Having recently celebrated its 40th anniversary
, The Fantasticks is the longest running show in the United States. Written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, it first opened in 1960 with a cast inclding Jerry Orbach
(Law & Order
) and Rita Gardner. It has since played to seven U.S. Presidents and spawned production
s in 68 countries around the world. Because of its simple set
and its spare orchestra
tions (only a piano
are used Off Broadway) it is also the most frequently produced show by amateur theater
groups and schools around the nation.
The success of the show can be attributed to the universal appeal of its story. While it follows a relatively simple plot the themes at the center of the piece are what enable it to touch so many people. The plot follows the love story between a boy, Matt, and a girl, Luisa. Aided by the presence of a narrator, who also serves as a character in the show, the theatrical devices of the show are familiar and move the story along without calling attention to themselves. Throughout the first act we see the love relationship between the two young leads develop in a naive, almost gullible manner as their marriage is, unwittingly, pre-arranged by their respective fathers. In the second act the illusory love created in the first is challenged and each character goes their separate ways to learn about life for themselves. Their equally narcissistic love turns to one of true depth and honesty; making the simple conclusion all the more effective.
The magic of the show lies in its attitude toward the audience. It is romantic without reeking of sentimentality and intelligent without seeming pretentious or didactic. Ultimately, the show is about balance: between idealization and realism, and between naivety and innocence. I think the message is best captured in a line from the opening song: "Without a hurt the heart is hollow." Whatever the reason for its success, The Fantasticks is an amazing show which has rightfully earned its tremendous run and will hopefully entertain and enlighten audiences for years to come.
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