I don’t know why “The Fantasticks” is the longest-running show in American theater history, or the longest-running musical in the world. I kind of agree with those who think the show is over-rated, but I have to admit that the production now on the Pollock Stage at Sacramento Theatre Company is pretty irresistible. Director Melanie Smith delivers a simple, accessible product, an old-style musical that’s sweet, predictable, but satisfying in its predictability.
Except for the song “Try to Remember,” there’s little in Tom Jones’ book and lyrics or Harvey Schmidt’s music that’s memorable. Even that tune’s echo-y “follow follow follow” refrain gets a little annoying after the first time narrator El Gallo (played by Jerry Lee) uses it to beckon the audience into the slight story.
Thank goodness for Jerry Lee. The confident actor whose piercing eyes and captivating smile — and his magnificent voice — sparks an ordinary little play into a theatrical experience.
“The Fantasticks” opened off-Broadway in the spring of 1960 and ran, uninterrupted, for 42 years. It reopened in 2006 and is still running. Why remains a mystery (to me, at least). The play tells the story of a couple of young neighbors, a boy named Matt (played by Joshua Durfey) and a girl named Luisa (Monique Ward Lonergan, in a role shared with Courtney Shannon), who live on separate sides of a wall erected by their feuding parents to keep them apart. But, lo, Luisa’s father, Bellomy (Michael Coleman), and Matt’s mother, Hucklebee (Amanda Goldrick), erected the wall in hopes the obstacle actually would encourage the kids to get together. It might have worked if the offspring hadn’t learned of the deception, but you know how much kids dislike being manipulated, so a separation occurs. . . until more meddling by the parents results in a reunion.
As El Gallo, Lee keeps the slight plot advancing, encouraging the kids to pursue their hearts and enlisting the help of two hapless actors (the delightful Gary S. Martinez as Henry, spouting faux Shakespeare and recalling his better days, and the marvelous Tara Henry as Mortimer, dying for her art) to fake an abduction of Luisa to entice Matt’s return as her rescuer.
Music director and keyboardist Samuel Clein and harpist Beverly Wesner-Hoehn (with Emily Mader performing in some shows) provide excellent accompaniment, and the simple set designed by Lynne Perry, the effective lighting by Erin Carlson and the costumes by Sarah Kreutz contribute to the production.
It all adds up to a show that is better than it probably ought to be.
“The Fantasticks” continues at 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays at the Sacramento Theatre Company, 1419 H St., through May 1. For tickets or for more information, call (916) 443-6722 or go online at sactheatre.org.
Photo: Jerry Lee as El Gallo and Monique Ward Lonergan as Luisa. Courtesy of STC.