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The Fantasticks

A buoyant revival of the quintessential Off-Broadway musical opens in the heart of the midtown theater district.

Martin Vidnovic, Santino Fontana, Sara Jean Ford,
and Leo Burmester in The Fantasticks
(© Joan Marcus)
For a number of years now, there's been talk among knowledgeable theater folk about the wisdom of presenting musicals -- which depend on support from tourists as well as bridge-and-tunnel folk -- in Off-Broadway venues, especially those situated in areas of Manhattan where such constituencies aren't disposed to wander. This may explain why the buoyant revival of the quintessential Off-Broadway tuner, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's The Fantasticks, hasn't nested in the deep recesses of Greenwich Vilalge but instead at the Snapple Theater Center, located directly on Broadway.

Now that the show is playing on that famed thoroughfare -- and only a few blocks from the TKTS booth -- will it run nearly 42 years, as the original production did at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in the Village? The answer is: Why not? The eight-actor musical that Jones and Schmidt wrote when they were still practically schoolboys is as fresh and charming as it always has been, and looks as if it should remain so for the next millennium or two. Adapted from Edmond Rostand's Les Romanesques, it's the tale of a boy and girl who fall in love -- partly as a result of their fathers' machinations -- but have to endure a loss of innocence before they can truly commit to each other.

Yup, it's boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, reduced to basics and written with as much flair as anyone could muster. Though The Fantasticks is perhaps too coy for patrons who are seeking grittier fare, it has an inspired score. Many of the songs are now standards, including the beautiful "Try to Remember." (Barbra Streisand recorded two other songs from the show, "Much More" and "Soon It's Gonna Rain," on her debut album. Like the original staging, the revival -- with piano and harp accompaniment -- is simplicity itself. A small podium, a few poles, a couple of detachable curtains, some, benches, and a few trunks out of which props can be retrieved are the delightful sum and substance of the physical production.

In trotting out his valuable property for another go-round, librettist-lyricist and now director Tom Jones has wisely recreated as much as he remembered of the original Word Baker staging. The only obvious change is not in the direction, but in the lyrics for "It Depends on What You Pay," (which used to be known by many as "The Rape Song.") Jones has been tweaking those snappy words, but not improving them, ever since any humor on the subject of rape (or even mock rape) became politically incorrect. Ed Wittstein's seminal set and costume designs have undergone only minor changes.

Jones has collected a first-rate cast: wide-eyed but intelligent-looking Santino Fontana and Barbara Cook-alike Sara Jean Ford as Matt and Luisa, gruff Leo Burmester and wry Martin Vidnovic as their adorably scheming fathers, macho Burke Moses as macho El Gallo, scene-stealing Thomas Bruce (a.k.a. Tom Jones) and Robert R. Oliver as cobwebby traveling players Henry and Mortimer (Oliver is temporary spelling MacIntyre Dixon), and Douglas Ullman, Jr. as a peripatetic wall. Dorothy Martin is at the piano, and Erin Hill is at the harp.

Try to remember how much you loved The Fantasticks the first time? Not necessary. It's all here again, right before your astonished eyes. That goes for first-timers too!