Near West Theatre’s ‘The Fantasticks’ is a gentle story during our troubled times
“The Fantasticks” premiered in 1960 and featured music by Harvey Schmidt with book and lyrics by Tom Jones and is based loosely on the 1984 Edmond Rostand play “Les Romanesques.” The original off-Broadway production ran for 42 years with 17,162 performances making it the world’s longest running musical. It has since become a staple of regional, community and high school productions. At any given time somewhere in the world the show is being staged.
There are many reasons for this durability. The show is poetic and breezy with an inventive score. It has a small cast combined with a two to three person orchestra and the set design that is minimalist to say the least.
Thus it is with this production that Near West Theatre introduces their new Black Box Theater that is tucked away in the basement of the 6702 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio main theater.
Amos Babcock Bellomy (Stephen Berg) and Ben Hucklebee (Brad Sullivan) are supposedly feuding neighbors who have built a high wall between their adjoining properties. In actual fact they are close friends who sneak over the wall to see each other and play cards. They reason for the fake feud is in order to forbid Luisa Babcock (Sarah Farris) from seeing Matt Hucklebee (Oscar Waters IV) thus making the two naturally fall in love. This is their goal.
They enlist the aid of El Gallo (Carlos Antonio Cruz) who leads a traveling carnival to put their plan together with dramatic action. El Gallo recruits an elderly Shakespearean actor, Henry Albertson (Kevin Kelly) and his sidekick Mortimer (Roman Novosel) to “kidnap” the young Luisa allowing Matt the chance to fight them off and win her love. The plan works too well as the young lovers first fall into then out of love.
So how does the Near West Theatre production hold up? Well, it ain’t bad. That is to say that the acting is well done considering that it is community theater and for the most part the singing is suitable. Where the show is weakest is in the role of Matt. While he is a fine actor he simply does not have the singing skills necessary to pull off one of the primary characters. Other than that it is a fine show.
Notables of the performance are Kevin Kelly as Henry and Roman Novosel as Mortimer who really ham it up for laughs on the stage. Jabri Johnson as Hucklebee and Stephen Berg as Bellomy sing some wonderful duets together and Carlos Antonio Cruz as El Gallo is perfect in his acting and singing role. Sarah Farris as Luisa is in fine voice as well. Mack van Lier is the very much in sight stage hand (The Mute) who is at times the wall as well as falling leaves and quick stage set changes that are all part of the comedy relief.
The show is directed by Darius Stubbs with Heidi Herczeg as Music Director. Scenic Design is by Sequoia Bostick with lighting by Jeremy Paul. Costumes are by Mia Jones. Combat Choreographer is Kelly Elliott. Thomas Jeffries is the Sound Designer.
The orchestra, although scant is perfectly suitable for this production. Heidi Herczeg does a wonderful job on keyboards backed by John Musat on drums and J.P George on stand-up (double) bass. The three work extremely well together manufacturing just enough sound to compliment the singers. It is a relationship that works splendidly.
At long last, Near West Theatre is able to stage small intimate productions in their brand new 70+ seat Black Box Theatre. This will allow them to broaden their horizons even further as people once again venture out to see live entertainment. Their first production “The Fantasticks” is a nice fit to their plans. Chances are this limited dates production (only five more shows) will sell out in a hurry so get your tickets fast.
“The Fantasticks” will be on stage in the brand new Near West Theatre’s Black Box on June 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26 2022. For tickets and other information go to https://www.nearwesttheatre.org/ or call (216) 961-6391.