“Try to Remember” is Hard to Forget in “The Fantasticks” at Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins

Fantasticks-L“The Fantasticks” is a Heartwarming Memory Piece of Young Love

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 19, 2016

The lyrics of “Try to Remember” have long been my anthem of growing older and wiser – at the same time:

“Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Although you know the snow will follow.
Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Without a hurt the heart will hollow.
Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Then follow. Follow.”

Another Tom Jones chap created and immortalized those words for the 1960’s Off-Broadway show, “The Fantasticks.” The entire show struck a chord with audiences, and it ran for 42 years — a total of 17,162 performances, making it the world’s longest-running musical. The show has circled the globe, with productions in nearly 70 foreign countries, and more than 200 new productions each year.

Photo credit  Jalyn Courtenay Webb
Photo credit Jalyn Courtenay Webb

It is a tale of a young girl and young boy falling in love, much to the excitement of their neighboring parents. Then reality strikes, with the young couple realizing that moonlight enchantment can fade by morning’s sun; and the best desires of parents to arrange a romance can be foiled.

The set is minimal. The cast is minimal. The story is minimal. The total effect is delightfully charming! Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt were friends for several years before their collaboration of “The Fantasticks” came to fruition. Jones was just 32 years old when they hit gold with their show. He was wise beyond his years, as the lyrics he wrote of love desired, love gained, love lost, and wisdom discovered have made great impact on audiences worldwide.

While the show has been through a multitude of incarnations over the years, the production now on stage at Midtown is probably the most rewarding version I have seen. The show can be found on stages everywhere, as a television show, and on film as a DVD. It is at its best, however on the set of Midtown Arts Center, with simple tale of neighboring fathers who want their children to meet up and fall in love. They cleverly build a wall supposedly to keep their children apart – knowing that such a wall will only tempt them to find what is “on the other side.”

Photo credit  Jalyn Courtenay Webb
Photo credit Jalyn Courtenay Webb

Marissa Rudd as Luisa and Taylor Martin as Matt are both convincing as the young lovers. Marissa charmed MAC audiences in “Merry and Bright” during the Holiday Season. She has a beautiful voice, and is a delight to watch! Taylor Martin has an especially strong singing voice and the gee-whiz look of a love-struck young man. Steven J. Burge and Michael Lasris are in great form as the neighboring fathers. Daniel Harkins and Sean Wilcox play a “team” of actors hired to provide an abduction of Luisa that the young Matt can easily thwart – giving him even greater honor in Luisa’s eyes. Emily Valley has an unusual role as The Mute, always helping as needed but never saying a word.

Sonia Daggett and Alaina Bonge provide excellent accompaniment on piano and harp.

Beginning the show’s narration, and carrying the tale throughout is Damon Guerrasio as El Gallo. Guerrasio has great appeal and stage presence, but his singing voice lacked strength in the performance I saw. I wished that his “Try to Remember” could have been amplified, so that the audience could be enthralled with the entire message, including:

“Try to Remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow.”

The first act is liltingly beautiful, with all the innocence of first love. Reality and dissonance strike in the Second Act, in stark contrast to what has transpired. The message then becomes one of substance and interest. There are some super scenes and fine music in the Second Act, but a couple of the songs go on too long while the writers stress their point. Not to worry, however, as moonlight and hope win the evening; and everyone goes home happy — and wiser than they were two hours earlier.

The production is directed by Lisa Kay Carter, with choreography by Michael Lasris and music direction by Jalyn Courtney Webb. A Scenic design is by Paul Luna with scenic painting by Joel Adam Chavez. Falon Wilson provides lightning tech, lighting design by Ben Danielowski.

The show is in Midtown’s smaller theater which becomes a picnic barbecue buffet for this show. While I prefer the audience to face a stage, the setting for “The Fantasticks” does provide playgoers with an exceptionally up-close and personal relationship with the talented performers.

“The Fantasticks”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To May 29, 2016
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Website: www.midtownartscenter.com