It is pretty difficult to produce a quality theatre production in today’s world. The Monarch Theatre Troupe, attempting only its third show, had the added challenge of having to rehearse in three different locations prior to actually performing in the Rolling Hills School in Holland, PA. Their performance space (July 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 2011) is the gym/auditorium of an elementary school, so lights and sound are a challenge. So you can see why the troupe decided to produce a small, two act, minimal costume, minimal set and props show like the musical, THE FANTASTICKS. It is an intimate show, not a Broadway blockbuster. It has a relatively small cast, eight actors total. The show is more poetry on stage than anything else. You don’t come out of the theatre singing any of the songs, with except of “Try to Remember”, however, that doesn’t have you tapping your feet. It is subtle, surreal theatre, leaving much up to the imagination of the audience. It lacks action and power and punch, but it is not that kind of musical. It was a calming, out of body feeling; not an “in your face” experience. This slow paced lullaby of an evening was enjoyed for its artistic work by around 70 opening night patrons who seemed to really appreciate the style and substance. The woman in front of me giggled and applauded continuously throughout the entire performance. It was cute, a nice change of pace.
The troupe’s playbill says that the show runs 90 minutes with a 12 minute intermission. 12 minutes? Ok, give them points for making me do a double take on that, but the show ran over 2 hours, so I am not sure if the Director, Jean Brenner, slowed the pace down from the rehearsals or not. The music, provided by Tom Baust as Vocal Musical Director and Show Pianist, along with Cheryl Dungan Cunningham as the Harpist…Yes, a Harpist on stage (how cool is that?), was subtle yet provided the dream like quality to the show. Bravo! The actors were not overpowered by the music, which happens in some musicals. Matter of fact, there was an early wireless mike problem with one of the actors which thank goodness was fixed quickly to avoid a distracting audio level problem.
The story of Matt (Nathaniel Danciger) and Luisa (Olivia Scotti) who play two young lovers who live next to each other is a simple one. They move from innocence to disillusionment to eventually finding their way back to each other in a more mature sense, having experienced the “world” without each other. Danciger and Scotti seem to be at ease with other on stage, which makes the story line more believable. Their fathers, Paul Frank and Keith Soester, are clownish in their plots to actually have the two youngsters marry and become one big happy family. However, a breakdown in their communications and intentions screws up their efforts and an uneasy tension fills the air. Enter the Narrator of the show, (who breaks the forth wall on a consistent basis, which I liked), the character, El Gallo, who, dressed in all black, except for a flaming red neck scarf, is more like the devil or impish instigator of how the two lovers are torn apart. Keith Kirkner plays a reserved, but important role in the show as El Gallo. Adding to the comic sense of the show, Bill Brenner as Henry and Barry Wind as Mortimer, give the show a little twist; their presence causes the audience to wonder why and how they are there in the first place, but once there, you enjoy the ride. Finally, my favorite character, The Mute, who doesn’t have a line, obviously, but who must act with her eyes, her style, grace and person, was played well by Laura Scotti. Now you aren’t supposed to see the Mute for being a character on stage for the show, but you are supposed to see her for all of her actions she creates, the scene changes, the snow, the rain, the background etc. She was the set dressing and I found myself watching her a lot.
The show, as a note, starts at 7:30 PM (which is different than most theatres), and also 2 PM on Saturdays. Enjoy a different kind of musical in THE FANTASTICKS; you will think twice about style and effort having seen this show.
by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt
Directed by Jean Brenner
July 14-23, 2011
Monarch Theatre Troupe
Rolling Hills School
340 Middle Holland Road
Holland, PA 18966