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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
THE FANTASTICKS
at the Duchess

FADED LOVE STORY
By JOHN NATHAN

  Clive Rowe and David Burt/ Ph: Dan Tsantilis

To give this show some credit, it could be said that The Fantasticks is an early example of the self-aware musical – the kind of show that, in its modern form (Urinetown, Spamalot), has characters who know that they are part of a production, or an “engagement,” as the Beckettian thespian Edward Petherbridge here calls it.
 
But with credit duly given, this really is a pointless little whimsy. It is “a parable of romance,” as described by the mysterious cloak-clad narrator, with all the hyperbole of a traveling elixir salesman.
 
Harvey Schmidt’s score, which includes the chart hit "Try to Remember," is sweet enough. But it is based on a watered-down version of every love story ever told (Pyramus and Thisbe, Romeo and Juliet included).
 
Since The Fantasicks opened at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in 1960, it has found loyal audiences in New York and around the world, making it the longest-running musical.
 
Japanese director Amon Miyamoto’s revamped production will last less than a month in London. If anyone knew why shows that fly in New York flop in London – or the other way round – producers would not have taken Enron (a big hit in London) to Broadway, where it was a big miss.
 
(American’s don’t like the British to tell American stories, it has been said of Enron’s New York failure. Although a torpedo-sized hole has been blown into that theory by the Broadway success of the Donmar’s Rothko play Red.)
 
The Fantasticks’ failure in the West End is at least in part because it is simply not a West End show. It’s the kind of pub-theatre fare that would fit well into the cosy King’s Head in North London, which has a long history of chamber pieces, where theatrical in-jokes go down a treat and where it would not matter that Rumi Matsui’s design – which replaces the harp and piano familiar to New York audiences with a thrusting triangle – looks like an 80s disco floor.
 
There are also bleachers reserved for onstage audience members a la Spring Awakening. But these half-hearted attempts to update the show were always destined to fail when one of the central characters is a dancing mute who, like a lobotomised Puck, chucks glitter over anyone who moves.
 
What was charming 50 years ago is today anodyne. The Fantasticks is populated not by people, but archetypes whose purpose is to represent fathers and teenagers everywhere.
 
Pretty 16-year-old Luisa (Lorna Want) has fallen for boy next-door Matt (Luke Brady). Their love is driven by the long-running feud between their fathers (David Burt and the excellent Clive Rowe). Imagine a Romeo and Juliet where the Capulets and Montagues are neighbours whose grudge is a ruse to bring their children together – children being predictably contrary to their parents’ wishes – and you pretty much have
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