Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Fantasticks - by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt

A Two -Act Musical, The Fantasticks opened in 1960 and kept playing until 2001 (I think). There are nine roles, a pianist & harpist and a simple set - a platform, a cardboard moon and some wooden swords.

It opens with Try to Remember, which always makes me cry and El Gallo, who serves as a narrator, sets up the young lovers kept apart by their feuding fathers. But it turns out the fathers have only pretended to be feuding so that their children will fall in love. They then hire El Gallo to abduct the girl so that the boy can save her and they can stage a reconciliation and everyone can live happily ever after. This happens, and under the moonlight the lovers kiss with their happy fathers by their sides.

Then Act 2 opens under the hot sun. All the flaws are present, the magic is gone, everyone fights, the father's re-build the wall but for serious this time. The young man is enticed to go out into the world and see what there is to see. The young girl is seduced by El Gallo and makes plans to run away with him. El Gallo abandons her, stealing her mother's necklace, and the young man returns, worse for wear - but comforts her and they fall back in love and the fathers reunite as well. El Gallo has the last word, having provided them with the pain necessary to live a happy life.

There's some unfortunate choices that haven't aged well - the abduction is more often referred to as a rape, leading to a whole song about the different kinds of rapes - all romanticized and separate from the current meaning and freight of the word - but jarring to this reader. And the insistence on Indians and Hispanics as the bad guys. It's a play that operates with fairytale fantasies and flips those on the audience and the characters in the play, so yes it' going to reflect the stereotypes as it does so...but, alas that those are our stereotypes and that these two choices bog down a play that has so many simple riches in a small package.

My mom tells a story of seeing a traveling performance of The Fantasticks performed in Johnson, Kansas - a tiny farming town - when she and my dad were living there. The community hall was packed with farm families, everybody in the area coming to see the play. I imagine a dark plain, a warm light from the windows of the hall and the songs drifting out across the empty town.


  1. The show is playing again off-Broadway in a new production in Times Square- the current production has changed "It Depends on What You Pay" for a new song about abduction, which avoids the word "rape".

  2. Ah-hah - I imagined they'd have to do something about it. thanks for passing that on.