'Fantasticks' is warm and funny show about growing up


Saturday March 29, 2014 12:01 AM

The Nebraska Theatre Caravan, the touring arm of the famed Omaha Playhouse, brought its enchanting production of "The Fantasticks" to Reading Area Community College's Miller Center for the Arts Friday night, as part of the Downtown Performing Arts Series.

There are plenty of reasons why "The Fantasticks" was the longest-running show in history. The foremost is the superb score by Harvey Schmidt and the poetic book and lyrics by Tom Jones.

Add to that the wistful wisdom of this fable about the loss of innocence and the true meaning of love; the emphasis on various forms of theatrical craft; and its timeless quality, and you know why it never fades away.

Under Carl Beck's flawless direction, this production did more than justice to the show, and added another layer of meaning by introducing steampunk design elements. The simple set - a gazebo - and Edwardian costumes of the first act gradually gave way to the ornate, gleaming, Victorian/futuristic steampunk aesthetic, complete with lots of steam and a dragon made of knick-knacks.

The message is clear - it's not only the lovers, Matt and Luisa, who lose their innocence and become wiser, if bruised; it's the whole world, as the 20th century encroaches.

Meanwhile, the cast was perfect. Chad Bradford, as El Gallo, the narrator/bandit who opens and closes the show by singing "Try To Remember," has a warm, sumptuous baritone and a commanding presence.

Jennifer Tritz as Luisa and Peter O'Neal as Matt followed the trajectory from giddy adolescents to thoughtful grownups with grace and soaring voices; as their fathers, Andrew Tebo and Jon McDonald made a great vaudeville team.

And Eric Bricking as Henry, the befuddled Shakespearean actor, and Alejandro Gutierrez as Mortimer, the perpetually dying Indian, were hilarious. Dan Chevalier, as the ever-more-elaborate Mute, was fascinating to watch.

Scenic designer James Othuse and costume designer Georgiann Regan gave this classic a new, unique look with gorgeous details. Musical director Steven Zumbrun, who provided the piano accompaniment, brought out every nuance of the score, and choreographer Melanie Walters carried out the gargantuan task of providing stylized movement throughout the play.



Michael Bond, Western Herald, Kalamazoo, MI

A&E Reporter

“The Fantasticks” is a traveling show that came to Miller auditorium exclusively for a one-time performance on March 14 at 8 p.m.

Courtesy Photo

This show has the reputation for being the longest running non-broadway musical, and has been running for over 42 years. This particular production was directed by Carl Beck.

The production starred Peter O’Neal as Matt, and Jennifer Tritz as Lusia. They are two neighbors who are madly in love with each other, but must keep the romance a secret from their feuding fathers. Lusia’s father, Bellomy, was played by John McDonald, and Matt’s father, Hucklebee was played by Andrew Tebo. “I think the story illustrates classic themes of love and family that people of all backgrounds can relate to,” said Gauthier.

As the story develops, it is revealed that the fathers are actually great friends, and have been plotting to trick both of their kids into wedlock since they were infants. They make a deal with the bandit, El Gallo, who plays out their scheme to bring the two together.

El Gallo, who was played by Chad Bradford, provided one of the strongest performances of the cast. His musical performances were strong, his on-stage presence played well along with the other characters, and his overall envelopment into the persona of El Gallo really brought a sense of trepidation for the fate of Matt and Lusia.

“The Fantasticks” came to Miller Auditorium exclusively on March 14. Gauthier said, “[We] included the Fantasticks because it was a new offering of a show that is a long-time favorite of many of our Broadway fans.”