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[whitespace] Sweet Love: 'The Fantasticks' (starring Aaron Eppolito as Matt, left, and Amy Ginder as Luisa) comes to town as the country's longest-running off-Broadway musical.

Musical Milestone

Local production of 'The Fantasticks' marks 40 years of the play's off-Broadway success

By Heidi Johnston

WHAT DO YOU DO when you've just turned 40 years old and your story hasn't changed much? In the case of the longest-running musical in the world--celebrate, of course. The Fantasticks has survived as an off-Broadway production at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York City since May 3, 1960. More than 13,000 stagings of the musical have run from India to Indiana. Created by New York writer Harvey Schmidt (who collaborated with lyricist Tom Jones), The Fantasticks has had a cast of stars over the years--Liza Minnelli, F. Murray Abraham, Robert Goulet, Gregory Harrison, Jerry Orbach, Richard Chamberlain and Elliott Gould.

Explains actor Adria Le Boeuf, who plays the mute in the Actors' Theatre rendition of the classic opening Friday, "The writing is clean. We still need to practice the dance parts, but it shouldn't be too difficult." And Le Boeuf should know how to get the part together, having played the leading role of Audrey in last year's Scotts Valley Performing Arts production of Little Shop of Horrors.

The Fantasticks is a sweet confection, an interest-piquing look at the struggles of youth, parenthood and coming of age. The three elements of comedy, romance and badness combine to build an addictive formula that satisfies like candy. Fashioned after Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Edmund Rostand's Les Romanesques, the parody has proven a smashing success.

The fathers, played by Richard Reilly and Lou DeLucia, provide the comic element. A jovial little number ("Planting a Radish") finds the two avid gardeners comparing planting to raising children. They agree that plants are comforting in their predictability, whereas with children, you never know. Reilly explains how gardening tools are effective props. Hucklebee's clippers and Bellomy's watering can, he says, are emblematic of their contrasting roles.

Reilly describes his Hucklebee character as "a cantankerous fellow with a heart of gold. I develop a harder front, something the kids can't go up against." Reilly's boisterous personality makes him a natural for the role. DeLucia's sincerity as Bellomy, the nurturing, daughter-doting dad, balances the silliness of the team.

"My character is a merchant eccentric, miserly and nurturing," DeLucia says. "He loves his daughter, wants her to be happy. She's 16, and he wants to protect her."

Aaron Eppolito as Matt the young innocent and Amy Ginder as Luisa are as adorable as the leading lovers--but not as sickly sweet as is often the case with the musical. That's the touch of director Jon Rosen.

"We are extremely fortunate to have a tremendous talent base to draw from here in Santa Cruz for musical theater, and I think our cast reflects that quality," he says. "I am confident that this production is going to be, pardon the pun, fantastic."

The OpenStage production of The Fantasticks opens Friday at 8pm at Actors' Theatre, 1001 Center St., Santa Cruz, and runs through March 5. Shows are Thursdays at 7pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 5 and 9pm and Sundays at 1 and 7pm. Tickets are $18 general/$15 seniors and students for Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening shows, $15 general/$12 seniors and students for Thursday and Sunday matinee shows. (438.1235)

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From the February 9-16, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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