This Show Is FantastickBy Teresa Huang
Try to remember a time when life was simple and true love was the most noble goal in life, and you'll most likely be thinking of The Fantasticks. A powerful story packed into a brilliantly minimal production, The Fantasticks is one of the best musicals of our time. The MIT Musical Theater Guild tackles this challenge with gusto, producing a production that is filled with beautiful moments and emotions. Director Spencer Klein compares the story to a "bizarre Romeo and Juliet, although it's not."
The Fantasticks received the 1992 Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre, and is the longest running musical in history, opening on May 3, 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York City, where it still plays today. Based on Edmond Rostand's Les Romanesques, the musical tells the story of a boy, a girl, and their fathers, who plot to get their children together by keeping them apart. This logic is better explained in the wonderful duet sung by the fathers, "Never Say No." Themes of true love, family, and deception are explored by a small yet powerful cast of characters, accompanied by a minimal orchestra comprised of a piano, a harp, and a percussionist, and aided by a single scene-changing device, the Mute.
Deceptively simple as the premise sounds, the production is complex and powerful, requiring strong actors and singers to make the fairy tale come to life. Sally Chou '99 and Kevin McMahon G. play the girl and the boy, respectively. Their interaction was believable, yet void of the true passion which plagues their characters' dialogue. The star of the show is easily Brian Wolfe-Leonard, who plays the traveling actor Henry. His skilled sense of timing and mature characterization was unmatched by any other member of the cast.
Having been first produced Off-Broadway over 30 years ago, The Fantasticks does not contain anything that dates the script except for one element - in the first act, the fathers hire a man to stage the fake abduction of the girl, so that she can in turn be saved by the boy. When referring to the act of abduction, the script and score calls for use of the word "rape." When the book was written, the meaning of this word was drastically different, and many directors and productions have come up against this single factor in producing the show for audiences today. In reference to this issue, director Spencer Klein states, "It's sort of like doing Shakespeare. There are characters in Shakespeare, i.e., Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, which today would be considered very, very offensive to a lot of people, but still the shows work, so you have to find a way to do it that is going to work for everybody and not offend a whole bunch of people." Although a substitute song was written later on, MTG decided to keep the original parts of the score, showing that they leaned toward keeping the artistic integrity of the show intact. In the context of the show, the notion of rape is completely innocent.
Though MTG's production of The Fantasticks was for the most part true to the original spirit of the show, there was one interpretation of the show that produced more problems than it did effects. Simply put, the stage was too big. The original Sullivan Street Playhouse production and many other regional productions usually take place on a stage no bigger than the size of two elevators. By creating a large space with several platforms of action it becomes difficult to fill the space. Although the blocking did cover the entire space at times, the production lacked the intimacy and bold interaction with the audience that distinguishes The Fantasticks from other traditional musicals.
Despite this, the production gels quite nicely. MTG's production of The Fantasticks is well-done and enjoyable whether you're in love or not.