The Fantasticks has been running off-Broadway since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president for good reason. It is not because of an elaborate set, bright lights or dramatic costumes. The show has lasting appeal – its characters are likable, its songs are fun and its story is heart-warming. The GW Creative Performing Arts Community’s performance of the Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt show does the New York version proud.
The story focuses on two young lovers, Matt and Luisa, and their parents. As next-door neighbors, the parents decide to build a wall to separate the children, hoping the mystery will entice them to fall in love. And to finish the job, the parents hire El Gallo to construct an elaborate sword fight – “the rape” – so Matt can win and become the hero, forcing Luisa to fall in love with him. Although everything works well through the end of the first act, Matt and Luisa soon learn about their parents’ scam. The new family members are not as happy as they thought they would be, and Matt and Luisa separate to find adventure.
The show is led by an enthusiastic performance from Patrick Macmanus as El Gallo. He is comfortable with the role of the villain who steals Luisa’s heart. But what he brings to the role in acting is lost in his singing performance, when he practically screams the song “Rape” instead of singing it. His only favorable singing performance is “Try to Remember.” He has fun with the character and fits the role well, as he narrates the scenes and moves the show along efficiently.
Kerry Barnhart steals the show as Luisa. She breathes life into the character. She forces the audience to feel Luisa’s emotions and become excited with her. Her singing voice is beautiful, hitting the high notes strongly and sweetly as she falls in love, twice. Her portrayal of the innocent, love-stricken girl brightens up the dark stage as she swoons for Matt and El Gallo.
Barnhart plays opposite Travis Nesbitt, who gives a solid performance as Matt. He carries many of the show’s sappy love songs, including “Soon It’s Gonna Rain.” “Beyond That Road” needs more coordination between Nesbitt and Macmanus, but the song serves to reveal a darker side of Nesbitt’s character.
Although the parents are both fathers in the original version, CPAC adapted it to be one mother and one father. The parents, played by Jeremy Sykes and Sarah Brown, perform the two best songs in the show, “Just Say No” and “Plant a Radish,” in which they condemn children and praise gardens, respectively. Brown carries Sykes vocally, but the comedic pair play off each other well. They liven up the stage and make the show a true comedy.
The choreography of the “rape” scene is energetic and fun – a classic sword fight with a comedic twist. Choreographer Frannie Rosenberg does a lot with little space in the small theater, taking full advantage of the parents, who are wonderful physical comedians.
The five main characters are supported by a trio of necessary extras, including a mute (Amanda Passeri), who not only presents the props but plays some of them, and a pair of old-time actors (Rory Hauber and Michele Freedman), who are hired to abduct Luisa and later take Matt on a wild ride. With few props or special effects, the three characters play many roles and superbly execute them.
As a cast, the group works well. Director Carey Zimmerman unites the cast, and all of the actors seem to enjoy their roles. Although the singing leaves something to be desired, each actor has found an interesting niche for his or her character, and the actors mesh together into a solid tableau. The Fantasticks is a great comedic love story that reminds the audience that reality is always better than fiction.