Reviewed by David Spencer
But the first notes of the overture began and I found myself welling up, my male stoicism, what little of it I lay claim to, all the hell shattered when the great lady in my life remarked on how much she liked seeing me all exposed and sentimental that way and grrrrr, goddammit, but I couldn't help it. I just knew I was in the presence of a masterpiece, that it would be as near-perfect a jewel here on 50th Street as it had been downtown on Sullivan for 42 years, and what could I do, man, it was The Fantasticks!
Though the new Snapple Theatre Center (now also home to The Perfect Crime) has given The Fantasticks a space that holds almost twice the audience, or more, than its original home, the 153-seat Sullivan Street Playhouse, held, it maintains the same three-side configuration, just more rows, and the dimensions of the stage are precisely the same. In fact, most things in composer-lyricist Tom Jones's production are the same, as it pretty much duplicates the original direction of Word Baker.
There are even some longtime veterans of the show back on board: musical director Dorothy Martin logged in 12 years playing the show on Sullivan Street; Martin Vidnovic, who plays the girl's father (Bellomy), was El Gallo during the show's 13th year (coincidentally, he was my first El Gallo); Robert R. Oliver, playing Mortimer, the Man Who Dies, did the same duty for a number of Sullivan Street years (he's in temporarily for an injured MacIntyre Dixon); and Thomas Bruce, who originated the role of Henry, the Old Actor, way back in 1960, no longer needs to "age up" in order to recreate his performance. (And it's an open secret that Thomas Bruce is the pseudonym of Tom Jones.)
Now, when I say "as near-perfect a jewel," some qualifications; Jones has assembled a fine and lovely cast, but hardly an ideal or iconic one—this doesn't seem a revival so much as a continuation, almost as if the show never really closed in the first place. It's a little like catching a performance of a well-maintained long run.
But in some ways, maybe, therein lies the jewel-osity. The fact that what Jones and his writing partner, composer Harvey Schmidt, wrought all those years ago, just continues to sparkle through the simplicity and the comfort and the familiarity. There's a kind of ritualistic thing going on (of course, that's implicit in the rite-of-passage narrative as Matt [Santino Fontana] and Luisa [Sara Jean Ford] come of age, their fathers come to understand and El Gallo [Burke Moses] guides the universe). It seems less important who plays the parts than that they are played knowingly, and with gentle conviction.
And the score. I mean, Jesus. I mean, "Try to Remember", "Soon It's Gonna Rain", "I Can See It"...I mean, you know, it just IS, kids, it's just this THING and it just goes on and it's timeless and it never dies and it's like touching some part of theatre heaven, some bit of self-contained history when everybody got it right without even knowing the trails they would be blazing, because the blazing wasn't done with force or fire, no, but with a softwarm glow, and that, boys and girls, that is what comes over you as the houselights go down and the harp/piano combo launch in and the actors go through the prelude of getting into place and putting on their costumes.
And then, well...manly (nor indeed womanly) stoicism just hasn't got a chance...