The start of my day is a quick look at the NY Times site- On This Day In History, in hopes that it will plant the seed of an idea for a post. This morning I took note of the 52nd anniversary of the opening of the tiny musical- The Fantasticks. The original production ran a total of 42 years & 17,162 performances, making it the world's longest running musical & the longest-running uninterrupted show in the USA . The original production at the Sullivan Street playhouse closed January 13, 2002, after 17,162 performances. Alumni include: Jerry Orbach (the original lead), Liza Minnelli, Elliott Gould, F. Murray Abraham, Glenn Close, Keith Charles, Kristin Chenoweth, & Bert Convy.
I am not sure why reading about the anniversary didn't immediately prompt a post. The event certainly didn’t deserve a shrug from me, because this theatre piece ended up playing such a major part in my life. Possibly, despite a bright & inventive score, I just don’t care that much for this famous musical. I find it to be a bit twee. This is rather unfair, as the show has been very good to me.
The Fantasticks is the show that I have been in the most productions, 5 so far in my life (let’s hope I am done, but you never know). I have played all the male roles except for El Gallo, the romantic baritone lead. I am baffled as to how this one role eluded me.
1977, when I Left NYC for a teaching job in Spokane, I was invited by the department head of the university, to play the boy’s father in a summer production of this chestnut. I was glad to be busy & to make friends right away, jumping into my new life.
In Seattle, circa in1983, I landed the role of the girl’s father in a production being produced by the theatre company that I wanted to work for something fierce- Pioneer Square Theatre. This version is my favorite. It was directed by a highly talented & hot director, & the entire team was the cream of the Seattle Theatre Community crop. The show was produced in a beautiful natural amphitheater in the Snoqualmie Falls National Forest. A lovely sylvan glen with a stream running through it, made a perfect set for the show. I adored the cast & the experience made for a very pleasant way to spend the summer, the pay was good, & it got my foot in the door of a theatre company that would soon play a most important part in my personal history.
I played the boy’s father again, in a long run at a dinner theatre in 1986, a part I took just for the salary (nothing wrong with that) & I was glad for the job. The production was average & there were some strong tensions within the cast. The leading man was replaced halfway through the run, & yet I made lifelong friends with the 2 cast members that I car pooled with, & the young man that played my son (who identified as straight & had a girl friend) took to wanting to making out with me backstage. I was flattered & obliged.
The first time I appeared in The Fantasticks was in one of the 1000s of yearly high school productions. A Catholic girl’s school chose to do a production (an unusual choice, there is only 1 female role) & the nuns had changed the 2 fathers to be mothers & cast females in all the roles except the male lead & the part of Mortimer-The Old Indian, which I was extended a special invitation to play. At 15 years old, I already had a reputation for being able to convincingly play older, in this case, much older parts.
In The Fantasticks libretto, El Gallo offers to stage the phony kidnapping of the girl- Luisa, he refers to the proposed event as a "rape", although he makes it clear that he uses the word only in its traditional literary sense (Latin "rapere") of "abduction", explaining that many classical works, including Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock, use the word in this sense. In his song It Depends on What You Pay he describes different kidnapping scenarios, comic & outlandish, that he classifies as the "Venetian rape", the "Gothic rape", the "Drunken rape", etc. The good Sisters of the Girls School were concerned & offended by the word –RAPE & deemed to change the word to- “SNATCH”, which the nuns found a perfect 1 syllable replacement for the offending word. The cast had the thrill of singing- “so the kind of SNATCH depends on what you pay”. Being a naughty boy & given to re-writing lyrics to be dirty anyway, I was thrilled & in a little bit of theatrical heaven. The plays abduction is set to music & named in the list of musical numbers as- The Rape Ballet, which became of course- THE SNATCH BALLET.
A production shot of me as one of the fathers
The Fantasticks was revived off-Broadway in 2006, & continues to play at the newly named- Jerry Orbach Theatre.