By Tom Titus
April 7, 2017, 12:20 PM
Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" may be untouchable as the longest-running stage production of all time (it opened in 1952 and is still playing), but runner-up consideration must be given to "The Fantasticks," which opened off Broadway in 1960 and ran for 42 years.
It's been revived time and again by local theater groups (even South Coast Repertory mounted a production) and is adaptable to the smallest of venues. Currently it's in the capable hands of producers at the Costa Mesa Playhouse, where it's been molded into the concept of a traveling magic show.
Imaginatively directed by Aurora J. Culver, the production tickles both the eye and the ear from the moment its erstwhile villain sings the show's theme song, "Try to Remember." Sterling Liska solidly portrays this ambiguous figure, who keeps his emotional distance but allows himself a modicum of concern.
The two young lovers at the center of the story are particularly appealing. Melissa Marino offers the finest voice of the cast as Luisa, the charmingly romantic teenage girl, while Jonathan Haidl contrasts a youthful exterior with a strong vocal presence as the boy, Matt.
Their fathers, however, virtually steal the show as neighboring gardeners who plot comically to bring their children together. Gary Greene and Rich Wordes reap laughter and applause with their duets "Never Say No" and "Plant a Radish."
Michael Dale Brown, the heart and soul of the playhouse, returns to the stage to ham it up with gusto as the fading actor, Henry, hired to present an opposing force. He's joined, energetically, by Joshua David Vega as the younger thespian, Mortimer, who specializes in death scenes.
At the center of all the chicanery is the Mute, who functions as the wall between the two houses as well as rain (or snow) maker and overall prop mistress. Kaitlyn Smith beautifully handles this wordless assignment.
The production reflects the effects of the PC police over the years. The word "rape," once spoken and sung with alacrity, has been replaced with such terms as "abduction" and "raid," while Mortimer's role, originally that of an Indian, now is defined as a "bandit."
Musical numbers, under the supervision of Stephen Hulsey, come across with heart and clarity. Director Culver and lighting designer Ryan Linhardt have created a magical, glittering backdrop that fits the show's theme beautifully.
"The Fantasticks" has demonstrated its great heart and strong staying power over its first 57 years. That attraction continues in this latest revival at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater.
If You Go
What: "The Fantasticks
Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 611 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through April 30
Cost: $18 to $20
Information: (949) 650-5269 or http://www.costamesaplayhouse.com