Hooray for Hollywood

The two dads get all the best songs, which include "Plant a Radish," in which they compare child-rearing to gardening. "They're dependable," sing the affable Jack Livesey (as Hucklebee, Matt's dad) and Daniel Steinlauf (Bellomy, Luisa's dad) in this ode to vegetables. "They're be-friendable." Two other characters, Mortimer and Henry, don't get any songs all to themselves. Who are Mortimer and Henry? Henry (Michael Marks) is an unemployed actor who happens to be hanging around the neighborhood. Mortimer is also a thespian, of sorts. He (actually a she in this production, played by the inventive Debbie Campbell) specializes in hilariously attenuated death scenes. Their purpose is to help create mischief as needed.

Mortimer, however, may be a good place to start a discussion of what's distasteful about The Fantasticks, because the several ways the show has aged badly come into focus when she appears, dressed in a Native American getup that's used for comic relief. By choosing the show for its inaugural performance, the new management of the Playhouse is trying to bridge the widening gap between the older audience that's made the Playhouse the oldest theater in South Florida and the younger audience it needs to cultivate to survive. That makes sense. Older audiences know and love the show; younger theatergoers may be seduced by its simplicity, not to mention the voices of leads Rolff and Brewster.

What's less appealing and difficult to explain to the young girls in the audience is the presence of the central kidnapping scene, accompanied by a song called "Rape Ballet." As explained by the lovers' fathers, who pay the extraneous characters to stage the girl's kidnapping so the boy can rescue her, the word "rape" isn't used here to mean sexual assault; it's used in the archaic meaning of abduction, and a harmless one in this case. Still, it's a bit unsettling to hear seemingly appealing characters sing about the different kinds of "rape," including "one with Indians." To contemporary audiences, the word, rightly, signals an act of violence, not something to be made light of.

Political correctness aside, the song "Rape Ballet" dates the show far more than any trend that's come and gone in the theater since 1960. Everything else is timeless.

The Fantasticks.
Book and lyrics by Tom Jones. Music by Harvey L. Schmidt. Directed by Andy Rogow. Musical direction by David Williams. With Louis Silvers, Heather Jane Rolff, German Brewster, Debbie Campbell, Michael Marks, Jack Livesey, Daniel Steinlauf, Meridith Mursuli. Through October 25. Hollywood Playhouse, Washington Ave, Hollywood; 954-922-0404.

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