“The Fantasticks”


Recommended *** I am sure there will be notes from other reviewers as well as audience members relative  to the rating I have placed on the Quest Theatre Ensemble’s production of “The Fantasticks” that opened this week-end. That is to be expected. This show is the longest running musical EVER! This show is a small and wonderful little musical that I have loved since working in the show back in the 60’s, and a show that I feel every theater person should see. While Quest theatre’s production is not as rigid as many I have been associated with or viewed, and perhaps the slight changes they made will throw off some people, I feel it is worthy of seeing as a lesson in story-telling.

Written by Tom Jones (not the singer) and Harvey Schmidt, first as a school project and then transformed to The Sullivan Street Theatre in New York for decades and decades, this is a charming little love story (based on a short story written by Edmond Rostand, who gave us “Cyrano”, “Les Romanesques”) that tells the tale of two neighbors, who plot to bring their children together as a couple by first being enemies and then conspiring to make them feel their love. In this musical version, we learn a great deal from the song the parents sing  “Never Say No”.

In the production, directed by Kent Joseph and a set designed by Joseph Pilka, who also handled the props (of which there are many), we see some minor adjustments to a very winning script. The “girl”, Luisa (an adorable Tiffany Williams so looks the role, but cannot reach some of the notes, or perhaps Quest needs to find a donor to get them some body mikes) is 16 and just realizing she is changing. She has fallen in love with 20 years old neighbor Matt (Adam Fane looks and sings the role to perfection). The parents have built a wall to show their children the hatred they feel for each other. Here, we have a major change, as it has always been two fathers (in fact even the songs refer to them as male) but in the era of “gender-bending”, Matt’s parent is now a “mother”, Hucklebee ( Megen Elk, who does a solid job despite a lot of overdone facial gestures) and Luisa’s dad, who remains a male is Bellomy (the comical Jordan DeBose, who maintains his character beautifully).

The play has a  MUTE, who has always been a thin clownish male, and in this production is the very energetic and acrobatic Lindsay Jouett. It is her job to change night to day, and hand props to those who need them as well as be on the stage almost the entire show. The main character is El Gallo (who is also the opening and closing Narrator) played by Robert Quintanilla, who looks the role, moves well and has a decnt, yet higher than written, vocal range. Again, a microphone would have helped those in the back row hear all the great lyrics to the songs he has;  “Try To Remember”, “It Depends on What You Pay” (they have taken the word “rape” out wherever they can making it the “Abduction song” and “Abduction Ballet” and “Round and Round” as well as the show stopping “Beyond That Road” (with Fane) , and of course the ending “Try To Remember”.

The other two players in the show are of course, the players, Henry, the “old Actor” deftly handled by Kirk Osgood and his sidekick, Mortimer (who in another gender-bending is played by the adorable Kristen Alesia) who are a major part of the “abduction” scene (without the indian stuff for Mortimer) and the”Round and Round” number. These are talented people who prove that indeed, “there are no small parts, only small actors”. They are both HUGE actors !

The two musicians, Sara Cate Langham on the piano (and kazoo) and Keryn Wouden on the harp are both terrific making this wonderful old musical sound as fresh as the day it was first performed. The theater used by Quest located in the lower level of a church is not the best of places to do a play, but the tech people have done a solid job with lighting (Eric Vigo) and costumes (Emma Cullimore) as well as choreography (Kasey Alfonso). The sound design by Jack Mecherle is somewhat limited due to the structure of the building, so I suggest if musicals are what they are doing, reach out to someone for some good mikes to hang or body mikes if possible, would be better.

Another part of what makes this theatre ensemble so special, in addition to their dedication to bringing audiences productions that “inform, delight, inspire, and unite” is that they make live theater available to EVERYONE- yes! Their shows have no admission fee. No tickets to buy, only reservations to make. This is their way of exposing people who might never see a live performance to this beautiful entertainment, perhaps opening up their eyes, hearts and minds to a new world for their future. For over 15 years this has been their Quest…to reach this impossible dream (to quote a song from another musical), and based on the full house tonight, I would have to say, they are reaching that goal.

“The Fantasticks” will continue at Quest Theatre’s The Blue Theatre, located at 1609 West Gregory Street (at Ashland) between Bryn Mawr and Foster with loads of free parking, thru March 26th with performances as follows:
Fridays  8 p.m.
Saturdays  2 p.m. and  8 p.m.
Sundays  2 p.m.
Running time is two hours with an intermission and they do offer snack items that can be brought into the theater (every item is a buck)
Tickets range from $0- $0 and are available by contacting the theater at http://www.questensemble.org/current/php
For info visit www.questensemble.org
They do ask for donations on the way out, and if you are inclined to do more than pocket -money, they are a tax deduction waiting to meet you.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Fantasticks”