By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
In a world where even a modest community theater offering can cost thousands to produce, it is nice to know that a minimalist show like The Fantasticks still speaks to audiences, as it has since its initial 42-year, 17,162 performance off-Broadway run. The power of the show, when properly done, is in the simple story and the tiny band of actors who tell the tale. H.A.R.T. Theatre, under the direction of Glen York, brings just such a Fantasticks to the Hillsboro stage.
The program sets the scene; even before the actors appear, we read that the setting is “Time: A little while ago” and “Place: On stage.” Two boxes, a bench, a ladder, a crudely framed platform, some sticks, a fine pianist (Linda Smith), and the omnipresent Mute (Heather Sutherland) replace the full pantheon of sets, special effects, and orchestra that normally clutter up more lavish shows.
The 1960 musical by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones is loosely based on “Les Romanesques,” a play by Edmund Rostand of Cyrano fame. The story is as simple as the set, and makes no more pretense at realism. A boy, a girl, two fathers, a wall (good job, Heather!), and a (literally) fantastic trio of faux villains tell the tale of young love denied, realized, forsaken, and reborn – all this in under two hours with songs!
Jake Beaver (The Narrator, El Gallo) anchors the small but mighty cast with an impressive combination of timing, physical comedy, tongue-in-cheek delivery, and surprisingly sensitive vocals. Matt Rowning and Sarah Thornton are effective in their portrayals of Matt (The Boy) and Luisa (The Girl). Rowning brings a charmingly nerdy touch to the role that makes his turn as a hero particularly funny. In a less balanced cast, Thornton would simply steal the show. She has a lovely and powerful voice and well-honed comic timing; her wide-eyed innocence does little to prepare us for the fiercely independent woman who emerges in Act II.
Stan Yeend and Nick Hamilton as the fathers are triple threats – their voices blend beautifully, the dance numbers are beyond hilarious, and they deliver their lines with understated comic subtlety. While “Try to Remember” is the best-known song from the show, Hamilton and Yeend make “Plant a Radish” the most memorable number in H.A.R.T.’s production.
Blatant comic relief is provided by two of the funniest guys we’ve seen this year – William Wilson (The Old Actor) and Seth Rue (The Man Who Dies). This mismatched duo brings the unmatchable flair of two-bit overactors to roles that demand unrestrained physical comedy.
Solo, duet, and ensemble numbers all display the sure hand of vocal director Alice Dalrymple, who makes the most of an already talented group of singers. Maria White’s quirky costumes cast a complementary aura of surrealism that supports the director’s vision.
If you’ve never seen The Fantasticks, H.A.R.T.’s production is a great introduction. If you know and love the show, you don’t want to miss this marvelously intimate offering of a theatrical icon.
The Fanstasticks runs through Sunday, September 22 with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays at H.A.R.T. Theater, 185 S.E.Washington, Hillsboro.