Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Fantasticks and Rotten Musicals

A couple weekends ago I dragged my friends to a local production of The Fantasticks.

I'd never seen it, which is most of why I wanted to go. I wouldn't claim to have seen every musical that's worked its way into community theatre level repertoire, but I've seen most of them. The Fantasticks is probably the most famous one that comes immediately to mind (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is now the frontrunner).

At this point, I want to say "It was fantastic," but that would be punny, and I wouldn't do that.

It was joyous. The first act was deft: a musical about the tropes of musicals in the way that How I Met Your Mother is a tv show about sitcoms. Maybe that wasn't the way it was written back in 1960, but that's the way it plays to me in 2013. The impossible happens; really it's expected and accepted, and we're going to sing about it. The actors mostly covered their fault with enthusiasm and clear diction, but the show really drew me in.

The second act was weaker. The love story concocted by two scheming fathers for their respective daughter and son falls apart. The pressure for life to be so wonderful that it's worth singing about is too much for everyone to bear, and the young couple in love realize they might not be as in love as they thought. In its structure, The Fantasticks anticipates Into the Woods, where the first act has all the sweetness and the second act has the moral.

But the moral of The Fantasticks (I think, that we have to appreciate what we have, even if sometimes what we have is imperfect) doesn't ring clearly enough. And I blame the ballet.

Long stretches of wordlessness in a musical is something that writers try to do sometimes. 42nd Street tried it. Oklahoma! tried it. Apparently The Fantastics tried too. It sucks.

Musical theatre is a funny thing- this amalgamation of singing, acting and dance. You can't let one thing overshadow the other, or else you get a rotten musical. Sometimes, the mix is right and it's a rotten musical anyway.

The second act of The Fantasticks didn't spoil the musical for me; the first act was just too good. But it left me wishing for a re-write, the way the shooting match at the end of Annie Get Your Gun got re-written as a tie in the revival.

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