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  Wednesday July 30th, 2014    

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GRSF Fantasticks a feast (07/13/2011)
By John Edstrom


     
Try to remember the kind of

September

When you were a tender and

callow fellow

Try to remember and if you

remember,

Then follow.

A lovely song and lovely lyrics, which could stand alone as poetry, although you must not flog them for Deep Meaning. No, the Great River Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Fantasticks is a feast for the eyes and the ears, starting with (Narrator/El Gallo) Doug Scholz-Carlson’s soaring tenor rendition of the show’s signature tune, “Try to Remember,” an all-time favorite of the musical theater for good reason.

The opening sweetness of “Try to Remember” would suggest a happy songbook similar to a Rodgers and Hammerstein show, but what the book might lack in complexity and nuance is made up for in the music, which has far more in common with the edgy work of Stephen Sondheim.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine how the Fantastick’s score, with its range and subtlety, could possibly be performed by a two-piece orchestra, but nothing seems missing in Nikki Lemire’s harp and the always hyperkinetic piano of Jack Forbes Wilson, which lays down a wall-to-wall magic carpet of music under the entire production.

It is also difficult to understand how singers, particularly in the sometimes fiendishly difficult ensemble numbers, could find their cue notes (some very odd) without more orchestral help, but nary a false note was detected, at least not from where I sat. The Fantasticks is apparently a popular show for amateurs as far down as the high school stage, which amazes me – anything less than very skilled professionals would have to make an incredible earache of this score.

No fear of that, however, with the GRSF troupe, whose versatility continues to astonish in this, their eighth season. Next year I half expect the company to branch out into opera, based on the performances of Stephanie Lambourn (The Girl) and Evan Fuller (The Boy), whose voices possess greater depth, power, and control than is generally needed for the musical theater.

And where there is song, how not dance, footed ever so nimbly by the two fathers, Michael Fitzpatrick and Chris Mixon, also great vocalists singing parts nearly as difficult as those of the two young leads. If this book doesn’t take itself too seriously, it never fails to amuse, particularly in these two comic roles, and more yet in Jonathan Daly’s Old Actor and Chris Gerson’s Man Who Dies. Daly is particularly funny doing self-parody as the over-the-top ham actor, and the cast has a great time lampooning the combat scenes from Henry IV pt. 1, particularly the very protracted death throes of Hotspur.

The Fantasticks set is very effective, for existing mostly in the minds of the audience, with Tarah Flanagan providing an imaginary wall in a parallel to the mechanicals’ play in Midsummer Night’s Dream. This lack of physical detail made the colorful rococo of John Metzner’s costume design all the more effective – Daly’s and Gerson’s pirates will surely be a hallmark of this season in years to come.

And director Melissa Rain Anderson, a newcomer to GRSF this season, in her careful, striking composition of scene after scene of this production, shows herself to have learned very well from her mentor, GRSF producing director, Paul Barnes.

J.E.  

 

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