‘Fantasticks’ remains simple delight with Opera Theater of Pittsburgh production
“Try to Remember,” Sean Cooper’s narrator implores us in the opening moments of “The Fantasticks.”
This Opera Theater of Pittsburgh production makes that easy to do.
This jewel-box of a musical has been around since 1960. During the past 54 years, many of us have grown from the tender and callow fellows — and females — the narrator sings about to people who resemble the musical’s much wiser garden-tending fathers Hucklebee and Bellomy.
That gives us a sort of double vision as the show unfolds.
We reminisce about our youthful passions, impatience and ideals while accepting the disillusions, wisdom and maturity that followed.
Once a staple of the summer-theater season, “The Fantasticks” is now seldom performed. So, it’s nice to see it return as part of Opera Theater’s SummerFest with delightfully tuneful performances of Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones’ score by a well-voiced cast and a quartet of musicians.
The story is both minor and epic — a young boy and girl fall in love despite — or, more likely, because of — the opposition of their fathers. After surmounting too-easily overcome trials, they marry. But their youth and impetuous ambitions lead them into adventurous folly and misery.
Much of the musical’s original charm came from its relaxed, impromptu presentation — a simple setting of a platform, a trunk and a clothesline hung with costumes, and the feeling that the action was being improvised and created as we watched.
This production, directed by Attack Theatre producing artistic director and co-founder Peter Kope, is well-paced and moves easily through a multiplicity of locations and moods.
It maintains the necessary ambiance with scenes of supposedly cobbled-together sword play during the Abduction Ballet and Dane Toney’s representation of The Wall.
There are true moments of delight as Brian Hupp’s Hucklebee and James Critchfield’s Bellomy explain their philosophies of child-rearing in their vaudeville-inspired song and dance routines “Never Say No” and “Plant a Radish.”
As the young lovers Luisa and Matt, Rachel Eve Holmes and Adam Hill pair nicely in two sweetly romantic interludes “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “They Were You.”
Moreover, you can’t help but applaud the artistic wisdom of hiring Martin Giles, who gives an amusing bravado performance as the ancient, Shakespeare-quoting actor Henry. He’s aided by Daniel Arnoldos, who plays his traveling partner, Mortimer, an actor who specializes in performing spectacular death scenes.
Where the show goes horribly wrong is in over produced technical elements.
This is a show where less is more.
But Marie Yokoyama’s set design unnecessarily clutters the small, steeply raked stage with pieces that offer a variety of playing levels but are awkward to climb or descend, and Steve Agnew’s over active lighting distracts from the action and overwhelms the crew’s ability to execute the cues.
But those objections are overcome by the now-rare opportunity to hear the musical’s now-classic songs solidly performed in The Twentieth Century Club’s intimate Art Deco Theater.
If you’ve never experienced it, this is a fine opportunity to hear the score solidly performed as it propels the action of the play.
Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or [email protected].