By Barbara Anne Kirshner
Main Streets all across our great nation are home to local theatres with their sparkling neon lights inviting us in to enjoy the enchantment of musicals, comedies and dramas. However last March, due to an unprecedented pandemic that forced the entire world to shut down, theatres suddenly fell into darkness, becoming specters of their former selves. But recently one by one those extinguished lights were turned back on once more illuminating Main Streets as they proudly announce the resurrection of live theatre.
Theatre Three, housed in that distinguished 160-year-old historic building in Port Jefferson, reopened its Mainstage doors on July 16th with the heartwarming fan favorite, The Fantasticks.
Kudos to Jeff Sanzel for celebrating the comeback of live theatre with this much loved classic. We need to escape into an endearing romantic musical right now and Theatre Three delivers. The message of The Fantasticks, that we can all survive and grow, is especially meaningful as we rise once more from a world ravaged by.
This allegorical tale is loosely based on the 1894 play The Romancers (Les Romantiques) by Edmond Rostand. Tom Jones (libretto and lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music) created a show that holds the distinction of being the world’s longest running musical having premiered at the Sullivan Street Playhouse off-Broadway on May 3, 1960 accumulating 17,162 performances before it closed on January 13, 2002, after 42 years. A revival opened August 23, 2006 at The Theater Center off-Broadway where it ran through June 4, 2017.
Simplicity accompanied by theatricality are key elements to The Fantasticks and are exquisitely displayed through the light romance of a girl and the boy next door against a backdrop of minimal set by Randall Parsons with a small platform, two benches, two trunks, streetlight and a piano. Lighting design by Robert Henderson, Jr. helps create the intimacy, the magical moonlight and the reality that comes with the sun.
Director Jeffrey Sanzel has assembled a versatile cast with actors called upon to not only sing, dance and act but play musical instruments.
Steve McCoy is captivating as the swashbuckling narrator El Gallo who weaves an irresistible spell immersing us in this timeless tale. With the beautifully melodic and pivotal song “Try to Remember,” he entreats us to return to a time of innocence “When life was slow and oh, so mellow” and if we remember then “follow, follow, follow.” He is the conjurer creating romance, then mischief.
The Mute portrayed by Michelle LaBozzetta provides the only concrete tones to this intentionally abstract show. She is the wall separating the houses; she gracefully throws confetti into the air representing the change of seasons and she passes out props.
Meg Bush as Luisa/The Girl with her operettic soprano in addition to her ability to play both the flute and guitar is unique. Her Luisa personifies innocence. She is the dreamer, the moonstruck girl who pleads, “I am special. Please, God, please, don’t let me be normal.” We can’t help but empathize. Matthew Hoffman as Matthew/The Boy with his resonant tenor adds a depth of emotion to Jone’s lyrics. His seductive saxophone embraces Schmidt’s jazzy score.
Kyle Imperatore as Bellamy/The Girl’s Father and Jeffrey Hoffman, Hucklebee/The Boy’s Father give delightfully comedic performances as their pretense of a feud tricks their children into falling in love. Hoffman is a multi-talented force who smoothly transforms from musical conductor and pianist to Hucklebee and back again.
The fathers know all too well that the feud must appear to finally come to an end. They enlist El Gallo to “kidnap” Luisa so Matt can be her hero by rescuing her. To assist in staging this first class abduction, El Gallo calls upon The Old Actor (Henry) played by Jeffrey Sanzel and his sidekick, The Man Who Dies (Mortimer) played by Steven Uihlein. Their antics are so much fun the moment they climb out of their costume box.
It is interesting to note that Tom Jones played the role of The Old Actor in the original Off-Broadway production and in the 2006 revival Jones recreated the role in addition to directing as Sanzel is doing in this production.
Chakira Doherty’s costumes help to reinforce the mood from Luisa’s floating dress emphasizing the innocent, dream-like quality to El Gallo’s dashing long black coat. Sari Feldman’s choreography supplies the right touch of theatricality particularly in the frenzied “The Abduction Ballet” and the frenetic “Round and Round.”
Theatre Three’s production of The Fantasticks is charming and entertaining with catchy songs that you leave the theatre singing.
Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents The Fantasticks on Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Aug. 15. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.