When Tom Jones (book, music, and lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music) came up with the idea to write the musical comedy, loosely based on the play Les Romanesques by Edmond Rostand, a French poet and dramatist best known for his play Cyrano de Bergerac, they probably had no idea it would go any further than it’s original summer theatre production at Barnard College in 1960. Once The Fantasticks made it to off-Broadway, the simple love story became the world's longest running show in it’s original theatre, running a total of 42 years and 17,162 performances at The Sullivan Street Theatre in New York City.
Fifty-four years later, the musical has played in every state, in over 2,000 cities and towns, and in at least 67 foreign countries. Although it has become a staple of regional, community, and high school productions, the Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown production of The Fantasticks, playing through May 11, is top notch and refreshing in everyway.
The narrator, El Gallo (Peter Gosik), lets the audience in the plot which centers on two fathers, Mr. Bellomy (Preston Dyar and select performances Kelley Hinman) and Mr. Hucklebee (Michael Kostroff), who share backyards as well as their desire for their respective children, 16 year-old Luisa (Carly Evans Hughes) and 20 year-old Matt (Justin Gregory Lopez), to wed. In order to trick them into falling in love, they pretend to feud and build a wall, portrayed by a mute actress (Maria Buchanan). Although this ruse apparently works, they take it a step further and hire El Gallo to engage two bungling traveling actors Henry (Ryan Hilliard) and Mortimer (Chris Allison) to stage a mock abduction, so that Matt can appear to be the hero and save Luisa and thus end the bogus feud.
Although they are old friends, Mr. Hucklebee espouses a philosophy of life and gardening to not overwater his plants and to be strict with his son, while Mr. Bellomy believes in plenty of water for his garden and indulgence for his daughter. When Matt and Luisa discover the deception, they reject the arrangement and go their separate ways. Matt is eager to leave the provincial town and Luisa is beguiled by El Gallo and asks him to take her away to see the world. They return to each other bruised by their experiences, and in their maturity, renew their vows.
The Playhouse Downtown production of The Fantasticks is performed completely in the round with a noteworthy set designed by Dennis C. Moulden, who uses ingenious riggings reminiscent of Steam Punk to create magical moments throughout the performance.
Directed by Flat Rock Playhouse Producing Artistic Director, Vincent Marini, the cast members shine. Gosik plays the mysterious El Gallo with adequately lavish swashbuckling style (ala Johnny Depp) and his rendition of “Try to Remember” is both beautiful and poignant. Buchanan portrays the mute with grace, elegance, and a dash of comedic timing. Although Lopez and Hughes also hold their own as the lovers, Hinman and Kostroff steal the show as the well meaning conflicted fathers. Hilliard is also hilarious as the loquacious bungling actor Henry along with his prat-falling sidekick Allison.
The Fantasticks runs through May 11 at Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown located at 125 S. Main Street in Hendersonville, NC.
Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 pm; matinees Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 pm.
All tickets are $40 and can be purchased by calling the Playhouse box office at 828-693-0731, toll-free at 866-732-8008 or online at www.flatrockplayhouse.org. Discounts available for seniors, AAA members, military personnel, students and groups.