Words by Tom Jones
Music by Harvey Schmidt
adapted from The Romancers, by Edmund Rostand (who also wrote Cyrano De Bergerac)

INFO:

Opened at the Sullivan Street Playhouse (Off-Broadway, New York City)    May 3, 1960    17, 162 performances (yes, it is a record, the longest-running musical in history)
Original Director: Word Baker
Original Producer: Lore Noto
Original Leads: El Gallo: Jerry Orbach    Matt: Kenneth Nelson    Luisa: Rita Gardner
Cast Size: Male: 6-7    Female: 1-2    Ensemble: 0 Total Cast Size: 8
Orchestra: 1-2 musicians. Piano, Harp.
Published Script: Applause
Production Rights: MTI (Music Theater International)
Recordings: Many. The original Off-Broadway (the best) is published by Verve, 1960.
Film: A highly-edited version was done for TV in 1964, with a great all-star cast. It can’t be found or viewed anywhere, so far as I know. A film version of the entire show was produced in 1995, Directed by Michael Ritchie. (Not really recommended.)
Other shows by the authors: I Do, I Do, Celebration, 110 In The Shade, Philemon

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

Well…almost everyone. And nearly everyone has. There are many reasons that this show is by far the longest-running, and probably the most produced, of all musicals. It’s simple and inexpensive technical needs are certainly one reason, allowing the show to be producible for almost any theater group. Its single set, almost a bare stage with a platform and a banner, can be easily executed by any theater group. Costuming can be creative and inexpensive, as well. Lighting should be well-done and creative, but this, too, can be simple and relatively inexpensive. As to orchestra, the show was authored to be presented with a pianist, and a harp. And it requires a cast of 8. That’s it. There’s no ensemble. It can be done on small stages, in back yards, in castle dungeons. It is simply the most easily exported and produced of all established musicals, with the possible exception of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Of course, if all there was to The Fantasticks success was simple technical values, then everyone would author shows that took place on bare stages, with a solo piano accompaniment. The Fantasticks is a musical theater feast for performers, the director, and the audience. It offers a well-conceived love story, an unusually poetic and moving script with lots of big laughs when done well, and a score that is vital, distinct, and unforgettable.

Perfect for anyone looking for a small sized but magical theatrical experience, including little theater groups, colleges and universities, and up through summer stock, professional regional theaters and Off-Broadway, where it is running AGAIN as of this writing. With any luck, The Fantasticks will continue to run well into the 100th Century.

Be Warned: The vocal demands and some of the acting requirements may prove too demanding for High Schoolers, and untrained amateurs. There are many trained singing pros who can’t sing these roles. The lead roles of Matt and Luisa must sing extremely well, almost at the level of opera, and must also be strong actors. If you don’t have actors up to those challenges for these two roles, you should probably go for another show.

If you use solely a piano accompaniment (usual in productions of The Fantasticks), make sure your pianist is truly masterful at theater music and jazz. I recently saw a little theater production of the show where the pianist was not up to the challenge. That one fact pretty much sank the production, a hard thing to do with this nearly fail-proof show.

Also, there is a section in the first act dealing with a staged and comic “abduction” of the young girl. In the original version of the musical, a song sung in this slot repeatedly used the word “rape” in the lyric, in the same context as “The Rape Of The Sabine Women.” An alternative is always provided nowadays, using the word “abduction.” I thought the original much funnier and to the point, but it would not be appropriate for some audiences. When they finally made a film version of The Fantasticks, after it had been a global theatrical phenomenon for decades, they used “abduction.” So I guess your group can, too, if you feel it appropriate.

Also, if your theater or stage or both are large, this may not be the best show for you. The Fantasticks thrives in intimate environs, and is not really built for bigger theatrical spaces. Its small cast, orchestra, and minimal sets won’t easily fill a large space well.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: The “Overture” plays while actors set the stage for the start of the show. The first act takes place in moonlight. El Gallo and the cast set the stage for the show, perhaps even putting on make-up, a costume piece or two, setting a prop. Then he invites us to “Try To Remember”. This is to be a memory show. We’re introduced to the girl, Luisa, young, somewhat mad, determined to be unique. (“Much More”.) Then, we meet the boy, Matt, equally as unrealistic. They share a bookish idea of true love. (“Metaphor”.) They live next door to each other, each with their father. Their homes are separated by a wall, as portrayed by The Mute, usually holding up a stick to represent the barrier. The two young lovers hear their fathers coming and pretend not to know the other is just on the other side of the wall.

The fathers each enter and, speaking to their children, carry on angrily about how evil and bad their neighbor is. They make it very clear that the children are never to meet or talk. Alone, the two fathers quickly scale the wall and unite. They have a plan. Say no to their children, and the kids will surely do exactly what their parents said not to, and fall in love. (“Never Say “No””) Hence, the wall.

But how to end the charade happily? Enter El Gallo, a charismatic stranger with a plan. He will sell them a fully staged “abduction,” with a moon and everything. It will be made to appear that Luisa is being kidnapped. Matt will be “allowed” to rescue her. The fathers will be “happily united,” and the wedding can proceed. But, asks one father, what will it cost? El Gallo gives them an elaborate sales pitch on the many creative and interesting kinds of abductions he has to offer. (“It Depends On What You Pay”) The Fathers order a first class. Now El Gallo needs actors to stage the abduction. Enter The Old Actor, Henry Albertson, with his sidekick, Mortimer, The Man Who Dies. They convince El Gallo to employ them in the abduction.

The lovers meet by moonlight and contemplate a mysterious and romantic future together. (“Soon It’s Gonna’ Rain”) Suddenly, the abduction! All goes comically as planned, Matt is the hero, the “villains” horribly vanquished, and the act ends with fathers and lovers happily united in a stiff pose. (“Happy Ending) The wall between their homes is torn down

ACT TWO: El Gallo introduces the sun, and the pose and relationships begin to wilt. The fathers are irritable. The young lovers do not find each other quite so attractive in the light of day. (“This Plum Is Too Ripe”) The lovers quarrel, and Matt decides to go out into the world to discover his fortune, even as El Gallo ridicules him for his ignorance. (“I Can See It”) Matt is quickly scooped up by The Old Actor and Mortimer, now out of work, grungy and dangerous denizens of the world who offer to introduce Matt to life. The wall goes back up.

In the mean time, Luisa is confronted by “her bandit”, her abductor for whom she has developed a schoolgirl crush, El Gallo. He offers to show her the world, as well, and does in a way. She sees the frightening torture that Matt is being put through. (“Round And Round”) But as he dances with her, El Gallo insist she put on a mask, and suddenly, everything including Matt’s torment is beautiful and fun. Luisa offers to run away with El Gallo. He says he will come for her, but she must give him a token, the thing she values most. She gives him a locket her mother left her. He never returns. She is heartbroken. The fathers grieve over their kids…but rejoice that their gardens grow and are predictable, unlike children. (“Plant A Radish”)

Matt, broken and bloody, finds his way home. There, he finds a desolate Luisa, and consoles her. They rediscover each other, and realize that they had what they were looking for all along. (“They Were You”) The fathers find them together and rejoice, planning to tear the wall down again. El Gallo advises them to always leave the wall up. (“Try To Remember” reprise.)

THE SONGS:

“Overture”, “Try To Remember”; “Much More”; “Metaphor”, “Never Say No”, “It Depends On What You Pay”, “Soon It’s Gonna’ Rain”, “The Abduction (or Rape) Ballet”, “Happy Ending”, “This Plum Is Too Ripe”, “I Can See It”, “Plant A Radish”, “Round And Round”, “They Were You”, “Try To Remember” (reprise)

Hits include “Try To Remember”; “Soon It’s Gonna Rain”, “They Were You”.

MY OPINIONS:

You can, as ever, ignore my opinions and rating.   Just leave the wall.   You must always leave the wall.

The Fantasticks is a perfect show. Everything in it works. It can be an very creative experience for both the cast and crew of the production, as well as for the audience. It has everything a musical should have. It sports a great score with lots of unique, memorable songs made of energized, romantic music and clever lyrics, and a book capable of generating a lot of laughs, some deep emotion, and even thought in the audience. It has the additional benefit of being very small and inexpensive to do. A company choosing The Fantasticks that understands the show and what makes it tick will never be sorry they did it. And it is a crowd-pleaser, even over 50 years after it’s first performance. I think it will continue to thrill audiences for a long time to come.

But like all perfect shows, like any show, it is not performance-proof. A poor production can sink it, just as it can sink any show.

MY RATING: *** (An exceptional show, bordering on (if not) perfect, and one of my personal favorites.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:
Your pianist must be outstanding. He must be aggressive, awake, a great reader, and a terrific player of theatrical and jazz styles. The harp role is not tremendously difficult, and is optional. And yes, the show is and always has been designed for this small an orchestration.

The voices required for the juvenile lovers, Matt and Luisa, are significant. She must be a true soprano with a belt, and a good belt. He must be a lyric baritone (on the high end of that range) with a legit romantic voice. El Gallo, the other lead, is intended to be a more mature character, anywhere from his 30s to his 60s, depending on the interpretation of the show. (We’ll discuss this more under my ideas.) He should be a baritone or lyric baritone with a mature voice, with an ability to really pronounce and sell a lyric both comic and dramatic. Again, if you can’t cast these three roles well, you should probably do another show. They each do a lot of singing, and that singing needs to be far better than average. There’s no where to hide if you’re doing The Fantasticks. No big beautiful sets or costumes, few production values to distract the audience. If the performers aren’t pretty great, the show will not work.

Other roles include the two fathers, mature comic character roles who do have three songs. These actors must be comfortable singing, carrying a tune, and even a simple counterpoint. The two actors don’t need to do much if any singing, though if they can do some it’s a minor plus. The mute does not sing (naturally).

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:
The Fantasticks is not really a “dance show,” in the way many Broadway musicals are. That said, there is a lot of movement demanded by the score. “The Rape Ballet”, “Depends On What You Pay”, “Round and Round”, and the father’s two numbers, “Plant A Radish”, and “Never Say No” all require designed choreography. Much of the movement is quasi-Latin, using and lampooning tangos and other traditional Latin forms. The father’s numbers are straight theater, bordering on vaudeville hat-and-cane. Your choreographer should have some brief familiarity with ballet, as well, for the romantic number “Soon It’s Gonna’ Rain,” which should feel just a touch over-romantic, overly hopeful, perhaps overly choreographed. Many of the other numbers might be better handled by the director as they require little dance, and more of a sense of simple movement. This would be particularly true of the famous opening number, “Try To Remember.” For this number, the simpler the better, stay away from “dance”.

Numbers that may require a close collaboration between the Director and Choreographer would include “Soon It’s Gonna’ Rain”, “The Rape Ballet”, “Depends On What You Pay”, “This Plum Is Too Ripe”, “Beyond That Road”, and :”Round And Round”. A Director/Choreographer with expertise in both areas will love what this show has to offer. Most of the dance can be kept very simple, and the actors generally do not need to be trained dancers. They just need to move well.

CASTING CONCERNS:
The Fantasticks is an incredible showcase for very strong singing actors. The language ranges from common to poetic, and flips from one to the other in a heartbeat. The emotional ranges required, particularly by Matt and Luisa, also are broad and fluid. Matt and Luisa must be strong comic actors, able to make fun of their characters shallow first-act love affair while at the same time sincerely communicating their belief in their own character’s sincerity, a fine line to walk. They must also be able to deliver deeply felt pain and hard-won wisdom in rediscovering each other at the end of Act Two. So Matt and Luisa are not only the hardest vocal roles to cast, but the most difficult acting roles as well.

El Gallo MUST be cast well. There must be something oily, sleezy, disreputable about him, and yet we must love him. We must be willing to allow him to tell us the story. We must find him amusing, even funny. And we must believe it when Luisa falls in love with him at a moment’s notice, something both he and she need to make real. So he should be attractive on some level, and charismatic. He will need a strong, clear voice, as he is our narrator. He must be understood easily. He must have a strong poetic faculty, as much of what he says is poetry. And he must be able to be truly funny when he sells the fathers on the abduction. Personally, I believe he should appear to be just past his prime, which I’ll discuss below. I believe it will make him more sympathetic, and help the audience want to stay with him when he hurts the young lovers that they’re rooting for.

The Fathers should be as different from each other as possible, a real “Mutt and Jeff,” or Laurel and Hardy. I’ve seen productions where the two men were rather similar, and I thought it created problems remembering who was who. Casting them in the same mold also eliminates some of the comedy you could pull from their scenes. The thing that unites these men is their experience with their children, and with gardening. It would be a healthy and comic touch to have them otherwise be unique, and even easily seen to be at odds. They must sing fairly well, move fairly well. They should not be kids dressed as dads unless there’s no other way to do it (as in a college production), and if they are kids, do a great job disguising that fact.

The two actors are strictly comic roles. They need to be strong comic actors, the stronger the better. They should also move well, and if they sing a little, fine. It’s fine to cast the Old Actor with a younger actor, and make him up outrageously. (By the way, I see no reason these roles could not be cast with women.) The older he appears, the better. As the Mortimer the Man Who Dies, you’ll need a comic actor who is creative and facile with physical comedy. The Mute does not sing or dance. The role could be cast male or female. The Mute must move smoothly, effortlessly, and express some emotion without sound.

SETS:
There’s only one, there are no set changes, and to do more than is asked for in this case is to damage the show. Simplicity is key to the show’s success, as is the idea that the audience is going to participate by “imagineering” the locations called for. The sets is anything but realistic or literal.

The Fantasticks is essentially presented on a bare stage with a platform, usually center (though it certainly does not need to be). The platform has poles places at the corners usually, upon which various objects can be hung such as a cardboard moon, or a banner with the show’s title written on it. Though a wall is often spoke of, no wall should ever be built, not for any reason. The Mute will “play” the wall, usually holding a stick of some sort to represent this “unpassable” barrier that everyone ignores. The much-spoke-of but unseen wall is a part of the charm and humor of the show.

The set for this show will be the simplest and least expensive you’ll ever be asked to build. It is intended to act as a playground for the mind of the director and audience, and should remain as open and roomy as your stage allows for, while also emphasizing intimacy. If you’re building for a large stage, or in a larger theater, you’ll need to close the stage up and make it as small and as close to the audience as possible. Intimacy is everything to this show. So is imagination, and you may want to stud the sky above the stage with distant stars, and remove them for Act Two, or something of the sort. But this show works best when the audience does that sort of thing for themselves, in their imagination.

COSTUMES:
This is one of those shows where every rag and old, torn up costume might be of use. You’re going to need a few particulars, such as a cape for El Gallo (though it can be and has been done without), a cheap locket for Luisa, and the like. Character by character:

El Gallo is usually dressed dark, in dark slacks, sometimes a black shirt (sometimes brighter), etc. He is often given a cape, and it is black, usually used for Depends On What You Pay and the Rape (Abduction) Ballet. That said, if the backdrop is also dark, you don’t want El Gallo disappearing into it. It would be a good idea to accent his costume with some colorful flairs, psychologically indicating the hidden colors locked inside this man of mystery while allowing his to be visible in relief. He will not need a costume change. His clothes should fit well, and he will be dancing in them a lot. He has a lot of singing to do as well, so make sure he can breathe.

Luisa has read too many romantic books, and her dress should reflect this. It should be feminine, frilly, lacy, maybe even poufy. She does need to do A LOT of singing, and some movement, so make sure her breathing is unimpeded. Try not to change her costume for Act II, as the characters are supposed to start Act II where they leave off in Act I.

Matt is a professional student. Nerd costuming and glasses are not out of place, but they should not hide the fact that he is reasonably attractive. Remember, he lives at home with his father. Again, he must sing A LOT, and move well, so costume accordingly.

The Fathers are usually portrayed in white shirts, and variously checkered or overly-designed jackets and pants, often with suspenders. You do not need to go that route, but you can. They are broad musical comedy character roles, and their costuming should reflect that fact. They also spend a lot of time in their gardens, and their clothes might well reflect that as well. Giving each of them a hat, and something to use as a cane, such as a rake, would be wise. They are old-fashioned. They are long-term widowers who have lost the feminine touch long ago. You will need to find ways to make them different from each other in their clothes, colors, hats, in everything. If one of them is played more “curmudgeonly” or “miserly” than the other, perhaps his clothes can appear cheaper, less colorful, even more threadbare. Work with the director on this.

The Old Actor (Henry Albertson) should be dressed in cast-offs from a dozen shows. His clothing is all make-up stained, perhaps. His whole life is the stage, and his clothes are all remnants of shows that he has done. He can be dressed, accordingly, with some real color (rarely done, for some reason), as an accent to the look of the production. But his clothes must be distressed, not up to par. Like Henry himself, his clothes have long ago seen far better days. He insists we try to see them “under light”, so he knows they are not what they were.

Mortimer, The Man Who Dies, is also an actor, though a younger man. His costume during the abduction is that of an Indian, and is cheap and pretty badly done. He is perhaps the only actor you might give a costume change. You might start him out dressed as a hopeful actor in common, inexpensive clothes, and then change him into a ridiculous Indian costume later. That might be good for a laugh, as well.

The Mute, like most mimes, is generally dressed in black. No white face required, here. I’d avoid spandex and the like, and just get a well-fitted black pair of pants and shirt.

PROPS:
The show calls for several inexpensive props. Most important would include Luisa’s cheap but frilly locket; The Mute’s “wall” or stick (or cane); “swords” for all the combatants in the Abduction Ballet, usually played by canes or sticks; A GREAT mask for Luisa in “Round And Round” that looks bright, overly-aggresive in it’s party attitude, spangly, sparkly, tawdry; the “Moon”, a cardboard circle with a crescent moon painted on it, and a sun on the other side. (You can get fancy and use glitter…) It should not be very large, and must be able to be hung on one of the poles on the platform. The most important prop is The Fantasticks banner, which must spread across the front of the platform and be hung QUICKLY AND EASILY by the Mute at the end of Act One. It only has the title of the show on it, in the script made famous by the show, written very large.

You’ll need to build the mask, though it’s possible you could adapt something inexpensive from a party shop or the like. You’ll have to build the banner and the moon. All in all, very light demands.

LIGHTING:
Very important! There are almost no sets, no costume changes, nothing to look at! The lighting has to be creative, theatrical, fluid and moody. It has to be able to isolate individual characters and small areas on the (hopefully small) stage, to light important actions and to imply emotion. You will also need to be able to brightly wash the stage for larger numbers like “Depends On What You Pay”, and “Round And Round”. “Round And Round” needs two distinct looks in the lighting. One is when Matt is being beaten, bloody, red, realistic, harsh. The other is when Luisa wears her mask and sees everything as a fantasy, and the same image we just saw becomes “beautiful.” I think it wise to think in terms of some effects in the lighting of The Fantasticks. Back lit silhouettes will be useful. 1-2 follow spots would be very, very useful, especially for numbers like “I Can See It” where the actors often move into the audience and up the aisle, though you can light that a number of ways.

There are going to be a lot of cues for this show, so a programmable board would be a good thing. Nuance in the lighting of each scene in order to emphasize the all-important emotion and intimacy of the show will be critical, and call for many changes and cues. Even in a small theater, you’re going to need a fair number of instruments unless you go the smart light route, and given the intimacy of small theaters, the noise made by smart lights as they shift might be a very dire distraction.

The Fantasticks in a presentational rather than representational show. It makes no attempt at realism. In fact, it works best when the audience is reminded that is is a show. With this in mind, you may wish to go a bit toward Brecht in the lighting, and lower the batons so the audience can see the instruments. Nothing reminds an audience faster that they are in a theater than visible instruments. You should discuss this one with your director, as it will create a huge effect on the show.

MAKE-UP:
The only special need here will probably be for the Old Actor, Henry. He needs to look really old and somewhat decrepit. Often done with a bald pate with fringes of wispy hair of the edges, and heavy wrinkles, etc. But it’s perfectly alright to make him THEATRICALLY old, to have your make-up job be somewhat transparently a make-up job. Maybe he’s not what we think? He is, after all, a professional liar…er, actor. His partner, Mortimer, might also wear a bit too much theatrical make-up. Let the audience know that they are actors playing actors.

El Gallo should appear mature, and can have whatever natural wrinkles he brings with him. Luisa should be a bit over made-up, romanticized (by her), and maybe wear too much powder. Matt and the dads should appear to be natural. The Mute is a creative call and should be make with the director. I’d avoid the mime thing and white face. Natural would work better than that. But this character is a bit supernatural, and some fantasy make-up might be an interesting and creative choice that would provide the window dressing a bit more panache.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):
El Gallo, Matt, Luisa, Director, Choreographer, Pianist, Lighting.

MY THOUGHTS:
I will state it here and for the record, this is probably my favorite musical. It gives me more pleasure as a director, a performer, and even as an audience, than any other musical (except the ones I author myself…). That’s a little bit like choosing which of your children is your favorite, and there are many musicals I love. But The Fantasticks is special for me. It is a very unusual combination of things, a memory show that is immediate; a gentle show with broad and theatrical humor and characters. I think it’s a minor miracle. And here, the gushing ends.

The show makes a virtue out of being a show. It is presentational in as opposed to representational, theater rather than realism. It continuously reminds the audience that they are in a theater, and that is a strength in the case of this particular show. (It would sink many other shows.) Many directors work to create a natural or realistic feel in their work. That won’t work for this show. You’re going to need a director who thinks in terms of symbols, language, poetry, broad characterization colored with details, lighting effects and moods, and who has a very well developed comic sensibility.

You’re going to want to keep the show generally moving quickly. There are moments you can rest on, but not many. The show makes a virtue of being an illusion, and illusions don’t bare up to a lo0t of scrutiny. A brisk pace will help the show work, excepting moments like “They Were You”, or the moment when Luisa realizes that El Gallo has stolen her locket and is never returning. But these moments are earned emotionally, and are late in the evening.

You’ll want to play some broad physical humor. The death of Mortimer is an obvious example, as is El Gallo’s “death” at the end of the abduction. But I would not back away from “gags.” When The Old Actor goes into his prop box to locate a doublet to show El Gallo, he could first pull out anything from a program to this production of the show, to a rubber chicken, to an unexplained pair of panty hose. This is not realism! And getting your audience to really laugh many times will certainly help guarantee the success of the show. Just don’t forget that as we laugh at the lovers and their pretensions, the fathers and their plan for their children, the old actor and their presentation for a job…they all take themselves very seriously.

You’re also going to need to walk a fine line between romance and emotion, and over-sentimentality. If the show turns mushy, it won’t work. The Act One romance must be thoroughly punctured by the immaturity and downright stupidity of the lovers. Their view of life and love was generated in romance novels and epic poetry, and has no relation whatsoever to the real world. The audience should be laughing when they sing “Metaphor”, not sighing. And the audience should suspect that when the real world enters into these children’s lives, they’re going to get truly surprised and perhaps brutally damaged. And that is what happens in Act Two. The director must set us up for Act Two by avoiding much true romance in Act One. Perhaps the one momentary exception is “Soon It’s Gonna’ Rain,” when the two young lovers are alone for the first time, outside in the cold. But I think the song demonstrates an inability to deal directly with what is happening to the kids. They use allusions and imagery from the too many books they’ve read, and paint a flowery and unreal version of what their lives to be will be. It might feel romantic to them and even to the audience, but the audience, gifted with a superior understanding of life than these two kids, knows that what they hope for is not possible, and that the song paints a future that is not possible. I believe this sensibility must run through Act One for the play to work.

Some casting thoughts – El Gallo is usually played by a man “in his prime”, an attractive and charismatic man. I think the show would potentially be more interesting with an older man, one just slightly gone to seed. We will know that he has seen the world, been punished by the world and by time. We might even see a scar or two. I think this will deepen the power of the message, the lyric that ends the show; “Without a hurt, the heart is hollow.” It will also develop a greater contrast between El Gallo and the other “attractive” male in the show, the juvenile, Matt. I believe the authors themselves saw the need for this in spite of how the show is generally cast, and created a greater and inescapable age gap in their later and not-dissimilar show, Celebration, where the older man IS winter and younger IS summer. (I like that show, too, and think it’s underrated-though the ending needs help.) In developing that contrast, the more student-like Matt is, the better. He is inexperienced in the world, where El Gallo is experienced,

Directorially, you should not hesitate to break the fourth wall with this show. So much of it is “narrated,” I don’t see how it can be avoided, so it needs to become a virtue. I’d perform some of the piece in the audience’s lap, or at least the aisles, if possible. I would not hide the lighting, I’d show it off as a way of emphasizing that this is theater. The acting styles employed should certainly be larger than life in as opposed to life-like or natural. The “method” approach to acting will doom The Fantasticks. It’s musical comedy to its bones. If you’re unsure about this, try to make The Mute a “real” person, and good luck to you.

By the way, it’s a good idea to develop some sort of relationship between El Gallo and The Mute. The Mute could be seen as “natural force” or “the world”. After all, he/she represents the wall that motivates all Act One action. El Gallo could be experience, wisdom, perhaps even the voice of deity or God. Or he could be just a man with a life behind him, looking for a final game to play. But somehow, when El Gallo motions, the Mute hangs a moon in “the sky,” and the characters believe it’s a moon. These two work together, and have a defined relationship which the actors and director should work to achieve. In many productions I’ve seen, the Mute is treated as a movable prop. This is the least you can get from the character. The Mute is up there on the stage. Interacting with at least El Gallo, and perhaps some of the other characters, would be a way to get more. The development of the Mute and his/her relation to El Gallo and the others is a potentially fruitful creative area for the director to work in.

Another thing a lot of productions of The Fantasticks does not explore is the fact that the fathers ARE FATHERS. Matt and Luisa are their children. Each parent should have a real rapport with their child, who they have apparently raised without the aid of a wife. No matter how grouchy the dads are, no matter how they APPEAR to love their predictable gardens more than their children, it works best when the family element is developed and, I believe, emphasized. This will allow parents (and kids) in the audience to better relate to the characters and the story.

This is a piece all about relationships and what they mean to us as the years go by. The fathers are friends, then they’re enemies, and finally, friends again. And no one is easier to hate than a person who was a friend, and who in some way betrayed or disappointed. The fathers sing two duets in the show, and at those moments, they are united. Those are their best moments as friends, and that should be emphasized in the choreography and acting choices made.

The final of four pairs you need to develop are the two actors. They have trudged a long, dirty, exhausting and often fruitless road together. They are hungry, and perhaps desperate, when they appear before El Gallo looking for work. This point is almost always missed in productions I’ve seen, who treat them merely as clowns. But the best clowns have identifiable human traits. Hunger, desperation, over-eagerness can lead to great comedy, and even identification and empathy from the audience. This is worth exploring for the two itinerant actors, to give them more than just a series of gags to play.

The set should appear makeshift, hastily thrown up. (However, in reality, it should be stable!) We’re doing a show tonight, much as Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland sang about as teenagers in a string of goofy movies. However, don’t be fooled by the physical vision of the show. It needs to be rehearsed and figured out like any show, to within a breath of its life! This is a small (in size) and intimate show. It is showy and theatrical enough, certainly. But you won’t be able to hide shortcomings in your production behind big numbers or beautiful sets or costumes. The acting, the execution of music, the technical values such as lighting, must be EXCEPTIONAL. Get it right, and you will rarely have more fun doing a show in your life.