Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Olathe Community Theatre "Fantasticks" review by BobEvans

OCTA's The Fantasticks brings smiles and laughs Rating: 5

The Fantasticks
Olathe Community Theatre Association

Count on Olathe Community Theatre Association (OCTA) to stage good plays, produce a variety of shows, and select a talented array of actors, and the current musical comedy continues that long-established tradition.

THE FANTASTICKS, a 1960s show that happens to be the longest running musical ever brings music, comedy, drama, plots, subplots, tenderness, and a bit of Shakespeare-like pieces of dialogue to the Olathe stage. The family-centered script has all the elements known to modern comedy, but without the adult language. Definitely a family friendly show, OCTA's show is appropriate for all ages. Current TV shows contain stronger language than THE FANTASTICKS. As such, load up the kids and let them have a laugh at forbidden love; conniving and manipulative parents; a mute; an aging "actor" and his feeble-minded accomplice; and a dapper, silver-tongued magician/narrator who serves as the antagonist and devil of the piece.

Director, David Martin selected a super-talented crew and cast to create this timeless piece and entertain audiences. Being a small venue with limited stage space and options, depend on OCTA to overcome the lack of extravagant sets, difficult scene changes, vast costumes, and to select shows where less is more. Just like Shakespearean productions, the actors control the audience's attention and what the audience does not see really does not matter. This demonstrates the confidence of the director and the technical crew that know how to overcome the facility limits.

THE FANTASTICKS revolves around the idea that everyone wants what he or she can't have. The bottom line is temptation and forbidden fruit. The two lovebirds, in this case Matt and Louisa, find themselves separated by a wall. The parents know that children do not listen to parents and plot their futures. The narrator, dressed in black, stirs the pot and sets forth plans developed by the parents. It's classic TV sitcom type stuff with a Garden of Eden motif.

While that plot structure does not create many opportunities for strong laughs, the play does bring in two bizarre characters, Henry and Mortimer, who delight the audience with their antics, charm, and vivid characterization. Be ready for them to steal the show. They do.

As for the acting, Louisa and Matt, played by Emma Cook and Adam Winney, create the focus of the play as the young lovers who suffer through forbidden love, plotting parents, temptation, awakening, and finally resolution. With all that to accomplish, audiences would think they are the centerpieces of the show. They are not. In THE FANTASTICKS, they provide the springboard for the other characters. Both create complex characters that must evolve as the show progresses. Both actors show great vocal skills and their musical numbers are strong.

Next, the meddling parents, Hucklebee and Bellomy, portrayed by Rebecca Dempsey and Charles Christesson, Jr, perform a couple of fetching numbers and scenes as they unveil their plans and plot for the unsuspecting couple. Both are very well acted parts by talented actors. Their interactions with their children and El Gallo keep the audience guessing what will happen next. Their musical numbers are fun and interesting to watch and elicit smiles and chuckles from the audience.

The other main character, and the lead actor in the show, El Gallo, aptly delivered by Richard J. Burt, shows his suave and deceitful sides as he moves deftly between narrator, tempter, devil, antagonist, and catalyst for plots, plans, and resolution. Burt's voice is strong and clear. His delivery of poetic lines (Shakespeare-like verse), his facial expressions, and his physical movements as the magician keep the audience wondering what he will do next. His version of Try to Remember, the show's premier song is beautifully performed. At times he's debonair, at times devilish, at times suave, at times deceptive and deceitful. He's fun to watch move through the character and changes.

Probably the most confusing part in the play is that of the mute/wall, in this case performed by Ericka Crane Ricketts. She is both a character and a prop. She is the wall that divides the couples; she is the builder of the wall; she finds herself positioned between different situations as the show develops. Watch for her facial expressions and physical movements. She brings smiles and laughs without muttering a word. She is very good in this part.

And then there are the characters of Henry and Mortimer, beautifully played by Andy Penn and Michael Juncker. From out of no where (well actually a magic trunk) they pop out and deliver some of the funniest parts of each act. What makes their performances so endearing is that they portray the farcical as serious. They treat each line and movement as a serious actor who thoroughly buys in and develops each character's persona. They play comedy as if it were drama and thereby allow the audience to discover the humor in their performances and lines. The result is laugh out loud bursts from the audience, especially as Penn butchers some of Shakespeare's finest lines. And, Mortimer's dim-witted assistant to Henry just keeps audiences laughing. Their appearance alone starts the audience laughing. Both costumes in Act I are priceless (and by priceless, they look like thrift-store discards Their wigs, too, look like well-worn rejects from Barnum and Bailey's 1900 era shows.Prepare to laugh as soon as they appear.

The show opened April 5 and played well to its first audience of nearly 3/4 full. The only problem noticed was understanding a few of the lines delivered by the character of Louisa. Possible solution could be to adjust the microphone a bit and slow her delivery a bit without changing her exuberance of character. Other than that, the show was wonderful and a delight.

THE FANTASTICKS definitely appeals to all ages, and if you have not seen this version (or any version) make plans to see it. Be prepared to laugh. Be prepared to smile. Be prepared to recognize some of the situations. Be prepared to be entertained for a little over 2 hours.

All in all, OCTA's THE FANTASTICKS provides a fun and entertaining evening. The plot keeps the audience guessing; the direction and technical staff developed a strong piece, and the actors deliver great performances. The show is suitable for all ages, but under 10 may not understand all the tongue-in-cheek situations presented.

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