Review: 'The Fantasticks' at Connecticut Cabaret Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critic Circle

Berlin, CT - ‘The Fantasticks’ was written in 1960 by Tom Jones with music by Harvey Schmidt and tells an allegorical story that was loosely based on a play called ‘The Romancers’ by Edmond Rostand. The show is the world’s longest running musical with over 40 years of performances, so it must be doing something right. The production running at the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre and Performing Arts Center in Berlin was produced and directed by Kris McMurray, who in his curtain speech called the piece “the essence of theatre,” after which he mentioned the names of some of his cast members and then cheekily dismissed the other “schmucks” he had directed. 

It tells the tale of two neighboring (and very funny) fathers who trick their children into falling in love by pretending to be feuding. The dads improbably hire traveling actors to stage a mock abduction so that the 20-year-old Matt can heroically seem to save the 16-year-old Luisa and thereby end the feigned feud. Of course the children discover the deception, and they immediately reject the arranged marriage and break up. The young people get a taste of reality out in the world that are shown in parallel fantasy scenes and then reunite bruised but enlightened and renew their love with some maturity. 

The score, including the familiar “Try to Remember,” is breezy and quite inventive and the book often includes pure poetry. When licensed, the show has stiff requirements for scenery and props to guarantee that the audience gets an identical experience, although each cast surely puts their own stamp upon the characters. The small CCT cast and crew along with the three piece orchestra did just that to the delight of the Saturday night audience who came out to enjoy the cabaret seating with snacks and beverages at this performance. 

Jon Escobar (who played Lucas Beineke in CCT’s ‘The Addams Family’ in 2014) was smooth in every way in the role of the storyteller/bandit El Gallo. George Lombardo (as the Boy’s dad Hucklebee) and Russell Fish (as Bellomy, the father of the Girl) were a riot in the roles of the scheming parents. Dave Wall had fun as the old actor named Henry and  James J. Moran was his partner Mortimer, who has mastered a death scene and dresses like a Native American. Sue Emond was indeed silent but pretty cute as The Mute; she got to play the wall built by the fathers to separate their two children and throw different-colored confetti at various points in the show. 

As the young lovers, the glorious Jillian Caillouette and Jordan DuVall were simply perfect. I had never had the pleasure of seeing Ms. Caillouette in a full-length production, but I have heard her marvelous soprano when I witnessed her winning the High School Musical Theatre Awards for Best Actress in Musical two years in a row. This young singing actress has also performed at New York City’s hottest supper club, 54 Below. She was a luminous Luisa and it was such a treat for me to hear her sing every one of her numbers. Fortunately, she was equally matched by the beautiful tenor voice of Mr. DuVall and they both did justice to the role of the young lovers. 

T.J. Thompson  was the musical director of this fine cast. The small orchestra at this performance included Tina LoRusso covering on piano, Jamie Sherwood on guitar and Tim Urso on drums. The fine lighting was designed by James. J. Moran. The uncredited costumes were very well done, especially the magnificent white dress with a light blue ribbon for Luisa. 

This tender coming of age story with a dose of nostalgia continues at Connecticut Cabaret Theatre through Sept. 24. The first musical of their 2016-2017 season runs Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm with no performances September 2nd and 3.)
Photo by Connecticut Cabaret Theatre