Review: The Fantastiks – its charm is not enough

The world’s longest-running musical, landed on the Vancouver Playhouse stage last night.  But while charming, The Fantastiks limped along with a sweet sentimentality that never really connected for me.

Luisa (Bree Greig) and Matt (Colin Sheen) have fallen in love despite, or rather because of, the wall that their respective fathers (Simon Bradbury and Andy Toth) have erected between their adjoining properties. Actually all an elaborate ruse, the fathers bet correctly that the two would fall in love simply because they worked so hard to keep it from happening.  With some additional help from El Gallo (Steve Maddock) and two past-their-prime actors Henry and Mortimer (delightfully played by Christopher Gaze and Simon Bradbury), an elaborate fake kidnapping seals the deal.

Soon after professing their love though, the two children and their fathers discover that perhaps while things are wonderful in the moonlight, the harsh light of the day reveals otherwise.  Luisa and Matt go their separate ways and the fathers begin feuding.  Of course, in Playwright Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s sugary-sweet world of the 1960s, the separation of the two lovers and the feud between the parents cannot last and in the end, all are reunited.

The action takes place on a rather minimal set by David Roberts with the story played out with the actors portraying actors portraying the characters; think of it as a play within a play.  Helping them along the way by moving set pieces, creating the wall, and yes, even a sprinkling of glitter, is The Mute played by an inspired choice, Jeff Hyslop. 

The cast of The Fantastiks on stage at the Vancouver Playhouse

The cast of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company’s production of The Fantastiks.

Despite some great singing talent on stage from Maddock, Bradbury and Toth, there was a flatness to the whole proceedings that even Maddock, with his booming voice and large presence, couldn’t overcome.  Greig and Sheen both seemed to struggle. 

Perhaps not surprisingly Gaze and Bradbury stole the show with their portrayal of the two aging actors Henry and Mortimer.  Of course it doesn’t hurt to have the Artistic Director of Bard on the Beach incorrectly quoting Shakespeare, but it was also a delight to watch these two pull everything they could from these rather pitiful characters.

Gerald King’s lighting was hampered by Roberts’ main set piece that seemed to cast many shadows which found the actors in partial darkness on a number of occasions. 

Accompanying the actors on stage is a wonderful three piece ensemble consisting of Albertina Chan, Laurence Mollerup and Bill Sample on harp, bass and keyboards respectively.

Despite a couple of nice performances, the Vancouver Playhouse’s production of The Fantastiks couldn’t overcome its monotone and its charm was simply not enough.

3 Out of 5 stars The Fantasticks
Vancouver Playhouse
2 – 23 October 2010

Tickets are $32 – $59 available online or by calling 604-873-3311.

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