The Fantasticks: Bay City Players Reprise a Classic

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre,   From Issue 713   By: Mark Leffler

21st October, 2010     0

“It definitely shows what our fantasy of true love is” says Director Frances Martinez of Midland, explaining the long lasting popularity of The Fantasticks, which opens at The Bay City Players November 11th. “But it also shows that our idealism in our head isn't true and the way that you appreciate goodness is by having experienced the negativity. If every thing was peaches and cream you wouldn't appreciate it."

Music Director Kunio Oulette of Essexville feels that part of the reason the musical has been staged around the world, running for 42 years and more than seventeen thousand performances off-Broadway is  "The Fantasticks simply put is a fun, whimsical show that has minimal costuming needs, minimal set and orchestra. The show is sophisticated while at the same time being light hearted and imaginative.“

The story involves two neighboring fathers who conspire to arrange a match between their two children, Matt and Luisa. An abduction is staged to bring them together but as Shakespeare observed: “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

Try to Remember and other light, breezy songs, the spare set and relatively small cast (it is often performed with simply a piano and harp) have made The Fantasticks a favorite of regional theater worldwide. It opened in May of 1960 with Broadway legend Jerry Orbach (known best for his run on TV's Law and Order) as the mysterious El Gallo.

David King plays El Gallo in The Bay City Player's production. Shelby Avery plays the daughter Luisa and Alejandro Cervantes plays the son,  Matt. Oulette and Pinconning's Cameron Pichan are the fathers, Amanda Glashauser is Mortimer, Mike Wisniewski is Henry and Amy Britt and Lisa Rittmaier play The Mutes. 

Reviewrecently interviewed Martinez and Oulette about the preparations involved in bringing to life and reinterpreting such a beloved theater classic:

Review: When did you first become aware of The Fantasticks? Had you seen it performed or watched the movie version?

Martinez: I saw it at the Center for the Arts in Midland in the Nineties and I'd seen the movie on DVD this summer. It's a very different show. Not like traditional musicals like Guys and Dolls. The audience has to use their imagination and there are parts that are strange and dark and it can become confusing if you don't understand the symbolism. That's why I took out some parts. I wanted to remove some of the ambiguity that might confuse the audience.

Review: How long does it take  you  to block and rehearse the show before opening?

Martinez: It took me a month in the summer to block by myself with paper, pencil and  a picture of the set. You can't start blocking until you talk with the Technical Director about the set design. We started rehearsals with the cast September  13th and we rehearse four days a week.

Review: As Musical Director how did you prepare for this show?

Oulette: I was not familiar with The Fantasticks prior to being asked to be the musical director for the show. I was able to get the perusal copy of the show and spent quite a bit of time learning the music from the show which has been so much fun. The music is charming and timeless.

Review:  What did you do to prepare as Director?

Martinez:  Reading the script several times, figuring out the set with the set designer and then blocking all the scenes. I am the choreographer as well. It's a matter of taking the time to see what the dances are going to be. There aren't many which is why I decided to do both. My fourteen year old daughter, Gracey Houseal choreographed one number and taught choreography to the cast.

Review: Who is playing the music for the show?

Oulette:  The Fantasticks has an available 16 piece orchestration but we decided to go with the condensed orchestration of piano, played by Joan Kinnett and harp, played by Doug Webster. Both musicians will be on stage with the cast at all times during the production. We feel that this will help to keep the show intimate.

Review: What has the rehearsal experience been like with this cast?

Martinez:  The cast is amazing. Everyone is spot on. Very talented vocally and with characterization, which you don't always get.

Oulette:  I have been very blessed to be able to be the musical director of this show. Shelby Avery, a high school senior at Valley Lutheran High School is an extremely talented vocalist with great acting skills, plays the part of Luisa, our teenage female lead while Alejandro (Hondo) Cervantes, 16 and attends Saginaw Arts & Sciences Academy is also a very talented baritone and actor. El Gallo is played by David King from Freeland has many acting and vocal experiences. Our audiences will be enchanted by David’s commanding and smooth baritone voice. These three leads carry most of the musical weight of the show and they have all made it so easy to work with them. It has truly been a pleasure.

Review:  How did you work with the Technical Director to design the set?

Martinez:  I believe this set is very minimal like Our Town, isn't it? He and I started to talk to in the summer. We exchanged ideas, whether to make the set traditional as written or a little fancier. We decided to keep the set pretty traditional but added levels to make it more interesting and we added a lot of real props like the wall and the swords. You don't have to imagine as much as in some productions, which can confuse the audience.

The Fantasticks will be performed November 11-14 and 18-21. For ticket information visit www.baycityplayers.com, call the box office at (989) 893-5555 or visit them at 1214 Columbus Avenue, Bay City, Michigan, 48708.

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