Try to remember a time that “The Fantasticks” wasn’t playing somewhere. The charming little chestnut of a chamber musical opened off-Broadway in 1960 and ran a total of 42 years and 17,162 performances, crowning it the world’s longest-running musical. How was that possible and how it is possible the new production now at Sacramento Theatre Company charms with a slight allegorical story and lots of old-fashioned, intentionally ham-fisted comic theatrics?
To begin with, composer Harvey Schmidt and lyricist Tom Jones wrote an engaging, varied score bookended by the lush classic “Try To Remember.” With the nominal story concerning young lovers, there are earnest ballads (“Much More,” Metaphor”) nicely balanced with comic story songs (“It Depends on What You Pay” and “This Plum Is Too Ripe”). The lover neighbors have been “kept apart” by their parents only to find the parents had secretly arranged to bring them together. Then rejecting the match made for them, the children take their chances in the real world.
The songs are well-crafted and don’t over-stay, with sympathetic accompaniment led by pianist Samuel Clein with Dr. Beverly Wesner-Hoehn on harp. More than anything, though, this show succeeds through the undeniable energy of the cast led by Jerry Lee’s winking narrator, El Gallo. Lee embraces the role’s theatrical largess and pulls the production along with him. Director and choreographer Melanie Smith commits to the show’s playfulness, and the light tone keeps the show aloft. There’s a corniness in some of the dancing that may have been intentional but felt awkward.
Needing no assistance while providing much are Gary S. Martinez and Tara Henry as the “thespians for hire” who participate in the story’s “attempted abduction.” Martinez luxuriates as the aging Shakespearean player, and Henry revels in the comic gold of his hapless assistant, Mortimer.
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The serious young lovers – Matt (Joshua Durfey) and Luisa (Monique Ward Lonergan in the performance I saw; Courtney Shannon also performs in the role) – were effectively balanced by their comic parents, Michael Coleman’s Bellomy and Amanda Goldrick’s Hucklebee. Durfey and Lonergan worked particularly well on the ballad duets “Soon It’s Gonna Rain”/“They Were You.”
Lynne Perry’s earthy minimal set was just enough grounding for this confectionery musical fable.
What: The chamber musical by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, directed and choreographed by Melanie Smith, with Jerry Lee, Gary S. Martinez and Tara Henry
Where: Sacramento Theatre Company, 1419 H St., Sacramento
When: Through Sunday, May 1, at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays and 7 p.m. Sundays.
Information: tickets.sactheatre.org, 916-443-6722
Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, including one intermission