By Larry Taylor/Garden Grove Journal
“The Fantasticks,” the longest running musical in the history of Broadway theater, opened this weekend in a new production at South Coast Repertory.
Written by Harvey Schmidt, with lyrics by Tom Jones, it tells an allegorical story, loosely based on the 19th century French play, “The Romancers.” Contributing to the musical’s long-running popularity are the array of beautiful songs led, by “Try to Remember.” (Many of the numbers were made popular in the Sixties by a very young Barbra Streisand.)
The basic story concerns two neighboring fathers (played by the scheming Gregory North and Scott Waara) who trick their children, Luisa and Matt, into falling in love by pretending to forbid their relationship.
They then hire El Gallo (the charismatic Perry Ojeda) and his motley henchmen (hilariously played by SCR veterans Richard Doyle and Hal Landon, Jr. (Landon’s eccentric character stands out n a very funny bit. giving us a rundown on the many ways to die.)
This sets the stage for the young son Matt (the charming Anthony Carrillo) to heroically seem to save the young daughter Luisa (a fetching Addi McDonnell, whose pure soprano is a pleasure to hear).
When the children discover the deception, they reject the arranged love match and separate. Each then gains disillusioning experiences of the real world, seen in parallel fantasy sequences. They return to each other bruised but enlightened, and they renew their bond with a new maturity.
This is a standard moralizing tale, but that’s only the superficial story.The real charm in this comes through the creative carnival midway side show that sets the scene – magic, mischief and theatrical thrills — staged by director Amanda Dehnert, who is celebrated for re-imagining classics.
She has added riveting visual effects and fantastical illusions, borrowing liberally from the carnival world. Dollops of Shakespeare are thrown in too, especially from“Midsummer’s Night Dream.”
And, the real star of the show is Nate Dendy who plays a silent impresario, staging the whole proceedings as a runway attraction. All together, this emerges as two hours of enchantment. One can see why the crowd-pleaser runs on and on. It still continues in New York, and plays through June 9 on Segerstrom Stage in Costa Mesa.