May 1, 2008

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Forging ahead
Concord Community Players don’t cave to a little snow (and roof collapse)
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

The Concord Community Players, an 80-year-old amateur theater group, were supposed to be performing The Full Monty this month. Alas, Concord folk will not be treated to undressed neighbors imitating out-of-work steel workers imitating male strippers on stage.

At least not now. The Players are planning to produce The Full Monty next season. But the show was just too big and complex to pull together this spring, without the benefit of rehearsal and set building space. In February, the Players Studio roof fell victim to heavy snow. It collapsed just a week before the Players were scheduled to produce The Odd Couple. The show went on, although the original sets were destroyed.

The Fantasticks, by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, offered a good alternative as a smaller show to produce in the spring, plus “it happens to be my favorite musical in whole world,” said director Doug Schwarz. He described it as a comedy, romance and allegory that talks about what it means to grow up. It’s also a favorite of music director Betsey Buteau and her husband, pianist Brandon, who will lead the pit, which includes a harp, percussion and bass.

Along with only a four-piece pit, The Fantasticks involves only eight people in the cast, one platform and almost no costume changes, Schwarz said.

The musical by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones ran from 1960 through 2002 off-Broadway in New York, with more than 17,000 performances. Schwarz thinks it has “endured as long as it has because its message and music outlasted the various eras that it passed through.”

“Try to Remember” is one of the more well-known songs from the show.

The Fantasticks is to the early ’60s what Hair was to the late ’60s and Jesus Christ Superstar was to the 1970s, said Erik Hodges, who plays El Gallo. It reflects the time period when there were avant garde leanings in theater, such as Waiting for Godot. It was “bare-boned, beatnik poetry kind of theater. The Fantasticks sprung from that,” Hodges said. Yet the play had enough “good stuff” in it to be relevant beyond that era, he said.

Emily Szumiesz plays “the girl.” Micah List plays the boy she falls in love with, and Eric Halter and Dave Hickman play their feuding fathers. Everyone’s supposed to be happy by the end, but they aren’t, Hodges said.

Hodges has played both father roles, but never El Gallo. But he knows the part because his parents played musical theater records when he was growing up. The Fantasticks came out when he was about 6 years old. He performed one of the songs, “Rape,” which is used to mean abduction in that case, for his grandparents. “At 6 years old I had no idea what I was singing,” he said.

When Hodges saw The Fantasticks before it closed in New York, the actor playing El Gallo made eye contact with every member of the audience during the opening song — that house sat about 120 people. Hodges said he’ll give it a shot, but the Concord City Auditorium seats more than 800.

“El Gallo is the so-called handsome rake so it’s a bit of a stretch for me, but I’ll be OK,” he said.

Hodges met his wife when they performed together in Grease for the Concord Community Players in 1985.

Schwarz said typically the Players have a few months of preparation time before they start rehearsing, but this show they started rehearsing a week after picking a script. They had to “scramble” to find rehearsal space, and ended up at the Annichiarico Theater, Pleasant View Retirement stage, the Audi, and even a few homes, Hodges said. They’ve been rehearsing since the end of February, about three nights per week, which is not unreasonable for the size of show, Schwarz said.

Schwarz has performed in The Fantasticks with the Actorsingers in Nashua. “I rarely direct,” he said. His wife Colleen is producing. “I owe her big time ... for going through this with me,” he said. Every evening turns into a production meeting when the producer and director are married, he said. It’s not easy, but it’s exciting to see your creative vision come together, he said.

As for the Players Studio, Hodges said the Players’ goal is to have the roof back on by June.


The show must go on
What: The Fantasticks, presented by the Concord Community Players
Where: Concord City Auditorium, 2 Prince St.
When: Thursday, May 1, through Saturday, May 3, at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $12-$15; call 228-2793 or see www.communityplayersofconcord.org.

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