Ever since The Fantasticks debuted off-Broadway in 1960, it's been that sort of musical that is always being performed somewhere. This summer, that somewhere is just south of Bloomfield, at the Shawnee Theatre. The production is directed by their new artistic director, Brandon Bruce.
Love At First Fight
"I first encountered The Fantasticks in a high school production, when I was sixteen. I played the mysterious El Gallo. It poked fun at grownups. There was a crazy story with adventure and romance… and there was sword fighting."
Bruce says that the experience was crucial. "Really everything I've done in theater was shaped by The Fantasticks. It's such a truly theatrical piece. You can't make a movie of it. It doesn't work on television. Stripped to the barest of resources, it has the essentials. The characters echo vaudeville and old time romance. The story has that sort of illogical but emotionally solid feel. And as the authors say, there's a lesson that education can involve some pain. "
Good In High School, But Better With Grownups!
Bruce still has warm feelings for the sort of high school productions where he first met The Fantasticks¸ but he's pleased now to have the resources of a professional theater for the production. "We do have the advantage of a variety of ages and types to fully fill out the cast. And that's a real plus," he says.
As we talked further, Bruce couldn't avoid coming back to his personal feelings about the show. "I've directed almost forty plays and I've done over a hundred plays, but everything I've done has been informed by The Fantasticks. There is no show that I feel closer to and I'm really happy to have the chance to share it with the Shawnee audience."