In 2008, six years after the closing of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s Off-Broadway production of The Fantasticks, the beloved musical returned to New York City. Forty-two years, it seems, was not a long enough run after all for this record breaker, and furthermore, no one appeared unhappy with the decision.
When in the early 1960s the musical first came to fruition, the beat generation saw itself in the play’s tension of opposites–the ideology of the young versus the ideology of the over-30s–and the dissonance caused by the current political unrest of that time. The play reached out to the generational needs of the ’60s and continued even beyond. But today in 2012 we are undergoing a different kind of turbulance and much has changed since The Fantasticks was written. So why has this musical endured? Why can’t we get enough of its lines and lyrics? What is our connection? Why are we so in love with this play?
A Familiar Plot
The answer may lie in the underlying archetypal plot of the script. Act I opens in the sweet innocence of moonlight; Act II opens in the harsh reality of day. The boy Matt and the girl Luisa thrive on their illusions in the first act but encounter a painful awakening in the second. El Gallo, “the rooster” and professional abductor hired by Hucklebee, ushers in the light of day, literally but also symbolically. He has come to lead Matt and Luisa on separate journeys in which they will leave their innocence behind and become initiates into the world of experience.
Matt’s and Luisa’s fathers construct a make believe feud and build a wall between their houses in order to encourage their children to fall in love, relying on the old temptation of the forbidden to do the job. It works, and when the two lovers meet in secret, in moonlight of course, they pledge their love to each other. To create the illusion of settling the feud, Matt’s father Hucklebee engages El Gallo to stage the abduction of Luisa, allowing his son Matt to rescue her heroically and end the ruse. Luisa’s father Bellomy agrees, but a happy ending in moonlight cannot be real.
“Their moon was cardboard,” El Gallo tells us. In the daylight, life takes on a less subtle tone and reality casts a harsh glare. All four sing, “What at night seems oh, so scenic may be cynic much too soon.” Suddenly dissatisfied, the boy and girl part ways to find a solution to their restlessness. Matt ventures off to drink and gamble and find a shining world full of adventure while Luisa longs to be kissed upon the eyes by El Gallo who will take her on a journey to see the world, dancing forever and forever. To do so, she must put up a mask to prevent her from seeing the truth. When Luisa refuses to accept this world as only an illusion, the trickery of smoke and …