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By Daniel Skora
Posted: Oct. 4, 2012 at 10:35 p.m.
The Encore Musical Theatre of Dexter is concluding its fifth year of presenting rousing renditions of some of the best musicals ever to grace Broadway stages. Their current production of "The Fantasticks" is no exception.
Who could have predicted when "The Fantasticks" opened in 1960 that the show would go on to become the world's longest running musical, gracing the same off-Broadway stage continuously over 42 years and through 17,162 performances.
The musical's plot is nothing more complicated than a boy/girl love story. Luisa (Thalia Schramm) and Matt (Ryan Dooley) spoon over each other across the great wall their fathers have erected between their neighboring properties. Unbeknownst to the young lovers, their fathers Bellomy (Tobin Hissong) and Hucklebee (Paul Hopper) have erected the wall not to discourage their passion, but to increase their desire for each other by making contact between them more difficult.
Eventually, love triumphs, the ruse is revealed, and the wall between the two families comes down. But love is a fire that needs stoking, and by the beginning of the second act, the lovers and their fathers find themselves at odds. It's a long and humiliating journey for all before love can be reconstituted and the rebuilt wall again taken down.
"The Fantasticks" plays out in a manner not the least bit bashful of calling attention to its theatricality. The dastardly assured El Gallo (Brian Thibault) not only appears as a bandit who arranges the abduction of Luisa (in a plot instigated by the fathers to further inflame the passions of their children), but also weaves in and out of the story as narrator and commentator, breaking the wall between actors and audience.
A mysterious mute woman, dressed in black (Gayle Martin) also plays to the audience, offering her own silent commentary on the proceedings through dance, mime and appropriate expressions. And the presence of a troupe of traveling actors consisting of Henry, who only appears to be in charge (Keith Kalinowski), and Mortimer, billed as The Man Who Dies but is actually an Indian played by a female (Jamie Weeder), and frequent onstage costume changes and movement of props adds considerably to the theatrical feeling of the show.
Musical numbers include "Try to Remember," a song which became a Billboard Top 100 hit and was so popular that it found its way into countless pop singers' albums. Music is provided by Tyler Driskill (Conductor and Piano) and Margot Box/Kristin Lloyd (Harp).
The Encore Musical Theatre's production of "The Fantasticks" is nothing but fantastic! The show's original concept has always left room to grow and made allowances for a theater company's ability to create. Encore's production does both with spectacular results. And Encore's seating allows for an intimate perspective: If you've seen other productions of the show only at "big box" theaters, you've never seen it up close and personal like this.
The cast is terrific. The set (design by Leo Babcock) makes for an attractive, inconspicuous partner in the proceedings.
The musical tells a rich, multi-layered story that will make you laugh and remind you of the days when life beat at a more measured pace. The drive to Dexter is shorter than you might think, and it's especially pretty this time of year. You'll do yourself a favor if you check this show out.
SHOW DETAILS: "The Fantasticks" is directed by Barton Bund. The show runs through Oct. 21. Tickets are available by phone at 734-268-6200 or online at www.theencoretheatre.org. The Encore Musical Theatre is located at 3126 Broad Street in the historic village of Dexter. Take I-94 west and exit at Baker Street.
Reprinted with permission of the New Monitor, Oct. 4, 2012
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