Photograph courtesy of SF Playhouse, by Jessica Palopoli

Photograph courtesy of SF Playhouse, by Jessica Palopoli

Tarek Khan and Sepideh Moafi as El Gallo and Luisa.

August 2010

The Fantasticks Still Thrill After 25 Years at SF Playhouse

By Lori Higa

The Fantasticks, by lyricist Tom Jones and composer Harvey Schmidt, is the longest running musical in history.  Opening in 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village, this timeless classic is still being performed today on Broadway, and now in an exhilarating revival at SF Playhouse.

Located in the heart of the City’s theater district, SF Playhouse was co-founded by Bay Area theater stalwarts Bill English and Susi Damilano.  The pair has produced a winning interpretation of the beloved musical that’s joyous and inspiring.   While director English has added devastating climate change as a backdrop, the Playhouse’s Fantasticks is true to the original, brought to life by a vibrant cast of world-class performers, backed by an equally exceptional crew of music, lighting, costume and set designers.

The comic musical harkens back to more innocent times – before Twitter and Facebook – with a Romeo and Juliet-style love story of a boy and a girl brought together by their scheming single parents, without the tragic Shakespearean ending.  Still, the plot isn’t all smiles and happy song, as the young lovers survive a painful breakup, and experience the harsh realities of life on their own, coming back together in the end, older and wiser.

The cast features Tarek Khan as the swashbuckling El Gallo; Jeremy Kahn as the boy; Sepideh Moafi as the girl; local stage veterans Louis Parnell and Joan Mankin as the parents; Ray Reinhardt as the Old Actor; and “deathographer” Yusef Lambert.  These virtuoso vocal and stage talents resurrect the hits “Try to Remember” and “Soon it’s Gonna Rain,” among other Fantastick tunes.  Musical director Robert Moreno turns in a bravado solo turn, performing the entire score on piano with breathtaking energy.  Set and costume designer Nina Ball does a miraculous job creating a larger-than-life post-apocalyptic set in a cramped space, while Michael Oesch’s lighting underscores the rich emotionality of the fast-paced libretto.  English’s direction is tight and creative, while choreography by Barbara Bernardo, like good seasoning, adds just the right amount of flavor to the show.

If you love Broadway musicals, this SF Playhouse production is a must-see.  In addition to being an intimate alternative to its glitzy Union Square counterparts, SF Playhouse is a nonprofit dedicated to bringing quality theater at affordable prices.  

The Fantasticks runs Tuesdays to Saturdays until September 4 at 533 Sutter Street.  Tickets are $30 to $50.  For information:  677.9696; sfplayhouse.org.

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