REVIEW: Curious casting undercuts classic ‘Fantasticks’ at Ghent

The Fantasticks/Ghent Playhouse

IT IS INDEED AN ODD production of “The Fantasticks” in which the actor playing the Mute delivers the most consistently able and interesting performance. In this case it is Lindsey Sikora who, throughout the evening, simply does and is — her lovely, serene face registering fantastical worlds without the person within having any need to judge or shine.

Yes, the show has some other compelling moments and attributes, including pianist Paul Leyden’s knowing theater-energy in the overture; the beauty of Michael Meier’s voice and person as Matt (The Boy); the way the young couple never acknowledges the irony embedded in the playwright’s flowery language; the excruciatingly effective scenes of the boy’s torture; and the hilarious dying and delightful goofiness of Paul Murphy, as Mortimer, the Man Who Dies.

Most of what is wrong with this production seems to lie in the lap of director Matt MacArevey. Casting against type can be intriguing, but it can sabotage. Staging is uncertain.

Luisa (The Girl) is 16. She is lively and imaginative but has all the maturity of a precocious six-year-old. She is almost a send-up of a musical theater tradition: the feisty, attractive, mildly ditzy little ingénue. Actress Nellie Rustick is a talented young woman. However her basic quality is that of a smart, unusually grounded individual, mature beyond her years. She’s the opposite of “ditz.” No one should ask her to impersonate an ingénue. It doesn’t help that she stands inches above her seducer, “her bandit,” El Gallo, played by Mark “Monk” Schane-Lydon. I guess it is a tribute to her acting technique that she delivers so many lines believably.

If the character of El Gallo does not exude danger and glamour along with his cynicism, no one can believe Luisa’s second-act liaison with him. Schane-Lydon is simply wrong for this role. Even his basically nice voice lacks the musicality to make “Try to Remember” work. (It’s a song that sounds easy and isn’t.) He is vocally more effective in the duet “I Can See It,” but where is the character? (I know, I know. You’ve seen this actor deliver. Not this time. Not his fault. Miscast.)

The casting of the fathers is peculiar as well. Even the adorable face of Frank Lauria cannot make up for the fact that a tune is too heavy a thing for him to carry. Michael “Ace” Feit sings well, but both fathers should appear younger. Livelier staging of their musical numbers would help.

Meier’s approach to the extraordinary, show-stopping number “I Can See It,” threatens to make it a song about fists. Thank goodness his voice really works. In spite of fists, Meier is a singing actor to be watched. Over time, we’ve all observed his progress. He just gets better and better. (This phenomenon is one of the blessings of community theater, and one witnesses it often at Ghent Playhouse.) It would be great to see Meier move into a musical theater career.

The high-energy, commedia dell’arte choices of Kerry Kaz as Henry, the Old Actor, lack nuance–and perhaps the shred of dignity that the character deserves. Was old Henry a good actor in his distant youth? I think so.

There is altogether too much out-of-tune singing in this production. Also, a super-slow tempo for “They Were You” seems to discomfit the singers, and, in “Round and Round,” the missing long, relentless accelerando and lackadaisical staging for Luisa and El Gallo dilutes the impact of Act II.

Joanne Mauer’s costuming of Murphy and Kaz is great fun. I loved the lavender long- johns with chic layering. Give Mauer appropriate bodies and she will almost always fit a home run. (Baste a thousand? Gore a hat trick? Frock it out of the park? Never mind.)

The score and book of this much-produced musical holds up remarkably well; however, perpetrating the sanitized version — apparently caving into ignorance of the old-time meaning of the word “rape” –is just plain silly. Maybe that’s the only version available these days. (Producers could always put a citation from the OED in the program, thereby choosing to educate rather than bowdlerize!)

“The Fantasticks” runs through February 13, and tickets may be reserved at 518 392-6264. Check out the well-chosen Ghent Playhouse season at (“The Heiress” is coming!)



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