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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Fantasticks
Duchess Theatre   June 2010

This is the tiny musical that played in a tiny New York theatre for more than forty years, though I fear that this new production may have difficulty making it through the summer. *

The problem is that it is a fragile show, knee-deep in whimsy, and a production that works too hard at being charming threatens to destroy all the charm.

Bits of it survive, in Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's alternately lovely (Try To Remember) and witty (Never Say No) songs - click on the Amazon buttons to the right to hear snippets -  and in some of the performances, and they may be enough to make the evening a mild success for you, but you are likely to go away wondering what it was the New Yorkers saw in it.

The story is a twist on an old formula, as a pair of fathers keep their children apart, expressly to make them fall in love, and extend their scheme by hiring a passing brigand to abduct the girl so the boy can heroically save her. (The second act gets a little muddy as it explores the Into The Woods question of what happens after the happy ending.)

Everything that goes wrong here can be blamed on director Amon Miyamoto, who just pushes too hard, with an overblown production and too much visible strain where it should all seem light and effortless.

Glossy minimalist staging is not the same as simplicity, putting some of the audience onstage Equus-style is gratuitously clever, confetti and/or fairy dust is thrown just a few too many times, and songs that should float across an intimate space to us are blasted over the volume of the amplified orchestra.

At one point the narrator recruits a couple of audience members to help with the mock abduction, and until I realised they were plants, I was distracted by concern that they were spending so much time backstage and missing the show they had paid to see - evidence that I wasn't being captured by the fable as I should have been. At another, the girl's nightmare vision of the Big World Outside is so clumsily staged that it is ineffective at best and incomprehensible at worst - for much of it she isn't even looking at the things she's supposed to be seeing.

Doubling as narrator and brigand, Hadley Fraser is neither charming enough as one nor flamboyantly dashing enough as the other, so what comes across most clearly is a nice-enough performer trying valiantly to compensate for being miscast. Luke Brady has a nicely innocent air as the boy, but his singing voice is so weak, even with amplification, that he is barely audible. Lorna Want is more successful as the girl, singing well and giving her an attractively feisty air from the start.

As the fathers, the unquestionably talented Clive Rowe and David Burt have been directed to mug and shtick constantly, giving performances that are exhausting to watch and that overpower Jones's worth-hearing lyrics.

And then, for far too few moments in each act, Edward Petherbridge appears as a dotty old Shakespearean, and effortlessly steals every single second he is on the stage. He's coasting, of course - there's a lot of Newman Noggs in his characterisation - but he hits exactly the tone of lightness and whimsy the show wants, and puts everyone else to shame.

Gerald Berkowitz

*It actually closed in two weeks. It wasn't as bad as that makes it sound - it was just a product of its time and place, and magic couldn't happen again. I doubt if a new production of The Mousetrap would succeed in New York today.


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Review - Fantasticks - Duchess 2010