Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Fantasticks—Metro Performing Arts—NE Portland

The “Salad” Years

This classic, long-running, Broadway musical has book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt, and is directed by Paul Angelo, music direction by Valery Saul and choreography by Shannon Jung.  It is playing at the Triangle space, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd., through August 20th.  For more information, go to their site at www.metropaa.org

If “Life is a Banquet...,” a meal, then your teens are your “salad” years.  Too old for a spanking, when mistakes are made, old enough to know better in your heart of hearts.  Twain said of these formative years that, at that age, he surmised his father knew very little.  But when Twain reached his 20’s, he was amazed at how much wiser his dad become!  “Ah, Youth is wasted on the Young.”

The story is “as old as time:” Boy meets girl, they split up, they reconcile, they “live happily ever after.”  But the variations within that are endless.  In this case it is presented in a story-telling style on a mostly bare stage, with a Mute (Natalie Stromberg), a Narrator (Pip Kennedy), an old steamer truck with endless props, and a couple of third-rate actors, Henry (John Matthews) and Mortimer (Tristan James) to fill in the blanks.

As the story goes, a couple of star-struck teens, neighbors, the poetic, Matt (Isaiah Rosales) and the romantic, Luisa (Jessica Caldwell) have “discovered” each other and have decided to follow that winding road called Life together, wherever it may lead.  Only roadblock is a Wall, purposely built by their two fathers, Luisa’s, Bellomy (Doug Zimmerman), a button salesman, and the boy’s, Hucklebee (Sean Kelly), a fastidious gardener.  Of course, a Wall is no match for some determined Youth.

But the fathers are not as dense as first thought, as they know that if they approved of such a union, their kids would run in the opposite direction, so they pretend to feud.  They also decide to hire a small company of actors, including one, El Gallo (Kennedy, again), and his cohorts, Henry and Mortimer, to pose as bandits and pretend to abduct the girl, in which, they conclude, the boy will fight them off, he rescues the girl and they all live happily ever after, but that all happens in the soothing moonlight.  In the blazing sun, the world looks a whole lot different.

And so the story takes an ugly turn, as the boy seeks his fortune outside this protective circle and the girl must accept the world as it is.  Both will be hurt but wiser, too.  Not unlike Dorothy, they will seek their happiness “over the rainbow,” only to find it was in their own backyards all the time.  But, sometimes, “the world is too much with us,” and so we are forced to look within for what’s really important.  “The world is nowhere…no one, you are the world!”

It should be noted that a couple of criticisms have been leveled at the play over the years.  One is that “Rape Ballet,” which actually is a misnomer because it is, in actuality, a kidnapping with a pre-determined ending, and so this number is either cut or modified (as in this case).  I think the authors were simply trying to be daring for the Big City audiences, as rape is nothing to make light of.  Also some have remarked that having the Bandit pictured as a Latin American is stereotyping but El Gallo is simply a role that the Narrator is donning for the play within a play and, in reality, turns out to be a teacher of tough love rather than a villain.

A couple of film versions have flopped, for this is not a filmable story, as it needs the intimacy of a small, live audience to be successful.  On TV, many moons ago, it had Richardo Montoban (sp?), Lesley Ann Warren, and John Davidson., censored and rather flat, and the movie version with Joel Grey, set in the Old West, gawd-awful.  The music and songs are great so, take my word for it, see it in a theatre.

The score is pretty complicated but these performers seem up to the task.  The famous, “Try To Remember,” a beautiful ballad, well sung by Kennedy, comes from this.  Also the lovely, “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” and “They Were You,” both love songs, well voiced by Rosales and Caldwell.  And the fathers, Zimmerman and Kelly, are a hoot in their numbers, “Never Say No” and “Plant a Radish.”  There are a number of dance numbers accompanying these songs, very well choreographed by Jung in such a limited space.  The misfit players were fun and especially good was Stromberg as the Mute, filling in for missing elements in the story, as well as dancing in various scenes.

Saul and her band of renown, David Saffert (piano), Eli Graf (Double Bass) and, my favorite, Kate Petak on Harp, were spot on and did not overpower the actors, which often happens in a small space.  Angelo, a seasoned director, has done well with casting the play and keeping the show intimate and personal, as it should be for the audience.

A couple of side notes, it is reported that the idea for Henry, the old actor, comes from their former drama teacher, B. Iden Payne, who also was a friend of Dr. Angus Bowmer, Founder of OSF in Ashland.  Also, I have played Henry five times over about 20 years both in the NY area as well as the NW.  I even voiced for the NW theatre of the Deaf, El Gallo, Henry and Mortimer, which is a real trick because a couple of times I was having a three-way conversation with myself, as the actors onstage signed the roles.  Whew.

I recommend this production.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.