Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Old New York: "The Fantasticks" Makes Long-Runs Look Short

The Old New York stage show The Fantasticks

By Mitch Broder

“The Fantasticks” seemed like a show you could count on seeing once a decade, so imagine my disappointment when it closed in its forty-second year.

A couple of the actors in the old New York production of the Fantastics
Cast photos courtesy of John Capo Public Relations. 
Sure, it outlasted losers like “The Sound of Music,” which opened in the same season yet closed forty-nine years ago. Then again, “The Fantasticks” didn’t have any Nazis. And indeed, it did come back. Though it closed in January of 2002, it reopened in August of 2006, and just like old times, it’s still running.

It has thus played for forty-seven years if you include the current run, and even if you don’t, its world record is foreseeably secure. This month, the longest-running Broadway show ever, “The Phantom of the Opera,” played its 10,000th performance. On its closing night, “The Fantasticks” played its 17,162nd performance.

“The Fantasticks” is Off-Broadway, but it’s still the longest-running musical in history. That alone, I decided, made it worth a fourth viewing. My third was on that closing night, when I had the distinction of getting out of F. Murray Abraham’s way so he could get to the stage to make a closing-night speech.

The original home for the old New York production of the Fantastics at the Sullivan Street Playhouse
Where the Playhouse was. 
The show’s original run was at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, in the West Village. The new run is at the Snapple Theater Center, or per the awning, the All Natural Snapple Theater Center. The center, though all natural, does not have the old-Greenwich Village charm. Then again, for Times Square, it’s as charming as it gets.

The show’s home, which is at the Center, is the Jerry Orbach Theater. Orbach was in the original cast. The lobby, fittingly, is a Museum of “The Fantasticks” and Jerry Orbach. It has posters from Broadway shows that starred Orbach, like “Chicago,” and from “Fantasticks” productions like one that starred Liza Minnelli in Connecticut.

The new home of the Old New York production of the Fantasticks is the Jerry Orbach Theater
The interior of the theater eerily resembles that of the Playhouse. I checked to make sure that I wasn’t blocking F. Murray Abraham. It has 199 seats, just over fifty more than before. It has the same tiny plank stage with the same white-sheet curtain. Maybe the exact same.

Everything is simple, for it is a show about simplicity, and the bonehead things everyone always does to complicate it. It’s a little love story, punctuated with tenacious burlesque humor and sprinkled with gentle, wistful songs that might be quaint but aren’t dated.

The set consists of six black poles, a bench, a chair, a box, and a trunk. The props consist of a watering can, shears, wooden sticks, and confetti. The cast consists of eight actors. The orchestra is a harp and a piano. The whole lot would fit in the chandelier at “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Characters from The Fantasticks perform in the stage production of the Old New York classic
The show opened with its tinkling overture, the fluttering rainbow confetti, and the actors introducing themselves to the audience. Luisa, aka The Girl, popped up to me and cheeped “Hello!” I cheeped hello back. Whenever I go to this show, I play a pivotal role.

My moment with The Girl would be the highlight, of course, but the show continued anyway, leading off with its most famous song, “Try to Remember.” The show proceeded as I remembered it, though maybe even more leisurely paced. A couple of those comedy scenes took enough time to do them twice.

But you don’t come to this theater to see falling chandeliers or dancing animals or flying spider-men or even flying nannies. You come to see a little show that opened on May 3, 1960, and hung on long enough to pay its investors a return of 20,000 percent.

The Fantasticks is narrated by this man
Most of the credit goes to the creators, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, for whom this was a follow-up to a college musical called “Hipsy-Boo!” Ever devoted to his masterwork, Jones directed the current production and for a long time played The Old Actor — which he had played in the original cast.

But a musical needs more than its music to be running — even with a break — since the top salary in the major leagues was $80,000. “The Fantasticks” takes you back to simpler times yet remains timeless. Unlike that salary, which, if you’re wondering, was the take-home for Willie Mays.

My fourth visit took me back, though not as far as my first three. But I blame that on the girl next to me who kept texting in her purse. She was a rude reminder of digital antisocial behavior.

She wouldn’t have got away with that at the original show.

Eisenhower wouldn’t have stood for it.

Posing in front of the Fantasticks curtain

Try to relax at “The Fantasticks,” at the Snapple Theater Center, 210 West 50th Street, at Broadway, in New York City.


  1. A nice piece about a nice long running institution! Perhaps one day you'll be able to say Vintage NY has run as long and you're surely on your way. Thanks Mitch!

  2. Boo hoo. I never saw it. The shame.

  3. Tinkling overture, confetti and a girl saying "hello." We've come a long way, baby...and I'd like to go back.

  4. My friend's dad was one of the original investors. Paid $625 for 2% of the show. You do the math.