THE FANTASTICKS is Fantastic! Trite but True …

by Lila Achuff

Oh, Baby! If you miss this production of THE FANTASTICKS at The Players Club of Swarthmore, you’ll be ever so sorry. Better yet, you have only seven chances to catch this production and, I promise you, you’ll thank me in the morning. Joseph P. Southard, Director, I’m thanking you now before I even get started. Sometimes I just feel so lucky to get to see a super production and this was one of those times. My guest and I had seen this show many years ago and really could barely recall what it was about. That’s a good thing. Then we’re prepared to be surprised but, of course, some surprises are better than others.

Charlie Seymour, Jr. of Wallingford, Liz Seymour Serpentine of Brookhaven, John Battagliese of West Chester and Ron Comer of Swarthmore in THE FANTASTICKS at the Players Club of Swarthmore Theater this month.

Book and lyrics by Tom Jones (don’t even think about it) and music by Harvey Schmidt, it’s the “world’s longest running musical” having had a run on off Broadway from 1960 to 2002! Currently a new revival is at the Snapple Theatre in NYC. During intermission one of the audience members informed me that this production was better than one she had recently seen in New York. Actually, I’m looking forward to watching a VHS tape of the film (1995) as soon as I’m done writing this. Ask me later.

OK, here’s the scoop … it’s a romance … a chick flick on stage! Our young lovers are the sweet, adorable and swooning 16 year old Luisa (Liz Seymour Serpentine) who sings beautifully (but, for my ears, slightly high pitched when speaking) and a Zac Ephron look alike named Matt (John Battagliese) who can sing to me forever (even though I didn’t always hear every word). (Perhaps it didn’t help that we could hear the heater going off now and then when we didn’t realize it was on sound-wise. See, if we keep filling those seats, they could consider a quieter heating system and a super sound system. And if they keep producing super shows, we’ll do our part, right?)

The sweeties, next door neighbors, have dads who have their best interests at heart and they, in their simple way, want to encourage Matt and Luisa’s relationship to bloom but choose to discourage it by building a wall to separate them. This reverse psychology is evident in a delightful song called “Never Say No”, my fav because the rhythm is a bouncy tango and difficult for me to not want to be part of the cute dance/movement. Luisa’s father, Bellamy, is played by her real father, Charlie Seymour, Jr. How cool is that? Matt’s father, Hucklebee (Ron Comer) and Bellamy are just a hoot together … they’re really buds pretending to be continually feuding which ultimately results in them really fussing with each other which then leads them to becoming friends again. Many reversals in the show keep the story engaging … sort of like a human pinball machine.

Before I continue, allow me to introduce four “characters” who provide the thread that keeps the story together, weaving in and out. The production almost seems to have a life of its own just with the music of The Pianist, played by Mickie Ferdinand, and that of The Harpist, played by Caitlin Mehrtens. It seems to bounce, sway, skip, jump, dance, leap, hide … float. Just listen. El Gallo (he’ll correct you), played extremely well by Robert Miller, is the cocky double-edged narrator. On the one hand, he appears evil and gangster-like, while on the other, he is the pivotal performer who is teaching life lessons to all the other characters and perhaps to those of us in the audience who haven’t gotten them yet. The stage is just another type of classroom, I say. His solo “Try to Remember” just might bring a tear to your eye. And Jenna Sharples, playing The Mute, your face is simply beguiling! Those eyes! You nailed that role so well that I was hard-pressed to take my eyes off you … your every movement, every facial expression, every tilt of your head, toes pointed out, the way you kept your hands together on your satchel and your hip, no expression but full of expression, body upright. Either you are such a natural and/or great directing. OK, so keep me posted on your future performances. Need to keep my eye on you. With minimal staging, The Mute’s continual presence provides a reflection of the emotions of the individuals along with their movements from place to place. Love the hat!

Just when everyone is happy and everything is hunky-dory our couple becomes disenchanted with each other (sound familiar?). The dads step in, hire El Gallo to help them stage first a kidnapping of Matt and then a fake “rape” of Luisa with the idea that this convoluted scheme will bring the lovers back together again. He, in turn, hires two actors, Henry (Sean Murray) and Mortimer (Darrin Peters) who are simply lunaticky funny. BTW, watching Sean in this show is worth the price of admission alone. (Sean, have you ever played Rumpelstiltskin? If so, you were as entertaining then as you are in this. Just how many incredible Rumpelstiltskins can there be? Sure hope I’m right on this.) Matt and Luisa become enmeshed in all this … he to go out into the world, metaphorically speaking, to fight his windmills while she sadly lingers at home. Once together, a memorable song they sing, “They Were You”, might also require a tissue.

Suggestion to the Director: If you’re going to send performers out into the aisles, please get a light on them, even if it’s a huge handheld spotlight. An LED flashlight even. I believe you meant for us to see them.

There is much symbolism in THE FANTASTICKS and many opps for discussions with your teenagers so bring them along as it’s a perfect show for them. It’s a musical fable! What lesson(s) is/are being taught?

Soon it’s gonna rain (snow) … remember that one?

Until the next show …

Book & Lyrics by Tom Jones
Music by Harvey Schmidt
Directed by Joseph P. Southard
January 7 – 22, 2011
Players Club of Swarthmore
614 Fairview Road
Swarthmore PA 19081
610 328-4227

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