Life would be much more entertaining with a narrating bandit, a dancing mute and metaphorical confetti gracefully falling onto a floor of Starry Night. But the message of Tom Jones’ The Fantasticks says, “Do not rely on frills and self-deceptions for a happy ending.”
Meet Matt, played by junior Lucas Moore–a college boy who, honestly, is Corry from Boy Meets World.
And Luisa, junior Donna Louden–a 16 year old girl who reads too many fairy tales.
Their love for each other was thwarted by their angry, neighboring mothers, sophomore Candace Miser and junior Stephanie Parker, who built a wall to separate the children and the over-pruned lawn from the over-watered one.
Twenty minutes later, the mothers reveal they are not enemies at all, but bosom buddies scheming to get their children together. They shall hire the bandit, El Gallo, played by sophomore Zach Simons, to simulate an abduction so that Matt can rescue his Luisa in distress and bring the families together in matrimony.
Forty minutes later, the plan is a success. Intermission.
Act One could have been the entire play. The audience could have walked away fully satisfied from a meal of jolly songs, slight conflict and a happy ending. Had the performances not been so superb, the seats might have been half-empty for the second Act, which contained the actual conflict, resolution and moral of the musical.
The most memorable moment was the first time bumbling Henry and Mortimer, played by junior Brandon Arias and sophomore Jon Black, unexpectedly emerged from the abyss of the box.
The fool and trusty sidekick have been recycled so many times. But these actors made their characters so specific and original that Arias was an absolute cartoon character and Black a special, British/Native American who could steal anyone’s heart and spank it with a bat.
Every player’s voice was top notch, especially Louden’s. Her presence was strong; even while sitting still through an entire song not her own, she commanded the stage.
And her scenes with adorable Moore were full of chemistry. Both Moore and Louden were convincingly in love, a difficult thing to show in 20 minutes.
The mute, Elise Coppola, brought a mysterious element and her dancing was most impressive. The stage was sparse, so the audience really needed to use its imagination. Director Vanda Eggington did well in using the entire stage to create an atmosphere of creative believability with minimal props and almost no set.
The big fight scene, choreographed by Deborah Marley, was especially epic, sword against baguette against sword against fish. Masses of fury took over the stage and escalated into a week-long, grand dying of El Gallo.
Each facet of the production pointed toward the phantasmagorical. The costumes were true while twisted, the lighting beautiful and revealing, the live music a focus and a background. The only distraction was the somewhat contrived and extreme make-up: notably the mothers’ unnecessary eye shadow and Matt’s over-the-top rosy cheeks.
Although the story was a bit of a letdown in its format and premature climax, the Vanguard players were strong in delivery and impeccable in performance. In particular, Miser’s Hucklebee was sharp, keen and a bit Rabbit-esque of Pooh and Friends.
The cast convinced the audience to return for the second half, which included more inventive ways to use shredded paper, some challenging songs and, fortunately, more ridiculous scenes with Henry and Mortimer. There will definitely be returnees in the audience, if only to experience the box giving birth to these two fools.