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‘The Fantasticks’ simply fantastic (5 out of 5 stars)

‘The Fantasticks’ is simply fantastic (5 out of 5 stars!)

“Every opening night at a theater is special, but the opening night of “The Fantasticks” at The Gary-The Olivia Theater at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem was rather extraordinary

It coincided with the 50th Jubilee Celebration of Mother Dolores Hart and you couldn’t find an empty seat in the house. On every beam of the outdoor theater posters of the young actress Dolores Hart, including one of her with Elvis Presley posing cheek to cheek caught delighted theatergoers well aware of the fact that the young star gave it all up to become a nun at the Abbey where she has been for 50 years.

While there’s nothing new about grand entrances or fanfare, when Mother Dolores, the Prioress of the Abbey, arrived in a 1956 Cadillac, the audience cheered wildly. As she made her way to the front row of the theater, everyone stood and applauded. Then director Sally Camm welcomed the audience and noted that if it hadn’t been for Mother Dolores, there would not have been the theater here. After the musical, a very special tribute was made to the Prioress.

‘The Fantasticks’ has played at just about every community, high school, and college theater since the Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones musical opened Off Broadway in 1960. The Clay and Wattles Theater Company at The Gary-The Olivia Theater has a delightfully romantic production of the play that emphasizes the cleverness of the director and the skills of the cast and crew.

 Loosely based on the play “The Romancers” by Edmond Rostand, the play concerns two fathers pretend to feud to bring their children together. In hopes that the daughter of one father will end up marrying the son of the other father, the two parents build a wall. At first, it looks like their plan is working like a charm, but the “best laid plans” rule takes effect.

All of the vocals in this darling production are excellent. Kasey Yeargain as El Gallo is masterful in his sensual portrayal of the dark con artist who arranges an abduction to make the son seem like a hero to the young girl. His solo performance of “Try to Remember” had the audience awe-struck. Samantha Williams as daughter Luisa has the sweet voice of nightingale and is as pretty and bright as sunny summer day. Markus Mann as the boy Matt is as assertive as he is romantic. Steve Sorriero and Pat Spalding as the feuding fathers add humor to the show while Michael Hodges, Joe Stofko and John Fabiani add high comedy.

Matt Wood’s set design is quite lovely. His wall, a movable sheet, is so clever and simple that it adds to the charm of the play. Sally Camm’s direction is nothing short of ingenious. The way leaves fall and blood flows is so clever that you must smile as you witness the gentle flutter of both. Patrick Monaghan’s sound design and lighting fill  the evening with music and moonlight.

Leslie Neilson-Bowman’s costumes featured pastel enhancements and color that can only be found on her artist’s palette. The musicians were superior with Music Director Miguel Campinho on keyboard, Annelise Ellars on harp and Elliot Wallace percussion.

After the curtain calls complete with a well-deserved standing ovation, Thomas Camm – actor, singer, dancer and co-director of the theater – stepped on stage and performed a unique version of “The Impossible Dream” as a tribute to Mother Dolores.

He changed some of the words that made the song more personal to the former Hollywood actress.”

How Good:   (Scale 1-5 with 5 a rave)

Box office: 203-273-5669

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