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‘Fantasticks’ Musical Makes ‘Theater Magic’

(Photo courtesy of Indy Ghost Light Photography)
Carmel Community Players’ cast of “The Fantasticks” — Duane Leatherman (from left), Brook-Glen Gober, Kevin Caraher, Hannah Janowicz (standing, back), JB Scoble (sitting, front), Kevin Shadle, Theo Curtis and Thom Johnson — will present nine performances, opening Friday and continuing through May 8 at The Cat in Carmel.

Finding the perfect young male and female lead roles for the world’s longest-running musical seems like it was meant to be.

The role of the clueless, self-involved Luisa in “The Fantasticks” can sometimes be more difficult to fill.

The role requires someone with a youthful appearance ­­­­‑- stage age 16 — and yet a strong, even operatic, soprano voice.

But for Carmel Community Players director Rich Phipps, casting the role came easy for the musical, which opens Friday and continues through May 8 at The Cat in Carmel.

“When Brook-Glen (of Noblesville) showed up at auditions, she sang beautifully,” said Phipps, of Carmel, who praised her voice teacher Sandy Baetzhold, also of Noblesville. “And then, when I asked Brook-Glen to read Luisa’s opening monologue, she read it word-for-word perfectly, without looking at the script.”

Phipps said, “And it’s not like she’s played the role before. It just turns out that Luisa has been her dream role since she was a young girl, and she’d been waiting for an opportunity to play the part for years. She’s a natural.”

Gober, who isn’t new to theater, made her stage debut as an infant. She is the granddaughter of Pat Dorwin, who carried her across the CCP stage when the child was 7 weeks old when her father, Nathan Gober, was performing in the “State Fair” musical.

“The Fantasticks,” with book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt, is a simple musical fable of a boy, a girl and the pain of growing up is told by eight actors on a stage full of theatrical magic.

“‘The Fantasticks’ operates on many levels,” Phipps said. “At times, it is a play within a play within a play. At one level, it’s just a spoof on Romeo and Juliet,” with the young lovers portrayed by Gober, 23, as Luisa and Theo Curtis, 17, as Matt.

The “age-appropriate” Matt is another role that the director was concerned about finding before the auditions. (Phipps played the role at age 30, and said he was, in fact, “too old.”). “Most teenage males with talent are busy in the spring with their own high school musicals,” he said. “But luckily for CCP, Theo Curtis had his eyes on ‘The Fantasticks.’ He’s also a natural for the role, and the duets that our young lovers sing are poignant and beautiful.”

Curtis, although lives in Noblesville, is a junior at Carmel High School, where his father is a teacher there. The son of Shawn Curtis and Adriane Rockhill, he was more interested in “The Fantasticks” than his high school musical because the CCP show has some of his favorite music of any show.

Another of the cast challenges was to cast the role of The Mute, Phipps said. “We didn’t have anyone audition for the part. And, while The Mute doesn’t talk or sing, it’s a really important part, so this was a big concern.”

He said, “Luckily, after we posted on Facebook that we were still looking for someone, I got an email from Hannah Janowicz of Noblesville, expressing her interest. It was like theater magic. I had no clue how to direct The Mute, but Hannah’s instincts for the role are perfect, and her performance is one of the highlights of the show.”

Phipps wanted to direct “The Fantasticks” because he’s loved the show ever since seeing the original off-Broadway musical in 1990 at the small Sullivan Street Playhouse, a former landmark in New York City’s Greenwich Village. He was “taken by the simple beauty of the show, and the intimacy of the venue, as it was only five rows deep,” he said.

“By the early 2000s, ‘The Fantasticks’ had become established as perhaps the most performed musical in the world, having been adapted to film, and produced around the globe in 67 countries by professional, community and school theaters,” Phipps said.

)Photo courtesy of Indy Ghost Light Photography)
Noblesville residents — Brook Glen Gober as Luisa, Theo Curtis as Matt, and Hannah Janowicz as The Mute — rehearse for Carmel Community Players’ musical, “The Fantasticks,” opening Friday and continuing through May 8 at The Cat in Carmel.

“And I knew it was well-suited to be performed at The Cat Theatre, as it needs to be played in an intimate setting, as close to the audience as possible,” he said.

The show lays claim to be the world’s longest running musical, having run continuously for 17,162 performances, from 1960 to 2002, Phipps noted.

“I believe the show’s popularity stems from the fact that it is a very simple story, yet one that operates on many levels, and contains a profound, perhaps even religious message,” Phipps said.

“People of all ages can enjoy it as just a wonderful fable, with good music and funny characters,” he said. “Certain audiences can draw much more from it, viewing from the lens of their own life experience. At various life stages, some will identify with the young lovers, others with the parents “old actors,” or they will relate to the narrator as he “tries to remember.”

He expects many in the audience will have seen “The Fantasticks” prior to visiting The Cat, located in the Carmel Arts and Design District at 254 Veterans Way, in Carmel.

“So, as a director, the challenge has been to keep it fresh, while not deviating far from the essence of what made it so popular in the first place, striking a balance between how touching it is, and yet how ludicrous,” Phipps said.

“It has been so rewarding to work with this talented cast, and wonderful cast and crew. I can only hope that patrons enjoy the show nearly as much as we have enjoyed putting it together.”

Phipps has been on the Carmel Community Players board of directors since 2009 but hadn’t directed a show since 2002, so he felt like a “newbie,” directing this show. “And so I’m very appreciative of the help I’ve received from the dedicated staff and crew.”

He said, “It’s really an ‘actor’s show,’ as all of the eight roles are important and fun to portray, as it’s really an ensemble show.”

Five of the eight cast members are theater veterans who Phipps has worked with on other CCP productions: JB Scoble of Indianapolis as the narrator, Thom Johnson of Westfield and Duane Leatherman of Indianapolis as “the old actors,” and Kevin Shadle of Fishers and Kevin Caraher of Indianapolis are the fathers. The other cast members are Gober, Curtis and Hannah Janowicz, all of Noblesville.

Phipps’ production crew includes his wife, Vickie, the show’s costumer, who has made some creative costumes to add to the theater magic.

He said, “Overall, I couldn’t be happier with the cast and the production team. We’re looking forward to opening night.”

– Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.

Want TO GO?

What: Carmel Community Players presents “The Fantasticks” musical, book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt. Directed by Rich Phipps.

When: Friday thru May 8, 7:30 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays.

Where: The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, Carmel.

How much: $18 for adults, $16 for students and 62 and older.Reservations: https://carmelplayers.org/

MEET THE CAST

The Narrator (El Gallo), played by JB Scoble, Indianapolis; The Girl (Luisa), Brook-Glen Gober, Noblesville; The Boy (Matt), Theo Curtis; The Boy’s Father (Hucklebee), Kevin Shadle, Fishers; The Girl’s Father (Bellomy), Kevin Caraher, Indianapolis; The Old Actor (Henry), Duane Leatherman, Indianapolis; The Man Who Dies (Mortimer), Thom Johnson, Westfield; The Mute (Hannah), Hannah Janowicz of Noblesville.

MEET THE CREW

Director, Rich Phipps, Carmel; music director, Bernie Hirsch, Westfield; choreographer, Bev Wohrle, Fishers; assistant director and stage manager, Susan Yeaw, Mooresville; assistant stage manager and board operator, Karissa Monson, Indianapolis; costume designer, Vickie Cornelius Phipps, Carmel; fight choreographer, Eric Bryant, Fishers; props, Beth Montag, Carmel; set construction, David Muse, Carmel; set decoration, Joyce Pendleton, Indianapolis; light design, Jeff Timi, Westfield; and sound operator, Margot Everitt, Indianapolis.