September 22, 2005
VAIL – A funny thing happened at a recent rehearsal for “The Fantasticks”: Between acts, members of Vail Valley Community Theatre started enthusiastically relating what the play meant to them.With bits of song and dialogue for the show, local actors John Tedstrom, Robert Wagner and Aaron Truax perhaps inadvertently revealed why this classic American musical was the longest-running show on Broadway: It touches the heart in a way that resonates with just about everyone.
“The reality is they must learn on their own,” Wagner said, referring to the characters in the show. “You have to come back after seeing all the stuff that’s out there.”A kind of reverse “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Fantasticks” starts out as an almost farcical romp through the landscape of two families. At the core of the story is a young couple, Matt and Louisa. Their fathers, Bellomy and Hucklebee, want to see them married, but when Matt and Louisa don’t show enough interest, the fathers cook up a plan. Pretending to be enemies, they build a wall between their two homes and forbid the children to see one another.Based on the premise that children will do the opposite of what they’re told, the plan works. As the fathers sing: “Just tell her he’s a fool/and you’ve got a son-in-law.”
Matt and Louisa are well-played by two Battle Mountain High students, sophomore Sean Pack and senior Josie Sutner. Their fathers, hovering over them like guardian angels, are portrayed by Tedstrom as Bellomy and Larry Dutmer, as Hucklebee. As the fathers go, so do the children, and vice versa. So when things start going downhill for the young couple in Act II, the fathers find themselves at odds as well.”The Fantasticks” represents two distinct story lines between its acts. What seems so well at the end of the first act is turned on its head in the second, when Matt and Louisa discover their fathers’ trick. Thus sets in motion the lesson alluded to above, that life’s patterns cannot be artificially placed or induced, and only through struggle does balance occur.
Central to all of this is the character of El Gallo, played by Wagner. Also serving as narrator, El Gallo is the man the fathers hire to effect the sham, and Wagner plays him with remarkable aplomb. Rounding out the cast are David Priboth as Henry, an actor, Truax as Mortimer (The Man Who Dies) and two mutes: Rebecca Richardson and Lauren Vickers.From the famous opening song “Try To Remember” to the final happy ending, “The Fantasticks” is every bit a theatrical play, only flirting with realism in places but ultimately ringing true for just about anyone anyone who’s ever been a parent or a child, that is.
The show has its own fascinating story about how it came into being and went on to run off-Broadway in the Sullivan Street Playhouse for a record-setting 42 years. But more important is how casts around the world have taken the show and made it their own, and the Vail Valley Theatre Company is no exception. This weekend, the small cast, accompanied only with piano and on a spare set, will breathe life into an American standard that’s always a pleasure to see.
Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado