The Fantasticks — the off-Broadway phenomenon by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt that made its debut way back in 1960 and became the world’s longest-running musical — is an odd and somewhat dated show. However, Los Angeles' Reprise Theatre Company, director Jason Alexander and a great cast of gay favorites have done probably the best job possible in making it relevant and enjoyable for modern audiences with a too short-lived revival that unfortunately closes today.
Headlined by Will Truman himself, Eric McCormack, and boasting co-stars Lucas Grabeel (the High School Musical series as well as Milk) and out actor Barry Dennen (Jesus Christ Superstar’s original Pontius Pilate, interviewed here on Easter), this production of The Fantasticks is splendidly sung and acted. McCormack and Grabeel make especially strong vocal impressions as, respectively, the show’s sinister narrator, El Gallo, and its innocent young-man-in-love-with-the-girl-next-door (Alison Woods). McCormack also sports tight leather pants the whole time!
Alexander stages the action on a simple round, raked platform surrounded by gauzy white draperies. The draperies double as scrims, on which are occasionally projected season-appropriate images of autumn leaves, spring flowers and winter snowflakes. Driscoll Otto’s lighting design also utilizes splashes of color and sunlight befitting the characters’ locations and/or moods.
With Jones’ approval, Alexander and company have made at least one significant change to the text: one of the two conniving fathers has become a mother. The change won’t even be noticed by someone unfamiliar with the original version, and Eileen T’Kaye pulled it off perfectly. Stage and screen vet Harry Groener paired well with her as Luisa’s father, Bellomy.
I had the privilege of meeting Eric McCormack after the performance I attended. He’s a very nice, easy-going guy, and is currently filming the period comedy My One and Only with Kevin Bacon and Renée Zellweger. McCormack previously starred in The Music Man on Broadway and has great song-n-dance chops. If not The Fantasticks, hopefully we’ll get a chance to hear him in another musical in the not too distant future.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.