by Frances Edstrom
The Great River Shakespeare Festival has secured the rights to “The Fantasticks,” a musical comedy first staged in New York in 1960. The play is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and as far as I know, this will be the first Minnesota production in this important anniversary year.
I first saw The Fantasticks in Massachusetts, and it was an amateur production. In fact, of all the times I’ve seen it over the years, I’ve only seen one professional production, and am really excited to see another, GRSF’s production in the summer of 2011.
The Fantasticks is written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, the duo who also wrote I Do! I Do! and 110 in the Shade. It is loosely based on Les Romanesques by Edmond Rostand, which is loosely based on Romeo and Juliet and Pyramus and Thysbe.
But, being a musical comedy, the play is funny, really funny. I saw Winona Community Theater do it many years ago, with Jacques Reidelberger as Mortimer in one of the greatest fake death scenes ever. Besides being at times sidesplittingly funny, the play is very tender and romantic. Some of its best-known songs have been recorded by Barbra Streisand — I Can See It, Much More, Soon It’s Gonna Rain.
The play, which ran in NYC for 17,162 productions from 1960 to 2002, is written for a spare stage set, which lends itself beautifully to the GRSF trademark staging. It is chock full of songs, which GRSF always incorporates into its productions, even though Shakespeare didn’t exactly write musical comedies.
Its story is one of young love that fades and then is rediscovered in a more mature way. It being musical comedy, the young lovers don’t die, as they do in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and everything ends with happily ever after.
This will be the second season that GRSF has added a musical. Last summer’s musical was The Daly News, written by GRSF company member Jon Daly. The Fantasticks at GRSF is a great opportunity for those of us who love GRSF to see the actors in a more contemporary genre, and a perfect way for musical comedy lovers to see a professional company do one of the United States’ best-loved and longest-running musicals right in their own backyard.
Ticket prices to GRSF productions in 2010 ran from $10 on $10 Tuesdays to a tops of $37. You can enjoy Shakespeare here in the Winona area for those prices, or you could fly to New York City, where many of our GRSF actors perform, and where the Fantasticks is playing at the Snapple Theatre Center on West 50th Street, and where ticket prices start at $99.45.
Makes the Great River Shakespeare Festival sound like a very easy decision to make!