Guest Author - Donna Ledbetter
The longest running musical off Broadway is now on U Street in Washington, DC at Arena Stage. The show is The Fantastics, a story of a ready-made match between Louisa (Addi McDaniel), a school girl wrapped in fairytale dreams, and Matt (Timothy Ware), a bookish young man blindsided by love. Between them are two huge barriers: one, a towering wall between their family homes, and the other, a set of well-meaning parents whose antics could jeopardize their fate.
El Gallo (Sebastian La Cause) and the Mute (Nate Dendy) are travelling magicians whom the two fathers, Bellomy (Jerome Lucas Harmann) and Hucklebee (Michael Stone Forrest), call on to stage an intricate affair that will draw their love struck children closer together. Henry (Laurence O’Dwyer ) and Mortimer (Jesse Terrill) have supporting roles in staging this feat. When the children become aware of the ruse, they feel used and resolve to go out into the world in search of true happiness. What they find is more than they could have imagined.
Director Amanda Dehnert sets this rendition of The Fantastics at the foot of a carnival gate. It is a like fantasy circus complete with magic tricks, sideshow acts, and believe-it-or-not displays. This production also features comedic performances and a score of outstanding music by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. Yet the enchantment begins long before the performance.
Outside, there are jugglers, magicians, and even a stilt walker who foreshadow the other world waiting on stage. The set reminds you of the early, wondrous heyday of carnivals and circus acts. Accompanying this merry set, is also lighting by Nancy Shertler that it is as luminous as it is dark, for the carnival experience you are about to see has abundant shades of deception.
At the start of production, audiences are introduced to Sebastian La Cause and Nate Dendy, two actors whose charismatic performances enliven the stage and leave you spellbound. La Cause is convincingly the tall, handsome figure who could con a con man, but even more remarkable are his vocals. He is both smooth and soothing like a purr and alluring with air of peril.
Jerome Lucas Harmann, Michael Stone Forrest, and Laurence O’Dwyer also give solid performances, breathing vibrancy and life into their characters with rousing interpretations of the songs “It Depends on What You Pay” and “Plant a Radish.” Harmann and Forrest also perform a number of other enthralling musical pieces complete with harmonic vocals and riveting dance choreographed by Sharon Jenkins.
Despite its numerous strong points, The Fantastics did include a few missed performances. Admittedly, as Matt, Timothy Ware was not the sympathetic character one would have imagined. His vocals seemed weak alongside the strong, resonate singing of Addi McDaniel. Because of Ware’s central role in this production, his flaws are not easy to overlook.
However, The Fantastics is indeed a glorious journey and tale worth seeing. It is a fun, magical ride that you do not want to end. The Fantastics plays now through January 10, 2010.
* Complimentary tickets were provided by the Arena Stage Theater.