|Tom Jones:||The Fantasticks|
The Narrator: Robert Orth, baritone
The Girl: Erin Windle, soprano
The Boy: Tommy Hahn, baritone
The Boy's Father: Robert D'Angelo, tenor
The Girl's Father: John DeMain, baritone
The Actor: Frederick Reeder
The Man Who Dies: Stephen Fleischman
The Mute: Sharon Brolin
The Handyman: David Ward
Patricia Thorngate, harp
Ann Stanke, piano
The Madison Opera's production of The Fantasticks Friday evening in the Civic Center's Starlight Room surmounted the great deficiencies of the performance space as well as it could and provided a couple hours of good songs and highly physical acting. T
he players included local notables not usually seen as singers or actors, which was itself the source of much mirth. Luckily for the songs, the cast of nine included four professional singers, Robert Orth as The Narrator (El Gallo), Erin Windle as The Girl (Luisa) and Tommy Hahn as The Boy (Matt), plus Fred Reeder as The Old Actor (Henry), all of whom played with distinction.
Various schemes drive the action: the boy's and girl's fathers pretend to be enemies so their progeny will get together: the usual on-again, off-again and happy ending ensue. As the boy's father, Robert D'Angelo (the Director of the Madison Civic Center in real life) was just about perfect; he's capable of wonderful facial contortions and seems a natural on the boards. As the other father, John DeMain (the Music Director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera and Opera Pacific) for a change got to face the audience and show his considerable talent for high jinks. As The Man Who Dies, Stephen Fleischman (the Director of the Madison Art Center) made dying on stage into high camp. Sharon Brolin was eloquent as The Mute. All I can say of The Handyman, David Ward (Chancellor of the UW-Madison), is that he pushes a mean broom.
Maybe the single best thing about The Fantasticks is the truly lovely ballad "Try to Remember," which opens and closes the show. Robert Orth did it great justice, and in between was masterful as El Gallo, an actor for hire who stages a fake abduction of the girl, intended to cement the young lovers forever.
Alas, nothing can redeem the Starlight Room as a place for such productions: too small, too low, and bad sight lines for half the audience. Be that as it may, the production seemed a success to me, because it wasn't intended to be serious and it still worked, thanks to good acting and good singing, as well as a sense of play and fun. The orchestra consisted of harpist Patricia Thorngate and pianist Ann Stanke, both delivering their impossible parts with panache.
Isthmus, July, 1998
Copyright 1998 Jess Anderson