Charismatic Cast Carries Theatre Palisades’ ‘The Fantasticks’

By Lila Seidman
Special to the Palisades News

Prefacing Friday’s sold-out opening of Theatre Palisades’ production of “The Fantasticks,” director Sherman Wayne described the show as “so delicate, it’s like crystal.” Tears shone in his eyes.

The musical, which features lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt, reminds us of the fragility of fantasy and idealism, and both the beauty and tragedy underlying life in the stark light of day, as opposed to the shimmery cover of moonlight.

What appears in Act I (aptly titled, “Moonlight”) to be a retelling of “Romeo and Juliet”—a boy, a girl, two feuding fathers and a wall—is a subversion of the common love-against-adversity trope championed by Shakespeare’s most famous play.

We meet said girl, Luisa (Giane Morris), and said boy, Matt (Jeremiah Lussier), and they address their wall-crossed love directly to the audience with impressive respective vocals. They surreptitiously exchange passionate vows over the wall constructed by their supposedly enemy fathers, effortlessly channeling youthful passion and naiveté.

Mark Fields Davidson, Michael-Anthony Nozzi and Drew Fitzsimmons. Photo: Joy Daunis

Matt’s father Hucklebee (Greg Abbott) and Luisa’s father Bellomy (Darin Greenblatt) slink nearby, armed with clippers and watering can to tend to their beloved gardens.

Then the big reveal: Hucklebee and Bellomy, who shake and shimmy in unison throughout the play, reveal that the feud is a farce. In their first song together, “Never Say No,” they admit that their plan was to bring their progeny together by injecting faux strife.

Abbott and Greenblatt exude a natural and easy chemistry throughout the play, and received some of the biggest laughs from the audience for their wonky antics.

To finally put the feud to bed, the fathers stage a mock abduction of Luisa by El Gallo (Drew Fitzsimmons), a Puck-like figure, so Matt can heroically step in and save her. Theatre Palisades regular Fitzsimmons, who is director Wayne’s former high school drama student, also choreographed the abduction scene in all its sword-clacking, histrionic fake dying glory.

Everything seems to be going according to scheme, until Hucklebee confesses to meddling, causing the happy ending of Act I to topple into the rude reality of Act II (“Sunlight”).

Luisa and Matt must navigate the jarring halls of reality before they can truly appreciate one another—for their authentic selves, rather than an idealized version informed by myths and knight’s tales.

Friday’s packed-to-the-gills show oozed heart and on-stage chemistry between the members of the small cast.

As the only female player, Morris’ strong vocals served as a welcome foil for the men she sang opposite.

Mark Davidson, a Theatre Palisades return actor who skillfully played Mortimer, a gut-busting, Cockney-accented play actor who joins in on the staged abduction, faced a different challenge: the production marked his first musical. But veteran choreographer Victoria Miller was on hand to help.

Davidson’s on-stage sidekick Michael-Anthony Nozzi shone as over-the-top troupe leader Henry, sporting fake jowls and wild energy.

Wayne, the director, had joined the original New York production of “The Fantasticks” in 1962 as company manager and remained with it for eight years.

“It’s always been right here,” he told the audience, pointing to his heart.

The Fantasticks will run weekends at the Pierson Playhouse through Oct 8. Call (310) 454-1970 or visit theatrepalisades.com for more information.

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