'Try to Remember' at In Tandem Theatre
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: From left to right; top row and then sitting: Chris Flieller (Bellomy), Matt Daniels (Hucklebee), Andrew Varela (El Gallo), Susan Wiedmeyer (Luisa), and Keegan Siebken (Matt). Photo by Mark Frohna.
While playing the role of Matt in The Fantasticks from 1964-1966 off-Broadway, Robert Spencer used to fantasize about whether or not he would ever play the role of Henry, the old Shakespearean actor.
Over 50 years later, Spencer’s daydream came true when Chris and Jane Flieller, In Tandem Theatre’s artistic and managing director respectively, offered him that very role in their spring production of The Fantasticks. Chris could barely get the question out of his mouth before Spencer said yes.
“I am loving it,” Spencer says. “I mostly just love watching this cast breathe life into these classic characters. I tear up. It brings back lots of great memories for me.”
Robert Spencer as Henry. Photo by Mark Frohna.
Known as the world’s longest-running musical, The Fantasticks by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, opened in 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse and closed in 2002 after a record-breaking 17,162 performances. A revival opened in 2006 at another off-Broadway house, The Theater Center, with Jones as the director. Jones made adjustments to the show up until it closed in 2017, including restaging the number Round and Round to reflect a darker tone.
“They were a great team, and so totally different in terms of their personalities,” Spencer says about creators Jones and Schmidt. “Tom (Jones) was out there, and then there was Harvey (Schmidt) in the background who wrote all the music and was just sweet and dear. They would come into rehearsals every month or so and tweak. When another replacement would come in, they were always present.”
Directed by Jane Flieller, The Fantasticks is a whimsical tale of young love involving a boy named Matt (Keegan Siebken), a girl named Luisa (Susan Wiedmeyer) and their fathers (Matt Daniels and Chris Flieller), whose plans to bring their children together is by keeping them apart. A mute (Mary McLellan) as well as Henry and another foolish actor named Mortimer (Austin Dorman) ring out the ensemble as a mysterious narrator, El Gallo (Andrew Varela), guides the audience through a world of moonlight and magic.
Clockwise from lower left corner: Chris Flieller (Bellomy), Andrew Varela (El Gallo), and Matt Daniels (Hucklebee). Photo by Mark Frohna.
Like Spencer, Varela is no stranger to The Fantasticks. Although this will be his third time playing El Gallo, he is nowhere near bored with the character.
“It’s one of those roles where you kind of exist in two worlds,” Varela explains. “Because there’s so few people on stage and it’s such an intimate space, we have a different energy each night.”
“After eight performances a week, on Sunday night as tired as I would be, I would hear that score and it just infused life into me,” Spencer adds. Memorable classics from the show include Try to Remember, Soon It’s Gonna Rain, and They Were You, which Spencer fondly remembers singing to Jacqueline Kennedy as she sat in the front row.
For the In Tandem production, Chris explains that the simple set by Lisa Schlenker, composed of a platform and a few boxes, is meant to look like a traveling troupe of players haphazardly trucked everything in right before the show. The lack of scenic elements allows the audience to use their imagination and rely on the performers to tell the story.
From Left to right: Matt Daniels (Hucklebee) and Chris Flieller (Bellomy). Photo by Mark Frohna.
“It all goes back to being kids,” Jane says. “When you were a kid a cardboard box was a castle, and then it wasn’t a castle anymore, it was an ice cream shop.”
“When you see the actors are having a good time, that makes you have a good time,” says Daniels, who will be making his eighth appearance on the In Tandem stage as Matt’s father, Huckleebee. “I think that a show like this, which is equal parts fun, nostalgia and magic, is a perfect fit for this cast, and for this company too.”
The Fantasticks, presented by In Tandem Theatre, runs April 27 – May 20 at the Tenth Street Theatre, 628 N. 10th St. For tickets, call the box office at 414-271-1371 or visit intandemtheatre.org