THE FANTASTICKS, Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. Perhaps this musical, which ran continuously in a tiny downtown Manhattan theater from the eve of the Kennedy administration until after 9/11, is such a favorite because it speaks to generations of young people who throng–or long to throng–to the big city, to spin the wheel in the carnival that is Gotham, experiencing its dark side as well as its exhilarations. Forbidden love turns to ambivalence when the prospect of marriage becomes a reality for a boy and girl next door. Believing themselves special, they breach the walls of their provincial confines to venture separately into the world. Ultimately they reunite, bruised and newly appreciative of each other.

The original Fantasticks finally closed when it seemed cruel to ask New York audiences to “try to remember the kind of September” that existed before 9/11. Yet its parallel life as a regional-theater warhorse carries on in Arlington Heights. This production demonstrates the entire spectrum of talent, from brilliant to struggling. Among the best is Stephen Connell as the old actor, Henry. A physics teacher by day, Connell radiates the kind of intelligence that made me imagine if only he’d been my physics instructor, I’d be at NASA today. A confident and relaxed Timothy Jon, in fine voice, also delivers a memorable performance as Hucklebee, father of the male lead.