CENTERVILLE — With just a little imagination, a simple fable between a boy, a girl, two fathers, and a wall transforms into a beautiful adventure of love, hurt, and reconciliation. Written in 1960 with book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt, The Fantasticks has the record for being the world’s longest running musical with an impressive 42 years and 17,162 performances off-Broadway. The Fantasticks at Centerpoint Legacy Theatre’s Leishman Hall, directed by Josh Richardson, is a wonderful show that feels intimate in the smaller space, thanks to its proximity and interaction with the audience. With a cast of only eight talented cast members and a simple but impressive set with its large tall trees setting the backdrop, one can almost feel the rustic country breeze and breath the mountain air.
A dynamic and talented Chuck Gilmore plays the cunning El Gallo, a fitting name that translates as “the rooster.” Gilmore’s performance set the tone for the success of the night as he sang the familiar song “Try To Remember.” With his curved mustache, one earring, fancy coat and top hat, his character smoothly moved the story along not only as the narrator, but also as the crafty and keen bandit. Gillmore’s stomping, clapping, and snapping along with his accent when describing the planned abduction was especially effective in “It Depends on What You Pay.”
The young lovers, played by Niki With Padilla as Louisa and Christian Johnston as Matt, were dramatic and captivating. Johnston’s first monologue was exquisite, followed by his precision in singing in “Metaphor,” showed his skillful acting and singing. Padilla’s excitement and energy was fitting of a 16-year-old girl in love and dreaming away in unrealistic fancies. Her beauty and charming acting was lovely. However, Padilla struggled with singing the correct pitch in her songs, especially throughout “Soon It’s Gonna Rain.” This wonderful song, unfortunately, lost much of its beauty because of the flat notes in Padilla’s vocals.
The two fathers, played by David J. Madsen and Nathan Sachs, were so enjoyable to watch. Their duets in “Never Say No” and “Plant a Radish” were filled with dancing and acting that were jovial and upbeat. Sach’s cheery laughs and whoops and Madsen’s rustic farmer grumbling make the interactions between these two fathers really amusing.
Randy Honaker played Henry, an elderly actor who misquotes famous lines of Shakespeare, yet thinks he is getting it right. Honaker was so delightful to watch with his smile and fluffy white hair painted blue that made him seem more like a clown than a true actor. His sidekick, Mortimer, was played by Genesis Eve Garcia. Garcia’s overacting during Mortimer’s pretend death was impressive. It made me think of Judy Hop’s “Blood, blood and death” in Zootopia, but much longer and more dramatic, complete with a bright red scarf portraying fake blood. I would love to watch Garcia do it over and over to hear her say, “Die again Mortimer, die again.”
The Mute was played by Amy Brown Coffin, who also played the piano for most of the show. Coffin was very talented pianist and an important part of the cast, even though she did not even speak one word. Keeping with the simple feel of the show, there was no other orchestra or soundtrack. Sound designer Camille Chandler had all of the music and sound effects performed by the small cast while onstage, yet sitting in chairs along the sides of the theatre. Simple percussion instruments created all of the sound effects like frog noises, intense drumming, and even claps of thunder.
Lighting designed by Nathan Hadley was key to setting the mood and telling the story with such a simple set. The first act was infused with cool blue colors, like moonlight, while the second act was red and intense like the sun. The red spotlight on Mortimer’s pretend death and missed spotlight for Henry’s farewell were great details that focused the audience on what was important. The vegetables tossed back and forth between the fathers, the red feather in Mortimer’s cap, the fencing sword, and elaborate painted moon and sun were all simple yet wonderful props, designed by propmaster Raquel Davis, that were important parts of telling this fantastical fable.
Overall, The Fantasticks at Centerpoint Legacy Theatre was such a sweet and wonderful production. Although the show is older, audiences of all ages will enjoy this wonderful melodramatic tale. The Fantasticks is not just for the parents and grandparents who are reminiscing of a time when “life was slow and oh, so mellow.” This is a show that even the kids will enjoy.