2006 Season
“The Fantasticks”

Click here to return to “The Fantasticks” page.


Entertainment In The Hamptons

Review: The Fantasticks at the Gateway Playhouse

The Fantasticks, which is being performed at Gateway Playhouse, in Bellport, until July 1st, really lives up to its name. This musical should be subtitled as “The Little Show That Could.” Just read its history and you will be amazed at the persistence of the show’s creators, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, and of their prime backer, Lore Noto. The show had a checkered start back in 1960, to say the least, and was only resuscitated after Noto put the Off-Broadway show on abeyance and moved it to East Hampton’s Guild Hall for an eight-show run “for the right people to see it.” This was an inspired move, because after moving back to Broadway, the show became a huge success, earning its investment back in four months and going on to run for forty years, becoming the world’s longest running musical of all time. It has played in thousands of US cities and over sixty countries around the world.

So what is so special about this show, which is loosely based on a reverse Romeo And Juliet scenario? As the new Gateway production, directed by Michael Licata, clearly demonstrates, this is a show with charm, style, wit, wonderful music and an air of unpredictability that will enthrall you. This is unconventional without being bizarre. It is very funny, but also tugs at your heart and sends you out thinking. The set design, loosely based on Coney Island’s Luna Park, is evocative.

Having a great show is one thing and getting a great cast together is something else. Gateway casting director Robin Joy Allan deserves a special ovation for assembling this very talented and complementary set of actors. The synergy between the cast members is outstanding and from the major roles to the smaller ones, they are all like pieces of a perfectly fitting, complicated jigsaw of styles and emotions.

Two fathers, Hucklebee and Bellomy, played as a wonderful comic duo by Steve Brady and Bob Freschi, plot to bring their children together romantically by pretending to be enemies and forbidding them to get together. One of the two children is Luisa, played by Juliana Ashley Hansen, who looks the epitome of the “girl next door.” She is beautiful, sings like an angel and really looks as though she is sixteen, naïve and very much in love with Matt. Now Nick Spangler is in the role of Matt and, according to the playbill, is still studying at NYU. This young man has a voice that makes it worth seeing this show just for that pleasure alone. It is melodic and lyrical with a pure resonant tone. When you add to this that he is tall and handsome, with a stage presence that belies his youth, it seems a fair bet that this is a name and a voice that we are going to hear about much more. If he had a CD out I would rush to buy it!

I said that this is not a “conventional” show and much of the action takes part through a direct address to the audience. Dan Cooney, last seen here as Bill Sykes in Oliver!, plays the narrator (as well as a shady character, El Gallo, hired to carry out a fake abduction of Luisa). He is perfect for this role, swaggering and engaging and he sings that wonderful song, “Try To Remember” with great feeling. Incidentally, another “fantastick” thing about this show is that this song, which has become a true standard, made the Billboard Top 100 five different times and has been recorded by almost every singing star you can name – including Pavarotti! The well-balanced musical backing for the show comes from the wonderful piano playing of Robert Felstein, accompanied on the harp by Sally Foster.

An abduction requires some abductors and a more unlikely pair than aging Shakespearian thespian Geddeth Smith as Henry and Robert R. Oliver as the indescribable Mortimer, you could not imagine. These two had the audience in hysterics with the mix of Henry’s bumbling and Mortimer’s incredible facial expressions and body movements. Mortimer’s “death scenes” also have to be seen to be believed. In the midst of the talk and the songs, Neil Everett, as the strange and enigmatic figure of The Mute, plays many roles, from being a wall to performing gymnastics.

The story comes to its close with reunited lovers, both more worldly and wise. I have to say that having seen in London and New York, almost all major musical hits, I rarely have had such an enjoyable evening in the theater and having seen every Gateway show for the last thirteen years, I also believe that The Fantasticks rates as one of their very finest productions and everyone associated with it deserves applause. Go and see it – leave your day-to-day self at the door, relax, have a Fantastick time and “try to remember”!

–Roy Bradbrook

The Fantasticks runs till July 1. Tuesday – Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 and 8:30 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m. Matinees every Thursday at 2 p.m. Tickets $36-42 adults, $25 chuildren 12 and under. 215 South Country Road, Bellport. 631-286-1133.

Long Island Advance

The musical is “Fantastick”

Gateway production highlights Broadway experience

By Linda Leuzzi
June 15, 2006

Magic either happens or it doesn’t. But thankfully there are shows to remind us that an ethereal place in time can be right before our eyes and within our grasp. The Gateway production of The Fantasticks accomplishes that magic with eight actors, two musicians and a story that resonates about life and the true core things that make it vibrant, worth living and yes, fun.

The Fantasticks, written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, opened off Broadway in 1960 and ran at the Sullivan Street Theatre for over 40 years. It debuted just as the great musical duo Rodgers and Hammerstein were winding down their gorgeous, lush musicals and another era was about to begin, one that was revelatory and discordant at the same time. Their fantasy is brilliant in its simplicity, a creative thump-in-the-head to all of us and the reason it has remained a sought-after classic.

This musical engages the audience from the get-go. The Mute, portrayed by Neal Everett, hangs gracefully from a piece of fabric and with acrobatic grace unfolds himself to the stage. Everett is an aerial artist as well as an actor and a dancer, and his silent, elegant presence in both acts conveys a subtle emotion via an arched eyebrow, suppressed mirth or concern. One by one, the others enter and grab pieces of clothing from an open traveling trunk, practice a few dance steps while a lit sign saying The Fantasticks rises on the stage set, dreamily reminiscent of Coney Island and its early-20th century La Luna Park as confetti rains down. El Gallo, played by Broadway Les Miserables veteran Dan Cooney, sings the timeless “Try To Remember,” the poignant salute to youth and unfulfilled dreams.

The story, about two neighboring fathers who fake a feud in order to coax their children, Matt and Luisa, into each other’s arms, is hilarious at the onset. Steve Brady, who’s toured nationally with Lynn Redgrave and Robin Williams, plays Hucklebee, Matt’s father. He and Bob Freschi, Luisa’s dad Bellomy, another Broadway alumnus, have a field day plotting their children’s matchmaking, exuberantly dancing the tango as they gleefully sing, “to manipulate children, you merely say no,” and plot an abduction. In comes El Gallo, the narrator and participant, who with exaggerated suave explains that abductions don’t come cheap. Dan Cooney, El Gallo’s alter ego, camps it up, expertly bounding into the types of witty abductions available in “It Depends On What You Pay.”

A word about Matt and Luisa. Juliana Ashley Hansen as Luisa captures an innocent 16-year-old’s yearnings and hopes perfectly. Her voice has a fine-tuned clarity that expertly hits the high notes. Matt, played by Nick Spangler, and his smitten love and devotion ring true. Both voices are beautiful and their young and tender hearts and light are what we and the other characters recognize and hope to preserve.

But the big scene-stealers are a couple of unlikely older actors named Mortimer, played by Robert R. Oliver, and Henry, portrayed by Geddeth Smith, another Broadway veteran, who emerge creakily from an old stage trunk on stage as El Gallo sings that actors are needed for an abduction. Mortimer plays an Indian on the outset whose expertise is dying. With rubbery, goofy facial expressions and potbelly, Oliver’s portrayal keeps hitting the funny bone. Smith’s Henry, a bumbling but sweetly dignified Shakespearean actor, doesn’t quite get the Bard’s lines right, but he does provide astoundingly outlandish monologues and the combination of the two is just one belly laugh after another.

It’s also a refreshing change to see two instruments on stage, a gorgeous baby grand played by Robert Felstein who is also the conductor, and an exquisite full-scale harp, played by Sally Foster. These pros move the story along.

There is a bit of darkness in Act II. The dads’ plan backfires and the lovers become disillusioned and decide to plunge into temptation, but there are still some laughs along the way, as well as riveting moments when the audience was absolutely still because the scene spoke a universal truth.

A good story, talented acting and singing, which this cast has honed and transformed into magic and revelation. It’s all here.

South Shore Press

The Fantasticks: A Show To Remember

By Genevieve Salamone and Jennifer Roller

The Fantasticks holds the title of the world’s longest running musical, and it’s not hard to see why. With a storyline that will touch even the coldest of hearts, and songs that are engaging and catchy, The Fantasticks lives up to its name.

The Gateway Playhouse has produced another powerhouse show, casting the best team of actors to portray each character. The small cast of only eight actors performs on a beautifully designed stage, and set designer Kelly Tighe opted for a raked stage, which incorporates a slight angle, bringing the actors even closer to the audience and to the storyline.

The Fantasticks begins by setting up our simple boy-meets-girl plot, while foreshadowing the not-so-simple, darker events that are to follow. Luisa and Matt fall in love while living under their fathers’ roofs, and begin their courtship on either side of the wall that separates their yards. Reminiscent of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the two lovers imagine how life would be without the inconvenient wall, and how wonderful their life together will be once they defy their fathers’ wishes and marry. Eventually, with the addition of El Gallo and his troupe of actor accomplices, everything begins to unravel, including the bond between boy and girl, and between their fathers Bellomy and Hucklebee.

Instead of a traditional orchestra, Harvey Schmidt’s score calls for a pianist and harpist, and in Gateway’s version, both musicians are on stage throughout the performance. The lighter orchestration allows the audience to really appreciate the actors’ voices, and the leads of Gateway’s The Fantasticks have outstanding vocal ability.

Making her debut on the Gateway stage, Juliana Ashley Hansen plays Luisa, the impetuous 16-year-old daughter of Bellomy. Hansen projects Luisa’s childlike innocence with a mixture of grace and comedy. Hansen’s soprano voice is captivating and engaging, and as the only female in the cast, her voice truly stands apart from those of her colleagues.

Nick Spangler as Matt is charming and idealistic, reciting pretty poetry to his forbidden love, Luisa, while dreaming of the world beyond his own backyard. Spangler’s boyish good looks will make the females giggle and sit up a bit straighter, and his voice is clear and strong, adding depth to his seemingly immature character.

Playing the dual role of Narrator and antagonist El Gallo is Gateway favorite Dan Cooney, who steals this show with his magnetic stage presence and powerful, masculine vocals. El Gallo is the villain the two fathers hire to stage Luisa’s “kidnapping”. As he switches from El Gallo to storyteller, Cooney’s antics keep the audience enthralled with the story – and it doesn’t hurt that he’s easy on the eyes. We’re hoping to see more of Cooney’s talent throughout the Gateway season.

In the original script of The Fantasticks Tom Jones wrote the part of “The Mute” as a mime, but in Gateway’s version director Michael Licata opted to use an aerialist, an acrobat who uses sheets of material hanging from the ceiling to perform. After seeing this version of The Fantasticks I couldn’t imagine the show with a mime – the aerialist complements the story so well, giving the audience a whimsical, magical feeling as the show progresses.

The most comedic part of the show includes the characters of Henry and Mortimer, who send the audience into peals of laughter with their hilarious, satirical antics. Definitely a show stopper.

The Fantasticks is Gateway’s second show of the season, and will go down as one of the most unforgettable productions in Gateway history. Everyone will appreciate the sweet love story and the darkness that lies beneath the fantasy world created by The Fantasticks.

Tickets are on sale now through July 1 and range from $36-42 for adults, $25 for children 12 and under. For tickets and information call 631-286-1133, visit the Bellport box office, or on the web at www.gatewayplayhouse.com

Southampton Press

Fantasticks Is a ‘Sparkling Gem’

By Lee Davis
Jun 15, 2006

Go figure. The reviews for “The Fantasticks“ when it opened at the tiny Sullivan Street Playhouse on May 3, 1960, were so underwhelming that producer Lore Noto considered closing the show at the end of the first week.

But he had second thoughts, and persisted, even closing the show down temporarily in New York for a week and bringing it to the John Drew Theater in East Hampton for an eight-performance run to spread the word to potential audiences. And the audiences came, in larger and larger numbers, and the show ran for more than 40 years for a total of 17,162 performances.

Experiencing the present, entrancing production of “The Fantasticks” at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport offers ample reasons for its recordsmashing longevity. It’s a sweet and delectable show, intelligently and poetically written, with gorgeous music and flowing, articulate lyrics. It’s also a seemingly simple show that’s obviously fiercely difficult to do, demanding wonderful voices, sensitive acting, and imaginative staging. And all of this, and a bit more, are in constant evidence in Bellport, where what might have been an interim show—small cast, small set, small demands in the midst of a season of big productions—has emerged as a sparkling gem to be treasured. The story, based upon Rostand’s “Les Romantiques,” revolves around the romance of two painfully innocent lovers, separated by their fathers because the fathers wisely divine that whatever parents forbid, children will do. At the end of the first act, all is moonlight and passion.

But then there’s the second act, proving, as the penultimate alliteration in the show’s hit song, “Try To Remember,” says: “...without a hurt, the heart is hollow.” The lovers part in anger, as do the fathers, until the real world, in its usual way, hurts them. And then, the romance deepens and the happy ending has a meaning.

In its original birthplace, and in countless repetitions over the decades, “The Fantasticks” was and is performed on a simple, open platform backed by a canvas drape, which allows and underlines the Commedia del Arte form of the show.

At the Gateway, this concept is exploded into a wonderfully cluttered stage dominated by a raked, two-level platform and surrounded by artifacts, each of them vital to the plot. It’s a masterful rethinking by set designer Kelly Tighe, and lit by Marcia Madeira in her usual carnival colors. This time, the coloration works gracefully.

The other imaginative stroke is brought to this production by Neal Everett. Again, ordinarily, his role is played as a stock stage mute, whose chief function is as the wall separating the lovers. Not in Bellport. There, Mr. Everett’s mute is a high flying aerialist, who not only provides a living wall, but climbs the silks, swings on a trapeze, crawls across the curving curlicues of the set up and into the flies and down again. But never just for shock value.

His sinuous, sometimes swooping trips above the set are meticulously timed and derivative of the scenes and songs over which he soars. It’s a striking performance that expands and plays upon the story without ever intruding upon it.

And so that leaves the seven other cast members, every one of whom is a collectible delight. Okay, Dan Clooney, as El Gallo, the narrator and deus ex machina of the piece, doesn’t quite possess the ember-like warmth that 24-year-old Jerry Orbach brought to the original. But he’s a commanding figure with a touch of humor that works admirably.

Geddeth Smith delivers Henry, the over several hills Shakespearean actor with relish and split second timing. And Robert R. Oliver is a hilarious hoot as Mortimer, a cockney Indian who specializes in death scenes. Possessed of a rubber face and a million original grimaces, he repeatedly brought the house down on opening night.

Both of these traveling actors are hired by El Gallo to participate in a fake rape—well, in the original, it was a rape, but in Bellport, to save contemporary and possibly neighborhood sensibilities, it’s a raid, which scans well, but miters down the humor of this staged abduction of the girl so that the boy can heroically save her.

As the two fathers, Steve Brady and Bob Freschi are endearing vaudevillians, singing, dancing as a Two Act, and keeping the considerable comic elements of “The Fantasticks” at a consistently high level.

The young lovers—Nick Spangler as Matt and Juliana Ashley Hansen as Louisa—are sweet and irresistible. Not only are they handsome, beautiful, and graceful, they have pure and soaring voices that not only sing but embrace the gorgeous melodies Harvey Schmidt has handed them. A better cast than this is hard to imagine.

The musical direction of Robert Felstein, installed on a suspended platform above and behind the stage action at a grand piano alongside harpist Sally Foster, is flawless and firmly balanced. Not a word is left unarticulated, nor is there a misplaced harmony, and the solos float like brightly illuminated clouds, as they should in this lighter than air entertainment.

Michael Licata has directed and choreographed this “Fantasticks” with sly humor, creative flair, and high speed forward motion. And so, the latest Bellport production of this timeless, touching musical is not only a should-see, but a must-see for anyone with a heart and an affection for fine, fully realized theater.

It continues at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, every night except Monday and in several matinees a week through July 1. The box office number is 286-1133



Copyright © 2006 Gateway Playhouse