Nov. 15, 2002 – The fourth production for St. John's Epiphany Theater Company — and the first of its second season, which opens on Saturday — is the play that has the distinction of being the longest-running stage show in the United States and the longest-running musical in the world.
It is, of course, "The Fantasticks."
The play, best known for its opening song, "Try to Remember," almost went on forever at the 150-seat Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York's Greenwich Village, opening on May 3, 1960, and playing for 17,162 performances before closing this past Jan. 13.
Epiphany's planned run of four Saturday and four Sunday nights is but a fly speck on that continuum, but the artistic and technical demands of the local production are no less than those for the New York show. And the venue for the St. John theater group actually has a larger seating capacity — 170.
Artistic director Paul Devine says rehearsals began on Sept. 18, initially for three hours a night, three nights a week. This week, in the countdown to Saturday's opening, there are nightly sessions. Do the math, and you get something approaching 100 hours of rehearsal time.
The cast comprises Rob Scott as El Gallo, the narrator; Chad Bevan as Matt, the teen-age boy; Jessie Cawley as Luisa, the teen-age girl; Tim Jackson as Hucklebee, Matt's father; Paul Devine as Bellomy, Luisa's father; John Grammar as The Mute, whose function is to indicate a wall between the two families' adjacent homes; and Michael Beason and James Julien as Henry and Mortimer, a couple of down-on-their-luck actors.
Lisa Duncan is directing the production, with Ernie Kim as musical director and Elizabeth Putnam as choreographer.
Musical accompaniment is on piano, with Kim at the keys. He's the one performer imported for the production (if you don't count Bevan, who's commuting from St. Thomas). Kim, described by Devine as "a friend of a friend of Michael Beason's," arrived from Minnesota on Sunday. "We could not find a piano player on St. John or St. Thomas, so we decided to fly Ernie in." Devine said.
Other behind-the-scenes talent includes Grant Simmons, lighting; Linda Willard and Ruthellen Mulberg, costumes; and Devine, Jackson and Julien, construction coordination. The play is being produced by Epiphany Theater Company itself, which also collectively created the set design, Devine said.
The plot is a timeless romantic tale "that manages to be nostalgic and universal at the same time," one synopsis found on the Internet states. Teen-agers who live next door to each other fall in love, despite the fact that their fathers are feuding. Shades of "Romeo and Juliet," it seems — but the audience comes to find out it's all a sham. The men are the best of friends but feigned animosity as the surest way to throw their children into each other's arms — and it worked.
Now, the problem is how to end the "feud." The men decide to hire El Gallo to stage the abduction of Luisa, so that Matt can heroically rescue her and win the affection of her father as well. All goes off more or less as planned, and there is an appropriate "happy ending"– but it's only the ending of Act One.
In Act Two, things come unglued. The fathers confess their deception, El Gallo arrives with a bill for his abduction services, Matt challenges him again and this time is vanquished. The fathers get into a real feud and so do their offspring. Matt goes off to see the world. A month or so later, Luisa becomes infatuated with her abductor and asks him to take her off to see the world as well.
By the time the story ends, both young people have endured a good dose of reality, even if by way of fantasy experiences, and have grown wiser as a result. As El Gallo puts it in a reprise of the opening song, "Deep in December, it's nice to remember, without a hurt, the heart is hollow."
The Epiphany show includes all of the songs from the Broadway production, Devine said, except for the substitution of "The Abduction" for what was originally called "Rape Ballet." Even though it was an abduction, not a rape, all along, the consensus was that the language was offensive, he said.
"The Fantasticks" opens this weekend with performances on Saturday and Sunday. It continues through the next three Saturdays and Sundays after that, ending on Dec. 15. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. nightly. Tickets are $20 in advance (available from The Mail Center at the Marketplace and Connections) and $25 at the door.
The performance venue may come as a surprise to previous Epiphany playgoers. It's once again the theater on the third floor of the Marketplace complex, above St. John Hardware, where the company's most recent production, "Picnic," was staged in February and March. Soon after that, Epiphany got word that it would have to find a new home, because the theater space was to be reconfigured to accommodate offices.
The explanation for why this hasn't happened is that "the construction got delayed," Devine said. "It was supposed to get started in September but won't until probably January. Since the space was still available, we were able to take advantage of it."
Epiphany Theater Company is registered as a not-for-profit V.I. corporation and has applied for federal 501(c)(3) status, Devine said. While "The Fantasticks" is self-produced, he said, the company is grateful for support provided by The Marketplace, the St. John Foundation and program book advertisers.
Epiphany's first two productions were "Bus Stop" and "The Tender Trap." Next on tap is "The Shadow Box," a contemporary drama about death and dying. Frank Bartolucci, who directed the first three productions, will be back in that capacity for this one. And for "The Shadow Box," the company really will have to have a new home, Devine said.
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