Off-Broadway’s longest running musical will be closing on May 3rd. The Fantasticks has been running for 55 years. 55 YEARS. The Fantasticks is old enough to have fathered Les Miserables (longest running musical in the world) AND The Phantom of the Opera (longest running Broadway musical). The main response seems to be, “Aw, how sad!” I am legitimately upset by the loss of this historic show. In its prime real estate across the street from Wicked at the Jerry Orbach Theater, The Fantasticks has welcomed and cheered audiences with some pretty big names.
If you’re not familiar with The Fantasticks, it is the story of two men who are neighbors and decide they want their children to fall in love. What’s the best way to do this? Obviously to forbid these teenagers from seeing each other. Things get really ridiculous when the two neighbors hire someone to stage the daughter’s kidnapping so the son can rescue her and they can finally live happily ever after. *Note: if you’ve never seen the show, DO NOT watch the Joel Grey movie. IT IS NOT THE SAME. (I’m not just being picky. It’s truly terrible.)
One of the most interesting tidbits about this show is that the original song about the kidnapping scene, “It Depends on What You Pay,” had a whole bunch of lines about the right kind of rape. Not actual rape, mind you, but an antequated definition of the word. Those lines, in modern productions, have been changed to abduction.
One of the major reasons I’m saddened by the loss of this musical is how much it reminds me of Jerry Orbach. El Gallo, the abductor and narrator, was his first major role. Orbach, who I first experienced as a cartoon French candelabra, I have always loved. He was so charming and had an amazing, rich voice. If I was Baby, he could put me in the corner any day. I sadly couldn’t find any videos of him when he first played El Gallo, but listening to the original soundtrack is definitely an experience. “Try to Remember” is such a beautiful song to start with, but Orbach’s voice gives it a bittersweet tinge I’ve never heard replicated.
This show is so timeless. There are plenty of themes worth thinking about, but you don’t leave the theater feeling heavy. You leave with an ear to ear grin. The Fantasticks requires a few actors, a sheet, and a handful of props. I have a feeling this show will be back, but it’s still sad to see it go. The Fantasticks has had a mindblowingly huge impact.
Deep in December, we’ll remember.