I expected to write two completely separate reviews of Porchlight Music Theatre’s “The Fantasticks” and Lifelife Theatre’s “Treasure Island.” I found such engaging parallels, though, that I’m going to tell you about them together.
“The Fantasticks,” of course, is a revival of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s classic musical about young love. The original production, the longest-running musical ever, ran for 42 years off Broadway, and with good reason. It’s completely charming, both in song and storyline, and if you don’t like it, I don’t think I want to know you.
“Treasure Island” is a fine new adaptation of the classic pirate adventure by Robert Louis Stevenson. John Hildreth’s script sticks fairly closely to the novel, which has been thrilling young readers since 1883.
Both stories tackle the universal themes of coming of age, loss of innocence and overcoming adversity. You knew that already.
In “The Fantasticks,” we have dreamy Luisa, played with wonderful expressiveness by Emma Rosenthal, and Matt, determined and, in Sean Effinger-Dean’s fine performance, rather nerdily idealistic, looking “beyond that road.” In “Treasure Island” young Jim Hawkins, a diffident Warren Weber, is at turns shy and adventurously eager to prove himself. Then, too, El Gallo, the wry, intriguing bandit of “The Fantasticks,” sinuously rendered by Jeff Parker, echoes “Treasure Island’s” genially deceitful Long John Silver, powerfully played by Sean Sinitski.
There are quirkier parallels, too, such as offbeat references to food, manifesting in the songs “Never Say No,” “Plant a Radish” and “This Plum is Too Ripe” in “The Fantasticks,” while in “Treasure Island,” marooned seaman Ben Gunn pines with an unexpected hunger, delivered with perfect timing by Ezekiel Sulkes.
The other thing that both of these shows have in common is fine performances. “Treasure Island’s” cast, with typical multiple roles for each member, does a bang-up job on all fronts: clambering over Alan Donahoe’s fantastic, multi-level set full of trapdoors and rigging; delivering dialogue in evocative yet understandable dialect; and fighting in with guns, swords and knives in thrilling scenes. Along with Sinitski, Christopher M. Walsh, as Billy Bones, and Patrick Blashill, as Dr. Livesey, deliver exceptional performances, and director Robert Kauzlaric’s staging is impeccable.
Minor flaws keep “The Fantasticks” from perfection. Director Sean Kelly has stepped away from some of the shows cliches with good effect, but his treatment of the second act’s “Round and Round” seems disappointingly spare. And though a terrific actress, Rosenthal sings a trifle shrilly. Effinger-Dean is brilliant, however, and Parker’s “Try to Remember” first class.
Go see these shows.