Take time to remember ‘The Fantasticks’ 

Don’t miss SF Playhouse’s rendition of the Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt musical allegory “The Fantasticks,” even if you saw it here last season (this encore production replaces a previously announced show).

For one thing, I’m told that this one, directed by Playhouse artistic director Bill English, is quite different from last year’s Dianna Shuster-directed staging (which I didn’t see).

There’s only one holdover from the previous cast: Playhouse regular Louis Parnell, comically appealing as one of the two neighboring fathers who conspire to build a wall to keep their teenagers apart — a surefire ploy to make the youngsters rebel and fall in love.

Which of course they do. And after which, as sunlight replaces romantic moonlight, paradoxically things go all weird and dark.

Also, in English’s “Fantasticks,” Luisa’s father is actually a mother, played by the reliably inventive Joan Mankin, who lends a humorously sweet undercurrent to the relationship between the two faux-feuding parents.

As English explains in the program, he envisions the context as a world suffering from some ecological disaster (“Try to remember the kind of September when grass was green and grain was yellow ...”), with a raggedy theatrical troupe traversing a broken landscape to perform this ritual play — although except for the slightly post-apocalyptic set (well realized by Nina Ball, who’s also the costumer), that concept doesn’t exactly read.

But no matter.

The fact is, this whimsical tale of lost innocence is timeless. The songs are funny and poignant, and the archetypal characters are deliciously quirky and dimensional. Now age 50, “The Fantasticks” ran steadily off-Broadway until 2002 and has been in revival there since 2006.

And the top-notch ensemble hits all the right light and dark notes.

Deep-voiced Tarek Khan is sly and dashing as the alluring bandit El Gallo.

A beguiling and impish Sepideh Moafi sings like an angel and captures Luisa’s every emotional nuance. As her next-door sweetheart, Jeremy Kahn is charmingly nerdy and impulsive. The two simply bristle with youthful, restless energy.

And how perfect was it to cast beloved local stage veteran Ray Reinhardt as the Shakespeare-spouting old actor?

Kudos also to Yusef Lambert, whose overwrought death scene is hilarious, and to Norman Munoz as the spry Mute.

With Barbara Bernardo’s choreography cleverly squeezed onto the tiny stage, and music director Robert Moreno on piano, this show is ... well, fantastic.

The Fantasticks
Presented by SF Playhouse

Where: 533 Sutter St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays; 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes Sept. 4
Tickets: $30 to $50
Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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