Review: ‘The Fantasticks’ still has it

By Blythe Smith, OnStage Colorado

Littleton Town Hall production features a powerful cast

The Fantasticks premiered in 1960, but all I knew about it going in was that it had the song “Try to Remember.” My high school, like most other high schools in America, put it on sometime in the early ’80s (I can still see the fading poster with all its commemorative counterparts on the choir room wall.)

Now playing at Littleton Town Hall Arts Center under the direction of Billie McBride, The Fantasticks shows why it still holds the title as longest-running theatrical production in the world (1960-2002 for the original off-Broadway production).

Matt, the boy (Carter Edward Smith) and Luisa, the girl (Katie Jackson) live next door to each other, and their feuding parents have built a wall between their homes. This, of course, only fans the flames of their young romance. We quickly find out that the neighbors actually like each other just fine and have intended for their children to marry all along. The wall is their clever and apparently successful experiment in reverse psychology. In order to really move the romance along, the scheming parents decide to hire a villain, El Gallo (Randy Chalmers, who’s also the narrator) to pretend to abduct the girl. Aiding in the plot are an aging actor, Henry (John Ashton) and his sidekick, Mortimer (Diane Wziontka). The boy will heroically save her, and the boy’s mother and girl’s father can end their pretend feud. Everything goes to plan, and so ends the first act.

In Act 2, matters deteriorate. The girl and boy quarrel, and the boy goes off to see the world. The villain courts the girl, who seems receptive to his dash and worldly ways. Their parents blame each other and begin to rebuild their wall. The boy and girl appear to be gaining new perspectives, which does not necessarily seem to be an improvement on their earlier naiveté.

I saw this production of The Fantasticks with my brother, and when I saw him again the next morning he asked, “Have you thought any more about the play?”

I had, but I’m still not sure what I think about it. The concept is very of its time, which is not to say it is bad, merely that I could see today’s audiences finding it somewhat confusing. I’m still not sure what the point of the show is, if it has one. You can’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone? Idealize your youth, because things will get worse? Young love is great, but you can’t really be in love until you’ve had some of the callow optimism knocked out of you? I’m still thinking.

What I can say, unequivocally, is that the performances are absolutely fabulous. Vocally, the songs are challenging, and the entire cast is up to the task. Katie Jackson has a gorgeous, crystalline soprano voice that fits her role perfectly. It would be worth seeing this show just to hear her, no matter what you thought of the plot. All the other actors are engaging, their songs and harmonies on point. Randy Chalmers is a winsome narrator.

Though some of the references (like the numerous Shakespeare puns) might go over the heads of some, there is also a lot of humor in the play. The physical comedy ages well enough, and the audience found a lot to laugh about. I also couldn’t help but be struck by the social commentary in the song “Round and Round,” which seems as appropriate now as it would have been 60 years ago.

And let’s face it, who isn’t glad to just be back in a theater after a year and a half? Everyone, from the theater staff to the actors to the audience, seemed glad to be there. It is worth noting pandemic norms and protocols. Masks are encouraged for all audience members, and most were wearing them. But you won’t be thrown out of the place if you aren’t wearing one (and they did have some available at the entrance).

What I really want to do is tell everyone to see everything right now — all the plays, all the concerts. This particular musical might be best enjoyed by an older audience, but the performances are so good that it should appeal to all ages.