When one hears the title “world’s longest-running musical,” Broadway blockbusters like “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Cats” come to mind. Surprisingly, “The Fantasticks” was never on Broadway but still claims the title, after running for 42 years off-Broadway, starting in 1960. This summer, the Academy of Performing Arts is paying homage to the staying-power of the musical with a heartfelt production.
Making creative use of reverse psychology, two fathers conceive a plot to make their son and daughter fall in love, consisting of a pretend feud and a wall built between their yards. Naturally, their children are immediately drawn to each other, especially as both share the same oblivious nature. The sanguine and comical first act of the coming-of-age story is contrasted by the more realistic second act, as the two naive young adults have their eyes opened to the world for the first time, becoming sadder but wiser in the process.
Beau Jackett plays El Gallo, a “professional abductor,” complete with a dramatic black cape, who also functions as the narrator at significant points in the show. Jackett most recently appeared in The Academy’s “Cabaret” as the Emcee and is showing off his versatility once again as he shifts between the toreador-esque airs of El Gallo and the role of the narrator. He opens the musical as the narrator, with a touching rendition of “Try to Remember,” in which he foreshadows what the young lovers have yet to learn about the world.
The self-absorbed Luisa (Susanna Creel) ceaselessly daydreams about secretly being a princess instead of a “button-maker’s daughter.” Creel easily portrays Luisa’s romantic and idealistic air and shows off her lovely voice in numbers like “Much More” and “Round and Round.”
The “boy” Matt, pretentiously played by Zane Bender, is equally detached from reality, however, this is due to his extensive education. This has caused him to consider himself intellectually superior to his father, whose standard response to this behavior is “Son, you’re an ass.” Bender’s resonant voice complements Creel’s in songs like “Metaphor” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain.”
The feuding neighbors are played by Peter Earle (who also directs and choreographs the production) and Russell Snow. The two share several lively and often comical numbers, like “Never Say No,” about the natural rebellious nature of children, and “It Depends On What You Pay,” shared with El Gallo, as the two plot to stage Luisa’s abduction so Matt has a chance to rescue her.
The cast of characters is rounded out by the two bumbling thespians El Gallo employs, and the wall. Sean Whalen and Ethan Ehnstrom humorously play the two actors with frequent slapstick comedy and spot-on British accents. Whalen is especially impressive as he takes on dramatic airs, spontaneously reciting Shakespeare at various points, while Ehnstrom comically plays up his character’s penchant for dramatic death scenes.
As the Mute, Bailey Harris often acts out the part of the wall that divides the two children, and along with getting involved with much of the action on stage, is responsible for many subtleties of the performance like making it snow and rain.
The simplistic set complements the play-within-a-play nature of the performance, and the band, (composed of musical director Chris Morris, Annelise Ellars and Dick Stocks) adds another layer to the well-known music, with Ellars’ beautiful harp accompaniment reflecting the romantic mood.
At The Academy of Performing Arts, 120 Main St., Orleans
Through Aug. 25
Information and reservations: 508-255-1963, apacape.org