Review: The Fantasticks by Austin Playhouse
by Michael Meigs

The Fantasticks at Austin Playhouse is charming. This reliable, charming low-budget winsome musical has been charming 'em since its low-budget opening off-Broadway in 1960.

This is the show that smashed the records for long runs -- with a 42-year run by the original production and 17,162 performances. Then a New York City revival that ran 655 performances in 2006-2008 at the Snapple Theatre Center's Jerry Orbach Theatre on 50th Street, paused, then resumed and is still going.  You can check out their website with perky piano audio, theatre description, ticket info and pages and pages of press clippings. Regular tickets are $75 (twofers, $112.50) and premium seating tickets are $125, which by comparison makes the Austin Playhouse production a grand bargain.

Wikipedia records that there have been 11,103 U.S. productions in 2000 U.S. cities and towns, as well as more than 700 productions in other countries, including 200 in Canada and 45 in Scandinavia.

Tom Parker, Steffanie Ngo-Hatchie, Jacob Trussell, Huck Huckaby, Brian Coughlin (behind)

What's the secret? There are several:

A comfortable formula (boy meets girl, fathers stage fake abduction, boy saves girl; boy discovers trickery, boy ventures into world, girl falls for cad and is disabused; couple are reunited, now more experienced and wiser). 

Simple, memorable melodies and lyrics (Try to Remember, Why Did The Kids Put Beans In Their Ears?, Soon It's Gonna Rain, I Can See It).  

The simple staging that evokes a troupe of traveling players. With duos: two lovers, two clownish dads, two actor-clowns. And with a mysterious master-of-ceremonies named "El Gallo" who moves the plot, fakes the abduction, seduces (or almost seduces) the jilted heroine, and exposes the lovers to the world's cruelties.


Brian Coughlin, Stephanie Ngo-Hatchie (photo: Austin Playhouse)It's cozy theatre, appropriate for the Austin Playhouse space, in which El Gallo regularly addresses the audience, keeping us wiser than the characters in the action. Brian Coughlin as El Gallo has a clean, mischievous persona. He's no Raul Julia or Antonio Banderas; he's closer to a tall, squared-off leprechaun, and he has a singing voice to match the role. 

Jacob Trussel, Steffanie Ngo-Hatchie (photo: Austin Playhouse)The kids are drama majors from St. Ed's, where they've pounded plenty of stage this past year. Steffanie Ngo-Hatchie is a sweet ingenue with a lovely voice; Jacob Trussel has self-confidence, flair and dramatic musicality.

The assorted clowns are Playhouse regulars. Huck Huckaby is the boy's father Hucklebee, an eponymous match made in musical theatre land, and Tom Parker goes hoofin' it with the confidence and polish of a much younger George Burns. David Stahl struts and declaims as Henry the ancient actor, having a fine time with the goofiness. Big Michael Stuart is the largely silent Mortimer, the thespian who specializes in dramatic deaths -- he's a hoot as the fake redskin in baggy red long johns.

 Musical direction by Michael McKelvey and choreography by Danny Herman & Rocker Verastique are perfectly adequate.

 And there's the mute, in the pleasant female person of Eedann McCord. McCord starts the show, with a pert little invitation to the audience to applaud the player, but director Don Toner doesn't give her much else to do other than hand around the props. Her assignment of holding a rod horizontal through the playing space, representing the wall, goes on interminably, obliging her to shift hands to avoid fatigue or trembling.

The pretend nostalgia of this show plays well with old duffers like me, and the charm still inherent to the script plays well with spectators such as my 24-year-old daughter. She had seen only the movie version (filmed in 1995 and finally released in 2000).


This being the 21st century, and not 1960, her comment to friends went out via Twitter: Just saw the Fantasticks at a small theatre Austin. WAY better than the film.

Olin Meadows' review for, June 15: ". . . this exceptional production of The Fantasticksdeserves a 4 out of 5 stars!"

Emily Macrander's review for Daily Texan Online, June 17: " . . .the play was decently produced, well-performed and terrifically entertaining on a rainy Thursday evening." 

Comments by Stacy Lynn, on-line, June 19 




 "Aielli Unleashed" program -- interview by KUT's John Aielli of cast and director, conversation and musical pieces, May 20 (34 min.)

Lisa Schepp's interview of Don Toner on KOOP-FM, with recordings from other Fantasticks productions, May 17 


Click to view program for The Fantasticks, Austin Playhouse


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The Fantasticks
by Jones & Schmidt
Austin Playhouse

May 22 - June 28, 2009
Austin Playhouse
6001 Airport Boulevard
Austin, TX, 78752