The musical spends one act with young couple Matt (Grabeel) and Louisa (Alison Woods) deliriously in love. Next-door neighbors, they climb the trees to read each other poetry and kiss in private. Unbeknownst to them, however, his mother (Eileen T'Kay) and her father (Harry Groener) have a nefarious plan. In Act Two, harsh reality attacks and the two learn that true love only occurs in the real world where you can see each other for all your foibles.
Weaving this tale together is a mysterious stranger named El Gallo (McCormack) who reminds audiences to "Try To Remember" when we all first encountered love. McCormack is not only the evening's glue, but he provides a naughty antidote to the lovers' saccharine adulation. Fashioning a ridiculously humorous "Speedy Gonzalez" accent, McCormack devilishly plays with the audience and the cast to great effect.
Grabeel (best known for his role in the High School Musical series) lends a childlike ignorance to the role of Matt; he is so open-mouthed he could collect flies. Woods matches Grabeel's innocence with a wistful romanticism. Although her voice is lovely, her upper register is noticeably weak. T'Kaye and Groener are daffy fools, mocking their children's virtue, but just as irrational as their offspring. (They also get to sing one of the show's most delightful numbers, "It Depends on What You Pay.") In smaller roles, Barry Dennen and Hap Lawrence have the elegance of Shakespearean buffoons, while sprightly Kimberly Mikesell is magical as a mute ballerina who can manipulate the lights with her color handkerchiefs, start the orchestra with a wind-up key, and forward the plot with inane props.
Costume designer Kate Bergh turns McCormack into a conquistador with his tight leather pants and brown shirt. Wood resembles a fantasy princess in her Disney-like dress and T'Kaye brings to mind a military veteran with an outfit that resembles an over-aged Girl Scout costume. Set designer Bradley Kaye smartly works with lighting designer Driscoll Otto to change the moods with light bouncing off white flowing curtains. Darryl Archibald's orchestra meticulously explores the score's lush melodies, but does just as well with its comical numbers.
And while the cast's endeavors sometime slide into shtick, in the end, The Fantasticks remains a musical to remember.