KPBS AIRDATE: March 05, 2004
When you think of ultra-long-running musicals, “The Fantasticks” may not be the first show that comes to mind. It has no furry costumes, falling chandeliers or landing helicopters. There are only eight people in the cast. And yet, the show ran for an amazing 42 years in New York. Maybe you’ve seen it before, in some city, some time in your youth. Or maybe not. Either way, here’s your chance to add your name to the list of folks who “Try to Remember” when they first saw the record-breaking show. But be prepared; it’s not a high-tech extravaganza; it’s a bare-bones affair. In fact, the co-creators, lyricist Tom Jones and composer Harvey Schmidt, specified an extremely minimalist set, with just a bench, a platform and a banner bearing the hand-scrawled name of the show written in lyricist Schmidt’s distinctive purple penmanship. That’s how it’s always been done… and that’s how it is up at North Coast Repertory Theatre. Guest director Rick Simas, a mainstay of the musical theater program at SDSU, has even remained true to the original orchestrations, bringing in a harp as well as a piano and a bit of percussion.
“The Fantasticks” is an offbeat little show. You have to give it time, let it creep up on you. It’s a bittersweet story of love, seasonal rebirth, the need to experience a harsh winter before the blossoming of spring. As I watched it this time, I felt that the show was not just about the loss of innocence in the young couple onstage. We’ve all become a lot less naive since 1960, when “The Fantasticks” opened in New York. So, there’s a sense of nostalgia for our individual and our collective past that adds another layer of heart — and ache — to the action.
The music is lovely and lyrical, the lyrics poetic and clever. The show’s most famous song, “Try to Remember,” somberly reminds us that “without a hurt the heart is hollow.” But there’s plenty of humor here, too, and Simas goes for the broad comic touch. His direction is buoyant, and he’s assembled a cast of wonderful actors and fine singers, the best of which is golden-voiced ingénue Jill Lewis. Some of the humor comes in an un-PC package: a faux Indian, and a song about rape (which really means abduction here). But the story remains charming and poignant. The struggle between parents and children. Breathless lovers whose romantic fantasy is singed by the bright light of reality. Adolescence giving way to maturity. And our own wistful recollection of a simpler time.
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.