Book & Lyrics by Tom Jones
Music by Harvey Schmidt
Based upon Les Romanesques by Edmond Rostand
Produced by Porchlight Music Theatre
At the Theatre Building Chicago
Nice production of longest running musical a star turn for Emma Rosenthal
Porchlight Music Theatre opens its 15th season with The Fantasticks–the 1960 Off-Broadway hit that ran for 42 years and 17,000 performances. This chestnut contains a great score featuring the haunting “Try To Remember” and a assortment of love songs and cute vaudeville tunes set against poetic dialogue as a timeless universal fable of romance. The metaphor of the seasons is an apt one for the cycle of life. This little show is a gorgeously simple yet truthfully complex. Two neighbor fathers scheme to spark romance between their son and daughter by building a wall between their houses and faking a feud.
The fathers enlist a mysterious stranger, El Gallo (Jeff Parker) to add spice to their plan. The plans initially works but the allure of the dangerous outside world compels the lovers to experience it. This sweet show is tightly developed as the nerdy lovers learn the lessons of the world and of love.
Filled with one of the finest scores (by Harvey Schmidt) every penned for the stage, The Fantasticks is pure joy. It has ample bewitching comedy and loads of romance. Director Sean Kelly’s casting was curious. Emma Rosenthal, as the 16 year old Luisa, worked well as she sang and played all the comedy contained. Rosenthal has amazing stage presence and a strong voice. Sean Effinger-Dean’s nerdy take on Matt also played well and he sang “Metaphor,” “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “They Were You” in duet with Rosenthal marvelously. Dan Ferretti and Ryan Lanning landed their vaudeville-styled song with aplomb. Rus Rainer, as Mortimer–the dying actor was a hoot.
My main problem with Porchlight’s production was how Jeff Parker played El Gallo. He played the sexy stranger as a cool, quite detached persona instead of the charismatic dashing figure the role requires. Parker mumbled some of his poetic lines and only adequately sang the his songs including the signature tune “Try To Remember.”
The all around production is entertaining and sure worth seeing. The Fantasticks contains humor, sweet romance and a wonderful score. Tom King Clear on piano and Jennifer Ruggieri on the harp effectively poured Schmidt’s score into our ears. This is a smart love story nicely presented.
At the Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Chicago, IL, Call 773-327-5252, tickets $37, Friday & Saturday at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission.