Theater Info for Maryland

Spotlighters Theatre The Fantasticks

By • Nov 28th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
The Fantasticks
Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre
Spotlighters Theatre, Baltimore, MD
Through December 18th
2:30 with intermission
$20/$18 Seniors/$16 Students
Reviewed November 25th, 2011

Off-Broadway’s longest-running musical The Fantasticks is an allegorical tale that is an homage to the classic story of boy meets girls despite feuding families. However, in this case, the feud is a ruse brought on by their fathers in order to use their children’s romantic notions to enact the arranged marriage they had planned all along. To do so, they hire a famous abductor to stage an abduction to bring an end to the “feud.” The show breaks the fourth wall at times and turns the classic storyline on its head. This show is normally done very simplistically with no more set or props than can fit into one chest.

While there are many talented performers and glimpses of possibility, Spotlighter’s production struggles throughout. In order to explain some very untraditional casting and the fact that one actor is actually missing completely from the cast, Director Kristen Cooley adds an additional frame story around the musical. Her production begins with the actors walking into a rehearsal for the show and continues to run the show with breaks in the fourth wall of actors complaining, walking on stage at the wrong time, etc. What Cooley does is a commendable attempt to address the casting concerns, but the vision never fully works. Additionally, after the initial introduction of the concept, the breaks from the show are more distracting than enhancing.

It is also sometimes hard to tell when actors are actually struggling in their roles versus when they are acting like they are struggling in their roles. This is really the root of the issue. In order for a vision to work, it has to be clear at all times what is intentional and what is just a problem. Cooley seems to have the seedling of an interesting concept, but it lacks cohesive clarity throughout.

For the most part, the set that Cooley designed, along with Fuzz Roark, is visually stunning. The bright blue paint with the swirling designs sets the mood nicely. However, the decision to use an actual shower curtain instead of the usually pantomimed and imagined wall does not quite work. Again, I commend Cooley on her attempts to do something different and make her own mark on the show, but the loss of visibility really detracts from being able to enjoy the scenes. It also makes the Mute, who traditionally plays the wall, seems sort of out-of-place in scenes when she is just sitting near the shower curtain.

Cooley does manage to assemble and direct a talented cast, but many suffer from being unfortunately miscast. The root of the problem may simply be that auditions did not actually yield the ideal actors for this particular story. It seems though that Cooley does her best to try to use this to her advantage in the added bits. The effort is valiant, and it really did almost work. For the most part, the blocking is well-suited for performance in the round. A few times, however, especially when using the tree, sight is limited in certain areas of the room. Additionally, Cooley’s choreography is simple, but often very cute and effective.

The one actor who was ideally cast and was really able to shine in the production was Sherry Benedek (Louisa). She had a gorgeous voice with an incredible range and no noticeable break. She really carried the show with her vocals and her infectious portrayal of the character. Eric Ritter (Matt) was equally strong vocally and had some good acting moments, but, a lot of the time, he seemed a little new to the stage and overwhelmed. You could actually see him concentrating at times, rather than getting lost in the moment.

Bart Dibicki (El Gallo) was an excellent example of just being miscast. He had a really neat charisma and likeability, and you could really feel for Bart, the actor, as he struggled to portray El Gallo, which I think is what he was going for. His actual El Gallo had an awful, cheesy Spanish accent and lacked the dark, sinister charm normally associated with the character. He was also not vocally up for the challenge of the music. It was easy to like Bart, but it was impossible to see him as a believable El Gallo. It is hard to tell, again, what of this is intentional.

The two fathers are played by two young women; both of whom are equally as talented as Benedek in their own right and would have made fantastic Louisas. Unfortunately, the show does not call for three Louisas. While I respect that the introduction and character breaks seek to treat this knowledge with humor, Hucklebee (Amanda Kay Boundy) and Bellomy (Courtney Kalbacker) are never believable as old men. Boundy has a gorgeous soprano, and Kalbacker shows impressive range, but the father’s songs just don’t work as well in the higher octave. Boundy does not go quite far enough in trying to play an old man, and Kalbacker goes a little too far into the realm of milking lines for humorous effect. Again, it is never quite clear what of this is part of the concept and what are limits in the actress’ abilities.

Joey Krastel is delightfully miscast in his portrayal of both Old Henry and Mortimer. He is far too young to play either role, but he really jumps into the challenge with zeal. For the most part, he does an excellent job of creating a separate voice and personality for each role. He also has a chance to show off his skill for physical comedy as he leaps from one character to the other. Krastel definitely seems to be the best of example of the director’s vision really coming together. There was one part, when transitioning quickly between characters, when he used the wrong voice for one, but, overall, he did a pretty incredible job and created a few of the genuine laugh out loud moments of the production.

It was hard to tell whether Lydia West (the Mute) was not very good or just badly under-utilized. It was often hard to tell what she was doing in scenes and what her purpose was in being there.

Overall, there was a lot of talent and effort and bright spots and potential all over the place in this production. However, it never quite came all together. It was certainly a valiant experiment that seemed to be embraced by everyone involved; unfortunately, it was just not a successful one.

The Cast

  • El Gallo: Bart Dibicki
  • Louisa: Sherry Benedek
  • Matt: Eric Ritter
  • Matt/Understudy: Dan Allal
  • Hucklebee: Amanda Kay Boundy
  • Bellomy: Courtney Kalbacker
  • Mortimer: Joey Krastel
  • Old Henry: Mike Panzarotto
  • The Mute: Lydia West

The Creative Team

  • Director/Movement: Kristen Cooley
  • Musical Director: Michael Tan
  • Stage Manager: Kristen Cooley
  • Production Stage Manager/Booth Tech: Dionna Fletcher
  • Lighting Design: Fuzz Roark/Kristen Cooley
  • Set Design: Fuzz Roark/Kristen Cooley
  • Scenic Painter: Joey Krastel
  • Accompanist (Keyboards): Michael Tan
  • Percussion: Kristen Cooley

Photo Gallery

Courtney Kalbacker as Bellomy. Matt's (Eric Ritter) mind was Parch-ed.
Courtney Kalbacker as Bellomy.
Matt’s (Eric Ritter) mind was Parch-ed.
Finally, I can reach you through the notch. Matt (Eric Ritter), Louisa (Sherry Benedek). Hucklebee (Amanda Boundy) pruning his plants as Matt (EricRitter) daydreams.
Finally, I can reach you through the notch. Matt (Eric Ritter), Louisa (Sherry Benedek).
Hucklebee (Amanda Boundy) pruning his plants as Matt (EricRitter) daydreams.
Louisa (Sherry Benedek) falls even harder for her love. The Mute (Lydia West) listens in carefully.
Louisa (Sherry Benedek) falls even harder for her love.
The Mute (Lydia West) listens in carefully.

Photos by Ken Stanek – Ken Stanek Photography

Disclaimer: Spotlighters Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been involved in theatre in the state of Maryland and DC for most of her life. She has acted, directed, choreographed, stage managed, and held a million other odd jobs. She has a B.S. in English from Towson University, and is currently pursuing her Master's Degree to become a Reading Specialist. She is a Maryland State Certified English, Theatre, Elementary, and Mathematics Educator. After teaching English and Drama for many years, she now teaches 6th grade Language Arts at Magnolia Middle School in Harford County, Maryland. She wrote the curriculum currently used in Prince George’s County Public Schools for Drama I and Drama II. She now writes and directs plays and musicals for use in church.