PLEASANT GROVE — The Fantasticks is a lot of things. It is a beatnik musical. It is a story of young love. It is a homage to classical theatre. The Pleasant Grove Players production of The Fantasticks is all of these things, but — most importantly — it is a charming show that reminds audiences why live theatre can be special.
Based on the play Les Romanesques by Edmond Rostand, The Fantasticks tells the story of Matt and Luisa, two young neighbors who enter a secret romantic relationship. Unbeknownst to them, their parents want them to fall in love. But knowing the rebellious nature of young people, the parents pretend to forbid the relationship by building a wall between the homes. After Matt and Luisa’s love blooms, the parents must solve the problem of how to reconcile the families. Enter the mysterious El Gallo, whom the parents pay to fake a kidnapping of Luisa so that Matt can rescue her and be a hero. At the end of the first act, Matt and Luisa get married, but then in the second act they learn to experience married life in the light of day.
Tom Jones‘s script and lyrics, coupled with the simplicity of Harvey Schmidt‘s music, hide nothing. Everything that actors need to make the show work is on the page and in the score. All a smart director has to do is get the show on its feet, have a light touch, and trust the play. Thankfully, directors Howard and Kathryn Little did just that. I appreciated the symmetrical blocking in the early scenes and the choice to keep the Mute (played by Daisy Art Bailey) on stage the entire time to serve as a source of stability in the world of the play. Additionally, the way the four main characters passed the plum to one another to start a new verse in “This Plum Is Too Ripe” was clever. The only shortcoming was in the “Abduction Ballet,” which for many parts lacked excitement because of some slow action.
The strongest member of this cast was Rebecca Boberg as Luisa. Boberg’s early portrayal of Luisa as a flighty, naïve teenager was appealing, but also gave the character plenty of room to grow. Boberg’s vocals are the most refined in the cast, and her lovely soprano voice is well suited to the unpretentious music of “They Were You” and “Much More.” Boberg was also the production’s choreographer, and the graceful dancing for Luisa and El Gallo was especially memorable because of the sharp contrast to the torture Matt experienced.
Opposite Boberg was Caleb Wallengren as Matt. Wallengren can match Boberg in making his character idealistic, and his enthusiastic delivery of the monologue where Matt explains his plans for a wedding was among the most energetic moments of the play. Where Wallengren struggled was in creating an emotional connection with Boberg. As a result, “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “Metaphor” lacked some of their romantic power. But Wallengren made up for it with “They Were You,” and the tears that Matt shared with Luisa when they realized their mistakes were the most touching moment of the evening.
Dallin Bradford played El Gallo, and I loved every minute of his performance. His subtle seduction of Luisa (such as when he stopped her from slapping him, or when Luisa ascended a ladder he was standing on), and his slick mannerisms made it believable that El Gallo was in charge of the interactions with the other characters. Also, Bradford’s nonchalant attitude while watching some of scenes from the side of the stage was a quiet but impactful way to emphasize the character’s enigmatic personality. Bradford excelled at singing “Try to Remember” and “It Depends on What You Pay,” though I could tell his voice was getting tired in the second act. Bradford was not unique in this, though. I saw the show’s first Saturday night performance, and I could hear several cast members’ voices showing early signs of strain after a long week of tech rehearsals and performances. I hope the cast gets some vocal rest before resuming the run of the show.
In keeping with the style of The Fantasticks, the technical elements for this production are simple. (The Fantasticks would look weird as a flashy show full of technical effects and stage magic.) Tina Fontana created an appealing set painted with an autumn backdrop featuring hills and aspen trees. Her triumph was the design of the trunk and the rear-end of the old-timey car it rested on. Fontana also designed the 1930s costumes; Luisa’s green patterned dress was pretty, despite its basic, unshowy design. Indeed, El Gallo’s shiny vests and cape lining were the only hint of luxury in the clothes, and that was an effective way to distinguish him from the other characters. My only suggestion for improving the technical aspects for the show would be for lighting designer Howard Little to add some lighting changes to distinguish the night scenes from the daytime scenes.
The beauty of The Fantasticks lies in its simplicity. The cast and crew at Pleasant Grove Players have leaned into that aesthetic and created a show features an appealing story, sincere performances, and uncomplicated directing that all reinforced the strengths of the play. Sure, there are some moments where the production’s status as community theatre was apparent. But these shortcomings only made the show more endearing. Seeing The Fantasticks in Pleasant Grove is an experience that is as sweet as being kissed upon the eyes.