'The Fantasticks' at 50

'The Fantasticks' at 50
Photo: thefantasticks.com
Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Shirley Griffith.

STEVE EMBER: And I'm Steve Ember. This week on our program, we tell about a musical play that is fifty years old this month.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: "The Fantasticks" first opened on May third, nineteen sixty. It was performed more than seventeen thousand times at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York City. It is still the longest-running musical play in the world. The show ended January thirteenth, two thousand two after forty-two years. It closed because operating costs increased. At the same time, ticket sales decreased.

STEVE EMBER: "The Fantasticks" is about young love, children leaving home and what it is like to be a father. Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt wrote "The Fantasticks" in nineteen fifty-nine. They wrote it for a summer production at Barnard College in New York. Nine months later, the show opened at the Sullivan Street Playhouse. "The Fantasticks" continued to play there. The children and grandchildren of those who first saw the play returned to see it.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: One reason for the continuing popularity of "The Fantasticks" was that it was different from large musicals playing in Broadway theaters. The Sullivan Street Playhouse is very small. It has only one hundred fifty seats. The people who saw the show were very close to the actors.

"The Fantasticks" has only eight actors. There are only two musicians. The actors' clothes and the settings on the stage are very simple.

STEVE EMBER: "The Fantasticks" is one of the most widely produced musicals in the world. It has been produced in all fifty American states as well as in sixty-seven countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. In two thousand six, a revival of "The Fantasticks" opened in the Snapple Theater Center near Times Square in New York. The theater where it is playing was renamed the Jerry Orbach Theater after the actor who starred in the original production.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Now we present some music from the first New York production of "The Fantasticks."? Jerry Orbach plays the Narrator. He helps tell the story. Mister Orbach also plays El Gallo, a handsome robber. The Narrator sings the play's most famous song, "Try to Remember."


STEVE EMBER: The Narrator presents the main people in the play. They are a boy named Matt, a girl named Luisa, and their two fathers. Luisa is sixteen years old. She dreams of having more interesting experiences in her life. Rita Gardner plays Luisa. She sings "Much More."


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: A wall separates the homes of Matt and Luisa. Their fathers built the wall to keep the young people apart. The fathers really want Matt and Luisa to fall in love. But, they feel that the best way to make this happen is to act as if they disapprove of any relationship between their two children. The fathers believe children will only do what their parents do not want them to do. The fathers, played by William Larsen and Hugh Thomas, sing about this in "Never Say No."


STEVE EMBER: The fathers decide on a plot to bring Matt and Luisa together. They ask El Gallo to try to kidnap Luisa. Matt fights El Gallo and saves Luisa. He becomes a hero. The young people and their fathers are united. Everyone is happy.

But in the second part of "The Fantasticks," Matt and Luisa discover that their fathers have tricked them. The young lovers argue. Matt decides to leave Luisa. He wants to travel to other parts of the world. He seeks new experiences. Kenneth Nelson is Matt. He sings "I Can See It."


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The fathers are unhappy that their plot to bring the children together has failed. They discuss the problems of having children. They decide it is easier to grow vegetables than to raise children.


STEVE EMBER: Luisa also wants to visit different places. The handsome robber, El Gallo, offers to take her with him to see the world.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Luisa prepares to go away with El Gallo, but he leaves without her. Matt returns from his travels. He has seen and experienced many unpleasant things. Both Luisa and Matt have been hurt emotionally by their experiences. Yet they also have grown up.

Matt and Luisa rediscover their love for each other.? They sing their song of love, "They Were You."


STEVE EMBER: Our program was written by Shelley Gollust and Jerilyn Watson. Caty Weaver was our producer. I'm Steve Ember.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: And I'm Shirley Griffith. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs are at 51voa.com. You can also post comments on our Web site and on our Facebook page at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.