A lot happens between happy endings in “The Fantasticks.”
Billed as the world’s longest-running musical, thanks to its 42-year off-Broadway tenure, the seemingly simple show about two young people in love opens Friday, May 12, at Sierra Repertory Theatre’s East Sonora Theatre. Famously narrated by the roguish El Gallo, the show is a musical allegory about love, which ends its first act with the optimistic number “Happy Ending” before things go wrong.
The Sierra Rep production features New York-based performer Cooper Grodin in the role of the fourth-wall-breaking character. Grodin, whose past credits include the title role in the national tour of “The Phantom of the Opera” and was an original member of the 25th anniversary tour of “Les Misérables,” makes his company debut in the role.
“El Gallo is a fascinating human. There are many layers to him and any good actor is drawn to something that isn’t obvious – something mysterious, celebratory and dark,” Grodin said. “There’s a whole spectrum of emotions and this guy really has that. I’m drawn to the chance to play a great storytelling role.”
Ostensibly the story of a girl (Luisa) and a boy (Matt) who fall in love, “The Fantasticks” features parental meddling, familial feuds, fake abductions and more. Matt and Luisa are being played by Sierra Rep newcomers Ryan Mardsich and Tasha Tormey. Their scheming fathers, Hucklebee and Bellomy, are played by Gordon Gray and John Lambie, respectively. Rounding out the cast are Samantha Labrecque as the mute and company veterans Gary S. Martinez (last seen in “State Fair”) as Henry and Joseph Fitzgerald (from “A Christmas Story”) as Mortimer.
The show from composer Harvey Schmidt and book, lyrics by Tom Jones features well-loved numbers like “Try to Remember,” “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” “They Were You” and – of course – “Happy Ending.”
“The show ‘The Fantasticks’ is, in my opinion, one of the greatest charming little gems in the theater repertoire. I think that no matter where you are in your life, you are going to relate to or identify with something in the story,” Grodin said. “Like any good piece of art, you can return to it and there will be more revealed each time.”
Sonoma-based actor Martinez returns to the role of Henry after performing it last year for a Sacramento theater company. The character, a Shakespearean actor in his “waning years,” is one he said he identifies with and enjoys. The show also relies on the audience’s active imagination.
“I like the fact that it’s presentational in nature. It’s an acting company getting on the stage and saying, ‘Imagine if you will.’ It breaks the fourth wall. The actors talk to the audience and encourage audience to suspend disbelief,” he said. “Also, there’s that juxtaposition between realism and presentational. Some of the scenes very realistic about the relationship between two people.”
Martinez said the show works best in intimate spaces, like Sierra Rep’s 200-seat East Sonora theater. While the subject matter is love, it also doesn’t shy away from the darker side of the heart. As a line from the show’s signature song “Try to Remember” goes, “Without a hurt, the heart is hollow.”
“It’s the the realization that life has its challenges, but only through those challenges do we see beyond the dark clouds into the light,” Martinez said. “That’s what I want the audience to walk away with. Yes, we’ve had some hard times, but hard times make us appreciate the good times in our life.”
What: Sierra Repertory Theatre’s “The Fantasticks”
When: Opens 7 p.m. Friday, May 12; runs 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday and Wednesday, and 2 or 7 p.m. Thursday through June 11
Where: Sierra Repertory Theatre, East Sonora Theatre, 13891 Mono Way, Sonora
Tickets: $30-$37; senior, student and child discounts available