Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


It was near the end of "Try to Remember," right at the first of several repetitions of "follow-follow-follow-follow-follow-follow-follow-follow-follow," that I was able to remember how much I hate The Fantasticks. This is not the Hilberry production's fault.

In The Fantasticks, the first act is intended to be a Technicolor fantasy — the love we see between Luisa and Matt cannot be true until they have been beaten down in some way by life. However, despite the fact that a fantasy is supposed to be enjoyable, these characters are painted in the broadest strokes, smiles plastered on their faces, fairly shouting about how special they are. This inevitably gives me the impression of the lovers that (a) they're insipid, (b) they deserve each other, and (c) could they please do their awful courting offstage somewhere. Even after hoping for most of the play that the kids get smacked, when it happens to Matt in the second act, I don't enjoy it because of that horrid "Round and Round" song and the nonsense with the mask. Needless to say, I don't get it — are we supposed to root for these kids?

The addition of top-notch actors, sadly, did not change my impression one iota. I was disappointed that with just one female role to cast, Hilberry could not supply a woman whose vocal range matched the part. On the whole, I found the vocal performances to be more than serviceable; again, I may not have been listening as closely as I would if I enjoyed the songs.

There was nothing wrong with the performances of Jason Cabral, Christina Flynn, and Alan Ball (as Matt, Luisa, and El Gallo, respectively); their parts were executed competently, and the final scene provided some sweet and redemptive moments. The actor Henry (Jordan Whalen) and his companion, Mortimer (Justin Vanden Heuvel), made beautiful physical comedy together. Whalen especially was a master at playing ancient, not ever revealing a spry or youthful movement. As the mime, a character almost smothered by the hyperbole required of the first act, Erman Jones gave a subtle performance that grew on me by the second.

The brightest spot in every production I've seen, the present one included, is the fathers. "Never Say No" and "Plant a Radish" are easily my favorite songs, and I find the caricature of the fathers easier to swallow. In the Hilberry production, I was happy to see how far Peter C. Prouty went with the character of Bellomy — he spoke in a higher register and added a little nasal affectation, and then successfully sang in the same voice.

This was the first Hilberry production I attended, but it will not deter me from returning. I am especially interested to see how the company deals with the classics, and how a different production makes use of the large stage.


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