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The Fantasticks

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The Writing of The Fantasticks

Noel Katz commentatorCommentary and writing tips by Noel Katz

First-time musical writers Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt created something truly special in The Fantasticks. Here is a show that embraces and celebrates the limitations of tiny, low-budget theatre. The cast is small. The stage is small. The accompaniment is just a harp and a piano. The set is a sheet. A mime holds up a stick to indicate a wall.

We're asked to use our imaginations; the first word of the musical is "Try" as a sexy narrator evokes a place in our memories, out of nothing. While most musical theatre writing requires a great deal of specificity, The Fantasticks plays on archetypes: the boy is Everyboy; the girl is Everygirl, and there's nothing to tell us where the play is set, except a garden grows there. It's as if the love story presented is Anystory, or all our stories.

The girl has an "I want" song, "Much More," that's a prototype of the genre. She tells us exactly what she desires in a soaring tune with poetic terms. Composer Schmidt marries contemporary cool jazz with vaguely classical-sounding themes in exciting ways; no other score sounds quite like it. The love duet, "Soon It's Gonna Rain," is extremely sensual, but not at all sexual. The only character with any sort of carnality is the narrator. Using a narrator is tricky; often they seem static, or too obviously the author's voice. This narrator insinuates himself into the action, becoming an important character, leading the heroine astray.

He also points out, in one of his many poetic phrases, that "their moon was cardboard," which, we all know, it is. It's a key line, as it reminds us that we've been co-conspirators involved in creating this charming and moving show: our imaginations are an essential part of the presentation.

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The Fantasticks (DVD) from Amazon.com 2000 Film version featuring Joel Grey, Barnard Hughes, Jean Louisa Kelly, and Joseph McIntyre. Special features include: Commentary by: director Michael Ritchie, Deleted songs: "Try to Remember," "Plant a Radish," "It Depends on What You Pay (The Rape Song)", Full-length songs: "Never Say No," "Metaphor," "The Abduction Song," "Soon It's Gonna Rain", Eleven deleted scenes plus an alternate ending, Jump to a Song" feature

Cast Recordings

Fantasticks Original Cast RecordingThe Fantasticks (Original 1960 Off-Off Broadway Cast) Featuring Jerry Orbach. Songs include: Overture, Try To Remember, Much More, Metaphor, Never Say No, It Depends On What You Pay, You Wonder How These Things Begin, Soon It's Gonna Rain, The Rape Ballet/Happy Ending, This Plum Is Too Ripe, I Can See It, Plant A Radish, Round And Round, There Is A Curious Paradox, They Were You, and Try To Remember (Reprise)

Sheet Music for The Fantasticks

Highlights from The Fantasticks from Sheetmusic.com Including: Plant a Radish, Never Say No, Soon It's Gonna Rain, They Were You, Much More, I Can See It, and Try to Remember.

The Fantasticks: Complete Vocal Score 5Oth Anniversary Edition

From the blurb: This special 50th anniversary edition of the complete vocal score was personally approved by lyricist Tom Jones and composer Harvey Schmidt. With these piano/vocal arrangements, you can now play "Try to Remember," "Soon It's Gonna Rain," and all the other beloved songs from this time-honored show. 

Additional Resources for The Fantasticks

An interview with writers Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt: Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt.

About the birth of the show, Tom Jones recalls"...We started working on this play based on something by [Edmond] Rostand. We couldn't get that to work...." He explains that a director offered to mount a version if it could be a 1-act musical.

Jones continues, "We threw out everything we had except a song called 'Try to Remember' and went back to the original play. We'd been trying to do this in the style of Rodgers and Hammerstein, which we didn't know how to do, and which this little innocent play couldn't sustain. We decided, "What the heck. It's never going to get put on anyway" so we did all the things we liked in the theater...."

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