Simply ‘Fantastick’

There are a lot of entertaining reasons to hang out in resurgent Peekskill, but—even in this Northern Westchester river town that knows how to sing, swing and sizzle—there is nothing like “The Fantasticks.” The musical runs one more weekend (through Dec. 19) at The Flatz, 1008 Main St. (Ticket info: embarkfan.bpt.me.)

If there were a Mount Rushmore of the American musical theater, this show surely would sit atop it as one of the iconic faces. Filled with a timeless, ear-pleasing score—who doesn’t remember the pop standard “Try to Remember”?—and a feathery love story everyone can embrace, “The Fantasticks” played off-Broadway for a record-breaking 42 non-stop years, at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village.

To put that unmatched longevity into perspective, when the remarkable musical debuted, our president was Dwight D. Eisenhower; when it closed, more than 17,000 performances later, the White House occupant was George W. Bush.

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That spans two generations, and the beat goes on. Even today, at a theater on Broadway named for its original star, Jerry Orbach, the indestructible entertainment continues to perform its unique magic, 20,000 curtains and counting.

But no need to bust your budget on dinner and a show (plus a king’s ransom to park) in the big city, when “The Fantasticks” is casting its spell right in our backyard’s own city.

In the smoothly-produced Peekskill edition, the musical is as fresh and fun as ever, like a life-long friend who always makes you feel warm and fuzzy. This show, in fact, is my life-long friend. I’ve known it intimately for as long as I remember—the vinyl cast album I’ve owned since the 1960s is like a talisman I always can turn to as a comforting muse.

Among the life-affirming lyrics that lift the score into immortality is “without a hurt, the heart is hollow,” from signature song “Try to Remember.” I have my own intensely personal reasons that bring the sentiment home. When talented actor Erik Contzius, as The Narrator, beautifully sang the phrase, in his rich baritone, a tear spontaneously appeared in my eye. That is the power of this show to connect with each audience member.

Every song note and lyric, from the mischievous and insightful wit of “Plant a Radish” and “It Depends on What You Pay” to the gently infectious lyricism of love songs “Metaphor” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” is ingrained in me.

I didn’t think I could love “The Fantasticks” any more than I already do. Boy, was I wrong. This is the first time I have seen it on stage, and I can’t get it out of my head, or my heart. It’s a show for the ages that has found a loving home in Peekskill.

Presented by Embark Peekskill and The Flatz, this endlessly engaging local production of “The Fantasticks” is a perfect marriage of talent and space. In addition to the canny direction of Katie Schmidt Feder and her homegrown cast, the show has the good fortune to be staged at The Flatz, whose Greenwich Villagesque interior oozes charm and cool and coziness. With business partner Sol Miranda (who can be seen in the Netflix series “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), Ms. Feder is co-founder of Embark Peekskill, which will be based in The Flatz starting January 2016.

At the core of the show’s near-perfect proportion and compelling composition is a book and lyrics by Tom Jones (no, not the “Delilah” singer!), complemented brilliantly by the captivating music of Harvey Schmidt. Everything is so of a piece; there’s not a false note to be detected.

The mirthful, magical musical’s single biggest asset may be its powerful compactness.

That doesn’t mean it is easy to produce. Rather, it takes ingenuity and savvy stagecraft, not mere money, to nurture a vision into a theater experience that transports us fully for a couple of hours, which in this case go by in what seems like a few minutes. Ms. Feder deserves an ovation—and full houses—for her admirable achievement.

Exemplified by this lovingly-mounted version, the immortal “Fantasticks” is a testament to the beauty and virtue of simplicity. There happens to be a chandelier gracing the space in front of the stage, but this ceiling fixture, thankfully, doesn’t come crashing down, as it does famously in a certain Broadway spectacle that leans operatically on special effects and bloat. Hey, whatever floats your boat.

The virtually split-level stage that has been custom-built for “The Fantasticks” as you enter The Flatz gives away nothing in entertainment value. If anything, it focuses your attention squarely on what matters most: the music and the performers telling a universal tale that is easily relatable and palatable.

“The Fantasticks” proves more than any other show that you don’t need scale to scale the heights of classic musical theater.

In addition to Mr. Contzius—who is co-owner of The Flatz with wife Monica Flaherty—the talented cast features the hilarious Tom Campbell, a local theater veteran, as a ragtag Shakespearean actor, and his equally loopy sidekick, played by Stephen Velichko. The pair pratfall all over the stage to very humorous effect.

Melody Munitz (The Girl) and Torian Brackett (The Boy) each bring considerable pathos and polish in their singing and acting. They are adolescent lovers whose fathers, a vaudeville-like duo in the persons of Luis Alonso Guzman and Frank Reale, pretend to feud to join their children in matrimony. Things don’t go exactly as planned, but of course, they live happily ever after.

One cast member who might literally be tagged an “unsung” hero is Suzi Tipa, whose character, “The Mute,” does not speak throughout. She does plenty of other things, though, that are vital to the suspension of disbelief and that create a visually romantic motif. Ms. Tipa, a dancer as well as actor, is ever so graceful and ethereal as she goes about her stage business.

The story behind “The Fantasticks” is based loosely on “The Romancers” by Edmond Rostand, author of “Cyrano de Bergerac.” It carries important messages, presented with a deft touch, about the human condition, and how we should keep our eyes, and our minds, wide open as we travel through this life to get the most out of it.

“What happened to you?” The Boy is asked, after he has seen enough of life to better appreciate its ups and downs. “The world happened to me,” he answers. 

As a bona fide lifelong fan of “The Fantasticks,” I admittedly am biased, but also feel blessed to know this show. It has that kind of heart-warming effect on people.

If you see me with a big smile on my face, please ask what happened to me—just so I can tell you, “‘The Fantasticks’ happened to me.”

Let it happen to you too.

Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar, also known as Bruce The Blog, is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner agency. He also owns APAR All-Media, a Hudson Valley marketing agency. Follow him on Hudson Valley WXYZ on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or 914-275-6887.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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