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Original Off-Broadway cast album cover
|Basis||Les Romanesques by Edmond Rostand|
2006 Off-Broadway revival
2010 West End
Original Off-Broadway cast album cover
|Basis||Les Romanesques by Edmond Rostand|
2006 Off-Broadway revival
2010 West End
The Fantasticks is a 1960 musical with music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones. It was produced by Lore Noto. It tells an allegorical story, loosely based on the play "The Romancers" ("Les Romanesques") by Edmond Rostand, concerning two neighboring fathers who trick their children, Luisa and Matt, into falling in love by pretending to feud and erecting a wall between their houses. The fathers then hire traveling actors to stage a mock abduction, so that Matt can heroically seem to save Luisa, settling the supposed feud and securing their fathers' blessings (which the young lovers have really had all along). When the children discover the deception, they reject the arranged love match and separate. Each then gains disillusioning experiences of the real world, seen in parallel fantasy sequences. They return to each other bruised but enlightened, and they renew their vows with more maturity. Elements of the play are also drawn from the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore.
The show's original off-Broadway production ran a total of 42 years and 17,162 performances, making it the world's longest-running musical. It was awarded Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre in 1991. The poetic book and breezy, inventive score, including such familiar songs as "Try to Remember," helped make this show so durable. Many productions followed, as well as television and film versions. The Fantasticks has also become a staple of regional, community, and high school productions virtually since its premiere, with approximately 250 new productions each year. It is played with a small cast, two to three-person orchestra and minimalist set design. Among many revivals, the show re-opened off-Broadway in 2006. As of 2010, its original investors have earned 240 times their original investments. The musical has played throughout the U.S. and in at least 67 foreign countries.
The 1954 Marc Blitzstein adaptation of The Threepenny Opera, which ran for six years, showed that musicals could be profitable off-Broadway in a small-scale, small orchestra format. This was confirmed in 1959 when a revival of Jerome Kern and P. G. Wodehouse's Leave It to Jane ran for more than two years. The 1959-1960 Off-Broadway season included a dozen musicals and revues including Little Mary Sunshine, The Fantasticks, and Ernest in Love, a musicalization of Oscar Wilde's 1895 hit The Importance of Being Earnest.
The play's first version was produced under the title "Joy Comes to Deadhorse" at the University of New Mexico in 1956. It was set in the American West, and featured a "half-breed Apache" as the show's antagonist.
It was substantially rewritten, with the character of Mortimer now "not really an Indian" but playing one during the "Rape Ballet" sequence. The Wild West setting was abandoned, as was most of the script. All but a few songs in the score were also jettisoned, and the staging of the play was changed to a thrust stage. Tom Jones says that the name of the play came from George Fleming's 1900 adaptation of the Rostand play, which used the name The Fantasticks. Harley Granville-Barker's book, On Dramatic Method, provided the idea of using a series of images to help weave a unifying theme to the play. Thorton Wilder's Our Town gave Jones the idea of using a narrator, the staging of Carlo Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters provided the concept of having actors sit stage-side when not acting, and John Houseman's production of The Winter's Tale and Leonard Bernstein's Candide suggested the use of sun, moon, frozen action, and incidental music. The song "Try to Remember" was added at this time. Harvey Schmidt says he wrote it in a single afternoon, after it emerged in almost complete form after a fruitless afternoon attempting to compose other songs.
The Fantasticks premiered at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, a small off-Broadway theatre in New York City's Greenwich Village, on May 3, 1960, with Jerry Orbach as El Gallo, Rita Gardner as Luisa, Kenneth Nelson as Matt, and librettist Tom Jones (under a pseudonym) as the Old Actor, among the cast members. The sparse set and semicircular stage created an intimate and immediate effect. The play is highly stylized and combines old-fashioned showmanship, classic musical theatre, commedia dell'arte and Noh theatrical traditions. The original production was directed by Word Baker and was produced on a very low budget. The producers spent $900 on the set and $541 on costumes, at a time when major Broadway shows would cost $250,000. The original set designer, costumer, prop master, and lighting designer was Ed Wittstein, who performed all four jobs for a total of only $480 plus $24.48 a week. The set was similar to that for Our Town; Wittstein designed a raised stationary platform anchored by six poles. It resembled a traveling players' wagon, like a pageant wagon. As for a curtain, he hung different small false curtains across the platform at various times during the play. He also made a sun/moon out of cardboard. One side was painted bright yellow (the sun) and the other was black with a crescent of white (the moon). The sun/moon was hung from a nail in one of the poles and is referred to in the libretto. The orchestra consists of a piano and sometimes also a harp, with the harpist also sometimes playing some percussion instruments.
The production closed on January 13, 2002, after 17,162 performances. It is the world's longest-running musical and the longest-running uninterrupted show of any kind in the United States.
Notable actors who appeared in the off-Broadway and touring production throughout its long run included Liza Minnelli, Elliott Gould, F. Murray Abraham, Glenn Close, Keith Charles, Kristin Chenoweth, Bert Convy, Eileen Fulton, Lore Noto (the show's long-time producer), Dick Latessa, and Martin Vidnovic.
On August 23, 2006, a revival of The Fantasticks opened at the off-Broadway Snapple Theater Center, New York City where it continues to run. It was directed by lyricist Jones, who also appeared in the role of Henry, The Old Actor, under the stage name Thomas Bruce. The original cast of the revival also included Burke Moses, Leo Burmester, Martin Vidnovic, Santino Fontana and Sara Jean Ford, with Dorothy Martin at the piano and Erin Hill at the harp. A cast recording of this production was released by Ghostlight Records.
Anthony Fedorov assumed the role of Matt from May through July 2007. Margaret Anne Florence played Luisa from July through December 2008. Lewis Cleale played El Gallo between 2008 and 2010 Tom Jones left the cast in 2010, after the musical had celebrated its 50th anniversary. Pop star Aaron Carter joined the cast as Matt in November 2011. In memory of the original El Gallo, the theatre in which the revival is performed has been renamed the Jerry Orbach Theater.
The musical was presented by the Arena Stage in Washington DC from November 20, 2009 to January 10, 2010, at the Lincoln Theatre. The well-received production replaced the conventional "mysterious bandit" interpretation of El Gallo with a kindly carnival magician character. Washington Post theatre critic Peter Marks wrote, "they have been reconditioned to conceal the telltale signs of age and yield a diversion that feels fresh and alive again".
The Fantasticks played for a short period in London's West End at the Duchess Theatre, opening on June 9, 2010, following previews from May 24, 2010. The production was directed by Amon Miyamoto, designed by Rumi Matsui with lighting by Rick Fisher and starred Clive Rowe, Edward Petherbridge and David Burt. The production received mostly poor reviews. Critic Michael Billington, for example, wrote, "the time for this kind of faux-naïf, sub Commedia dell'Arte diversion has passed".
The Fantasticks has been seen in 67 countries, from Afghanistan to Iran to Zimbabwe. Japan, New Zealand, Germany, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Israel have all seen multiple productions. It has been translated into many languages including French, German, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish, Japanese, Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew, Czech, Slovak, Persian and Dari, Pashto, Irish, Italian, Hungarian, Thai, and Mandarin.
According to The New York Times, "The Fantasticks is one of the most widely produced [musicals] in the world, with more than 11,000 productions to date in 3,000 cities and towns in all 50 states, as well as in 67 countries. The Fantasticks has been performed at The White House, for the Peace Corps in Africa, at the Shawnee Mission in Kansas, the Menninger Foundation, Yellowstone National Park and the White Sands Missile Range. It was performed in Mandarin by the Peking Opera, and in 1990 under the auspices of the United States State Department it played for the first time in Russia.
An abbreviated version of the show was broadcast by the Hallmark Hall of Fame on October 18, 1964. The cast included John Davidson, Stanley Holloway, Bert Lahr, Ricardo Montalban and Susan Watson, who had appeared in the original Barnard College production.
A feature film directed by Michael Ritchie was completed in 1995 but not released until 2000. It starred Joel Grey, Brad Sullivan, Jean Louisa Kelly, Barnard Hughes, Jonathon Morris and Joey McIntyre.
Two houses are separated by a wall (portrayed by a mute actor) in an unspecified American town.
The mysterious El Gallo tells about love and September ("Try to Remember"). He then begins to explain the plot of the play. Two young people, Matt and Luisa, live next door to each other and fall in love. However, their fathers are feuding and order them not to speak to each other. Luisa fantasizes about the experiences she wants to have in her life ("Much More"). Matt then delivers a speech about his love for Luisa, singing over the wall to her in a mock literary/heroic way ("Metaphor"). Matt and Luisa sneak up to the top of the wall and speak secretly of Luisa's romantic vision of Matt saving her from kidnapping. Matt's father, Mr. Hucklebee, then appears and tells about his philosophy of life and gardening (don't overwater). He calls Matt and orders him to come inside the house. Luisa's father, Mr. Bellomy, then enters and gives a contrasting philosophy of life and gardening (plenty of water). He then orders Luisa inside. He then calls to Hucklebee, and the two old friends boast about pretending to feud as a means to ensure that their children fall in love. They note that to manipulate children you need merely say "no" ("Never Say No"). Hucklebee tells Bellomy of his plan to end the feud by having Luisa "kidnapped" by a professional so that Matt can "rescue" her and appear heroic.
The hired professional, El Gallo (who is also the narrator), appears and offers the fathers a menu of different varieties of "rape" – in the literary sense of an abduction or kidnapping – that he can simulate ("It Depends on What You Pay"). Deciding to spare no expense for their beloved children (within reason), the fathers agree to a "first class" rape. A disheveled old actor with a failing memory, Henry, and his sidekick, Mortimer, who is dressed as an American Indian, arrive. El Gallo engages them to help with the staged kidnapping. Matt and Luisa return and speak of their love and hint at physical intimacy ("Soon It's Gonna Rain"). El Gallo and the actors burst in and carry out the moonlit abduction scenario; Matt "defeats" the three ("Rape Ballet"). The feud is ended, with the children and the fathers joined in a picturesque final tableau ("Happy Ending"). El Gallo collects the stage properties used in the "rape" and wonders aloud how long the lovers and their fathers will be able to maintain their elaborately joyful poses. He and the Mute leave.
The children and fathers are discovered in the same poses but are visibly shaky and exhausted from the effort. El Gallo observes that what seemed romantic by moonlight may lose its charm when exposed to the harsh light of day. He exchanges the moon for the blazing sun. The fathers and lovers begin to complain about one another, noticing all the flaws that have become glaringly visible by daylight ("This Plum is too Ripe"). The children try to recreate their romantic mood from the previous night and mock their fathers. Finally, in a fit of pique, Hucklebee reveals that their kidnapping and the feud were fake. Matt and Luisa are mortified, and the fathers' mutual recrimination quickly escalates into a real feud; they storm off to their respective houses. Matt sees El Gallo and, in a desperate attempt to regain his honor and Luisa's love, challenges him to a duel. El Gallo easily disarms Matt leaves him embarrassed. Matt and Luisa then argue fiercely; she calls him a poseur, while he calls her childish.
Matt is eager to leave the provincial town. He and El Gallo discuss his vision ("I Can See It"). Henry and Mortimer then appear and lead Matt off into the real world. A month passes, and the fathers have rebuilt the wall. They speak sadly of their children; Luisa is like a statue and does nothing but sit around; Matt still hasn't returned. They then sing about the uncertainties of raising children, as compared with the reliability of vegetable gardening ("Plant a Radish"). Luisa sees El Gallo watching her and is intrigued by the handsome, experienced bandit. Impulsively, she asks him to take her away to see the world. In a long fantasy sequence, they preview a series of romantic adventures through a mask of unreality, while in the background Matt is being abused and beaten by Henry and Mortimer portraying a series of unpleasant employers. Even Luisa's fantasies become increasingly exhausting and darkly underscored ("Round and Round").
El Gallo tells Luisa to pack her things for the journey, but before she goes inside to do so, he asks her to give him her treasured necklace, a relic of her dead mother, as a pledge that she will return. As she goes inside, El Gallo promises her a world of beauty and grandeur; at the same time, Matt approaches to give a contrasting version of the cruel experiences that one can suffer ("I Can See It" (reprise)). As Luisa disappears, El Gallo turns to leave; Matt makes a pitiful attempt to stop him from hurting Luisa, but El Gallo knocks him away and disappears. Luisa returns to find that El Gallo has left her, and sits in tears. El Gallo, as the narrator, tells poetically that he had to hurt Matt and Luisa, and how he hurt himself in the process. Matt comforts Luisa, and he tells her a little about his experiences, and the two realize that everything they wanted was each other ("They Were You"; "Metaphor" (reprise)), but that they now understand that more deeply. The Fathers then return joyfully and are about to tear down the wall, when El Gallo reminds them that the wall must always remain ("Try to Remember" (reprise)).
Although the musical was a success, The Fantasticks' book became somewhat controversial due to its repeated use of the word "rape." In the original production, when El Gallo offers to stage the phony kidnapping of Luisa, he refers to the proposed event as a "rape", although he makes it clear that he uses the word only in its traditional literary sense (Latin "rapere") of "abduction", explaining that many classical works, including Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock, use the word in this sense. (See raptio and bride kidnapping.) In his song "It Depends on What You Pay" he describes different kidnapping scenarios—some comic or outlandish—that he classifies as the "Venetian rape", the "Gothic rape", the "Drunken rape", etc. However, as the public issues of rape and sexual assault became more of a delicate subject during the play's long run, some people in the audience became puzzled by the use of the word.
To deal with changing audience perceptions, the book is sometimes edited to replace the word "rape" with alternatives such as "abduction" or the similar-sounding "raid." In addition, in 1990, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, the authors, wrote an optional replacement piece called "Abductions", which uses the music of the "Rape Ballet" (although this song did not replace "It Depends on What You Pay" at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, where, with the edits made in the book, audiences did not seem to have much difficulty in accepting the song). MTI (Music Theater International), which licenses the show, has made "Abductions" available, both music and lyrics, as an alternate choice in the event of someone being offended by the word "rape".