'Fantasticks' is all enchantment - Albuquerque Journal

‘Fantasticks’ is all enchantment

I saw “The Fantasticks” years ago in Chicago and did not like it at all; I thought it was silly and sentimental, and I was completely unmoved. I have nothing against silliness and sentimentality per se, but they must possess the power to enchant.

My perception of this show totally changed after I saw the entirely enchanting production currently on display at the Vortex Theatre, under the precise hand of director Debi Kierst. Everything in this production works beautifully.

To start with, the production values: From Nick Tapia’s ingenious lighting design to Ryan Jason Cook’s beautiful autumnal set to Kip Caswell’s careful color coordination in the costumes, all the design elements are exquisite and perfectly balanced.

The story is simple and universal. Two young people fall in love, not with each other but with the fabricated mental image they have constructed of each other; they drift apart, suffer and fall in love all over again, but this time with the actual persons they really are.

The revelation of this show is Sabina Lueras as the 16-year-old Louisa, simultaneously narcissistic and adorable. Every nuance of this young actor is precise and palpable, and she has a gorgeous well-trained operatic singing voice, as well. Walter Sikkens, who is still in high school and not quite her equal, plays her counterpart, Matt, and effectually conveys the right touch of youthful naiveté and ungrounded assurance.

Coordinating everything is the narrator El Gallo, masterfully played by William R. Stafford, who exudes charisma and charm throughout.

Like “Pyramus and Thisbe,” the play-within-the-play in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (which it frequently alludes to), “The Fantasticks” is an homage to the theater and a play-within-a-play itself. In fact, this is a metatheatrical show – a theatrical production that is about the theater itself – and as such is greatly abetted by the brilliantly histrionic performances of Peter Kierst as Henry the Old Actor and Jim Cady as Mortimer his sidekick, who appear out of a stage trunk at the calling of El Gallo. Kierst and Cady give extraordinary performances and will have you laughing out loud.

Musical director Lorri Oliver, who also plays Louisa’s father, Bellomy, gets the most out of her singers and musicians. Most people will instantly recognize “Try to Remember,” beautifully sung by Stafford. The singing throughout is anchored only by piano and harp, and Mindy Sampson and Miriam Schilling play beautifully together.

As a side note, you might be interested to know that this most popular of musicals originated at the University of New Mexico way back in 1956, premiering at UNM as “Joy Comes to Deadhorse.” The play was radically rewritten before it became “The Fantasticks,” but the neighboring fathers who fabricate a feud knowing it will bring their children together matrimonially remains the center of the story.

“The Fantasticks” is playing through Aug. 5 at the Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle NE, Albuquerque. Go to vortexabq.org or call 247-8600 for reservations.

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