An Achievement to Remember
First things first- THE FANTASTICKS is produced by Kailua Onstage Arts (KOA) but is playing at the Hawaii Pacific University Windward Campus, in the Paul and Vi Loo Theatre. This is important if you have not seen the show yet. I apparently do not know how to read, and that is why I made this mistake. This is me venturing the first lesson I learned of the evening to you.
THE FANTASTICKS, with music by Harvey Schmidt and book & lyrics by Tom Jones, is a simple yet arresting musical that captivates, intrigues, and fascinates. Directed by Ron Heller, the story is simple: a boy named Matt (Noah Faumuina) and a girl named Luisa (Reagan Gayle Rees) are next door neighbors that end up falling in love with one another, despite the grumblings of their fathers (Alston Albarado as Hucklebee, Matt’s father & R. Andrew Doan as Bellomy, Luisa’s father) and a huge wall erected between them. What the two lovers don’t know is that their fathers are actually conspiring for them to end up together, and thus enlist the help of El Gallo (Eli K.M. Foster), the show’s narrator and (according to his business card) “bandit, poet, and itinerant Philosopher” that “specializes in abductions.” El Gallo then ends up hiring two actors, Henry (Non deMello) and Mortimer (Daniel O’Brien) to stage an elaborate abduction that ends with drama, a sword fight, and Matt reuniting with Luisa after the harrowing encounter with El Gallo and his men. However, things are not always as they appear to be, and there are always consequences to actions. As El Gallo sings, “without a hurt, the heart is hollow,” everyone involved learns lessons they had not foreseen.
Heller directed his cast to wield energy with whimsy and to embrace the strong emotions these characters feel unabashedly, and that is one of the things that makes the musical a success. Luisa is driven by so many things that she’s sometimes called crazy for it, but Rees performs with a zeal and zest for life and the unknown that this empowers her performance and her character. Faumuina meets Rees halfway with his Matt, who is endearing in his quest and is equal parts strong and vulnerable. Albarado and Doan shine as the fathers, scheming with and against each other and back again, sharing a delightful repartee between each other throughout the production. El Gallo’s hired actors, Henry and Mortimer, are comical as deMello delivers a Henry that’s clearly past his prime and O’Brien quips alongside him, with his Mortimer being Australian and being known for his death scenes. Ashley Hill dazzles as The Mute, who helps El Gallo tell the tale that’s being told with such heart and charisma that she doesn’t need lines to be heard. Speaking of El Gallo, Foster ties the package together beautifully, as the role is supposed to do. As El Gallo, Foster is both honest and beguiling, tender yet firm, and thanks to his charisma, a lot of fun to watch.
As a play, the acting by the company was solidly presented, capturing the drama, whimsy, and charm that any production of THE FANTASTICKS needs to have. It is my pleasure to say the music and singing is just as good, if not better. Trissa and Ken Walter are the musical directors, and hats off to them for the beautiful sound they have led. There were no mics present in the theatre, so all of the actors needed to stand on their own. Stand they did, ringing pitch perfect and delivering their lyrics with some of the clearest enunciation I have ever heard in a very long time. The orchestra is simply two pianos (Ken on one, Judy Yoshioka on another) with Trissa on percussion. The sound was well balanced, and the actors’ voices rang true alongside the three-piece orchestra, making for a well-balanced show that can be hard to calibrate, harder still without the aid of microphones. Additionally, the music is layered with many harmonies and doesn’t have the traditional “Broadway Musical” sound, which makes for a harder to perform but lovely to follow and listen to production. Musically, this show is an achievement.
Heller, succeeding in gathering a strong cast and music team, also enlisted the strength of many capable designers. Kevin Keaveney’s set design, paired with Charles Wade’s lighting and John Cummings III’s props, lent the production the right air of homemade mystery and allure it needed. El Gallo and the Mute are telling this story with a magical trunk, ladders, large swaths of fabric, and a beautifully designed moon/sun. The designers catered to this aesthetic well, with Carlynn Wolfe costuming the actors in dynamic and striking looks that fit each of them. Finally, Sophia Carter’s choreography serves the production well, capturing both the innocence of the two lovers and the unique energy of the world while also choreographing the rougher, harsher bits that the roads of the world may have to offer.
The music is enchanting. The actors are brave and adventurous in both plot and their hearts. THE FANTASTICKS has been one of the most longest running plays in history, and having watched it I understand why. The story is simple and clear, yet is unafraid to take its players and the audience to different peaks and valleys of emotion. The music is not what modern or traditional musicals may sound like, and that is all for the better- it’s music entrances, captivates, and leads you down unexpected roads. There is so much heart and soul within this production, and you find all of it in unexpected ways. Be sure to catch THE FANTASTICKS at the Paul and Vi Loo Theatre through June 9. Tickets can be found here.