play review: Encore Theatre's charming 'Fantasticks' is worth remembering
Photo courtesy of Encore Theatre
From the pitch-perfect signature song “Try To Remember” to the sadder-but-wiser reprise of that tune that closes the show, “The Fantasticks,” which opened Friday night at Dexter’s Encore Musical Theatre, is a real delight.
Credit director Barton Bund (in his Encore debut) and a terrific cast for breathing new life into this oft-performed American musical theater classic that still manages to remain relevant thanks to its timeless exploration of love, heartbreak and reconciliation.
In this production, the set is stripped down and props are sparse. Two ladders, a lamp-post and a brick-painted garden wall as a backdrop decorate the stage, which is also occupied by the musicians - pianist Tyler Driskill and harpist Margot Box (or Kristin Lloyd, depending on the night). As it turns out, nothing more is needed.
The show tells the story of Matt (Ryan Dooley) and Luisa (Thalia Schramm), neighboring teens who, with a push from their scheming fathers (Tobin Hissong and Paul Hopper), fall in love. As the second act begins, what appeared a perfect romance turns out to be an empty promise and the two decide to pursue different paths, with similarly heartbreaking results.
In such a well-known show, it’s all about the performers, and this “Fantasticks” doesn’t disappoint.
As El Gallo, the roguishly charming bandit / narrator, Brian Thibault was about as good as they get. His “Try to Remember” was lovely and his stage presence was bold, yet perfectly nuanced. “Round and Round,” performed with Schramm, was one of the show’s best numbers.
Theater pros Hissong and Hopper proved delightful frenemies, and their song-and-dance tune “Plant a Radish” proved the art of hoofing is alive and well. Similarly, the hammy Henry (Keith Kalinowski) and his sidekick Mortimer (Jamie Weeder), two worn-out thespians-for-hire, nearly brought the house down every time they were on stage.
“The Abduction Ballet,” which ends the first act and involves the whole cast, featured spot-on fight choreography and (according to the program) rewritten lyrics that make the so-called “rape” song more family-friendly. Dooley and Schramm were well-suited to the role of naive adolescents, and both showed depth, especially as the tension built in the decidedly darker second act.
There were a few empty seats at Friday’s performance. As word of mouth spreads, that probably won't be the case much longer. Granted, some critics consider “The Fantasticks” to be hopelessly hackneyed, but in Encore’s capable hands, it still has the capability to charm.