Light Opera Works goes bigger.
The changes come from Artistic Director Rudy Hogenmiller, who knows the production well, having worked with the authors Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt while they toured New York and later Japan. Hogenmiller participated in an expanded version of the show, which he decided to translate into the current production at Evanston’s Cahn Auditorium.
This version includes the largest professional orchestra ever to play in a fully-staged Fantasticks production, with 23 high-quality pieces. The performance has interesting lighting effects along with lots of glitter, confetti and other surprises that make this performance unique.
The musical love story focuses on two neighbors who secretly want their son and daughter to marry, so they build a wall to make it seem as though they are feuding. A full plot summary and history of the world’s longest running musical—17,162 off-Broadway performances from 1960 to 2002—may be read here.
This situation leads to the amusingly honest, “Never Say No,” sung by the two fathers, Hucklebee (played by Rick Rapp) and Bellomy (played by Kirk Swenk). These two patriarchs have many upbeat songs together including “Plant a Radish” and “It Depends on What You Pay,” the latter being a trio with El Gallo (James Anest).
As the story’s narrator to the story, Anest shines with his strong bass voice and Johnny Depp persona. He keeps the audience informed, “It is now intermission,” while singing many of the songs, including the quintessential, “Try to Remember.”
All of the men feature strong voices and believable performances, but they give up the spotlight to the sole female in the show, Meredith Kochan, who plays Luisa. With a look similar to Anna Kendrick and an even-stronger singing voice, Kochan lights up the stage with her innocence and wonder. Her beautiful duets with the boy whom she loves Matt (Christopher MacGregor) carry audience members back to their youth when love was pure and all-encompassing and the only thing that mattered.
“Soon It’s Gonna Rain” becomes more magical with the strong harmonies that entwine the lovers while they sing through the glittering rain that falls with the help of the Mute (Clayton Cross, who deserved more participation in the elegant choreography, especially since he never has a chance to speak in the show).
Henry (James Harms) and Mortimer (Brian Rooney), two character actors and audience favorites, add comic relief to an otherwise dated and sometimes dull script. The misquoted Shakespearean lines and complex fake deaths cause laugh-out-loud moments in a sentimental story.
Despite the rather trite theme of the trials of young love, Light Opera’s production provides an enjoyable, nostalgic look at the impossible pursuit of happily-ever-after and the resilience of each each person to still live happily nonetheless.
Light Opera Works production of “The Fantasticks” runs through June 14 at the Cahn Auditorium, Evanston. Tickets range from $34-$94 and may be purchased online here.