Encore Michigan

The Fantasticks lights it up at The Tibbits

Review July 13, 2021 Julie Linderleaf

COLDWATER, Mich–The Show must go on,” is certainly the mantra of this summer theatre season for Tibbits Opera House.

As Covid 2.0, as new artistic director Peter Riopelle calls it, still hovers into the summer season, putting most theatre companies on hiatus for a second summer, Tibbits has pushed successfully forward with outdoor productions at a Coldwater event center, The Ponds, in 2020 and with the first show of the season, The Best of Broadway.

But outdoor theater faces the same foe it has always faced–Mother Nature. Her recent explosion of storms and flooding canceled opening night for The Tibbits’ second show, The Fantasticks. But not to fear!The show must go on! Shows have moved back inside the historic theater.

Tibbits brought The Fanasticks, the world’s longest running musical byHarvey Schmidt and Tom Jones to life this month. A classic favorite with romantic Romeo and Juliet plot lines and realistic story perspectives, it was a pleasure to sit inside the grand auditorium with the red velvet chairs and as the small visible pit orchestra directed by Wayman Ezell on Harp–with Cynthia Garn on piano, and Scott Pauley on percussion set the musical in motion.

To see and feel the restart of theatre as we knew it in 2019, my heart skipped a beat. I’d been hoping for that moment for overa year and it finally happened.  I can only recommend that EVERYONE goes on tibbits.org or calls 517-278-6029 and orders tickets for their next two productions–You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and On Golden Pond. These next two productions will also be inside the Opera House.

The Fantasticks opens in the mellow days of “September when life was so slow” with a girl, Luisa, played by Brooke Jackson, and a boy, Matt, played by Michael Motkowski falling in love behind a wall their fathers, played by Matthew C. Scott and Chad Tallon, seemingly built because of a feud. However, the comical father characters later reveal they were in cahoots to actually get their kids together.

The song, “Never Say No,” makes a bit of fun of the reverse psychology of saying no.  The fathers actually want their children to fall in fall, and they believe that the wall will make them do so as a way to rebel against their parents. And they are right. Luisa and Matt fall in love and want nothing more than to be together, but the “feud” is an issue. The fathers too feel this so they hire actors, Henry played by Steven Schwall and Mortimer, played by Nile Birch, with the help of the narrator, El Gallo, expertly performed by Max Antonio Gonzalez, to orchestrate a “kidnapping” of Luisa and have Matt “rescue” her. This way, the fathers can drop the feud and the wall and everyone would live happily ever after. But it’s not to be.

Act two reveals that it’s not always greener on the other side of the fence, or that it’s just not  as romantic in the light of the sun as it was in the moonlight. Like life, right?  That’s the realistic portrayal of the story. We have the romance of the two youths, but once together, it’s not what they really wanted.  Luisa wants that excitement of a deep romance and princess life, and El Gallo woos her to believe he wants her too, while Matt thinks that the world is bigger and greener and in desperate need of something wider than his backyard.

The fathers are just as jaded by taking down the wall and areal feud ensues and creates a real need to rebuild the wall. However, in the song, “Round and Round,” Luisa and Matt experience the harshness of the realities of the real world. Matt is almost killed in his adventures while El Gallo deserts Luisa. But in “They were you,” Matt returns to the yard and Luisa and they realize that their love was all the adventure they wanted and needed.

A story based on Edmund Rostand’s play The Romancers with a lot of Romeo and Juliet references, ends in the realities of the cold “December where it’s nice to remember without a hurt, a heart is hollow”.  A strong message stating that we need to go out and experience life to know what we really want.

In the small cast of eight, The mute performed by Stephen Vaught never left the stage and was responsible for almost all prop, set, some costume, and even actor entrances.  His timing was perfect, tossing and receiving props. Though always onstage, he’s never noticeable unless needed. The comic timing of two person teams of the fathers, Scott and Tallon, and the actors, Birch and Schwall,  kept the audience members in stitches.

The technical team obviously had to make some quick changes to work back inside instead of outside at The Ponds. Lighting designer, Catie Blencoe made very unique choices to display the wall scenes with specific lighting to show the different yards and wall.  The set was a simple design by Peter Riopelle and Stephanie Burdick, giving levels and extra lighting opportunities with the garden lights as well.

The show is back on. Please wear masks when you attend. Not everyone is vaccinated, and the CDC urges people to wear masks in situations where people are seated or gathered closely.

Week of 12/4/2023

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