“The Fantasticks,” despite its rambunctious name, offers that rarest of theatrical treats: an intimate and heartwarming story about love.
“Try to remember the kind of September, when life was slow and oh, so mellow,” sings El Gallo. “Try to remember when life was so tender, that no one wept except the willow. Try to remember, and if you remember, then follow.”
With that, audience members are ushered back in time, to relive the innocence and optimism of first love.
Yet things are not always what they seem.
“The Fantasticks” opened on Nov. 2 at the Firehouse Arts Center in Pleasanton, with upcoming performances over the next two weekends.
After lulling audience members into romantic reveries, hilarious action whips them back out of it. Young Luisa (Brenna Sammon) and Matt (Matt Skinner) live next door to each other and speak of love over a garden wall built by their feuding fathers, Bellomy (G. Scott Phillips) and Hucklebee (Jim Rupp). But with the kids out of earshot, the fathers heartily congratulate themselves on accomplishing their actual goal of bringing their children together, as they sing “Never Say No”: “A dog's got to bark, a mule's got to bray. Soldiers must fight, and preachers must pray. And children, I guess, must get their own way — the minute that you say ‘No.’”
Pleased with their clever manipulation, Hucklebee tells Bellomy of his plan to have Luisa kidnapped by a professional abductor so that Matt can rescue her and appear heroic. The two friends hire El Gallo (Joshua Gonzales) and, sparing no expense, choose a first-class abduction carried out by a lovable old actor, Henry (John Blytt), and his uproarious Cockney sidekick, Mortimer (M. Javi Harnly). Completing the seven-person cast is Kate Henderson who nimbly plays the enchanting Mute.
As Act I ends, the players are bathed in gleaming moonlight, caught up in the intoxicating magic of a happy ending.
Then Act II begins. A blazing sun has replaced the soft moonlight, and the characters, still in their earlier poses, appear exhausted and strained. El Gallo observes that what seems romantic by moonlight may lose its charm in the harsh light of day. From there, the truth of the feud and kidnapping is revealed, recriminations follow, and El Gallo orchestrates a series of escapades designed to reveal the characters’ vain ambitions until the necessary point of disillusion is reached and the young lovers realize that all they truly ever wanted was each other.
Produced by the Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre, “The Fantasticks” is fantastic — a charming, engaging excursion down memory lane, deepened with a mature understanding of what is truly valuable. The highly-talented cast strike the pitch-perfect balance between innocence and absurdity, and heart and sentimentality.
“The show’s original off-Broadway production was one of the world’s longest-running musicals,” Director Lexie Lazear says of the show’s 42-year run, from 1960 until 2002. “Personally, I think that’s due to the timeless nature of stories about first love. In a turbulent world, it’s essential to remember how similar our basic goals in life are: to feel safe, to feel needed, and to have love.”
In the Tri-Valley, as the warm days of summer slip into the chilly nights of winter, “The Fantasticks” wraps attendees in a happy glow that makes them feel young and protected from the cold.
“Deep in December, it's nice to remember, although you know the snow will follow,” sings El Gallo. “Deep in December, it's nice to remember, without a hurt the heart is hollow. Deep in December, it's nice to remember, the fire of September that made us mellow.”
Shows take place on Nov. 8-10 and 15-17, with Friday performances at 8 p.m., Saturday performances at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday performances at 2 p.m. Tickets are $41 for general admission, $37 for seniors (62+), and $25 for children. The Firehouse is located at 4444 Railroad Ave. in downtown Pleasanton.