The original 1960 off-Broadway production of "The Fantasticks" ran for 42 years, (17,162 performances), making it the world's longest-running musical. Its winning charm is in the universality of the love story, the bare bones set and props, and its timeless musical score.
The simple plot features a boy (Ben Peter) and a girl (Rachel Williams) who fall hopelessly in love, and their parents, Hucklebee (Cathy Berggren) and Bellomy (Kirby Wood), who hatch up an elaborate plot, ostensibly to break them up, but really to bring them together.
Peter and Williams are absolutely adorable as the lovers, with the innocence of youth shining through both in their acting style and crystal clear in their gorgeous solos and duets. Two highlights are their sweet Act I "Soon It's Gonna Rain" and Act II's sadder but wiser, "They Were You."
Each of them has delightful moments showing the romantic "silliness" of first love, and later the pathos of having been beaten down by the world's realities after the bloom is off the rose, and the glaring sun replaces the pale moonlight.
Berggren and Wood, as the couple's conniving, but well-intentioned parents, have some cute moments in their "Never Say No" and "Plant a Radish" duets. The parts were originally written to be played by two men as the two fathers. The always-fun-to-watch Berggren is cute as Matt's mother, but a little something is lost in the dynamic of not having it be a pair of fathers.
The show's narrator and pseudo-villain El Gallo (Joshua Smith) sings the show's signature song "Try To Remember." Smith lacked some power in his vocals and mystery in the character early in the performance but grew stronger in Act II, showing more of the character's complexities.
As the show's clowns, Henry (Ian Wallin) and Mortimer (Zach Sain) fall short in providing enough comic relief. Henry is meant to be a broken-down antique of a character actor, clothed in rags and tatters. No attempt, however, was made to age or costume Wallin to fit the role. His youth, full head of hair and pristine costumes belie the jokes about the character's age, baldness and shabbiness.
Mortimer is to be known for his dying scenes, but the one Sain performs lacks the over-the-top, flopping, flailing and exaggerations that should have had the audience howling.
Suzie Baer plays the Mute, the onstage props mistress, but in this production also an elegant dancer and more active participant in the story. Baer, a ballerina, teacher and former ballet master, is breathtaking in her facial expressions and movements in a role where she never says a word.
Director Christine Winkler Johnson makes the most of the Underground space, keeping the show feeling intimate and connected to the audience.
Often referred to as "the little show that wouldn't die," 59 years later, high school, college and community theater productions keep audiences "remembering" how "deep in December it's nice to remember/The fire of September" that can still speak to our romantic souls no matter our age.
If you go
What: "The Fantasticks"
Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St.
When: April 25-27, May 2-4, and May 9-11 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: 218-733-7555, www.duluthunderground.org, $20