LINCOLN — Moonlight and magic, and wistful love, are the stuff of America’s longest-running musical ever, "The Fantasticks," which opened Aug. 22 in Lincoln, onstage at Jean’s Playhouse.
Lakes Region audiences may recognize some of the actors who have been performing this summer, joined by additional cast members and a creative team that includes Bryan Halperin and Katie Proulx, both of whom won New Hampshire Theatre Awards for a production of the show more than six years ago. Halperin is a multi-award winner, known to audiences at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse and Concord for his steady direction of professional and community theater productions with a wide variety of well-established companies.
“This is, of course, a new production of the well-told tale," Halperin said. "I’m very fortunate to be able to work with the entire team at Jean’s, and to revisit the work with a fresh eye — and at the same time to continue exploring with Katie the concept of the Mute as a pivotal character in telling this story.”
The Jones/Schmidt musical fable owes much to Rostand’s "Les Romaneques" and elements plucked from Shakespeare’s "Romeo & Juliet" and "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" along with other romantic classics — not to mention the resonance of Robert Frost, as two neighbor fathers believe good fences make good neighbors.
A mysterious and magical bandit, El Gallo, along with a secretive and nimble Mute, narrate the fable with words and song — she with gestures and dance, at times posing as the wall. That wall divides the properties of Bellomy and Hucklebee, which they hope will drive their children — a son and daughter — to fall in love in defiance of their pretense of differences. Their children, Matt and Luisa, do fall in love, whispering secrets over the wall, including Luisa’s fantasy of a heroic Matt rescuing her from a kidnapping.
A kidnapping is arranged, and the mysterious El Gallo offers the fathers a menu of different varieties of abduction that he can simulate to make of Matt a hero. Deciding to spare no expense for their beloved children (within reason), the fathers agree to a "first class" abduction scene which El Gallo delivers, aided by two characters: one a disheveled old actor with a failing memory, the other his sidekick, a cockney dressed as an American Indian. Mission accomplished, the "feud" ends, the wall is torn down, and all rejoice as the first act closes.
The fantasy is short-lived, and as mischief-maker El Gallo observes, the romance of something by moonlight often turns harsh by light of day. The bright sun reveals the fake kidnap caper, starting a chain of bickering and leading to rebuilding the wall and the separation of the lovers, who eventually discover what El Gallo’s observation really means: "Who understands why Spring is born out of Winter's laboring pain? Or why we all must die a bit before we grow again?"
Mature love, which can only deepen because of the obstacles that are overcome, offers both moonlight and magic, if we can let ourselves only try to “remember.”
"The Fantasticks" is performed Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 22-31, at 7:30 p.m. at Jean’s, the North Country Center for the Arts, 34 Papermill Drive in Lincoln, with one matinee, on Wednesday, Aug. 28. For more information and tickets, see www.jeansplayhouse.com or call 603-745-2141.