The show is simplicity itself, its characters an idealistic boy and dreamy girl separated by a wall, their scheming fathers, a dashing narrator, a pair of aging actors for comic relief.
But musicals don’t run for 42 years and 17,162 performances — the initial Off-Broadway run of The Fantasticks — because they’re simple. Composer Harvey Schmidt and lyricist-book writer Tom Jones filled their little show with universal truths, beautiful music, whimsy and artful reminders that happy endings are less common in life than in fairy-tales.
The Fantasticks has been produced and produced and produced, by professional theaters, community theaters, colleges, schools. But 55 years after its creation, the musical seems as fresh as ever, as the new production at Stage Door Theatre in Margate demonstrates.
Just three years ago, Palm Beach Dramaworks did a fine production of The Fantasticks featuring actors with stellar voices. Stage Door’s version is more modest yet lovely, right-sized for the smaller of the facility’s two theaters.
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Musical director David Nagy and harpist Kay Kemper sit downstage left, offering the actors and audience the subtle (and irreplaceable) give-and-take of live music. The simple set and lighting by Ardean Landhuis, Nancy Clay’s props and Colleen O’Connell’s playful costumes have a “hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” vibe. And director-choreographer Dan Kelley, whose work here is just right for the piece, ties it all up with a bow a pretty as the one in the heroine’s hair.
She is, of course, 16-year-old Luisa (Molly Anne Ross), a romantic through-and-through. The boy next door is Matt (Alexander Zenoz), a “mature” fellow who’s out of high school and smitten with his neighbor. Luisa’s father Bellomy (Michael Small) and Matt’s dad Hucklebee (Larry Bramble) have built a wall — here portrayed by Pierre Tannous, an actor who never utters a word yet speaks volumes with his expression and movement — seemingly to keep their children apart. But one of the many messages of The Fantasticks is that things aren’t always as they seem.
Soon enough, three others figure into the story: the dashing El Gallo (Pedro Kaawaloa Jr.), the show’s narrator and object of Luisa’s fantasies; Henry (Alan Gerstel), an aged actor who delivers Shakespeare stitching together lines from different plays; and Mortimer (Sebastian Lombardo), Henry’s sidekick. With the fathers, they cook up an “abduction” of Luisa designed to let Matt play the hero and win her heart. That works, but then life and disillusionment come rushing in.
The score is dotted with gems, most notably Try To Remember, Soon It’s Gonna Rain and They Were You. The Stage Door cast sings well, Kaawaloa and Zenoz dueting as if they were dueling, Ross and Zenoz finding the romantic harmony of young characters and young actors. Small and Bramble work their roles like vaudeville pros, and Gerstel and Lombardo are exactly as hammy as they should be.
The Fantasticks is a beguiling tale that resonates, at one point or many, with just about everyone. We’ve all loved, lost and, if we’re lucky, loved again. We’ve been young, middle-aged, old. We’ve known the rush of a new dream and the pain of a shattered one. And there lies the continuing appeal of a simple show.
If you go
What: ‘The Fantasticks’ by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones.
Where: Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Rd., Margate.
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday-Sunday, through Oct. 11.
Information: 954-344-7765 or www.stagedoortheatre.com.