Los Angeles Theater Review: THE FANTASTICKS (Good People Theater Company)

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by Kevin Lax on June 12, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

FANTASTICKS ON THE FRINGE

With the original opening in 1959 and running an astounding 42 years, The Fantasticks is a veritable classic amongst the repertoire of musical theater.  By way of the Hollywood Fringe Festival at the quaint Lillian Theatre, Good People Theater Company is taking a crack at capturing the essence of this historical musical that has captured America time and again.

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This bittersweet, pastoral, and knowingly melodramatic tale of innocent young love—and a ruthless world which actually makes that love richer—includes romance, poetry, tenderness, adventure, comedic romps, and achingly beautiful love songs penned by Tom Jones (lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music).  With a bevy of memorable tunes, The Fantasticks has championed the test of time, consistently ranking among the best musicals.  The good people at the Good People Theater Company offer an earnest rendering of this Off-Broadway hit with a cast that may not always deliver the goods, but the bare-bones presentation (as the creators intended) is by-and-large on point and certainly good enough to check out.

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Most in the cast are dynamic, rollicking, charming, and engaging, proceeding full steam ahead with an air of reckless abandon; a few others are weak or disingenuous. Despite blemishes, the cast keeps the musical skipping along, and has enough strength to warrant commendation.

El Gallo is the caped and enigmatic narrator.  Christopher Karbo has an absorbing and pleasant wit, along with a formidable stage presence, but he never really locks into a solidified rhythm, coming across as contrived and displaced at times.  His rendition of “Try to Remember” has the right nostalgic quality, but vocally doesn’t hit the mark.

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The Pyramus and Thisbe-esque young couple, Luisa and Matt, is played with endearing charm by Audrey Curd and Matt Franta.  The two have their moments, but never really strike gold with their romantic escapades, at times falling a little flat and meandering about awkwardly.  This may be an intentional sign of teenage love, but the much hoped-for chemistry does not flourish.  Curd has some lovely turns—standouts being “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “They Were You”—but Franta’s wispy tone leaves a few songs without depth.

Highlight performances include Matt Stevens and Michael P. Wallot as the duo’s meddling fathers, Hucklebee and Bellomy; both shine with animated singing and spry dancing in “Never Say No” and “Plant a Radish.”

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Joey D’Auria and Corky Loupe play Henry and Mortimer, two thespians who assist in the machinations to bamboozle the naïve lovers into coupling.  Passionate, keen, and vigorous in their routines, D’Auria and Loupe are tremendous in the comic-timing department, and isolated scenes are home runs for the duo.  Operating mostly in the background as a go-betweener and gopher, Alix Rikki Ogawa provides a nice contrast with her subtle and silent character, appropriately named Mute.

Strong and buoyant, Musical Director Corey Hirsch and harpist Jillian Risigari-Gai keep the musical afloat.  Hirsch, not overlooking the help of Ogawa’s Mute, could have used an extra hand to turn pages at the keyboard, but the harp playing added a nice touch of class, sparkle, and magic.

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Producer/Director Janet Miller offers simple but effective staging that suitably fits the nature of the musical.  Kathy Gillespie’s bright and whimsical costumes provide a glimpse of color against the backdrop of the rather drab Lillian Theater. Robert Schroeder’s unassuming set would benefit from more involved lighting from designer Katherine Barrett.  It seems odd that such a small space would be acoustically challenging (no sound designer credited), but it’s tough to hear all of the lyrics, owing in part to some of the players’ inability to better project.

Whether on the fringe or in the commercial mainstream, The Fantasticks is a force to reckon with, and even though some of the performances don’t soar, Miller creates some very fond feelings with this revival.

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photos by Sherry Barnett

The Fantasticks
Good People Theater Company
part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival
Theatre Asylum (Lillian Theatre), 6320 Santa Monica Blvd
scheduled to end on June 29, 2014
for tickets, visit The Fringe Site
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or more info, visit Good People Theater Co

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Emilio Burgoa June 12, 2014 at 10:57 am

This show is so poorly sung, it should play THE CRINGE FESTIVAL.

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