The Longest Running Musical is Brought to Life in a Splendid Production.
There are few shows as simple as The Fantasticks. It doesn’t add many superfluous elements, it simply tells the story of first love, young love, with some classic theatrical archetypes, and a score that is elegant and romantic. The original Off-Broadway production opened in 1960 and ran for 42 years, making it the longest running musical in the world. (It also launched the career of blue-eyed heart throb Jerry Orbach.) Quintessence Theatre Group in Mt. Airy is staging a revival of the show that is a shining example of the show's timeless qualities and enduring relevance.
Try to Remember
The Fantasticks is a simple story of a girl and a boy, Luisa and Matt, whose parents are sworn enemies, and neighbors. Matt and Luisa communicate and fall in love over the garden wall that divides their homes. The show explores how a budding young romance can grow and be tested and challenged, and how it can withstand the challenges that come with time. The show is overwhelmingly romantic, with a simple score accompanied only by a piano, and that most romantic of instruments, the harp. It posits idealistic thoughts and uses the various characters in Matt and Lusia’s story (primarily the Narrator/conduit El Gallo) to delve into the abstract concepts of love and romance. What makes the show so long lasting is its universality. Most people have experienced the highs and lows of young love, how it can change on a dime, and how it is not always what it seems.
Quintessence’s production is masterful in its execution of simplicity. Director Megan Bellwoar utilizes a three quarter thrust stage configuration to great effect, staging the show in an engaging, invigorating way that swoons through with a romantic heartbeat in rhythm with the score. There is a youthful exuberance throughout the entire show (It was one of authors Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones’ first shows) that is delicately played with, never feeling overdone. Karen Getz, who served as Choreographer as well as playing the character of The Mute, stages the musical numbers effortlessly, creating an extremely specific movement language that helped heighten the story. There was only one moment where it felt like it slightly overshadowed the character journey that Luisa was experiencing, but overall it balanced on the tightrope fantastick-ally (see what I did there?!).
And If You Remember, Then Follow
Each cast member is exceedingly charming, starting with Getz’s Mute, who expresses all of their wants through movement. They are paired with Kevin Toniazzo-Naughton as El Gallo, the narrator of the piece, who also serves as a foil to the characters in the story. He gets a majority of the singing including the famous “Try to Remember” and has a gorgeous, booming voice that effortlessly fills the space and songs with a classic texture. Raffaela Cicchetti and Brandon Walters as Luisa and Matt, respectively, also have lovely voices. They both enhabit their characters’ wide eyed naivety remarkably well, and endear the audience to their youthful optimism. Also, I’d be remiss not to mention Frank X who is hilarious as Henry, the Old Actor. He has the audience in the palm of his hand from the moment he crawls on stage to his exit, to his wig. It’s a splendidly comic performance.
The Fantasticks is not a show that is going to completely challenge your worldview. It is not a show that will leave you contemplating the vast meaning of life. It is a show that will remind you that sometimes the simple things are the most important, and that sometimes what is in front of you is more prescient than experiences on the horizon. It asks you to remember when life was tender and new; when life was guided by optimism and hopefulness. An idea that is needed now, more than ever, with a wistful romanticism that is as heartwarming and endearing as it was in 1960.
The Fantasticks is on stage at the Sedgewick Theater
(7137 Germantown Ave.)
from now until December 31st, 2023.
For more information visit: quintessencetheatre.org.