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Charm Trumps Cynicism in Fantasticks
By: Lawrance Bernabo, Duluth News Tribune
Why is The Fantasticks the longest-running musical of all time? The answer quickly became clear on Thursday’s opening night at the Duluth Play Ground. The first act is utterly charming, and while the second act pales in comparison, there is too much good will generated by that point to really complain. Especially with the cast director Priscilla McRoberts has put together.
It is also nice to finally see a musical in Duluth that avoids the rampant pitfalls associated with stage microphones, mainly because the orchestration consists of the Musician (Patrick Colvin) and for once there were no significant problems with hearing the singers.
The plot is a variation on the mythical story of Pyramus and Thisbe that most would recognize as being enacted by the “mechanicals” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. After the Narrator (Juli Jake Caceres) sings the show’s most memorable song, “Try to Remember,” the conspiracy in the moonlight to match the Girl (Teran Ferguson) and the Boy (Bryce Crandall) succeeds, only to come unraveled in the sunlight of Act Two.
Ferguson is an absolute stitch as her zany character shifts emotions in the blink of an eye, which is no mere hyperbole because the intimacy of the Play Ground theatre means you can see the lightening changes she goes through with her eyes as well as her voice. Caceres also develops a lot of his character through his eyes, especially once he emerges as the Bandit and his accented voice draws up memories of fine Corinthian leather.
The first of the two show-stopping numbers come when the two fathers advise us to “Never Say No.” Watching Kirby Wood and Paul Waterman share the stage had me thinking somebody needs to stage “The Sunshine Boys” with these two, who were born for (or would it be in?) Vaudeville. Then Caceres joins them for “It Depends On What You Pay” and earned even louder applause from the audience.
One of the most interesting characters on stage is the Mime (Emma Harvey), a silent harlequin character in black and white who in turn is stage manager, scenery, prop girl, dancer and commentator on the action courtesy of a strategic smile or arched eyebrow. By the time the Old Actor (Mike Pederson) shows up to brush off his Shakespeare and brings along the Man Who Dies (Kyle McMillan) to do his thing, you have to wonder how all of this came from the mind of Tom Jones (no, not that one).
In Act Two, as we are told repeatedly, what is scenic turns cynic, and what is cynical is not as entertaining. Things get decidedly allegorical and not as engaging as you would think. Then the Boy returns, to my mind now as the Man, and sings “They Were You” with the Girl. As arguably the most normal character in the show, Crandall’s character struck me as the least interesting, but when he returned and put the show’s heart back in the right place, it became clear he was the most important one and why this is a legendary show.
Watching The Fantasticks for the first time as a Musical that has been playing for decades, the expectations of seeing a great performance was in mind. The actors were great at portraying the characters that were assigned to them, only the production itself was a fail.
The plot of the story in this Musical was a takeoff of the Shakespearean play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, since is recognized worldwide, along with The Fantasticks. That being said the director and actors could have portrayed the musical as being a very respectable musical, only they didn’t do that. This expectation of seeing something fabulous was taken away after the first Act was over.
While watching the first Act, things seemed to be going in a straight path and the musical was easy to understand. The Audience was laughing at the small jokes that were said and clapping in the necessary places. As the intermission of the play was inching away, it wasn’t known to the audience that there would be an intermission. Many people in the theater were wondering if it was over before announcing that it was intermission. This could be fixed if in the program that was given to the audience if there was a section in the program that said there would be an intermission during the musical.
After the short intermission the second Act started. Since most of the audience was thinking that the play was over, the goal of the actors would be to try to pull the audience back in to watching the performance, which didn’t happen. The audience seemed to be more interested in looking at their watches to see what time it was or in the refreshment that they had purchased during intermission. The second act ruined the musical performance.
Once the musical was over there weren’t many people that stayed to chat most of the audience walked of the theater hall as soon as they could. The play lasted for what seemed like 7 hours instead of the 2 hours that it really lasted. Another technical error that really bothered the audience was the fact that the show was originally supposed to start at 7:30 p.m. but actually started at 7:40 p.m. It is the respectful and right thing to make sure that your performance starts at the correct time in order for the audience to be able to get out when expected. It is not only rude but also makes the audience think that the performers were not ready to perform or that the theater that was giving the performance is inconsiderate of the audience that paid at an outrageous price of $15 for a ticket.
All in all the theater and the performers could have done a much better job of trying to engage the audience and being more respectful of the audiences commitment to coming to the performance. After leaving the theater the audience seemed more than happy to rush to their cars and get home. This made it seem that people did not enjoy the play that should have been magnificent since it has been playing for multiple decades now. The actors and the director of The Fantasticks should maybe tweak some of their performance, improvement is needed.
Thursday night at the Opening of The Fantastics it was clear as to why to seats were full and the show was sold out. The Duluth Play Ground had the privilege of having the well-known play perform on their stage. With a lovable and charming cast The Fantastics lived up to the original production. The two act play directed by Priscilla McRoberts left the audience in shock and awe as the production unraveled. The Fantastics is noted as the longest running musical and it does not seem to be going out of style anytime soon.
The story begins with two similar families both with one father and one child; the only difference is one child is a boy and ones a girl. The Boy played by Bryce Crandall is utterly charming and very romantic. The Girl who is played by Teran Ferguson is a demanding and naïve teenager looking for what she thinks is love. Both the girl and the both had many things in common one being their cosmic love for each other. The emotions of love were felt by the audience and captured them under a spell when watching the play. The Boy was a phenomenal singer and actor and had the audience wanting more by the end of the play. The Girl who was stunning had captured the audience with her beauty and her overall performance.
The first Act starts with the two teenagers falling in love, but there’s a problem standing in their way a massive wall meant to separate them from seeing one another. Although the teens still manage to have communication the wall and their parents make it difficult. As the play unwinds we as the audience find out that the Dads of both children built the wall knowing the kids would break their Fathers rules and want to see each other even more knowing they were not allowed. Kirby Wood and Paul Waterman who played the fathers owned the stage when they performed. They did a wonderful job of acting and singing and were overall superb performers. The songs they sung had you moving back and forth. They knew how to get the audience involved and the song was also very catchy. The audience appeared to love the song “It Depends On What You Pay” it was a memorable part of the play and also got an outstanding applause from the oversize audience. The play is something that cannot be explained or understood with words it rather has to be seen for yourself to get the full affect along with all the emotions that are shared.
Along with all of the characters already described there was another character that stood out. Emma Harvey who played the versatile mime that did it all. A traditional mime wearing only black and white Emma Harvey still stood out among the others. Mimes of course don’t talk but Emma had her ways of being heard on stage. In charge of the props, playing the Wall, a beautiful dancer, and the mime were all tasks she took on this Thursday night. Her smile brightened the stage and simply her presence made the audience smile.
The Fantastics which has been showing for generations is one to see in person. The memorizing play will have you astonished with an amazing script with versatile actor performing it. There is not a dull moment in the play and it will have you guessing until the very end. Overall a round of applause to the actors of The Fantastics for having a speechless audience at the end of the night.
Saturday night was the last performance of the well-known show The Fantasticks, and all were expecting a phenomenal end to a great show. But that was far from what happened, the characters where very enthusiastic but the plot lost the audience not far into the first act. This show was a collaboration of confusion.
The show was scheduled to begin at promptly 7:30 said the program and the overpriced ticket but the show did not actually start until 7:40. This is upsetting to the audience always because now the time is pushed back for the entire evening. Starting the show late was unprofessional and somewhat rude.
The plot was about a boy (Bryce Crandall) and a girl (Teran Ferguson) who fell in love, which seems simple enough to grasp, but then there is a mime (Emma Harvey) that complicates the story. Maybe audience members familiar with the show would have been able to keep up, but for the audience who didn’t know the story, they were fidgeting in angst for the unknown intermission. Harvey’s character is supposed to represent a wall, but also she is supposed to do all the props which are located on stage in a box which was labeled props. Had she been subtle about things may have made it easier to focus on the story, but that is not what happened during the performance. Also the idea of keeping main cast members on stage at all time was ridiculous. The second the performers sat on the bench it was as if they had sat on that bench off stage. They were moving and drinking water and clearly not in character. This seemed very unprofessional from off stage, especially in a small theatre where everything can be seen.
The playground theatre holds somewhere between 50-75 people max, but it was apparent some of the actors thought they were on a stage on Broadway. The actors had a lot of enthusiasm, extreme facial expressions, and could belt their voices very well, but the theatre was not large enough for that. The overdone facial expressions were somewhat creepy from the audience because everyone sat so close to the stage. Also the overdone body movements would be perfect on a large stage but looked awkward on this size of stage. The whole cast was guilty of those two issues, but throughout the show Ferguson acted as if she forgot she was singing with fellow cast members. She belted so loud that from the audience you couldn’t hear anyone else either talking or singing along with her. This was tolerable on her own solos, but when she didn’t have a microphone and was just a background singer, there was no way to turn her down.
The audience was very responsive during the first act but during the second act everyone was bored and tired and the actors could not seem to pull everyone back in. Multiple people were moving around and checking watches as if there was somewhere else everyone wanted to be. But it was hard to be involved when people couldn’t follow the plot. The show lasted a little more than two hours and that was more than enough for this story. It felt like it had lasted hours on end. When exiting the theatre the cast was very respectful and kind to the audience as they were rushing out to get to the parking lot. The Fantasticks had potential, but not on this size stage. The actors were all perfect for their specific parts but I think some changes would definitely be in order to make the plot more précis and understandable to all.
The Fantasticks was one spectacular performance to witness. Although the first act was predictable, from a personal perspective, the play was very well worth attending. The first act was predictable mainly because the Narrator had explained from the beginning what was about to happen. The second act was less predictable because the Narrator had explained less in order to incorporate suspense and curiosity throughout the audience. Regardless of the first act being predictable, the play was excellent. The performance was well worth witnessing and furthermore the performance was deeply interconnected with a comprehension of life and the tendencies of human’s in today’s society.
Near the beginning of the play when the girl’s father, Kirby Wood, and the boy’s father, Paul Waterman, were discussing children and their tendencies, they explored the repercussions of telling a child that he or she cannot perform a task. In most cases, when a child is told not to carry out a specific experiment, their curiosity is peaked. Luisa and Matt were told they could not be in contact and in turn managed whatever they could to see each other. In a basic sense, people want what they can’t have and The Fantasticks performance profoundly exemplified this human tendency.
A second human tendency is to be unpredictable. The two fathers agreed a vegetable was dependable, unlike a child because when a vegetable is planted, it is predictable and certain to know what will grow. With children, sometimes their motivations and mind processes are not easy to comprehend which consequently can lead to unpredictability. The two fathers recognized this but did not fully comprehend why it was so difficult to predict their children’s actions. Because they could not fully comprehend this, they continued to try and fail at planning the futures of their children. This particular portion of the play was enticing in a way that helped the audience to connect their lives with the lives of the characters.
A last tendency of humans is to only want to see the good aspects of life and shy away from the bad aspects. Luisa and Matt lived a sheltered life and experienced not much more than their yard. This tendency was apparent when Luisa began her infatuation with the Bandit. She was curious about the outside world and knew he could take her there. He handed her a mask and whenever something evil appeared before her, he made her cover her face with the mask. She was unhappy seeing the evils of the world and when the mask covered her face she only saw the good aspects and was happy again. When Matt wanted to experience the outside world he envisioned gambling and drinking. He did not have someone such as the Bandit to cover his face when life didn’t turn out to be all happy. He instead experienced a bucket full of evil and returned home wishing he had never left.
The Fantasticks was a thrilling play that throughout the second act left the audience waiting in suspense. The characters performed in a very convincing matter which proved to the audience how much time and effort was put forth in directing such a piece. The performance was basic, but shared an underlying connection to life and the human tendencies in today’s society. Overall, the play was an excellent experience.
The Fantaskticks is the world’s longest-running musical, and after watching it for the first time, it’s easy to see why. Between the script, actors, and music performance, a pleasing performance was delivered on Thursday.
The play was rather slow-paced at the very beginning, focusing on how predictable the whole situation was: star-crossed lovers, a couple destined to be together but separated by what others expected of them, etc. However, once their fathers revealed their friendship and plan to wed their children the plot became immediately more interesting. It felt like the ‘set up’ took a little longer than preferred, but was well worth it.
It felt like the play could have ended after the first act. It felt as though everything had been resolved and everyone could go home happy knowing that the Boy and the Girl were together. However, this is not a very common situation, and the second act brought some more realistic themes to the show. Situations like the Boy wanting to adventure into the world and the Girl looking for mystery and adventure in another man reveal the direction their relationship took after the usual ‘happily ever after’ end. This made for a great second act, setting the musical apart from others where once the couple is united and the story is over. In the case of the Fantasticks, the couple is re-united, making for a more believable and more interesting scenario. Thus, the names of Act II and I were appropriately named; ‘In the Moonlight’ was a very romantic theme while ‘In the Sunlight’ brought everything into perspective after they were together.
Some of the characters seemed rather difficult to recreate. The Girl, played by Teran Ferguson, had extreme mood changes throughout the performance but was enacted fittingly. The Old Actor (Mike Pederson) appeared to be an exhausting, witty, and vocal character. Pederson pulled off the character and added many laughs to the performance. The Man Who Dies, played by Kyle McMillan, didn’t have a big speaking role but complimented Pederson well. They were an extremely comedic duo and brought a lot of fun to the show. The fathers, Kirby Wood and Paul Waterman, put on a delightful performance especially during the second act. In the midst of a choreographic mix-up, they handled the audience with humor and wit keeping the show lively and enjoyable.
Finally, the music, although sometimes very catchy and memorable, was not my favourite part of the show. The lyrics were funny, but slightly cliché with predictable rhyming words. The instrumentation, only a keyboard (played by Patrick Colvin), made the singers audible and easy to understand. In such an intimate theatre space things like consonants, being in tune, and rhythm are all extremely important. With only one instrument for the signers to listen for, Colvin’s practiced abilities proved to be useful and necessary. All in all, it was an excellent performance.
Nary a dull moment was had in Thursday night's production of The Fantasticks. Even outside the production, the audience, filling up all the seats in the auditorium, was filled with energy and responsive to the many jests, twists and turns that happened throughout the musical.
The first act of the musical was, of course, predictable. It wasn't the performance that made it that way, either. When one views the storyline, it's just the typical love story with young, innocent players of the game, both thinking they know what love is but neither having a clue in reality. Romantic notions and forbidden trysts over the wall were had. It seemed to play off of the idea that if the parents or family are feuding against each other, then the fact that a blossoming love between two members of different families is abhorred; an outrage. Which, to young lovers, makes it all the more appealing and thrilling. (Sound familiar...? Hint: Romeo and Juliet)
The second act, however, played out a little differently than expected of a love story. The "scenic" becomes "cynic." That idea of love is very relevant in reality, and here's why: Picture a young lad, strapping and handsome. Picture many pretty young ladies. A man such as himself could have his pick of women, but no! Who does he want? The one who plays hard-to-get. So he chases her. And chases her. The more she resists, the more the young lad wants her. Finally she falls for him too, and all should be well. Wrong! For a chase like that, the chase was more thrilling than the actual catch. Once the prize is won, once the love is mutual, he realizes that he really didn't want her at all, just her approval and her love, like all of those other maidens he could have picked. How it relates to The Fantasticks: with permission granted, the feud ended, and the sun rising, the prize never looked as appealing as the chase did. Luckily in this act, both lovers discover more about themselves and saw what they needed to see about the world to realize what they really wanted was right at home, waiting for them.
But, enough about plot analysis! What were the performances like?
The Boy, The Mime, and El Gallo all performed superbly. Bryce Crandall took a normally tepid male character and added intelligence and humility to the mix of the man in love. The Mime, played with spunk and wit by the adorable Emma Harvie, built up her wordless role to its full potential with the most minimal of actions; a smile, a grimace, and "props" handling. But El Gallo... well, he stole the show. And not just because he was the one who kept the story going and narrated the vague parts. From his hat to his cape to his accent and sweet voice, he played every part the bad-boy Bandit who Luisa is intrigued by and the storyteller who weaves everything together.
The fathers had very excellent performances too. Playing their stubborn, scheming, sometimes bumbling parts well, they added the underhanded motive for how they all got into this mess in the first place. They even had some potential danger with sharp gardening tools!
As for Luisa, played by Teran Ferguson... she was the lovely and naïve child in most every way. One might never guess that she was a college student instead of a 16-year-old girl. Her singing voice, although in tune and fit for musical theatre, had a hard time backing off for when the others had solos and backup vocals were required. But still, lovely voice and acting.
Overall, The Fantasticks was... fantastic. One detail I noticed was that the stage at The Playground seemed a little small for a production so long-running and loved. Maybe a bigger stage next time. But, putting that aside, it was wonderful and an enjoyable experience.
On Thursday, September 29th, The Duluth Playhouse’s production of The Fantasticks was exactly what the title implied. It was fantastic. With a great set of actors; the way Priscilla McRoberts directed the play; and the artistic design of the scenery, costumes and sound, it’s no wonder why the show was so enjoyable.
The first act took place in the moonlight. The Narrator (Juli Jake Caceres) opened the show by revealing every “love” cliché he could, and then compared the clichés to the Boy (Bryce Crandall) and the Girl’s (Teran Ferguson) relationship. The two had been separated by a wall (the Mime: Emma Harvie) and they had been meeting at night just so they would not be caught by their father’s (Kirby Wood and Paul Waterman). This had the definite feeling of a love story, just like Romeo and Juliet. The only difference from the Shakespearean classic was that the father’s completely agreed with the marriage and needed to set the two of them up together to be wed. They hired the Bandit (also played by Caceres) to “rape,” which means abduct, the Girl so the Boy can heroically save her and they can be wed. The plan succeeded and thus ended act I, which easily could have been the end of the show, a nice happy ending. But the play did not end, in fact, the second act was almost the exact opposite of the first, leaving the crowd anticipating the happy ending they really want.
The actors all fit the roles quite well. The two fathers (Wood and Waterman) could have been best friends since childhood. The chemistry between them was amazing and just made viewing them more pleasurable. Even during the second act when they made a few choreography mistake during their duet. Caceres was such an interesting actor to watch, we could simply change the look in his eyes and you would feel something terribly chilling or happy and humorous or even something quite disturbing. Every show has the one or two actors that “steal the show” and this production had the Old Actor (Mike Pederson) and the Man Who Dies (Kyle McMillan). Both of the characters were obviously written as comic relief but Pederson and McMillan made it more than just that. When Pederson took the stage his presence was felt. McMillan was just hiding in his shadow, until he “died” which was absolutely hysterical.
Priscilla McRoberts directed this show and she did a brilliant job. She said, in the director’s notes, that they chose “to present the show as originally written,” and if she had not made that decision the show would have been completely different. One thing that would have been lacking if McRoberts had not done this is, is the humor of the song “It Depends on What You Pay.” The reason for this is that the originally script calls for the word “rape” to be used, which of course can offend people, but McRoberts took the chance and everyone loved the song and the way it was performed by Wood, Waterman and Caceres.
The set was simple. The scenery was simply changed by a small back drop in the center of the stage and a small piece of circular cardboard that depicted either the moon or the sun. Other than that, the set included a big chest filled with “everything they’ll need for the show,” and small black box that said “PROPS.” The costumes were also simple; everyone wore the same thing throughout the show except for the players that ever went off-stage during an act (Crandall, Pederson and McMillan). The music was performed by the lone Musician (Patrick Colvin), on an electric keyboard. Colvin did a great job collaborating with every actor. The single piano player, the small set and the simple costumes made this play very intimate, which is a good thing because of the size of the theatre is was performed in. The Fantasticks was a great choice for this group and theatre and it truly is a musical that everyone should see.
Saturday evening marked the last rendition of “The Fantasticks” at the Duluth Playground Theatre. Despite its name, this musical performance was far from fantastic. The performance lacked a strong sense of direction and left the audience in a blur, but the strong actors and actresses carried this play to its anticipated end while shining some talents.
The performance was divided into two acts telling the story of a young boy (Bryce Crandall) and girl (Teran Ferguson) meant to be together, but were driven apart by a wall and an idea that surrounded them until they were ready. After a late start, the beginning of act one immediately draped an invisible shawl of confusion over the audience after it was known that a mime with a stick (Emma Harvey) would be playing a wall. This person also was in charge of all props used throughout the two acts. This “wall” never talked and placed her box of labeled props near the center of the stage so she could conveniently grab them. The idea of a person playing something that should have been a stationary object threw imaginations for a spin. The lyrics sang during the duets of the young boy and girl told a much better tale than did their over the top expressions and spoken lines. The keyboard maestro (Patrick Colvin) played a very important role when lending his music to the play.
While the boy and girl characters began expressing their love for each other and singing with their god given voices, the father characters (Kirby Wood and Paul Waterman) sat in the background on benches awaiting their next lines and nicely done musical duets. The fact that the actors and actresses took turns with their lines and didn’t actually leave the stage was another distracting fact that made it hard to pay attention to the performance at hand. The only characters that left the stage during the performance were the older actor and the man who dies (Mike Pederson and Kyle McMillan) that did their exiting while disappearing into a trunk to the right of the stage. This was another thing that was awarded with distraction. Being surrounded with cues that didn’t make sense meant a sigh of relief when intermission was introduced.
The second act struggled even more than the first. It was expected that this act would draw the audience back in and eventually to a clear conclusion, but it drove the direction of the performance into the opposite direction. This act dragged out the evil schemes behind this love story with even more unnecessary props and stage directions. The girl proved she could sing to high heaven she lost control after her loved one left her. The ending was drawing near as were patience and attention spans.
This musical performance lacked interaction between the audience and the stage didn’t suite the performance but the parts were played very well and the actors and actresses deserve praise for their dedication to their parts, but the only real enjoyment was found when the father’s sang and played their parts with grace and clarity.
This page contains a single entry by Mark Harvey published on September 18, 2011 4:54 PM.
Circle Mirror Transformation - Renegade Theatre is the next entry in this blog.
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