J. A. Di Bello’s Review of The Fantasticks

The Rhinebeck Theatre Society

The Centre for The Performing Arts


Try To Remember

     With the sure-fire blessing of Dionysus, et al, the Rhinebeck Theatre Society presented The Fantasticks to an appreciative audience this Friday evening past. Aside from the remarkable, this musical comedy is one of the silliest, most whimsical plays ever to brighten marques, from the Great White Way to Poughkeepsie, Buffalo, and yes, Rhinebeck, too. So creative, unusual and magical is this musical, it ran continuously at the notorious Off-Broadway Sullivan Street Theatre for 42 years (until 2002), and, just sayin’, that’s 17,162 performances!

The narrative, frankly, is a zany, beautifully told allegory about youthful love, optimism and the abrupt realization that the path to the magic kingdom is infested with blind curves and disguised potholes. Written by Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt, The Fantasticks speaks lyrically through the show’s narrator, El Gallo, brought earnestly and effectively to the Rhinebeck stage by smooth acting, clever talkin’ Austin Lightning Carrothers. He essentially asks those who were once “tender” and “callow” to walk with him to a land where “no one weeps except the willow.”

Musically and lyrically the show is one that lingers within. Instrumentalists Michael Berkley on piano and Teresa Mango on the harp assist with apparent ease, bringing Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones’ memorable lyrics to the forefront, as internal and ending rhymes abound.

Once seated, an anxious audience is escorted through the trials of two hope-filled lovers, Matt and Luisa, initially two naïve youngsters. Luisa is brought to the stage by a stunning Katie Nicol Weiser, whose well-maintained vocal talents are immediately evident, as she demonstrates her ability to hold the stage in the presence of serious competitors. Her counterpart, Chris Backofen representing Matt, is an efficient actor on stage and enjoyable. However, he’s a tad shy of the vocal talent demonstrated by Ms. Weiser. That’s designed to be more a complement for Katie Weiser than a slight for Mr. Backofen.

For the director Tina Reily’s notes: The fathers of Matt and Luisa are simply dazzling. It is clear from the get-go that Andy Crispell, as Hucklebee and Michael Britt as Belomy, are true craftsmen as they tip-toe across the footlights. But, as noted, competition is fierce on the stage at Rhinebeck. The characters Henry and Morimer are designed to move the show along, but in reality, they came just a tad short of stealing the show. Lou Trapani and Thomas Byrne, respectively, are experienced pros, each fully aware of the roles they are to play.

Portraying The Mute in this musical comedy may initially appear simplistic, but far removed from one-dimensional, the role is multifunctional, i.e., moving and setting props, and assisting El Gallo. Beautifully played by Amber McCarthy. Brava!

The Fantasticks will continue its current run at the Center for the Performing Arts, Rhinebeck, through October 6. Tickets and information are available through its Box Office - (845) 876-3080 or the theatre’s web site: http://www.centerforperformingarts.org/

Deep in December our hearts should remember and follow
Without a hurt the heart will hollow.

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