Saturday, March 31, 2018

Review of "The Fantasticks"

It’s not often that a musical is impeccably cast and exquisitely staged, but when it occurs it can be a moving and enchanting experience. The Fantasticks, playing at the Ivoryton Playhouse through April 8th, falls into this category.  A simple tale with a superb score and an innocent charm, the production is well-worth seeing.
Members of the cast of "The Fantasticks" at the Ivoryton Playhouse.

The book by Tom Jones plays on the classic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back.  Matt (Ryan Bloomquist) and Luisa (Kimberly Immanuel), two young lovers living next door to each other, are the embodiment of impulsive exuberance.  Their mothers, Hucklebee (Patricia Schuman) and Bellomy (Carly Callahan) outwardly disapprove of the relationship and each other, but secretly are strong friends and want marriage for their offspring.  They employ a bandit, El Gallo (David Pittsinger), who brings along two accomplices, Henry (R. Bruce Connelly) and Mortimer (Will Clark) to help fake an abduction that makes Matt look like a hero.  Throughout the show a character known as The Mute (Cory Candelet) acts as a one-man Greek chorus providing assistance to others as well as delivering comedic interludes.  The plot by the women succeeds and at the end of Act I, everything is rosy.  However, Act II brings a darker tone to the story where self-discovery and introspection by the youthful pair, now branching out separately to the world outside their secure and sheltered world, becomes central to the narrative.  In the end, life lessons strengthen their bond as they resolve to forge ahead together.

The score by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt is one for the ages.  It includes such timeless classics as “Try to Remember,” “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” and “Round and Round.”  The songs, accompanied simply by piano and harp, are charming and melodic, gorgeously rendered by the performers.

The cast is superb, led by David Pittsinger as El Gallo.  The bass-baritone has been a fixture the past few years at Ivoryton.  I was not totally enthralled with his Emile de Becque in South Pacific, but I thought he was outstanding as Don Quixote in last season’s Man of La Mancha.  Here, he is fittingly roguish with a twinkle in his eye and a lighthearted bounce in his step as the lead actor.  His rendition of the musical’s signature song, “Try to Remember,” is one of the highlights of the production. 
Kimberly Immanuel and David Pittsinger from "The Fantasticks" at the Ivoryton Playhouse.
The young couple, Ryan Bloomquist and Kimberly Immanuel, have a wonderful chemistry as they burst forth with potential and possibilities.  Naïve at first, by the final curtain they show a more knowing view of themselves and the world around them.  Ms. Immanuel is luminescent, exuding an effervescent quality that brightens the show.  Mr. Bloomquist projects a youthful bravado that matches the cheerfulness and vitality of his love interest.  In the supporting role of the two mothers, Patricia Schuman and Carly Callahan are suitably protective, nurturing, and befittingly display motherly concern and angst.  R. Bruce Connelly, as the old-time actor and hired hand, demonstrates his vibrancy and comic talents.  His partner in crime, Will Clark, proves an affable, equally comic, foil.  One of the most engaging performances is by Cory Candelet as The Mute.  Sometimes lurking in the background or off to the side, at other times more center stage, his clownish antics and silent screen-like histrionics add a giddy embellishment that enlivens the musical.

Brian Feehan’s direction is beautifully staged, combining subtle flourishes with explicit and straightforward guidance.  There is a polished sheen to the production that, nonetheless, does not overwhelm the unfussiness and forthrightness of the show.  He has a confident hand with the acting troupe that gives the production an engaging and assured flow. Interestingly, traditional presentations of the musical have two fathers, as opposed to female characters, cast in the show.  There is no mention in the program whether this was Mr. Feehan’s decision or otherwise but, either way, it has no effect on the quality or thrust of the show.

The scenic design by Martin Scott Marchitto uses a classical colonnade motif, which goes hand-in-hand with the archetype naturalness of the show.  The set is uncluttered, allowing for our imagination to reflect and ponder.

The Fantasticks, currently the best musical playing in Connecticut.

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