The Fantasticks -- Theater Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

Reprise Theatre Company had been hoping to put on "The Fantasticks," almost as a lark, perhaps next season. The shifting economic sands, however, required some shifting of this season's schedule. The happy result was that the enormously gifted Jason Alexander, who has the piece in his repertoire and happens to be the company's artistic director, stepped in to concoct a frothy delight for a very short run.

The cast is total dynamite. Everyone gasps and marvels at leather-sheathed Eric McCormack's El Gallo. He sings like a baritone Valentino, with a lip-curled villainy and an endearing sense of reality, which makes him all the more irresistible. The rest of the cast follows suit.

The range of coming-to-age palpitations of Alison Woods' adorable Luisa steals the show whenever she's onstage. Lucas Grabeel's appropriately weird Matt is a comic triumph; Grabeel dances, Grabeel sings.

Eileen T'Kaye and Harry Groener as the parents alchemize astonishing modern versions of the lovable old Midwestern stereotypes. Barry Dennen and Hap Lawrence are clowns Shakespeare would have been proud of. Kimberly Mikesell explodes like fireworks at the beginning and returns to entertain imaginatively throughout. But then a mime in a musical is like a cheese in Mozart.

Kudos to Alexander for the excellence of the ensemble and for the opportunities he distributed with great respect to each actor, how he encouraged them to be spontaneous and for instilling a sense of fun in repartee and physical comedy that seemed like it belonged with these people.

Credit to Bradley Kaye for a little girl's mechanical music box of a stage, complete with a big turning key, using a sloping, ovoid stage and lots of veils to give the evening some retro spunky sex. Credit to Kate Bergh for finding clothes that look great and that the cast likes wearing, and to Driscoll Otto's lighting, which to professionals within the industry must be regarded as the work of a master artist.

I still don't like the Freud's sound system. Electronic instruments sound OK, but violins and other acoustic instruments sound cheap and tinny. The miking of the singers also needs more consistency.

The redesigned program booklet is outstanding, with its great tactile feel of recycled paper, a very advanced layout and real content substantially enhancing the pleasure of the evening.

Once again: It's a very short run, so you should sign up for tickets ASAP. But please remember: If your kids ask you whether they should go, tell them no.

Venue: Freud Playhouse, UCLA, Westwood (Through May 17)
Cast: Eric McCormack, Alison Woods, Lucas Grabeel, Eileen T'Kaye, Harry Groener, Barry Dennen, Hap Lawrence, Kimberly Mikesell
Book and lyrics: Tom Jones
Music: Harvey Schmidt
Director: Jason Alexander
Scenic designer: Bradley Kaye
Choreographer: Lee Martino
Costume designer: Kate Bergh
Musical direction: Darryl Archibald
Lighting designer: Driscoll Otto
Sound designer: Philip G. Allen