Of the two shows of this summer’s Skylark Opera Festival, the co-production with Mu Performing Arts of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado” has gotten the most attention. But “The Fantasticks” provided an equally satisfying experience.
A fantasy-prone Girl and a callow Boy fall in love across a wall erected by their fathers to keep them apart. But once they overcome that obstacle, much of the attraction wears off. This is an archetypal story of innocence disillusioned, leading to maturity.
As Boy and Girl, Matt Berdahl and Quinn Shadko maintain just the right quality of guilelessness without ever becoming cloying. And their voices blend nicely.
Gabriel Preisser cuts a dashing figure as the Narrator and sings the score’s most famous number, “Try to Remember,” with a dark, expressive baritone.
As the two Fathers, Jeffrey Madison and Paul Coate are comic treats, while still seeming the loving parents.
Robert Neu’s direction captures the utter simplicity of the story. He gives the characters enough weight to make the final reconciliation touching.
A Gilbert & Sullivan purist, I was initially put off by the conceit of Skylark’s “Mikado.” Changing the setting from Japan to Edwardian England and rewriting the lyrics to include references to cricket, botox, cell phones, and Michele Bachmann felt too self-consciously precious.
But I could not sustain a grim mood. Rick Shiomi’s direction won me over completely. He masters the G&S style, making the most of the preposterous plot without condescending to it. He honors the masters while creating something truly hilarious.
With his 20-piece orchestra, Steve Stucki treated the score as the serious music that it is, but he didn’t take it too seriously. Likewise, Penelope Freeh’s choreography was stylistically appropriate, but so clever that she almost stole the show.
That honor, however, went to Randy Reyes, for his reconception of the Lord High Executioner, turning him into a whirling dervish of comic high jinks. A tenor in a baritone role, his singing occasionally lacks the necessary weight for the music.
As the ingénue, Isabella Dawis had the strongest voice, and she paired nicely with the romantic tenor of Phong Nguyen.
Among the supporting characters, Alex Ritchie, as the pompous Pooh-Bah and Ashley Cutright as the dominating Katy Shaw were standouts.
This season is a triumph for Skylark Opera.
William Randall Beard writes about theater and music.