July 02, 2004

The Fantasticks

So we saw The Fantasticks at the Metropolis tonight. The vocal talent was incredible; the actors did an amazing job with what they were given. The schtick was well performed, and the songs were well sung. The performance had some other issues, however.

One was the piano. I don't think it was actually out of tune, but there was something wrong with it. Maybe I just didn't like the tone; my mom suspects it was miked and then given too much volume. Whatever it was, it kept catching attention in slightly distracting ways.

Another was the microphones. All the actors had these fancy mikes that mounted to their ears, with the mike itself at about their cheekbone. The mikes weren't really needed much—you could tell they were only slightly enhancing the natural volume—but they caused weird interactions when the actors were actually facing each other, or passing close to each other. Unfortunate.

The choreography, meaning the actual dancing, didn't fit. I know that musicals always have this tendency to randomly break into song and dance, and that's fine. But somehow, the dancing in this show managed to seem very... perfunctory? It was as if the director said "they shouldn't just be standing there, and since they're singing, plain blocking won't do. We'll have them dance."

But the biggest thing the production had going against it was the show itself. The Fantasticks was the longest-running show in modern stage history, and you might think that indicates it's the best show out there, but really it has as much to do with the fact that it's low-budget enough that it doesn't need to keep bringing in lots of people just to stay open. It has a reputation, somehow, for having many songs that you've heard before but just didn't know where they were from, but that's not accurate either. (There's one.) Basically, the show is just very Modern, in the 50s/60s rejection-of-convention sense, and it tries too hard to be so.

Which is not to say it doesn't have its moments. A lot of the dialogue, especially in the second act, is very clever; in several segments the actors are speaking in rhyming verse (without making it sound like doggerel, but more like well-performed Shakespeare). The comic relief, in the characters of Henry and Mortimer, is precious if occasionally overdone. And some of the songs are great—generally when they steered clear of the discordant Very Modern things and went with the more musically cliché, it went a lot better.

So in the end, I can't quite decide whether I'm mad that I went to see it. In the abstract, of course, I'm glad to have seen it (in the way one likes to have read great literature). But I'm thinking that I had rather better ways to spend the evening. Ah well.

"Historically, the Bible has been used to justify some stupefying crimes, including slavery and genocide. I see no indication that we are any better at divining the Lord's intent now than we ever were." --Molly Ivins

Posted by blahedo at 11:57pm on 2 Jul 2004
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