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THEATER REVIEW: “The Fantasticks” is fantastic at Welk Resorts Theatre

OK, sharpen those verbal knives, you whingers and members of the theatrical Sophistication Patrol. This is about “The Fantasticks,” the little musical that could – and did, to the tune of a 42-year run in New York.

The 1960 brainchild of Tom Jones (with music by Harvey Schmidt) is at the Welk Resorts Theatre through April 3, directed and choreographed by Ray Limon.

The plot, borrowed from Rostand’s “Les Romanesques” (by way of the Roman myth of Pyramus and Thisbe, the 13th-century “Aucassin et Nicolette” and of course “Romeo and Juliet”), is about as simple as they come: a boy named Matt (Benjamin Zep Misek) and a girl named Luisa (Michaelia Leigh) are next door neighbors. Matt sums it up in four words: “There is this girl ...”

Their fathers, Bellomy (Brett Daniels) and Huckaby (Dirk Rogers) have cleverly erected a wall (Michael Lopez) between their properties to ensure that the kids fall in love: they’ve long since learned that “to manipulate children, you merely say ‘no’.”

Bellomy and Huckaby even decide to seal the deal with an arranged abduction carried out by El Gallo (Randall Dodge), a romantic character of the Zorro type who for a fee “challenges” Matt to a duel (and makes sure Matt wins). He is “helped” by aged Shakespearean thespian Henry (Walter Smith ) and Shaun Leslie Thomas as his sidekick Mortimer (whose specialty is dying on stage).

But of course, wonderful as young love is, there’s always that dratted morning after, when the light is too bright and “this plum is too ripe” and just who is that person next to you, anyway? Innocence must be lost, the larger world explored and lessons learned before the obligatory happy ending.

Go ahead, call it simple-minded if you must, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the most charming expositions of that unoriginal plot around.

Limon’s cast is excellent, with Dodge’s lush baritone particularly well suited for el Gallo – a part he’s played several times before.

Leigh has the perfect voice for Luisa: high, light and accurate. Misek is well matched with Leigh, and both are fine actors.

Daniels and Rogers play well off each other as the fathers, and Smith and Thomas are fun for a while as the overacting thespians, though the shtick does start to wear after a bit. Michael Lopez is fine in the thankless role of the Mute.

Sets, costumes and lighting are appropriate, and Justin Gray and Celia Chan Valerio provide fine piano/harp accompaniment.

“The Fantasticks” is a show that either speaks to you or doesn’t, quality of production notwithstanding. It’s one of my favorites.

The details

“The Fantasticks” plays through April 3, 2011 at Welk Resorts Theatre, 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido.

Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m.; Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Brunch or dinner also available.

For tickets, call (760) 749-3448 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.