Critic's Review :
Richter's 'Fantasticks' lives up to name
By Chesley Plemmons
NEWS-TIMES THEATER CRITIC
Great Scott! MAR has gone PC. (Musicals at Richter has gone Politically Correct.)
"The Fantasticks," the season opener at the state's longest running outdoor summer theater in Danbury's Richter Park, has somehow been deemed in need of a touch of misguided respectability.
Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's small miracle of a musical now in its 40th year at the Sullivan Street Theatre in New York's Greenwich Village is so sweet and beguiling of nature that one can only ask: Who could it offend or corrupt?
If you know the show, you're aware of the comic trio that sings of a planned abduction in the name of young love the word "rape" is comically the focal point, but no one for a moment conceives that offense to be an intended reality.
Someone at Richter must have feared today's audiences would be offended, so the lyrics have been rewritten to substitute the word "kidnap." It doesn't ruin the song, although the new rhymes are a bit forced. It just seems a bit overprotective.
Will the same supposedly impressionable audiences of Richter's next show, "Carousel," be misled into believing Billy Bigelow's murderous robbery is just a teen-age prank?
That curious business aside, the Richter production of "Fantasticks" is just about right on every mark. It's well-sung, fleetly paced and, for a musical almost half-a-century-old, surprisingly fresh.
The score remains evergreen. While "Try to Remember" and "Soon It's Gonna Rain" are the best remembered, you'll find "They Were You" just as musically rewarding.
There's humor and wisdom in almost every song. No wonder this is the world's longest-running musical.
Schmidt (music) and Jones (book and lyrics) based their musical on Edmund Rostand's "Les Romantiques," and the story is timelessly simple and true: If love is to survive, it must face the realities of life.
Director Richard L. Sanders has led his excellent cast through their paces without attempting to oversentimentalize the story. There's mime, burlesque and some occasionally spirited horseplay, but you know all that.
What's important is that this production of "The Fantasticks" provides a wonderful opportunity to introduce young people to musical theater, even with its realistically cynical second half.
The plot is a story of young love and meddling parents that is part fairy tale and part sour grapes. It makes its points about deception and illusion in a most blithe way.
The role of the Narrator (El Gallo) is played with appropriate machismo by Brian Maher, and the two young lovers are the appealing and talented singers Nikki Sanders as The Girl and Christian Smythe as The Boy.
"The Fantasticks" provides four character actors a comic romp. John McMahon as The Boy's Father and Donald Leona as The Girl's Father could easily be the Abbott and Costello of over-the-back-fence neighbors.
For hammy actors they're the ones you always watch no matter how bad they are Barry Corn as Henry, the Old Actor, and Zach Sanders as Mortimer, The Man Who Dies, chew up the scenery to good effect.
There is a poignant air to all four characters when the laughter dies down.
Technically, the show is mostly on target, although I think the amplification could have been bumped up a notch and the erratic lighting should be remedied.
Otherwise, my fears that this "small" show might be swallowed up on the big stage at Richter proved unwarranted, and the musical accompaniment by Carl Anderson at the keyboard and Jennifer Sayre on harp was first rate.
"The Fantasticks" continues Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 8:30 p.m. through July 3 at Musicals at Richter, Richter Park, 100 Aunt Hack Road, Danbury. Tickets are $14, seniors $12, and students and children $10. Grounds open at 7:15 for picnicking. Lawn chairs are available by reservation. Call (203) 748-6873.
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