My first experience with The Fantasticks was in high school. A few friends were involved in a production at Thunder Bay Theatre (Northeast Michigan’s only year-round “professional” theatre). I went out of obligation, and ended up loving the smart, harmonious and swinging score matched with a simple, yet very clever, book.
I bought the cast recording soon after, and it quickly became a favorite.
Eight years later in college, the theatre department announced they were doing The Fantasticks. It seemed kismet, as I made a personal goal that I would audition for a show that year, preferably a musical. I did audition (I sang “Star Spangled Banner”???) and after a callback or two, was cast as Matt (“The Boy”). I only have fond memories of that experience. The cast was great, we all got along famously and worked really hard to pull a deceptively complex show together.
The trickiest part, for me, was keeping it simple, yet theatrical. The Boy and The Girl shouldn’t be hammy — if you reach for the comedy, it doesn’t work. Also, there is enough ham in the show anyway, what with Henry (“The Old Actor”) and Mortimer (“The Indian”) stealing the show in middle of act 1.
My next experience came with the film version of the show. Have you seen it? It was never given a theatrical release for whatever reason. The finished film languished on a shelf for six years due to some confusing contractual disputes before receiving a DVD release in 2001. While I find it flawed in a number of ways, I think it’s a nobel effort. It’s been a while since I’ve revisited it, but I recall loving the way they filmed “They Were You” — an extended, single shot of Joey McIntyre (Yes, THAT Joey McIntyre) singing this beautiful final song to Louisa (Jean Louisa Kelly) in the middle of a road as the sky changes and snow begins falling.
Oh, hell. I keep forgetting about the wonders of YouTube. Just watch for yourself:
My most recent Fantasticks memory is Theo Ubique’s production in 2005 — a storefront theatre in Rogers Park that’s quickly becoming a major player in the off-loop Chicago theatre scene. The ramshackle space was ideal for the show, and the attractive, young cast did the show proud. Jamie was the best Mute ever, and one Sunday matinee, she famously stepped in for an ill Louisa. I’m sure you’ve heard about that one — it’s theatrical legend by now. :)
And today, I get to add to this list. I look forward to it — Porchlight does good work. Additionally, it’s a show so well written, so solid in its structure, you have to work to fuck it up. So, unless they stage it on Mars or something, I’m sure it will be a pleasant afternoon.