Sweet songs and romance

Friday, July 26, 2002

"The Fantasticks," the longest-running musical in history, finally closed on Broadway Jan. 13, 2000, after more than 17,000 performances. Lovely songs such as "Try to Remember," "Soon It's Gonna Rain" and "They Were You" are partly responsible for the show's longevity, as are the sweet romance of the Romeo-and-Juliet story and the musical's gentle humor.

Starcatchers Community Theatre, a fledgling Jackson, Mo., troupe that gave its first performance less than a year ago, will present "The Fantasticks" tonight and Saturday night.

The musical borrows from many different theatrical sources, including the narrator from Greek drama and the poetics of the Elizabethans. There are sword fights and a paper moon.

To begin, we see the actors getting ready to start the show and the narrator tells us we start with "a boy, a girl, two fathers and a wall." One of the actresses in "The Fantasticks," 12-year-old Alisha Peats, plays the wall.

The romantic leads, Lacey Hayes as Luisa and Jordan Cox as Matt are nearly as young at 15. Hayes has a promising voice that sparkles on "Much More" and in her duets with Cox. "Soon It's Gonna Rain," which foreshadows the storm clouds coming in their lives, is the one the audience will walk out humming.

Cox is convincing as the callow Matt, whose father can't understand why he is always writing verses.

The setup is simple. The boy and girl are next-door neighbors who have fallen in love. They're sure their fathers would oppose the relationship since they seem to despise each other, but that's what the matchmaking fathers want them to think. Telling a teen-ager not to do something is the ticket to getting it done, they reason.

The fathers employ a bandit named El Gallo (Mike Craig) to feign an abduction of Luisa so Matt can come to her rescue. But the musical demands that Luisa and Matt get "burned a bit" before the happy ending.

Not-so-bad boy

As bad boys go, the middle-aged Craig is not very, and the romantic scene between him and the tender Hayes isn't believable. But Craig is a good actor with an appealing stage presence and pleasant voice.

The fathers, Hucklebee (Bruce Marrs) and Bellomy (Rich Behring) dish up most of the evening's laughs. Their rendition of the humorous "Plant a Radish" is one of the show's highlights.

Marrs is naturally funny and has a spry singing voice. Behring, a veteran of the River City Players in Cape Girardeau, lends experience to the production.

Brothers Jeff and David Koeller, who just graduated from Jackson High School, play Henry and Mortimer, comical pirates who work for El Gallo. Jeff has most of the lines and is slyly funny.

Elaine Carlson directs the musical. Ann Swanson is the musical director and accompanies on keyboard. High school student Majhon Phillips contributes electric piano accompaniment during the second act.

Dennis Seyer, a professor of theater at Southeast, designed and built the purposefully simple set. The lighting is by Stan Koeller.

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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