Quest Theatre Ensemble THE FANTASTICKS Review – Iconic Play, Free for All

Quest Theatre Ensemble Makes a Perfect Choice

What a perfect choice for the almost theater space in St. Gregory’s Church! For some of us, walking the ramp into the theater lobby is the closest we’ll ever get to attending parochial school. Then, we find seats on risers that don’t shake but look like they might.

THE FANTASTICKS, luckily, has little need for set design or even many props. This opera-house-NOT space fits the script like a glove. This is FREE theater for all and it strikes this writer that this unintimidating space is an especially plush welcome mat for all sticking their toes into live theater for one of their first times.

Bringing THE FANTSTICKS Music to Life

That haunting song—“Try to remember the kind of September when…” is the opener. Even with just that first phrase, and the sweet voice of Robert Quintanilla as El Gallo accompanied by pianist Sara Cate Langham (a Quest Theatre Ensemble Member) and harpist Keryn Wouden, you latch. Perhaps a bit up tempo from what you would ordinarily hear in your mind’s ear, it nonetheless soothes and sets the stage for the story.

The story is one of the infinite variants of our species’ fascination with mating. It harkens an imagined better time imagining a better time still. If you want a plot synopsis take a read of Wikipedia’s page on this iconic play here. You don’t need this however. The story is clear enough and not much there there. You’ll be able to follow easily. The more interesting patter on that crowd-sourced Wikipedia page is the listing of the who’s who of theatrical talent that had graced this longest running play ever. Even better is the footnote on the 24,000+% Return-on-Investment for the play’s investors.

Never having seen THE FANTASTICKS before it’s easy to be grateful to Quest Theatre Ensemble for giving a visual frame now to newly hear the music. It’s not unlike the AHA! one gets, especially if you aren’t rap-literate, by seeing HAMILTON and then listening anew to its score and finding yourself somewhat addicted.

Cast Enthusiasm Carries the Day

That said, don’t expect a musical home run in this production. Quintanilla and Adam Fane in both acting and singing deliver solid performances worth noting. Some of the cast members however don’t seem to have the voices required to make the music soar. At times we craved for a mic, even though we are in a wee church basement and the singers only need to overcome a piano and harp to be heard. Others, like Jordan deBose whom we know to have standout voices, just don’t get that much chance to shine.

Do expect to get almost giddy with enthusiasm as you absorb the cast’s energy.

There is not a moment in any performance when you can’t feel the actors’ love for the work. Their enthusiasm spreads like pink-eye, engaging and energizing.

 

Better Experience for First-Timers

From conversations with other attendees on opening night, it seems that the embellishments on the script and other production deficits are a sour disappointment to those who already knew this script well. For first timers though you will be no worse for the wear in seeing THE FANTASTICKS.

For this reviewer, that priceless live theater moment of watching Quintanilla shed his rake persona and become his real person at the bow was in itself worth the price of admission. And there is a price, because only a stone wouldn’t want to donate to this effort and to keep theater free for all.

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.

When:

Now through March 26, 2017

Fridays 8 PM
Saturdays 2 PM and 8 PM
Sundays 2 PM

Where:

The Blue Theatre
1609 West Gregory
Chicago

Tickets:

Admission FREE!

Reservations recommended at www.questensemble.org

 

Photos:  Braxton Black

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