The program for Lamb's Players Theatre's current The Fantasticks sports a photo of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, the famed musical's librettist and composer, respectively. This is remarkable for two reasons: The guys are identified in the wrong order, and they look amazingly, incredibly alike. True, Jones is wearing glasses, and his hair and beard are measurably whiter than Schmidt's—but the eyes, noses and mouths are mirror-images, almost as if their owners kinda morphed into the same being amid the staying power of this household word (The Fantasticks is 50 years old this year and has been mounted tens of thousands of times every which way worldwide).
Many of those which-ways have included big fat scene designs, big fat orchestras and big fat venues with a big fat sea of seats for a big fat wave of big fat patrons. Lamb's' take isn't exactly big and fat, but it's headed in that direction. And that probably wouldn't sit well with Jones and Schmidt, who once declared that the simpler your idea, “the better off it's going to be” (apparently, they resemble one another in the interview department, as well). This show has its cute and sprightly side, especially when the estimable Antonio (TJ) Johnson and Robert Smyth are onstage—but as Jones and Schmidt suggest, the de facto fairytale about two lovesick kids isn't out to make a point and requires very few trappings accordingly (it was first performed on a virtually bare stage). This is the glam of The Fantasticks—and while I dig glam as much as the next theater psycho, I'm not sure its adornments always have their place.
Matt and Luisa (Steve Limones and Courtney Evans) are puppy-lovers whose dads Hucklebee and Bellomy (John Rosen and Johnson) have used a little reverse psychology (“Never Say No”) to bring the two together. The kids are about to suffer a few real-world slings and arrows—but they're all the tougher for their false imprisonments and a beating or two, and the adversity makes them realize just how deeply in love they are. That's about all there is to the piece, and Jones and Schmidt underscore all that simplicity through straightforward music and relatively austere dialogue.But it's hard to reconcile the show's technical approach under director Deborah Gilmour Smyth. The bandstand; the dry ice cascading from the height of the lighting grid; the silver tendrils that stretch toward infinity as what passes for a tree; the inexplicable mesh that encases the actors' tableau at intermission: All that stuff simply belabors the unbelaborable. And narrator El Gallo (Mauricio Mendoza) doesn't do the postmodern set any favors as the fatigue in his voice swirls about it.
Johnson is delightful as the doting Bellomy, and Robert Smyth has a ball as Henry, the jaded, faded actor. And if we were living through the Salem witch trials, Jeanne Reith would have been burned at the stake this very afternoon—such is her sorcerer's talent for costume design, every single time out. Have fun with this show, but try not to let its self-involvement spoil it for ya.This review is based on the performance of June 30. The Fantasticks runs through July 26 at the Ione and Paul Harter Stage, 1142 Orange Ave. in Coronado. $22-$58. 619-437-0600, www.lambsplayers.org.Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.