Cast keeps ‘Fantasticks’ fresh, flawless and funny

By Tracey D’Astolfo

SALEM — The minimalist commedia dell’arte style of “The Fantasticks” is part of the appeal that made it the world’s longest-running musical, and Salem Community Theatre doesn’t mess with the formula in its production of the show.

“The Fantasticks,” a musical romantic comedy, with music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones, opened in 1960 at the off-Broadway Sullivan Street Playhouse and didn’t close until 2002, after running for 17,162 performances.

It uses eight cast members and a two musical accompanists. The sparse set includes a raised platform at the center of the stage, a sheetlike curtain and a box of props off to the side. In true improvisational style, the props are sticks, a cardboard moon, paper confetti and a few other odds and ends. Direction is by Craig Snay with music direction by Ed Phillips.

“The Fantasticks” tells the story of Luisa and Matt, a young couple in love but separated from each other by a wall constructed by their bickering fathers. The audience learns that the fathers actually want their children to marry and are using the wall as a form of reverse psychology.

As part of their plot, the fathers hire a shady character, El Gallo, to stage an abduction of Luisa. Two washed-up old actors, Henry and Mortimer, are also enlisted to help with the abduction. One last character in the show is a mute, played by Ryan Sowards, who acts as the wall and confetti thrower, hands out props and provides some comic relief.

Melanie Williams is fresh-faced, dreamy and innocent as Luisa, the girl who falls in love with the boy next door, Matt. Josh Lewis is well cast as the earnest and honorable Matt and he and Williams do a nice job singing “Soon It’s Gonna Rain.”

The central character, El Gallo, is played by Rob Dumovic, who also sings the show’s trademark song, “Try To Remember.” Dumovic’s performance of the song is outstanding. Williams is also a strong vocalist in the production.

Dick Fawcett and Wayne Morlock show no flaws as the manipulative fathers who prize their gardens and bemoan the fact that children aren’t more like vegetables in “Plant A Radish.”

Some of the funniest scenes are provided by Dave Bedell and Dan Haueter, playing Henry and Mortimer, as they flounder about and misquote Shakespeare while “auditioning” for parts in the abduction of Luisa.

Although some of the script may be a bit dated, the moral of the story is timeless and keeps the show fresh, as does the memorable musical score. Salem also stays true to the oddball beatnik origins of “The Fantasticks” that makes the musical so different.

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