The Fantasticks is produced somewhere in the world every day, and this spring you’ll understand why. TMTP will perform all of the classic songs and tell the story of its creation on April 30 and May 1.
The TMTP concert is our fifth-annual “Behind the Musical” show, this year presented on both the east and west sides of town. As usual, it will be co-hosted by Bill Rudman and Nancy Maier, who decided to sit down and chat about one of their all-time favorites.
BR: Nancy, I know that whenever you work on The Fantasticks, it’s a labor of love, and I feel the same way. This little show ran more than 20,0000 performances in New York alone, making it the longest-running musical ever, anywhere. What makes it great? You go first.
NM: Well, regarding your “labor of love” phrase, I fell in love with the original cast album when I was very young—that beautiful, fresh-sounding music, played by just piano and harp—and the poetic way the story is told. Stripped down to the bare necessities, the show focuses on the human spirit and what we yearn for.
BR: For me it’s the spell it weaves, beginning with one of the great opening numbers of all time, “Try to Remember.” The musical just takes us to this wondrous place and we’re totally there—and what makes “there” so seductive is that it’s timeless. Somebody once said that it’s about “a boy, a girl, two fathers and a wall.” Anybody who sees the show today feels the same things that audiences felt almost 60 years ago. Talk about universal! What’s more universal than parents and their children and both the joy and pain of being young?NM: Of course, our audience will focus on the music and lyrics and the behind-the-scenes story first with us. That’ll whet their appetite for the Great Lakes production opening later in May.
BR: And the making of this show is quite a story itself—one that unfolded over a decade. I think that in 1960 it was capitalized for about $16,000; even then, that was so little money. But they had a heckuva time raising it because nobody was well known: not the producer or director or songwriters or performers.
NM: From the original cast, only Jerry Orbach, who played El Gallo, became a household name. And even back then, he had just the right combination of macho and sensitive to make an impact.
BR: What about the young authors, two Texans named Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt? Not the pop singer Tom Jones, but an amazing writer who was really a poet at heart. And composer Harvey Schmidt … you’ve called his music “pianistic.” What do you mean by that?
NM: I mean it’s music meant to be played on the piano, that it feels good to play, and that it’s fun to play!
BR: You know, it took a while for The Fantasticks to catch on with audiences—it didn’t get great reviews.
NM: But I get a kick out of the fact that the show became this hip thing to see. It was produced Off Broadway in Greenwich Village at the time when the so-called “beatniks” ruled the cultural scene, and they embraced it.
BR: I’ve interviewed Tom Jones for radio, and he told me that he never gets tired of seeing this show. He and Harvey Schmidt really invented something here.
NM: In its own way The Fantasticks is as path-breaking as Oklahoma! or West Side Story or Company or Cabaret. But it sneaks up on you, so you don’t realize how truly experimental it is. Jones and Schmidt were interested in simplicity, but they found it in an extraordinary combination of old-fashioned showmanship, classic musical theater and the Italian theatrical tradition of commedia dell’arte. And yet, if that sounds pretentious, it isn’t—not for a moment.
BR: Even Shakespeare figures into this, because some of the spoken dialogue is written in verse. And there was no scenery and no orchestra. Only piano and harp.
NM: But again, it just feels so right. In addition to “Try to Remember,” two other songs deservedly became popular—both of them recorded by Barbra Streisand in her early 20s: “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “I Can See It.”
BR: What about the singers we have here at TMTP?
NM: Some of our audience’s favorites will be with us: Fabio Polanco as El Gallo, Shane O’Neill as Matt and George Roth as one of the fathers. And Michelle Pauker, a student from BWU’s top-rated music theater program, is our Luisa.
BR: This show is so deceptively simple, isn’t it? There’s the big theme of the seasons and the whole idea of generations, which weaves through most of the Jones and Schmidt shows.
NM: Yes, each season has significance in the progression of the story, as well as the conflict between generations. We are brought back to a time when we were young and probably had an impossibly romanticized view of life. When life strips that away—when there is pain—something much deeper can take its place. It’s about growth.
BR: By the way, have you got your harpist?
NM: Not yet—but soon!
SATURDAY, APRIL 30 | 7 PM
STOCKER ARTS CENTER,
LORAIN COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE
Available through the Stocker Arts Center Box Office;
Call 440-366-4040 or visit stockerartscenter.com
SUNDAY, MAY 1 | 3 PM
REGINA AUDITORIUM, NOTRE DAME COLLEGE
Tickets: $25 | TMTP Members: $20
Available through TMTP’s Box Office; call 216-245-TMTP (8687)
or visit MusicalTheaterProject.org