Sunday, May 5, 2013

Review: 'The Fantasticks' a charming delight at Chatham Players

Danielle C. Pennisi and Salvador Navarro (photo Jill Fisher)

The always impressive Chatham Players are ending the 2012-13 season with a musical as they did last season. The two musicals, however, could not be more different. The 2011-12 season ended with one of the most successful Broadway musicals of all-time...the powerful "Caberet" with its Kander and Ebb music and Nazi theme. 

This season they are ending with ​Off-Broadway​'s biggest hit, the delightful, small scale, family friendly "The Fantasticks." Incredibly, the show opened in 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village and became the longest-running musical production in the history of stage with 17,162 performances  over 42 years.

​It​ was create​d by Tom Jones (book and lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music). ​The same team who created "I Do. I Do." ​ The musical score includes two songs that have become popular worldwide ​​“Try to Remember” ​(originally sung by ​the late ​Jerry Orbach​)​ and ​"​Soon it’s Gonna Rain.” Patrick Horan is both director and musical director​ for​ this excellent production.​

"The Fantasticks" ​is ​the romantic, funny, tale of love between a boy, a girl, a wall and two manipulating fathers.​ The fathers are neighbors who attempt to be matchmakers for their children by pretending to feud, a bit of a "Romeo and Juliet" rewrite. 

The young lovers, both with excellent voices, are Danielle C. Pennisi as 16 year old Luisa Bellomy and Jason Pumarada as 19 year old Matt Hucklebee. ​They make an attractive, believable couple who find love, lose love, but regain love after experiencing the harder side of life. Danielle C. Pennisi particularly impresses with her fine voice. ​They do a beautiful job with all their songs especially "Soon it's Gonna Rain."

The two fathers are played with great humor by Howard Fisher (Amos Bellomy​​)​​ and Glen D. Post (Hucklebee​)​.​​ This is Post's third Chatham Players production this season. In each play his comedy performance ​has been a play highlight. Howard Fisher's Bellomy nicely balances the broader buffoonery of Hucklebee. They are at their very best with the clever "Plant A Radish" duet.

The fathers plot an intricate mock abduction as a way to bring the couple together. They enlist the aid of the bandit El Gallo and his out-of-work actor cohorts...Henry, the old Shakespearean actor, and Mortimer whose acting is largely confined to playing a dying Indian. 

El Gallo, handsome and vaguely threatening in ​black ​cowboy garb, ​is played by the perfectly cast Salvador Navarro. ​El Gallo also serves as the play's narrator setting a calm tone asking the audience to use their imagination and follow him into a world of moonlight and magic...projecting nicely that all will be fine in the end.

​​The biggest laughs in the play are from ​Henry​, the old Actor​ and his ​"Indian" assistant Mortimer. Henry is played by David Cantor and Mortimer by Chip Prestera. Cantor is clearly one of the best actors on either side of the Hudson. He was outstanding as Richard Hannay in "39 Steps" last Fall and sensational in "Glenngarry Glen Ross" for which he won the Perry Award Best Leading Actor 2011. Chip Prestera, who also excelled in the Chatham Players production of "39 Steps" demonstrates his superior physical comedy talent. Prestera's dying Indian scene, for example, is a comedy highlight. 

Not to be overlooked is Michael Healy as "the Mute." He is a big audience favorite starting with his display of magic tricks prior to the "opening curtain." Healy's role can best be described as a magical prop man. 

​Now, remember that "The Fantasticks" is a musical. ​The music is provided by the director Patrick Horan at the piano and harpists Merynda Adams and Francis Duffy (Alternate).​ They play very well, but the fact the instruments are "miked" whereas as the performers are not, results in several cases where the singers are overpowered by the piano in particular. 

Director Horan's production team includes: set design - Roy Pancirov, costume design Beverly Wand, fight choreographer - Steve Ruskin, sound design Joe DeVico, lighting design Richard Hennessy, scenic artist and panting - Andrea Sickler, props, furniture and set decoration Tish Lum and Michael Healy, assistant stage managers - Genevieve Anderson, Beth Vetter, stage manager Debby Hennessy, and producer Leslie Reagoso.

Whether it is your first time seeing "The Fantasticks," or your twentieth time, the production at ​the Chatham Playhouse​ will make it clear why "The Fantasticks" has been so popular for 52 years. ​Besides the fact that the observations about life, innocence and disillusionment are universal and timeless...​.​​It is fun, charming, romantic and a 'feel good' event.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio   ​May 4, 2013​

​The remaining performance dates are May 10, 11, 17 and 18 at 8​ p.m. and May 12 at 3​ p.m.. All performances are at the Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Avenue, in Chatham, New Jersey.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $23 for youth/senior.​ ​Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office or Online. To access the theater’s online ticketing service, simply go to The service is available 24 hours a day, tickets can be purchased online up until three hours prior to curtain on the day of a performance. Chatham Playhouse’s box office accept​s phone reservations at (973) 635-7363.

David Cantor, Jason Pumarada and Chip Prestera (Photo Jill Fisher)

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