Maryland Entertainment Group stages its first musical, 'The Fantasticks'
When an audience has a one-on-one connection with a cast member or ensemble as is the case in Maryland Entertainment Group’s production of “The Fantasticks,” it’s something very unique.
“We try to make it as close to the audience as possible so we can actually talk to them individually, lock eyes with a single individual, you know, and have a conversation with them almost. You can actually feel a palpable connection form between yourself and a person in the audience, and that’s when you know you’re doing something right,” said Ken Griggs of Chambersburg, Pa., who plays El Gallo, the mischievous narrator in the musical.
“The Fantasticks” is touted as the longest running musical in history, blending a score with a humorous plot in a parable about love and growing up that mixes moonlight, magic, and mayhem.
The show opens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, at Hagerstown Community College’s Kepler Theater, and continues with shows at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16.
Griggs, whose resume boasts a stint as a professional actor and a career as a U.S. Army physician, said “The Fantasticks” was the first live show he saw staged when he was a “squirmy second-grader,” and it made quite an impression on him.
“I’ve never seen anyone walk away from this show saying, ‘well that was dumb. Why’d I come to see this?’” he said with a laugh. “I’ve never seen anybody walk out at intermission. It’s a fun show. It grabs your heartstrings, and it’s a good evening of theater so if you like live theater, this is one you gotta see.”
Rennes Carbaugh, who plays Matt, agreed.
“It’s just not done in the area, hardly at all. It ran on off-Broadway for (more than 50 years), and I think the last time it was done anywhere within a 45-minute radius might’ve been 10 years ago,” he said.
The show has earned its longevity on stage.
“It’s such a well-written and beautiful show. I think people can really — if they haven’t seen it — broaden their horizons a little bit with it,” Carbaugh said.
Megan Siebeneichen, who plays Matt’s love interest Luisa, agreed.
“It’s a great family show. There’s laughter, there’s romance, silliness, but it also reaches out to adults, I think, they can connect to going out in the world and experiencing it, whether it was good or bad,” she said.
Siebeneichen is a recent graduate of Towson State University with a degree in elementary education and is now teaching fourth grade at Eastern Elementary School. She has appeared in MEG’s summer Shakespeare in the Park presentations and said she’s excited about doing a musical with the theater company.
“It’s been really great. It’s fun to get to do something other than Shakespeare. It’s just a different experience,” she said.
As far as their characters go, Carbaugh said young Matt learns a few lessons throughout the production.
“He’s gone to school and he thinks that because he’s almost 20 (years old) and has gone to school and gotten an education that he knows how things in the world work. So, he’s a little overconfident, even though he is still very young. And then throughout the course of the show, he kind of sees that he does not know everything.”
Siebeneichen’s naive Luisa is multifaceted.
“She is an interesting character. She is kind of finding her way in the world. She’s only 16 years old. So she’s figuring out how to become an adult and a woman. She really talks about that in the beginning of the show. How she woke up and it’s different,” she said. “She sees the world differently, she’s becoming beautiful, that’s one of the ways that people describe her. Because of this beauty, she becomes a little overwhelmed by it. People see her as a little insane as she’s blossoming into an adult. She’s also kind of the innocence of the show. She really goes through the world seeing it bright-eyed and when the world kind of lets her down, she takes it hard,” Siebeneichen said.
Adding to the mix is Griggs’ foil El Gallo.
“He knows all, and there’s also a bit of a trickster to him. He’s a manipulator. And if you know your Norse mythology, I think he’s most like Loki, the God of Mischief. He’s always trying to manipulate peoples’ hearts, minds and souls to get them to be naughty,” Griggs, who is appearing for the first time with MEG, said with a laugh.
While the show is unique, Griggs said it comes together well. “’The Fantasticks’ is very difficult to describe. It is such a great love story and a fabulously written musical. It just works.”
Top photo: Rennes Carbaugh, left, and Megan Siebeneichen star as Matt and Luisa in Maryland Entertainment Group’s production of “The Fantasticks.” (By Perk Hull Designs)