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Wednesday, August 27, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 69.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
The Daily
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Four Seasons Theatre's splendid singing elevates The Fantasticks' tale of young lovers and meddling fathers
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The Fantasticks: Dreamlike and a little strange.
Credit:Mike Brown

I first encountered The Fantasticks when I was a teenager. Listening to the cast recording over and over, I was charmed and a touch confused. It was so different from the other musicals I knew: dreamlike and a little strange. The excellent production by Four Seasons Theatre (through Dec. 22 at Overture Center's Playhouse) would have met the approval of 16-year-old me. And on opening night, the 30-something me was pleased, too.

The Fantasticks is the story of a boy and a girl. The boy, Matt (Trevor Bass), and the girl, Luisa (Anna Slate), grow up next door to each other, separated by a fence built by their feuding fathers. Of course, they fall in love. Sneaking to the top of the wall, they steal peeks at each other and swoon. But their dads aren't really enemies. They built the wall and concocted a grudge as an act of reverse psychology: They wanted their kids to fall in love.

The fathers -- Robert A. Goderich and John Jajewski -- are comedic characters that perform Charlie Chaplin-like dances in plaid vests and bowler hats. Goderich's Bellomy is slightly flamboyant and Jajewski's Hucklebee makes a gruffer, though equally funny, counterpart. The pair are especially delightful in "Never Say No."

Slate's Luisa is just as Luisa should be: dreamy, wide-eyed, and, at times, over the top. Slate is both a fine actress and vocalist; she's a natural fit for the part. The role requires vocal endurance, and Slate delivers, sounding stronger as the show progresses.

On opening night, Trevor Bass' portrayal of Matt felt a bit stiff. For much of the first act, he was locked in a goofy grin with his arms awkwardly posed at his sides. Vocally, on the other hand, he shone. Though I didn't see it, I heard the eagerness and sincerity of a young man deeply in love.

Most of the characters in The Fantasticks are archetypes, intentionally one-dimensional. The exception is El Gallo, performed by Jace Nichols, who also directs the show. Nichols' El Gallo flips between good and evil as if they're two sides of a coin. He's downright bad at times, but in other moments he seems like a wise, if not slightly smarmy, older brother.

The plot of The Fantasticks isn't complicated and neither is the set: a few tiered platforms, four poles, and a magic box from which actors and props emerge. The script, full of poetry and wordplay, and the lush music are too rich to be paired with elaborate scenery.

Instrumental accompaniment is provided by Thomas Kasdorf on piano and Elizabeth Borsodi on harp. They're visible onstage, and their strong musical performances are crucial to the show's success. Borsodi highlights the harp's versatility, moving from ethereal to percussive with finesse.

While The Fantasticks isn't a holiday play, it's a perfect pick for Four Seasons Theatre's season opener. The story begins in September but ends "deep in December." It's a show that, despite having nothing to do with Christmas, captures the beautiful mystery of the holiday season.

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