Musical theater is an evolving art medium that is in constant conflict with changing times and ideals. From the most ballad-laden performance to the modest slice-of-life matinee, musicals have reached their prime time only to eventually fade into obscurity. The Union College Mountebanks decided to challenge this notion by performing “The Fantasticks,” a musical that has stood the test of time as a quirky off-broadway work, this past Thursday, October 27, through Saturday, October 29, in Old Chapel.
The Mountebanks’ rendition of the timeless piece was a unique one for sure. Traditionally performed with seven men and one woman, the Mountebanks used the talents of six women and two men, making role-reversals inevitable. Most notably, father figures become mothers, and the handsome bandit became a femme-fatale character type.
This did not phase Arielle Singer ’18 even a wink in her directorial debut. Singer, who is the club’s president, had a wealth of talent at her fingertips. Madeline Goldberg ’20 played the imaginative Luisa opposite Melvin Kelly ’20 who played the charming Matt. Among the zany ensemble were Mountebanks veterans Chujun Li ’17 and Meaghan Reid ’17, whom played Hucklebee and Mortimer. Claire Williamson ’20, Emily Andrews ’20, Jacquelynn Burmester ’20 and Matthew Dulchinos ’20 took on the roles of Bellomy, La Galla, Henri and a mute/wall respectively.
Admittedly, the plot of the play fell victim to common Shakespearean tropes found in tragic works such as “Romeo and Juliet” in the first act. Star-crossed lovers Luisa and Matt were separated by a wall that their mothers, Bellomy and Hucklebee, had built before the events of the play. However, the mothers were just employing a twisted form of reverse psychology to make their children fall in love. With the help from third party La Galla and her accomplices Henri and Mortimer, the mothers were able to bring Luisa and Matt together in climactic storybook fashion. By the conclusion of Act I, all seemed to be heading toward a happy ending. But La Galla, who also served as the show’s narrator, left an ominous message insinuating that there is more to “ever after” than happiness.
Act II took a more modern turn by showing life after “happily ever after.” The wall has been torn down, but Luisa and Matt realized that they really didn’t know each other while Bellomy and Hucklebee butt heads over their individual life philosophies. As a result, the lovers split and travel the world to see what life truly has to offer beyond their small existence; meanwhile, their mothers rebuild the wall. After seeing the world at its most exhilarating and darkest, the lovers serendipitously reunite. With eyes wide open, they realize that they really were meant for each other. All was said to be well so long as the wall remained.
With a fittingly bittersweet ending, “The Fantasticks” did live up to its timeless nature by balancing common romantic tropes with sobering realities of the world. Mountebanks capitalized on this balance by letting the actors’ vulnerabilities shine through their characters.
Although there won’t be anymore showings of “The Fantasticks,” there is much to look forward to from the Union Mountebanks.