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The Fantasticks

timate-theatre companies striving to get butts into the seats frequently turn to Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's durable musical fable--a shoestring-budget tuner with an instantly recognizable title. The Off-Broadway run lasted 42 years, attesting to this musical's timeless appeal. Yet this lighthearted Shakespearean-inspired romance, sprinkled with a touch of commedia dell'arte slapstick, is more difficult to pull off than it might seem. Company Rep's staging is A-OK when it comes to the broad comedy, so-so in the more reflective moments, and quite a mixed bag in the musical arena. This bittersweet confection might be considered a precursor to Sondheim's Into the Woods, another clever musing on what might really occur following "happily ever after." In bringing this captivating parable to life, director Hope Alexander has elicited performances that are generally more serviceable than inspired. Only Danielle Hartnett in the lead female role of Luisa has the pipes to do justice to the lush and lovely score. The characters of the young lovers Luisa and Matt (Mike Uribes) are portrayed pleasantly, if not charismatically. Joe Garcia's passable take on the silky-smooth El Gallo--a villain who turns out to be more of a hero--is more low-key than is customary. The gambit of using gender-bending casting for the feuding "fathers" (Irene Chapman and Barbara Haber) is surprisingly seamless, and these veteran performers evoke intermittent fun but offer too little variety in their vaudeville-styled duets. Top acting honors go to the hilarious turns of Alan Altshuld as the hammy old actor and Scott MacDonell as his buffoonish sidekick. The Mute (Maria Kress), a clown-faced scene changer, misses the surrealistic quality called for to give this role some punch, more a matter of direction than performance. The uninspired dance sequences, staged by Susie Schenk, feature Les Fantastiques, a sort of Greek chorus (Rebekah Kochan, Amanda Maria, and Miriam Galvez). Patrick Lawlor contributes impressive fight choreography. The show is smartly designed, setting the proper magical tone. As we try to remember the kind of September that brought us this fair-to-middling revival, the afterglow will likely fall short of luminescenc

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