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Have you ever had the experience of going to the theatre to see a familiar play, only to have the show’s cast present you with such a perfect and delightful rendition of the production, it’s almost as though you’d never seen it before? Such was my feeling last night as Mrs K and I attended ATI’s season opener, The Fantasticks.

This enduring off-Broadway musical by Tom Jones (book and lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music), which features many well known songs – “Try to Remember”, “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “They Were You”, ran on NYC stages for an unbeatable 42 years. Directed for ATI by Bill Jenkins, with Musical Direction by Brent Marty, this edition is everything any theatre lover could hope for in such a familiar piece.

Director Jenkins has set up his talented cast with the perfect interpretation of this classically simple  “boy meets/loves/loses/reconnects with girl” story. Michael Ferraro and Laura Sportiello, both graduates of the Ball State University theatre program, star as the young lovers – Matt and Luisa. Ferraro brings a strong presence to his coming-of-age Matt, armed with a thrillingly versatile voice and dynamic acting skills. Ms Sportiello is truly lovely in her endearing portrayal of the romantic young Luisa. Her clear and perfect vocal skills are unfailing in her renditions of Luisa’s many songs and she acts the part with such a sweet and dreamy quality that one cannot help but fall under her spell.

Holly Stults (top) is The Mute, and Michael Ferraro is Matt to Laura Sportiello's Luisa in ATI's production of

Holly Stults (top) is The Mute, and Michael Ferraro is Matt to Laura Sportiello’s Luisa in ATI’s production of “The Fantasticks”

Logan Moore, returning to ATI after his winning turn in The 39 Steps, provides the narrator/antagonist El Gallo. His quietly strong approach gives Moore plenty of room to expand into El Gallo’s professional stature as bandit-for-hire in the story line. Moore also gives forth with a well-trained baritone that adds to the ensemble.

In a brilliant contortion of gender, Cynthia Collins and Judy Fitzgerald take the roles of the lovers’ fathers – Hucklebee and Bellomy, respectively. In that twisted circumstance, these two stage pros add a layer of comedy to the proceedings, and as always, they offer up polished skills with their humorous characterizations and their song and dance.

Michael Elliott (left) and Paul Collier Hansen perform as Mortimer and Henry in ATI's production of

Michael Elliott (left) and Paul Collier Hansen perform as Mortimer and Henry in ATI’s production of “The Fantasticks”

Holly Stults gives The Mute a quality of grace and charisma in her return to ATI. Ms. Stults’ unquestionable talents make her character a delight to watch as she provides movement and dance to accentuate the action. Paul Collier Hansen, playing alongside Michael Elliott, as Henry and Mortimer – the two actors-for-hire, give outlandishly funny performances. Hansen’s energetic depiction as the woefully untalented Henry, coupled with Elliott’s Brit-accented and low-keyed Mortimer is a highlight of the show.

Further kudos must go to harpist Melissa Gallant, who along with pianist Brent Marty provides the precise musical accompaniment for the singers, Bernie Killian, for his simple and adaptive set design, Katie Cowan Sickmeier for the equally simple and proper costumes, and finally – Tyler Hartman, whose choreography was unfailingly on the mark.

Bottom-line: The Fantasticks is the first of this theatre season’s “don’t miss” productions. The sweet, simple story, it’s portrayal by the amazing cast, and the beautiful voices providing soaring versions of the familiar score – makes for a delightfully perfect evening at the theatre. Or is it perfectly delightful? Either will do…

The Fantasticks continues for ATI at Carmel’s Studio Theatre in The Center for the Performing Arts through September 27th. Ticket information and reservations can be found online at http://www.atistage.org or by calling 317-843-3800. Don’t miss this thoroughly wonderful show.

  • Photos by Zach Rosing
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