theatre review

by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt
Quintessence Musical Theatre
Waterfront Theatre
Granville Island
July 16-31

In what is shaping up to be one of the strongest summers for theatre here in years, along comes The Fantasticks, produced by the company that gave us last season’s terrific version of Sondheim’s Assassins. Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s glorious little musical ran off-Broadway for 42 years and over 17,000 performances, deconstructing romance, melodrama and theatre itself with unusual intelligence and exquisite music and lyrics.

Self-consciously naïve in its theatricality, The Fantasticks tells a story of romantic young lovers, their fathers who try to get them together by pretending to keep them apart, and the narrator, El Gallo, who drags them out of the moonlit innocence of adolescence into the cynical, sunlit realism of adulthood. “Try to Remember,” “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “I Can See It” top the list, but every song is a gem.

I have to admit to a serious prejudice here. I saw the show in 1964 on my first date with the woman who would become my first wife. The marriage wasn’t very successful, but The Fantasticks imprinted itself on my soul. I know it intimately and love it passionately. My inner bar is set very high for this show.

In many respects the Quintessence production does it justice. Lauren Bowler is nearly perfect as the moonstruck girl who prays, “Please God, don’t let me be normal.” Her solo “Much More” and her duets with the boy and El Gallo are highlights. Vince Metcalfe and Raimund Stamm are sufficiently delightful as the good-natured fathers. William Samples and Kevin Williamson take a while to warm up as the cut-rate, corny old actors who help El Gallo teach the lovers their life lessons, but when they do they are funny. The four-piece band does a lovely job with the score, especially Scott Knight on piano--and when was the last time you heard a musical with harp accompaniment?

But the production never quite lifts off. Co-directors Andy Toth and David Adams seem to have taken their cue from the lyric, “Try to remember/the kind of September/when life was slow/and oh so mellow.” The tempo of nearly every musical number seems a little slow. And Steve Maddock as El Gallo, who sets the tone and really drives the show, is just too mellow, his cynicism lacking edge and power. He looks the part and has a sweet voice but it’s too light for the role. Ditto for Scott Perrie as the boy, who otherwise does a fine job. The show wants bigger, stronger voices and greater intensity in these central characters.

Listen to the original El Gallo, Jerry Orbach of Law & Order fame, on The Fantasticks web site. But see this show too, if you’re young or old, a parent or a kid, an actor or a lover. It really is fantastic.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 8:10 PM
website design by Linda Fenton Malloy