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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Fantasticks

Mortimer remember there are no small actors, only small parts. — Henry the old actor
Clive Rowe as Hucklebee and David Burt as Bellomy
(Photo: Dan Tsantilis)
The miniature musical The Fantasticks long seen for half a century off Broadway in the Sullivan Street Theatre gets a revival in London. There are two problems here: one is that the Duchess Theatre is one of the smaller West End theatres but not as small and intimate as say Trafalgar Studios Two or the Jermyn Street Theatre and not the right venue for this intimate musical. The second issue is why is London getting a production of The Fantasticks conceived in Tokyo for the Japanese market? The answer to this last question is because there is someone prepared to pay for it, in this case, Yamaha, Japanese Airlines and Suntory Japanese Malt Whisky. Maybe if I had had several malt whiskies before the show I wouldn't have suffered such a sense of humour failure as I am sure a sillier mood would have helped my enjoyment.

The British cast sing very well and work very hard but surely this is now a period piece better off in a museum? The padding in the middle of the Commedia dell'arte clowning from Edward Petherbridge (Henry the old actor) and Paul Hunter (Mortimer the man who dies) was curious but somehow contrived and not as funny as it might have been for the contrivance. Dressed in filthy underwear, the scummy, comic pair seem to be emerging from boxes in a homage to Beckett's Endgame. The plot that two fathers (Clive Rowe and David Burt) should so manipulate their offspring by pretending that there is a family feud and building a wall to separate the young lovers is unlikely but becomes ridiculous when we see a staged abduction or rape paid for by the fathers. This scene isn't just bad, it is also in bad taste.

Whereas in the original the lack of staging, costumes and effects might have been cute, the sprinkling of silver confetti as magic and white tissue paper to simulate snow just looks cheap. A raised square stage has been offset as if floating above the actual stage. Even the so called audience participants who join in the mass rape scene are "selected" from audience members sitting on very uncomfortable benches at the rear of the stage. Their view of the action is severely limited, plus the fact that they have to sit there looking interested for the duration of the show in full view of the people in the stalls. The two selected are stooges, understudies in the main show.

Now I have got most of the negativity out of the way, here are the positives. The "Try to Remember" September song is a beautiful tune and Hadley Fraser who sings it and plays the narrator and El Gallo, the magician fixer, a cross between Zorro and Burlington Bertie, has a lovely voice and is a handsome actor. I fully expect to see more of this exceptional tenor. Clive Rowe is one of my favourite actor singers but as Hucklebee the Boy's father, he doesn't have enough to do to use his enormous talent. I did like Clive's comic balletic moves! Together the two gardening fathers Clive Rowe and David Burt give the best of the comedy. The young lovers Lorna Want as Luisa and Luke Brady as Matt are both attractive and sing their duets well but I found the score in some of Luisa's songs rather challenging for the listener with sudden chromatic shifts. I liked too the costume improvisation of kitchenware to add to Paul Hunter's native American, his head dress topped off by a bottle brush and implements like a wooden spoon, sieve and tea strainer hanging from his belt.

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The Fantasticks
Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones
Music by Harvey Schmidt
Directed by Amon Miyamoto

Starring: Clive Rowe, Hadley Fraser, Lorna Want, Luke Brady, Edward Petherbridge, David Burt, Paul Hunter
With: Carl Au, Ross Aldred, Mathew Craig, Ceili O'Connor
Set Design: Rumi Matsui
Costume Design: Nicky Shaw
Musical Arranger and Studio Production: Ian Wherry
Orchestrations/Musical Supervisor: Jason Carr
Lighting: Rick Fisher
Sound: Mike Walker
Musical Direction: Tom Deering
Running time: Two hours 20 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 579 1973
Booking to 5th September 2010
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th June 2010 at the Duchess Theatre, Catherine Street, London WC2N 4BG (Tube: Covent Garden)

Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Overture
  • Try to Remember
  • Much More
  • Metaphor
  • Never Say No
  • It Depends on What You Pay
  • Soon It's Gonna Rain
  • Abduction Ballet
  • Happy Ending
Act Two
  • This Plum Is Too Ripe
  • I Can See It
  • Plant a Radish
  • Round and Round
  • Beyond that Road
  • They Were You
  • Metaphor (Reprise)
  • Try to Remember (Reprise)
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