Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Fantasticks


Harvey Schmidt and Tom “Not the Singer” Jones wrote a small musical based on a rather silly story by the great Edmund Rostand (Cyrano de Bergerac), with a touch of Romeo and Juliet and {A Midsummer Night’s Dream,}} among several other influences. It opened off-Broadway on May 3, 1960, with Jerry Orbach starring … and closed in 2002, after 17,162 performances. It is one of the most popular shows ever for small, local groups, and even though it has been playing somewhere pretty much every day for decades and is certainly playing at this moment in several places around the country, I have never seen it. So when I came across a DVD of the movie version, I decided to give it a try.

All I can say is, there must be musical magic somewhere in this play to have run for forty-two years, but this movie must have carefully identified every instance of it, and thoroughly eradicated it. Hollywood is notorious for doing that, but seldom have they succeeded so well.

I think some plays simply should not be filmed. Cats, which has been in development hell for thirty years, is probably one. If they ever make it (not the filmed-on-stage production, which I own) I will certainly go see it, but I won’t have high expectations. Some plays should embrace their staginess, should not be “opened up” for the broader, more flexible lens of the camera. (I saw an excellent version of Our Town, starring Paul Newman, and I would bet that at some point in the development, some studio exec said “First, let’s lose that Stage Manager character!”)

The idea is to stage it with almost no scenery, a small cast, and a piano and maybe a few other instruments. This bloated monstrosity is colorful, I’ll give it that, but has no other attractions. It is just possible that it might have been better if someone (Francis Ford Coppola, of all people!) had not trimmed it from 109 to 86 minutes, after it was shelved for five years, but I really doubt it.