The Shawnee Theatre has mounted a delightfully creative and engaging production of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's durable musical The Fantasticks.
The show is a truly theatrical creation made out of what seems to be a patchwork of theatrical sources, from a parody of Romeo and Juliet to A Midsummer Night's Dream, with the wall that separates Pyramus and Thisbee; from a pair of scheming fathers to a mysterious narrator to a bandit called El Gallo.
Melissa Boatright is perfect as the daffy, romantic sixteen-year-old Luisa. She's neatly matched by Andres Enriquez as Matt, her equally clueless twenty-year-old love.
Their fathers, Dave Cole and Martin Gonzalez, are plotting to bring the two together. Their plan depends on the contrary spirit of youth, to stage a feud and build a wall to separate their homes.
To further cement the bond between their offspring, the parents arrange for the mysterious El Gallo (Brian Quijada) to stage an abduction of Luisa, so that Matt can sweep in and rescue her. The first act ends happily, with the lovers and the fathers in a happy tableau under the moonlight.
As the second act begins, the sun begins to bake the quartet, and the romance comes unraveled as the thinly staged plotting of the fathers falls apart. Matt sets out to experience the world, and Luisa seeks romance in the arms of an only slightly unwilling El Gallo. Matt, Luisa, and both their fathers are all a bit battered, but having become more worldly, they're allowed a secondand considerably wiserhappy ending.
An Eloquent Mute, An Actor Who Mixes His Roles, And An Ersatz Indian
Throughout this production of The Fantasticks, one of the most eloquent characters is played by Nigel Brown. As the mute, Brown never says a word, but he's a key player in every scene, smoothly mirroring the emotions of the other actors, moving set pieces, and even dancing in harmony with some of the action. Also much appreciated are Josh Sazon as Henry, the ditzy old actor, and Luke Shares as his dramatic "Indian" partner, Mortimer.
It's a strong cast all around, both in the acting and the singing. One could ask for a bit more legato from Matt and El Gallo, but that would be a quibble. And things in the middle of the second act seemed to run a little long, but that's an even smaller quibble.
Roger Smith and Laura Young-Helms at twin keyboards were a very effective orchestra. Brandon Bruce's direction, with choreography by Heather Michele Lawler, was always cleverly inventive and yet flowing. If you've never seen The Fantasticks, this is a good production to start with. And if you're familiar with the show, it's well worth a revisit.
At the theatre for you, I'm George Walker