The title says it all. The Fantasticks is always is a delight. This production at the Pasadena Playhouse is no exception. Led by Philip Anthony-Rodriguez as the mysterious El Gallo, the musical comedy features a talented cast, including Tony winner Hal Linden, all of whom add to the enchantment of the text.
The magic of The Fantasticks lies in its simplicity. A boy and girl fall in love. They stray. They return wiser and more in love. Matt (Conor Guzman) and Luisa (Ashley Park) have lived next door their whole lives. Like Romeo and Juliet, they are caught in the middle of a family feud. The danger of that only makes their mutual longing stronger. Unbeknownst to them, their fathers (Gedde Watanabe and Regi Davis) have their own scheme that includes abduction and an opportunity for heroism.
Tom Jones' book is spare and the play hinges more on a combination of shenanigans and his delightful score with composer Harvey Schmidt. Even for someone who hungers for a full orchestra, The Fantasticks score never seems thin with only a piano and harp. The melodies are so eclectic that the small orchestra guides the singers to entice the audience with their voices instead of a brass and woodwind section. Its famous number, "Try to Remember," remains lyrical and lilting on Anthony-Rodriguez's lips. "I Can See It," a number between El Gallo and Matt, soars. "Round and Round" sounds like a rollicking waltz that gets faster and more demonic as the song progresses.
Anthony-Rodriguez is dashing but menacing, trapping our heroine in his web. Both Guzman and Park are darling as the young lovers, naive and boisterous, but shallow enough to get distracted when the fantasies of love evaporate. Linden, one of the great actors of the stage, hams it up as the Shakespearean actor with double takes that are masterful and hilarious. Amir Talai showcases his comic timing with a hysterically exaggerated death scene. Both Watanabe and Davis are strong performers as the fathers, but it's unclear if it was intentional for the two to act like spouses. It was awkwardly campy.
Director Seema Sueko had the clever idea of having the actors break into a dilapidated theater and spread their infectious joy onto the abandoned stage with their musical interlude. It not only frames the show with an overriding theme of hope, it also fits perfectly with the small-scale production values. David F. Weiner's striking set is eerie, and it is remarkable how the jovial play disinfects the surroundings. Lighting designer Josh Epstein floods the stage with bright purples and greens, granting the stage a fairy tale look.
Still the world longest-running musical, The Fantasticks surprised everyone (even its creators) when it played continuously from 1960 to 2002 and was revived in 2006. This is a show for anyone who believes in love and enjoys a delightful score to go with it. This bare and beautiful production will introduce a new generation of theatergoers to the fantastic little musical that could.