was placed off stage right far enough to not get in the way of the show but were still visible from the audience. The ramps coming off of the center platform were designed in non specific geometric shapes which made it fun to look at but I always worried when the cast started to dance on it because of the odd cuts. The scaffolding was actually useable which, was a nice touch to give the actors another area to work with.
The musical direction was wonderful. Rebecca Lowrey was on piano and Danielle Cordray was the harpist. I was wondering if Ms. Lowrey was going to add the harpist or just do piano accompaniment, great decision to add the harp. The two musicians played wonderfully together and the harp was actually prominent during the show. I couldn’t tell from where I was sitting if it was going through the sound system or not but even sitting all the way across the room I could hear them both.
When you see this show you will have to agree with me on this one statement. The costumes were brilliant. Alexander Eddins costumes the show with tons of color and style. Bellomy’s pink and orange suit was just fitting for David Tinney to wear. Luisa’s dresses were just as fitting for the character. Really the only color on the set came from the costumes which all were fabulous. You can never go wrong with pink, orange, Indians, and a uni-suit.
The places in the show that fell subpar were sound and lights. Sound designer Kathryn Marbry had microphones on everyone but from where we were sitting there were several characters that couldn’t be heard over the other singers or the piano. With that said I will say that we never once had any feedback through the entire show which is never easy when your theatre is built in a big brick room. Lighting designer Alex Bigus took on the challenge of lighting the show and for the most part the show was lit well. The colors used in the show complimented the costumes extremely well. For some reason Mr. Bigus used a lot of zero count fades which became very distracting during the show.
Props designer Donna Hester came up with a lot of great props for the show. The wooden swords were a great choice that I’ve never seen used before but it made the fight scene a heck of a lot funnier. I mean who dies from a wooden sword? When the need for the real thing comes up doesn’t worry Ms. Hester has that covered with a couple of real rapiers instead. My favorite prop though was the chest that everything comes out of, including actors!
Shannon Walsh plays the mute but does double duty as the choreographer for the production. The choreography was well done for the acting area that she had to work with. Ms. Walsh’s use of every inch of the stage during full numbers was extremely well done so every audience member got a view of what was going on. As far as her performance goes it was just as good. It’s not easy to stay on stage for almost the entire show and never say a word. Ms. Walsh uses her body to say what she’s thinking. I loved the way she moved her appendages in swift fluid movements mesmerizing the audience. One of the best characters in the show I do believe.
El Gallo the villain is one of the first characters on stage in this show. The minute he started to sing I was hooked on the voice. Wyn Delano’s baritone vocals were boisterous and full through the entire show. Mr. Delano backs up the vocals with one of the most active roles in the show having to dance on ladders and jump around through much of the show. Even with the extra movement his vocals never wavered and were a pleasant surprise to see.
Jonathon Steffins and Nicole Neely play the love interests Matt and Luisa. Both of them had their high points in the show. Mr. Steffins really shines through all the numbers he’s in but I couldn’t stop laughing through the number round and round. He plays so well off of Gordon Fox through the number. His ability to play off of others shows well with Ms. Neely. The couple together has a sort of magic that makes them seem like they’ve known each other for years. Honestly though Ms. Neely doesn’t need anyone to make her presence known. The singing does it on its own. I’ve heard a lot of sopranos in my life and I would rate her among some of the best. Every note was crisp and clear enough to tell what she was singing and it just blended well during the full numbers.
Hucklebee and Bellomy are the fathers to Matt and Luisa. They live next door to each other and tend to get along most of the time. Hucklebee is portrayed by Russell Vaden and Bellomy is played by David Tinney. Some of the best chemistry in this production comes from these two actors. They both banter extremely well off of each other during the majority of scenes. A huge thing to me is facial expressions especially in a show where the audience is that close to the stage and I couldn’t stop laughing at Mr. Vaden or Mr. Tinney during the back yard fight scene. I mean it was brilliantly funny to watch these two play off of each other.
Henry and Mortimer are the last two characters in the show. Henry, an old time actor, and Mortimer, a young actor apprentice steal this show. Part of what made this so extremely funny to me was the fact that the last time I saw Gordon Fox on stage was 1776 at Lyric Stage so when I saw Caesar Rodney climbing out of a trunk I nearly lost it. What a pleasure it was to see the comedic side of this veteran actor. His side kick Michael Stafford does extremely well keeping up the comedy though. When you see this show make sure to watch all the deaths happen then compare it to Mr. Stafford’s. None will compare.
I love this show and I loved The Firehouses production of it. It’s a silly show that gives an audience the chance to forget about bills, not worry about health issues, or stress about anything for a couple of hours. It’s a fun family friendly show and is a great introduction to theatre for those who have never gone before. So pick up the family and swing by Farmers Branch for a couple of hours this weekend.
The Firehouse Theatre
2535 Valley View Lane
Farmers Branch, Texas 75234
This show runs June 2, 2016 to June 19, 2016 at the Firehouse Theatre. Tickets run from $18 to $22.
For more information go to www.thefirehousetheatre.com