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Why the Theater Community Loves The Fantasticks

By Fredric Dannen

The Fantasticks, a musical based on an obscure French comedy, opened in 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York City and continued on for the next 42 years. It remains the longest-running musical in the history of American theater.

Not a day goes by without some theater company somewhere in the world presenting The Fantasticks, and right now, the musical is in its second week at the San Miguel Playhouse.

Before elaborating on the San Miguel production, let’s pause to ask what might account for the show’s durability.

Some shows gain notoriety for longevity and keep running just because they keep running, despite their mediocrity. (Did someone mention Oh! Calcutta?) That is not the case with The Fantasticks. For starters, every song in the show is a gem, and two songs, “Try to Remember” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” have become standards. On her debut album, Barbra Streisand sang the latter song and another song from The Fantasticks, “Much More.”

The musical’s story, about two young lovers, their feuding fathers, and a mysterious bandit named El Gallo, has a timeless appeal and is consistently funny as well.

Harvey Schmidt, who wrote the music, met Tom Jones, who wrote the book and lyrics, in the late 1950s, when they were fellow students at the University of Texas. Schmidt was studying art. He never aspired to a career in music or theater, which may explain why his songs have a freshness and spontaneity lacking in many other musicals. He wrote the melody for “Try to Remember” in five minutes while noodling on a rehearsal hall piano during a break.

Schmidt died last year. Jones, who is still alive, had the unmistakable touch of a poet. Consider his lovely lyrics for the song “They Were You.”

There are two particular reasons theater people adore The Fantasticks. One is that so many actors got an early start by performing in it, among them Jerry Orbach (the original El Gallo), F. Murray Abraham, and Glenn Close. Another is that the show itself is a valentine to the theater; one of the characters, a veteran actor named Henry Albertson, speaks lovingly of his profession.

Which brings us to the San Miguel production: Jim Newell, a veteran actor himself, with an armload of top theatrical credits—including a stint as El Gallo at the Sullivan Street Playhouse—is directing the new San Miguel Playhouse production, which opened August 15. Newell is reprising his performance of El Gallo. Ginna Acosta, Rodrigo Demian, Fil Formicola, Tomás Burkey, Howard Bach, and Henry Vermillion round out the superb cast.

Tickets are 400 and 350 pesos, on sale at Boleto City, Mercado Sano, Ancha de San Antonio 123, Monday through Saturday, 11am–5pm, or online at boletocity.com.

 

Theater

The Fantasticks

Fri–Sat, Aug 23–24, 7pm

Sun, Aug 25, 3pm

San Miguel Playhouse

Av Independencia 82

Reserved-seat tickets:

400 and 350 pesos

On sale at Boleto City

 

Jim_Newell_Rodrigo_Demian_in_the_Fantasticks

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