Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s musical love letter
Enchantment accompanies the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s production of the world’s longest-running musical to the Arthur Miller Theatre on January 9-12. Performed in dozens of countries and languages since its Off-Broadway debut in 1960, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s low-budget, high-concept musical, The Fantasticks, tells the tale of friendly neighboring fathers who pose as adversaries to trick their offspring into falling in love.
2019 marked the 30th year of Director Jimmy Dee Arnold’s work with the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre. He sings the praises of his “dream production team”, three decades in the making, and the actors tasked with bringing the intimate cast of characters (including a dashing bandit named El Gallo who doubles as narrator) to life on stage. Arnold’s production will be The Theatre’s third incarnation of the Off-Broadway hit (it debuted in the 1973-74 Summer Season, and returned for the 1999-00 Season), infrequent enough to qualify as a generational event.
A musical love letter to the theatre
Jones and Schmidt looked to French playwright Edmond Rostand for inspiration. They folded elements from Rostand’s 1894 Les Romanesques (The Romancers) into the two-act structure of Italian Composer Gaetano Donizetti’s 1832 comic opera L’elisir of Love (The Elixer of Love) and bonded together with some classic Shakespearean romance (A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, specifically) to craft a striking, original work.
As narrated by mischievous rogue El Gallo (Brodie Brockie), The Fantasticks assures us that, while the road to Hell may be paved with good intentions, the suffering we endure on our journey only deepens our capacity for love. Mr. Hucklebee (Rob Roy) and Mr. Bellomy (Doug Burgoyne) are two small-town American fathers whose tight-knit families are separated only by a thin wall. Amanda Notrika (in a non-speaking role billed as “The Mute”) attempts to trick Mr. Hucklebee’s son Matt (Peter Dannug) and Mr. Bellomy’s daughter Luisa (Alexis Pratt) into falling in love. The fathers pretend to feud, going as far as hiring El Gallo to perform a staged kidnapping of Luisa, knowing that Matt will race to her rescue.
Arnold’s production flips tradition in the depiction of Luisa’s abduction. While Jones’ original lyrics dub the act “rape” (the melody in which Matt faces his love’s kidnappers titled “Rape Ballet”), the word penned by Jones, intended to be interpreted in the literary sense, fell out of fashion linguistically in the early-21st Century.
Schmidt and Jones recognized this, and in 1990 the duo authored the alternative “Abduction Ballet’ for theatre troupes wary of the weight carried by the word. Arnold voices concern that the term would be a distraction. It’s a minor change, but one that gives the work a strong second wind.
Saying his goodbyes, Arnold stealthily drops a bombshell as he ducks into the read-through: “Our version,” he promises, “does have one small twist, and it’s very Ann Arbor.” Find out what Arnold has in store as another generation of theater lovers discover why what sparkles in the moonlight, often loses its luster in the cold light of day.
January 9-12 | 7:30pm, Thursday
8pm, Friday-Saturday | 2pm, Sunday
$28, adult | $25, senior | $15, students
University of Michigan Arthur Miller Theatre,
1226 Murfin Ave., Ann Arbor
734-971-A2CT | a2ct.org