LOGAN — Love is in the air in Logan as the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre’s production of The Fantasticks takes to the stage. I have not had a chance to go to the Utah Theatre since I was in college (an undisclosed number of years ago) when it served as a second-run movie theater. It had an art deco charm, but was a little shabby. Since that time, it has been beautifully renovated by the UFO&MT into an intimate, picturesque space which was perfect for The Fantasticks.
The Fantasticks (with book and lyrics are by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt) first opened in May of 1960 and lasting long enough to become the longest-running theatrical production in history of American theatre. It is a simple love story about a boy and a girl whose fathers have decided that they want their children to marry each other. They also know that the best way to get children to want something, is to say they can’t have it. So, the two fathers scheme together a feud and build a wall between the two houses. They forbid their children to see one another, so naturally the teens rebel and start sneaking away to the wall to be together.
This version of The Fantasticks is delightful with strong vocals and great comic timing. The narrator of the play is El Gallo, played by Kyle Pfortmiller, who gave a solid performance throughout the show. His voice was deep and sonorous as he performed “Try to Remember” in such a lovely manner. El Gallo also has several duets, and Pfortmiller was a strong partner with beautiful harmony and a great range.
The young lovers are Luisa (played by Vanessa Ballam) and Matt (played by Stefan Espinosa). Ballam performs Luisa well as a ditzy, over-dramatic young girl of 16. Ballam used those moments with good comedic timing and had an angelic soprano voice which blended beautifully with Espinosa. The two ended the show with a touching love song “They Were You,” which gives a nice arc on their love story, taking it from a rebellious fantasy into something solid and dependable. Espinosa especially showed a lot of range both vocally and as an actor. His comedic timing was great, but he also had flares of passion and anger that played well.
The two fathers are played by Curt Olds and W. Lee Daily. In “Never Say No,” the two explain their plan, and I found it so funny. The way the two actors moved and interacted was genius. Director Rory Willats made moves like toe tapping together or leaning on one another give the number a vaudeville feel, and it worked brilliantly.
The last three actors in the play were all strong in their own way. The Mute (played by Alex Lambert) has no lines but was a strong element in the play. A role like The Mute only works in live theatre and enhances the experience as he tosses glitter rain romantically onto the lovers or tosses confetti around the stage in celebration. The old actor Henry (played by Jared Rounds) was funny as he misquotes great lines of Shakespeare or berates his companion Mortimer (played by Levi Hopkins) telling him there are “no small actors, only small parts.”
The script does show its age in a few places. Most notably in the reference to “rape.” The fathers decide to hire a professional to stage a kidnapping of Louisa so that Matt can feel like a hero. The word is used in the sense of the “Rape of the Sabine Women” (as in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), and the word was replaced with “abduction” for the most part in this production. The ensuing “Rape (or Abduction) Ballet” was very funny and all the actors did a great job with the physicality of it, but for a 21st century audience member, it is disturbing that Louisa’s father agrees to the plan and is more concerned about what it will cost him to pay for it.
Technically the production was very good. I loved the costume design by Jennifer Sheshiko Wood. Her design connects parent to child with color and enhances the performance greatly. The set design by Tim Case was simple but still gave a great use of the very nice space that the Utah Theatre offers. A big part of the design is a large box which holds everything that the actors will need to tell the story — including some of the actors. Of all the props that come out of the almost magical box, one prop is mentioned in the program as being the original tambourine from the original opening night of The Fantasticks back on May 3, 1960, which is a special piece of theatre history.
Act II’s strange number “Round and Round” had many well executed technical elements to create an array of shadows and design. The actors put on masks with a commedia dell’arte feel, however the tone of the song itself is frenzied and dark. The story telling feels a little garbled during that number, and I was glad when it was over and the lovers were able to reunite.
After watching this excellent production, I can understand how The Fantasticks has endured for decades. It hits all the right notes for musical theatre. It is a classic love story combined with conspiring parents, fight scenes, and some glitter all performed to memorable heartwarming songs. For anyone who hasn’t seen it before, or wants to see it for the 100th time, UFO&MT’s production of The Fantasticks is a must-see.