Review: A Good Dose of Whimsy Delights

The Fantasticks: Loeb Experimental Theater, June 20—July 5

In their first offering of the summer season, the actors of Harvard-Radcliffe Summer Theater (HRST) serve up a delightfully whimsical look into the fantastic world of young love in their production of the off-Broadway hit musical The Fantasticks.

In the show, two young, idealistic romantics, Matt (Ryan McAuliffe ’06) and dreamy-eyed Luisa (Julia Davis from Brandeis) fall in love despite an ongoing feud between their fathers. But the feud turns out to be nothing more than a ruse invented by their fathers—played with panache by B.J. Averell ’03 and Michael E. Moss ’03—to get their kids to fall in love, as they know that nothing is more alluring to children than what they can’t have.

These fathers try to seal the deal on their invented Montague-and-Capulet setup by hiring the bandit El Gallo (Marty Dinn ’03) and his swashbuckling, scene-stealing cohorts Henry and Mortimar (Thomas Odell ’05 and Neil G. Ellingson ’05). El Gallo and associates stage the rape of Luisa and her rescue by Matt. As planned, when Matt saves his damsel in distress, the two fall more deeply in love, and the fathers find themselves with an opportunity to end their public feuding—for who could hate the father of his sweet daughter’s savior?

But after intermission, the idyllic first half segues into a more serious and true-to-life storyline, as the show’s cast survive some tough times to emerge a little more grown-up and genuine. Though some hearts get broken and a few life lessons are learned, the script and the HRST’s production never lose their light-hearted touch; despite the allure directors might feel to draw very profound morals from the show, co-directors Maya Anand ’03 and Dan J. Poston ’04 do well to keep the focus on the laughs.

In fact, the best part of this production of The Fantasticks is its pure entertainment value: the goofy cuteness of Ellingson’s death scenes, Odell’s delightfully overdone antics and McAuliffe’s perfectly endearing naiveté. Though Luisa could have used more pep in her songs, on the whole, the production’s very slight bobbles (like some awkward leap-frogging by Averell and Moss) add only to its carefree charm.

The audience also gets some surprises from the back of the theatre, as cast members very unexpectedly pop out a chest nestled in the rear, to the gasps of the show’s younger onlookers.

By the show’s end, it’s hard to say whether the crowd favorite was the pair of young lovers, their fathers, the Henry-Mortimar duo or the talented Martin Dinn as El Gallo. In fact, the cast got it right in this all-around well done, fun show—and it’s well worth the trip out to the Loeb Experimental Theater.

—Crimson Arts theater critic Michelle Chun can be reached at chun2@fas.harvard.edu.