The characters in the musical “The Fantasticks” are a boy, a girl, two scheming fathers, a dashing bandit and some assorted fools. While the characters have names, they barely matter. There aren't really individuals in this allegorical tale, just archetypes and, depending on who plays the parts, these archetypes can seem either timeless or timeworn.
Fortunately director Anna Johnson has assembled some top-notch talent for Cadence Theatre Company's production of this famously long-running musical (the original 1960 off-Broadway production ran 42 years). Starting and ending with Russell Rowland's full-bodied rendition of the plaintive classic, “Try to Remember,” this production enlivens what could be fairly tiresome material in clumsier hands.
Rowland plays the dashing bandit, El Gallo, who is hired by the aforementioned fathers (portrayed by Michael Hawke and Gayle Turner) to cement the budding romance between two young lovers (Billy Christopher Maupin and Aly Wepplo). While the first act ends with a happily-ever-after moment (and the song “Happy Ending”), things don't go as planned after intermission. Two bumbling actors (Stephen Ryan and Steve Moore) assist El Gallo in teaching the lovers some hard lessons.
The only woman in the mix, Wepplo perfectly encapsulates the naivetAc of youth, practically squealing her delight that “every day, something happens to me!” Maupin's boyish energy serves him well early on, but more impressive is his second-act transformation. The pair's sweet voices blend magically in ballads such as “Soon It's Gonna Rain,” backed by a fine trio led by musical director Kim Fox.
As the too-clever-for-their-own-good dads, Hawke and Turner share a charming chemistry. Moore draws on his background as a stand-up comic to wring the utmost comedy out of his few scenes. Director Johnson's best innovation may be her use of the prodigious dancing skills of Taylor Daniels, who adds an occasional acrobatic step to his portrayal of a silent observer called the Mute.
This show is Rowlands' to command, however, and he infuses El Gallo with roguish attitude and theatrical flair. His charisma carries through even when singing disconcerting lyrics about “rape” (used in the poetic sense of an abduction, but still jarring to modern ears) in “It Depends on What You Pay.”
“The Fantasticks” offers nothing new in the way of story and its plot — with its boy wins, loses ad regains girl mechanics — and was purposefully reductive even in 1960. But in its first shot at a musical the fledgling Cadence Company breathes new life into this old classic. S
“The Fantasticks” plays at Richmond Triangle Players Theatre at 1300 Altamont Ave. through Aug. 28. Call 346-8113 or go to richmondtriangleplayers.com for tickets.