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UNLV’s ‘The Fantasticks’ lacks dazzle, soul

Even if you don’t know anything about director Glenn Casale (he’s done everything, everywhere), you can tell that Nevada Conservatory Theatre’s production of the Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt musical “The Fantasticks” has been put together by someone who knows his way around the stage.

The visual compositions in this small-scaled musical are always intriguing, and the story moves along with expert pace. The trouble is, there’s not much beneath all that polish. The script’s soul is missing.

The light-hearted story hinges on the relationship between Matt (Jordan Bondurant) and Luisa (Melody Wilson), two naive, likable, adolescent next-door neighbors who want to be together. Their romance is thwarted by their respective fathers’ decision to build a wall between the two residences to keep the kids apart. The two actors sing pleasantly, but don’t seem to really have much interest in one another. Wilson fakes her character’s childlike qualities and doesn’t match up well with the innocent-looking Bondurant.

El Gallo is our master of ceremonies, narrating the story and playing numerous roles. He needs to be a commanding presence with some kind of sexual allure. Actor Aaron Marcotte’s foppish mannerisms make his role seem like a hustler who’s escaped from a Joe Orton play. You’re not sure whom this man is supposed to be.

Alan Dronek and Mike Thatcher as the energetic fathers are harmless enough as performers, but they don’t create a strong sense of individuality.

Michael Tylo, though, captures the comic spirit and heroism of Henry, an old trouper who travels the land trying to put on plays for anyone who might be interested. Tylo gets the laughs the script demands but also convinces us that Henry is a man with a past.

Devin Pierce Scheef’s set — of a simple, makeshift stage — is peculiarly unimaginative. Its dominant color is earth-brown, which hardly seems appropriate as a background for people who like to sing and dance. Kehler M. Relick’s costumes are functional, although you can’t help wondering why only the boy is in casual, modern dress.

This isn’t a terrible show. People perform their duties with a sense of know-how. But, apart from when Tylo’s onstage, there’s no dazzle. Everything is “OK,” which is to say unexciting and passionless.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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