The Fantasticks is comprised of two distinct acts. In the first act, we see young (more on that later) love blossom and grow between a 16-year-old girl and a 20-year-old boy who are neighbors and children of seemingly rivalrous men (more on that later too). But what they don't know is that their fathers are scheming to get the two wed, using a bit of reverse psychology and hiring the bandit El Gallo to create a ruckus in which the boy comes out the hero. All is well under the moonlight and happy endings are achieved. But that's only Act I, and with Act II comes the harsh glare of the sun, like reality settling in after a honeymoon. The boy and girl go their separate ways and follow their dreams of seeing the wide world, only to come back together with a new appreciation for each other. For "without a hurt the heart is hollow."
|Gary Briggle and Wendy Lehr|
(photo courtesy of Nautilus Music-Theater)
While the casting of Wendy and Gary brings a new perspective to the themes of youth, wisdom, and the passage of time, the casting of the fabulous Baldwin sisters as their fathers brings a new perspective to the theme of parenthood. The words written for two fathers work just as well for mothers, because after all, a parent is a parent regardless of gender. Jennifer Baldwin Peden and Christina Baldwin both have young children of their own, bringing a poignancy to "Never Say No" and "Plant a Radish," yet they're singing about fully grown adults who are older than they are, hinting at the role reversal that happens when parents age. In addition to all these layers, it's always a good idea to cast as many Baldwins as you can in a show. Two Baldwin sisters are better than the sum of their parts; they're never more relaxed, natural, and funny than when performing together. And their individually gorgeous voices blend like a dream, like one person singing harmony with herself.
Completing the perfection of this six-person cast, directed by Nautilus Artistic Director Ben Krywosz, are William Gilness as El Gallo and Brian Sostek as "the actor who dies." A lot. And hysterically, as he uses his dancer's grace to flaunt and flail all over the stage dying in numerous ways, stealing every scene he's in. William is simply spellbinding as El Gallo (a role created by Broadway, film, and TV legend Jerry Orbach) when he recites the poignant and lyrical dialogue, and especially when singing the most famous song from the show that bookends the story, "Try to Remember" (the one I've been quoting throughout this post).
Nautilus' studio space has been transformed into a thrust stage with just a few rows of seating on three sides of the tiny turf-covered square that is the stage. The two large wooden posts in the space could be a hindrance, but are incorporated well into the set, serving as ladders that the actors climb on when height is needed. A simple bench, two moveable boxes, and a rope lowered from the ceiling to represent the wall are the only set pieces (set design by Victoria Petrovich). The two-piece orchestra consisting of Music Director Jerry Rubino on piano and Andrea Stern on harp is positioned on an elevated platform behind and above the seats on one side of the thrust (getting those massive instruments up there must have been a difficult task!). This sparse orchestration provides just the right level of accompaniment for this lovely and whimsical score. And there's nothing better in the world than hearing talented vocalists such as this unmiked in a small space, nothing to get in the way of their voice in your ears.
The Fantasticks is the little Off-Broadway musical that could, and was once the future of music-theater. Now 56 years later it's more than just a charming relic from the past. In Nautilus' hands with thoughtful casting of some of the Twin Cities top talent in roles they probably thought they'd never play (again), and intimate sparse staging, it's fresh and utterly delightful storytelling, tinged with nostalgia and poignancy. Continuing through April 19 - get your tickets now before they're gone!
This article also appears on Broadway World Minneapolis.