Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's durable musical, which ran for more than 40 years off-Broadway and is a favorite of theater troupes around the world (due in no small part to its inherent charm and the simplicity of its staging), comes to Theatre West with all the charm intact.
Based on Edmond Rostand's 1894 play Les Romanesques, The Fantasticks is the simple story of two neighbors who engineer the marriage of their young children, Matt and Luisa, by pretending to hate each other and building a wall between their two houses. Their reverse psychology works, as Matt and Luisa's love has blossomed, so they then hire a traveling theater troupe to stage a mock abduction and make it appear that Matt heroically "rescues" Luisa and settling their phony feud. However, when the children discover the whole thing was a setup, they angrily part. Matt goes off in search of a new life while Luisa remains disillusioned at home. But when he returns, battered by the world but wiser, they happily reunite and are ready to start their life together with greater clarity and maturity.
Left to right: Don Moss, Joey Jennings, Yancey Dunham. Credit: Thomas Mikusz.
It's mandatory that The Fantasticks be staged with simplicity and given a light touch by all the actors. With its many self-aware references, it should feel like a show being put on for friends by friends, and the company at Theatre West hits all these notes right.
As El Gallo, the head of the theatre troupe, Lukas Bailey makes up in enthusiasm what he may lack in the singing department. Roger Kent Cruz and Steve Nevil do a fine job as the fathers, Hucklebee and Bellomy, even injecting a fun bit of Laurel and Hardy into their performances. Joey Jennings and Molly Reynolds have the strongest voices and are charming as the young lovers. Don Moss is a scene-stealer as the old ham actor, Henry, ably supported by Yancey Dunham as his sidekick, Mortimer. Venerable performer Lee Meriwether provides elegance to her role as the Mute.
Direction by Charlie Mount is fine—the actors are all working in the same key and are nicely choreographed. Dunham's lighting is evocative, as is Jeff G. Rack's simple but elegant set design. The musical accompaniment (traditionally performed with only piano and percussion) is well-directed by Graham Jackson. And the cast ably performs the show's memorable tunes, including the standards "Try To Remember" and "Soon It's Gonna Rain."
The Fantasticks plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through October 7 at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West. Reservations can be made online or by calling (323) 851-7977.