Why can we not always be young," wrote Hazlitt, "and seeing The School for Scandal?" Well, maybe in his day the young were astute enough to appreciate both the wit and the rueful wisdom of Sheridan's sparkling comedy, but the late-modernist taste of the 21st century's cusp is simpler and perhaps cruder: All we want is to be young and seeing The Fantasticks again. Regrettably, only the second part of our wish can come true. Even today's youth are so old in information overload, and so media-hardened, that the innocently rueful wisdom of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's ancient (1960) musical adaptation of Rostand's Les Romanesques must seem quaint indeed.
Still, quaint has its niche as a marketing tool, and The Fantasticks was so neatly and lovingly madetry to remember that everything non-electronic was better-made back thenthat it still has plenty of charm and plenty of wisdom to impart for those who aspire to be young, for a few pleasant hours, in the more misty-eyed style of that earlier time. The sweetness of its story has interesting resonances with current affairs: A parental feud invented to bring a boy and girl together turns into a real one, and an omniscient villain-narrator has to save the day. Maybe this is something Daniel Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra should take up. Be that as it may, Jones has restaged Word Baker's old production neatly (complete with Baker's signature touches, red confetti and juggled oranges) and plays the Old Actor himself (under the name Thomas Bruce, with newly geriatric flair). The rest of the cast, not so vocally strong as the original, is good enough to animate the work's bittersweet-candy spirit. Robert R. Oliver, as the Old Actor's doofus stooge, has a great comic face, and who knew there was a vaudeville comic lurking inside Martin Vidnovic, who plays one of the two contentious fathers with a soft-shoe flair that suggests his next stop should be Mayor Hector in The Golden Apple, a '50s musical that might prove even more apt today than The Fantasticks.
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