The Fantasticks is an off-Broadway musical, loosely based off Les Romanesques, that first premiered May 3rd, 1960 and is currently the world's longest running musical production, originally running for 42 years and 17,162 performances. Its revival, in the Jerry Orbach Theatre (named for the original performer of El Gallo), began on August 23, 2006 and ended June 4, 2017. In the lobby, there was a count of how many shows it had in New York City — over 21,500.
It's a very popular choice for high schools and small theaters, with its cast of eight, minimal set and costumes, and longtime popularity. Furthermore, the casting frequently crosses the gender line: any roles except Matt, Luisa, and El Gallo can be played by either men or women.
The show begins with the narrator El Gallo (pronounced GUY-o) introducing the audience to the characters and the story. A girl named Luisa, who's a bit... out there and thinks she's a princess. She wears a necklace that belonged to her mother and considers it the most precious thing in the world to her. A boy named Matt, who is in love with Luisa and she loves him. The two are separated by a wall (who is actually played by a person) built by their fathers. They think they're Star-Crossed Lovers, but it's truly a plot by their fathers, who are actually very good friends, to have them fall in love. According to them, if you tell a kid no - they'll do it for sure!
During a secret meeting between Matt and Luisa, Luisa reveals she had a vision of a man coming to kidnap her and Matt fighting him off. Not long after, the fathers meet and discuss how to end their false feud. Matt's father proposes that they hire a professional to do the job. Enter El Gallo, who proceeds to explain all the various set-ups he can create for the kidnapping. After agreeing on a "first class" kidnapping, El Gallo sets off to find actors to help. Soon he finds Henry (an old Shakespearean actor) and Mortimer (who is really good at death scenes). Both are far past their prime, but he allows them to join anyhow.
Not long after, Matt and Luisa meet again in the forest. El Gallo and the actors appear to kidnap Luisa, but are easily "thwarted" by Matt. Thus the faux-feud ends and everyone lives Happily Ever After... Or do they?
As act two opens, everyone is beginning to realize that Happily Ever After isn't all it's cracked up to be. With the wall torn down, everyone is slowly getting on each other's nerves. A month later, Matt has run away to see the world, leaving Luisa behind and heartbroken, and the fathers have rebuilt the wall. Now El Gallo swoops in and Luisa pleads for him to take her to see the world. He promises he will, and tells her to pack, under the condition that she leave her beloved necklace with him as a promise she will return. As she leaves, Matt returns, bloodied and beaten, and fully aware the world isn't all adventure and fun as he hoped. El Gallo turns to leave with Luisa's necklace, but Matt makes an attempt to stop him. He merely brushes him off and disappears. Luisa comes back to find Matt and comforts him as it begins to snow and they begin to remember their feelings for each other once more.
This show provides examples of:
- Adaptation Expansion: The French play Les Romanasques (The Romancers) is the source for Act I. Act II is entirely new, and is a Deconstruction of the romantic ideals of the first act.
- Anywhere but Their Lips: Luisa wishes to be kissed on her eyes.
- Berserk Button: Don't mess with Bellamy's plants. Or Huckabee's for that matter. Or point out Luisa's freckles.
- Black Comedy Rape:
- The Rape Ballet. El Gallo insists on referring to "abduction" as "rape" out of loyalty to poetics.
- "It Depends On What You Pay", which is basically just a long list of different types of "rape." To quote the first lines:
- Certain productions, including the film adaptation, will instead perform a similar alternative song in its place, wherein they merely use the word "Abduction". This is generally the preferred version for younger audiences and school performances for obvious reasons.
- It has been known for some productions to use "It Depends On What You Pay" and alter the word "rape" to the similar-sounding "raid". Either way, any production that does use "rape" at all in its script generally goes out of its way to make sure that the audience knows they don't mean that kind of rape.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Luisa and her father. Must be a family trait.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: After beating El Gallo in a staged battle, Matt thinks he's a master fencer. Later, when El Gallo hasn't been paid to lose, he quickly proves that this is not the case.
- Curtain Call: In the film adaptation, the cast comes on for a curtain call after it's over. They're done in order of credit, so the first-credited people (Joel Grey and Barnard Hughes) come on first, even though they don't have the lead parts.
- Dark Reprise: The introduction to "I Can See It" which El Gallo sings to Matt before he goes down the road to see the world is reprised when El Gallo is luring Luisa down that same path, only now Matt sings of despair and El Gallo sings of marvels.
- Death as Comedy:
- Dramatic Necklace Removal: Luisa leaves her dead mother's necklace with El Gallo as a pledge securing her return.
- Feuding Families: Invoked, then played straight. The fathers pretend to hate each other in an attempt to invoke Star-Crossed Lovers. By Act II they've decided that without the pretend feud they can't stand each other, until they bond again over their children not turning out as expected.
- The Film of the Play: A pet project of director Michael Ritchie due to his love of the play; studio executives decided not to release it after preview audiences were underwhelmed. Contractual obligations required its release, so a shortened cut was shown in four theaters and took in under $50,000 at the box office.
- Flynning: When Matt rescues Luisa from El Gallo's "Bandits."
- Forbidden Fruit: Matt and Luisa, to each other. Deliberately invoked by their fathers in "Never Say No".
- Genre Savvy: The parents' ploy to get Matt and Luisa to fall in love is based around the fact that children always do what their parents forbid them to do.
- Hammerspace Hideaway: Henry and Mortimer generally appear out of the box that holds the props Justified: At one point (before they appear) El Gallo says that everything else the show needs is in the box. Implied to be props until the "need" for a couple of actors happens.
- Hard Truth Aesop: The play delivers the hard but true moral that sometimes you can never appreciate what you have until you lost it ("Without a hurt, the heart is hollow"). Matt realized living on the edge in excitement and adventure is only fun until you fall off that edge. Luisa can't understand what it feels like to have someone mend her heart until someone breaks it first.
- Heroic BSoD: Luisa after Matt leaves.
- I Just Want to Be Special: Both Matt and Luisa suffer from this, but more so for Luisa, whose intro song is all about how she wants to be special and do exotic things.Luisa: I am special. I am special! Please, God, please, don't let me be normal!
- The Ingenue: Luisa, and she's practically proud of it.
- Innocent Soprano: Luisa is a spacey and pretty young woman who thinks of herself as half of a pair of young Star-Crossed Lovers. She Thinks Like a Romance Novel and growing up and seeing the world is a part of her arc. Her role has lots of high soprano sections.
- Insistent Terminology: "I know you prefer 'abduction', but the proper word is 'rape'. It's short and businesslike."
- I Take Offense to That Last One:Matt: You're childish.
Matt: And you have freckles.
Luisa: That's a lie!
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: El Gallo hurts Matt and Luisa to show them how much they care about each other. He admits he hurt himself as well.
- Large Ham: Henry (especially), Mortimer, and El Gallo.
- Live-Action Adaptation: A film was made in 1995.
- No Fourth Wall: It's El Gallo's job as the narrator to interact with the audience. Everyone else gets in on the action a bit too. It's arguably the best part about the show.
- Nose Shove: "Never Say No."Why did the kids put beans in their ears?
No one can hear with beans in their ears.
After a while the reason appears.
They did it cause we said no.
- Pronouncing My Name for You: When Matt's father pronounces the name as "El GALL-O", the man himself says it's pronounced "El GUY-o", and when Matt makes the same mistake in Act II, his father corrects him. In Spanish double l's [ll] make a "ya" sound.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Part of the chafing against each other at the beginning of Act II.Bellamy: You’re — standing — in — my — KUMQUAT!
- Rule of Three: El Gallo says Matt's introduction will be much briefer than Luisa's due to their similarities, but it still takes our hero three attempts to get past the opening line.Matt: There is this girl!-
El Gallo: [to audience] That is the essence.
Matt: [gives El Gallo a dirty look, then turns back to the audience] There is this girl-
El Gallo: I warn you, it may be monotonous-
Matt: [gives El Gallo a Death Glare] THERE-IS-THIS-GIRL! [El Gallo takes the hint and leaves]
- Satire/Parody/Pastiche: The musical parodies romanticizing things, but also plays it straight a bit.
- Separated by the Wall: Matt and Luisa, in Act One. The wall is played by a person holding a stick, but it represents their allegedly-feuding fathers.
- Snicket Warning Label: The end of Act One is El Gallo practically Tempting Fate about how long this Happily Ever After can last - tempting the audience to stay around for Act Two.
- Snow Means Love: Luisa and Matt's feelings rekindle for each other as it begins to snow.
- The Speechless:
- The wall/ The mute. He also serves as sort of the prop master.
- In the film version, Mortimer is played by Teller of Penn & Teller fame, and true-to-form has no intelligible lines (though he does speak in some of the deleted scenes).
- Standard Female Grab Area: El Gallo abducts Luisa by the arm, and she wears a ribbon around the spot for old time's sake.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Matt and Luisa, or so they think. Deliberately invoked by their fathers.
- Tableau: Parodied; at the end of Act I, Matt, Luisa, and their fathers sing "Happy Ending" while striking a suitably celebratory pose after Matt's "victory" over El Gallo and the "kidnappers", after which they freeze in place. As El Gallo collects the props from the "abduction", he muses that they'll find it difficult to maintain their positions once reality sets in, and sure enough, although they are still in the same tableau at the beginning of Act II, they struggle to keep to it and eventually give up; the "happy ending" that the pose represents likewise falls apart in short order.
- Three Chords and the Truth: In a good way. The music is simple, the lyrics and ideas are sincere, and it can be performed by a cast on any level of talent, pretty much. (With one possible exception: Luisa's role is very difficult to sing, with lots of coloratura soprano sections.) It can also be adapted to an ensemble of any size, often one as small as two (the original production used only a piano and a harp).
- Too Dumb to Live: Mortimer, unfortunately.
- Tribal Face Paint: Mortimer frequently wears it.
- You Must Be Cold: A variant occurs in the finale, with Matt offering his sweater against the snowfall and Luisa suggesting they simply share it.
- Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: The conclusion to Act 1 seems to wrap up everything that's happened so far.