The Fantasticks

Young Talent featured in The Fantasticks

Victoria Playhouse’s artistic directors, David Rogers and David Hogan, have again made decisions about their line-up of shows based on the talented young people they find. Their latest offering, The Fantasticks, features two fresh young singers from the area: Jonathan Gysbers from Strathroy and Rebecca McCauley of London.

The Fantasticks also provides an opportunity for David Rogers to play the role of El Gallo, the narrator of the story who sings the well-known favourite “Try to Remember the Kind of September”, which he does beautifully.

The Fantasticks is the story of neighbours who want their children to fall in love, so they attempt reverse psychology. Bellomy and Hucklebee pretend to be feuding, putting a wall between their homes, and forbidding their children to see each other. Of course, it’s a success – the teenagers fall in love, going behind their fathers’ backs.

To end the “feud”, the fathers hire some travelling carnival performers to kidnap the daughter, so the son can save her. The plan unravels when the children find out that it was all a scheme, and when they are no longer forbidden to see each other, the young couple loses interest. But in the end, they get back together again.Fantasticks ETT

The Fantasticks is the longest running off-Broadway musical, having been staged since the 1950s. It is a favourite of community theatre groups and high school musical productions. But frankly, I am puzzled by its popularity. It is not one of my preferences: the plot is contrived and slow moving, and today it seems very dated, even using the word rape in reference to the kidnapping. It is intended to be fanciful, and therefore it is generally over-acted, which I find tedious. It is saved only by some lovely songs, and fortunately those songs were performed well by very good singers in this production.

Jonathan Gysbers, a student in Sheridan College’s musical theatre program is delightful as Matt and this show is a great vehicle for him to demonstrate his strong vocal talents. Rebecca McCauley also shows her amazing singing ability in the role of Luisa. Both were students in the musical theatre program at H. B. Beal Secondary School in London, when director David Rogers “discovered” them.

David Rogers’ beautiful, clear voice is perfect as El Gallo, the narrator. Justin Bott as Mortimer and Mark Weatherley as Henry provide the comic relief with over the top performances and physical comedy as the travelling carnival actors. Rounding out the cast are the two fathers, played by J. Sean Elliott and Ian Simpson, and Gregory Pember as the Mute.

Musical director Mark Payne performs at the piano for this production, and a delightful addition is harpist Angela Schwarzkopf. Watching her play onstage is fascinating.

While the action slows down at various points, fans of whimsical stories will probably enjoy this show. Fortunately, it features a strong cast of singers and comic actors.

The Fantasticks continues at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until July 28. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or 519-882-1221 for tickets or visit www.thevpp.ca

To see a video of David Rogers singing the iconic “Try to Remember”, go to http://www.thevpp.ca/index.html

The Fantasticks
Book & lyrics by Tom Jones
Music by Harvey Schmidt
Directed by David Rogers, assisted by Barbara Barsky
Musical direction by Mark Payne
Performed by Justin Bott, J. Sean Elliott, Jonathan Gysbers, Rebecca McCauley, Gregory Pember, David Rogers, Ian Simpson, Mark Weatherley.
Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia
July 10 to 28, 2013
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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