The Fantasticks, Light Opera Works, at McGaw YMCA Child Care Center. Evanston's Light Opera Works has carved a niche staging neglected operettas whose demands for classical-quality voices, full orchestras, and elaborate period costumes make them expensive to produce. Now the company is launching its Second Stage project, dedicated to smaller, more intimate shows, with Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's musical The Fantasticks. A delicate, deceptively difficult piece, it requires not only good singing but fine acting--not always LOW's strong suit. Hardly a rarity--its original off-Broadway production has been running nonstop since 1960, and the show has long been popular at theaters here and around the country--it features an unusually intelligent and varied score, which shows off this cast's rich (but sometimes overmiked) voices to good effect. But the story--about a boy and girl who find true love only after cruel experience shatters their naive, self-centered illusions--can come off as dated and cloying if its poetic, often dark subtext fails to come through.
The comedy scenes in Ronn Toebaas's staging work best, thanks especially to William J. Norris and David L. White as the traveling thespians hired by the lovers' fathers (likable John B. Boss and M. Nunzio Cancilla) to fake an abduction. But pedestrian performances by Susan Bywater Noble and Joe Lehman as the lovers and James Rank as the bandit-narrator who teaches them their harsh lessons make this Fantasticks merely pleasant, not moving or magical.