Wednesday, April 19, 2017

reviews - THE FANTASTICKS - Mesa Encore Theatre

Josh Egbert, Tiana Marks, and Rob Stuart (foreground)
photo by Pam Pershing
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through April 23rd.

"..Mesa Encore Theatre's production is engaging, with a charming cast and confident direction, making for a sweet and appealing theatrical treat. Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's show tells the story of two fathers, one with a teenage son, the other with a teenage daughter, who live next door to each other. They pretend they are feuding and build a wall between their two houses in order to keep their children apart yet also hopefully trick them into falling in love. They figure that the children will want what they can't have. ...However, not everything goes as planned when happy ever after doesn't turn out quite as expected. Jones' book and lyrics are full of wit and intricate wordplay. However, while the show doesn't feel dated, it does use a combination of poetry and dialogue as well as slightly caricatured characters and a simple yet somewhat weird plot which can come across as slightly melodramatic, quaint, forced, and just downright corny....Fortunately,... the second act becomes full of rich irony as the book and Schmidt's varied, textured music combine to ultimately bewitch you.
Director KatiBelle Collins doesn't add any unnecessary moments of overindulgence, instead letting the simplicity of the story and her talented cast let the plot and characters charm. My only quibble is with the continual odd positioning of the fathers and children with their backs to the audience...during scenes when they aren't the focus, which is often a slight distraction....As El Gallo, the show's narrator and guide, Rob Stuart delivers a sturdy performance with a deep singing voice and line readings full of charm and a hint of sly mischief that provide not only a rich texture to his songs but also evoke a deep concern for the characters in the play....Tiana Marks infuses Luisa, the girl, with an appropriate sense of yearning and a lust for adventure...Her beautiful lilting voice delivers on her many songs. As the young man Matt, Josh Egbert is terrific....Egbert and Marks form an incredibly cute and realistic couple. Darryl Poenisch and Bill Bennett are perfectly endearing as their director Lincoln Wright and his three-piece band achieve a lush sound. The Fantasticks may be quirky, but it is a magical and sweet musical that gradually and perceptively shows that things look very different once the dark romantic moon sets, the harsh bright sun rises, and the reality and shortcomings of love are revealed. ... " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

".Mesa Encore Theatre's...production of the world's longest-running musical...was 'fantasticks.'  The 1960 Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones show The Fantasticks has endured since 1960 because it so well embraces the importance of making big art on a small stage. With well-loved standards like "Try to Remember" and "Never Say No,"  The Fantasticks tells a simple love story of Matt (Josh Egbert) and Luisa (Tiana Marks).  The young couple's  affections are stoked by their fathers pretending to feud.  When the elaborate deception--that has included hiring actors to stage Luisa's abduction so Matt can seem the hero--is revealed, the lovers' infatuation withers and they separate. MET's production benefitted from a traditional, sparse set design...Likewise, the music crew numbered just three...but was potent in talent. ...Marks and Egbert steered their young lover characters securely between the hilt of melodrama and genuine emotion, too. ...The stage lit anew when Wayne Peck as The Old Actor entered from out of a prop box.  Each line he delivered was as funny as it was sweet.  His side-kick Mortimer (Timothy Pittman) provided excellent comedic support while The Mute's (Samantha Elise Tenant) brick-laying, mimed frustration drew giggles. Rob Stuart's gentle croons--in "Try to Remember," and elsewhere--gave his puppet-master, narrator role a fresh dose of empathy that not many El Gallo's choose to exercise.  Some of the nicest staging that director KatiBelle Collins provided was El Gallo's puppetry movements with Matt and Luisa in the second act.... The take away message of MET's The Fantasticks production endures.  Like the characters in the play, we all grow when our individual small stages are not just colored with grandiose and passionate art, but tempered by artistic slices of realism and empathy. ." -- Jennifer Haaland, PHX Stages (click here to read the complete review)

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