The Fantasticks in Camarillo
by Jim Spencer & Shirley Lorraine
The Fantasticks is the longest running musical in theatrical history, playing continually in Manhattan for 50 years. It’s a classic tale of love, loss, reality and fantasy involving a boy, a girl, two parents and a wall.
Why, then, do people feel a need to change, edit and update it? The current production at the Camarillo Skyway Playhouse has been tweaked to suit the young director. In our view the adjustments are not satisfying and generally do not work on many levels.
One of the beautiful things about this classic is its simplicity and timelessness. The script places the action in a backyard garden. However, for this production the director has chosen to reset the action against the backdrop of a carnival. While this creates a quite colorful background, it really does nothing to enhance the story – other than cause the players to perform in an almost clownish and overdone manner.
At times some dialogue references become jarringly incomprehensible when the characters speak of things in the surroundings that do not exist, even in a representative fashion – like a great tree.
To be fair, the voices are well suited to the score and the actors mostly keep pace with the recorded orchestrations. The characterizations are solid throughout, although (again most likely directorially) played a bit too broadly.
The classic role of the swashbuckling bandit El Gallo is larger than life in the persona of Jeff Berg, whose voice is equal to the task. Audiences enjoy his rendition of Try to Remember, in particular. It is unfortunate he is dressed in an ill-fitting and unflattering tailed vest as he saunters casually though the piece, rather than taking command of the stage as a heroic figure. Nonetheless, he does credit to the role vocally.
The young innocent Luisa is played with naïve abandon by Katy Jarvis. She is matched by Parker Harris as Matt, her paramour. Both have lovely voices and do justice to the lilting Soon it’s Gonna Rain.
Unequally paired are the parents, played by Laura Ring and Dale Alpert. While they are energetic, enthusiastic and talented, we found their rapid-fire repartee difficult to understand at times. Their actions are vaudevillian in style and their voices not always complementary.
The quiet role of The Mute is played timidly by Hillary Michelle. Many productions imbue The Mute/Wall with a more omniscient essence. In this case she is almost unnecessary and given little to do. Two traveling actors hired by El Gallo to stage an “abduction,” Todd Ticker as Henry and Alex Czajka as Mortimer, round out the cast.
Camarillo Skyway Playhouse is one of Ventura County’s true community theaters. Many actors and new directors get an opportunity to try out their wings both on and off the stage, to varying degrees of success. This production, while boasting a cast of quite capable individuals, never fully gels under the weight of the directorial choices.
Nevertheless, with the inherent strength of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s proven story and music, plus the individual musical talents of the cast, the show retains its charm and entertainment quality. For this version – five stars out of ten.
The Fantasticks plays through July 10 at the Camarillo Skyway Playhouse on the Camarillo airport at 330 Skyway Dr., Camarillo. Show times: 8:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 2:00 p.m. Sundays. Tickets and information 388-5716 and www.skywayplayhouse.org.