Theater review: 'The Fantasticks' from Seminole State College

"The Fantasticks" holds the record as the world's longest-running musical, thanks to the original off-Broadway production that played 42 years. A community-theater staple since, it's now back off-Broadway with a revival that opened in 2006.

So, it's safe to say the musical resonates with a lot of people.

And, yes, the show's messages — it's human nature to nostalgically paint a happy picture of our youth, the only way to mature is to experience life's travails, people always want more what they think they can't have — still apply.

Still, in this cynical age there's something rather dated about "The Fantasticks," written in 1960. Are kids still that sweetly innocent? Can they be so manipulated by those around them?

For a Seminole State College production, director Bobbie Bell plays up the highly stylized nature of the show, which emphasizes its fable-like tone, but the fast-paced silliness also dampens the more serious underlying observations.

The story, for those who haven't seen it — or saw it decades ago and have forgotten: Two neighboring fathers pretend to feud and build a wall between their gardens, knowing that the element of rebellion will fuel a romance between their children. It works, but once the deception is revealed, the young people fall out of love. Only after venturing into the cruel world and learning about the harshness of life, do they return to each other.

Set designer Eric Craft has looked to the original 1960 production for inspiration: A raised platform acting as a stage upon the stage. A string of bare light bulbs overhead, strung between several cockeyed poles, adds to the stagey atmosphere.

A mute character, who sometimes serves as the wall between the gardens, otherwise acts as a props mistress, handing out swords or sprinkling rain and snow. With circus-like makeup, Shayna Klee says plenty with wide eyes or a raised eyebrow.

A flamboyant master of ceremonies known as El Gallo serves as narrator to the tale, and in the role Stephen Pugh comically becomes the center of attention whenever he's on stage.

Frank Engs and James Parker, as a pair of second-rate actors, earn their laughs like an old Vaudeville duo.

An even funnier double act are the two fathers, played by Ryan Sutter and Zachary Lane, who pull off the comic feat of being funny while delivering some home truths in the zippy song "Never Say No."

Again playing up the stylized conceit of the plot, the two dads are dressed almost clown-like with crazy plaids running every which way. (Costume design is by Simone Smith.)

As the youths caught up in the chaos Adam DelMedico and Kaitlyn Lanius are charming and foolish at the right moments. That their characters aren't particularly distinctive is part of the puzzlement of "The Fantasticks": The characters surrounding the central love story are more interesting than the lovers themselves.

But maybe that's what helped "The Fantasticks" endure all these years. By leaving young Matt and Louisa blank slates, we mature members of the audience can comfortably project rose-colored memories of our own wide-eyed innocence onto the characters. As the show spells out, after all, "Deep in December, it's nice to remember the fire of September that made us mellow."

mpalm@tribune.com or 407-420-5038.

Theater review

What: 'The Fantasticks'

Where: Seminole State College, Fine Arts Theatre, Building G, 100 Weldon Blvd., Sanford

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 9

Tickets: $10; $8 students and seniors; free for SSC faculty, staff and students

Call: 407-708-2040