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Gerald Carpenter: Ensemble Theatre Company Plans ‘Fantastick’ Finish

Performances of the season-ending music production run through June 26

Now through June 26, Santa Barbara’s Ensemble Theatre Company will bring its 2010-11 season to a tuneful and poignant close with a production of the beloved musical The Fantasticks, written by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, directed by Saundra McClain, with musical direction by David Potter and choreography by Byron Easley (who will also appear in the role of “Mortimer”).

Carly Bracco plays Luisa and Jeff Griggs is
Carly Bracco plays Luisa and Jeff Griggs is “El Gallo” in the Ensemble Theatre Company’s production of The Fantasticks. (David Bazemore photo)

The rest of the talented and accomplished cast includes Jeff Griggs (as El Gallo, the narrator), Carly Bracco (Luisa), Matt Wolpe (Matt), Skip Harris (Matt’s father, Hucklebee), Matt Shea (Luisa’s father, Bellomy), Heather Anne Ostberg (The Mute) and Leland Crooke (Henry, the old actor).

The Fantasticks seems, at first glance, such a slight, fragile, whimsical piece — almost what the French call “précieux” — yet this exquisite comedy of two fathers who try to bring their children together by keeping them apart has proven more vital and more durable than the more “solid” blockbusters of its time.

The original off-Broadway production ran for 42 years and 17,162 performances — it is the world’s longest-running musical. Coming as it did at the dawn of the Kennedy administration, while the tastes and sensibilities of the post-war baby boom were still in a formative stage (somewhere between Franny and Zooey and David and Lisa), The Fantasticks spoke so precisely to that time and place that it became immediately timeless and universal.

But even then, as we gazed bravely forward to the New Frontier, we were lost to nostalgia, and dreaming of our vanished youth, which hadn’t even happened yet: “Try to remember the kind of September/ When life was slow and oh, so mellow/ Try to remember the kind of September/ When grass was green and grain was yellow/ Try to remember the kind of September/ When you were a young and callow fellow/ Try to remember, and if you remember, then follow.”

The official genealogy of The Fantasticks is well-known — loosely based on Edmond Rostand The Romancers, it also partakes of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well as Gaetano Donizetti’s comic opera The Love Potion (L’Elisir d’Amore).

But as I listen to “Try to Remember,” which is sung by the narrator at the beginning of the play, I am invariably reminded of the stage manager’s monologue at the beginning of Thornton Wilder’s great poem of Americana, Our Town: “Nice town, y’know what I mean? Nobody very remarkable ever came out of it, s’far as we know.”

The Fantasticks plays at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays, with a newly added special 4 p.m. matinee on Saturday, June 11 and a 7 p.m. performance Sunday, June 19.

Tickets range from $45 to $60 (discounts for seniors and students apply — youth tickets for those age 26 or younger are $25 — and are available from the Alhecama box office at 914 Santa Barbara St., 805.965.5400 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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