Onstage: Review: The Fantasticks

Jersey Productions pays homage to a classic

Jul 18, 2007 at 2:06 pm

A lovely musical parable called The Fantasticks premiered Off-Broadway in 1960 and was onstage for 42 years, offering 17,162 performances, by far the longest-running musical of all time. It's a charming, simply told fable about young love and idealism and how those feelings must be tempered and deepened by judgment and understanding. It's laced with much good humor and sung with memorable tunes, including the classic "Try to Remember."

That's why it's become a staple of small theater companies, and it's no doubt the reason that Jersey Productions included a production of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's classic in their second season at Covington's Carnegie Center. Director Larry Smiglewski's production is indeed an homage to the original, replicating the simple minimalist set — a wooden platform, four posts, a sheet/curtain on a wire, a bench — and the way characters are portrayed, including a mime in white face ("The Mute," played by Ben Watts) and a bandit/narrator in black and a red-lined cape (Michael Starks as "El Gallo").

But re-staging a show from the past doesn't necessarily result in a performance that's engaging today. Watching this production of The Fantasticks is rather like admiring a reproduction of a classic painting: The elements are there, but the soul is missing.

Smiglewski has a capable cast, especially 2006 CEA winner Lauren Sprague as Luisa (The Girl). She has a big, showy voice and the requisite acting ability to portray a silly, romantic girl. Too often, however, she overshadows her counterpart, Jerome Doerger as Matt (The Boy). Smiglewski should have found ways for the pair to connect and balance. As it is, Sprague and Doerger go through the motions but never light the fuse of ardor that needs to ignite The Fantasticks. Similarly, Dain Alan Paige and David Harris, who play the couple's scheming fathers, don't dig deep enough to find the humor in their songs ("Never Say 'No" and "Plant a Radish").

The Fantasticks is a classic, and Jersey Productions' staging is a reminder of its many charms. I just wish it had more spark and coherence of its own. Grade: B-

THE FANTASTICKS, presentedby Jersey Productions at the Carnegie Center's Otto M. Budig Theatre, continues through Sunday.