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Springfield High winningly trips the light `Fantasticks'.

Byline: Theater review by Duncan Frost For The Register-Guard

AS THE longest-running show in New York City history was closing after 17,162 performances, the very same show was preparing to open in Springfield High School's black box theater. The students at Springfield live up to the show's reputation and its title, "The Fantasticks."

Based on a 19th century play, "Les Romanesques," "The Fantasticks" is about a young couple who learn that sometimes one must be hurt, and be burdened by sorrow, to truly understand love and happiness

Two neighboring families have built a wall between their houses, because they are supposedly feuding. But this feud was dreamed up by the two mothers, who are best friends. The families want their children to marry, and the mothers realized long ago that if they tell their children that they can never marry each other, they will fall deeply in love. So in reality, the mothers have arranged the marriage through the use of reverse psychology.

Needless to say, the children, Matt (Ian Oberst) and Luisa (Melissa Rodriguez), are romantically obsessed with each other by the time they are teen-agers; they spend most of their time talking to each other over the wall.

When the mothers are sure that their children are in love, they call upon a professional bandit, El Gallo (Jonathan Matthews), who up to this point has served as the show's narrator. They pay El Gallo and his men to pretend to abduct Luisa and allow themselves to be defeated by Matt. This "heroic rescue" will end the feud and enable Matt and Luisa to marry.

El Gallo pulls this off seamlessly, and it seems that the show will have a fairy-tale ending. However, the two mothers soon become frustrated about their children's naive happiness and tell them about the hired bandits. Matt realizes that he isn't a hero, and Luisa realizes that the marriage was, in a sense, prearranged. This causes the children to go their separate ways.

Matt goes out to find what the world has to offer, and Luisa runs off with El Gallo.

The rest of the second act shows the results of these journeys and proves that in life, there may not always be a perfect, happy ending.

The cast is led by Matthews, who plays El Gallo. Matthews is a perfect demonstration of strong stage presence, a well-developed character and an overall acting talent that rarely is seen at the high school level. One of the show's best vocalists is foreign exchange student Hellder Lima, who steps in as El Gallo to sing the show's signature song, "Try to Remember."

Although all the leads are strong, the comic and supporting actors show equal talent. The mothers, Bellamy (Christine Rolly) and Hucklebee (Stephanie Foster), are so enjoyable to watch. Their comic duet, "Never Say No," is a highlight of the show. Other great actors include the characters of Henry (Brandon Loescher) and Mortimer (Chris Truebe). This dynamic duo serves as comic relief and as El Gallo's bandits, supplying many of the show's best comedic moments.

When most people think of a musical, they imagine a big Broadway show, with a huge chorus and brassy production numbers. "The Fantasticks" is anything but this. The show is soft and mellow and tells a very simple yet moving story. The music is played on a piano and a harp. This makes the show enjoyable and personal. When you leave the theater, you feel relaxed and comfortable. This is truly intimate theater at its best.

As a tribute to the original production, Springfield's version of "The Fantasticks" is staged on a set similar to that of the Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York City. The set is very simple, and this allows the actors to shine. If the set were larger, it would seem overbearing and would contrast with this simple story about everyday people.

Technically, the show is seamless. Basic yet effective lighting and sound keep the show running smoothly and without error.

Most of the props and scene changes are provided by an on-stage actor, The Mute (Maria Korinek). Props are one of the key elements of the show, and all the necessary weather is supplied by hand-thrown confetti (blue for rain, white for snow).

The Mute is an essential member of the ensemble, and Korinek plays the role perfectly.

Springfield has once again put on a solid performance. With its simple ideas and outstanding acting, "The Fantasticks" is a show not to miss.

Duncan Frost is a student at North Eugene High School. This review is part of the Cappies program, in which local high school students review theatrical productions at other schools.

THE FANTASTICKS

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday

WHERE: Studio theater at Springfield High School, 875 Seventh St., Springfield.

TICKETS: $5

(744-4768)
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Title Annotation:Review; Reviews
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 27, 2002
Words:802
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