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Theatre Review: "The Fantasticks" Shows Its Age

Joy Strotz / Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival

Joy Strotz / Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival

“The Fantasticks” is famous for longevity. Dwight D. Eisenhower was President when the show opened Off-Broadway in 1960. It ran for some 42 years – a theatrical record. The show is likewise famous for its moody, reflective opening song, “Try to Remember.”

Listen to the audio

It is a lovely opening number, covered by Andy Williams, Perry Como, and other crooners who favored a soothing style rooted in the 1950s.

But alas, once you get past that classic song, the rest of the score is pretty routine. And the story deals in clichés. We meet a 19-year-old boy -- a preppy college student who is ready to embark on a humdrum career.

"I’m nearly 20 years old. I’ve had an education. I’m grown up, stable, willing to conform…” the boy declares.
“Willing to conform” is not a lyric you’d find in a love song. But for our preppy college boy, falling head-over-heels in love is an act of rebellion… and he falls, quite literally, for the girl next door. It’s goofy, puppy love.

Girl: I have had a vision…
Boy: Of disaster?!
Girl: No, of azaleas! I dreamed I was picking azaleas… when all at once this Duke, oh, he was very old, I’d say nearly 40… But attractive. And very evil!
Boy: I hate him!

The girl dreams of meeting an older Latin lover, who will abduct her. The preppy college boy becomes the knight in shining armor riding to her rescue. The plot gets more complicated, but overall, it’s pretty thin.

Another thing – a show like “The Fantasticks” fares best in a cozy cabaret setting. Lake Tahoe Shakespeare has a 1,100 seat outdoor amphitheater.

Fortunately, the singing and acting in this show are strong – particularly during the first half. But this is a show in which the men do most of talking and make almost all of the decisions – the only female with a voice is the ditzy teenage girl. This is an odd recipe for a musical addressing life and love. You could say that this a well-mounted production of a musical revue that charmed audiences half a century ago. But given the way it has dated with the passage of years, “The Fantasticks” might better be put out to pasture now.

The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival production of “The Fantasticks” continues through August 23. 

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