Olivia Hudson and Rudy Martinez in The Fantasticks
The simple and timeless story of The Fantasticks, set to lilting, haunting melodies by Harvey Schmidt with book and lyrics by Tom Jones, holds the distinction of being the longest continuously running production in theatrical history.
It’s based loosely on The Romancers, by Edmond Rostand, and draws elements from the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. Other influences were Our Town, which gave the play the Narrator (and possibly its minimalism) and Servant of Two Masters, which provided the concept of actors sitting stage-side when not performing (though for the Scripps Ranch production, they sit behind the main platform).
The plot is deceptively simple, but with many psychological and allegorical layers. Neighboring fathers trick their children into falling in love by pretending to feud.
At Scripps, Ted Lieb directs with just the right touch of whimsy, pathos, and irony. The choreography by Mary Allison Dunsmore and Mariel Shaw is merely serviceable, not innovative.
The ingénue leads Drew Bradford (as Matt) and Olivia Hudson (as Luisa) are aptly suited for their roles: just the right ages for their parts, which is not always the case with productions of this piece. Their voices, while not brilliant, produce pleasing sounds.
As El Gallo, Rudy Martinez elegantly narrates and interacts with fellow cast members in a superb performance. He sings “Try to Remember” with a gentle confidence and underlying tenderness that works well. The always problematic “The Abduction Ballet” — it was originally called the “Rape Ballet” — is done for comic effect but does not come off as very funny. The one exception to this, Martinez blends comic and dramatic action seamlessly.
Besides the enigmatic “Try to Remember,” other songs, performed with skill, are “Never Say Never,” “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” “Plant a Radish,” and the gorgeous “They Were You.”
Eric Poppick as Bellamy, one of the fathers, stands out in a cleverly modulated performance both stylized and real at the same time. Ralph Johnson, as Hucklebee, the other father, is not quite as effective, falling into the trap of caricature too often.
Dagmar Krause Fields as Henrietta (usually played by a man as Henry) and Devin Collins as Mortimer nicely round out the speaking parts with flair and enthusiasm.
One of the director’s choices, having two Mutes changing props and set pieces instead of just one, works beautifully and helps the overall flow. The Mutes, delicately portrayed by Mariel Shaw and Eden Young, add much to the audience enjoyment of this effort.
The set pieces by Bob Shuttleworth are mere suggestions, as they should be — but artfully conceived. The lighting by Mitchell Simkovsky runs the gamut from elegant simplicity to theatrical magic, while the costumes by Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd add the frosting to this special desert.
Playing through December 18