The Fantastiks may be the longest-running musical in off-Broadway history, but it remains a delicate mixture of magic, satire, and bittersweet memories. This balance is disrupted in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's current production by both the staging and a gender change in a key role.
Matt (Nick Henderson) and Louisa (Emily Van Fleet) are in love. Their parents, Bellomy (Timothy Orr) and Hucklebee (Tammy Meneghini), are ex-Navy buddies and neighbors who want to make the match work, so they pretend to feud and put a fence between their houses. The kids rebel as expected and draw closer together. Various trials ensue, but there is a happy ending, with everyone the wiser for it.
|Emily Van Fleet as Luisa|
and Nick Henderson as Matt
Photo: Glenn Asakawa
for CU Communications
The show is staged indoors at the University Theatre with the same in-the-round seating (a substantial number of audience members are seated on the stage facing the auditorium), center ramp (from the back of the auditorium to the stage), and pattern of ceiling scenery as Measure for Measure, which is performed on alternate nights in repertory.
Economic considerations aside, using unamplified voices in a hall this large—and blocking those voices so that they all-too-occasionally speak and sing away from most of the audience—is a mistake that none of the many fine regional musical theatre venues would make.
What comes our way, though, is pleasing. Henderson's nuances are impressive and Van Fleet captures the girlish frills, while Orr and Meneghini have good camaraderie, considering the limitations imposed by gender realignment from the original script. Additionally, with Hucklebee now a woman, subtexual questions arise as to the nature of her relationship with Bellomy that complicate the issues around the rebuilding of the wall.
The story is narrated by El Gallo (Seth Pantich), who is also a magician and the stage director of sorts. Pantich is a superb grounding force, yet provides a full range of romantic and cynical possibilities. Lenne Klingaman is captivating as his Mute assistant.
And for all of you who love the sublime hit song, "Try to Remember," and never seen this show, hearing it in context will enrich your appreciation.
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's production of The Fantastiks runs through August 8th, in repertory with King Lear, Measure for Measure, The Taming of the Shrew, and Our Town. 303-492-0554 or www.coloradoshakes.org.