Easy to Remember Music in The Fantasticks at Ivoryton Playhouse
Even though at 42 years old, The Fantasticks is the world’s longest running musical (1960-2002), it’s interesting that no one I know seems to remember the storyline, but everyone remembers the melody and words to its iconic theme song, “Try to Remember.”
Chosen by The Ivoryton Playhouse for its opening spring production, under Jill Brunelle’s fine musical direction, the cast does justice to the musical’s beautiful, nostalgic song and many other strong numbers, written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt.
The Fantasticks is a whimsical allegory inspired by the play The Romancers (Les Romanesques) by Edmond Rostand, in which two neighboring fathers—in the Ivoryton production, mothers—invent a feud in order to trick their teenagers, Luisa and Matt, into falling in love—a bit of a twist on Romeo and Juliet.
To end the “fake” feud, the mothers hire a professional kidnapper, El Gallo, to capture Luisa so that Matt can rescue her and be the hero. Of course, all kinds of complex intrigue, crazy antics, dark moments, and romantic adventures ensue before all ends happily, the young lovers reconciling, realizing that all they ever wanted was each other, culminating in the touching number “They Were You.”
Of local and international fame, Essex residents David Pittsinger plays El Gallo, the narrator (he has also starred in recent years at the Ivoryton in South Pacific and Man of LaMancha) and his wife Patricia Schuman plays Hucklebee, Matt’s mother, both enhancing the production with their acclaimed operatic baritone and soprano vocals.
Schuman plays well off her partner in crime, Carly Callahan as Bellamy, Luisa’s mother.
Branford native Ryan Bloomquist, who has appeared on Broadway and in regional shows across the U.S., performs the role of Matt with charm and commanding vocals, nicely complimenting Kimberly Immanuel as Luisa. Immanuel is making her debut at the theater and brings good energy and believability to the role, particularly in the “Round and Round” fantasy number (nicely choreographed by Brian Feehan, who also directs the show) and vocalizes pleasingly with Bloomquist in “Metaphor,” “Soon it’s Gonna Rain,” and in her one solo, “Much More.”
Well-loved Ivoryton regular R. Bruce Connelly as Henry and Will Clark as Mortimer, lowbrow actors hired by El Gallo to stage the kidnapping, add the appropriate shtick and slapstick humor—Clark is particularly funny performing a dragged-out death scene.
Cory Clendelet gracefully performs the unusual role of The Mute, always observing on the fringes of the action, and assisting El Gallo, he also becomes the metaphorical wall separating the families.
At times the production is a little disjointed and Marcus Abbott’s lighting can be overpowering on the static Greek-inspired set by Martin Scott Marchitto.
But it’s an enjoyable show overall and a chance for audiences to re-familiarize themselves not only with the musical’s classic hit song but its classic story of young love, heartbreak, untruths, and meddling parents…that stands up pretty well to the test of time. Plus lots of garden references (expressed in the songs “Plant a Radish,” and “This Plum is Too Ripe”) that we can all use about now!
Amy J. Barry has been writing about Connecticut professional theater for more than 25 years. She is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. (ctcritics.org).
The Fantasticks is at The Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street in Ivoryton, through Sunday, April 8. Tickets can be purchased by calling the playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.