Music by Harvey Schmidt
Stage Director & Choreographer by Rudy Hogenmiller
Conductor Roger L. Bingaman
Produced by Light Opera Works
At Cahn Auditorium, Evanston
Full orchestra and new tune and large staging fuel Jones & Schmidt’s The Fantasticks
Rudy Hogenmiller and Jim Harms have a long association with The Fantasticks having both played and toured in The Fantasticks over the last 30 or so years. Hogenmiller always wanted to mount the version of Jones & Schmidt’s parable chamber musical especially after having been in the full version with a 16 piece orchestra that toured the USA and Japan.. Now to open Light Opera Works’ 2015 season, has has his wish. The ‘full’ version of The Fantasticks is a never-before-seen in Chicago event! With an expanded set (designed by Adam Veness) and a 23 piece orchestra complete with a piano and harp (those were missing from the national tour), the Light Opera Works production has all the charm and power of the chamber version but now with added theatricality and deeper emotions from the power of a full orchestra!
The Fantasticks is an age-old life affirming tale of youth, love and gardening. The cast of characters includes a boy, a girl, two fathers and a wall. As the delightful comic parable unfolds, we watch the starry-eyed boy and girl next door fall in love, go their separate ways as they yearn to discover the outside world and then reunite, opting instead for fulfillment and safety in each other’s arms.
The Fantasticks may be taken on several levels. The story is simple, a playful variation of the Romeo and Juliet theme, but the style of the show is sophisticated. First there is conscious use of a variety of ancient theatrical techniques: the Narrator “Chorus” from early Greek drama, the platform stage and stock types from Commedia del Arte, the mute“prop-man” from Chinese theatre, and the Elizabethan-inspired use of poetry and “linguistic magic” to set the scenes and underscore the
dramatic effects. There is the serious sub-text beneath the comic surface, having to do with the seasonal celebration upon which all theatre is based. And last, and most important of all, there is the music score. Melodic, humorous, at times sentimental, it manages, like the show itself, to be both simple and complex at the same time. That is the very heart of
The story is about life’s challenges and it is a parable of humanity’s optimism and hope.
Ultimately, the players are the show and here the cast was expert. James Anest has the big baritone voice, the stage presence and the charm to be a proficient El Gallo. Meredith Kochan (as Luisa – The Girl) sings wonderfully and possesses winning
innocence. Handsome Christopher MacGregor (as Matt – The Boy) possesses a large baritone voice and he is an energetic and flamboyant actor with charm to spare. He is the best Matt I’ve ever seen. His baritone is a fine departure from the usual tenors. His machismo works better than the often seen wimpy versions of Matt.
Two veterans Rick Rapp (as Hucklebee- The Boy’s father) and Kirk Swenk (as Bellomy – The Girl’s father)
bring their finest vaudeville tradition to the fathers. James Harms ( as Henry – The Old Actor) together with Brian Rooney – The Man Who Dies on stage) are fabulous with their comic relief. Clayton Cross as The Mute adds dance movements to his arsenal of disciplined participation.
Roger L. Bingaman’s 23 piece orchestra, while featuring the expected harp and piano sounds, add horns. strings and percussion making Schmidt’s lush score deeper and more emotional. The expansive lighting (by Andrew H. Meyers) worked to express the fears and horrors both Matt and Luisa experience as life happens to them in act two.
“Try To Remember” is a Broadway classic. “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” “They Were You” and “Metaphor” are melodious
love songs while “Never Say No” and “Plant A Radish” are witty and comical vaudeville numbers. You’ll hear blues, jazz riffs as well as haunting ballads and sweet waltzes. This ‘full’ production of The Fantasticks is a rare and memorable theatrical treat. Both lovers of the show (like me) and those curious need to see this production to experience one of the greatest and nuanced musicals ever mounted for the stage. All will be pleased by this production. There is a reason that The Fantasticks lasted 42 years Off-Broadway running for 17,162 performances: its a wonderful musical! Get to Light Opera Works to see the expanded version – it is delightful.
At Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston, IL, call 847-920-5360, www.musictheaterworks.com, tickets $34 to $94, Wednesday, June 10 at 2 pm, Friday, june 12 at 8 pm, Saturday, June 13 at 8 pm, Sunday, June 14 at 2 pm, tunning time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission.