A lesson in love and experience

Fantasticks at Skokie Theatre. (Photo by Graham Todd)
Fantasticks at Skokie Theatre. (Photo by Graham Todd)

‘The Fantasticks’

3 stars


The second offering of a four-show series by  MadKap Productions at the Skokie Theatre is “The Fantasticks,” a theatrical classic that holds the record as the longest running off-Broadway musical when it closed in 2002 after 17,162 performances over 42 years.

The story is about innocence and experience. Matt (Graham Todd) and Luisa (Jessica Surprenant) learn that life can be messy and cruel but as the song goes “without a hurt the heart is hollow.”

At the beginning the young lovers revel in the danger of their forbidden romance but come to learn that their fathers had actually erected a wall between their two properties to draw the two together.

In the song “Never Say No” the two men, Hucklebee (Mark Anderson) and Bellomy (Darryn Glass), delight in their reverse psychology plot.

To further the deception the fathers employ the services of bandit El Gallo (Edward MacLennan) aided by hired actors, Henry (Brad Davidson) and Mortimer (Nate Hall), to stage an abduction of Luisa to provide an opportunity for Matt to save her so that all may be united in happy bliss.

In Act Two, the young couple soon learn that getting what you want is not as exciting as yearning for it, so Matt goes out to seek adventure in the world while Luisa turns to her “bandit.”

The young lovers are reunited after a month of experience that has stripped them both of their innocence.

In the song “They Were You” Matt and Luisa realize that everything they wanted was there all the time within their relationship but they can see it more clearly now through the lens of experience and without the fog of overexcited youthful romanticism.

With music by Harvey L. Schmidt and words by Tom Jones, the play opens with perhaps its best known song “Try to Remember” which asks us to reflect on our own innocence and reminds us that the fires of youth will warm us in our old age.

This is a play I have seen maybe five or six times over the years. The first time when I was about fourteen in Chicago, twice in New York in my twenties and thirties and now, as I am, shall we say, closer to the December side of the spectrum.

Since I am presently in a position to look back with considerable experience I can see how this play spoke to me in different ways over my life. In this way it really is ideal for people of all ages.

“The Fantasticks” is a very good play as an introduction to theater for young teens as they will identify with the boy and girl while their parents will definitely relate to the struggles of raising kids.

The simplicity of the staging is also part of the brilliance of this play. It is very much the essence of theater.

This MadKap Production is very credible including the lovely set-design of Jeremy Hollis and the awesome four piece orchestra of piano, harp and bass led by cellist Aaron Kaplan.

Kaplan also did a very nice job on the vocal harmonies even though the actors were a bit haltingly self-conscious at times.

There is an adage that suggests if you want to test the capability of chefs,  ask them to cook an egg. The idea is to see if they can do something simple, perfectly.

“The Fantasticks” is deceptively simple, but to achieve chef status requires a level of nuance that falls just a hair short in this production.

The material is brilliant and stands on its own and is why it is popular as a high school or community theater production but in a professional venue it should be held to higher standard and go one step beyond.

The challenge for director Stephen M. Genovese and his cast is that this is a stylized piece with unnatural dialogue that borders on poetry. It requires the actors to project a human quality into their roles that comes from within and allows actors to show what they can do.

Graham Todd as Matt came the closest. But for me, the standout performance was Lily Jean who describes themselves as a non-binary dancer and performance artist who brought an elevated level of artistry to the role of “The Mute.”

You will not be disappointed. This is a beautiful venue for this production and I definitely recommend this version of “The Fantasticks” for anyone who has never seen the show before or anyone who is in another phase of life since the last time you saw it.

If you are a grandparent this would be a very nice opportunity to take youngsters to the theater and expose them to a memorable piece of stagecraft that does not require millions of dollars of pyrotechnics to be enjoyable and you swill be supporting local theater.

DETAILS” “The Fantasticks” is at the Skokie Theatre, 7924 Lincoln Ave., Skokie,  through Oct. 6, 2019. There is a fifteen minute intermission. For tickets call(847) 677-7761 or visit visit SkokieTheatre.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago