Review: The Fantasticks, The Jerry Orbach Theatre

The Fantasticks was fairly disappointing. It was falsely advertised to me as a cute little comedy that was bound to make me laugh. Unable to resist the spontaneity of a last minute trip to theatre, I bought a ticket ten or so minutes before the start of the matinee. I went in with an open-mind willing to be entertained and by the end I rushed out pleased that the experience was finally over. Overall I would not recommend it.

The Fantasticks tells the tale of two meddling fathers and how they plot to make their children fall in love with the help of a mysterious actor called El Gallo.  The musical takes a dark turn when the children marry and later discover what their fathers have done. The newlyweds begin to fall out of love and go on their own paths of self discovery as they question the strength of their love for one another.

The theatre and set up felt like I was watching a school production on a low budget. They used aged white cloth as the curtain. The stage was a low platform mostly bare, except for two boxes. The orchestra was small and only had a pianist and a harpist. These observations aren’t necessarily a criticism of the production. As my view of ‘The Color Purple‘ demonstrates a lavish stage production is not critical to a show being great. And in this instance, I’m not convinced that a larger budget would have helped.

The first few minutes of the show were actually quite exciting. The narrator introduces you to the small cast who get dressed in front of you and react differently when they notice the audience’s presence. The characters include a wall, (yes there is an actor who spends the entire show playing a wall) the two fathers, Hucklebee, a lover of gardening and Henry, a fan of growing his own vegetables. We also meet Matt, the intelligent biology graduate and hopeless romantic and Luisa the fanciful and slightly insane young girl who knows only about the world through what she learns from fiction. Later in the show we meet two old actors who appear out of the boxes in both acts, I’ll make clear my views on those two later on.

The songs were mostly forgettable. The one song I enjoyed was the opening number ‘Try to Remember’. It had a gorgeous and enchanting melody in which the narrator asks the audience to set their minds back to a time when they first fell in love. The rest of the songs served to advance the plot and although I can’t remember them I know that they were mostly repetitive.

It is fairly easy to put my finger on the one element I enjoyed which was Belinda Allyn’s performance as Luisa, the understudy for the role. She was pixie-like and captured the youthfulness and craziness of the character very well. It is often said that bad shows act as a vehicle for talented actors and I sincerely hope that she lands a role in a better show in the future.

In my view, the combination of the bizarre plot and the serious pacing issues made The Fantasticks an unpleasant experience. I found most of the scenes unbearably slow and painful to sit through. There were a few scenes which were lively but as they were so odd, I found it difficult to remain invested. My reaction at first was disbelief which in turn became despair. The two characters who ultimately killed it for me were the two supporting actors who are hired by El Gallo to make the children fall in love. One man was a self-confessed expert of Shakespeare but could not remember any of the words. The other was an actor who was trained to convincingly die on stage in these elaborate death scenes. The delivery of their jokes were poor and the multiple attempts to make the audience laugh fell flat. I’m not sure whether the fault lies with the actors who play the roles or the script, but the end product was just embarrassing.

To my surprise The Fantasticks is actually the longest running musical on off-Broadway. This is probably thanks in large part to the ticket sellers and their skill in convincing indecisive tourists to buy tickets. I overheard multiple conversations during the interval and there seemed to be a large consensus that they had felt hoodwinked into seeing the show. In fact some of the children in the audience were not able to fight the struggle to keep their eyes open and fell asleep for a large duration of it. It is also clear from a quick look at the reviews on Trip Advisor that most theatregoers will only see this show as a result of being misled into doing so.

So unless you have a fetish for dissecting bad musical productions, I would avoid this one. Surprisingly it doesn’t look like it will be leaving off-Broadway anytime soon, perhaps given its low production costs. In light of this, I definitely wouldn’t rush to see it.

Rating: 3/10

Click here to watch my On the Spot Review

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