Presenting the simply ‘Fantasticks’

By Erin Tobin

By Erin Tobin

If William Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss had ever collaborated on an American musical, the result would have been very similar to “The Fantasticks.”

On April 1, Performance Riverside started a nine show run of one of America’s oldest running musicals. It shows too. Some of the dialogue, the action and the character development is quite dated, but the general message the show gives about real life is timeless.

This is a musical that is charming in its simplicity. The plot is not complicated or challenging to understand, nor is anything presented in a mind-altering manner.

The small cast of eight is headed by actor Damon Kirsche. Kirsche plays the pseudo-villain El Gallo, who also acts as the story’s narrator.El Gallo introduces the players in this love-based plot. A young man named Matt (played by Peter Musante) and his even younger neighbor Luisa (Barbara Chiofalo) have fallen in love despite the wall that separates their homes. It’s purely a storybook concoction of an affair. Under the light of the moon Matt saves Luisa and their families are finally brought together.

The wall is actually a part played most magnificently by Riverside Community College student Jordan Beck. Beck’s character, who is simply called The Mute, fulfills other jobs throughout the plot including a cupid-like stereotype where he floats over the stage. While flying Beck displays true grace and comfort in the air. As the mute, Beck puts forth an energy and a personality that is lacking from some of the professional actors in the cast.

Throw the lovebirds’ fathers and a couple of very funny, though aging, actors into the mix and this merry band of players start down the road of the first act in a manner that could easily be cheerier than most Disney movies, animated or otherwise.

This brings up one of the most breathtaking aspects of the production. The backdrops providing the sun and the moon are gorgeous and inspired awe and gasps from the audience.

These backgrounds also point out one of the downfalls of Performance Riverside’s version of “Fantasticks.” The final product just seems to be too extravagant for a play that strives to be simple. In the world of “The Fantasticks” brevity does seem to be the soul of wit, and Performance Riverside just has too much to talk about.

A still stronger example of this problem has to do with the props. Even after El Gallo tells the audience that all the play’s props will come from boxes located on the sides of the stage, props are pulled from places other than the piles on the stages outskirts that look akin to what would be left after a cleaning of a great-grandmother’s attic.

It would seem “The Fantasticks” would actually be better suited for a lower budget, more intimate setting. The extra mile Performance Riverside goes only ends up adding to the corniness of the plot and distracts from the musical’s message.

Such a close setting might not help the production unfortunately, since the shortcomings in the staging might show through. There is the choreography which doesn’t seem to match the music that is being played so wonderfully. This is followed by the relationships of the characters, which seems sketchy at best.

The exception to these problems is the fathers. Along with Beck, John Massey and David Beaver appear to have actually taken time to work on their characters relationship and synchronicities. The fathers dance together and work off one another to create a wonderful performance. On all accounts “The Fantasticks” is a nice little play that gets blown too much out of proportion.