Shakespeare Co. presents musical
“The Fantasticks,” a 1960 musical and romantic comedy, aims to tell that story.
At the start of the play, a man walks onto the stage of an old theater. As he examines the space, he notices someone up in the balcony. Together, The Narrator — sometimes called El Gallo — and his new ally, The Mute, bring the theatre to life.
“We want the audience to see that he is coming into a place that already has a story,” said Maddie Hale, who plays The Mute.
Although she can’t talk in the show, The Mute is equally important in the telling of the story.
“She’s the stage manager to El Gallo’s director,” said Grant Turner, director of “The Fantasticks.”
The Narrator, played by Israel Bloodgood, is reflecting on his own story years in the future. Meanwhile, The Mute is literally building the set. Among the props are several human figures, who come to life and run with The Narrator’s whimsical tale.
Along the way, El Gallo loses control of the story, frantically tries to get it back on track and slips in and out of his “El Gallo” persona.
“It’s almost more fun to not know everything and have to say ‘Alright, now I have to control this situation,’” Israel said.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the young man, Matt (played by Cody Dickerson), and the girl, Luisa (Avalon Bloodgood) are infatuated with their forbidden love. The audience soon learns, however, that their fathers — played by Turner and Ari Bloodgood — tricked the teens into falling in love.
“If you tell them no, they will inevitably do it, because children always do,” Ari said. “So we do, and it works.”
Ari said the conflict comes in Act II, after the lovers have learned of their fathers’ deception. Although they had good intentions, life got in the way.
“It’s our fault,” he said. “We lied to them. We’re trying to get them to fall in love, and they’re just growing up. We don’t mean to betray one another.”
Ari said that’s one of his favorite aspects of this show.
“In most musicals, there’s one bad guy (that directly causes conflict). Here, the conflict happens just because of life,” he said. “Life is the bad guy, Time is the bad guy. Nobody’s evil. Everybody’s just a person with something in their heart that makes them (a bit antagonistic).”
Although the teens believe they have found their “happily ever after,” The Narrator suggests otherwise at the end of Act I.
“It won’t be easy to hold such a pretty pose,” he says.
The first act follows the tropes of musical theatre: over-the-top cheesiness and only light touching. The lovers and their fathers are more caricatures than characters with very exaggerated emotions and behaviors.
“It’s very two-dimensional at the beginning,” Avalon said. “Then so much depth is added in the second half.”
The second act is far more realistic as the characters find a more substantive love.
“I grew up in musical theatre, so this show and Grant have really helped me learn a more realistic acting style,” Avalon said.
Avalon describes her character as being “hot and cold” at first, but said “things happen that bring her down a notch and teach her a lesson, helping ground her.”
Dickerson said the tone of the show matches the feelings of the characters.
“At first, I’m in love with the idea of being in love, and she’s in love with the idea of someone loving her,” Dickerson said of their relationship. “But then we grow up a bit, and we figure out maybe we do actually love each other.”
Shakespearean in nature
“The Fantasticks” will be presented by the La Grande Shakespeare Company in collaboration with the Elgin Opera House.
Turner said he picked “The Fantasticks” largely because of its Shakespearean elements.
At the beginning of the play, the young lovers are more taken with the idea of romance than with each other, mirroring the tragic pair in “Romeo and Juliet.” That love becomes stronger later, developing into a story akin to “Pyramus and Thisbe.”
With a narrator and a stagehand, the play within a play calls to mind “A Midsummer’s Night Dream.” Similar to Shakespeare’s works, “The Fantasticks” includes direct conversations with audience members, spoken poetry and many scenes set through words rather than elaborate set pieces.
“One of the old men spouts actual lines of Shakespeare,” Turner said.
Moreover, Turner selected this show because he has loved it since he was in a production of the show when he was 19. The La Grande actors, who were not familiar with the show before the first read-through, all said they enjoyed it.
“It’s really weird and funny and magical,” Avalon said.
Shahayla Ononaiye is the music director, and Abby Hale is the choreographer for the musical that opens Feb. 16 at the Elgin Opera House.
Due to actors dropping out of the show early, Heidi Gerlach and Steffi Sea joined “The Fantasticks” several weeks into the rehearsal process. They’ve caught up quickly.
“I’m really only in three scenes, but that’s three scenes of something,” Gerlach said.
She and Sea are playing the old men who are responsible for carrying out a staged abduction and some very real life lessons.
“I’ve never played a man before, let alone an old man,” Gerlach said. “You have to change your body and your vernacular. If you fall, you are not as quick to get up.”
Sea said her biggest challenge has been deciding how far to age her character.
“Once I pick a physicality, it just happens,” she said. “I get to shuffle down the stage, which is silly. But that’s great.”
Gerlach and Sea both said they joined simply because they were asked to.
“I joined out of necessity,” Gerlach said. “You’ll find that most people who are actively involved in the theatre around here are already in another show.”
Gerlach and Sea were preparing for Eastern Oregon University’s song and dance concert along with fellow cast member Avalon Bloodgood when they were asked to join.
Gerlach said she likely wouldn’t have joined if she were not already familiar with the director and a majority of the actors.
Editor’s note: Reporter Emily Adair has a personal relationship with “The Fantasticks” actor Cody Dickerson.