By David L. MUNNELL
The Victorian Players has decided to tread new ground this year by producing its first musical, directed by J.E. Ballantyne Jr. What this little theater has managed to accomplish is nothing short of fantastic.
“The Fantasticks” was originally produced in 1960 off-Broadway and is one of the longest-running musicals in theater history. The plot is relatively simple. It is the story of young love and adventure spanning the excitement of the moonlit nighttime beginnings of love to the eventual reality of spending a lifetime with another person in the sun. All of this is told as a show within a show.
The Narrator, played by Tom Kusiowski, introduces the cast to the audience. There are the girl, Luisa, played by Sarah Puhala, and the boy, played by Nathan Robert Pecchia, who are madly in love. Their cunning fathers, Hucklebee, played by Tom Gent, and Bellomy, played by Brian H. Lee, seem to keep the lovers apart. Later on, two players join the cast: Henry, played by Ballantyne and Mortimer, played by Ed Vostand. Also running around the stage wherever he is needed as props or scenery is The Mute, played by Vinnie Dragos.
Puhala and Pecchia are absolutely delightful as the exuberant young lovers. It is difficult to not grin from ear to ear from the explosion of energy they put into their characters. Not to be outdone, the elder actors, Gent and Lee are equally dynamic as the conniving fathers. The two gentlemen have almost perfect timing as they perform with vaudevillian aplomb. These four actors carry this show fantastically.
Kusiowski as the Narrator, and later as El Gallo, is pleasant in his approach to his character. However, as the puppet-master of the evening, reciting poetry and being a flamboyant vagabond, he lacked the level of intensity showcased by the other actors. Though Ballantyne’s portrayal of Henry the player is as old and tired as the character he is trying to play, Vostand is a joy to behold as Mortimer, his assistant. Also, take a closer look at this “fresh, new” actor. You may recognize “him.”
The biggest issues I took with this production was in the staging. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the director had only some of the actors onstage when they weren’t needed if he was just going to have their backs to the audience. They might as well have exited. Also, I felt awkward for Dragos as The Mute as he was given very little action to do with such potential in the part. However, what he was given he did very well.
Gripes aside, I cannot recommend this show enough. The intimate setting and dynamic characters set the bar high for seasons to come. “The Fantasticks” will be performed today at 2 p.m. and for the following two weekends at The Victorian Players Theater, 702 Mahoning Ave., Youngstown. Call 330-746-5455 for information or reservations.