By George Basler
The musical The Fantasticks is a classic example of an underdog that became a champion. The show opened Off-Broadway in 1960 to mixed reviews and virtually no advance sale. A quick closing seemed certain.
But word of mouth saved the show. Audiences were entranced by the charming story of young love and the show’s inventive score. The musical became a juggernaut, running 42 years (17,162 performances) in its original run and another 4,390 performances in a New York revival. It’s still the longest running musical production worldwide.
“It’s a brilliant piece. Even though it premiered in 1960, it has a lot to say that’s valuable in the current world,” said John Rozzoni, general director of Tri-Cities Opera. The company will perform the musical Feb. 9-11 at its Opera Center, 315 Clinton St., Binghamton.
Th production features Tri-Cities Opera’s four resident artists, along with visiting performers, Rozzoni said. Tommy Iafrate, head of the musical theater program at Binghamton University, is directing.
“We thought it was a great show, and we knew it has a following. It has a lot of heart and is beloved. We also knew we had a great cast,” Rozzoni said,
The Fantasticks was created by Tom Jones, book and lyrics, and Harvey Schmidt, music. It tells an allegorical story, loosely based on Edmund Rostand’s 1894 play The Romancers (Les Romanesques) about two neighboring fathers who trick their children into falling in love by pretending to feud. Its classic songs include “Try to Remember,” “Much More” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain.”
In 2022, Jones (Schmidt has passed away) revised the show in collaboration with Michigan’s Flint Repertory Theatre. The revised version features two young gay men as the lovers instead of a young woman and a young man.
“Rethinking the show through the lens of two young gay men reveals so much about first love, identity,and self-discovery,” said Michael Lluberes, Flint’s producing artistic director, at the time of its opening.
Tri-Cities Opera is doing the revised version. Felix Aguilar-Tomlinson and James Siarris are playing the two young lovers. Janine Dworin and Kyrie Laybourn are playing the two feuding mothers (replacing the fathers of the original version).
While the gender changes required some adjustments, the essence of The Fantasticks remains the same, Rozzoni said. At its heart it’s still a love story with the themes of coming of age and self-discovery woven into the plot.
Aguilar-Tomlinson voiced similar feelings. “To me, the sentiment of the show stays the same. It’s about discovering young love and how parents can encourage and hinder that love,” he said.
At the same time, focusing on two gay men gives the plot a different resonance and contemporary feel, noted Peter Kendall Clark, a visiting artist who is playing the key role of El Gallo, the narrator.
Other performers in the cast are Jeffrey Mathews, Joshua Sedelmeyer and Vito Longo.
The Fantasticks’ music is beautiful, and its allegorical nature means the show can be interpreted in different ways, allowing people to relate to it in a very personal way, Rozzoni said. He believes that’s a big part of the show’s lasting appeal.
While it’s not an opera in the traditional sense, the musical was written for singers with classical training, Rozzoni noted. Staging it is in line with TCO’s mission of telling meaningful stories to diverse audiences.
IF YOU GO: Tri-Cities Opera will present The Fantasticks Feb. 9-11 at its Opera Center, 315 Clinton St., Binghamton. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday’s performance is at 3 p.m. Tickets at $40 for regular seats and $55 for premium seats can be ordered on the Tri-Cities website, www.tricitiesopera.com, or by calling the box office at 607-772-0400.