Light Opera Works’ ”The Fantasticks” Review – A Fantastic Production

Learning that Light Opera Works was opening its 2015 season with an expanded version of The Fantasticks at Cahn Auditorium in Evanston, my husband and I agree we HAD to go.  Since 1973-74 the year we lived in New York when this production was playing off-Broadway, we kept trying to see it.  And, yes, it was worth the wait. As my husband said, “Better late than never”.  It is a superb production but will only be here until June 14, 2015.  Run to get those tickets. Anyone who has the opportunity to see this show is fortunate, indeed.


Luisa (Meridith Kochan) with her mother's necklace

The Fantasticks is the perfect show to open Light Opera Works 35th season.  A note from Tom Jones, Book writer and lyricist of The Fantastick, begins, “I am delighted to hear that Light Opera Works is opening its 2015 season with the expanded version of The Fantasticks. This is very exciting and special to me.”  He then shares several “what ifs” about changes to the production and ends, “We had the chance, all too briefly, to try our experiment in a 30th Anniversary tour with Robert Goulet. That went well, although the venues we played were very large—not the ideal environments for the revolutionary vision we had in mind. Still, it went well until Goulet got a movie offer and cancelled the remainder of the tour.

Now, at last, we have another opportunity in Evanston's Cahn Auditorium—a perfect space for elaborate scenic staging, while still relying on the imagination of the audience.”


El Gallo (James Anest) and cast

Harvey Schmid, Composer of The Fantasticks noted that “…it originally opened in a very small Off-Broadway theatre, on a limited budget, we could only have a piano and a harp.  I am thrilled that Light Opera Works will be presenting it with a larger orchestration in your upcoming season.” 

And from the artistic director, Rudy Hogenmiller,I had the privilege of playing the Mute in the Robert Goulet 30th Anniversary tour. And I'm excited to honor Tom and Harvey's wishes for the fully orchestrated, large-scale version of The Fantasticks as the opening production of our 2015 season.Light Opera Works audiences will enjoy the most beautiful sound this score has ever received”


Matt (Christopher MacGregor) and Luisa (Meredith Kochan)


And what a show it is. My friend has been a loyal subscriber to Light Opera Works since it began, 35 years ago, and has seen the company’s ups and downs.  She was thrilled with this performance, and thought it better than when she saw “The Fantasticks” off-Broadway.  Everything about this show was outstanding.  The voices were beautiful, the words were spoken with absolute clarity and rhymed so charmingly that the frequently brought laughter to our lips.  The costumes were amazing and the sets, staging and lighting were all noteworthy.  The set began simply as did the story, and became more embellished and complex when the story did.  Lighting was especially important and the sounds effects were perfect.  And what can one say about the orchestra?  It was wonderful. And, did I mention staging and choreography? But you can guess, they were terrific, too.


Mute (Clayton Cross) Bellomy (Dirk Swenk), Matt (Christopher MacGregor) Luisa, and Hucklebee (Rick Rapp) - "A Happy Ending"

What is it that has captivated audiences so that this is the longest running musical in history?  Basically, it is the story of a boy and a girl.  This story is told with such originality, charm and humor, audiences are captivated.  I, for one, did not want it to end. This long running hit is about a boy, a girl and their fathers who plot to get them together by keeping them apart. "Try to Remember," is the song that has haunted me for years and nearly brought tears to my eyes as I heard it on stage for the first time and left with the song playing in my head.  But now I knew what the words were about.


Henry (James Harms)

The Light Opera Works cast includes James Anest (El Gallo), Christopher MacGregor (Matt), Meredith Kochan (Luisa), Clayton Cross (The Mute), James Harms (Henry), Rick Rapp (Hucklebee), Kirk Swenk (Bellomy), and Brian Rooney (Mortimer). Each of these cast members was better than the next- all just “fantastic”.


The design/production team is Adam Veness (scenic), Alicia Anne Lees (costume), Andrew H. Meyers (lighting), Aaron Quick (sound), Cassy Schillo (props), Adam Veness (technical director), Tom Campbell (stage manager) and Katie Beeks (production manager).


Henry (James Harms), Matt (Christopher MacGregor, and Mortimer (Brian Rooney)


The production sponsor of THE FANTASTICKS is the Pauls Foundation. 



Luisa ( Meredith Kochan) and Matt (Christopher MacGregor) and mute (Clayton Cross)

THE FANTASTICKS is Light Opera Works' first production of 2015. The season will continue with SOUTH PACIFIC (August 15-30), the concert production HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST SONG HITS (October 2-11) and GUYS AND DOLLS (December 26-January 3, 2016). 

Discounted season ticket packages are still available.  

Ticket prices for THE FANTASTICKS range from $34 to $94. Ages 21 and younger are half price. To order tickets, or for more information, call the Light Opera Works box office at (847) 920-5360 or order online 24 hours a day at LightOperaWorks website      

THE FANTASTICKS is the Chicago premiere of expanded version with 23-piece orchestra with Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones, Music by Harvey Schmidt , Directed and choreographed by Rudy Hogenmiller with the 23 piece orchestra conducted by Roger L. Bingaman    

Remaining performances: Wednesday, June 10, at 2 pm, Friday, June 12, at 8 pm, Saturday, June 13, at 8 pm, Sunday, June 14, at 2 pm. 

Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson Street, Evanston, IL 


Main Floor - $49, $69, $79, $94

Balcony - $34, $49, $69, $79   

Ages 21 and younger 1/2 price
(847) 920-5360 LightOperaWorks Website

Photos: Mona Luan

A brief history of the show

The Fantasticks began as a summer theater production at Barnard College in 1959. In May of 1960 it opened Off-Broadway, and afterward it went on to become the longest-running production in the history of stage and one of the most frequently produced musicals in the world. 

During its original run at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village, The Fantasticks logged a record-breaking 17,162 performances. When the original production closed in 2002, news of the closing made the front page of The New York Times.

In 2006, the revival opened at The Theater Center, directed by Tom Jones (author and lyricist), where it continues to run. In memory of the original El Gallo, the theatre in which the revival is performed has been renamed the Jerry Orbach Theater. 

Light Opera Works’ mission is to produce musical theater from a variety of world traditions, to engage the community through educational and outreach programs, and to train artists in musical theater.





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