Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 24
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
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Princeton Festival Opens Its 2009 Season With Timeless Musical “The Fantasticks”

Nancy Plum

The Princeton Festival is opening its season from small to large this year. Saturday night featured the eight-voice show The Fantasticks, leading up to the centerpiece opera production this coming weekend of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at McCarter Theatre. The Festival staged The Fantasticks in the small and intimate theater at 185 Nassau Street, and although the logistics of the theater were a bit problematic for some of the older audience members, the closeness of the space enabled the audience to feel directly involved in the play and made mikeless singing very easy for the performers.

For this opening show, the Princeton Festival drew on the talented student body in the area. Three of the performers were connected with Westminster Choir College or Rider University; two as students and one faculty member. Brett Algaier, performing the roles of the narrator, El Gallo and the Bandit, is a senior voice major at the Choir College, and demonstrated in this show that he could have a good singing future. With a rich and well-trained voice, Mr. Algaier showed especially impressive ability in the lower register in his second act duet with the character Matt, also played by a Choir College student. Tenor Nick Hardin is in his senior year and carried his part well with effective and pleasing singing. He was vocally well matched to his Luisa, sung by soprano Lauren Cupples, and particularly conveyed the innocence required from his character in the first act. As with all Choir College students, both Mr. Hardin and Mr. Algaier were precise with diction and cadences in their singing.

“The Fantasticks” will continue on June 19, 24, 26 and 27 at 8 p.m. and June 21 at 2 p.m. in the Matthews Acting Studio, 185 Nassau Street. Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will open on June 20 at 8 p.m. at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. For ticket information call (609) 537-0071 or go to

Ms. Cupples is also young, a recent graduate of DeSales University. She sang with an appealing and light voice that worked well in a hall in which the singers did not have to sing overly loud. Luisa’s overriding attribute was innocence, and Ms. Cupples solidly portrayed this characteristic, singing especially well in the jazzy opening number to Act II.

The fathers of these young lovers were played by older and more experienced actors; Gabe Allen and Robert Mackasek, each have long resumes in stage performance, and both were animated and in synch with their scheme to bring their children together and fought over their gardens. Patrick James and Todd Lewis played a pair of old-time actors assisting in the scheme, cleverly arriving on and departing from the stage via an old stage trunk. Anne McKenna (who has been heard singing in previous Festival productions) kept the action moving along as The Mute, dressed as Charlie Chaplin and pulling things and people from the trunk.

Hearing musical theater without microphones was refreshing (enabling the audience to really hear the performers’ true voices) and a very precise accompaniment by pianist Cris Frisco and harpist Sophie Bruno was the glue that held the show together. Although the piano could have come down a bit at times, the color of these two instruments together conveyed well a score depicting several seasons of the year. An imaginative minimalistic set designed by Matt Campbell included cabinets from which to pull props and make good use of the limited stage.

As a show, The Fantasticks may seem a bit dated to some people, but it is one of the longest running shows in the history of Broadway, with engaging songs and a story capturing the heyday of Broadway’s “boy-meets-girl” era. Princeton Festival has made an innovative decision to open each year with a chamber musical, perhaps luring new audience members at the beginning of the season with lighter fare and hopefully keeping them through the meatier and more classical portion of the Festival.

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