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With its timeless tunes by composer Harvey Schmidt and lyricist Tom Jones and irreverent look at two moony teenagers in love, the long-running 1960 Off-Broadway hit The Fantasticks puts a nifty new twist on the old boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back story. No one, necessarily, lives happily ever after; and The Towne Players of Garner, under the direction of Beth Honeycutt, make this little gem of a musical comedy sparkle like the Hope Diamond.
Roberto Velarde cuts a fine figure as the handsome bandit El Gallo (pronounced “ell guy-yo” in the Spanish manner). Whether crooning “Try to Remember,” shamelessly flirting with the Girl (Luisa) played by Towner Players artistic director Beth and technical director Scott Honeycutt’s daughter Arlie, or effortlessly out-dueling Boy (Matt) portrayed by Matthew Hager, with pretend swords, Roberto Velarde is a real swashbuckler – and catnip to the female sex.
Matthew Hager and Arlie Honeycutt not only put plenty of personality into Matt and Luisa, but they make beautiful music together with their soulful duets on “Metaphor,” “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” and “They Were You.” Hager is terrific as the impetuous Matt, and Honeycutt gives a star-making performance as the moonstruck girl-nextdoor who feels puppy love for Matt, but positively swoons for the dashing El Gallo, an older man who’s mad, bad, and dangerous for a 16-year-old girl to know, let alone kiss.
Tim Wiest and Richard Reid cultivate a bushel of belly-laughs with their amusing antics as the Boy’s persnickety Father (Hucklebee) and the Girl’s fussy Father (Bellomy), who employ reverse psychology, in a pretend feud, to trick their rebellious offspring into falling in love with each other. When Hucklebee subsequently over-prunes and Bellomy over-waters their newly merged garden plots, their showdown during “Plant a Radish” is a stitch.
Imperially thin Holmes Morrison as The Old Actor (Henry) and roly-poly Rusty Sutton as Mortimer the Man Who Dies provoke more chuckles as Henry stumbles, fumbles, and bumbles through his recitations of some of Shakespeare’s greatest soliloquies and Mortimer flops around the stage like Shamu on the beach in the lengthiest and most ludicrous death throes imaginable.
Owen Phillips, who plays The Mute, completes the comic ensemble; but Towne Players artistic director Beth Honeycutt gives him little to do, except hook and unhook a large tarp imprinted with the show’s logo and hold up a stick to represent The Wall that divides the young lovers. (The first time that I saw The Fantasticks, at Duke University eons ago, a co-worker played The Mute and, during a wonderful improvised prologue to the show, she took a push broom and tried to sweep up the spotlight a la circus clown Emmett Kelly’s “Weary Willy” character.)
Music director and pianist Rebecca Barnes and percussionist Braxton Lindsay provide sprightly accompaniment that puts the musical icing on the delicious cake that is the Towne Players’ light-and-lively rendition of The Fantasticks. It is as fine a community-theater production as Triangle theatergoers are likely to see this year.