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Queens Chronicle

Love conquers all as youngsters star in a classic

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Posted: Wednesday, November 27, 2019 10:30 am

“The Fantasticks,” the world’s longest-running musical (yes, even longer than that Phantom!), is a simple boy-meets-girl story.

But, in the upcoming rendering by The St. Mary’s Drama Guild in Woodside, it is told with a twist: Two young ladies will portray the couple at the center of the piece.

In fact, almost the entire cast and production team are female, and many of them are not even out of high school yet.

Ashley Gleason, who in her other life is a fourth-grade teacher, helms the production, and said her cast is doing “remarkably well” adjusting to their respective roles.

“There was a lot of giggling at first,” she said. Then the two leading players, Michelle Lambe (who is Luisa) and Katie Bagley (who plays Matt in full masculine attire), began to let go of their inhibitions and as showtime nears “chemistry is developing.” The pairing, Gleason added, “is believable.”

The other lead role, that of a narrator figure known as El Gallo, created by the late actor Jerry Orbach, has been entrusted to 14-year-old Alessandra Alejandro, a ninth-grader from Elmhurst.

Alessandra admitted that, prior to beginning work on the show, which was created by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, she had never even heard of it — but she soon fell for its charms.

“It’s a really nice love story,” she said. And despite the show’s age (it dates to 1960, when it opened off-Broadway for a 42-year run, produced by longtime Forest Hills resident Lore Noto), she has had no trouble relating to it. “The message — love conquers all — carries over,” she said.

One of the biggest challenges in playing a male character, she said, is having to lower her singing voice, which she employs in “I Can See It” and the show’s most famous song, “Try to Remember.”

She also takes part in “It Depends On What You Pay,” a number originally about a plot to stage a fake rape but which, in recent years and productions, has been modified to be about an abduction. It is this tamer version that is employed here.

Choreographer Claire Spinetti, a Woodside resident and veteran participant in the guild’s productions, said a lot of time has been devoted to the enactment of a ballet that stems from the number, one which the performers helped develop.

“It was fun to create it with them,” Spinetti said. “I like letting them feel their way through it.” Obviously impressed with the skills employed by her young charges, most of whom are members of the church parish, she said, “They just amaze me every day how they grow. They are like sponges.

“They are aware of the sensitivity and they want to portray that. They understand the material. They are sympathetic to their characters.”

Gleason is particularly proud of the guild’s policy encouraging all members of the community to get involved in its productions, including those with disabilities. Auditions, as well as performances, are open to all.

“We are open to working with people of all abilities,” she said. The cast members of recent shows have included some with learning disabilities, with the current production featuring one on the autism spectrum.

The group, Gleason said, is accepting of anyone who is “willing to work hard and be part of a family,” which participants become.

Audiences seem to respond.

“They enjoy it,” Gleason said. “We have a big following. We’re grateful to have that support from our parish.”

She stressed that the guild pays homage to a tradition that began in 1949, saying, “We’re trying to continue the legacy.”

‘The Fantasticks’
When: Fri., Dec. 6, 6:15 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 7, 7 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 8, 3:15 p.m.
Where: St. Mary’s Auditorium, 70-20 47 Ave., Woodside
Tickets: $12; $15 reserved seating; $30 dinner (6 p.m.) and show (Sat. only). (718)672-4848,

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