Arena Stage's The Fantasticks

Having just slammed the over-conceptualized production of As You Like It at the Shakespeare Theatre, I was, as you can imagine, a wee bit nervous about attending Arena Stage’s production of The Fantasticks. The Fantasticks is a famously small, charming musical, able to be produced successfully with the smallest of resources. In fact, all of the three productions I had previously seen of this show were performed in a black box theatre. What, then, would I make of Amanda Dehnert’s production of The Fantasticks, performed in the spacious Lincoln Theatre, and set it an abandoned amusement park in Rocky Point, Rhode Island? Luckily the setting does not detract from the show, and even manages to add to it. The setting serves mostly as a backdrop, not overshadowing the charm of the piece. The amusement park setting highlights the theatricality of the show, and gives a strong sense of El Gallo as a stage manager, manipulator character. Though I’m not sure why specifically Rocky Point as opposed to a nameless amusement park, other than the fact that lighting the ‘O’ provides a way to create a moon.

The space itself detracts more from the piece than the concept. The Fantasticks really isn’t made for a theatre as large as the Lincoln, so if you go, I highly encourage you get seats as close as possible (and avoid the balcony all together). The musical is delightful in its simplicity and therefore it’s made to be experienced at close quarters.

Dehnert’s keen sense of staging helps keep the performance moving and the smile on the audience’s face. Laurence O’Dwyer steals the entire production as the old actor Henry, who walks around befuddled and recited half-remembered lines from Shakespeare performances long ago. His timing is perfect and he is hilarious. Nate Dendy brings an excellent stage presense to the role of The Mute. Addi McDaniel and Timothy Ware are sweet and bring excellent vocals to the lovers Luisa and Matt. The production falters in its El Gallo (Sebastian La Cause). La Cause is graceful and certainly nails the showman side of El Gallo, but there is nothing sinister about him, robbing many moments in the show of any sense of danger.

3 stars
Through January 10th

Moving on to the bloggyer aspect – am I the only person in the world that misses the original 'Rape Song'? Maybe it is offensive, and I’m just missing it because I grew up with the song and Jerry Orbach’s delicious rendition of it. But I mean, artistically speaking, in terms of the writing of the lyrics, isn’t it a better song? Plus I think it is a little funny that Schmidt and Jones are so worried about offending with this song when The Fantasticks has a character called Mortimer the Indian. Apparently that kind of offensiveness is acceptable.

I wonder, can you even do the show with the old song? Or does the licensing require the replacement 'It Depends on What You Pay'?


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