Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Enduring ‘The Fantasticks’ fits right in at Tisch Mills theater

Critic At Large

The Forst Inn Arts Collective

Sean Stalvey, left, and Vanessa Guillen portray the young lovers and Phillip Jindra portrays the world-wise bandit and narrator El Gallo in “The Fantasticks” presented by The Forst Inn Arts Cooperative. (Company photo)

TISCH MILLS, Wis. (WFRV)

In many ways, “The Fantasticks” is a classic musical.

It has been around for generations.

Fascination is immediate as a man dressed as a jaunty rogue stands alone and starts to sing…

Try to remember the kind of September…

If one knows the song, tears may well.

… when life was slow and oh, so mellow.

A lump may gather in the throat.

The story starts and tells of youth and love and stupid, silly things done because of youth and love. It is a precious story, which is why “The Fantasticks” goes on and on.

The show is the latest offering by The Forst Inn Arts Collective on its cozy stage in its cozy theater at a crossroads in the middle of farmland. “The Fantasticks” was always meant to be a small, intimate experience, so the production fits right in.

Director Michael Sheeks and his nimble cast tap the show’s qualities that include interlocking teamwork. While there have been other takes on individual roles and presentations, this one is just fine because everyone’s heart is in it.

The story is great. A boy and a girl are ga-ga for each other. Their fathers want them to marry, but the fathers know they can’t tell youth anything because the opposite will happen.

“Never Say No,” the fathers sing.

They also know that parents never know what they will get with children, unlike with gardening. “Plant a Radish,” their songs starts, “get a radish… you know what you’re about.” With children, “it’s bewilderin.’ You don’t know until the seed is nearly grown just what you’ve sown.”

Set in a backyard, “The Fantasticks” has the feel of backyard theater with its required sheet announcing the title at the center and a silent harlequin character always around as a living prop and assistant in the action.

Soon, the show gets totally theatrical and off the wall. It always seems surprising that the fathers come up with a plan for a rent-a-rogue to abduct the girl so the boy can rescue her. Not only that, the rogue’s helpers for the “first class” raid are an addled old Shakespearean actor who can’t remember his lines and his assistant whose specialty is dying.

The children get their “happily ever after,” which, of course, does not last through intermission. Act II is a take on the real world. In the case of “The Fantasticks,” it is a hammed-up, comical take on the real world with a heart-warming conclusion.

As El Gallo, Phillip Jindra gets straight to the heart with the opening song, then both glides and romps with his intriguing character. Tessa Komorowski is a colorful thread holding much together as The Mute. Vanessa Guillen is youthful sweet as the girl, Sean Stalvey oh-so-smart as the boy. Corey McElroy and Jeremy Pelegrin capture the spunky know-all nature of the fathers, capped with some desperation. Michael Sheeks and Kana Coonce are appropriately bungling as the actors and later the torturers of the boy.

Keeping things lively and/or lovely are Kevin James Sievert on piano and Rosalindae Siegfried on harp – the harp adding special musical colorings of its own.

It so happened that at the performance I saw Sunday afternoon that in attendance was a man who played one of the fathers in a number of productions in the area, including 40 years ago with Green Bay Community Theater. As he spoke, his love of the show was obvious, as were warm memories of castmates. “The Fantasticks” certainly lasts.

***

Creative: Based on “Les Romanesques” by Edmund Rostand: book and lyrics – Tom Jones; music – Harvey Schmidt; stage direction – Michael Sheeks; music direction, choreography – Kevin James Sievert; stage management – Jeff LaFond; costume design – Phillip Jindra; costume consultation – Claran LaViolette

Cast:

The Mute – Tessa Komorowski

Luisa – Vanessa Guillen

Matt – Sean Stalvey

Hucklebee – Corey McElroy

Bellomy – Jeremy Pelegrin

El Gallo – Phillip Jindra

Mortimer – Kana Coonce

Henry – Michael Sheeks

Orchestra: piano – Kevin James Sievert; harp – Rosalindae Siegfried

Running time: Two hours, 20 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. July 5, 6; 2 p.m. July 7

Info: forstinn.org

***

Musical numbers

Act I

“Try to Remember” – El Gallo, Luisa, Matt, Hucklebee, Bellomy

“Luisa’s Introduction” – El Gallo, Luisa

“Bird Magic” – Luisa

“Much More” – Luisa

“Matt’s Introduction” – El Gallo, Matt

“The Wall” – El Gallo

“I’ll Marry” – Matt

“Bell’s Introduction” – El Gallo, Bellomy

“Ladder” – Huckleby, Bellomy

“Never Say No” – Hucklebee, Bellomy

“It Depends on What You Pay” – El Gallo, Hucklebee, Bellomy

“It Depends on What You Pay” (Reprise) – Hucklebee, Bellomy

“Moonlight #1” – El Gallo

“Moonlight #2” – El Gallo

“In the Glen” – Luisa, Matt

“Soon It’s Gonna Rain” – Matt, Luisa

“Abduction Ballet” – Company

“After the Ballet” – El Gallo, Henry, Mortimer

“Happy Ending” – El Gallo, Luisa, Matt, Hucklebee, Bellomy

Act II

“Opening Act II” – Mute

“This Plum is Too Ripe” – Matt, Luisa, Hucklebee, Bellomy, Mute

“The Quarrel” – Luisa, Matt

“I Can See It” – Matt, El Gallo

 “An Episode” – Henry, Mortimer

“Rebuilding the Wall #1” – Mute, Hucklebee, Bellomy

“Rebuilding the Wall #2” – Mute, Hucklebee, Bellomy

“Plant a Radish” – Hucklebee, Bellomy

“Much More” (Reprise) – El Gallo, Luisa

“Round and Round” – El Gallo, Luisa, Company

“Distant Carousel” – El Gallo, Luisa, Mute

“Beyond That Road” – El Gallo, Matt

“Paradox” – El Gallo

“They Were You” – Matt, Luisa

“Metaphor” – Luisa, Matt

“Try to Remember” (Reprise) – El Gallo, Luisa, Matt, Hucklebee, Bellomy

***

NEXT: “Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding,” returning July 19.

THE VENUE: The Forst Inn stage is wide and narrow. The space is intimate. Seating is at small tables on two levels in a slight arc in front of the slightly raised stage. To the audience’s left is the stage director’s space, with light and sound controls. The space is essentially a black box in theater style in the front – with additions: two chandeliers above the audience, a street lamp the seating area and the ambiance of 1920s style elements to the rear in a service area.  A seating/serving area is in the middle of the building, along with a ticketing counter. The bar area out front includes the bar, table seating, more 1920s ambiance and a passage to an art gallery (rotating artists) that is now part of the offerings of The Forst Inn Arts Collective. The building dates to 1868, with assorted lives over the years. For a notable period – 1990 into the 2000s – the place was popular for productions of Little Sandwich Theatre, which Manitowoc attorney Ron Kaminski (deceased 2018) nurtured with a caring hand as artistic director/performer/do-all for a wide array of productions. The present venture is of that spirit.

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