Dramaworks' Fantasticks Is Cool Drink of Summer Lemonade
A gentle, compassionate smile at human folly suffuses The Fantasticks when it's produced as well as Palm Beach Dramaworks has. Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's classic chamber musical is a refreshing tumbler of iced lemonade on a sweltering night in West Palm Beach, a cocktail of reassuring sweetness spiced with a tang of reproving caution. Its deceptive simplicity has tricked hundreds of high schools and community theaters into producing mediocre iterations of a truly transcendent piece. Striking the precise tone is dauntingly difficult. But Dramaworks' fine production marked by deft direction and rich voices easily eclipses at least four recent local professional outings in finding that tone and eliciting that smile. The success is due to director J. Barry Lewis and musical director Craig D. Ames who understand exactly what the authors were going for and have applied everything they know to bring it out. Lewis...invests his skill at detail in lightly adorning this musical with inventive bits of business and stagecraft that freshens the familiar fare... ...Ames may be the strongest, unassailable force. He skillfully melded and guided the cast's vocalizations in rehearsals. As half of the onstage band (with harpist Kay Kemper) Ames' piano caresses the ineffably gorgeous and idiosyncratic score with its jazzy beats, lush waltzes and glittering glissandos. ...With unflagging energy, the entire cast throws itself fearlessly and without a shred of self-consciousness into a tale of sentiment that would curdle at the hint of a wink... Thanks to Lewis, they never lose focus and remain honest in every moment. ...The tone of the evening is unobtrusively enhanced by John Hall's atmospheric lighting, ranging from the dappled grove before a rainstorm to the harsh exposure of an unforgiving sun. But the star of the creative team is Brian O'Keefe whose costumes may echo Ed Wittstein's original off-Broadway designs, but whose choice of fabrics and patterns and colors deliver a convincing sense of whimsy. ...this superb material gets a first-class production that will take no effort to remember.