Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle


Given that THE FANTASTICKS has reached its fiftieth year, it is possible that you may have seen the show dozens of times: once with each new spouse, lover or Craig's List acquaintance.


Ignore all that syrupy nostalgia: if you have not seen THE FANTASTICS as performed by the San Francisco Playhouse and directed by Bill English, then you have not witnessed the full potential of the show nor how wild creativity, unfettered imagination and deeply disturbed whimsy can add new dimensions—indeed Riemann Surfaces—to this tasteful musical classic.


If Einstein postulated a fourth dimension, Bill English has trotted string theory onto the stage.


The creators of THE FANTASTICKS: Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt conspicuously borrowed themes from both ROMEO AND JULIET and PYRAMIS AND THISBE.


While probing the depths of her subconscious for an appropriate and contemporary set design, award winning designer Nina Ball may have borrowed or been inspired by the likes of Cormac McCarthy i.e. THE ROAD or George Miller and Byron Kennedy i.e. the MAD MAX franchise or even the Bible wherein Ezekiel warns Israel to repent or see its altars desolate, images broken, and its cities laid in waste, or Ecclesiastes wherein God warns the Chosen people that they should remember the days of their youth, for in their old age "fears shall be in the way" and "then shall the dust return to the earth as it was."


This incarnation of the show does doff its hat to T.S. Elliot's WASTELAND.


As the signature song warns and admonishes us : "try to remember when grass was green and grain was yellow" and perhaps when the Gulf of Mexico did not have an oil slick the size of Madagascar, and a navigable Northwest Passage was just the wistful pipedream of Henry Hudson.


The reality is that this production transcends, soars above, the entire specter of the WASTELAND the Great Recession.


Sepideh Moafi is primarily responsible for that transcendence: her warbling, mellifluous, classically trained voice lifts one's spirit well above the Sturm and Drang of planetary decay and the post-industrial implosion of civilization: Moafi elevates this musical to the grandness of operetta.


Louis Parnell and Joan Mankin are absolutely delightful as Hucklebee and Bellomy; their affectionate dance, Pas de Deux if you will, is ample evidence that human love, kindness and tenderness are not the exclusive purview of the young.


Tarek Khan, as El Gallo, lends another great voice to the show as well as mystery and a grand measure of machismo.


Director Bill English has made an interesting character of The Mute, played demurely by Norman Munoz: he has the impishness of Puck and the stealthy serpentine movements of Caliban.


This show is about optimism imbedded into the morass of realism: like a lotus blossom flourishing in redolent humus; or as the lyricist Tom Jones states: "Without hurt the heart is hollow."


For an enchanting evening ironically set amid the ruins of civilization, do not miss this wonderful piece of art, music and acting.


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