The Madison Theatre Guild has put together an engaging production of The Fantasticks at the Bartell Theatre (through Dec. 23). Recently revived in New York City, this popular musical comedy has long been a staple of regional theaters. The Theatre Guild's outgoing artistic director, J. Patrick, has chosen it for his finale.
The Fantasticks borrows from a hodgepodge of comic traditions: commedia dell'arte, vaudeville, mime. There's even a lighthearted twist on Shakespeare. The entertaining result, cleverly crafted by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt in 1960 (when a ticket would have cost you $3.75), played for 40 years and became the longest-running musical ever.
The plot's feather-light - boy meets girl, etc. - but the delight is in the details. The Boy (Beau Martin) loves the Girl (Rebecca Chicoine) next door. Alas, they are separated by a Wall (Michael Anderson, as the Mute) erected by their fathers (Andrew Valdez-Cody and David Gerard Miller). These two buffoons reason that you only need to tell your children "No" to get them to do what you want. They team up for some amusing song-and-dance numbers; my favorite is "Why do the children put beans in their ears...?"
Christopher Karbo is the Narrator, and he also plays the bandit El Gallo. His knowing commentary, in Karbo's velvety baritone, introduces complications to the plot. There follows a mock rape/abduction concocted with assistance from two scruffy hired Players: the Man Who Dies (Daniel Graupner) and the Old Actor, a role that provides J. Patrick a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the finer points of comic timing.
No need to give it all away, but when starry-eyed lovers become bored with each other, when scheming fathers miscalculate, and when a bandit begins to fall in love, that's a cue for memorable music like "Try to Remember."
Valdez-Cody and Miller's catchy duets add comic zest to the production, and Martin's vocals, while not as strong as Karbo's, are smooth and confident. As the Girl, Chicoine is first sweet then sulky as her fortunes shift, and her silvery soprano warmed up after her first solo.
The Bartell's Evjue Stage is just right for this minimalist production, with its simple signature white curtain and a few boxes of props - a sliver of moon, a couple of plums, a few sticks for the swordfight. And the excellent Thomas Kasdorf at the keyboard from beginning to end.
Doesn't sound like much, but somehow it's totally sufficient.