Friday, June 24, 2011

The Funny Pain of Growing Up?

But even though the story was no longer set in Texas, the narrator/bandit was still called El Gallo (which is Spanish for The Cock), named for a famous gypsy bullfighter. Some of the Latin musical influences from the Dead Horse score remained in the new songs, particularly in the flamenco rhythms of "It Depends on What You Pay" and the tango of "Never Say No." Henry Fenwick, a Medicine Show con man in Dead Horse, was refashioned into a charming, fading Shakespearean actor for the new show, based quite explicitly on B. Iden Payne, Jones’ college theatre professor. The villain of Dead Horse, a half-breed Apache, became the much gentler, more benign cockney Mortimer, The Man Who Dies (and whose name comes from the Latin word for death, of course), now based loosely on Ronald Coleman in the 1947 film A Double Life. Several of the unnamed extras in Dead Horse were consolidated into The Mute, now more consciously based on Japanese theatre devices.

The one-act version of The Fantasticks – essentially what we know today as Act One – opened in August 1959 at Barnard College’s Minor Latham Theatre. It was billed as a story of "the funny pain of growing up." Baker said of the creative team’s fondness for artistic rebellion, "There was a certain affinity and belief in a theatre that was considered heresy: open stage, direct to the audience." (The now iconic, minimalist set design was actually a design Schmidt had done for another show they had never gotten produced.) This was a radical approach for a musical, a kind of musical theatre as Greenwich Village coffeehouse poetry reading, small, intimate, personal.

But the show didn’t entirely work. Baker later said, "It was, quote unquote, darling. . . it almost made you puke. Lots of things were changed. It was our trial run. We made all our mistakes at Barnard."

From Inside the Fantasticks by Scott Miller

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