This month Center Stage at Southampton Cultural Center reprises the very first musical that the theater company presented when it was founded in 2008, The Fantasticks.
With music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones, The Fantasticks is the longest-running musical in the world. It was staged off-Broadway continuously from 1960 to 2002, and was revived just four years later at the Jerry Orbach Theater, which is named for the late Law & Order actor and original Fantasticks cast member.
The story centers on two young people, next door neighbors, who fall in love. Their feuding fathers forbid them from speaking to each other—but the feud is not as it seems and a faux-kidnapping plot is hatched.
“It sets up the whole love story and plays out the happily ever after—and then proceeds to dissect it and destroy it and reweave it back to the possibility of the happily ever after being reinstated,” explains director Michael Disher. He says the story is more complicated than the typical musical theater design of “Boy wants girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back.”
The Fantasticks is an amalgam of many familiar stories, and many styles.
The musical takes pieces of Renaissance theater, Shakespearean theater, commedia dell’arte, vaudeville and burlesque, Disher says. It was originally created as a small-scale, small budget show and has a coffeeshop feel.
“If you were watching it back in 1960 you would probably think it was born from an awful lot of influence from the Beat Generation,” he says.
It is loosely based on the play Les Romanesques by Edmond Rostand, and the story also evokes Pyramus and Thisbe, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Center Stage veteran Adam Fronc (A Chorus Line, Into the Woods) and newcomer Ella Watts play the romantic leads, Matt and Luisa. While The Fantasticks is Watts’ Southampton debut, the 15-year-old actress is no stranger to theater. She has worked with North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck a number of times and in 2013 played Louisa von Trapp in NBC’s The Sound of Music Live!
“She sings like a lark,” Disher says of Watts. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a child performer who has the light from within. This little girl just glows, then ‘boom,’ it comes out through performance. She is beyond charming.”
Another standout is Frances Sherman as The Mute, a silent but vital character. “She doesn’t have a word in the show and she never leaves the stage,” Disher says, calling Sherman’s performance “terrific.” The Mute serves as the wall separating the two families and as a stage assistant, handing characters props among other duties.
The Fastasticks is a pretty show—visually stunning, Disher says, noting that the set is minimal, just scaffolding drops, actors and the magic they create.
Rounding out the cast are Daniel Becker as El Gallo, David Hoffman as Bellomy, Richard Adler as Hucklebee, Philip Reichert as Henry, Stephan Scheck as Mortimer, Dustin Schepps and Thomas Wheeler.
The Fantasticks will be staged through October 18 Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Southampton Cultural Center is located at 25 Pond Lane, Southampton. General admission is $25 and student admission is $12. For tickets, visit scc-arts.org or call 631-287-4377.