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The Fantasticks and I Do! I Do!

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The Fantasticks, Pegasus Players, and I Do! I Do!, Drury Lane Theatre Evergreen Park. Ideally, courtship and marriage are different phases of the same great experience. The challenge lovers face--to embrace their differences while retaining the romance--fuels these small-scale musicals by composer Harvey Schmidt and lyricist/book writer Tom Jones.

The earlier and vastly more popular of the two (it just completed a 42-year run) is The Fantasticks, which tests the dreams of next-door neighbors seeking both adventure and security. In this intimate parable, familiarity breeds content: young, naive Matt and Luisa stumble into love, but the bloom fades from the rose when the outside world, namely the bandit El Gallo, tempts them with false dreams (perfectly embodied in "I Can See It").

You won't have to "Try to Remember" with James Harms's tried-and-true staging, an effortless charmer that treats these splendid songs as seriously as the silly script allows. (Daringly, Harms restores El Gallo's politically incorrect song about simulated rapes.) Young but game, Marci Medwed and Ben Cohen replenish the heartbreak in "Soon It's Gonna Rain." Dan Zakarija wisely underplays El Gallo's seduction of the potentially treacherous Luisa, Henry Michael Odum and Bob Pries effectively send up the matchmaker fathers, and Rus Rainear and Ron Geronimo have hammy fun as washed-up thespians hoping for a last laugh.

Written in 1966 as a vehicle for Mary Martin and Robert Preston, I Do! I Do! is a 20-song tour de force that covers a 50-year marriage in two hours. And in the universe of this musical, there isn't a crisis--infidelity, identity, or midlife--that a good song can't cure: Schmidt and Jones regale us with such delights as "My Cup Runneth Over" and "Love Isn't Everything." Marc Robin's tender staging makes the most of Paula Scrofano and John Reeger: they negotiate the changes in the couple's life with professional spontaneity and undisguised affection. It helps that they're a real-life couple who have undoubtedly compromised to keep marriage's fragile flame alight. If they're less convincing as virginal 20-year-olds, they mature magnificently. And the even more mature Drury Lane audience clearly savored all the senior shocks of recognition.

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