By Josette Keelor
In its short history, The Schultz Theatre in New Market never has shied away from challenges. Tackling three successive musicals in little more than four weeks is, however, an ambitious choice.
Finishing its run this weekend, "The Fantasticks," will preface next weekend's youth theater production "Rapunzel," followed by "The Last Five Years."
The longest running off-Broadway musical in history, "The Fantasticks" expresses themes of fantasy versus reality, and how wishing for something might not turn out to be what was desired.
The play begins with the cast building a wall between the homes of the story's two families. Hucklebee, played by James D. Kiser, and Bellomy, played by Michael Gwin, are seemingly at war with each other and forbid their teenage children even to talk to each other, much less meet in secret over the garden wall or, even worse, in the nearby forest.
Little do their children -- played by Michael Alan Bendit and Beth Whitney -- know, this is exactly what the fathers intend. It's called reverse psychology, and Hucklebee and Bellomy seem to have found the likeliest way of ensuring that their families become one.
With Bellomy's fanciful daughter Luisa ecstatic over her newfound realization that she's the princess of her own fairytale -- "I'm 16 years old and everyday something happens to me," Luisa says in awe. "Please, God, don't let me be normal." -- and Hucklebee's son Matt's realization that the sum of all perfection lives next door to him, embodied in the beautiful form of a girl who wishes him to be her prince, the fathers' devious plan seems certain to succeed.
After all, what could go wrong, especially after their plan works?
The two fathers, uncertain how to now remove the wall without risking their children's suspicion, devise a plan to "force" the two men's friendship in a more natural, more romantic way: Matt must save Luisa from attackers.
Luckily for Bellomy and Hucklebee, skilled actor El Gallo has a foolproof scenario for them -- "an abduction that's emphatic, an abduction that's polite." As the fathers sing in unison, they imagine the possibilities.
By the end of the first act, both families have all they could have desired, now combining their voices together in perfect harmony, with El Gallo conducting every chord. It's after the play's one intermission, though, that the harmony becomes dissonant, and the characters begin to realize that perfection cannot so easily be prearranged.
"It's really unique," said Julian Fadullon, who plays narrator and villain El Gallo. He praised "the creative mind" of Director Brandon Heishman for arranging the minimalist set, adding, "Like this is so off beat, I think."
El Gallo, he said, is "trying to teach a lesson." To truly love someone, he said, the characters have to go through ups and downs. Still, Fadullon said, "He's a really Machiavellian character. He's hurt a lot of people on the way and [himself] a little bit."
A sophomore music industry major at James Madison University, Fadullon joins sophomore JMU music theater major Bendit, and A.S. Rhodes Elementary School general music teacher Whitney, who also teaches choir, theater and piano at Warren County High School. All three are new to The Schultz.
Continuing along the fairytale theme is the youth theater's "Rapunzel." Timely, only two years after the popular Walt Disney version "Tangled" hit theaters, The Schultz's version, written by Kristin and Michael Walter and directed by Lynn Atkins, has a twist. It's not the Disney version of a thief who helps reunite the lost princess to her kingdom, nor is it the more traditional Grimm Fairy Tale, of a young woman who falls in love with a prince.
In this retelling, a witch kidnaps the firstborn child of a couple who lives next door, not knowing that the child has a twin. Some years later, the prince who discovers Rapunzel in her tower turns out to be her brother, who helps her make a plan to reunite with their parents.
"So it's kind of cute, and there's singing of course," said Joanne Thompson, theater treasurer, whose daughter Caitlin plays the witch.
Rachel Shumway plays Rapunzel and Jon Conner plays her brother Daniel. Other cast members are Jenna Constable as Mother, Jesse Lewis as Father and Carolin Bigwood as the nurse. All attend Stonewall Jackson High School in Mt. Jackson except Lewis, who attends North Fork Middle in Quicksburg, Thompson said.
This will be the first musical the youth theater has performed on its own, without adults in the cast, Thompson said.
The theater's third musical, "The Last Five Years," stars Tyler Everett Adams and Paige Fridell as a couple taking opposite approaches of explaining their relationship over the previous five years. She starts at the end and works her way backward, while he begins from the beginning. They meet in the middle, said Heishman, who directs the two-person show and performs as pianist.
The performance method is a theatrical song cycle, Heishman said, which is "a lot of work for three people."
"There is some acting in it," he said. The two actors sing together when they cross paths in the story, but otherwise, he explained, "They're singing from opposite ends of the relationship."
All three performances will take place at The Schultz Theatre, at 9357 N. Congress St., New Market. "The Fantasticks" will complete its run this weekend, and "The Last Five Years" will take the stage Feb. 1 to 3. Ticket prices for adults are $10 in advance or $12 at the door, and for students and seniors are $8 in advance or $10 at the door.
The youth theater musical "Rapunzel" will take place Jan. 25 to 27. Ticket prices are $8 for adults and $6 for students and seniors.
Performances for all three shows are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 740-9119 or visit www.schultztheatre.org.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org