The longest running musical in the world (currently in its 40th year at New York’s Sullivan Street Playhouse) needs no complicated, computerized set that rises and falls from the rafters or descends to the bowels of the Earth. This tender tale of young lovers who discover they must learn about life before they can appreciate one another was created by Tom Jones (book and lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music) to be performed anywhere there was room to hang a bed sheet for a curtain. The show has endured because it possesses an endearing cast of characters and one of the most memorable scores ever produced for the stage. This Actors Co-op ensemble, under Mark Henderson’s inventive staging, captures the poetic, folktale-like mood of the piece but lacks the essential vocal credentials to do justice to the music.
Kelley Hinman offers a comically dashing presence as El Gallo, the narrator-villain who controls the destinies of painfully immature Matt (Rick Marcus) and Luisa (Dorothy Elias-Fahn). Unfortunately, Hinman’s lightweight baritone fails to project the melodic majesty of the classic “Try to Remember” (which launched the career of “Law & Order” regular Jerry Orbach) or the commanding authority needed for “I Can See It.” Hinman’s El Gallo is more effective in the light-hearted, “It Depends on What You Pay,” performed with the scheming fathers of Matt and Louisa, Hucklebee (Tim Farmer) and Bellomy (Gus Corrado), respectively.
Marcus portrays Matt to callow perfection but doesn’t possess the requisite vocal security or intonation to communicate the haunting beauty of “Metaphor,” “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “They Were You,” all sung in duet with Elias-John. For her part, Elias-John captures the about-to-blossom enthusiasm and wonder of a 16-year-old. However, her vocal quality is often jarringly mature, especially during Luisa’s introductory anthem, “Much More.”
The supporting ensemble is outstanding. Farmer and Corrado play the fathers to the curmudgeonly hilt. They also display some nimble footwork during the first act “Rape Ballet,” and the second act ode to parenthood, “Plant a Radish.” Richard Jones and Brian Habicht chew up the scenery nicely as, respectively, Shakespearean ham Henry and “the man who dies” Mortimer, two out-of-work thespians who bring a bit of worldly spice into Matt’s life. Naomi Chan offers the requisite benign presence as the scenery-changing Mute.
Chris Salmon’s choreography is an adroit complement to Henderson’s staging, as is the musical accompaniment of pianist Wayne Hinton and harpist Kathleen Moore (alternating with Alex Rannie).