THE FANTASTICKS performed by Milburn Stone Theater at Cecil College in North East, MD is a classic play done with wondrous amounts of imagination, color, theatricality and complexity. It is an understatement to say it is an original approach. Director, S. Lee Lewis, created a staged phantasm for THE FANTASTICKS by using recycled set pieces from earlier productions. The simplicity of the original production concept was intended to allow the structure of the character relationships to shine through. Imagination is a key element in any production of THE FANTASTICKS. Instead of the conventional, Lewis’s staging approach uses complexity and imagination in unexpected ways … bottomless trunks from which this story is supported; juggling to support a plot unwind explanation; puppets to present the horrors of the outside world in a violent (and yet still palatable) manner; chairs to present both the road to the outside world AND the wall back home. To achieve this carefully choreographed chaos, Lewis primarily uses the characters of Comedy (Tyler Bristow) and Tragedy (Brandon Gorin). Bristow and Gorin appear omnipresent setting/adjusting, emptying/filling, and bringing/taking. The concept that life is composed of both comedy and tragedy was obvious and very well communicated.
Stealing a page from the most recent stagings of COMPANY and SWEENEY TODD on Broadway, Lewis and Music Director, Natalie Springer, used the convention of having the actors play the music. Seeing El Gallo moving with, and playing each of the three pianos on stage for either himself, others or the ensemble was actually breathtaking. AJ LoPorto was a joy to watch and hear. Perhaps LoPorto did not play El Gallo with the playfulness of the balance of the ensemble but, then again, he was VERY busy and did a creditable job for someone new to the vagaries of performance. The group of outsiders composed of El Gallo (LoPorto), Henry/Lodevigo (Mike Ware) and Mortimer/Socrates (Matt Dickinson) worked well together in the subplots acting out their roles with mixed amounts of feigned aplomb and bombast.
The charms and singing skills of the youthful Matt and Luisa (Shane Lowry and Christy Wyatt, respectively) keep the audience watching. First love is always worth watching. In addition both Lowry and Wyatt carefully constructed their second act personas as they both “grew up” to recognize what is necessary to continue to live and love.
Lewis again puts the audience on notice that this is NOT your usual THE FANTASTICKS when the parents on stage are a dad, Huck, (John Mulvey) and a mom, Bell, (Cindy Mulvey). Substituting flouncing skirts for dirty overalls and kisses for handshakes basically works for the Mulveys although sometimes it seemed that together with their separate children they presented ONE large dysfunctional family instead of two families conspiring to be together.
As you see the final wall formed by the chairs and the ensemble take their seats, you will realize that THE FANTASTICKS at Milburn Stone is a delightful visit to a simple classic which is still a classic but not nearly as simple as it might seem.
Go see it … it is enjoyable!! On a separate note, Lewis found himself in the difficult position of needing to as the audience for money. Milburn Stone has a dire need for new lighting instruments and they have been doing fundraising for the last few months. They have the ability to gain a matching grant if they can raise $100,000 by the end of March. Please check out the website below and any amount would be helpful.
Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones
Music by Harvey Schmidt
Directed by S. Lee Lewis
March 9 – 18, 2012
Milburn Stone Theatre
at Cecil College
One Seahawk Drive
North East, MD 21901
Box Office: 410-287-1047