The Fantasticks: Synopsis, Music & Songs

Instructor: Maura Valentino

Maura has taught college information literacy and has a master's degree in library and information science.

In this lesson we will learn about the Off-Broadway hit, The Fantasticks, and discover why this charming musical has entertained audiences for over 50 years.

The Fantasticks: The World's Longest Running Musical

The date is May 3, 1960, and at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York City, an excited crowd take their seats for the opening night of a new, Off-Broadway musical. They will be the first audience to enjoy the musical's charming, boy-meets-girl story, but they won't be the last. The Fantasticks will continue to delight audiences for the next 50 years, and in the process become the world's longest running musical.

Synopsis: Act One

Created by Harvey Schmidt (music) and Tom Jones (words and lyrics), The Fantasticks tells the story of two young lovers and their meddling fathers. The musical is loosely based on the French play The Romancers by Edmond Rostand. The play is performed with limited props, costumes, and sets, and the audience is encouraged to use their imaginations to help bring the show to life.

The musical opens with its most famous song, 'Try to Remember'. Sung by the narrator, El Gallo, the song asks the audience to remember the happy and innocent days of their youth. El Gallo then introduces the audience to the story of Matt and Luisa. Although Matt and Luisa are neighbors and have fallen in love, their feuding fathers have built a wall (played by a mute carrying a stick) to keep them apart.

Luisa and Matt (in white) separated by the Wall
The Fantasticks

Luisa sings of all the exciting and interesting things she wants to do with her life in 'Much More'. Then Matt joins Luisa and sings of the depth of his love for her in 'Metaphor'. The two meet at the top of the wall and vow they will be together, but they are interrupted by Matt's father Mr. Hucklebee. Matt and his father argue, and Matt insists he will marry the girl of his own choosing in 'I'll Marry'.

Once the children have gone inside, Mr. Hucklebee and Luisa's father, Mr. Bellomy, reveal they have only been pretending to feud! In fact, they want their children to fall in love. However, as they note in the song 'Never Say No', children always do what their parents tell them not to do. Now that Matt and Luisa have fallen in love, their fathers must find a way to end their feud without revealing their deception. To achieve this end, they decide to have Luisa kidnapped so that Matt can become a hero by rescuing her.

The fathers engage El Gallo to do the kidnapping, which El Gallo refers to as a rape in the song 'It Depends On What You Pay'. The use of the word rape proved controversial, and some productions change the word to abduction, kidnapping, or charade. One night, with the help of two out of work actors named Mortimer and Henry, El Gallo and the men disguise themselves as bandits and attempt to kidnap Luisa. Matt foils the kidnappers and rescues Luisa as planned. Matt and Luisa are joined by their fathers, and they all sing 'Happy Ending' before they freeze in a happy pose. However, El Gallo, resuming the role of the narrator, wonders if their happiness, like the happy pose, will last.

Synopsis: Act Two

The act begins with the cast visibly straining to retain their happy pose. In the harsh light of day, they begin to notice each other's flaws which they sing about in 'The Plum Is Too Ripe'. As they grow more and more disenchanted in the sunlight, Matt's father reveals that he and Bellomy staged the abduction. Upset by this news, and in an attempt to remain a hero in Luisa's eyes, Matt challenges El Gallo to a duel. However, El Gallo easily defeats him. A humiliated Matt, and a disappointed Luisa fight, and Matt decides to leave town. Before he leaves, Matt sings of the world he dreams of finding in 'I Can See It', but El Gallo warns him that the truth might be more unpleasant than he imagines.

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