The Fantasticks: Theater Review by Adam Feldman
[Note: The cast and the name of the theater have changed since this review was published in 2009.]
The Fantasticks, which opened in 1960 and went on to run for some 42 years, must at some point have worked like a charm. But whatever magic it once had is in woefully short evidence at the show’s flimsy new revival. The musical itself is a semi-precious trifle: a metatheatrical fable in which a group of players stages the tale of young lovers devided by a wall, with obvious echoes of the Rude Mechanicals’ take on Pyramus and Thisby in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (In this case, the lover’s warring parents are secretly setting them up.)
While this strenuously puckish show is never rude, it does feel mechanical. Librettist-director Tom Jones gives a delightful sense of wonder to his scenes as an elderly actor, and his slapstick sidekick, Robert R. Oliver, is a savory ham; newcomer Santino Fontana brings a full voice and suprising shadings to his role as the Boy. But the performances otherwise run like creaky clockwork, and the dialogue—much of it rhyming—has faded. The whole enterprise seems to have been simply lifted from a musty old trunk and plunked down in an equally musty new trunk (the shabby Snapple Theater Center, with its low ceilings and terrible sightlines); and charging $75 for this no-frills, no-thrills experience takes nerve. Those who enjoyed the original should try to remember it as it was, instead of this tourist trap. To quote a lyric from The Fantasticks: “Last night’s scenic might seem cynic by day.”—Adam Feldman
Snapple Theater Center (Off Broadway). Book and lyrics by Tom Jones. Music by Harvey Schmidt. Directed by Jones. With ensemble cast.