Rich Forum, Stamford
There is good reason why “The Fantasticks” has become a timeless classic, that it played off-Broadway for 42 years before finally closing in 2002, and that it has traveled the wide world. It is the simplest of tales--of love found, lost, and found again. There’s the Boy, the Girl, the Boy’s Father, the Girl’s Father, and so on. Moreover, there is a kind of fairy-tale quality to the telling, with much of the piece written in rhyme. Not only Tom Jones’ book and lyrics--but Harvey Schmidt’s music--is totally captivating. Such tunes as “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” “Try to Remember,” “Round and Round,” and “Plant a Radish” become burned into one’s memory, never to be forgotten.
How does this particular Stamford Center for the Arts production, directed by Kevin Connors, stand among its peers? Connors has certainly captured the whimsical quality of the piece, giving it the feel of a back-yard show put on by children. A curtain strung between two poles announces the play, the moon is a large cardboard circle covered in gold paper, and multi-colored strips of greenish fabric indicate a wooded scene. The fairy tale feeling is further enhanced by a delightful mime (Kathy Calahan) who warms up the audience pre-curtain, introduces the story, and is a generally helpful scene-changer throughout the show.
But Connors is necessarily stymied by the cavernous Rich Forum. Even though the show uses only the front of the theater, with bleachers on three sides tightly encompassing the action. Nevertheless, the ceiling extends heavenwards, high above the viewers’ heads, and fights against the intimate feeling so needed by “The Fantasticks.” After all, this is a delicate chamber piece, not a blockbuster Broadway musical.
Connors has further problems with the cast itself. As singers, their work is uneven. While Jamie Cronin (The Girl), Jack Doyle (The Girl’s Father), and particularly William Broderick (as El Gallo) are in fine voice, others are far less satisfactory in handling the tunes. Undoubtedly the best number in the show is “Round and Round” (the dark, cynical piece about the state of the world), because it is a Cronin/Broderick duet.
Connors is luckier in his players’ straight performances, as he puts them through their acting paces. Both Justin Paul (The Boy) and Bob Del Pazzo give solid portrayals, as do the others. And Broderick as the dynamic, self-assured El Gallo keeps the show on course, never spinning out into space.
But the real show-stealer is Ken Parker, who plays the Old Actor. Parker hams it up beautifully as an old geezer who remembers his days of glory, and he is further matched in delicious zaniness by Jim Schilling, who plays his cohort Mortimer. In fact, these two are so good that Connors lets them go on at length, thus slowing the show’s action to a crawl.
In short, Connors’ show has its moments of glory, but also its glaring problems. Too bad he can’t stage the show in some one’s old backyard barn!
-- Irene Backalenick
June 16, 2005