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THE FANTASTICKS is a tale of youth and innocence, and Harvard's first all-freshman cast provides plenty of both. Fortunately, what they lack in vocal strength they are usually able to make up in spirit, and that combined with the Jones-Schmidt musical numbers manages to keep the show alive.
The first act is all fancy and romance. As the play begins we find a wall separating two young lovers whose fathers are engaged in a bitter feud. We soon learn, however, that the fathers want the children married but have built the wall and contrived the feud because, as the fathers sing, "to manipulate children you merely say no." The first act ends with the young beau a hero, having defeated an actor-abductor the fathers hired for effect, and the feud is happily ended.
The second act smashes the happy ending, as the objective light of day exposes the illusions of "cardboard moon and tinsel sky." The boy and girl go off to see the world and come back "sadder but wiser," ready for a less native, but still happy ending.
Lindsay Davis (the actor director-set designer) as the boy who the song describes as a "tender and callow fellow," and Victoria Wells as the pretty little 16 year old girl, are only sometimes a bit too callow. The two fathers, Michael Bettencourt and Douglas Olson, and the two old actors, played by Paul Ling and Ira Fink, inject a good amount of ham into the play, but often it's not quite enough. One has the feeling he ought to be laughing just a bit more than he is.
The Fantasticks is a play that treads a thin line between the whimsically charming and the consciously cute. in large part, the side of the line on which it falls depends on the actor's ability to use with discretion that knowing wink that indicates they know as well as the audience that theres is a "certain parable about romance." For the most part, this production achieves that, aided in no small measure by Phil Bucksbaum's fine portrayal of the suave and knowing banditnarrator, who serves to link the audience with the romance.
Unfortunately, though, the power of The Fantasticks as a play lies in its musical numbers and not in its characterizations. This performance's greatest fault is the general weakness of the voices and an overall difficulty with harmonies in diets and ensemble numbers. The first act is also marked by the missing of some excellent opportunities for good choreography; the ensembles remain unnecessarily static.
A combination of factors, however, keep the vocal problems from becoming disastrous. Most important are the Jones-Schmidt songs them-selves, simple and engaging melodies with a few tender ballads like "Try to Remember" and some hilarious group numbers like "it Depends on what You Pay," which provides a shopping list of rapes for sale (e.g. "the military rape--it's done with drums and a great brass band.")
AND THE HARMONY isn't all bad . The two father duet "Plant a Radish" (contrasting the certainties of vegetable-raising with the uncertainties of child-rearing), as well as the bandit's duets with the boy and the girl are fine. Phil Bucksbaum, alone, seems to have no trouble with either ballad or duet, and his number add the crucial bright spots to keep the pace moving.
Finally a five-man orchestra with a delightful harpist in Carley Moreno keeps the songs alive when the voices fail. Unquestionably, though, the performance is spotty, and it takes all the power of a play that sports the record as the longest running-or off Broadway production to hold it together.
The boy in The Fantasticksis "nearly twenty" and has gone to college; the girls is sixteen. In a sense the play knowingly and unashamedly asks us to suspend belief in order to "Try to Remember" a time that most of us probably never experienced a time when youth was insulated from the "harsh realities" of the world until they turned twenty.
If ever there was such a time, it is clearly not now, and thus, for the cynic, the request to suspend belief may be asking too much. For anyone with a slightly sentimental tinge, though the request to imagine--if one cannot remember--such a time, is not to much to ask.
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