THE FANTASTICKS by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt opened Off-Broadway in 1960 and, as originally conceived, was a small show without a fancy set, lnoarge orchestra and a cast of only eight Yet this small musical managed to have a huge impact on the world remaining open in New York until 2002 and amassing a whopping 17,162 performances.
What made the show so popular was its beautiful score and a story with which everyone from teenager to adult could identify. Luisa (Shelby Victoria), who is 16, and Matt Diego Jimenez), who is 19, live next door to each other. Their fathers (Terry Tmac Mclemore Mullins & Carlos Mendoza) think it would be great if their kids fell in love and got married. So to that end, they hire El Gallo (Cameron Merrihew), who, with the help of an old Shakespearean actor (Michael Immel) and his sidekick (Austin T. Berry) stage an elaborate abduction in which Matt is allowed to vanquish the would-be abductors and save Luisa from a dire fate. And so he does as Act I ends seemingly happily ever after.
But in Act II, under the harsh light of day, nothing appears as perfect as it did before. Matt realizing that he was duped takes off for parts unknown in a rage of anger only to discover the world can be harsh and cold. Luisa under the guidance of El Gallo is taught how to ‘reframe’ any reality she finds ugly into one she can live with… if not totally love. In the end they both realize that what they had was something good and, to the exuberant joy of their fathers, return home to settle down and face the future realistically. Throughout it all is The Mute (Yuka Nishiguch) who makes sure that each of them has the props, setting, etc. that will bring about the desired results.
Under the warm and well thought out direction of Janet Miller, the cast pulls the storytelling front and center making sure that the entire audience goes along for the ride. Two performers, however, really stood out….in a good way. Shelby Victoria’s Luisa is at once naïve and sometimes selfish. Yet, with the actress’ natural charisma, she never stops being likeable. She has a beautiful voice and scores on each of her numbers. The other performer of note I feel deserves to be singled out is is Michael lmmel as The Old Actor. He takes a part that is ripe for “hamming it up” solely for the laughs and adds some heart and sympathy to the role making him more than a cartoonish cameo.
The scenic and lighting designs by Joseph Layne evoke a nostalgic feeling reminiscent of the original production’s style while still handling situations unique to this production.
The Fantasticks is playing at the College of the Desert in Theatre Too (yes, that is how it is spelled!) on November 18,
19 and 20, 2022. For more information or to order tickets go to www.collegeofthedesert.edu