John Moore writes the following about our little show:
I was driving from the Denver Victorian Playhouse’s simple, mostly wonderful staging of “The Fantasticks,” when onto the iPod shuffled a tune by that most melancholy minstrel of indie rock, Conor Oberst.
“The love I sell you in the evening by the morning won’t exist,” he sang. It was a piercing lament.
And it was pure “Fantasticks.”
There’s a reason this bittersweet little miracle of a show, which cost $1,441 to mount Off-Broadway in 1960, went on to become the longest-running musical in history. It’s the same reason “The Fantasticks” can still sneak up on you and shoot an arrow through your core, 49 years later.
Like Oberst, it just gets to the heart of things. Then breaks it. Every time.
Two young lovers long to be together over their stubborn fathers’ objections. When the boy heroically rescues the girl from an attempted abduction, a marriage is inevitable. Until these lovers discover their fathers have gone to elaborate lengths to bring these two together.
What happens when you paint a pretty picture and the players can no longer hold their poses? It fades, crumbles and dissolves.
Matt and Luisa grow restless and split. He sets off on a harrowing journey to regain his honor and see the world. Luisa is tricked into giving a bandit her most treasured possessions — her heart, and her mother’s necklace.
Both have been seduced, and both have been burned. The love sold to them in the evening, as Oberst sang, by the morning does not exist. What’s left is the real love that brought them together in the first place.
“The Fantasticks” is theater of the imagination, an epic journey told with “Godspell”-like openness and vulnerability. With only a robust ensemble of eight players. A chair. A bench. A curtain. A minstrel’s trunk.
And, of course, that irresistible score by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones. Songs like “Try to Remember” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” are masterpieces encoded to unlock in us long-buried access to those thrilling, bittersweet feelings of first love.
Days later, I’m still moved by the breakthrough performance from Kelly Twedt as Luisa, an impeccable singer who captures the playful sexuality, tension and heartbreak of a young girl coming of age. She and David Allan Howell (Matt) look good together — and they sound even better. Their duet “Metaphor” (“You are love … “) is proof even critics can have goosebumps. Don’t tell.
Austin Terrell takes a daringly low-key approach to the narrator El Gallo, preferring heart over heft in a way that works in the intimate Victorian Playhouse. He’s gentle, almost Victorian in his approach, though that means there’s little believable danger to him.
Nils Swanson is whimsy and wonder as the playful Mute (don’t call me Mime). But the “hired actors” (Doug Rosen as the elder and Nathan Bock as the fake Indian) pile it on too strong in performances that scream for some restraint, especially in contrast to Terrell.
And while the likable fathers (Mathew Kepler and Jay Jakosky) have nice voices, they’re far too, well, nice. They lack the force of character you’d expect from the fathers.
But director Sarah Roshan’s modest staging will resonate like the pain we’ve all felt in the pursuit of love. As El Gallo says, “It’s not over till we’ve all been burned a bit.”
John Moore: 303-954-1056 or firstname.lastname@example.org